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Newsclips - December 10, 2018

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Wall Street Journal - December 10, 2018

Cheaper oil ripples through global economy

Oil prices posted their worst month in a decade in November and have fallen more than 30% from multiyear highs. The dramatic move has prompted investors to try to assess the impact on global growth heading into next year.

When oil falls, economic growth in major crude exporters suffers, while large importers are positioned to benefit. Falling oil prices can lift emerging-market currencies as importers need to exchange less of their own local currency for dollars to buy the same quantity of crude. Some analysts say oil’s slide is a bearish economic indicator, since weaker prices have historically often corresponded with less transportation and shipping activity. But a drop in retail gasoline prices could be a boon for American consumers. Large fuel users such as airlines could also benefit if oil prices stay lower, investors say. President Trump has voiced his preference for lower crude prices, pressuring large oil producers over Twitter throughout the year to increase output. Lower prices at the pump should boost Americans’ outlook on the economy. And consumer confidence did hit a fresh 18-year high in October. However, last month, the gauge declined. Investors attributed part of the move lower to the greater exposure of the U.S. energy industry to falling oil prices given the country’s rising role in global energy markets. Analysts are weighing which energy companies are best equipped to cope with lower oil prices should the rout persist. Some say the industry is better prepared for lower prices compared with the last market rout, having slashed costs and improved balance sheets. Still, others are cautious about the impact of further declines on shale producers.

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Bloomberg - December 7, 2018

Macron’s defeat in Paris sounds alarm for Europe

Less than a month ago, French President Emmanuel Macron staked his claim as the flag-bearer for globalism. In a speech to 60 world leaders at the Arc de Triomphe, he eulogized the United Nations and declared nationalism the “betrayal” of patriotism.

Last Saturday, tear gas and cobblestones flew in the same part of Paris as protesters trashed the iconic monument and demanded Macron’s embattled government withdraw a proposed fuel-tax increase. For the first time in his presidency, he backed down. It was a humbling moment for opponents of the populist revolts that spawned Donald Trump. Europe has seen many a critical juncture in recent years, from the Greek debt crisis to the anti-immigrant backlash against refugees and Britain’s Brexit vote. Rarely, though, have so many political vultures been circling around one leader with so much at stake for the world order. Poland is flirting with the far right and nationalist parties cajoled by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are plotting a rebellion at European Parliamentary elections in May. Meanwhile, Italy has collided with the European Union by taking a defiant stand on its budget spending. With the EU’s erstwhile firefighter, Angela Merkel, planning to step down as German chancellor, the baton was supposed to pass to Macron to uphold liberal democracy. But Merkel’s power on the world stage was underpinned by a political fortress at home, and the French leader looks anything but solid. “You can’t make speeches about defending the international order when your popularity is at 20 percent and there are protesters in the street,” said Nicholas Dungan, a Paris-based senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “It’s very difficult to get your credibility back.” It’s a stark contrast to the weekend of Nov. 11 as leaders marked a century since the end of World War I. Macron championed the need for global cooperation while Trump cut an isolated figure. Europe’s divisions were laid bare that day as Polish government officials marched through Warsaw with far-right groups to mark the country’s Independence Day. Macron, though, stood firm as Europe’s statesman. The images televised around the world last weekend were of burning cars in the French capital. The retreat by the 40-year-old French leader was mocked by Trump. Macron admitted, via his prime minister, that he’s not been able to connect with the French people. “No tax merits putting our nation’s unity in danger,” Edouard Philippe said in a televised address. The trouble for opponents of Trump-style nativism and protectionism is that there’s no one else to take up his mantle, Dungan said.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2018

Ted Cruz vs. Beto O’Rourke campaign nearly hit $115M

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke combined to raise nearly $115 million for their battle in 2018, obliterating previous campaign fundraising records.

O’Rourke took in the bulk of that money, raising just over $80 million by himself, according to new campaign finance reports made public by the Federal Election Commission on Friday. Cruz meanwhile ended up raising just over $34 million. The combined $114.8 million is more than had ever been spent on a U.S. Senate race before this year. The previous record was $77 million spent in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race in 2012. O’Rourke raised the $80 million without the help of political action committees. Cruz raised more than $1.6 million from political action committees. New FEC reports show on the day before Election Day, Cruz received a $255,000 loan to help fund his campaign. The loan came from Goldman Sachs & Co., a firm where Heidi Cruz is an investment manager. O’Rourke more than doubling Cruz’s fundraising wasn’t enough to bring him to victory. Cruz defeated O’Rourke by about 215,000 votes according to official election results certified this week. It was the closest U.S. Senate race in Texas since 1978.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

What happened to Ivanka Trump's $50,000 donation to Prestonwood Baptist Church?

Anne Binns said she read news of Ivanka Trump’s $50,000 donation to Prestonwood Baptist Church in late June, but she hasn’t since heard any other news about it. The donation — that would help the Plano church’s efforts to care for children separated from their families along the border earlier this year — was made as President Donald Trump’s zero-

But the radio silence after the donation was made caused Binns to wonder where the money had ultimately gone and how many families it had helped. “I am not sure that these $50,000 went anywhere because we never heard anything of it again,” she said. “I would think that if it had been used to help families, it would have been publicized somewhere.” This is why Binns asked Curious Texas: Ms. Trump gave $50,000 to Prestonwood Baptist Church to help the families separated by the president’s executive order. News shows what Catholic Charities have done, but is there any information on what Prestonwood has done with that money? Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham, who’s led the church for nearly 30 years, said that Trump first learned about the church’s efforts to help care for the children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border on social media, according to a June news release. Trump contacted him soon after he tweeted about trying to find a solution to the “terrible migration crisis” emerging in Texas’ southern border and made a personal donation of $50,000. Graham’s tweet about the church’s campaign and Ivanka Trump’s donation occurred days before the president signed an executive order ending his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border. From April until late June, President Trump’s family separation policy resulted in approximately 2,600 migrant children being taken away from their parents. In June, an executive order stopped the “zero tolerance” policy that separated the migrant children from their parents. However, since the order was halted, the Trump Administration separated 81 migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to government data obtained by the Associated Press. The policy calls for all adults caught crossing the border illegally to face criminal prosecution. Ashton Compton, a spokeswoman for the church, said via email in August that Prestonwood Baptist had used roughly $15,000 of the donation to serve lunch, deliver backpacks, school supplies and clothing to more than 200 unaccompanied minors and minors who were separated from their parents at the border at the Youth for Tomorrow center in Bristow, Virginia.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2018

CPS appeals to avoid paying $127K sanction after wrongful removal

Child Protective Services has filed an appeal to avoid paying a Harris County judge’s $127,000 sanction after finding that the agency wrongfully removed a Tomball couple’s children earlier this year and then allegedly lied in court.

Though CPS is fighting the payments — the first of which would have been due Tuesday— the state has agreed to move ahead with court-ordered employee training, which Judge Mike Schneider said must be completed by the end of the month. “No matter the outcome, we want to do what it takes to improve the system, ensuring child safety while also maintaining respect for families,” said CPS spokeswoman Tiffani Butler. Since the November sanctions — which may be the largest-ever leveled against the agency — CPS has maintained its handling of the Bright family’s case was “appropriate,” even though Schneider found that the agency “abused the legal process” and purposely filed “misstatements of fact.” The appeal, filed last week, is just the latest twist in the drawn-out case where, at one point, a caseworker shocked the courtroom by pleading the Fifth repeatedly during a removal hearing and the judge ordered CPS to stay away from two children. For Melissa and Dillon Bright, the appeal just prolongs a legal battle that started in July, when the couple’s 5-month-old son Mason fell out of a lawn chair in front of the family home. An MRI revealed two fractures and bleeding in the baby’s brain — and the hospital’s child abuse team decided that could mean the injuries were signs of abuse. A CPS supervisor stepped in and decided the kids needed to go live with Dillon's mother in Baytown, more than an hour away. But caring for a baby with serious medical needs became too much for Dillon’s mother. So, armed with evidence that their baby’s excessive bleeding was possibly the result of a blood disorder and not abuse, the Brights tried to get their children placed with family closer to home. Despite admitting they didn’t have grounds to take the kids, according to court records, the agency never approved the switch. So on Aug. 28, Dillon told caseworker Lavar Jones that they were bringing the baby home. No one from CPS contacted the family until three weeks later, when Jones texted Melissa on Sept. 18 to ask how the baby was. She replied, sending along happy photos and a health update. The next day, the state — without notifying the Brights — got emergency custody of the children after failing to tell a judge the kids had been safe at home for 22 days. That evening, Jones showed up at the Brights’ home and took the children to foster care. Then, in early October, the court held a three-day hearing to figure out whether the state had enough cause to keep the kids. When questioned about conflicting earlier claims he'd made, Jones pleaded the Fifth.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2018

Houston's Allison to get Nobel Prize from King of Sweden Monday

Jim Allison, the Houston scientist whose breakthrough discovery in immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment, will receive his 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine from the King of Sweden Monday morning.

The awards ceremony in Stockholm, livestreamed at the Nobel Prize website at 9:30 a.m. CST, follows a series of meetings, receptions, dinners and other activities in recent days. The first was a visit Thursday to the Nobel Museum, where Allison signed the bottom of a chair at Bistro Nobel, a tradition among Nobel recipients. Allison, chairman of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said at a news conference later Thursday that he expects substantial advances toward treating cancer in the next several decades, but acknowledged it is unlikely the disease will be eradicated. "Soon we'll get close with some cancers," the Associated Press quoted Allison as saying. But "the world will never be cancer-free." AP also reported that Allison said he intends to donate post-taxes prize money –– he and fellow recipient Tasuku Honjo will split 9 million-kronor, which amounts to $999,000 –– to support others working in the field and to a charity that supports schools for women. On Friday, Allison gave a lecture, viewable here, about his discovery that a protein known as CTLA-4 acts as a brake to rein in the immune system. Allison went on to develop a drug, Yervoy, to unleash the brake to destroy cancer cells, the first of what is now a class of drugs that release such brakes. Honjo identified the second such brake, known as PD-1. Drugs that remove such brakes, known as checkpoint inhibitors, realized the tantalizing promise of immunotherapy, which is now taking its place alongside surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as a pillar of cancer treatment. Checkpoint inhibitors don't work in all cancers and patients, but in those they do, it produces lasting benefits not seen with chemotherapy and radiation. Particularly effective in lung cancer and the skin cancer melanoma, both brutal diseases, it is currently the subject of thousands of clinical trials, typically in combination with other therapies, to attempt to extend its benefits to more people.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 8, 2018

Gov. Greg Abbott: ‘Texas remains a red state’

On Nov. 6, Greg Abbott won a second term as governor by more than 13 points, an ample margin but not nearly the 20-point spread of four years ago, and on a GOP ticket with uneven results, including a close call for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and some down-ballot defeats.

But in an interview with the American-Statesman midway between Election Day and the start of the next legislative session in January, Abbott said Texas remains securely Republican — even in a high-turnout midterm election — and that the election results presage a session with a mandate and the will to rein in property taxes and reform the school finance system, two issues that vexed his first term as governor. “An appropriate political environment is one that is responsive to the voters, and this past election voters were adamant that they expect members to fix the property tax system in the state of Texas and fix school funding in the state of Texas,” he said. “Everybody who campaigned, everybody who got elected, heard those two themes repeatedly, and so the perception I have received from all the members who are coming back to Austin is they are galvanized in support of addressing these two issues.” “They are two separate issues, but they are hinged together, and we will solve both of them,” Abbott said. But does he really believe that the Legislature — controlled by Republicans but with fewer seats than two years ago amid Democratic gains in both chambers — will be able to limit tax increases and find more money for schools in the 140 days that commence Jan. 8? “I’m saying it will be done,” said Abbott with an imperial smile. The interview was conducted in the conservatory of the Governor’s Mansion under gray skies and drizzle late Thursday afternoon on his return from the funeral of President George H.W. Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. “Texas is no longer, I believe, a reliably red state,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, in a Nov. 27 election post-mortem. “We are on the precipice of turning purple, and we’ve got a lot of work to do to keep it red.” But Abbott, who in campaign and fundraising mode warns of the dire threat to Republican hegemony in Texas, offered the serene observation that the party’s statewide winning streak in every biennial election since 1996 had been extended. “I think if you look at it you can kind of compare it to a football team that has lost 11 games in a row but has scored a touchdown or two, and they talk about winning a championship,” Abbott said of Texas Democrats. “The fact of the matter is that, for 11 elections in a row. Republicans have not lost a statewide race, and, once again, Republicans have not lost a race statewide, even though a few touchdowns were scored. And so Texas remains the largest red state.” “I do want to add something else,” Abbott continued. “In this campaign, my opponent said something that my opponent said four years ago. They said, ‘Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a nonvoting state.’ Well, there were more people who voted this election than last time. In fact, there were a record number of people who voted, and I received a record amount of votes in a midterm election.” The moral of the story: “Texas is no longer categorized as a nonvoting state,” Abbott said. “But Texas remains a red state.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 8, 2018

At Threadgill’s auction, a wealth in art and memories

The Armadillo World Headquarters has been closed for almost four decades, but on Saturday, Eddie Wilson saw the audience seated shoulder to shoulder again, waiting eagerly for Freddie King and Commander Cody and Doug Sahm and many more to be announced onstage.

This time, though, the crowds came for the memories, not the music. In the nearly 38 years the Armadillo has been gone, a lot has changed. Threadgill’s World Headquarters — the demise of which spurred Saturday’s auction — arrived 22 years ago and left just last weekend. Now cleared of tables and vegetables, hundreds of bidders packed the former restaurant’s main dining room to clear the walls as well. Alas, prices have changed a lot, too. Posters that could have been pulled from walls back in the days of the Armadillo sold in for $300 (B.W. Stevenson), $500 (Frank Zappa), $800 (New Riders of the Purple Sage) and much more ($2,200 for a large March concert calendar for the Armadillo). Wilson — who was founder of the Armadillo in 1970 and who is known these days as the man behind Threadgill’s restaurant — spoke to the audience before the auction began, at times letting the emotion of the day bubble to the top. “How many people get to put on their own funeral?” he said wryly. “What a life I had ...” As he trailed off, the crowd jumped in: “God bless you, Eddie,” one yelled. “We love you, Eddie,” another said. Wilson spoke lovingly of the artists and musicians he’s lived his life around. Occasionally, he interrupted the auction to praise someone who he felt deserved the same praise he has received. “Everything I have ever done has been in tribute to the people I worked with or have been influenced by,” he said. One of those artists was right there: Jim Franklin. He spoke up during the auction of a Burton Wilson photo showing Zappa admiring a horns-and-armadillo-shell creation of his. “That’s the moment I met Frank Zappa,” Franklin said. Auctioneer Robb Burley didn’t miss the chance to pump up the excitement for that photo: “Think of all the weirdness in that room,” he joked. The photo ended up selling for $1,000. The auction, slowed by stories, was in no hurry. Though Burley had said he averages 100 items an hour at his New Braunfels headquarters, only 220 items had sold after four hours at Threadgill’s. And there were still 300 items to go. The restaurant had been stuffed Friday with treasures, more than 470 items inventoried and tagged. Then more was found in a storage shed out back. And, hey, why not sell these bar stools, too? And the bleachers in the beer garden? When all was said and done, well over 500 lots sold, ranging from a $150 Burton Wilson snapshot of a buffet line at the Armadillo to more than $10,000 for a purple neon sign spelling out ‘World Headquarters.’ On the cold, gray Saturday, Threadgill’s was warm and awash in neon lights. Burley’s auctioneer’s chant rolled and bubbled. There were bargains for the high rollers: $4,000 for an original Franklin painting, $1,750 for a pair of antique glass Coca-Cola fountain signs, $1,300 for a collection of Freddie King posters and photos.

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Dallas Morning News - December 9, 2018

Here’s how Fort Worth and Texas plan to chip away at the doctor shortage

Fort Worth’s new medical school welcomes its inaugural class next summer, and it won’t be just graduating new doctors. It’s also found a way to add new residency slots, the pricey graduate work that’s the capstone to doctors’ formal education — and often a key factor in where they choose to practice.

The new school, which won preliminary accreditation last month, is a joint project of Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas Health Science Center. The additional residencies will be largely funded by HCA Healthcare, which has 14 hospitals in North Texas. Nashville-based HCA pledged to help create about 500 residency positions over the next seven years, and another local hospital system is expected to join in, too. The new school and residencies will help address a deep doctor shortage in the state. While Texas has been adding doctors and medical students at a strong clip, its population is growing fast. And the number of senior citizens, who generally demand more medical services, is projected to triple between 2010 and 2050. In 2016, Texas ranked 47th in primary care doctors per 100,000 people, trailing the state median rate by almost 21 percent. Texas also ranked 47th in surgeons per capita. Several medical schools have opened in Texas in recent years. But without enough residency slots to accommodate new graduates, the freshly minted doctors will go to other states to finish their training — and they’re likely to settle there. For the last five years, the Texas Legislature has been expanding funding for so-called graduate medical education. In addition to committing millions in additional money, lawmakers passed a bill last year that requires new medical schools to add residency slots in order to get state approval. The two newest schools — one in Fort Worth, the other at the University of Houston — both got deals with HCA to help create the residency positions. It’s a smart strategy, said Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “HCA and other community hospitals have struggled to find physicians,” she said. “And this pushes Texas to come up with a solution to keep doctors in the state.” About 40 percent of Texas’ medical school graduates end up doing their residency in another state, which actually ranks among the best in retention. But that trend underscores the imbalance in the overall market. Texas ranks No. 2 in medical schools and the number of first-year medical students. After the Houston and Fort Worth schools open, the state will have 15 schools, including those that award a doctorate in osteopathic medicine. Between the current DO program at the UNT Health Science Center and the medical school at UT Southwestern, the D-FW area had 465 first-year medical students in 2017, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2018

With nearly all-white membership, Frisco-bound PGA of America looks to diversify

There's a catch in her voice when North Texas golf instructor Gladys Lee talks about trying to find a teaching position at local country clubs, beginning in the 1980s. After getting her Class A teaching credentials from the LPGA in 2012, Lee applied for work at eight local clubs. Actually, it was nine. No, 10. Nothing happened.

"They would say they didn't need help," she said. "You would go back later and see new people. "I love golf with a passion," she said, the emotion coming through in her voice. "But it's hard when it comes to making a living in it ... as a minority. It's not the easiest thing in the world to make a living when it comes to us." The PGA of America, which announced last week that it was moving to Frisco, says it wants to "look more like the nation" — meaning more diverse. Yet nearly six decades after the group removed the "Caucasian-only" clause from its bylaws, its membership remains stubbornly monochromatic. It's 91 percent white and nearly 96 percent male. In North Texas, the group will continue its efforts to boost diversity — in its ranks, among its suppliers and across the sport. Golf experts see it as a matter of self-preservation. "With all the reports of a browning, so to speak, and females in America, I don't know why any industry would not want to align itself with that changing face of the nation," said Michael Cooper, chairman of a diversity task force launched by the World Golf Foundation, which promotes golf. "For any industry that's trying to stay productive and ... to be frank, make money, why would you not want to avail yourself of that same changing demographic of America? It doesn't make sense economically." Founded in 1916, the PGA of America is one of the largest golf organizations in the nation. Its 29,000 members and those seeking membership are largely professionals who make their living from the sport, from instructors and coaches to administrators and course managers. It is separate from the PGA Tour, a membership group of professional golfers that puts on more than 120 official tournaments. PGA of America officials tick off a list of recent diversity-related accomplishments, beginning with the election last month of the group's first woman president — Suzy Whaley, who owns Suzy Whaley Golf in Cromwell, Conn., and is the PGA director of instruction at the Country Club of Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "I would tell you," she told The Dallas Morning News last week when asked to describe the makeup of her group, "it's heavily and predominantly currently white male."

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San Antonio Express-News - December 10, 2018

Pentagon Inspector General says Air Force missed opportunities to stop ‘suicidal’ Kelley

A Pentagon inspector general's report released Friday described Sutherland Springs gunman Devin Patrick Kelley as an extremely abusive, suicidal airman who once played Russian roulette in front of his wife.

In an incident at their home in mid-March 2012, the report stated, Tessa Kelley watched her husband slide a single bullet into a .38 caliber revolver and put the gun to his head, pulling the trigger three times. He then pointed the weapon at her. Five weeks later, in a car, Kelley placed the muzzle of a gun against his wife’s temple during a dispute over his driving. “‘Do you want to die?’” the report said he asked Tessa Kelley, before putting the gun in his mouth. The report added a long list of new details about Devin Kelley’s self-destructive nature and cruelty to his first wife and her infant son. It included her saying he would push her head under a shower faucet and turn on the water, calling it waterboarding. It also revealed the Air Force failed on at least four and as many as six occasions to notify federal authorities of felony charges and, ultimately, a conviction — information that, as widely reported last year, should have prevented Kelley from legally buying firearms after his release from a military prison. “Because his fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI (Criminal Justice Information Services) Division, Kelley was able to purchase firearms, which he used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on November 5, 2017,” the report stated. Reaction from relatives of the victims was swift. “Human error? I can excuse it, that’s fine. But when it’s four times, and it was not addressed over the years, that’s disheartening,” said Julie Workman, 55, one of a handful of Sutherland Springs families that have sued the Air Force over the lapse. She survived unscathed and her son Kyle Workman, 27, suffered minor injuries. But her other son, Kris Workman, 35, was paralyzed. He’s in a wheelchair now. Another plaintiff, Lisa McNulty, whose 33-year-old daughter, Tara, was killed in the shooting, expressed frustration. “I’m not happy about it, but what else can I do?” said McNulty, who is now now raising her grandchildren, James and Haley McNulty, on her own, since their mother was killed. “We need to make changes. So this doesn’t happen to somebody else.” In early November, the government filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuits against it, citing the Brady Act. The lawsuits had all been consolidated in federal court in San Antonio.

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Star-Telegram - December 9, 2018

Hundreds of sex abuse allegations found in fundamental Baptist churches across U.S.

For decades, women and children have faced rampant sexual abuse while worshiping at independent fundamental Baptist churches around the country. The network of churches and schools has often covered up the crimes and helped relocate the offenders, an eight-month Star-Telegram investigation has found.

More than 200 people — current or former church members, across generations — shared their stories of rape, assault, humiliation and fear in churches where male leadership cannot be questioned. “It’s a philosophy — it’s flawed,” said Stacey Shiflett, an independent fundamental Baptist pastor in Dundalk, Maryland. “The philosophy is you don’t air your dirty laundry in front of everyone. Pastors think if they keep it on the down-low, it won’t impact anyone. And then the other philosophy is it’s wrong to say anything bad about another preacher.” The Star-Telegram discovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada. Twenty-one abuse allegations were uncovered exclusively by the Star-Telegram, and others were documented in criminal cases, lawsuits and news reports. But victims said the number of abused is far greater because few victims ever come forward. One hundred and sixty-eight church leaders were accused or convicted of committing sexual crimes against children, the investigation found. At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement. Compounding the problem is the legal statute of limitations. For many alleged offenders, the statutes on the crimes have expired. Many of the allegations involve men whose misconduct has long been suspected in the independent fundamental Baptist community. But most of their victims have not publicly come forward, on the record, until now. Even pastors have for the first time — in interviews with the Star-Telegram — acknowledged they moved alleged abusers out of their churches rather than call law enforcement. From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar: A music minister molested a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina and moved to another church in Florida. Another girl’s parents stood in front of their Connecticut congregation to acknowledge their daughter’s “sin” after she was abused by her youth pastor, beginning at 16. This year, four women accused a pastor in California of covering up sexual misconduct and shielding the abusers over almost 25 years. To understand how this systemic, widespread abuse could happen again and again, some former members say it is necessary to understand the cult-like power of many independent fundamental Baptist churches and the constant pressure not to question pastors — or ever leave the church. “We didn’t have a compound like those other places, but it may as well have been,” said one former member who says she was abused. She requested anonymity because, like many others, she is still intimidated by the church. “Our mind was the compound.”

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2018

Gromer Jeffers: Powerful Dallas business leaders will no longer endorse candidates for mayor, City Council elections

Dallas' business elite may not have a unified voice in next spring's mayoral and council elections. Leaders of the Dallas Citizens Council, a group of powerful business executives, will not endorse candidates in local elections for the first time in decades.

The decision means the group will no longer direct members to pour money into Dallas mayoral and council races, particularly in neighborhoods where they don't live. "We're not going to be in the endorsement business," said Jere Thompson Jr., chairman of the Citizens Council and CEO of Ambit Energy. He said the group's opposition to candidates who then became Dallas City Council members stifled its ability to advance an ambitious agenda. "When you alienate people sitting around the horseshoe, it makes our role in making Dallas a better place to live, work and play very challenging," he said. The 81-year-old Citizens Council has been involved in massive infrastructure projects like Central Expressway, the desegregation of schools, the arts community and the construction of arenas and D/FW Airport. Such goals require support from elected officials, and board members believed backing like-minded candidates would help their efforts. But in recent years, many of the candidates they backed, including some incumbents, lost their races. "Dallas is changing," Thompson said of the experience. Indeed, the move reflects the changing local political tide. Groups and city leaders are trying different ways to influence a small and often finicky electorate. At the same time, they want to mollify the elected leaders they need to push various programs and initiatives. Instead of simply picking candidates to prop up with money, the group will focus on voter engagement and finding common ground on issues that are important to its members. "We want to spend more time on voter participation," Thompson said. Without a consensus pick to support in the mayoral election in May, money from the business elite could be divided among a field of around a dozen candidates who are lined up to succeed two-term Mayor Mike Rawlings. There are also several open council seats. Until about five years ago, leaders of the Citizens Council denied making endorsements. But historians, political observers and critics say the group privately directed members to fund certain candidates or initiatives. Its members found a way to unify behind Rawlings, as well as former Dallas mayors Tom Leppert and Ron Kirk. The board developed the Dallas Citizens Council Community Engagement Committee, which endorsed candidates in the 2013 local elections. In 2015 and 2017, the PAC bolstered candidates with money.

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 10, 2018

Coal is still king in Poland, where world leaders gather to confront ‘climate catastrophe’

For centuries, from the start of Europe’s industrial revolution, through war and peace, and the long years of communist rule, coal was king in Poland. It was the land’s precious and bountiful gift — and Polish miners were the nation’s working-class heroes.

But the world now looks askance at coal. It is as ubiquitous as it is dirty, and burning it for power releases — more than any other fuel source — the miasma of the greenhouse gases warming the planet. Encircled by coal mines, representatives from around the world are gathered now in nearby Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where countries will argue over the ambitious goals required to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As scientists warn of the catastrophe of ongoing temperature rise, experts are beginning to acknowledge a “dark realism” that, try as the world might — and there have been remarkable advances in the deployment of green technologies — the unprecedented scale of the transformation needed is proving too great. The same experts warn this is especially true in a world where leaders such as President Trump, a coal booster, continue to doubt the science behind climate change and where countries resist moving away from coal because of potential costs to jobs and economies. In the United States, coal use has been steadily shrinking, reaching its lowest level in almost 40 years. But coal has no better friend than Trump, who sees it as a vital domestic fuel source and a job provider. His administration has pushed to reverse Obama-era pollution standards for coal-fired power plants, as well as to ease caps on carbon, mercury and ash emissions generated by coal. Critics of Trump’s stance on climate change and coal say it gives cover to other nations to continue to exploit the fuel source. That is certainly so in Poland, where Trump is popular in coal country. “There is no strategy to fully phase out coal in Poland today,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the climate conference Monday. “We have supplies for 200 years, and it would be difficult for us to give up coal — thanks to which we have energy sovereignty.” Poland’s coal industry is on full display at the climate conference, with exhibitors showing off lumps of coal and miners greeting attendees, alongside promises of “clean coal” technologies.

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Washington Post - December 9, 2018

Investigation of generic ‘cartel’ expands to 300 drugs

Executives at more than a dozen generic-drug companies had a form of shorthand to describe how they conducted business, insider lingo worked out over steak dinners, cocktail receptions and rounds of golf.

The “sandbox,” according to investigators, was the market for generic prescription drugs, where everyone was expected to play nice. “Fair share” described dividing up the sales pie to ensure that each company reaped continued profits. “Trashing the market” was used when a competitor ignored these unwritten rules and sold drugs for less than agreed-upon prices. The terminology reflected more than just the clubbiness of a powerful industry, according to authorities and several lawsuits. Officials from multiple states say these practices were central to illegal price-fixing schemes of massive proportion. The lawsuit and related cases picked up steam last month when a federal judge ruled that more than 1 million emails, cellphone texts and other documents cited as evidence could be shared among all plaintiffs. What started as an antitrust lawsuit brought by states over just two drugs in 2016 has exploded into an investigation of alleged price-fixing involving at least 16 companies and 300 drugs, Joseph Nielsen, an assistant attorney general and antitrust investigator in Connecticut who has been a leading force in the probe, said in an interview. His comments in an interview with The Washington Post represent the first public disclosure of the dramatically expanded scale of the investigation. The unfolding case is rattling an industry that is portrayed in Washington as the white knight of American health care. “This is most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States,” Nielsen said. He cited the volume of drugs in the schemes, that they took place on American soil and the “total number of companies involved, and individuals.” The alleged victims were American health-care consumers and taxpayers, who foot the bills for overcharges on common antibiotics, blood-pressure medications, arthritis treatments, anxiety pills and more, authorities say. The costs flowed throughout the system, hitting hospitals, pharmacists and health insurance companies. They hit consumers who lack prescription drug coverage and even those with insurance, because many plans have high deductibles and gaps on prescription drug benefits.

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Washington Post - December 9, 2018

Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition

The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties.

Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump’s 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family members and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit. Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly, Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladi­mir Putin — and offered to broker such a summit. In all, Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and presidential transition, public records and interviews show. “It is extremely unusual,” said Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. “Both the number of contacts and the nature of the contacts are extraordinary.” As Robert S. Mueller III slowly unveils the evidence that he has gathered since his appointment as special counsel in May 2017, he has not yet shown that any of the dozens of interactions between people in Trump’s orbit and Russians resulted in any specific coordination between his presidential campaign and Russia. But the mounting number of communications that have been revealed occurred against the backdrop of “sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,” as Mueller’s prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week. The special counsel’s filings have also revealed moments when Russia appeared to be taking cues from Trump. In July 2016, the then-candidate said at a news conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to messages Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had deleted from a private account. That day, the Russians made their first effort to break into servers used by Clinton’s personal office, according to court documents. As Americans began to grip the reality that a hostile foreign power took active steps to shape the outcome of the race, Trump and his advisers asserted they had no contact with Russia. Two days after Trump was elected president, a top Kremlin official caused a stir by asserting that Trump’s associates were in contact with the Russian government before the election. “I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them supported contacts with Russian representatives,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency on Nov. 10, 2016. The claim was met with a hail of denials. Hope Hicks, then Trump’s top spokeswoman, responded, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” After Trump took office, in February 2017, he reiterated the denial. “No. Nobody that I know of,” the president told reporters when asked whether anyone who advised his campaign had contact with Russia. “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” It is now clear that wasn’t true. Trump’s oldest children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, interacted with Russians who were offering to help the Republican candidate. Ivanka’s husband, top campaign adviser Jared Kushner — as well as Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; his personal lawyer Michael Cohen; and his longest-serving political adviser, Roger Stone — also had contact with Russian nationals.

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Wall Street Journal - December 10, 2018

Out: Buying when stocks dip. In: Caution. How a stock market trend is no longer reliable.

An investor trend that has helped buoy stocks over most of the past decade is showing signs of breaking down. For the first time since the dot-com era, investors are cautious about buying shares after selloffs, raising signals that the longest bull market in U.S. history is in its late stages.

Going back to the 1980s, the S&P 500 has typically rebounded after posting a weekly loss, such as the punishing setback it suffered last week. This year, that “buy-the-dip” trend has broken apart. The broad index has fallen an average of 0.04 percentage point on the day following weekly declines, marking the first time since 2002 that stocks have consistently slipped after one-week pullbacks, according to Morgan Stanley . What is troubling is that the only years in which stocks haven’t reliably rebounded following dips have been either at the start of or in the middle of a bear market, Morgan Stanley says. In some years, including 1982, 1990 and 2002, investors were hit by not just a bear market but also a recession. “As you get later in the cycle, it becomes more challenging, because the dip may not be a chance to buy, but the start of the end,” said Joseph Amato, chief investment officer of equities at Neuberger Berman. To be sure, many investors believe that the bull market will continue to grind higher throughout 2019. Although the U.S. economy has shown signs of cooling—particularly within the housing and auto sectors—it has remained firmly in expansion territory. And new signs emerged Thursday that the Federal Reserve is open to pausing its rate-increase campaign earlier than investors had initially expected, something that helped U.S. stocks finish well off their lows that day. Fears that tightening monetary policy would crimp corporate profits and diminish the allure of stocks have kept major indexes under pressure for much of the past couple of months. A fundamental change in the type of funds owned by investors also could be playing a role in the lack of buyers. For decades, stock pickers and other managers who evaluate companies on an individual basis dominated the daily action on Wall Street. But more recently, index funds and other passive investment vehicles have dominated flows. Last year alone, passively managed mutual and exchange-traded funds took in more than $700 billion, according to Morningstar Inc. Still, unease over how much longer the expansion can continue has pushed more investors to sit on the sidelines or trim their positions instead of using pullbacks as buying opportunities. Investors’ willingness to chase returns is likely to be even more diminished with just a little over three weeks of trading left to go in 2018—a narrow window for fund managers to try to catch up to their benchmarks. Perhaps the starkest example of the buy-the-dip approach fading has been in the technology sector. Last year, investors were mostly forgiving of pullbacks, betting that drops caused by everything from fears of regulatory scrutiny to worries about valuations were temporary, not signs of issues that should hurt prices over the long haul.

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Wall Street Journal - December 10, 2018

Elon Musk lobs new criticism at SEC, vows to 'keep tweeting'

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk delivered a new barrage of criticism at the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying he doesn’t respect the agency and that his communications on Twitter haven’t been censored by the company.

Mr. Musk’s latest volley, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, seemed to poke at his settlement with regulators. The terms of the agreement call for Tesla before the end of the month to have in place new oversight of his communications that might be considered material or cause movement of the company’s stock. Last month, Mr. Musk stepped down as chairman of Tesla as part of his settlement with the SEC. The agency had claimed Mr. Musk misled investors when he tweeted in August that said he had secured funding to take the auto maker private. Tesla’s shares initially soared, only to plummet in subsequent days after it became clear Mr. Musk didn’t have a deal finalized. The SEC had sought to have Mr. Musk banned from serving as a director or officer of any publicly traded company. In the end, he got to remain as CEO while stepping down as chairman for at least three years. Mr. Musk told “60 Minutes” that since the settlement, none of his tweets have been censored—and no one is reading them before they go out. “The only tweets that would have to be, say, reviewed would be if a tweet had a probability of causing a movement in the stock,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s ‘Hello, First Amendment’—like, freedom of speech is fundamental.” Asked how Tesla would know if his tweets are going to move the company’s stock price if they aren’t being reviewed in advance, Mr. Musk suggested the company “might make some mistakes.” “Nobody’s perfect,” the Tesla chief said, while laughing. He added, “I want to be clear, I do not respect the SEC.” Mr. Musk said he is abiding by the terms of the settlement “because I respect the justice system.” Tesla said it is complying with the settlement, and has until Dec. 28 to put in place its communications policy. The SEC couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The billionaire entrepreneur has a long reputation of defying convention. He publicly feuded earlier this year with federal safety investigators over a fatal Tesla crash. In October, just days after reaching a settlement with the SEC, Mr. Musk appeared to mock the agency on Twitter, suggesting it was enriching investors betting against Tesla. The “Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work,” Mr. Musk tweeted at the time. “And the name change is so on point!”

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New York Times - December 9, 2018

Wall Street faces stomach churning swings as economic uncertainty grows

When a trade war broke out between the world’s two largest economies in June, investors barely blinked. After the Federal Reserve raised interest rates — often a reason for investors to sell stocks — the markets kept climbing. As some of the world’s largest economies began to slow down, American markets largely shrugged it off. Not anymore.

Last week, elements of all of those combined to drive the S&P 500-stock index down by 4.6 percent, its worst weekly drop since March and one marked by stomach-churning price swings. Stocks are now down 1.5 percent this year. More volatility could be in store, as investors assess the allegations by prosecutors that President Trump directed illegal payments to ward off a potential sex scandal, and the possibility that he sought to secretly do business in Russia during his 2016 campaign for the White House. The arrest of a prominent Chinese technology executive, meanwhile, has added new strains to the relationship between Washington and Beijing, which face a March deadline to reach a trade deal. On Sunday, China summoned the American ambassador in Beijing to protest the arrest, while Robert Lighthizer, who is leading the trade talks with China, said he considered March 1 to be a “a hard deadline” for the negotiations. “Every eye is going to be focused on every piece of commentary on this trade deal,” said Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock, which manages over $6 trillion in assets. “Because the impact on growth is so significant.” While the large market swings on trade-related news underscore some investors’ view that a resolution to the impasse between the United States and China will be crucial to the survival of the economic expansion, there are other political and economic risks as well. They include the fallout from the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the relentless staff churn in the Trump administration, the efforts to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and social unrest in France. “The fact is that politics is driving the economy to an extent that is very atypical,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at BTIG, an institutional brokerage firm. “We would say probably to the greatest extent that we’ve seen in our investing lifetime.” Last week, markets whipsawed on headlines related to the trade war. On Monday, stocks jumped 1.1 percent on word that President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China had agreed to a 90-day halt on any new tariffs to provide space to negotiate key trade issues. The next day, the S&P dove 3.2 percent, as the president, calling himself “a Tariff Man” in a Twitter message, seemed to reignite the standoff.

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New York Times - December 9, 2018

Done with Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors shift focus to Trump family business

When federal prosecutors recommended a substantial prison term for President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, they linked Mr. Trump to the crimes Mr. Cohen had committed in connection with the 2016 presidential campaign.

What the prosecutors did not say in Mr. Cohen’s sentencing memorandum filed on Friday, however, is that they have continued to scrutinize what other executives in the president’s family business may have known about those crimes, which involved hush-money payments to two women who had said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. After Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws and other crimes — he will be sentenced on Wednesday — the federal prosecutors in Manhattan shifted their attention to what role, if any, Trump Organization executives played in the campaign finance violations, according to people briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s self-described fixer, has provided assistance in that inquiry, which is separate from the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. In addition to implicating Mr. Trump in the payments to the two women, Mr. Cohen has told prosecutors that the company’s chief financial officer was involved in discussions about them, a claim that is now a focus of the inquiry, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. Mr. Cohen has told prosecutors that he believes Mr. Trump personally approved the company’s decision to reimburse him for one of the payments, one of the people said. Neither the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, nor any other executives at the Trump Organization have been accused of wrongdoing, and there is no indication that anyone at the company will face charges in connection with the inquiry. But in recent weeks, the prosecutors contacted the company to renew a request they had made this year for documents and other materials, according to the people. The precise nature of the materials sought was unclear, but the renewed request is further indication that prosecutors continue to focus on the president’s company even as the case against Mr. Cohen comes to a close, the people said. At the time of the payments to the two women, Mr. Trump was the head of the company, and although he turned over its management to his elder sons, he still owns it through a trust. While the prevailing view at the Justice Department is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the prosecutors in Manhattan could consider charging him after leaving office. It is also possible the prosecutors could seek his testimony before he leaves office if they continue the investigation into anyone else who might have had a role in the crimes, a person briefed on the matter said. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment.

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CNN - December 10, 2018

Pence chief of staff Ayers not taking job as White House chief of staff

Nick Ayers, the leading candidate to replace John Kelly as President Donald Trump's chief of staff, announced Sunday he will not be taking the job, reviving discussions about who will succeed the retired Marine general when he leaves at the end of the month.

Ayers, who has served as Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff for more than a year, turned down the position because he could not agree to terms with the President, a White House official told CNN. Trump pushed Ayers to commit to two years, but he declined. He has young children, he told the President, and wants to move back to his home state of Georgia. He offered to become chief of staff temporarily, but Trump was firm on a two-year commitment, and talks fell apart. There was also a significant resistance inside the West Wing to Ayers becoming chief of staff, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. Ayers, who considered the top contender to succeed Kelly for at least six months, will leave his position as Pence's chief of staff at the end of the year to run the super PAC set up to assist the President's re-election campaign. "Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. ????#Georgia," Ayers wrote in a tweet Sunday afternoon. Pence thanked Ayers for his work as his chief of staff in a tweet on Sunday, writing "@nick_ayers has done an outstanding job as my Chief of Staff and I will always be grateful for his friendship, dedication to the @VP team and his efforts to advance the @POTUS agenda. Thank you Nick! Karen and I wish you, Jamie and the kids every blessing in the years ahead." Ayers' decision not to take the job came as a surprise since he had been lobbying for the position, the sources said. There was resistance to him being appointed from first lady Melania Trump and some senior staff, the sources said. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Ayers would not be taking the job as Trump's chief of staff. Trump told reporters Saturday that Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general and Trump's previous secretary of homeland security, will leave at the end of year. "I appreciate his service very much," Trump said.

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CNN - December 10, 2018

UK can unilaterally halt Brexit process, EU court rules

Britain can unilaterally halt the formal process of leaving the European Union, the bloc's top court said Monday. The European Court of Justice sided with the advice of its top legal officer, who declared last week that the UK has the power to withdraw its notification to leave the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without the agreement of other member states.

The UK can withdraw its Article 50 notification before the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the UK and the EU comes into force, the ECJ said. "The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU," the court ruled. Crucially, the UK would be able to retain its current agreements with the EU, which include a rebate on financial contributions, an opt-out to the Schengen open-border zone and non-membership of the Euro. "Such a revocation, decided in accordance with its own national constitutional requirements, would have the effect that the United Kingdom remains in the EU under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State," the court said. The fast-tracked judgment came a day before the House of Commons is due to vote on British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, a vote she is widely predicted to lose heavily. May has always said her government would not reverse the decision to leave the EU. But should she lose the vote, and her government collapsed, the decision gives the UK parliament another way out of the Brexit process. Britain's Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, told the BBC that the UK would leave the EU whatever the ECJ ruled. "We voted very clearly -- 17.4 million people sent a clear message that they wanted to leave the European Union," said Gove, a prominent Leave campaigner. "And that also means leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice," he said. European Council President Donald Tusk said he had spoken to May on Sunday ahead of what he described as an "important week for the fate of Brexit." Also on Sunday, former UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said May should go back to Brussels and renegotiate the deal in the event she loses on Tuesday. Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Johnson criticized the current deal, describing it as a "legal lobster pot" reducing the UK to "colony status" at the hands of the EU. Johnson dismissed a "Norway solution" (which would allow for closer trading ties with the bloc) and a second referendum as both having "grave, grave defects."

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CNN - December 10, 2018

Pence chief of staff Ayers not taking job as White House chief of staff

Nick Ayers, the leading candidate to replace John Kelly as President Donald Trump's chief of staff, announced Sunday he will not be taking the job, reviving discussions about who will succeed the retired Marine general when he leaves at the end of the month.

Ayers, who has served as Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff for more than a year, turned down the position because he could not agree to terms with the President, a White House official told CNN. Trump pushed Ayers to commit to two years, but he declined. He has young children, he told the President, and wants to move back to his home state of Georgia. He offered to become chief of staff temporarily, but Trump was firm on a two-year commitment, and talks fell apart. There was also a significant resistance inside the West Wing to Ayers becoming chief of staff, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. Ayers, who considered the top contender to succeed Kelly for at least six months, will leave his position as Pence's chief of staff at the end of the year to run the super PAC set up to assist the President's re-election campaign. "Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. ????#Georgia," Ayers wrote in a tweet Sunday afternoon. Pence thanked Ayers for his work as his chief of staff in a tweet on Sunday, writing "@nick_ayers has done an outstanding job as my Chief of Staff and I will always be grateful for his friendship, dedication to the @VP team and his efforts to advance the @POTUS agenda. Thank you Nick! Karen and I wish you, Jamie and the kids every blessing in the years ahead." Ayers' decision not to take the job came as a surprise since he had been lobbying for the position, the sources said. There was resistance to him being appointed from first lady Melania Trump and some senior staff, the sources said. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Ayers would not be taking the job as Trump's chief of staff. Trump told reporters Saturday that Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general and Trump's previous secretary of homeland security, will leave at the end of year. "I appreciate his service very much," Trump said.

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CNN Business - December 10, 2018

Carlos Ghosn and Nissan have been indicted in Japan

Carlos Ghosn and Nissan, the Japanese automaker he saved from collapse, were indicted Monday on allegations of financial misconduct, deepening a crisis that already brought down one of the global car industry's most iconic figures.

Tokyo prosecutors said they indicted Ghosn and Nissan for under-reporting his income over a five-year period and are investigating allegations that the practice went on for even longer. Ghosn's sudden downfall began when he was arrested in Tokyo last month. He has since been ousted as chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors and temporarily replaced as head of France's Renault. Former Nissan director Greg Kelly, who was arrested in Tokyo at the same time as Ghosn, was also indicted Monday, prosecutors said. The two men are alleged to have collaborated to under-report Ghosn's income in Nissan's securities filings by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) over a five-year period ending in March 2015, according to prosecutors. The maximum punishment in Japan for filing a false financial statement is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million yen ($89,000). "Nissan takes this situation extremely seriously," the company said in a statement. "Making false disclosures in annual securities reports greatly harms the integrity of Nissan's public disclosures in the securities markets, and the company expresses its deepest regret." It added that it "will continue its efforts to strengthen its governance and compliance, including making accurate disclosures of corporate information." Ghosn's downfall has strained the global autos alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors. Renault, which has appointed an acting chief executive but kept Ghosn in his positions of CEO and chairman, said it has not been provided with evidence of wrongdoing. "We have no specific comment to make on the indictment and at this stage we still haven't received any evidence in relation to the investigation," a spokeswoman said.

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Politico - December 9, 2018

From pinnacle to punchline: How Trump diminished the job of his chief of staff

For decades, the job of White House chief of staff was among Washington’s most desirable jobs — a pinnacle of access and power. Like so many other things in the White House, that has been changed by President Donald Trump.

On Sunday evening, the vice president’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, who had been the leading candidate to succeed outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly, took himself out of the running. Ayers, who is only 36, is a savvy political operative wired with GOP donors and party leaders, and friends say he hopes to run for office himself one day. In any ordinary White House, the job he is declining — for what he calls family reasons — would be an ambitious insider’s dream. To take two recent examples: Rahm Emanuel, who served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, went on to serve as mayor of Chicago, and Leon Panetta, who spent two and a half years in the job under President Bill Clinton, served as CIA chief and Secretary of Defense. It’s a different story under Trump. A job that was once a ticket to Washington royalty has recently become a laughing stock. Trump’s first two top aides, Kelly and Reince Priebus before him, have left as diminished and arguably humiliated figures, unable to control the wild chaos of this president’s White House. Priebus was marginalized and mocked before he was abandoned on an airport tarmac. Kelly was subjected to analyses of his facial expressions during awkward moments, repeatedly threatened to quit, and wasn’t even allowed to announce his own resignation despite a reported agreement with Trump that he could do so. “You really do have to wonder why anybody would want to be Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff given that so far it’s been mission impossible,” said Chris Whipple, the author "The Gatekeepers," a history of White House chiefs of staff. “This White House is headed into a world of trouble — a Democratic Congress, Mueller closing in, and anybody who comes into this White House has to be thinking about lawyering up. Worst case scenario you could become H.R. Haldeman,” Whipple added, referring to the chief-of-staff to President Richard Nixon who ended up serving 18 months behind bars. Trump officially declared the chief of staff job open on Saturday when he announced that Kelly, a retired Marine general whom Trump often suspected of trying to constrain him, would leave his post by the end of the month. But while he is considering several candidates — including Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Office of Management and Budget; North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — he has no obvious second choice, according to two people close to the White House. Republican sources also said the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, is another possible candidate. Mnuchin, for one, isn’t eager to take the post, according to a person close to him — but others in Trump’s orbit aren’t so sure. While other candidates, like Meadows, are more eager, it is unclear how interested Trump is in offering it to them. Ayers had worked over the past month to negotiate a short-term tenure in which he would serve only until spring, in part hoping to avoid the kind of snarky speculation Priebus and Kelly suffered about their expected life spans in the job.

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Politico - December 10, 2018

Establishment looks to crush liberals on Medicare for All

The united front that helped Democrats save Obamacare just a year ago is falling apart over single-payer health care. Deep-pocketed hospital, insurance and other lobbies are plotting to crush progressives’ hopes of expanding the government's role in health care once they take control of the House.

The private-sector interests, backed in some cases by key Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign alumni, are now focused on beating back another prospective health care overhaul, including plans that would allow people under 65 to buy into Medicare. This sets up a potentially brutal battle between establishment Democrats who want to preserve Obamacare and a new wave of progressive House Democrats who ran on single-payer health care. "We know the insurance companies and the pharma companies are all putting tens of millions of dollars into trying to defeat us," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-WA, who co-chairs the Medicare for All Congressional Caucus. "Which I take as a badge of honor — that they’re so concerned about a good policy that they're going to put so much money into trying to defeat it." The rift could come into full view in the opening weeks of the new Congress, as the party long bound by a need to defend the Affordable Care Act tries to embrace a new health care vision it can carry into the 2020 presidential campaign. House Democratic leaders already are emphasizing the need to align behind a more pragmatic agenda focused largely on shoring up Obamacare, without peering too far into the future. “We want to continue promoting the idea of accessibility and improving the Affordable Care Act,” said incoming Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-MA. “That should be the primary goal that we have.” It's a sentiment shared by the major lobbies that fought alongside Democrats against Obamacare repeal and now want to reap the benefits. These interest groups contend that, after a decade of upheaval in health care, the public would prefer simple fixes that strengthen the ACA over a headlong rush into another dramatic overhaul of the system. But House progressives, buoyed by voter enthusiasm and a surge of single-payer support among the party's base, have other ideas. Among their high-profile agenda items is "Medicare for All" legislation, an idea until recently on the fringes of policy debates that polling shows captivated voters during the 2018 election cycle, despite potentially staggering costs. "It's more of a mainstream position than it's ever been before," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which maintains close ties to House progressives. "There's this hugely rapid advancement toward Medicare for All — single-payer — as not just an eventual North Star goal, but as something that's increasingly possible." But major lobbies that fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Democrats last year are working now to derail such liberal ideas in order to preserve the status quo. More than a dozen groups intend to press their point next year through The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a vehicle to combat an expanded government role in health care. America's Health Insurance Plans and the BlueCross BlueShield Association helped found the coalition alongside the Federation of American Hospitals, the big drug lobby PhRMA and the American Medical Association.

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Axios - December 10, 2018

Trump considering House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows for chief of staff

Over the past 24 hours, President Trump has been privately asking many people who they think should be his new chief of staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Trump has asked confidants what they think about the idea of installing Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, as John Kelly's permanent replacement, according to these three sources. Trump has also mentioned three other candidates besides Meadows, according to a source with direct knowledge. Nick Ayers, previously considered the favorite, is out of the running to be Kelly's replacement. Between the lines: Trump doesn't know what he's going to do. Ayers, the vice president's chief of staff, was his first choice for the job. Jared and Ivanka, who have been determined to get rid of Kelly, have advocated for Ayers, who has been secretly discussing the job with Trump in the executive residence for months. The hitch: Ayers told Trump he'd only commit to taking the job until next spring — as chief caretaker until Trump finds a permanent solution. Trump has privately asked for a two-year commitment, and he didn't appreciate that Ayers wanted to announce an end date. Ayers has refused to be announced as permanent chief and told Trump he deserves a two-year commitment from whomever replaces Kelly, according to sources familiar with their conversations. Even people opposing Ayers have told me that if he'd wanted the job, he could have had it. The bottom line: This has left Trump scratching around for a new chief after announcing on Saturday that Kelly will leave the White House at the end of the year.

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Miami Herald - December 10, 2018

‘End times:’ Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham find common ground on Saudi Arabia

Lindsey Graham laughingly says his sudden embrace of of Rand Paul is a sign of what the Bible calls “end times.” Rand Paul jokes that their mind meld first needed couples’ counseling.

Long at odds when it comes to foreign policy, the South Carolina and Kentucky Republicans have discovered rare common ground: Fury over the role of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and frustration with the Trump administration’s support for the kingdom. The White House allies represent the hawkish and non-interventionist poles of the Republican Party. Just this summer Paul said Graham was “a danger” for leaving the door open to potential use of military force against North Korea. Graham shot back, “There is no threat to America that Senator Paul will not retreat from.” But as a Republican-led Senate generally reluctant to challenge President Donald Trump prepares for a spirited debate over the next few days over how to deal with Saudi Arabia, Graham and Paul vividly illustrate the chamber’s extraordinary discontent with Trump’s decision to side with the kingdom. A Senate vote come come as soon as this week to condemn the Saudi government for a variety of alleged malfeasance, from its involvement in Yemen to its role in Khashoggi’s death. “It’s a sign that this president’s foreign policy has gone badly askew when Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham are generally in agreement,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, who serves with Paul on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been meeting with Graham to discuss legislative strategies for punishing Saudi Arabia. Paul and Graham’s partnership could help set the tone as the Senate looks to upbraid the administration. Lawmakers could vote on at least one of three proposals to register congressional displeasure with the Saudi government. It’s expected that one proposal will be a Graham-sponsored nonbinding resolution expressing a sense of the Senate that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman helped orchestrate the journalist’s murder on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the retiring Foreign Relations Committee chairman who said he believes a U.S. jury would render a guilty verdict on bin Salman “in 30 minutes,” said Graham’s resolution or a version of it is expected to pass overwhelmingly, regardless of whether Graham and Paul throw their weight behind it. Trump has seemingly disregarded CIA reports of the strong probability that the crown prince was behind Khashoggi’s brutal dismemberment and has warned against disrupting a partnership that has resulted in American jobs from Saudi arm sales.

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USA Today - December 9, 2018

Jared Kushner advised Saudi prince on how to 'weather' Khashoggi slaying, report says

President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has been a promoter of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman since the early days of the administration and recently offered the prince advice on how to handle the outrage over the slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Kushner, 37, who serves as Trump's adviser on the Middle East, has kept up informal conversations with the prince, 33, since early 2017, the Times reported, citing unnamed sources. Three former senior officials told the paper that the politically inexperienced Kushner's private chats with Mohammed could have made him "susceptible to Saudi manipulation." Khashoggi was killed on Oct. 2 by Saudi agents at the country's consulate in Istanbul. Although the administration has played down reported evidence linking the slaying to the prince and cautioned lawmakers not to take action against Saudi Arabia in response to the killing, senators say U.S. intelligence reports clearly implicate the crown prince. "I think he’s complicit to the highest level possible," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after a CIA briefing last week on Khashoggi's death, which included the use of a bone saw. "There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw." After the killing, Kushner "became the prince’s most important defender inside the White House," the Times reported. The White House acknowledged one call after the slaying. On Oct. 10, Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton spoke with the prince and encouraged the Saudis to be "transparent in the investigation process," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. But the Times reported that Kushner's informal talks with Mohammed continued. Citing an unnamed Saudi source, the paper said, "Kushner has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments." In October, CNN reported that Kushner's private chats with the prince were causing concern among national security officials who "worried off-the-books conversations with the young prince could lead to misunderstandings or worse." CNN also reported that Kushner and Mohammed often sent each other texts via WhatsApp. The Times reported Kushner's relationship with Mohammed began after aides to the prince, often referred to by his initials MBS, met with Kushner in November 2016, just after Trump won the election. According to a slideshow the Saudi officials put together to report on the meeting, "Kushner made clear his lack of familiarity with the history of Saudi-American relations" and he "expressed his satisfaction with what was explained about the Saudi role in fighting terrorism."

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Associated Press - December 9, 2018

General Motors fights government to retain tax credit for electric cars

General Motors is fighting to retain a valuable tax credit for electric vehicles as the nation’s largest automaker tries to deal with the political fallout triggered by its plans to shutter several U.S. factories and shed thousands of workers.

Preserving the $7,500 tax incentive for buyers is crucial for GM as the company pivots from internal combustion engines in favor of building cars powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Yet the layoffs and plant closings could imperil GM’s push to keep the incentive. It helps make plug-ins such as the $36,000 Chevy Bolt more affordable at a time when competition from other electric vehicle makers is heating up. GM faces opposition from President Donald Trump and other Republicans who consider the credit a waste of taxpayer money and want it eliminated. Trump, who has pledged a manufacturing rebirth in the Midwest, reacted angrily to GM’s “transformation ” announcement late last month, declaring that his administration was “looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including for electric cars.” The company already is on the verge of being phased out of the tax credit program unless Congress changes a law that caps the break at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer. Without the incentive, GM may be forced to cut the price of its electric cars to keep prospective customers from taking their business elsewhere, according to automotive industry experts. As evidence of the credit’s importance to GM’s future, the automaker has expanded its lobbying footprint in Washington and even joined forces with two rivals, Tesla and Nissan, to call for 200,000-vehicle limit to be scrapped. Standing in the way of that goal is Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Barrasso introduced legislation in October to abolish the tax credit, a move he said would save about $20 billion over the next 10 years. He has argued the market for electric vehicles is already established and “no longer needs the crutch of government assistance.” “The idea of the subsidies had to do with trying to make sure that electric vehicles would be a viable technology,” Barrasso said. “Well, that’s clearly there.” The tax credit came up briefly during a private meeting on Wednesday between Ohio’s senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and GM chief executive Mary Barra, according to a congressional aide familiar with the conversation. As part of the restructuring, GM said it will stop making the Chevy Cruze at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant by March and is considering closing the plant for good. Portman told Barra that it’s difficult to help with priorities such as the electric vehicle credit when GM is moving production out of Ohio, according to the aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Newsclips - December 9, 2018

Lead Stories

Washington Post - December 8, 2018

‘Siege warfare’: Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency — and threatens to consume the rest of the party as well.

President Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come. Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him. But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad. Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for reelection, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony. The White House is adopting what one official termed a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe. But some allies fret that the president’s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most arduous phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” and cast the president’s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated. “The Democrats are going to weaponize the Mueller report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses,” Bannon said. “The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts .?.?. They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.” This portrait of the Trump White House at a precarious juncture is based on interviews with 14 administration officials, presidential confidants and allies, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss private exchanges. Rather than building a war room to manage the intersecting crises as past administrations have done, the Trump White House is understaffed, stuck in a bunker mentality and largely resigned to a plan to wing it. Political and communications operatives are mostly taking their cues from the president and letting him drive the message with his spontaneous broadsides.

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Politico - December 7, 2018

Year of the woman? Dozens of female political operatives say they weren’t invited to the party.

When Jody Casey came aboard as Beto O’Rourke’s campaign manager in late summer 2017, she faced a dilemma. She was a political novice and O’Rourke family friend who had quit her sales job at General Electric to join the campaign.

She was stationed in El Paso, the most remote of major American cities. She was leading a U.S. Senate campaign that would grow into a $70 million operation in the most scrutinized race in the country. And when she looked for a political mentor—a Democrat who had led a campaign of roughly similar scale and could help guide her—she could not find a single woman who fit the bill. “I met many great women in politics who were in supporting function roles, like fundraising or communications, but I was challenged to find a female mentor who had run a campaign of our size,” Jody Casey told POLITICO. “I did find mentors along the way,” she added. “I just am someone who looks for people in similar circumstances that I’m in—working mom, two kids: How do you juggle? How do you balance?” Casey’s predicament exposed a huge and overlooked problem for women in politics, even in 2018, even after a woman won the popular vote in a presidential election: They rarely get to run campaigns, or fill top roles in campaigns. And the women who do work in politics often feel belittled and cut out of the major strategic roles and decisions—even in this, the “Year of the Woman,” with 42 new women elected to the Senate and the House. POLITICO Magazine interviewed more than 50 women for this article, seeking to understand how and why they feel shut out of the high profile and often lucrative business of politics. Most of the women spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing business—or worse, clout. They are Democrats and they are Republicans. They are pollsters, spokeswomen, television ad makers, fundraisers, direct-mail vendors, digital strategists, donors, lobbyists, candidates and even sitting members of Congress. Over and over in interviews, they portrayed an enraging, often futile struggle to be taken seriously by colleagues and candidates alike—including by candidates who are themselves women. “There’s a sense of shame in feeling like you’re just not wanted,” said a former Democratic fundraiser. They frequently describe themselves as left out of the most important big picture decisions on campaigns—“they won’t let us in on the sexy part of politics” is how the former Democratic fundraiser put it. They fret about the opportunities they’ve been denied on major statewide campaigns, if not presidential races. They shudder at the thought that sexism has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) over the course of their careers. They stew about the solid advice and creative ideas they’ve offered that have been ignored in favor of those from men. But mostly, they are mad as hell. Mad at losing out on business. Mad at watching younger men surpass them in stature without merit. Mad at having male colleagues talk down to them at every turn. Mad at being relegated to the world of fundraising, the only female-dominated sector of campaign consulting. Mad at the men around them taking credit for their work. Mad at the consulting firms that feign diversity by hiring the wife of one of the company’s male partners rather than filling the spot with a qualified, independently successful woman. Mad at the men on their campaign staffs not taking what they say seriously. Mad at colleagues, consultants, party staffers and candidates of both genders who they believe have reinforced a structural sexism that undermines the collective goal of any campaign: to win and to govern.

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McAllen Monitor - December 8, 2018

Presumptive Texas House Speaker excites Valley lawmakers

During a time when Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on much, many lawmakers in Texas have agreed on supporting Dennis Bonnen to be the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Bonnen, a Republican, 20-year veteran state representative from the small Gulf Coast town of Angleton, has conjured the support from most of the Rio Grande Valley delegation, which is made up entirely of Democrats. In an attempt to visit colleagues, Bonnen has been barnstorming across the state in recent weeks to sure up his ascension to the speakership. One of his first stops recently was the Valley, where most of the delegation, and the Border Health Political Action Committee, met with Bonnen. The group talked about infrastructure and health care needs in South Texas. And Bonnen emphasized that public school finance is his top priority. This was welcome news to the South Texas delegation. “There’s a big need in the Valley with infrastructure and education and health care, and his top priority is school finance,” State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, said. “That’s something the legislature has kicked down the road over the years. Republicans have focused on social issues rather than more important issues for Texas.” Martinez and his colleagues emphasized Bonnen’s willingness to help the Valley. “The presumptive Speaker seems not only engaged but extremely hands-on when it comes to not only addressing but helping the Valley achieve its legislative priorities,” State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said. Canales added that he told Bonnen about the need for more roads connecting to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge. “This is not just a South Texas priority, it’s a national priority,” Canales said. “It’s disheartening that it’s taken this long, but I believe it’s finally going to come to fruition under presumptive Speaker Bonnen’s leadership.” State Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was not able to attend the meeting, but spoke with Bonnen before and after. “We’re lucky that we have an ongoing dialogue with the presumptive speaker, so if there’s something we support, he’ll help us get there,” Longoria said in an interview. “And he’s very open and tries to make himself very available.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2018

No more snubs: Ted Cruz repays John Cornyn's endorsement as Texas Democrats gain traction

The alliance between Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz drew tighter Friday as Cruz issued an early and enthusiastic endorsement, warning that with his narrow re-election a month ago, Democrats are emboldened in their quest to reclaim Texas.

"John and I have made a very strong team here in Washington, and I hope that we can keep working together so that together, we can uphold the principles that have long embodied the Texas can-do spirit," Cruz says in a two-minute video released by the senators' campaigns. Cornyn will seek a fourth six-year term in 2020, and explicit support from a colleague more closely aligned with the tea party and the Trump base would be helpful in solidifying Republican support. The senators, both conservatives, share much the same agenda. But in Cruz's early years in the Senate, they were often at odds on legislative and political tactics, as Cruz encouraged insurgent tea party-style candidates and bucked Cornyn and others in the party's leadership. They've kept their distance in elections until this year, when Cornyn threw his weight behind his colleague in what turned out to be a nail-biter against El Paso Rep. Beto O'Rourke. Cruz prevailed with less than 51 percent of the vote, the worst showing for Republicans in decades in a state where Democrats haven't won a statewide race since 1994. As a candidate for the Senate in 2012, Cruz refused to say if he would support Cornyn for re-election to his post as majority whip, the party's No. 2 leadership job. He would wait to see how many "constitutional conservatives" got elected, he told The Dallas Morning News.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2018

In Senate District 6 race, leading contenders agree on policy, differ in legislative approach

The political domino effect began over dinner last November, when longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green told a handful of possible successors he would not seek re-election.

More than a year later, the political ramifications of Green’s decision continue to play out through Tuesday’s “expedited” special election to fill the Texas Senate seat vacated by Sylvia Garcia, who resigned shortly after winning Green’s seat. Though four candidates — three Democrats and a Republican — are competing to represent the heavily gerrymandered district, state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez appear best positioned to finish atop the field, campaigning for months and tapping into their deep ties among Houston’s political circles to raise funds. Without much ideological separation, the Houston Democrats differ in how inclined they are to work with Republicans, a distinction they finally addressed head-to-head during a recent debate. Set off by a question about her lack of House chairmanships, Hernandez suggested Alvarado had compromised her Democratic principles to gain leadership roles under Republican Speaker Joe Straus. Alvarado later snapped back that “promises don’t equate to much if you don’t have the results to back them up.” On the campaign trail, Hernandez emphasizes her background as a once-undocumented immigrant and single mother. Her door hangers include a photo of herself and her son, Gregory Eli, and while canvassing the 74 percent Hispanic district, she tends to lead conversations with her backstory. “As an immigrant, as an attorney, as a mother of a 6-year-old boy, I go through similar challenges to the rest of the communities in Senate District 6,” she said in an interview. Alvarado’s pitch focuses on her wide-ranging resume, particularly working as Green’s legislative aide and serving on City Council before joining the Texas House. Where prudent, she raises her track record of carrying bipartisan legislation, as she did while courting a Republican voter on a recent block walk. Between door knocks, she recounted carrying the bills of a handful of Republican state senators, including Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston. “There are bills that they could have given to other Republicans, but they I think had trust and confidence in me, being a Democrat, that I could get it passed,” she said, also citing a collaboration with Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, on a law that authorizes courts to bar parental rights of parents who commit rap

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 9, 2018

Abbott and lawmakers have the power to improve care for sick and disabled Texans. Will they use it?

Texas spends $22 billion every year to buy health care for its most vulnerable residents. But taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth. As The Dallas Morning News reported this year, thousands of elderly and disabled Texans can’t get the medical care they need. Many chronically sick children have to fight for life-sustaining treatments. Countless foster kids can’t get doctors’ appointments.

Under a program called Medicaid managed care, health care companies promise to save taxpayer money and to help patients by hiring care coordinators to connect them with doctors and treatments. But Texas cannot prove it is saving money, and the state’s own analysts found that most patients aren’t getting much — or any — care coordination. The good news is that Texas leaders can fix this mess. We interviewed more than a dozen experts, looked at what’s working in other states, and identified eight specific steps that could mend the state’s broken public health-care system and protect vulnerable Texans. Some require action from lawmakers, who convene in Austin in January. But most could be implemented by Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration now. Abbott, who ultimately controls the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, has defended managed care and hasn’t publicly offered any clear solutions. Last month, The News provided Abbott’s office detailed explanations of the reforms that experts recommend. But his spokesman, John Wittman, repeatedly declined to address our inquiries. State health officials, meanwhile, have taken some steps in response to our reporting. Those fixes include hiring 100 more regulators and nurses to ensure patients get the care they qualify for; changing the way the health commission monitors the networks of doctors that health-care companies advertise; and improving the way it handles appeals from patients who are denied doctor-ordered treatments. But if Abbott and lawmakers want to improve care and crack down on companies that fail, experts say they should consider more substantial reforms include ending the incentive to deny care, actually coordinating care, investigating, tracking and penalizing bad behavior, making sure vulnerable people have access to doctors and treatments, fixing the state’s unfair appeals system, giving foster kids another option, taking control of medical guidelines and letting sick and disabled kids opt out.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

Botham Jean family's lawyer Lee Merritt acquitted on 16 counts of criminal contempt

Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said Friday he is free to assist victims of police misconduct after a judge dismissed charges accusing him of practicing Texas law without a state license.

Merritt, who is from Los Angeles, faced 16 counts of criminal contempt for practicing state law without a Texas law license. A judge concluded her dismissal of all 16 charges, including 14 that were dismissed outright before rebuttal. The Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee is considering appealing Thursday's ruling by Judge Cynthia Wheless, according to committee member Leland de la Garza. Merritt has represented the families of Botham Jean and Jordan Edwards, among other Texas victims of alleged police brutality. He said in a prepared statement that state authorities had wasted taxpayer resources over two years investigating each of Merritt’s Texas cases, and had thereby exposed the state’s justice system as a tool to “suppress the rights of the most vulnerable.” De la Garza said the committee’s purpose was the opposite, and that it existed to protect the people by ensuring no one without the required expertise can offer legal services in Texas. Merritt is not licensed to practice state law in Texas, but he said he practiced federal law in all of his dealings with Texas clients, specifically relating to federal civil rights laws. “It was an ironic honor to be investigated by the Texas State Bar,” Merritt said, citing civil rights icons who were targeted by legal authorities for their work. Merritt later clarified he meant the Texas Supreme Court, which oversees the UPLC. The UPLC continues to believe Merritt violated the terms of a prior agreement to refrain from practicing state law in Texas, de la Garza said. He said that while the judge may believe Merritt’s involvement in state law practice was unintentional, the UPLC does not. De la Garza emphasized that the UPLC could not target Merritt because its investigations are always complaint-driven, as was the case for Merritt. The initial complaint of unlawful practice was filed by Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson. The 16 charges ultimately filed by the UPLC each sought six months of jail time. An indictment on any charge could have jeopardized Merritt’s ability to practice federal law in Texas in the future.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2018

Dallas County GOP condemns 'white nationalist' Republican from North Texas

The Dallas County Republican Party released a statement calling on Ray Myers, a Kaufman County Republican with Dallas roots, to apologize after Myers declared himself a white nationalist on social media last month.

The local party released a statement Friday disavowing white nationalism and denouncing any relationship between that movement and the Republican Party. “As the Party of Lincoln, the Dallas County Republican Party stands for our core values of freedom, liberty, equality and opportunity for all Americans,” the statement said. Republicans "need to understand that our Party has no room for bigotry and discrimination.” The statement refers to a since-deleted Nov. 28 Facebook post in which Myers declared himself a white nationalist and “very proud of it.” Myers, 74, is on the Republican Party of Texas’ permanent platform committee. The Dallas County party said he has previously been a delegate to the Republican Party of Texas' state convention. Myers helped write the state party's 2018 platform, which includes planks that support the repeal of hate-crime laws, the abolition of the refugee resettlement program, the use of English-only ballots and the use of profiling to fight terrorism.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

Texas should end the ban on hemp to help farmers, not potheads, says Ag Commissioner Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is calling on Congress to lift the ban on hemp production. In a press release Thursday afternoon, Miller urged Congress to pass the 2018 Farm Bill, which negotiators have revealed includes a provision to remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

"This is all about taking the shackles off the American farmer," Miller said in a statement. "It is time to finally end the ban on industrial hemp and free Texas farmers to produce this valuable commodity. In today's economy, our farmers need maximum flexibility to diversify their production and thrive. When our farmers do well, they can provide for their families, grow our rural communities and ensure we have the food, clothing and medicine we all need." Support for lifting the ban on hemp, a fast-growing form of cannabis with low or untraceable amounts of the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, has enjoyed growing support among conservatives in recent years. The Republican Party of Texas included it in this year's convention platform, which also backed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Miller, a staunch Republican known for his bombastic social media presence, clarified in his statement that supporting hemp production did not amount to loosening marijuana laws. "This is not the backdoor to legalizing marijuana," Miller said. "Hate to break it to the potheads, but marijuana is still illegal in Texas and under federal law. Ending the ban on hemp won't change that. This is about giving farmers another opportunity to thrive." About 40 states have passed some form of hemp legislation, and 19 states have begun cultivating it, according to Vote Hemp, a national advocacy group. Hemp products are sold at wellness stores and many grocery chains, such as Austin-based Whole Foods. Hemp can be used to make protein powders and body care items, such as lotions, and its seeds as a garnish for food. Home builders, clothing companies and automakers have used hemp because it's lightweight and fibrous.

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

San Antonio Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro steps into key role on immigration policy

As the new head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquin Castro said he intends to press for immigration legislation early in the new Congress while paying close attention to President Donald Trump’s border policies.

Castro, of San Antonio, also intends to be a main participant when the Intelligence Committee, under Democratic control starting next month, reopens an investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections with the aim of identifying Americans who may have played a role. “We’re going to go in there and figure out gaps in information, and from there we should have a much clearer understanding of what happened, who was involved and whether a foreign nation has leverage over the president of the United States — or not,” he said. For Castro, 44, elected last month to a fourth term, the new duties are part of an expanding profile in both lawmaking and Democratic politics. He is also an adviser — likely the main adviser — to his twin brother, Julián, who is contemplating a bid to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Julián Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and Obama administration housing secretary, is expected to announce his intentions soon. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which elected Castro as chair last week, gained clout after the robust participation of Latinos in many midterm elections. He succeeds outgoing Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the governor-elect of New Mexico. Latinos made up an increasing share of the U.S. electorate in the midterms and 7-of-10 voted for Democrats in congressional races, according to exit polls. About a quarter of Hispanics who cast ballots said they were voting for the first time. In Texas, Democrats comprised 30 percent of eligible voters. The Hispanic Caucus, which grew to 39 from 31 members after the midterms, has been quick to make demands, and Castro vows to be aggressive when he takes over in January. “We’re intent on playing a central role in the major policy issues that go through the House of Representatives,” Castro said. “They (Democratic leaders) understand that you’ve got a very energized community out there that is watching what the Congress does.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

Players, coaches, fans, fellow owners pay final tribute to Texans owner Bob McNair

As Houston concluded a week of reflection and remembrance Friday, the normal tumult of NRG Stadium gave way to the strains of hymns and gentle words of praise for Bob McNair, the soft-spoken but deeply influential owner of the Texans.

With Texans players and coaches and several of his fellow NFL owners in attendance, McNair, who died Nov. 23 at 81, was eulogized by former Secretary of State James Baker, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and others as one who embodied the same traits as the late President George H.W. Bush of honesty, hard work and love of country. With McNair’s death in such close proximity to that of the late president, Baker said, “Houston has lost two of its very greatest and most admired adopted sons.” Baker’s remarks were the keynote of an hour-long service attended by about 1,000 people seated on the floor of the stadium — descried by Baker as “the house that Bob McNair built” — that Sunday will host the Texans’ game against the Indianapolis Colts. With a victory Sunday, the Texans will extend their winning streak to 10 games and take another step toward a playoff berth and what several speakers described Friday as McNair’s ultimate goal for his adopted hometown. And while the focus of the service was on McNair’s faith, philanthropy and love of family and of Houston, of course there had to be at least a little football talk. “Not to put any more pressure on you, coach, or the team,” Goodell said, referring to Texans coach Bill O’Brien, “but you know how much Bob wanted to win a Super Bowl.” And, given McNair’s love of politics dating to his college days, it wasn’t out of place for Baker to note that both he and McNair were converted from Democrats to Republicans by George H.W. Bush. The memorial service for McNair, who paid $700 million in 1999 to bring the NFL back to Houston, prompting the construction of NRG Stadium as a home for the NFL and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, reflected his characteristic traits of which Baker and others spoke. Friday’s eulogies were preceded as guests arrived by a montage of photos of McNair and his wife Janice, with Texans players and fans, including the late president and President George W. Bush. Among those on hand were Dom Capers, the team’s first head coach, and Charley Casserly, its first general manager, along with the current players and coaches, who filed onto the stadium floor en masse minutes before the memorial service began. “He was a good boss,” Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt said of McNair after the service. “He was always around. He wanted to know how things were going. “All he wanted was to win, and that is why it’s fun to be on a nine-game winning streak, because we know that is what he would want. We hope we can keep it going.”

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Star-Telegram - December 8, 2018

Cleburne mayor is concerned about waste dumping near his city’s water supply

The city of Cleburne is embroiled in a legal battle to stop a waste disposal company from dumping human waste from septic tanks near the city’s drinking water source and has also sued the state agency that issued the permit allowing the practice.

The city has court cases pending against both Harrington Environmental Services based in Joshua and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that issued the permit to allow the company to dump the waste. Last week, a state district judge in Johnson County issued a temporary injunction against Harrington Environmental Services on the basis that the company was violating the terms of its permit. The company was accused of dumping waste when it rained and when the ground was saturated, heightening concerns that the waste could seep into Lake Pat Cleburne, where the city with 30,000 residents gets its drinking water. The lake is also a flood control reservoir and a popular recreation spot in Johnson County. The 68-acre site at 7501 County Road 1009 is near the area where Joshua, Cleburne and Godley meet. It is about eight miles upstream from the lake along the Wallace tributary of the Nolan River. Thomas Harrington, a spokesman for the company, called the allegations false and said he won’t back away from a fight. “This is not a landfill, and it is not a dump site,” Harrington said, referring to the land near Cleburne. “This is a recycling program sanctioned by the state which is why we were able to get our permit,” he said. Harrington said the process his company uses involves treating liquid waste from septic tanks which is mixed with the soil to enrich it. “We believe in property rights,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, we have a right to do this as long as it doesn’t harm anyone.” Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said witnesses saw the dumping occur when it was raining and when the ground was saturated, which is why the city took legal action. “That is why we were so dogmatic about this issue. People can rest assured that Cleburne with the help of Johnson County will aggressively protect and defend Cleburne’s water source,” he said. “If our water is contaminated, the results would be catastrophic for us economically, as our businesses would be forced to shut down,” he said.

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Star-Telegram - December 9, 2018

After 34 years, a post-scandal Joe Barton leaves Congress in January. What’s next?

Life is about to change for Joe Barton. Next month, for the first time in more than three decades, he will no longer be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The 69-year-old Republican will move home to Ennis and look for a job.

And — either in the next week or the next six months — he plans to marry his fiance, Desiray Ayres. “I might get married this coming week, maybe,” he told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board on Friday. “We are looking to get married in the House Prayer Room in the Capitol. But that hasn’t happened yet. “It’s got to be approved by the Speaker and you have to get the marriage license from the District of Columbia,” he said. “There’s a lot of red tape to getting married in Washington.” If that doesn’t work out, Barton said he and Ayres definitely will be married by April at a different location. Barton has represented the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties, since 1985. After coming under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones he exchanged with a female constituent, Barton did not seek another term in office. Tarrant County Tax-Assessor Collector Ron Wright, a Republican, was elected in November to replace Barton in Congress. Barton said he knows that his life will dramatically change Jan. 3, when members of the next U.S. Congress are sworn into office — and he won’t be there. “There are days I think ‘Hallelujah, Hallelujah, I’m free again,’ ” he said. “And there are days I think I’m really going to miss it. “Half my life, two-thirds of my adult life, I’ve been in Congress.” When Barton first arrived in Congress, Republicans were in the minority — and had been for years. Then the Republican revolution arrived in 1994, giving Barton and others in the GOP majority status. A hallmark of his tenure was serving as chairman of the House Energy Committee for two terms. He once picked up the nickname “Smokey Joe” for defending industries against tighter pollution controls. Many point to his work in the energy field, particularly the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that put in place the largest reform of the country’s energy program in decades. He said he’s proud of many bills that he carried or supported through the years, including the energy policy, 21st Century Cures legislation and a key measure to improve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. His biggest disappointment is that “we are not even close to balancing the budget,” Barton said. “The national debt is terrible.” And his biggest disappointment in his district is that the area didn’t get the supercollider. “We almost made it,” Barton said. “Had (George H.W.) Bush won re-election, we would have made it. That project would have made North Texas the high-tech research capital of the world.” Barton will miss many things, but most of all, he said he will miss the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. He recalled a time, decades ago, when he received a postcard from a Burleson boy upset about a three-wheel ATV that fell on his older brother in their front yard, crushing and killing him. The boy wrote Barton and asked: “What are you going to do about it?” Barton called him and said he would see what he could do. He began a congressional effort to investigate the use of those ATVs. Within a year or two, a consent decree was signed by the ATV industry and others that took those bikes off the market for a decade. When that time period expired, the ATVs weren’t brought back on the market. “That saved 200 to 300 lives a year and thousands of injuries because of one little boy’s letter to his congressman,” Barton said. “I picked up my phone and did something about it.

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McAllen Monitor - December 7, 2018

Bipartisan bill aims to identify missing migrants’ remains

Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation that seeks to help border counties better identify the remains of missing migrants and alleviate the associated costs. U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Will Hurd, R-Helotes, as well as U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act of 2018 Thursday in the House and Senate.

The bill seeks to amend existing federal laws to expand grant funds for local law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories, medical examiners offices and nonprofit organizations that work to find, report and identify migrants that die or go missing in the U.S. The cost of transporting, preserving and autopsying a migrant’s remains ranges from $1,500 to $4,000, according to Gonzalez’s office. This year alone, the Missing Migrants Project, an initiative of the International Organization for Migration, has recorded 368 deaths along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. “I believe that the job of finding, identifying and keeping a database of migrants that come into our country undocumented and unidentified should be the federal government’s responsibility,” Gonzalez told The Monitor. “And at this time we have a lot of counties and municipalities that are picking up the tab on doing this work and they don’t have the resources and the training …” One of these counties is Brooks, whose sheriff’s office has discovered the remains of 47 migrants this year. Since 2009, the county has recovered 681 deceased migrants. Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez knows what it’s like not to have funds to cover the costs of storing and identifying migrant remains. State funding for these tasks didn’t become available until 2013, and he said the county spent approximately $682,000 of its own money to conduct autopsies on migrants and collect fingerprints and other DNA evidence between 2009 and 2012. “It has really alleviated a lot of the strains we felt,” Martinez said of the availability of state funds. The act would also require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to submit annual reports of all unidentified remains discovered, including the cause and manner of death; the deceased migrant’s sex, age and country of origin; and the location where the body was found. Additionally, the bill ensures that DNA samples in which family members of missing migrants submit to the FBI’s national DNA database “may be used only for identifying missing persons and unidentified remains … (and) may not be disclosed to a federal or state law enforcement agency for law enforcement purpose.”

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Tyler Morning Telegraph - December 7, 2018

Governor Abbott orders increased readiness of State Operations Center

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday ordered the Texas State Operations Center (SOC) to elevate its readiness level as severe weather such as flooding and winter weather, including snow and ice, were expected to hit parts of the state over the next few days.

The SOC increased its readiness level from level IV (normal conditions) to level III (increased readiness) Friday morning, and Abbott said state resources would be available to assist local officials. “As severe weather approaches, it is imperative that Texans heed all warnings from first responders and local officials,” Abbott said in a news release. “I encourage all Texans to stay alert to potentially hazardous road conditions and changing weather patterns. Texas is prepared to respond and offer the necessary assistance to local communities as they deal with the impact of this storm.”

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Beaumont Enterprise - December 6, 2018

Phelan bill would encourage cooperation on flood projects

A bill to encourage local governments to cooperate on large-scale flood planning and mitigation projects is just one indicator the state may be ready to take on lessons learned during Hurricane Harvey. House Bill 478, filed Thursday by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, suggests a new way for local governments to request money to fund such projects.

Meanwhile, the Texas Water Development Board on Thursday provided recommendations that showed it likely will cost more than $31.5 billion over the next 10 years to curtail damaging flooding across Texas. The recommendations include moving away from piecemeal projects to focus one regional ones — something Phelan’s bill encourages. The Legislature found that the creation of a fund specifically to award or loan state dollars to government bodies that cooperate with each other would “encourage the development of nonstructural and structural flood mitigation in the state,” according to the bill text. To be eligible the group has to have “acted cooperatively with other political subdivisions to address flood control needs in the area.” Additionally, all governmental bodies substantially affected by the project must participate in developing the projects, conduct public meetings and meet other requirements. The bill didn’t specify how much cooperation is enough or what qualifies as substantially affected. Although Phelan’s bill comes after Harvey, which first made landfall near Port Aransas as a Category 4 hurricane, and Phelan hails from an area devastated by subsequent flooding, he said in an interview that the measure is designed so the entire state can benefit from the flood mitigation opportunities. Bodies that cooperate could get a loan at or below market interest rates or a grant to provide matching funds for federal programs. They could also have other opportunities. The program is proposed to be funded by appropriations from the Legislature, proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for the program and repayments of loans made from the fund, among other sources. “I don’t want to say there won’t be a problem with funding, but there’s more than enough sentiment” to use state dollars for hurricane recovery, Phelan said. For the program to be successful, he said, the state will need to provide leadership, funding must be available and local government officials must be willing to trust the state and their peers. Coastal and river flooding alone is expected to cause more than $6.8 billion in property losses over the next five years, according to an Associated Press report about the Water Development Board’s flood assessment. The agency suggests a three-pronged approach: updating flood mapping and modeling, establishing comprehensive planning instead of piecemeal efforts and enacting policies and procedures to aid mitigation.

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HuffPost - December 9, 2018

Lawsuit urges court to make Blake Farenthold’s employer stop paying him

Drama has been following former Rep. Blake Farenthold ever since he abruptly quit Congress in April amid a sexual harassment scandal. A Texas newspaper sued his new employer, the Calhoun Port Authority in Port Lavaca, in May for possibly hiring him illegally.

And on Tuesday, in response to the port authority’s lawyers dragging out the case, the newspaper filed an emergency motion urging the court to either make the agency immediately stop paying Farenthold his $160,000 taxpayer-funded annual salary or hurry up and rule on the case. The Victoria Advocate is suing the port authority for not giving public notice that it was hiring the former congressman or that it was creating a lobbyist job for him. Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, public entities must give notice of actions being taken at upcoming meetings and allow for public comment. The port did give notice of its May 9 meeting, after which Farenthold was hired, but it used vague language about personnel matters. “The Advocate requests that this Court enter a temporary order staying the payments made to Mr. Farenthold as a result of his hiring following Appellee’s May 9, 2018 board meeting,” reads the motion, filed Tuesday. John Griffin, the newspaper’s attorney, said port authority lawyers have been appealing the case for months because they don’t want to go to trial, where the public would learn the details of how and why Farenthold was hired despite his baggage. “Not pretty,” Griffin told HuffPost. “The newspaper wants this done as quickly as possible, since the public is still in the dark about this, and the port still acts as if it can conduct government business in the dark.”

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Associated Press and Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2018

Air Force failed 6 times to report Sutherland Springs church gunman, report says

The Air Force failed six times to report information that could have prevented the ex-airman who killed more than two dozen people in a Texas church from purchasing a gun, according to a government report released Friday.

The Department of Defense inspector general's report details Devin Patrick Kelley's decade-long history of violence, interest in guns and menacing of women. That history culminated in Kelley's November 2017 attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the church his wife and mother-in-law attended. The dead included several children, a pregnant woman and a 77-year-old grandfather. Kelley served almost five years in the Air Force, during which he was court-martialed and sentenced to one year's confinement for assaulting his wife and stepson. He was able to purchase four firearms after being discharged in 2014, three of which he carried into the church. The Air Force was blamed immediately after the shooting for not reporting the assault to the FBI. The conviction would have been a red flag in the mandatory background check when Kelley tried to purchase a gun. Friday's report says Air Force investigators who spoke to Kelley failed four separate times to fingerprint him and turn those prints over to the FBI. The report also says the Air Force failed twice to submit its final report of the case to the FBI. Air Force investigators were not trained to submit fingerprints or the final report to the FBI, the inspector general found. The Air Force squadron that investigated the assault "used on-the-job training as its primary method of instruction for fingerprint collection and submission," the report says. "However, this training was insufficient and was not based on any established curriculum or policy requirements." The Air Force said in a statement Friday that "corrective action has already been taken." It has reviewed all case files since 1998, and "all criminal history reporting requirements that would preclude someone from purchasing a firearm have been updated."

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KUT - December 6, 2018

CDC to conduct first of its kind study of scooter injuries in Austin

The city says it's working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study dockless scooter-related injuries and incidents in Austin – a first for the nation's public health institute.

Austin Public Health and the Austin Transportation Department is partnering with three CDC epidemiologists to look at the health risks of dockless scooters. The details of the study were presented to the city's Mobility Committee this afternoon. The study will focus on 37 EMS calls and 68 scooter-related injuries reported over a 60-day period between Sept. 5 and Nov. 4 this year at Austin area hospitals. Data collected will, ideally, be used to educate riders – and the city itself – on the best safety practices in Austin and beyond. The city adopted rules for deployment and operations of the scooters last month after its initial pilot program expired. Dockless bikes and scooters began officially rolling out on to Austin streets this year, starting with bikes in February. Scooters outpaced that growth quickly, but have also prompted safety concerns and sidewalk congestion. Austin is currently home to seven dockless mobility companies who own or operate more than 11,000 bikes and scooters; bikes account for a mere 850 of those. Recently, the city called out Lime for packing its scooters into the downtown area, forcing it to reduce its fleet by 20 percent (1,000 scooters) for violating its agreement with the city. The city says, in October alone, riders took nearly 293,000 dockless scooter and bike trips, with scooters accounting for 94 percent of those rides. After the study and public input is gathered over the next few months, the Austin City Council could vote on tweaks to the rules as soon as March or April next year.

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Voice of Texas - December 8, 2018

More than 1,000 soccer balls contributed for detained immigrant children

An effort to deliver a little bit of Christmas joy to detained immigrant children in El Paso County spearheaded by the office of Sen. Jose Rodriguez became bipartisan this week and as of Saturday morning has now raised more than 1,000 items so far.

There are 2,400 kids and the deadline to get this done is next Thursday, Dec 13. “The children are not allowed visitors, gifts of any kind, or even hugs. However, for this holiday season, the Office of Senator José Rodríguez has received permission to provide a gift of a soccer ball,” per the senator’s office. Overnight, Republican Representatives Jeff Leach, Matt Krause, and Jason Villalba joined with the Democratic senator’s effort by purchasing soccer balls for the kids along with hundreds of other people after the toy drive began to circulate on social media. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus chipped in, purchasing 16 of them Other members of the Texas Legislature who have chipped in include Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-El Paso, and Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas. Rep. Poncho Nevarez said he was donating on Saturday as well. Former Texas House Chairman Jim Keffer, a veteran Republican from Eastland, said he was contributing $200 worth of the soccer balls for the kids.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

Millions spent on incentives failed to get better teachers in high-need HISD schools

Houston ISD has spent millions of dollars on incentive pay and bonuses during the last two years to recruit and retain more high-quality teachers at it longest-struggling campuses. It has not worked.

The salary incentives have had virtually no impact on shifting highly-rated teachers to schools covered under HISD’s Achieve 180 campus turnaround initiative, where students historically have performed worse academically under the tutelage of lower-scoring educators, according to staffing data provided by HISD. As a result, students in HISD’s 40-plus Achieve 180 schools remain twice as likely as peers in non-Achieve 180 campuses to have teachers rated “ineffective” or “needs improvement.” They also are half as likely to have a teacher rated “highly effective.” HISD spent $6.87 million on teacher incentives tied to Achieve 180 in 2017-18, and it is expected to spend a similar amount this year. “Whatever we’re doing, teachers are not biting,” said HISD Trustee Wanda Adams, one of six school board members who has approved budgets with dedicated funding for Achieve 180. “I think we need to revisit those incentives. Just like any evaluation, if I want to give you a bonus, there needs to be a reason why we give that bonus.” Even with little change in the distribution of teachers by rating, Achieve 180 received mostly positive reviews after its first year. Seven campuses earned a “B”-level grade from the state, and 15 met Texas academic standards after missing the mark last year. At the same time, 10 of the 42 fell short of state standards, and many posted progress scores well below state averages. In an effort to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing campuses, former HISD superintendent Richard Carranza pitched Achieve 180 as his signature campus turnaround plan in the spring of 2017, asking trustees for $22 million in dedicated funding. Board members ultimately approved $16 million for the initiative. Achieve 180 encompassed many reforms designed to raise student achievement, including replacing several campus principals, implementing more professional development opportunities for teachers and hiring dozens more staff focused on students’ social welfare and emotional needs. A key pillar of Achieve 180 also involved “selective hiring, development, compensation and strategic assignment of talented teachers” to those campuses, which traditionally have been staffed with less experienced and lower-rated educators. To entice higher-rated educators to work in Achieve 180 schools, HISD offered $5,000 bonuses to all nearly all teachers employed at those campuses. District officials did not tie the incentive to any performance metrics. Headed into 2017-18, the first year of implementation, HISD saw dramatic staffing turnover in Achieve 180 campuses through a combination of attrition and strategic staffing moves. Twenty-five of the 42 schools covered under Achieve 180 in its first year replaced at least 40 percent of their employees. Several campuses saw turnover exceeding 60 percent. However, HISD officials did not require new teachers to possess a “highly effective” rating before moving into an Achieve 180 campus.

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 8, 2018

Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee celebrates his 99th birthday in the co-pilot’s seat

Climbing to 16,000 feet over the Virginia countryside Saturday, Charles McGee looked intense but at ease. From the co-pilot’s seat, he gazed at the horizon, the Potomac River to his left.

It was one day after his 99th birthday, 76 years after his first plane ride in Tuskegee, Ala., and decades since he served as a pioneering fighter pilot in World War II, after the U.S. government long held black people lacked the mental capacity to fly airplanes. Now, with fellow Air Force veteran Glenn Gonzales in the pilot’s seat to his left, McGee put his hands on the yoke in front of him and began gently guiding the blue-and-white HondaJet through the morning sky, easing it a bit to the right, then to the left, getting a feel for the aircraft as Gonzales kept his fingers on the controls as well. Before setting out for a day’s journey that was part epic birthday celebration, part reunion with machines he used to destroy stereotypes as much as enemy aircraft, McGee looked at a family portrait sitting above the fireplace at his brick home in Bethesda, Md. There was his wife and eldest daughter, who hadn’t been able to join him at an air base in Kansas after he returned home — even after his wartime heroics — because housing remained segregated. And there were his two other beloved children, who have also lived their lives inspired by a man with standards and heart.

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Washington Post - December 9, 2018

Why are the ‘yellow vests’ still protesting in France? His name is Macron.

Act Four in the weekly “yellow vest” protests unfolded Saturday in Paris amid a now-familiar backdrop of tear gas and chants, but also brought further clarity on where the rage is headed: directly at President Emmanuel Macron.

What began as opposition to a carbon tax designed to curb climate change has morphed into a working-class revolt against Macron, who now faces the first major test of his presidency and whose approval ratings have plummeted to all-time lows. The crowds on Saturday — several thousand demonstrators — appeared smaller than in past weeks. But the increased focus on Macron and his elitist image point to deeper divisions in France that reach beyond the protests and could become defining features of the opposition as Macron’s popularity slumps. Chants of “Macron resign!” echoed along the grand Champs-Elysees on Saturday as protesters decried him as the “president of the rich” who has ignored struggling regions around the country. Remarkably, some of those in the crowd had backed Macron’s improbable campaign in 2017. But they say they feel betrayed by an agenda that they see as merely concerned with protecting the economic interests of the elite. In neighboring Belgium, meanwhile, anti-government protests adopted the same yellow vest uniform Saturday during confrontations with riot police near the headquarters of the European Union. More than 400 people were detained, the Reuters news agency reported. Last week in Paris, the protests reached a level of violence unseen since the student uprisings of 1968, with participants destroying shop windows across the capital and vandalizing national monuments, notably the Arc de Triomphe, an enduring symbol of the French Republic. This Saturday, police barricaded access to the monument at the top of the Champs-Elysees to avoid a repeat of last week, when protesters smashed parts of the Arc and scrawled graffiti on its gray limestone. The protest on the Champs-Elysees did not feature levels of violence of the week before, although riot police did frequently use tear gas to disperse large crowds of protesters, and disturbances spilled over into other areas. Arrests, however, were at a record high: The Paris prefecture announced by midafternoon that authorities had detained more than 670 people. In total, more than 1,380 people were arrested across France. The movement — whose name is taken from the trademark high-visibility yellow vests that protesters wear — has since come to represent a deeply rooted social anger that has more to do with the personality of Macron than it does with any particular policy.

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New York Times - December 8, 2018

Prosecutors’ narrative Is clear: Trump defrauded voters. But what does it mean?

The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.

In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law. The prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo filed on Friday that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory. On Saturday, Mr. Trump dismissed the filings, and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, minimized the importance of any potential campaign finance violations. Democrats, however, said they could lead to impeachment. In the memo in the case of Mr. Cohen, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York depicted Mr. Trump, identified only as “Individual-1,” as an accomplice in the hush payments. While Mr. Trump was not charged, the reference echoed Watergate, when President Richard M. Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury investigating the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the prosecutors wrote. “He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” they continued. “In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.” The exposure on campaign finance laws poses a challenge to Mr. Trump’s legal team, which before now has focused mainly on rebutting allegations of collusion and obstruction while trying to call into question Mr. Mueller’s credibility. “Until now, you had two different charges, allegations, whatever you want to call them,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview on Saturday. “One was collusion with the Russians. One was obstruction of justice and all that entails. And now you have a third — that the president was at the center of a massive fraud against the American people.”

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New York Times - December 9, 2018

With Brexit vote looming, Britons on both sides rally in London

With questions swirling about how the British government would try to salvage its plan for leaving the European Union, protesters from the left and the far right marched through central London on Sunday preaching starkly different visions of the country’s future.

In a march led by the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, hundreds of people waved the Union Jack, chanted Mr. Robinson’s name and wore vests reading, “Brexit means exit.” Warning that they would quit the Conservative Party if Prime Minister Theresa May did not fully sever ties with the European Union, many lashed out at immigrant workers in Britain. “In seven years on building sites I’ve worked with four English builders,” Lee Windsor, 51, of London, said as a crowd marched toward Westminster ringing a liberty bell on a cart. “The rest are from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, wherever. The difference is I pay tax and they get paid in tax.” “And when I go to the pub,” he added, “I don’t see any of these guys spending money there.” A couple of miles away, anti-fascist organizers gathered for a competing march that they said was about proving Britain could navigate its departure from the European Union without feeding the far right’s hate-filled politics. Carrying placards that said, “Stand up to Racism,” Brexit supporters and opponents alike warned that Mr. Robinson was trying to co-opt a movement that at its core was driven by dissatisfaction with austerity economics and out-of-touch politicians. “They’re using Brexit to get more support for people feeling left behind by neoliberal institutions like the European Union,” said Lauren McCourt, 24, a member of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union. Standing beside her, Claire Trevor, 30, of Leicester, said the march on Sunday was about proving, especially to young people, that Mr. Robinson represented a small minority of Britons, no matter how much attention he got. “A lot of young people are scared,” Ms. Trevor said. Parliament is expected to vote on Tuesday on Mrs. May’s plan for extracting Britain from the European Union. With the strongest proponents both for leaving and staying in the bloc lining up against the deal, some British news outlets reported on Sunday that Mrs. May would try a last-ditch appeal to win more concessions from European Union leaders to mollify conservatives who want a cleaner split. Those reports raised the prospect that Mrs. May would delay the vote to avoid an embarrassing defeat in Parliament. And support for a second referendum on Britain’s departure appeared to be gathering steam among both Labour and Conservative lawmakers. The marches on Sunday, though, were as much about long-simmering forces in British politics as about the wrangling over Mrs. May’s deal. The U.K. Independence Party, which played a major role in building support for leaving the bloc before the 2016 referendum, recently appointed Mr. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, as an official adviser. That has spurred resignations from the party and prompted fears that the far right, already emboldened by the referendum result, would capitalize on frustrations with Mrs. May’s deal.

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Wall Street Journal - December 7, 2018

CIA names first woman to lead clandestine operations

CIA Director Gina Haspel has chosen an agency veteran and close ally to be the first woman to run the part of the agency that recruits spies overseas, gathers intelligence and engages in covert actions authorized by the White House, an agency spokesman said Friday.

Elizabeth Kimber will assume control of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations, until recently a male-dominated bastion also known as the clandestine service. The CIA’s other major branch is the Directorate of Analysis, which is responsible for analyzing classified and unclassified information from multiple sources, and preparing reports for the president and other top U.S. policy makers. “With nearly 34 years of experience and a proven ability to deliver with impact on CIA’s operational mission, Beth Kimber will be an exceptional leader of our Directorate of Operations,” Brittany Bramell, CIA’s director of public affairs, said. Little is known publicly about Ms. Kimber’s CIA career, most of which she spent in the operations branch and which included stints dealing with Russia and terrorism, a person familiar with the matter said. Her LinkedIn page, which describes her merely as a “senior executive” in the U.S. government, says she received a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in New York and speaks French. Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA officer who worked with Ms. Kimber, said “she has a very high intellect—not just when it comes to the operational tradecraft on which our work is based, but also on understanding the world.” Mr. Hoffman, who served as a CIA station chief and whose overseas duty included considerable time in Russia, said he didn’t expect the operations branch to have difficulty accepting a female leader. “I think pretty much those days are gone,” he said. Ms. Kimber’s appointment comes as more women have filled senior leadership ranks across national-security agencies during the Trump administration. In addition to Ms. Haspel, who is the first woman to head the CIA, Sue Gordon serves as the principal deputy director of National Intelligence and had been rumored to be in consideration for director of the CIA if Ms. Haspel’s nomination failed to earn Senate confirmation.

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Wall Street Journal - December 9, 2018

Details emerge in China-U.S. trade truce

A week after President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping struck a trade truce in Buenos Aires, details of the cease fire are becoming clear—big Chinese purchases, tough negotiations and shifting deadlines to finish a deal.

Interviews with officials in both countries, briefed on the Trump-Xi talks, give a fuller picture of the agreement the two men reached. The two sides agreed on a negotiating period of about 90 days, during which the U.S. won’t raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25%, as it had planned to do on Jan. 1. Beijing and Washington also agreed that China will purchase large amounts of goods and services, with China pledging to announce soybean and natural-gas purchases in the coming weeks, said officials in both nations. Beijing is also considering reducing tariffs on U.S. automobiles. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Sunday noted “some very positive, promising statements” out of Beijing. He also said some 35 Chinese agencies and the country’s supreme court were “working on new legislation to deal with the IP theft issues.” “When you piece it together...there’s a lot of good things out there,” Mr. Kudlow said, speaking on Fox News Sunday. Under the terms of the understanding, purchases and tariff reductions aren’t required until a deal is struck, but both sides believe that early purchases would serve as a kind of down payment and give a boost to negotiations. Beijing wants to convince the U.S. to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods. The heart of the negotiations will deal with much thornier issues, officials say, including broader access for U.S. firms to Chinese markets, prohibitions on intellectual property theft and an end to alleged Chinese pressure on U.S. firms to share technology when doing business in China. In the Dec. 1 talks between Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump, he and aides laid out how they might handle technology issues, say officials. Trade talks, though, could run aground after the arrest in Canada of the daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies Co., Meng Wangzhou, for allegedly helping the telecommunications giant evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. The U.S. wants Ms. Meng extradited to the U.S. The imbroglio has produced a nationalist backlash in China that could make it difficult for Mr. Xi to make concessions to the U.S. In a hearing in Vancouver on Friday Ms. Meng’s attorney said the U.S. allegation would be “hotly contested.”

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The Guardian - December 9, 2018

2018 is worst year on record for gun violence in schools, data shows

This year has been by far the worst on record for gun violence in schools, the advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise said, citing research by the US Naval Postgraduate School.

The NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security counted 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, a near 60% increase on the previous high, 59, an unwanted record set in 2006. The NPS database goes back to 1970 and documents any instance in which a gun is “brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason”, regardless of the number of victims or the day of the week. In 2018, high-profile attacks in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, have intensified a national conversation about gun violence in schools. Seventeen students and staff members were killed in Parkland. Ten students and teachers died in Santa Fe. “This is beyond unacceptable,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. “It is inexcusable. Everyone has the power to stop violence before it starts, and we want to arm as many people as possible with the knowledge of how to keep their schools and communities safe.” Hockley’s six-year-old son, Dylan, was shot dead at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in December 2012, with 19 other children and six adult members of staff. In response to the NPS findings and to mark the sixth anniversary of Sandy Hook, on 14 December, Sandy Hook Promise will release a jarring public service announcement. The short film, the group says, “reveals the many warning signs and signals exhibited by an at-risk individual that can lead to gun violence – signs that SHP wants to train individuals to recognize and intervene upon before a tragedy can occur”. The video, made by director Rupert Sanders and Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, among others, shows a series of interactions between high school students from a first-person perspective. Near the end, a student appears to retrieve an assault rifle from a bag.

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The Guardian - December 8, 2018

Mob mentality: how Mueller is working to turn Trump's troops

Before the curtain lifts on the final act of the Robert Mueller investigation – which is not necessarily to say the final act of the Donald Trump presidency – there has been a a scramble for seats as second-tier figures in the drama choose sides.

Some of the players have agreed to work with the special counsel as he investigates possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Others are standing by Trump. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort vowed never to work with Mueller, then agreed to work with Mueller, then allegedly tried to put one over Mueller. Like the methodical prosecutor he is, Mueller has forced each target of his investigation, one by one, to pick a side, offering reduced penalties to cooperators such as Michael Flynn and hammering Manafort, whom Mueller accused Friday of lying to investigators about maintaining contacts inside the White House as recently as May. Trump, for his part, has been trying to disrupt the process, praising former aides who “refused to break” and “still have guts” while slamming his former attack dog Michael Cohen, who has been cooperating with Mueller, as a “weak” liar and a bad lawyer to boot. The secret of why, exactly, Trump appears to be growing so desperate in the face of his former aides’ mutiny – by midday Friday, the president had tweeted seven times about Mueller – promises to be revealed in the final act. The drama, meanwhile, has heated up aggressively in the last week, with former Trump adviser Roger Stone invoking fifth amendment protections to maintain his silence, and Mueller unveiling the extent of Cohen’s co-operation, writing approvingly of Flynn’s conduct, and explaining to a judge how Manafort allegedly tried to outsmart him. To a certain set of federal prosecutors, the visible struggle between Trump and Mueller for the loyalty of former Trump aides is familiar, because it is straight out of the playbook for prosecuting organized crime. “The decision to cooperate with prosecutors always comes down to loyalty,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the southern district of New York who helped dismantle the Sicilian mafia. “Who are you going to prioritize?” Honig said. “Are you going to cooperate and minimize your own exposure, and likely minimize the pain, and emotional and financial hardship on your family – or are you going to stay loyal to the people who you committed crimes with?” Controversially, owing to its potentially disastrous erosion of the rule of law coming from the mouth of a president, Trump has objected to Mueller’s tactic of “flipping” witnesses – Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Cohen, Manafort (temporarily) and counting – arguing that it amounts to an enticement to lie. “You know they make up stories, people make up stories,” Trump told Fox News in August. “This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30 to 40 years I’ve been watching flippers … It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair.” But Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino family boss John Gotti, said not only is “flipping” a witness fair, it is “exceedingly common” in group investigations. “This is what you do when you’re investigating the Gambino crime family, or a motorcycle gang, or any other group of criminals that are engaged in a conspiracy,” said Cotter. “You’ve got to get inside. And usually you need somebody on the inside to tell you what’s going on, and that opens up some doors.”

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Associated Press - December 9, 2018

FBI probe of Russia initially looked at 4 Americans

The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia initially focused on four Americans and whether they were connected to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, former FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers during hours of closed-door questioning.

Comey did not identify the Americans but said President Donald Trump, then the Republican candidate, was not among them. He also told the House Judiciary Committee that, contrary to Trump’s claims, he was “not friends in any social sense” with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now leading the Russia investigation. Trump has repeatedly portrayed the men as exceptionally close as part of a long-running effort to undermine the investigation and paint the lead figures in the probe as united against him. “I admire the heck out of the man, but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names,” said Comey, who added that he had “never hugged or kissed the man” despite the president’s insistence otherwise. “A relief to my wife,” he deadpanned. The committee released a transcript of the interview on Saturday, just 24 hours after privately grilling the fired FBI chief about investigative decisions related to Hillary Clinton’s email server and Trump’s campaign and potential ties to Russia. Comey largely dodged questions connected to the current Mueller-led probe, including whether his May 2017 firing by Trump constituted obstruction of justice. The Republican-led committee interviewed Comey as part of its investigation into FBI actions in 2016, a year when the bureau — in the heat of the presidential campaign — recommended against charges for Clinton and opened an investigation into Russian interference in the election. The questioning largely centered on well-covered territory from a Justice Department inspector general report, Comey’s own book and interviews and hours of public testimony on Capitol Hill. But the former FBI chief also used the occasion to take aim at Trump’s frequent barbs at the criminal justice system, saying “we have become numb to lying and attacks on the rule of law by the president,” as well as Trump’s contention that it should be a crime for subjects to “flip” and cooperate with investigators. “It’s a shocking suggestion coming from any senior official, no less the president. It’s a critical and legitimate part of the entire justice system in the United States,” Comey said. In offering some details of the investigation’s origins, Comey said it started in July 2016 with a look at “four Americans who had some connection to Mr. Trump” during that summer and whether they were tied to “the Russian interference effort.” The campaign itself, he said, was not investigation at that time.

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Associated Press - December 9, 2018

Disputed North Carolina congressional race puts spotlight on 'ballot harvesting'

An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting.

It's a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud. The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters - often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full. In North Carolina, election officials are investigating whether Republican political operatives in parts of the 9th Congressional District harvested ballots from minority voters and didn't deliver them to the election offices. In some cases they are accused of harvesting ballots that were not sealed and only partially filled out. Ballot harvesting is illegal under state law, which allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter. Investigators are focusing on areas in the district where an unusually high number of absentee ballots were not returned. They want to know whether some ballots were not turned in as promised to the local elections office, were unsealed or only partially filled out. Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the state elections board has refused to certify the results. The head of the state Republican Party said Thursday that he would be open to holding a new election if there is evidence of fraud. Supporters of ballot harvesting say they worry the North Carolina election may give an important campaign tool an unnecessary black eye. These groups see their mission as helping voters who are busy with work or caring for children, and empowering those who are sick, elderly and poor. Collecting ballots to turn in at a centralized voting hub also has been an important tool for decades on expansive and remote Native American reservations. "Sometimes we think of voting as this really straightforward process and we often forget that all voters, but for new voters in particular, there's a lot of confusion when voting about when they actually have to vote by, where they have to take their ballot to," said Rachel Huff-Doria, executive director of the voter advocacy group Forward Montana. Several states have tried to limit ballot harvesting by restricting who can turn in another person's ballot. In Arizona, a video that showed a volunteer dropping off hundreds of ballots at a polling place prompted a debate that led to an anti-ballot harvesting law in 2016. "I think at any level, Republican, Democrat or anything, it's wrong. It's a terrible practice," said former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, who backed the law. "People should be responsible for their own votes."

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ABC News - December 9, 2018

Trump says chief of staff John Kelly will leave at the end of the year

President Donald Trump announced that his chief of staff, John Kelly, will leave at the end of the year. A replacement will be named, possibly on an interim basis, Trump told reporters Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for the Army- Navy football game.

"John Kelly will be leaving, I don’t know if I can say retiring. But he’s a great guy," Trump said, adding he would announce Kelly's replacement "over the next day or two." The leading candidate to take over would be Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, sources told ABC News. The president, who has fired some of his closest advisors with a tweet, gave Kelly a more graceful exit with his South Lawn announcement, noting that Kelly has been with him in two different roles: DHS Secretary and Chief of Staff. "I appreciate his service very much," Trump said. Kelly’s departure, long-rumored around Washington, represents yet another dramatic shift in power dynamics and management style inside a notoriously tumultuous West Wing. Just a few months ago, Trump had asked Kelly to stay on as chief of staff through his 2020 re-election campaign, and Kelly accepted, several White House officials confirmed to ABC News. At a separate meeting with Cabinet-level communications staff at the time, a senior administration official said Kelly voiced his intention to stay on in the role for far longer -- through 2024 -- should the president be elected to a second term. But the president, increasingly exerting direct control of West Wing operations, has marginalized Kelly's role and influence. Kelly has also chafed at the president's private disparagement of one of his closest allies and confidantes, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Ayers, 35, is seen by Trump and his closest allies as a loyalist and prominent advocate for the administration’s policies and political efforts. And Ayers’ role as the right-hand man to Pence over the past year has put him in close proximity to some of the moments of the Trump presidency.

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Stateline - December 6, 2018

States are struggling to meet foster care needs. New federal rules could help.

Amid an opioid crisis that has increased the need for foster care, states are struggling to find enough foster families to take in kids. A shortage of affordable housing in many places is making the problem even worse.

But some foster care advocates hope new federal guidelines will make it easier for many foster care parents to get licensed, giving a boost to recruiting efforts, particularly among extended family members. The new proposed regulations, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collected public comment on for several months this summer and fall, don’t include a square-footage requirement or a minimum number of bedrooms — rules that many states have enforced for years. Instead, they talk about “sleeping spaces” that apartment-dwelling foster families might carve out of their living rooms. The suggested standards also propose that states not require foster parents to own a car, as long as they have access to reliable public transportation. That change would make it easier for city residents to become foster parents. Many of the suggested rules are more flexible, and will enable more foster families to get licensed while protecting the safety and well-being of children who’ve already been traumatized, said Ana Beltran, special adviser for Generations United, a Washington-D.C. based advocacy and research group. “Standards will be more focused on common-sense safety requirements, rather than standards based on some suburban, middle-class ideal of a home, that’s not necessarily the best home for a child,” said Beltran, whose group suggested some of the changes to HHS. To be sure, many foster care advocates and state agencies praised some of the new flexibility but also raised concerns in their public comments about some of the proposed rules, including specifics on swimming pool barriers, languages spoken, immunization schedules, transportation options and physical and mental health exams for foster parents. “The proposed national model includes standards that will create a barrier for many applicants,” wrote the California Department of Social Services. “Additionally, due to the critical shortage of available foster homes, we urge HHS to reconsider the requirements … to encourage, not discourage, those interested in becoming foster parents.” The public comment period ended in October, and states and 12 Native American tribes will have until April to explain how they are aligning their foster care standards to the federal model. California and South Carolina already have revamped their licensing standards to make it easier for more families to qualify as foster parents. Last year, in a massive overhaul of its child welfare system, California sped up the process for grandparents and other extended family members — so-called kinship caregivers — to become licensed and therefore eligible for the same benefits as non-relative foster parents.

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NPR - December 7, 2018

Poll: Republicans are only group that mostly sees Mueller probe as a 'witch hunt'

President Trump continues to rail against special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump has, for example, used the words "witch hunt" in tweets nearly a dozen times in the month since Election Day.

The phrase appears to have stuck with his base, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, but not with others beyond that. Seven in 10 Republicans agree with him, while a majority of independents and 4 in 5 Democrats see the investigation as "fair." "The base is solidified, but that doesn't get you more than that," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. The polarized views on the special counsel persist amid a recent flurry of developments in the Russia probe, following relative quiet around the midterms. In federal courts on Friday, Mueller's team is expected to detail how former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly breached his plea deal and to provide sentencing recommendations for ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted last week to lying to Congress. In the poll, for the first time, more Americans said they view Mueller more negatively than positively, 29 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable. That's a net 7-point decline from the summer, when Mueller was 33 percent positive and 30 percent negative. Mueller's decline is fueled by Republicans — 58 percent have an unfavorable view of him in the most recent polling, up from 46 percent in July. (Just 8 percent have a favorable opinion of him, down from 15 percent in July.)

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PBS News Hour - December 6, 2018

Pelosi rejects wall funding ahead of Trump meeting

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday rejected the idea of paying for President Donald Trump’s border wall in exchange for helping hundreds of thousands of young immigrants avoid deportation.

Funding for the wall — a top Trump priority — and legal protections for so-called Dreamers, a key Democratic goal, should not be linked, Pelosi said. “They’re two different subjects,” she said. Her comments came as the House and Senate approved a stopgap bill Thursday to keep the government funded through Dec. 21. The measure, approved by voice votes in near-empty chambers, now goes to the White House. Trump has promised to sign the two-week extension to allow for ceremonies this week honoring former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30. But he wants the next funding package to include at least $5 billion for his proposed wall, something Democrats have rejected. Trump is set to meet Tuesday at the White House with Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. Pelosi, who is seeking to become House speaker in January, said the lame-duck Congress should now pass a half-dozen government funding bills that key committees have already agreed on, along with a separate measure funding the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border. Funding for the homeland agency should address border security and does not necessarily include a wall, Pelosi said. Most Democrats consider the wall “immoral, ineffective, expensive,” Pelosi said, noting that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for it, an idea Mexican leaders have repeatedly rejected. Even if Mexico did pay for the wall, “it’s immoral still,” Pelosi said. Protecting borders “is a responsibility we honor, but we do so by honoring our values as well,” she added. Schumer said Thursday that a bipartisan Senate plan for $1.6 billion in border security funding does not include money for the 30-foot-high (9-meter-high) concrete wall Trump has envisioned. The money “can only be used for fencing” and technology that experts say is appropriate and makes sense as a security feature, Schumer said. “This is something Democrats have always been for: smart, effective, appropriate border security,” he said on the Senate floor. If Republicans object to the proposal because of pressure from Trump, Schumer said lawmakers should follow Pelosi’s advice and approve six appropriations bills and a separate measure extending current funding for Homeland Security. Either option would avert a partial government shutdown, which lawmakers from both parties oppose, he said.

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Newsclips - December 7, 2018

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

U.S. becomes net exporter of oil for first time in nearly 70 years

The United States has become a net exporter of petroluem products for the first time in nearly 70 years as the nation shipped record volumes of crude oil to foreign markets — and there’s lots more where that came from.

As OPEC and its allies negotiated production cuts in Vienna, two government reports on Thursday underscored United States emergence as the world’s new energy power, in large part due to the Permian Basin in West Texas. The Energy Department said that oil producers exported a record 3.2 million barrels of crude a day last week — more than double the volume a year ago — while the nation shipped out 211,000 more barrels a day of petroleum products than it imported. It was the first time petroleum exports exceeded imports since 1949. The Interior Deparment, meanwhile said the Permian Basin's Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations in West Texas and New Mexico hold the most potential oil and gas resources ever assessed. The two formations hold an estimated 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. "It's good news for Texas economically and signals a lot more activity ahead in the Permian," said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones in St. Louis. "With the exports, it's growth for the whole Gulf Coast." The Permian Basin has driven the record oil output in the United States, accounting for nearly one-third, or 3.7 million barrels a day, of the estimated 11.7 million barrels a day produced in the nation, according to the Energy Department. The Permian Basin, with an estimated 493 drilling rigs in operation, accounts for more than half the nations’s active oil rigs. An older basin, the Permian has become the center of the oil and gas world in recent years through the combination of horizontal drilling techniques and modern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technologies. Much of the new activity is in Permian’s western lobe, known as the Delaware Basin, which encompasses the Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations Interior’s assessment of those formations is based on undiscovered oil and gas that's considered technically recoverable based on these modern extraction methods.

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New York Times - December 6, 2018

Making President Trump’s bed: A housekeeper without papers speaks out

Because of the “outstanding” support Victorina Morales has provided during Mr. Trump’s visits to the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Ms. Morales in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name. Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.

Ms. Morales’s journey from cultivating corn in rural Guatemala to fluffing pillows at an exclusive golf resort took her from the southwest border, where she said she crossed illegally in 1999, to the horse country of New Jersey, where she was hired at the Trump property in 2013 with documents she said were phony. She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally. Sandra Diaz, 46, a native of Costa Rica who is now a legal resident of the United States, said she, too, was undocumented when she worked at Bedminster between 2010 and 2013. The two women said they worked for years as part of a group of housekeeping, maintenance and landscaping employees at the golf club that included a number of undocumented workers, though they could not say precisely how many. There is no evidence that Mr. Trump or Trump Organization executives knew of their immigration status. But at least two supervisors at the club were aware of it, the women said, and took steps to help workers evade detection and keep their jobs. “There are many people without papers,” said Ms. Diaz, who said she witnessed several people being hired whom she knew to be undocumented. Mr. Trump has made border security and the fight to protect jobs for Americans a cornerstone of his presidency, from the border wall he has pledged to build to the workplace raids and payroll audits that his administration has carried out. During the presidential campaign, when the Trump International Hotel opened for business in Washington, Mr. Trump boasted that he had used an electronic verification system, E-Verify, to ensure that only those legally entitled to work were hired. “We didn’t have one illegal immigrant on the job,” Mr. Trump said then. But throughout his campaign and his administration, Ms. Morales, 45, has been reporting for work at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, where she is still on the payroll. An employee of the golf course drives her and a group of others to work every day, she says, because it is known that they cannot legally obtain driver’s licenses. A diminutive woman with only two years of education who came to the United States speaking no English, Ms. Morales has had an unusual window into one of the president’s favorite retreats: She has cleaned the president’s villa while he watched television nearby; she stood on the sidelines when potential cabinet members were brought in for interviews and when the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, arrived to confer with the president. “I never imagined, as an immigrant from the countryside in Guatemala, that I would see such important people close up,” she said. But Ms. Morales said she has been hurt by Mr. Trump’s public comments since he became president, including equating Latin American immigrants with violent criminals. It was that, she said, along with abusive comments from a supervisor at work about her intelligence and immigration status, that made her feel that she could no longer keep silent. “We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” she said. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”

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CNBC - December 6, 2018

Beto O'Rourke's team has been talking to Obama political operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire as 2020 momentum builds

Democratic rising star Beto O'Rourke's team has been fielding calls from senior operatives who worked on President Barack Obama's campaign in the pivotal states of Iowa and New Hampshire as the Texas congressman considers running for president in 2020, CNBC has learned.

Led by chief of staff David Wysong, O'Rourke's inner circle has been engaging with political players from the states, which hold the earliest contests of the presidential primary season. These people include leaders of Obama's campaign operations in the states, according to multiple people with knowledge of the conversations. While people close to O'Rourke insist that the discussions have not led to any hires, a former senior Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is clear O'Rourke will have the consultants in place to help guide him if he chooses to make a run for the White House. "This is the phase for someone exploring a presidential campaign in that they're doing everything they can to decide who they may want to run an organization and who they could turn to if he enters the race," the former Obama aide said. O'Rourke is fresh off a surprisingly close defeat at the hands of GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in reliably Republican Texas. He has been credited with lifting fellow Texas Democrats in House races to victory last month as the party flipped about 40 seats to take the majority. O'Rourke broke fundraising records and galvanized young voters in his Senate campaign, a possible indication of the kind of appeal Democrats will need to take on President Donald Trump. Yet, the fact that he lost a statewide race is giving some in the Democratic Party pause about a potential O'Rourke run. "You don't promote a loser," Chicago Mayor and former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said recently.

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The Guardian - December 6, 2018

Samuel Freedman: What Democrats can learn from Newt Gingrich, the man who broke politics

Nearly a month after 2018’s nominal election day, the last votes have been tallied in the last swing district in the United States. A Democratic defeat of a Republican incumbent in California’s Central Valley has given the blue party wave a cumulative gain of 40 seats in the House of Representatives, adding to the majority it had seized back on November 6.

In addition, the American public’s rebuke of an unpopular president two years into his first term has supplied a piquant historical analogy, one that the Democratic party ought to be studying and heeding. In November 1994, it was Republican insurgents led by Representative Newt Gingrich who delivered the stunning upset, capturing control of both the House and Senate from President Bill Clinton’s party. Gingrich’s performance in the months before and the year after his ascent to speaker of the House and de facto leader of the national Republican party offers two vital lessons for today’s Democrats – one salutary, and the other cautionary. Admittedly, by the standards of Newt Gingrich in 2018, as an adviser to President Trump and a freelance blowhard, it can be hard to conceive that he has anything worthwhile to teach Democrats, whether of the progressive or centrist sort. These days, Gingrich has been widely and not incorrectly reviled as “the man who broke politics”, as a recent Atlantic article put it, with his ferociously partisan style. Yet the Gingrich who masterminded the Republicans’ 1994 triumph came equipped with ideas and a program. He called it the Contract With America, and it consisted of 10 pieces of proposed legislation, all of which had tested well in focus groups. The topics ranged from child tax credits to tort reform to work requirements for welfare recipients, and even constitutional amendments on congressional term limits and a presidential line-item veto over the federal budget. About six weeks before the 1994 midterms, Gingrich unveiled the contract at a rally outside the Capitol, where the legislative package was endorsed by 367 Republican candidates for Congress. Even before the election, Gingrich had succeeded in pushing Clinton rightward to collaborate on a harsh anti-crime bill. And when the voters delivered their verdict in November, Gingrich had orchestrated a 54-seat GOP gain in the House and a nine-seat pick-up in the Senate. Republicans held both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1953–55. His bomb-throwing image notwithstanding, Gingrich delivered his first address as speaker in January 1995 with both erudition and generosity. He likened his impending push for legislation to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first 100 days, the birth of the New Deal. He saluted Democratic liberals for having led the nation forward on civil rights. Over the next several months, Gingrich pushed through all but one item on his 10-point program, and many of the measures passed with substantial Democratic support. It is true that most faltered in the Senate or were vetoed by Clinton, but the effect was still palpable – in the pre-election crime bill, in the welfare-reform law ultimately signed in 1996, in Clinton’s concession in his 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over”. It is already too late for 2018 Democrats to have run their campaigns on a consensus platform along the lines of the Contract With America. But there is still time, before the new Congress is seated in January, to identify a series of popular liberal bills to be rapidly approved.

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Governing - December 5, 2018

ALEC outlines 2019 agenda to erode union power

When Mark Janus was introduced at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Washington, D.C., last week, he was hailed as a conquering hero.

Lisa Nelson, the group’s CEO, called him “the successful plaintiff of one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of the year” -- a man who helped achieve “a Herculean feat for employees' rights.” Tennessee Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey later told the crowd that the Janus v. AFSCME decision, which ruled that non-union employees can opt out of paying fees to unions representing them in budget negotiations, was “the biggest win for workers’ rights and workers’ freedom in over a generation.” But when Janus took the stage, soft-spoken and unassuming in his glasses and white mustache, the former Illinois state worker stressed that the fight was just beginning. He urged legislators at the conference to champion ALEC’s “very, very positive” model bills that would further restrict public and private unions' power in their states. The Supreme Court's ruling gives the conservative group and others new momentum when pursuing that mission in state capitals. “Get girded for a fight,” former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett told state lawmakers at the conference, “because it’s gonna take place. ... It will now be fought out on the ground, in the places you know best.” ALEC's “Public Employee Rights and Authorization Act,” for instance, would codify the Janus decision at the state level, establishing a “right to work” for public employees and declaring that these employees have to give “affirmative consent” for their union to collect payments from them. More than half the states already have similar laws. Under the “Union Recertification Act,” what ALEC calls “worker voting rights,” workers in unions would have to vote every couple of years on whether they want to continue with their current union representation. Typically, there is no such opportunity for public employees, unless they go through a very involved and rare “decertification” process. Similar laws have already passed in Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, according to F. Vincent Vernuccio, a senior fellow at the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Then there are “workers’ choice” bills, the “Public Employee Choice Act” and the “Comprehensive Public Employee Freedom Act,” which would allow government workers to opt out of union representation and represent themselves in negotiations with their employer. These type of bills have yet to be passed anywhere, though they've been introduced in states like Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, says Vernuccio. Other ALEC bills would increase transparency in union spending and ban “release time,” in which a public employee draws a public salary while working on union recruiting and representation activities.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

UT to re-erect statue of James Hogg, after removing it in 2017 because of Confederate ties

A statue of Texas's first native-born governor James Hogg, the son of a Confederate general, will be re-erected on the University of Texas campus, after being removed in 2017 along with three other statues of historical figures with ties to the Confederacy.

UT President Gregory Fenves made the announcement in a letter to campus on Thursday, lauding Hogg's contributions to the state, while acknowledging that he was a "child of the Civil war" with a "complicated and nuanced legacy," for his role in signing the state's first Jim Crow bills into law. Hogg was Texas governor from 1891 to 1895. Fenves had four statues quietly removed from their pedestals in the middle of the night in August 2017, after white supremacists holding torchlights rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a counter protester was killed. Statues depicting Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States army, Albert Sidney Johnston, a general in the Texas, U.S. and Confederate armies, and John Reagan, a Confederate postmaster general were also removed. At the time he explained his actions to the campus. "The events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism," Fenves said in 2017. He noted at the time the Hogg statue would be considered for re-installation at another site on campus. The Lee, Johnston and Reagan statues were added to the school's Briscoe Center for scholarly study. "The statues represent the subjugation of African Americans," Fenves wrote after the statues were removed. "That remains true today for while supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry." In his letter to campus, Fenves' condemnation of the statue had significantly softened since his 2017. He called Hogg a "champion of public and higher education," and noted that he created the state's Railroad Commission. Hogg also proposed some of the country's first anti-lynching laws to the Texas Legislature. But, Fenves acknowledged, Hogg also allowed a law to pass reinforcing segregation in railroad cars -- "legislation that provided the legal basis for segregated facilities and services that would usher in the Jim Crow era in Texas."

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

Texas board rejects Confederate group’s proposed license plate featuring rebel soldier

Texas drivers won't be able to display a rebel soldier on a specialty license plate proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board voted 5-3 Thursday to reject the plate's design, which featured a soldier carrying a Texas regiment's special flag at the Civil War battle of Antietam in 1862.

Debate centered on how the design is similar to an existing plate that raises money for BikeTexas.org, not on whether it celebrates 19th-century Texans fighting to preserve slavery. At a brief hearing, three officers of the Southern historical group testified that their proposed plate would raise money for scholarships and placing flags on Confederates' graves. The department charges a $30 fee for a specialty plate. Of that, $22 goes to a selected cause. Robin Stallings, executive director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition Education Fund, or BikeTexas.org, objected. He said his group's "God Bless Texas" plate also displays on the left side a furled Texas flag. "The plates are very similar," he told the board. "It could cause a lot of confusion." From several car lengths behind, Stallings told a reporter, "it's the same -- just a spitting image of ours." BikeTexas' plate, sponsored by the Texas Education Agency, raises between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to help pay for bicycle safety courses for children, Stallings said. Sales could suffer, and the cycling-safety group wants no part of "the controversy" that could be stirred by the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate, he said. State law and DMV regulations permit the board to reject a specialty plate if the design might be offensive or too similar to an existing design and could compete with sales, said Jeremiah Kuntz, director of the agency's vehicle title and regulation division. John McCammon of Boerne, lieutenant commander of the Texas division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Thursday that he was disappointed but not deterred by the denial, which "wasn't because of anything controversial." "We'll probably resubmit using another Texas flag," he said. "There were several Texas flags used during the [Civil] War, and we can use one of those."

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

70,000-acre West Texas ranch coming to market is the largest up for grabs in Texas

A huge West Texas spread is up for grabs, and property brokers say it's the largest ranch on the market in the state. The Lely Ranch near Big Bend State Park has more than 70,000 acres. The sprawling Presidio County property has been owned by a foreign dairy magnate since the 1960s.

"Rarely do we see ranches in the same family for 50 years for sale," Dallas-based property broker Icon Global said about the property. "Truly the last frontier and a chance to buy your own Big Bend. This landscape is vastly unexplored and uninhabited wild country." The Lely Ranch comes with its own airstrip. The mountainous property has the 4,286-foot Cerro Tren Peak, creeks and arroyos. And there's a brick headquarters home on the property. Lely Ranch is about 45 miles from Marfa and northwest of Big Bend National Park. That's the same part of Texas where the classic movie Giant was filmed in the 1950s. The property is one of two big ranches Icon Global is marketing in that area. The Dallas-based real estate firm is also marketing the 37,000-acre KC7 Ranch near Interstate 10 in the foothills of the Davis Mountains. Icon Global has handled some of Texas' biggest rural land sales, including the 535,000-acre ranch W.T. Waggoner Ranch near Wichita Falls.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

Beto O'Rourke's bid against Ted Cruz ended up raising record $80M, a sum sure to stoke 2020 buzz

Rep. Beto O'Rourke ended up raising an astonishing $80.1 million in his failed bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, putting an exclamation point on the El Paso Democrat's record-setting Senate fundraising haul.

The final tally, released late Thursday, is sure to intensify speculation that O'Rourke could mount a campaign in 2020 against Republican President Donald Trump. Despite his relatively lean political resume, O'Rourke has received perhaps the most buzz of any potential Democratic contender for the White House. Even former President Barack Obama hailed him last month, right after the two reportedly met at Obama's office in D.C. Much of the attention on O'Rourke has focused on a frenetic campaign style that helped him come within three points of toppling Cruz — the best a Democrat has done statewide in Texas in years — and a social-media-friendly charisma that captivated liberals all over the U.S. But there's no overlooking the El Pasoan's herculean ability to muster up campaign cash. O'Rourke's latest campaign finance report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, showed he hauled in $10.1 million from Oct. 18 to Nov. 26, a period that covers roughly the three weeks before and the three weeks after the Nov. 6 election. That final push only upped the dollar figure on O'Rourke's Senate campaign record, a sum that came despite his decision to reject donations from political action committees. O'Rourke instead built his war chest with individual contributions, collecting more than $61 million alone via ActBlue, an online portal that has made it easy for Democrats across the country to make recurring, small-dollar gifts to their favorite candidates. "Future campaigns will be won, influenced by the one we built," O'Rourke said last month in a thank-you email to supporters. "Candidates will run who otherwise wouldn't have. Some will take heart in knowing that you don't have to accept PAC money." O'Rourke ended up far outpacing Cruz in the money race, even though the Republican raised a substantial amount in his own right.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos resigns

Texas’s top elections official, Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, told Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday that he is resigning to return to private law practice. Pablos has been in the position for two years.

"With the midterm elections successfully behind us, and the 86th Legislative Session around the corner, I believe this would be a good time to begin the process of transitioning out of my position and passing the baton to the next secretary of state,” Pablos said in a statement to the media. “Serving Texans as secretary of state has been the opportunity of a lifetime, but I feel the need at this time to turn my attention to my private practice." In addition to overseeing elections, the secretary of state maintains business and commercial records for the state and is a senior adviser and liaison to the governor on Texas border issues and affairs with the Mexican government. Pablos, an attorney who practices business, administrative and international law, previously served as chair of the Texas Racing Commission and had been a Public Utility commissioner. The secretary of state is appointed by the governor but subject to confirmation through the Texas Senate. Pablos received a salary of nearly $133,000 a year.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Houston Chronicle: Texas is No. 1 all right — for uninsured children. No Texan can be proud of this

If you’re a Texan who likes to wrap yourself in the Lone Star flag, wrap your head around this: more ubiquitous than any Texas-shaped tattoo, tortilla chip or waffle is something far less deserving of our Texan pride: Kids without health insurance.

Once again, Texas has the largest share of uninsured kids in the nation, accounting for 1 in every 5 in the United States, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. Texas’ uninsured rate among kids was 10.7 percent in 2017 - more than double the national average of 5 percent. An estimated 835,000 Texas children went without health insurance, an increase of about 80,000 from the year before. No Texan can be proud of this. Yet, after 20 years of ranking at or near the bottom for insured kids, nobody in power seems to care enough to address it. Neither Gov. Greg Abbott nor Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — regardless of their touted “pro-life” credentials. Nor lawmakers who lead health committees in the Texas Legislature. For all the lip service Abbott gives to pre-K, for all the passion with which Patrick fights for private school vouchers, for all the talk among lawmakers about improving Texas’ schools, they seem to miss one thing. It doesn’t matter how much we invest in public education if we don’t invest in public health. Kids need to stay healthy to attend school. They need eyeglasses to see the chalkboard. They need immunizations to protect all of us from disease. Kids with asthma need access to preventative care. Kids with cancer need a fighting chance at survival. Texas was late to embrace the Children’s Health Insurance Program, approved by Congress in 1997, and we’ve lagged ever since. Now the problem has gotten worse, exacerbated in part by federal policies that have brought progress in other states to a halt, and in some states, backward. For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of uninsured children in the United States increased, according to the Georgetown report. We’d expect the opposite in a time of economic strength when more children are covered by employer-sponsored insurance. But some working families can’t afford that option. Many kids rely on government programs, which are increasingly at risk. States such as Texas, where leaders like Abbott refuse to expand Medicaid and have actively worked to thwart the Affordable Care Act, have fared the worst.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Group sues over Texas Driver Responsibility Program, says fines trap poor in cycle of debt

After being arrested for drunken driving in 2017, Nathan Alexander, 35, paid court fees and attended residential alcohol treatment. Then he learned he would have to pay thousands of dollars in additional surcharges because of the Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program, which charges fees to drivers who commit certain driving-related infractions.

On Wednesday, attorneys from the Austin Community Law Center along with Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on income bias, sued Texas officials over the DRP, alleging it has trapped Alexander and tens of thousands of vulnerable Texans in a modern day debtor’s prison. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, described the DRP as a “mean and cruel” system, adding he looked forward to reading and supporting the lawsuit. “Sometimes it takes a lawsuit for the state to do the right thing,” he said. “Maybe this is one of those times.” The program’s fees, which are assessed annually for three years, can range as high as $2,000 a year. That was far more than Alexander could handle, since he was working as a dishwasher while he got back on his feet. Prior to his conviction, he had held down a $70,000-a-year job in construction. Now, a year after his arrest, the fees have prevented him from obtaining a drivers license and have kept him mired in homelessness and blocked his to return to his old profession, despite two job offers. The suit was brought in San Antonio federal court against Gov. Greg Abbott and four top officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety. It seeks a judgment to prevent DPS from issuing or processing driver’s license suspensions for unpaid surcharges under the DRP and the reinstatement of licenses previously suspended for failure to pay DRP surcharges. Equal Justice Under Law Executive Director Phil Telfeyan said Texas’ most impoverished residents particularly are harmed by the system because they often are unaware that they owe additional charges under the DRP. “Individuals who cannot pay will often lose their job and their home — becoming homeless — for a minor ticket that wealthier drivers simply pay and forget,” he said, in a news release. The class action lawsuit argues the DRP violates Texans’ due process rights, unfairly impacts the state’s poorest residents, and violates their rights to equal protection under the law. It names Abbott, DPS Director Steven McCraw, as well as DPS Chairman Steven Mach; Skylor Hearn, DPS’ deputy director of Administration and Services; and Amanda Arriaga, division director of the driver license division. Abbott’s office declined to comment. Officials with DPS did not respond to a request for comment.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Global oil demand will 'plateau, not peak' in about 15 years

Population growth and rising demand for plastics from emerging countries will help to prevent oil demand from peaking in the next 15 years, an analysis from RS Energy Group suggests.

As the world shifts away from fossil fuels and the use of more fuel-efficient cars, some analysts have predicted global demand for oil will peak around 2035 and then fall. But others say additional factors at play will keep strong fossil fuel demand afloat. "We don't think oil demand will peak, instead it will plateau," said Al Salazar, analyst with RS Energy speaking to a crowd of a few hundred industry professionals at the Post Oak Hotel in Houston. The Calgary research firm hosted an event Tuesday on the future of the oil and gas industry. The future of fossil fuel demand has huge implications for the Houston economy, where tens of thousands of workers are tied to the oil and gas industry. Today, global oil demand is growing by about 1.3 million barrels per day. RS Energy expects that growth to about 250,000 barrels per day in growth by 2035 and plateau there. By 2035, the global population will have increased by about 1 billion e people, and about 98 percent of those people will be in developing nations, Salazar said. Global economic growth typically supports growth in oil demand. Rising in incomes in developing nations will likely increase the consumption of plastics. The growth in the plastics and the petrochemicals that make that possible could partially offset flattening demand in the transportation sector, he said. Salazar said the relatively high cost of electric vehicles and concerns about the supply of cobalt for electric car batteries will likely dampen the impact that electric vehicles has on global oil demand for the time being.

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

Ted Cruz’s margin of victory over Beto O’Rourke was even slimmer than we thought

As newly updated election results showed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s victory was even tighter than first realized, Democratic-led voter registration groups are saying they’ve never felt closer to turning Texas into a true battleground.

Cruz’s margin of victory fell to just 214,921 votes, according to official results certified by Gov. Greg Abbott this week. That is about 5,000 votes closer than unofficial results showed last month. Cruz won the race 50.9 to 48.3 percent — the closet U.S. Senate race in Texas since 1978. While O’Rourke lost, groups like Battleground Texas say that margin of defeat is nearly four times closer than they thought was even possible and it has them itching to get to work on 2020. “We can register that gap,” said Oscar Silva, executive director of Battleground Texas, a group that runs an aggressive registration program targeting potential Democratic voters. The state saw twice that number of voters just registered between March and October, and Silva noted that every year 300,000 more Texas high school students come of age to register. He said while many people suggest that 2018 was a one-year blip because of O’Rourke’s campaign, groups like Battleground Texas have been on the ground building an infrastructure that has lasting implications. “That is sustainable,” he told the American Association of Political Consultants at a conference in Austin on Wednesday. Battleground Texas said its data shows that, during early voting, nearly one out of every 25 voters under age 35 was registered by the group. Silva added that 69 percent of the people the group registered this year were voters of color, helping the electorate to begin to look more like the state’s overall minority-majority population. Republicans have noticed their work too. In the summer, Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign team used training sessions for volunteers to warn that Harris County and other big metro areas in Texas have been trending toward Democrats, thanks in part to the work of Battleground Texas volunteers. Battleground Texas was first created in 2013 with the help of former campaign operatives who worked for former President Barack Obama. Their mission was to more aggressively register voters in Texas, a place that has a history of making it difficult to register to vote, Silva said. He said the group made gains in voter registration despite Texas laws that he says “criminalizes voter registration.” In Texas, groups cannot help voters register unless they go through specific training in counties they want to work in. If someone wants to register voters in another of the 254 counties in the state, they must get retrained in that county. And the training sessions vary from county to county. Silva said his group has more than 22,000 people who are certified to register people to vote in Texas. But Texas law requires all of those certifications to expire at the end of the cycle. All of those people must go through a new round of training to start registering voters again.

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Cleburne Times-Review - December 6, 2018

SBOE pushing Legislature for full-day pre-K funding

Officials with the State Board of Education are making a recommendation to the Texas Legislature to fully fund full-day pre-kindergarten. The state board recently approved a new Long Range Plan for Public Education, according to the Texas Education Agency. The plan creates recommendations to be achieved by 2030.

“The goals of access and equity serve as the overarching vision of the proposed plan,” according to the TEA. “These goals refer to funding, as well as access to advanced courses and modern technology.” Also included in the plan is a recommendation to implement “quality early learning programs through third grade, including a formula-funded full-day pre-kindergarten, [that] will be fully funded, supported and recognized as the building blocks to future academic and social success ...” Last year, Cleburne ISD piloted full-day pre-K at three elementary schools. After analyzing data collected from both students and teachers, the CISD board of trustees approved to implement the program at all seven elementary schools for the 2018-19 school year. CISD Community Relations Director Lisa Magers said they recognize the importance of early childhood education, as reflected in the decision by the district and the board of trustees in implementing the full-day pre-K for eligible participants this year. “Our data has shown the educational impact a full-day program has, not only on in that initial pre-kindergarten year, but also in classroom abilities and academic performance as those experiencing the full-day format have transitioned into kindergarten and first grade,” Magers said. Coleman Elementary School pre-K teacher Jennifer Rigoulot said students in pre-K cover an array of subjects including social and emotional skills, writing and pre-reading skills, math skills, physical development, fine arts and technology. “Some specific guidelines suggests that by the end of pre-K, students can identify 20 upper and 20 lower case letters as well as 20 sounds,” Rigoulot said. “Students should be about to count to 30 and count up to 10 items with one to one correspondence.”

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Construction Citizen - December 6, 2018

Houston leads the country for construction growth in construction jobs

Of the nearly 400 metro areas tracked by the General Contractors of America, Houston had the most job growth in the industry during the last year.

The region added roughly 25,000 construction gigs in the last 12 months, the AGC said. That's a 12 percent jump in the Houston area alone. Construction employment grew between October 2017 and October 2018 in 78 percent of those 358 metro areas, according to the AGC. "Construction employment has been increasing at a greater rate than overall employment in many metros," said AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson. "But many contractors report they are having difficulty filling hourly craft worker positions, even though construction pay exceeds the average for the overall economy, Simonson said, underscoring one of the top challenges of construction firms nationwide. Other areas that saw big growth in construction jobs were Phoenix, which added 16,700; Dallas, which added about 13,000; and Orlando where 11,700 were added.

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Dallas Observer - December 6, 2018

Texas legal fight over redistricting isn't over

It turns out the nearly decade-long fight over Texas' legislative districts didn't actually end with the Supreme Court's ruling against the plaintiffs in June.

Late Friday afternoon, the coalition of voting rights groups that have fought the state for fairer legislative districts since the last round of redistricting in 2010 filed a pair of new briefs with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. They seek to have the state forced back into federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. States subject to the VRA's preclearance provision must seek and receive federal approval for any changes they make to any law that applies to voting. Texas has been free from the requirement since 2013, when the Supreme Court cleared the list of states subject to preclearance, but could be placed back on the naughty list if federal courts determine that the state is intentionally discriminatory in its voting laws. The groups argue that returning Texas to preclearance status for at least the next five years is the only thing that will stop state legislators from drawing unconstitutional district boundaries during the state's next round of redistricting following the 2020 elections. "[T]his vital, but time-limited remedy — this Court’s imposition of a preclearance requirement and retention of jurisdiction — is the most statutorily appropriate and equitable action that can ensure the State’s next redistricting plans do not discriminate against minority voters, particularly in light of this Court’s identification of the recent intentional discrimination employed by the State in redistricting and the persistent pattern of discriminatory governmental action in Texas directed at minority voters for generations," the plaintiffs write.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 6, 2018

How a lack of state oversight leaves children in day cares across Texas unwatched

Each day, hundreds of thousands of parents send their children to Texas day care facilities. But more often than publicly posted state numbers indicate, children are victims of molestation, physical abuse or neglect at child care sites with long histories of trouble.

Some children have died or been hurt at day care facilities that had already been punished for similar violations, but which the state had allowed to keep operating. A yearlong American-Statesman investigation for the first time reveals in stark detail the dangerous conditions that exist inside many Texas day care sites, leaving hundreds of children with serious injuries and nearly 90 dead as a result of abuse or neglect since 2007. Meanwhile, hundreds of children have been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of those entrusted with their care – an alarming aspect of child care dangers that has never been comprehensively examined by the state. Although the blame for many of those incidents falls largely on those responsible for the children’s care, state regulators have also failed to take necessary steps to ensure child safety. In fact, in recent years they have rolled back efforts designed to do so. The state of Texas has reduced its surveillance of the deadliest day care facilities – the underground, illegal centers that watch thousands of children – and, until recently, failed to use its own data in ways that could help identify problems before they lead to dangerous conditions. The Statesman analyzed 40,000 inspection records in which facilities had received state sanctions. The newspaper built a database to look for patterns among injuries and obtained data on injuries and violations that had never previously been released by the state. Among the newspaper’s findings: More than 450 children – almost one a week – suffered sexual abuse inside a day care facility during the past 10 years. During that same time, child care facilities were cited more than 3,200 times for abuse and neglect of the children they were watching. Nearly half of the children who died of abuse and neglect in day care facilities, 42 out of 88, were in illegal centers. But last year the state shut down its unit designed to track down these day care sites, saying in part that they weren’t finding enough to justify the effort. The numbers prove otherwise. Texas’ regulations for day care staffing levels – a key predictor of classroom safety and child brain development – are among the worst in the country, and state officials have repeatedly refused to change them. In 2016, they went so far as to pull out of a study analyzing the impact of staffing levels on injury rates, effectively shutting it down before researchers could produce specific recommendations. Texas child care inspectors are hamstrung when it comes to disciplining day care facilities and in some cases, the state’s enforcement strategy has failed to correct dangerous caregiver behavior before injury or death. Usually, there are no financial penalties or extra training ordered when children are abused, neglected or wrongly punished. And the legislatively set fines that are levied – mainly for background checks – are paltry, averaging $112, even as day care sites with scores of violations are allowed to continue operating. Provided with a copy of the Statesman’s findings, Gov. Greg Abbott promised to take action during the upcoming legislative session. “Governor Abbott’s top priority has always been the safety of Texans, especially when it comes to our children,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said. “Any allegation of child abuse or neglect must be taken seriously, and the governor will not tolerate it in Texas. He will work with the Legislature and key stakeholders to identify strategies and solutions to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 6, 2018

Bulldozers to soon plow through National Butterfly Center for Trump’s border wall

Bulldozers are expected to soon plow through the protected habitat of the National Butterfly Center along the Rio Grande to clear the way for President Trump’s border wall, which got a green light from the Supreme Court this week.

Hundreds of thousands of butterflies flit through the center’s 100-acre sanctuary. But 70 percent of the land will eventually be on the other side the wall, said Marianna Wright, the executive director. “We do not know exactly how much of (the land) we will retain access to and how much of it will be left intact,” she said. The wall could be up to three stories tall, with 18-foot steel beams, called bollards, rising from a concrete base. Construction through the refuge could start in February. The high court let stand a ruling that lets the administration bypass 28 federal laws, mostly to protect the environment, to build the wall in the Rio Grande Valley. Three organizations, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, had sued the government. Some of the laws waived for the construction include the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Environmental activists argue the wall could lead to the extinction of endangered species such as the ocelot, contamination of drinking water and destruction of indigenous historical sites. “The border wall and the border region is an area of tremendous biodiversity and wildlife,” said Tony Eliseuson, a senior staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “It’s a very rich environmental area, and this border wall will have a devastating impact on both the environment and many, many species.” By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court upheld a February ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel in favor of the government. At the time, Trump took to Twitter to celebrate Curiel’s ruling, despite having questioned his impartiality — calling the Indiana-born judge “Mexican” — when Trump was a presidential candidate. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson said in an October notice that the flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs along the border demonstrated “an acute and immediate need” for a wall. The immigration reform act of 1996 and a 2005 update, the Real ID Act, grants the government broad powers to waive federal laws to expedite construction projects on the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, the Butterfly Center sued the government after contract workers appeared unannounced on its property in July 2017. Chainsaws in hand, they began clearing out protected habitat where the border wall was planned. “That is criminal. And unconstitutional,” Wright said.

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The Eagle - December 7, 2018

President George H.W. Bush is laid to rest at his library at Texas A&M

As the train carrying George Herbert Walker Bush, who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94, slowly made its way past Kyle Field on Thursday afternoon, the hundreds lining the east side of Wellborn began to wave small American flags and cheer. To the west, a large section of Bush School students and faculty, as well as other VIPs, looked on as well.

The locomotive arrival in Aggieland capped a day that began with a 1,000-person funeral at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in the Tanglewood neighborhood of west Houston. In Navasota, Magnolia, Plantersville and other towns from Houston to College Station, thousands lined the railroad tracks, all to catch a glimpse of, and say goodbye to, a president who came to call Texas home. Before his death, Bush had talked at length with family and close friends about how he wanted to be remembered. The decision to have his body brought to its final resting place by train recalled similar funeral trains in 1865, 1945 and 1969 for Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, respectively. As the train slowed, former president George W. Bush -- the late Bush's eldest son -- waved at passers-by. After the train stopped, George W. Bush processed from the train to a staging ground with his wife, Laura, both escorted by Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard. Jeb and Columba Bush, George P. Bush and other family members and close friends closely followed. Military members lined the path on both sides. As pallbearers removed Bush's casket from the train, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band began Hail To The Chief -- played just a hair slower than usual -- as attendees on both sides of the train held right hands to their hearts. The Aggie Band then played The Aggie War Hymn, another request of the late president, and a roaring "whoop" erupted from all sides. Two balloons soared into the sky from the east side of Wellborn. After the song's conclusion, pallbearers slowly carried the flag-draped coffin past the Bush family and the A&M group, and into the waiting hearse. Hundreds of Texas A&M Corps of Cadets members lined the route of the motorcade as it traveled from the Wellborn train area along George Bush Drive. The U.S. Navy conducted a 21-strike fighter aircraft flyover for the president, who himself was a naval aviator in World War II. The number three aircraft in the final flight executed the "Missing Man" maneuver from south to north over the Bush Library and Museum, where the president was laid to rest next to his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, who died April 17, and their daughter Robin, who died at the age of 3 from leukemia, in a private ceremony.

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 6, 2018

Republican officials had early warnings of voting irregularities in North Carolina

When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss. The congressman turned to a group of friends and family who had gathered with him on election night at a steakhouse near Charlotte and blamed the “ballot stuffers in Bladen,” according to three people at the gathering.

In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions. GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said. Their accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes. A spokesman for the NRCC denied that Pittenger’s campaign raised the possibility of fraud in the primary. Allegations of fraud in November’s general election have now put the outcome of the 9th Congressional District race in limbo. State investigators are examining the activities of a political operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who ran a get-out-the-vote effort for the Harris campaign during the primary and general elections. While the investigation continues, the elections board has declined to certify the 9th District race, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, according to unofficial results. On Thursday, McCready told television station WSOC that he was withdrawing his concession and accused Harris of bankrolling “criminal activity.” Dowless, who has worked on political campaigns in Bladen for at least a decade, touts his ability to mobilize voters to cast ballots by mail, according to people who know him. He has been under scrutiny by state officials since 2016, when allegations surfaced about illegal ballot harvesting in that year’s campaigns, leading to a public hearing. Dowless, who told the Charlotte Observer that he did not commit any wrongdoing, declined to comment Thursday. “I’m just not giving any comment at this time,” he told reporters and photographers in front of his house in Bladenboro, adding, “No disrespect to anybody.” The Harris campaign has said it was not aware of any illegal activities.

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Washington Post - December 7, 2018

‘Pop-up’ super PACs spent millions on the 2018 election, including for O'Rourke, without disclosing donors, FEC filings show

A mysterious Texas-based super PAC that received $2.3 million from undisclosed donors to run last-minute ads in support of Democrat Rep. Beto O’Rourke was funded by the Senate Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC, according to new federal election filings made public Thursday evening.

SMP donated the money to the super PAC, Texas Forever, in a way that circumvented federal election deadlines that trigger donor disclosure — an increasingly common tactic employed by both Democrats and Republicans this election cycle that, while legal, critics say violate the spirit of disclosure requirements for super PACs. The O’Rourke campaign raised another $10 million in donations after mid-October — bringing his total fundraising for his failed Senate bid to a record-high $80.5 million and making him one of the most successful fundraisers in American politics. Half of the $10 million came from donations under $200. O’Rourke’s campaign spent $19 million in the five weeks since Oct. 18, and had less than $480,000 in cash on hand after his campaign ended, new records show. The flurry of last-minute activity to support O’Rourke in the Senate race underscores the national attention and deep fundraising base for the 46-year-old three-term congressman's campaign, despite the fact that his incumbent opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, consistently led in the polls leading up to the election. O’Rourke is now weighing a 2020 presidential bid, though the new FEC filings show he would start nearly from scratch to raise money for a potential presidential run. The work of super PACs like Texas Forever injected millions to boost his candidacy and that of others running in the most high-profile and competitive races across the country in the 2018 election, which was the costliest midterm in U.S. history. One major trend involving super PACs this cycle was the number of “pop-up” super PACs that ran ads for or against campaigns just before Election Day without disclosing their donors. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on politics, but must disclose their donors and spending. More than a dozen super PACs launched or paid for political ads in a way that allowed them to withhold from the public who was spending money to influence voters until a month after the November elections, new filings show. Some of these groups were tied to well-known national groups, but others were funded by just a handful of wealthy donors.

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Washington Post - December 6, 2018

McConnell tells White House little chance of Senate vote on criminal justice bill

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told allies there is little chance that the Senate will consider a bipartisan criminal justice bill in the waning days of year, even as his own Republicans say there is more than enough support for the legislation favored by President Trump.

He doesn’t like the bill,” Republican donor Doug Deason, a key White House ally, said of the measure. Referring to the former Alabama senator and ex-attorney general, Deason added: “He's a Jeff Sessions-style, lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key kind of guy.” White House officials say McConnell doesn’t want to have a vote unless the overwhelming majority of Republicans will vote for it — although Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-IA, said this week that 28 or 30 GOP senators support the bill. There are 51 Senate Republicans, and nearly all of the 49 Senate Democrats — if not all — are expected to back it. McConnell said at a Wall Street Journal event this week that more than half of his conference either oppose the bill or are undecided. “It’s extremely divisive inside the Senate Republican conference,” McConnell, who deplores fights that split his ranks, said Monday evening. Lawmakers have to take up a farm bill extension and legislation to fund parts of the government before the end of the year, and McConnell would also like to confirm as many judges as possible before then, his allies say. When asked about McConnell’s private remarks, a spokesman said the legislation was still being drafted and he could not predict the outcome on an unfinished bill. In turn, McConnell’s reluctance has frustrated White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and others in the administration who believe the votes are there but that McConnell is dragging his feet. In recent days, Kushner has ramped up his private push among senators — visiting Republican lunches, strategizing with the bill’s key authors and even sending out a thick packet of material promoting the criminal justice bill to Senate Republican offices. The book includes letters from advocacy groups backing the bill, media coverage of it and a summary of the legislation.

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Wall Street Journal - December 6, 2018

Stocks stage recovery after Dow drops over 700 points

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled as much as 785 points Thursday before sharply paring those losses in the final hour of the session, another example of the volatility that has rocked markets since the start of the fourth quarter.

Major indexes opened modestly lower and continued falling throughout the morning as the arrest of a top Chinese technology executive and a decline in oil prices exacerbated recent concerns about global growth. But stocks pared their declines after The Wall Street Journal reported Federal Reserve officials are considering whether to signal a new wait-and-see mentality after a likely interest-rate increase at their meeting in December, which could slow down the pace of rate increases next year. U.S. investors were awaiting a speech later Thursday from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, which will be scrutinized for signals related to the central bank’s interest-rate policy. Officials still think the broad direction of short-term interest rates will be higher in 2019, the Journal reported pointing to recent interviews and public statements. But as they push up their benchmark, they are becoming less sure how fast they will need to act or how far they will need to go. Investors will turn their attention to Friday’s highly anticipated employment report. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect employers added 198,000 jobs during November and unemployment held at 3.7 percent. Economists expect a further acceleration in average hourly earnings, estimating wages advanced 3.2 percent for the month from a year earlier. Hourly wages rose 3.1 percent in October from a year earlier, the best annual growth rate since 2009. Markets started the week on a high note after President Trump reached a 90-day trade truce with his Chinese counterpart over the weekend, but that optimism turned to caution Tuesday, when the Dow industrials plunged nearly 800 points on renewed fears about the pace of economic growth. U.S. markets were closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2018

Mexico's new leader says relations with Trump good

Mexico's leftist new president said Wednesday that relations with U.S. President Donald Trump are "good," and the two will probably talk soon about the immigration issue.

Many analysts had been expecting President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to run into headlong conflict with Trump, especially since a caravan of about 7,000 Central American migrants set up camp on the U.S. border last month. The caravan's presence, and an attempt to cross the border en masse, led Trump to threaten to close the border. But Lopez Obrador said he is hopeful the two sides can agree on development aid for Central America and southern Mexico to create jobs so people won't have to emigrate. "We are in constant communication, and the communication is good," Lopez Obrador said Wednesday "Relations are good." "It is very likely that in coming days we will talk with President Donald Trump about this issue in particular, the immigration issue," he said. Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard has been in Washington for talks on the issue. But Lopez Obrador sidestepped questions about whether Mexico will agree to house migrants while their asylum claims are processed in the United State, as U.S. officials have reportedly proposed. Still in his first week in office, Lopez Obrador also said he is weighing what steps to take in regard to his extremely loose personal security arrangements, which have been widely criticized. "We are looking at this issue," the president said, "My friends, family, civic activists, you (the press) are constantly bringing it to my attention."

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Associated Press - December 7, 2018

Bomb scare forces evacuation of CNN offices

Police gave the all-clear after a phoned in bomb threat forced the evacuation of CNN’s offices in New York.

Police said a man with a southern accent called CNN just after 10 p.m. Thursday and said five bombs had been placed throughout the facility inside the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. Police said the building was evacuated and building security did a preliminary search. Police units then swept the building with the NYPD bomb squad on standby. Outside the building, CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon continued to broadcast. Lemon said fire alarms rang and a loudspeaker told them they needed to evacuate during his live show. In October, the building was partially evacuated after a suspicious package containing a crude pipe bomb was delivered to the company.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2018

Documents show Facebook used user data as competitive weapon

Internal Facebook documents released by a U.K. parliamentary committee offer the clearest evidence yet that the social network has used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.

Parliament's media committee accused Facebook on Wednesday of cutting special deals with some app developers to give them more access to data, while icing out others that it viewed as potential rivals. In other documents, company executives discussed how they were keeping the company's collection and exploitation of user data from its users. That included quietly collecting the call records and text messages of users of phones that run on Google's Android operating system without asking their permission. The U.K. committee released more than 200 pages of documents on the tech giant's internal discussions about the value of users' personal information. While they mostly cover the period between 2012 and 2015 —the first three years after Facebook went public — they offer a rare glimpse into the company's inner workings and the extent to which it used people's data to make money while publicly vowing to protect their privacy. The company's critics said the new revelations reinforced their concerns over what users actually know about how Facebook treats their data. "These kinds of schemes are exactly why companies must be required to disclose exactly how they are collecting and sharing our data, with stiff penalties for companies that lie about it," Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement. Facebook called the documents misleading and said the information they contain is "only part of the story." "Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform," the company said in a statement. "But the facts are clear: We've never sold people's data." In a Facebook post, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to put the documents in context. "Of course, we don't let everyone develop on our platform," he wrote. "We blocked a lot of sketchy apps. We also didn't allow developers to use our platform to replicate our functionality or grow their services virally in a way that creates little value for people on Facebook." The U.K. committee seized the documents from app developer Six4Three, maker of a now-defunct bikini-picture search app. Six4Three acquired the files as part of a U.S. lawsuit that accuses Facebook of deceptive, anti-competitive business practices. The documents remain under court seal in the U.S. In a summary of key issues pertaining to the documents, the committee said Facebook "whitelisted," or made exceptions for companies such as Airbnb and Netflix, that gave them continued access to users' "friends" even after the tech giant announced changes in 2015 to end the practice.

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CNBC - December 6, 2018

Huawei is one of China's most important tech companies — here's what it does and why the Canadian government arrested its CFO

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is under arrest in Vancouver and may soon be extradited to the United States to face charges for violating U.S. sanctions that prevent Huawei from selling equipment to Iran.

Huawei is a major global technology company, but it isn't as well known in the U.S. since most of its products aren't sold there. Back in 2012, U.S. lawmakers began to work to prevent American wireless carriers from buying equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese company. The U.S. government was concerned about Huawei's ties to the Chinese government and worried that equipment from both companies could eventually be a national security threat if it was deployed across the United States. Those ties to the Chinese military begin with the CEO. Huawei's founder, billionaire Ren Zhengfei, was an engineer in China's People's Liberation Army before he left the service in 1983 and started Huawei four years later. Huawei has always denied its equipment is any more vulnerable to spying than that provided by other companies. Most recently, AT&T abandoned its plans to launch a Huawei flagship smartphone in the U.S. in January. The Information news site reported at the time that AT&T canceled the launch after the House and Senate Intelligence committees raised concerns over the partnership. The U.S. isn't the only country worried about Huawei's potential ability to use its hardware for spying. Australia has banned its wireless carriers from using Huawei equipment for new 5G networks. The U.K.'s spy chief also raised concerns about Huawei earlier this week. Finally, earlier this year the FBI, CIA and NSA warned U.S. consumers to avoid buying phones built by Huawei and its sub-brand "Honor" that were sold through retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon.

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NBC News - December 6, 2018

Three new Mueller filings may show some of what ex-Trump aides have told investigators

Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump's former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators.

A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel's Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's cooperation in their ongoing investigations. And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the "crimes and lies" that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Legal experts say it's likely that both documents will contain sections that are blacked out, as was the case with the sentencing memo Mueller filed Tuesday in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The theory that Mueller would use these documents to inform the public about the progress of his ongoing investigation into Russian election interference and related matters did not pan out in the case of the Flynn memo. Key sections of that memo were redacted, including crucial questions about what Trump knew and when about Flynn's lies to the FBI — and a whole page describing a separate criminal investigation. Mueller's decision to withhold that information shows, some experts say, that the former FBI director does not feel that his investigation is at risk of being derailed by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had expressed open hostility toward it before his appointment. "He disclosed so little in the Flynn memo that it led me to conclude two things," said former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner, an NBC News legal analyst. "One, he doesn't have a sense of urgency, and two, he probably has a lot more investigating to do. If he was ready to show his cards, he wouldn't have redacted all this stuff."

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NBC News - December 6, 2018

Senior adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris resigns after report of $400,000 harassment settlement

A top aide to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., resigned on Wednesday after a report surfaced of a $400,000 harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016.

Harris' office said in a statement to NBC News that it was unaware of the settlement. Larry Wallace, a senior adviser to Harris, stepped down after The Sacramento Bee reported about the settlement on Wednesday. The alleged incident occurred in 2016 when Wallace was working as the director of law enforcement under Harris, who was serving as the California attorney general at the time, the paper reported. Lily Adams, a spokeswoman for Harris, confirmed the resignation in a statement to NBC News on Thursday. "We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening (Wednesday), Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it," Adams said. Harris, who is currently considering a 2020 presidential run, has been an outspoken advocate against sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement. She was among a group of Democratic women lawmakers who called for the resignation of Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota in December 2017 after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Harris tweeted at the time, "Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere." She also introduced a bill this past June to curb workplace harassment. Wallace's settlement took place in May 2017, after Harris had been sworn-in as senator and he had been hired as a senior adviser, based in Sacramento.

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Reuters - December 6, 2018

Former U.S. Attorney General Barr may return to job

Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who served under former President George H.W. Bush, is the leading candidate for the job as a permanent replacement for Jeff Sessions, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported earlier on Thursday that President Donald Trump could choose his nominee for attorney general in coming days, and that Trump had told advisers he plans to nominate Barr. Sessions departed from the role last month, and Trump named Matthew Whitaker as the government’s top lawyer on an interim basis. With the current session of Congress set to soon end, anyone Trump nominates may have to wait until well into 2019 for confirmation. Barr has worked in the private sector since serving as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, retiring from Verizon Communications in 2008.

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Reuters - December 6, 2018

Rejecting suggestions of delay, UK PM May's team says Brexit vote will go ahead

Parliament’s vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead on Dec. 11, her office said on Thursday, rejecting suggestions from lawmakers that she should seek ways to avoid a defeat so big it might bring down the government.

May has been trying to win over critics of an agreement that would keep close economic ties with the European Union when Britain leaves in March, but her warnings that it’s her deal, no deal or no Brexit have fallen flat so far. With parliament mid-way through a five-day debate on the Brexit deal before the vote on Tuesday which will define Britain’s departure from the EU and could determine May’s future as leader, she looks set to lose the vote. A defeat could open up a series of different outcomes to Britain’s departure from the EU, the country’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years, ranging from leaving without the deal to holding a second referendum on membership. The Times newspaper reported that senior ministers were urging May to delay the vote for fear of a rout and several lawmakers said they suspected the government may try something to postpone what would be a game-changing defeat. “The vote will take place on Tuesday as planned,” May’s spokeswoman said. The House of Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, also told parliament the vote would go ahead on Dec. 11. Graham Brady, chair of the so-called 1922 committee which represents Conservative lawmakers, said he would welcome a delay to the vote to help May provide clarity over one of the most contentious parts of her plan - the Northern Irish backstop. But any such delay would anger lawmakers. Both opponents and allies alike have spent days criticizing the agreement, especially the backstop, intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

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France 24 - December 6, 2018

France prepares for new 'Yellow Vest' protests despite reversal on fuel tax

France will deploy more than 65,000 security forces amid fears of new rioting at protests Saturday in Paris and around the nation, despite President Emmanuel Macron's surrender over a fuel tax hike that unleashed weeks of unrest.

Police unions and local authorities held emergency meetings Thursday to strategize on how to handle the weekend protests, while disparate groups of protesters did the same thing, sharing their plans on social networks and chat groups. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told senators Thursday that the government will deploy "exceptional" security measures for the protests in Paris and elsewhere, with additional new forces on top of the 65,000 security officers already in place. Some "yellow vest" protesters, members of France's leading unions and prominent politicians across the political spectrum called for calm Thursday after the worst rioting in Paris in decades last weekend. Many shops and restaurants in the center of Paris plan to shut down Saturday, fearing a repeat of the violence. Macron on Wednesday agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, part of his plans to combat global warming, but protesters' demands have now expanded to other issues hurting French workers, retirees and students. In a move questioned by both critics and supporters, the president himself has disappeared from public view. Scores of protesting teens clashed with police at a high school west of Paris on Thursday, according to French news reports, as part of nationwide student protests over new university admissions procedures and rising administrative fees. Drivers wearing their signature yellow safety vests continued to block roads around France, now demanding broader tax cuts and wider government social benefits. A small union representing police administrators called for a strike Saturday, which could further complicate security measures. Two police union officials told The Associated Press they are worried that radical troublemakers from both the far-right and far-left will hijack the protests to cause even greater damage this Saturday. The risks are multiple in the face of a movement with no clear leaders. French police have come under criticism for failing to prevent damage to the Arc de Triomphe and stores along the famed Champs-Elysees in central Paris last weekend - as well as for violence against protesters. Videos on social media of police beating protesters at a Burger King near the Champs-Elysees have stoked the anger. A police spokeswoman said Thursday that an investigation is underway into that incident and police are examining other videos online for possible violations. Macron, the central target of the protests, has been largely invisible all week. After winning election overwhelmingly last year, the 40-year-old pro-business centrist has sought to make France more competitive globally. But his efforts have alienated many of his own voters with tax cuts for the rich to spur investment and other badly explained reforms - and what many see as his elitist, out-of-touch attitude.

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NPR - December 6, 2018

Trump's EPA plans to ease carbon emissions rule for new coal plants

The Trump administration plans to eliminate an Obama-era requirement that new coal-fired power plants have expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

This latest administration effort to boost fossil fuel industries comes as leaders from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poland to discuss how to keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. And amid reports that CO2 emissions are rising again, as well as the administration's own report that climate change is causing more severe weather more frequently and could eventually hurt the U.S. economy. The Environmental Protection Agency proposal would revise its "New Source Performance Standards" for coal power plants, allowing coal-fired generators to emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. This would ease an Obama-era rule that was a central target in critics' accusations of a "war on coal." The coal industry argues the existing Obama administration requirements made it all but impossible to build new coal power plants, by requiring costly technologies such as carbon capture and storage. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, echoed that argument in announcing the proposed rule change. "By replacing onerous regulations with high, yet achievable, standards, we can continue America's historic energy production, keep energy prices affordable, and encourage new investments in cutting-edge technology that can then be exported around the world," said Wheeler. Environmental groups argue that in order to reduce climate change risks, the world will have to stop burning coal. They blasted the EPA's announcement. "This is just one more foolhardy move by a misguided administration that will be judged harshly by future generations," said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Today's proposal is nothing more than another thoughtless attempt by the Trump Administration to prop up their backwards and false narrative about reviving coal at the expense of science, public safety, and reality," said Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. In fact, it's not at all clear if the change would help the ailing coal industry. In recent years it has stopped building new plants and been shutting down old ones instead.

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Marketwatch - December 6, 2018

Why pro athletes may lose a fortune because of the new tax law

Because of changes to the tax law that went into effect this year, professional athletes might need to put their CPAs on speed dial. That’s because players in sports leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, WNBA and NHL have traditionally been able to deduct tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for things that they no longer can.

“One of my players makes $2 million a year, and it will cost him $80,000 more now because he can’t deduct state taxes [over $10,000], agent fees, workout clothes, meals and entertainment, and his cellphone,” says Steven Goldstein, a CPA with Grassi and Co. in New York who works with over a dozen professional athletes and celebrities. And players who make tens of millions of dollars a year will potentially pay hundreds of thousands more a year in taxes. The reason athletes are taking this hit is because individuals can no longer deduct more than $10,000 for state and local taxes (SALT) or declare miscellaneous itemized deductions for work-related expenses and investment fees. And these changes, especially the latter, will cost pro athletes more than most people. Of course, the median household income in the U.S. is about $63,000, so why should most people care about these tax hits that still leave the majority of pro athletes incredibly well paid? In reality, not all of them make millions of dollars a year. As Goldstein points out, a third of NFL players make the league minimum, which this year is $480,000, and the average NFL career is only about three years. Plus many pros are in the minor leagues, where they can make less than minimum wage. But admittedly the tax hits mentioned in this article are largely an issue for “the one percent.”

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Daily Beast - December 6, 2018

Fox Business Network apologizes for Louie Gohmert spreading anti-Semitic George Soros conspiracy

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas on Thursday morning managed to turn a Fox Business Network discussion about Google and China into a bizarre attack on the right’s favorite bogeyman George Soros. Fox Business later apologized for the congressman’s comments.

“You mention Orwell, it also reminds me of another George—George Soros,” Gohmert said, making a clumsy transition during his segment. “Because Google is born in a free country and then they go over and help oppress another country.” “George Soros is supposed to be Jewish, but you wouldn’t know it from the damage he’s inflicted on Israel and the fact that he turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they own.” That wild accusation—or as Gohmert put it “fact”—went unchallenged by host Stuart Varney, who helped steer the conversation back to China. Gohmert’s comments echo a common right-wing conspiracy theory that Soros—a liberal, billionaire philanthropist—was a Nazi sympathizer or worse during World War II. Born in Hungary in 1930, Soros was just nine years old at the start of the war and 14 when it ended. But that hasn’t stopped far-right firebrands like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza and now sitting Rep. Louie Gohmert from spreading lies about him. Beck’s comments drew a condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League. As the fact-checking website Snopes wrote in its piece debunking the myth, “the simple truth is that George Soros neither said nor did anything resembling what he has been accused of. In no sense was Soros, who turned 14 years old not long after the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, a ‘Nazi collaborator.’ At no time did he confiscate (or help confiscate) the property of Jews, ‘identify Jews to the Nazis,’ or help ‘round up’ people targeted for deportation or extermination by the Germans (to answer just a few of the accusations leveled against him).”

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Religion News Service - December 6, 2018

George H.W. Bush’s ‘quiet faith’ remembered at cathedral funeral

Former President George H.W. Bush was recalled as a man of “quiet faith” during a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral, a fitting site to memorialize the longtime Episcopalian.

“With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother George for burial,” intoned Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the start of the Wednesday (Dec. 5) ceremony as the 41st president’s casket was carried by military members into the cathedral. All of the living former and current presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — joined the 3,000 dignitaries, family and friends at the invitation-only ceremony. The senior Bush’s eldest child, former President George W. Bush, gave an emotional tribute to his father, highlighting his service to country and his focus on giving back to others. “Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family,” the 43rd president said. “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.” Other family members took turns reading Scripture, including Jenna Bush Hager — daughter of the 43rd president — who touched her grandfather’s flag-draped casket before she read from Revelation 21, whose first verse begins: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” The Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, said the elder Bush made Levenson’s job as his pastor for almost a dozen years an easy one because of the late president’s concern more for others than for himself. “Jesus Christ, for George Bush, was at the heart of his faith, but his was a deep faith, a generous faith, a simple faith in the best sense of the word,” said Levenson in his homily. “He knew and lived Jesus’ two greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor.” In another tribute, presidential historian Jon Meacham noted that Bush frequently wondered why God had spared him when his other Navy comrades were lost after their plane was attacked during World War II. “The workings of Providence are mysterious but this much is clear: The George Herbert Walker Bush who survived that fiery fall into the Pacific three-quarters of a century ago made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer and nobler,” said Meacham, a biographer of George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush recalled how his father dealt with another tragedy, the loss of daughter Robin at age 3 to leukemia, which occurred early enough in George W.’s and brother Jeb’s lives that they did not understand the extent of their parents’ agony. “We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily,” said his son. “He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of her mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.”

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The Hill - December 7, 2018

Advocates see state legislatures as next frontier for pot legalization

After a run of success at the ballot box, proponents of recreational marijuana are turning their attention to new allies in governors’ offices as they eye new pushes toward legalization in states that will require politicians, rather than voters, to issue the final sign-offs.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is pushing his legislature to adopt recreational marijuana in the coming session. Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, also a Democrat, has said he will ask his Democratic-controlled legislature to legalize marijuana. “We want to create businesses owned by people in Illinois. There’s an opportunity to create jobs, dispensaries, production facilities in Illinois, owned by Illinoians, so the profits are staying in Illinois,” Pritzker said in an interview. He estimated legal marijuana could bring in at least $700 million, and as much as $1 billion, in badly needed revenue for his cash-strapped state. Pritzker won a powerful ally last month, when Democratic state House Speaker Mike Madigan — arguably the most powerful political figure in Illinois — said he would support a push for legalization. Murphy tried to push legalization through the New Jersey legislature last year, just after he took office. He was blocked by some Democratic legislative leaders, though he said he will try again this year. Opponents of legalization have created grassroots organizations in both states to persuade legislators. In both states, those opponents include prominent African American politicians and community leaders who say legalization would be especially harmful to minority communities. “I contextualize it as big business versus the poor,” said the Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston, a civil rights activist who heads the Coalition for a New Chicago. “I see this as a huge profit-maker. We already have two vices, alcohol and cigarettes. Why add a third vice for revenue?” The new focus on legalizing marijuana through state legislatures, rather than by ballot initiatives, is an indication of just how much the debate over pot has evolved since the beginning of the century — both for voters and for politicians. When Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, both Democratic governors opposed the ballot measures. Outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, opposed California’s legalization initiative when it appeared on the 2016 ballot. But voter opinions of legal marijuana have evolved quickly. In 2000, the Pew Research Center found 60 percent of Americans opposed making marijuana legal. Today, 62 percent believe it should be legal, according to an October Pew survey.

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CNN - December 6, 2018

Trump expected to name Heather Nauert next UN ambassador, sources say

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to be his new ambassador to the UN, positioning a relatively inexperienced newcomer in one of the most high-profile positions in US diplomacy, according to an administration official and a second source.

The announcement is expected to come on Friday, two officials say. In an administration rife with internal conflict and deeply distrustful of the UN, Nauert's nomination would place a less senior person at the international agency than outspoken current ambassador Nikki Haley, who reportedly sparred with other administration officials. The former Fox News host's precipitous rise since arriving at the State Department in 2017 sets the stage for a potentially tough Senate confirmation hearing, where Democrats will likely grill Nauert on her qualifications for the position. Nauert's appointment would realign power dynamics within the President's national security team. Pompeo has told aides he wants the UN position downgraded from the Cabinet-level job Haley had insisted on, an official familiar with his remark told CNN. Elevating Haley to a Cabinet level post broke with the tradition of previous Republican administrations. National security adviser John Bolton has been said to want the role downgraded as well, according to people familiar with his thinking. A former UN ambassador himself, Bolton has taken an interest in some UN matters, such as the International Criminal Court. The shift means Nauert would wield less clout than her predecessor, both at the UN and within the administration, and as a result, would pose nowhere near the challenge to Bolton, White House chief of staff John Kelly or Pompeo. The nomination was first reported by Bloomberg News.

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New York Magazine - December 6, 2018

Inside the nation’s first charter school strike: ‘30K Is not a livable wage in Chicago’

Complaining of low wages, overcrowded classes, and insufficient support services for bilingual and special education students, roughly 550 unionized educators employed by the Acero Schools charter network are walking picket lines after management failed to re-negotiate their contract with the Chicago Teachers Union by the December 4 deadline.

Contract negotiations with Acero — which is one of Chicago’s largest charter-school networks, serving more than 7,000 students — have been underway for six months. Martha Baumgarten, who teaches social studies and English language learners at the Acero charter network’s Carlos Fuentes Elementary School sits on the bargaining committee of United Educators for Justice (UEJ), which represents Acero educators within CTU, and she voted to approve a strike. So did Andy Crooks, UEJ president and a special education paraprofessional, or trained teacher’s aide, for Acero schools. Crooks told New York that paraprofessionals start with base pay of $32,100. Seven percent of that sum is allocated for pensions, which leaves paraprofessionals with an actual base salary of under $30,000. Crooks himself makes slightly more, due partly to seniority, but he added, “$30,000 is not a livable wage in the city of Chicago.” As the New York Times reported, Acero CEO Richard Rodriguez makes around $260,000 per year to manage a network of 15 schools — a figure roughly equal to the salary earned by Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice K. Jackson, who is responsible for over 500 schools. In a statement released Tuesday morning, the CTU cited low pay for paraprofessional staff as a principal sticking point in its negotiations with Acero, saying the charter operator’s management refused “to provide a penny more in compensation to paraprofessionals, their lowest-wage workers.” They aren’t the only Acero workers being paid less than they’re due, according to CTU: Acero teachers earn, on average, $13,000 less than their peers in Chicago’s traditional public schools while also working around 20 percent more hours, the union says. CTU said that a financial audit Acero provided to the union revealed that it pays $1 million less in salary costs than it did in 2017, and currently possesses unrestricted cash resources of $24 million. The Acero charter network disputed the union’s characterization of its position on paraprofessional raises and increased special-education services and staffing; a spokeswoman said the network is still “working through what those final numbers will be” as part of its negotiations. Acero attributes its fiscal situation to Chicago Public Schools releasing a budget at the end of fiscal year 2017 that would have cut funding for charters. However, the final budget ended up allocating more funding for charters, and that, combined with Acero’s internal spending cuts, left the charter network with a financial surplus of $24 million. “Acero created 40 new union positions and 17 school support positions after CPS increased funding,” said Acero’s spokesperson. Nevertheless, the union says Acero rejected its demands to increase educators’ pay, reduce class sizes, extend school lunch time to 40 minutes, and increase the availability of special-education services.

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Fox News - December 7, 2018

Clinton Foundation whistleblowers have come forward with hundreds of pages of evidence, House Freedom Caucus chair says

Three people have come forward with hundreds of pages of evidence of potential wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation, including misappropriation of funds and allegations of quid-pro-quo promises made to donors during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, told Fox News on Thursday.

Meadows, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is also the chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations. The panel is set to hold an investigative hearing next week on the status of the Foundation case. U.S. Attorney John Huber was tasked to investigate the foundation last year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Clinton Foundation consistently has maintained that it is a charity, and never traded on Hillary Clinton's position as America's top diplomat, which she held from 2009-2013. The organization has a four-star rating from the watchdog site Charity Navigator and has touted its mission "to create economic opportunity, improve public health, and inspire civic engagement and service." However, The Hill reported Thursday that prosecutors working for Huber recently requested documents from a private investigative firm that also has been looking into the foundation. The firm, MDA Analytics LLC, reportedly has contacted the IRS, the Justice Department and the FBI's Little Rock office with evidence from its own investigation. In addition, The Hill reported that a whistleblower submission filed with the FBI and IRS in August 2017 included internal legal reviews that the Clinton Foundation conducted between 2008 and 2011. Those reviews raised concerns about legal compliance and improper mingling of personal and charity business. According to the Hill report, MDA investigators met with Clinton Foundation CFO Andrew Kessel in late November 2016. During the meeting, Kessel said that "one of the biggest problems was [former President Bill] Clinton’s commingling and use of business and donated funds and his personal expenses." A separate interview memo stated that Bill Clinton "mixes and matches his personal business with that of the foundation. Many people within the foundation have tried to caution him about this but he does not listen, and there really is no talking to him."

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Newsclips - December 6, 2018

Lead Stories

CNN - December 5, 2018

Trump poised to make NAFTA ultimatum to congressional Democrats

Amid market turmoil over the status of President Donald Trump's trade deal with the Chinese, many American businesses are focused on a different threat: his promise to unilaterally cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump said on his way home from Argentina that he would give Congress a choice between his US-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA, or none at all. Killing the 1994 trade deal without a successor in place would invite Mexico and Canada -- both leading importers of US goods -- to put tariffs on items coming from the United States, risking a severe economic shock. "We have continuously told the administration throughout the USMCA process that it is essential for the new agreement to be implemented seamlessly, so that our businesses can learn the new rules and have time to adjust our supply chains to take advantage of the deal," said Rick Helfenbein, president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. "Adding additional pressure on Congress to sign or fail is not in the best interest of America." Top White House advisers have been saying for months that they're confident Democrats will approve the USMCA. But while Democrats, and even some Republicans, have made clear they have reservations, it's not clear whether they have the will to call Trump's bluff by risking a return to the pre-NAFTA world. "I don't think any responsible member of Congress would oppose the USMCA and see NAFTA withdrawn. That would cause utter havoc in the markets, disrupt our agreements and disrupt our supply chains," said Welles Orr, who served as assistant US trade representative under President George H.W. Bush. Yet others argued that Democrats won't be eager to hand a victory to Trump. "No one actually loves the new NAFTA. Democrats could say 'forget it' and blame it on Trump when no deal is in place," said Phil Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs who served as a trade economist under President George W. Bush. Trump's promise to pull out of the original NAFTA came less than 48 hours after he signed his replacement deal in Argentina last weekend. "I will be formally terminating NAFTA shortly," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Then Congress will have a choice of approving the USMCA, which is a phenomenal deal. Much, much better than NAFTA. A great deal." The deal requires approval from Congress as well as legislatures in Canada and Mexico before it can take effect. If Trump formally alerts the other two countries that he intends to withdraw from the original trade agreement, it will start a six-month clock during which Congress can either approve the USMCA or leave no trade deal in place. Lawmakers can suggest small changes to the agreement, either through the legislation or in potential side deals. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats' nominee to become speaker of the House next year, has called the deal a "work in progress."

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Associated Press - December 6, 2018

Presidential funeral train will be first in nearly 50 years and only eighth in history

The locomotive was painted to resemble Air Force One, but George H.W. Bush joked that if it had been around during his presidency, he may have preferred to ride the rails rather than take to the skies.

“I might have left Air Force One behind,” Bush quipped during the 2005 unveiling of 4141, a blue and gray locomotive commissioned in honor of the 41st president and unveiled at Texas A&M University. On Thursday, that same 4,300-horsepower machine will carry Bush’s casket, along with relatives and close friends, for around 70 miles (113 kilometers). The journey through five small Texas towns was expected to take about two and a half hours. It will deliver the casket from suburban Houston to College Station. There, a motorcade will take Bush to his presidential library at the university, where he will be laid to rest at a private ceremony next to his wife, Barbara, who died in April, and his daughter Robin, who died at age 3 in 1953. The train’s sixth car, a converted baggage hauler called “Council Bluffs,” has been fitted with transparent sides to allow mourners lining the tracks on Thursday views of Bush’s flag draped coffin. It will be the eighth funeral train in U.S. history and the first since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s body traveled from the National Cathedral in Washington through seven states to his Kansas hometown of Abilene 49 years ago. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train was the first, in 1865. Robert F. Kennedy was never president, but he was running for the White House when he was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. His body was later transported to New York City for a funeral Mass and then taken by private train to Washington for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks for the 200-plus-mile journey. Union Pacific originally commissioned the Bush locomotive for the opening of an exhibit at his presidential library titled “Trains: Tracks of the Iron Horse.” It was one of the few times the company has painted a locomotive any color other than its traditional yellow. After a brief training session during 4141?s unveiling 13 years ago, Bush took the engineer’s seat and helped take the locomotive for a 2-mile excursion. “We just rode on the railroads all the time, and I’ve never forgotten it,” Bush said at the time, recalling how he took trains, and often slept on them, during trips as a child with his family. He also called the locomotive “the Air Force One of railroads.” Bush, who died last week at his Houston home at age 94, was eulogized Wednesday at a funeral service at the National Cathedral. By evening, his casket was at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. The funeral train has been part of the official planning for his death for years, Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said. Union Pacific was contacted by federal officials in early 2009 and asked, at Bush’s request, about providing a funeral train at some point, company spokesman Tom Lange said. “We said, ‘Of course and also we have this locomotive that we would want to have obviously be part of it,’” Lange said. He noted that trains were the mode of transportation that first carried Bush to his service as a naval aviator in World War II and back home again.

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Wall Street Journal - December 5, 2018

Debate over border wall funding strains Democratic Party unity

Negotiations over President Trump’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding have injected tension between some House and Senate Democrats and added a new wrinkle to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s quest to become speaker in January.

Ahead of a meeting expected early next week between Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, some Democrats are worried their leaders will cede too much in talks with the president that will help determine whether there is a partial government shutdown later this month. Seven spending bills that are being held up as part of the negotiation expire at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, but the House is expected to pass on Thursday a two-week spending patch that would keep the government running through Dec. 21. The Senate is expected to pass the measure later this week. Mr. Trump has so far insisted that Congress must attach $5 billion to construct more of the wall along the border with Mexico. When Mr. Schumer said last week that Senate Democrats were willing to provide $1.6 billion for border security, which had been included in a bipartisan Senate bill, he faced backlash from some Democrats who worried that could end up including some money for the wall. Mr. Schumer said in a tweet that Senate Democrats support $1.6 billion for border security, “NOT a concrete wall or increases in detention beds or [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents. We should stick to this agreement.” Still, Texas Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez led a group of 12 House Democrats, including one lawmaker-elect, in sending a letter to Mr. Schumer objecting to his comments. After speaking with Mr. Schumer on the phone, Messrs. Cuellar and Gonzalez said in a statement they were “pleased to agree that we should be focused on real border security, and not the President’s campaign obsession with a concrete wall.” But the call hasn’t eased all tensions. Mr. Gonzalez said he has made clear to Mrs. Pelosi, House Democrats’ nominee to become speaker when they take control of the chamber in January, that what kind of spending deal she cuts could affect how much support she receives from key factions.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2018

Transmission is latest front in fossil fuels v. renewables battle

Two of the nation’s biggest power companies have opened a new front in the battle with renewable energy, targeting Texas transmission rules with the goal of raising the cost of wind and solar electricity generated in remote West Texas and shipped to population centers such as Houston and Dallas.

Calpine Corp. of Houston and NRG Energy, of Houston and Princeton, N.J., have asked the state Public Utility Commission to change the way transmission costs are apportioned among power generators, a move that wold undo a key element of the policies that have made Texas the nation’s top producer of wind energy. Instead of using state tax credits, Texas has attracted billions of dollars in investment in wind energy by offering generators easy access to the biggest electricity markets through low-cost transmission. Not only would the change proposed by Calpine and NRG increase the price of electricity from West Texas wind and solar farms, analysts said, it could also discourage new investment in renewable projects. “This is the old energy industry fighting back,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a professor and chief energy officer at the University of Houston. The fight is part of a battle that has widened in recent years as wind, solar and other renewable technologies have become more competitive, gained an increasing share of power markets and cut into profits of traditional generators such as Calpine and NRG. Subsidies and other policies that have helped wind and solar energy compete with coal, nuclear and natural gas plants are coming under attack in Texas, other states and Washington. In Texas, for example, Texas legislators voted last year to stop providing property tax breaks to wind farms built within 25 miles of military airfields, a measure passed ostensibly to address local concerns that the turbines could possibly interfere with radar and flight paths and make installations vulnerable if another round of base closings were launched. But the lobbying effort was financed by anti-renewable groups with opaque funding sources, said Jeffrey Clark, president of Wind Coalition, an Austin trade group representing the wind, solar and storage industry. “They just capitalized on this issue,” said Clark. Oklahoma, which is second only to Texas in wind generating capacity, last year ended state tax breaks for wind farms following a campaign backed by Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources and an adviser to President Donald Trump, and other oil and gas companies. In Washington, the Trump administration has proposed, so far without success, deep cuts to renewable subsidies and research funding, while advocating for a bail out of coal and nuclear power plants that have been undercut by cheaper energy generated by renewables and natural gas.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Eulogies recall Bush’s civility, service and love

George H.W. Bush was remembered for his basic civility Wednesday at a state funeral in the National Cathedral that brought leaders in a city of acrid political divisions together to celebrate a president who presided over the end of the Cold War while urging forward a kinder and gentler United States on the world stage and at home.

A sometimes tearful former President George W. Bush, the new patriarch of one of the nation’s political dynasties, delivered a wrenching tribute under the tall archways of the massive church, recalling his father’s humor, his faith and enduring life lessons about love, loyalty and giving back to the community. “He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country,” said the 43rd president, who followed his father into the Oval Office by nearly a decade. “Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever,” said Bush, his voice cracking. “So, through our tears let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have.” To applause, Bush returned to his seat in the front row, tapping his father’s casket and accepting a hug from his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush. George W. Bush’s was the most emotional tribute in a service marked by remembrances of his father’s accomplishments as a World War II Navy pilot, ambassador, vice president, and finally as a president who saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, ushered in the reunification of Germany, and kicked the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. Bush largely stuck to the personal. “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light,” he said, recalling one of his father’s familiar refrains. Among the most poignant eulogies were those that recounted gestures of kindness and expressions of humility before the great spectacle of history. “An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union,” said presidential biographer Jon Meacham. Meacham described Bush as a man who felt the burden of having been spared death after his World War II bomber was shot down in the Pacific, killing two crew members. “In a sense, the rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation on that distant morning,” Meacham said. “To him, his life was no longer his own.” He called Bush, the last president of the World War II generation, America’s “last great soldier-statesman,” resembling the greatest leaders of the nation. “Abraham Lincoln’s better angels of our nation and George H.W. Bush’s ‘Thousand Points of Light’ are companion verses in America’s national hymn,” Meacham said. “For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear and to heed not our worst impulses but our best instincts.” Meacham also poked gentle fun at Bush’s public persona, defined in part by comedians and the occasional mispoken word. “On the primary campaign trail in New Hampshire once, he grabbed the hand of a department store mannequin, asking for votes. When he realized his mistake, he said, "Never know. Gotta ask." You can hear the voice, can't you? As Dana Carvey said, the key to a Bush 41 impersonation is Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2018

Along the Bush train route, towns in rural Texas prepare for a historic moment

In 28 hours, Locomotive 4141 was scheduled to pull out of a Union Pacific facility in Spring, carrying the body of the former president to his College Station burial place. As elsewhere up and down the route, it was all hands on deck here to prepare.

The train on Thursday will chug across 70 miles of track through rural towns and cities some Houstonians have never heard of — let alone people across the country. They include tiny Todd Mission, pop. 100, which grew around the Texas Renaissance Festival. Navasota, home to 7,000, is among the biggest on the route. In that moment, with thousands expected in some places to watch, the communities will be the backdrop to history. The Texans along the way, honored for the chance to pay their respects to a president of a bygone era, don’t plan to blow it. Residents in Plantersville, pop. 1,000, ordered flags to pass out. Railroad contractors in twice-as-big Magnolia cleaned up the track. Gainey, who is the Navasota marketing director, and Stafford were hanging their sign from a building’s balcony across from the track. “The world will be watching Navasota,” Stafford said. “They’re really watching President Bush, but Navasota will be seen across the world.” Grimes County Judge Joe Fauth echoed the sentiment. “It’s going to be significant,” he said. “Small town America immediately gets popular because we’re going to be along that route.” Already, people with motorhomes had been spotted in Navasota for the occasion, said Chris Kehl, 53, who manages a coffee shop, owned by the mayor, in the quaint downtown where the train will pass. Kehl was thinking of keeping the coffee shop open late Wednesday evening, in case of an uptick in business. He also planned to go a few doors down to get a pair of festive socks for the occasion. There was an air of anticipation. He noted that a reporter from the Washington Post called to interview the mayor. “Here we are, little ol’ bitty Navasota, and how many people are going to show up?” he said. “Nobody can really tell you.” As the sign was hung, Navasota Mayor Bert Miller, 53, watched from down below. He discussed the event earlier that morning with the school superintendent, who, like at least one other district on the route, planned to release students early. They agreed: it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime, where-were-you-when-kind of moment. “Everybody’s excited,” said Patty Tokoly, who washed windows at her event space nearby. “It’s a historical, memorable occasion.” Between towns, part of the train’s path winds through woods and ranches. But 23 miles southeast of Navasota, in Plantersville, was another clearing.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Red-flag law, closing gun show loophole among 19 gun bills by Texas lawmakers

The legislative quest to reform gun laws in Texas includes 19 bills lawmakers will consider next year, including a “red-flag” law to temporarily remove guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge, a measure to close the gun-show loophole on background checks, and a bill to allow “constitutional carry.”

At least one of the bills, the red-flag law, already appears to be a non-starter, more than a month before the Legislature starts. Two El Paso Democrats, Rep. Joe Moody and Sen. Jose Rodriguez, introduced companion red-flag bills for the legislative session, an attempt to reprise bills that failed two years ago. But Gov. Greg Abbott, who launched the debate for such a law after the Santa Fe High School shooting last spring that killed 10 people, has said he won’t support a red-flag bill, and neither will Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the Senate. Under Rodríguez’s bill, a red flag would include evidence of substance abuse, the recent acquisition of firearms, ammunition or other deadly weapons, or making threats. But gun rights advocates said that something as simple as a threat leaves potential for a red-flag gun law to be abused. Rodríguez said his bill would provide “plenty of due process” for gun owners, and the legislation would make false reporting criminal offense. “Joe (Moody) and I are both longtime lawyers and we're not interested in just willy-nilly taking people's guns away. We're more interested in just some sensible legislation,” Rodriguez said. But passing the law could prove difficult after lawmakers expressed strong opposition to the policy, which is in place in 13 states, after several school safety hearings this summer. In June, the Texas Republican Party said it opposed red-flag gun laws when it approved its party platform. And after hours of public testimony in the Texas Capitol, Patrick and Abbott dashed the hopes of gun control advocates. Alice Tripp, legislative director and lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, said she thinks sweeping gun control legislation is unlikely. “Every session (gun control advocates) certainly capitalize on anything that has happened,” Tripp said. “We expect that law-abiding gun owners be protected and not give up rights. I've been doing this for 20 years and regardless of what party is in power or what terrible thing has happened, nobody's going to give up rights and possessions because of criminal activity.” Rodríguez said it could take many sessions to pass a red-flag bill without the support from higher office holders, but by re-filing, he hopes to spark conversations and awareness around the gun control measure. “On a bipartisan basis, I think the attention that we've had to recent shootings spurs public anger that at the Congress level, they’re not doing anything about common-sense gun violence prevention, and the same thing applies here in the state,” Rodríguez said. “I think it's just the culture here in the state, the gun culture, and it's going to take a little more time in my view. I'm optimistic that eventually we’ll be able to do it.” Lawmakers also will consider legislation to close the gun show loophole, which allows purchasers to avoid a criminal background check at Texas gun shows. Federal law only requires federally licensed dealers to run background checks. Six states have plugged the gap by requiring unlicensed dealers to do the same, and three states require background checks on all handgun sales made at gun shows, according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. A bill introduced by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, would make it a misdemeanor to sell a firearm at a gun show without running an instant criminal background check. Similar versions of the bill failed in the 2013, 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

Texas' largest nursing home operator files for bankruptcy, sparking concerns about patients, jobs

Texas' largest nursing home provider, Senior Care Centers, has filed for bankruptcy in a serious setback for the Dallas-based company that drew fire last year for not evacuating patients before Hurricane Harvey struck.

Senior Care Centers, which operates more than 100 facilities in Texas, filed for reorganization in U.S. bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Texas on Tuesday, reporting more than $100 million in debt. It's at least the second troubled nursing care giant in the Dallas area to file for bankruptcy since late last year. In a news release, Senior Care Centers said high rents and "burdensome'' debts dragged it down. The company pledged that patient care will not suffer due to its financial woes, and that it will "continue providing comprehensive care and support to its nearly 10,000 patients and residents.'' Senior Care Centers does not forecast job losses. "The company's network of approximately 11,000 employees will continue to be paid without interruption,'' the statement said. But the Texas Health Care Association, an advocacy group for the long-term care industry, said the news signals a serious blow to the industry, which doesn't get enough funding from the government, and potential job reductions. "If the largest nursing home operator in the state filing for bankruptcy doesn't yell, 'We have a big problem in terms of Medicaid funding here,' I don't know what does,'' said Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the association. The Dallas Morning News reported last year that Senior Care Centers failed to evacuate residents before Hurricane Harvey belted one of its Port Arthur facilities. When police arrived at the Lake Arthur Place center, a supervisor wouldn't allow patients to be moved out. Police had to handcuff him so patients could be rescued.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2018

Texas wants death penalty for Border Patrol agent accused of killing 4 women

Texas is seeking the death penalty against a U.S. Border Patrol agent who confessed to killing four sex workers in September, a district attorney said.

Juan David Ortiz, 35, was indicted on a capital murder charge Wednesday, said Isidro Alaniz, district attorney for Webb and Zapata counties. "The scheme ... from Ortiz's own words was to clean up the streets of Laredo by targeting this community of individuals who he perceived to be disposable, that no one would miss and that he did not give value to," Alaniz said. Alaniz said he considered the horrific nature of the deaths, Ortiz's disregard for human life and vigilante mentality in his decision to seek the death penalty. The state considers Ortiz to be a future danger to society, the district attorney said. Ortiz, a supervisor and 10-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is accused of killing Melissa Ramirez, 29, Claudine Luera, 42, Guiselda Alicia Cantu, 35, and Janelle Ortiz, 28, according to the Associated Press. The women were killed between Sept. 3 and 15. Each had been shot, however, Cantu's cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma, Alaniz said. Alaniz said he could not discuss the nature of the "relationship" between Ortiz and some of the women, but some knew him. He did not detail the evidence presented to the grand jury Wednesday, but he said it showed Ortiz killed the women "in a cold, callous and calculating way." Alaniz said he used the street where he picked up at least three of the women as a "hunting ground" and violated his oath to his agency and country.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2018

As part of PGA of America's move to Frisco, PGA officially announces plans to collaborate with UNT

One day after the PGA of America announced its plans to relocate its headquarters to Frisco, the organization signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of North Texas to create opportunities in education, research and branding initiatives for both entities.

The move is another step in the PGA's hope to create the "Silicon Valley of golf" in North Texas. "By partnering with the PGA of America, UNT hopes to develop unique internship and volunteer opportunities for students, conduct research and collect data on behalf of the PGA and develop educational programs for the PGA's 29,000 professionals," UNT president Neal Smatresk said in a statement. The partnership between the PGA and UNT is designed to "develop unparalleled educational opportunities for students in fields related to sport entertainment management," according to a joint release by the PGA and UNT on Wednesday. Earlier this year, UNT announced plans to build a new campus in Frisco, which will be near the new PGA headquarters in Frisco. "We couldn't be any more excited about what this partnership means for our community, for our businesses, for our residents and for our children here in Frisco to have these kinds of opportunities right here in their own backyard," Mayor Jeff Cheney said at the time of the announcement of the UNT Frisco campus. Said PGA of America Chief Membership Officer John Easterbrook in a statement: "With PGA Frisco, the PGA of America begins an exciting new chapter in our 102-year history. Partnering with the University of North Texas to help develop tomorrow's sports industry leaders is another way we are helping the game of golf evolve and grow. We are committed to providing our PGA Golf Professionals with educational opportunities to advance their careers. Connecting with UNT, which offers a premier sport entertainment management curriculum, is an exciting way to help our members remain the true experts in their fields. We believe the PGA and UNT will form one of the most meaningful bonds in golf." In addition to the PGA of America moving its headquarters to Frisco, the 2027 and 2034 PGA Championships will be played on one of two 18-hole championship courses that will be built as part of a $520 million Frisco megadevelopment. The PGA's 25-year agreement with Frisco also guarantees that at least two KPMG Women's PGA Championships and two KitchenAid Senior Championships will be played in Frisco, among other PGA events -- and includes an "understanding" that Frisco will be considered for a future Ryder Cup.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2018

George W. Bush shares a sweet laugh with Michelle Obama at his father's funeral

Before taking a seat at his father's funeral Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, former President George W. Bush made sure to shake the hands of all the U.S. presidents and first ladies, current and former, in attendance. He saved something special for former first lady Michelle Obama.

Bush appeared to hand Obama something small — causing her to chuckle — in what was almost certainly a call back to when TV cameras picked up the former president slipping her a cough drop at the September funeral of former Arizona Sen. John McCain. That earlier exchange went viral online as observers marveled at the unvarnished and funny bit of bipartisanship. Whether the latest gift involved a cough drop, a candy or something else, the friendly prank likely would've been appreciated by former President George H.W. Bush, who was remembered at his funeral Wednesday for a fun-loving spirit and a keen sense of humor. He loved to laugh, especially at himself," the younger Bush said later in his eulogy, noting that his dad "had a circle of friends with whom he shared or received the latest jokes." "He could tease and needle, but never out of malice. He placed great value on a good joke." The laughs Wednesday between the younger Bush and Obama also further highlighted the duo's budding friendship. Obama has explained that she and Bush are "forever seatmates" at events that bring together all the former presidents and first ladies. That's because protocol says the seating order goes in couples, from the most recent White House inhabitants on down the list. "He's my partner in crime at every major thing where all the 'formers' gather," Obama told NBC's Today show in October, recalling that the initial cough drop exchange came after she saw Laura Bush give George W. Bush one. "I love him to death. He's a wonderful man. He's a funny man."

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2018

Why might outgoing Republican state rep Jason Villalba throw his hat into the Dallas mayor's race?

Outgoing Republican state Rep. Jason Villalba could be the next big name to enter the Dallas mayor's race. Villalba said Wednesday that he was “strongly considering” running for mayor, and that he and his wife, Brooke, would make a final decision by the end of the month.

While the mayoral election is nonpartisan, ideology might be one of the things that draws Villalba into the contest. One of only three Latino Republicans serving in the Texas Legislature during the last session, Villalba said he did not see a centrist, fiscally conservative message coming from the three announced candidates: businessman Albert Black Jr., former City Attorney Larry Casto and former Clinton administration aide Regina Montoya. Villalba’s moderate voice on issues such as immigration, his support for vaccinations and his criticisms of President Donald Trump drew the ire of staunch conservatives — including prominent political group Empower Texans — during his three-term stint in the Capitol. Villalba did boast significant support from police groups, including the Dallas Police Association. In March, Villalba lost the primary for Texas House District 114, which wraps North Dallas, to far-right challenger Lisa Luby Ryan by 743 votes. Ryan lost in last month's general election to Democrat John Turner. An attorney focused on corporate law, Villalba, 47, said his past and future are tied to the city. He was born and raised in Dallas, his children attend Dallas ISD schools and his grandmother still lives in the same Oak Cliff home where she raised her 10 children, he said.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2018

West Texas town of Midland is the hottest U.S. home market again

The West Texas city of Midland is back on top of the list of the country's hottest housing markets. November was the third time in recent months that Midland has been ranked the top U.S. home market based on the number of people looking at properties there, according to Realtor.com.

"Homes in Midland have a median list price of $358,450 and a median days on market of 44 days, 16 percent faster than last year," the latest snapshot said. "Realtor.com's Hottest Markets receive 1.4 to 2.4 times the number of views per property compared to the national average. "In terms of supply, these markets are seeing inventory move 12 to 33 days more quickly than the rest of the U.S.," the online marketing service said. "The hottest markets are also seeing inventory move more quickly than last year. "The median time spent on the market is four days faster for the hottest markets on average from last November." Midland's sister city, Odessa, also made the monthly hot markets list. Both Midland and Odessa have seen their home markets rebound sharply as the West Texas oil and gas industry has picked up. Home list prices in Midland and Odessa have increased by 20 percent or more in the last year.

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Star-Telegram - December 6, 2018

Tarrant Republican leaders speak out for religious freedom, keeping Muslim in party post

A group of prominent Republican officials in Tarrant County showed support Wednesday for Shahid Shafi, the local Muslim some want to remove from party leadership.

The locally elected Republicans — including County Judge Glen Whitley, Sheriff Bill Waybourn and District Clerk Tom Wilder — released a statement noting that a person’s religious faith should never be a factor when a person is appointed to a post with the Tarrant County Republican Party. “We would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm our belief in the core values of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our own individual faiths,” according to the statement signed by eight local Republicans. “We therefore offer this statement as our continued support of Tarrant County Republican Chair Darl Easton’s appointments to party leadership positions.” Earlier this year, Easton appointed Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake City Council member, to serve as one of the party’s vice chairmen. Within months, Republican Dorrie O’Brien, a Republican precinct chairwoman from Grand Prairie, asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered. She and a small group of others behind the move to oust Shafi say this is not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected “to Islamic terror groups.” Tarrant precinct chairs discussed the issue behind closed doors during their Nov. 10 meeting but ran out of time to vote. A vote now is scheduled Jan. 10 for the Tarrant County GOP executive committee, which is made up of precinct chairmen. Others also are speaking out, urging the Tarrant County Republican Party to keep Shafi in his vice chairman post. The Texas Medical Association, Tarrant County Medical Association and TEXPAC Board of Directors recently sent a joint letter stating that to Easton. “Just as we reject discrimination of all kinds in our profession and in our practices, we urge you and the party’s executive committee to reject discrimination against Dr. Shafi because of his faith,” according to the letter signed by representatives of all three groups. “Prejudice and discrimination are anti-American and anti-Texan, and contrary to the ethical precepts of medicine. “We are proud of Dr. Shafi, a naturalized American citizen, for taking this directive to heart with his serve.” These letters come in the wake of recent Star-Telegram reports that the effort to remove Shafi has expanded. Others targeted include the party chairman, Easton; a precinct chairwoman and area leader, Kelly Canon; and a precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim, Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem. Printouts of emails detailing the efforts were delivered anonymously to the Star-Telegram, which has been writing about this effort since August.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2018

Architect of Cruz campaign says O'Rourke should run for president

The Republican strategist who engineered the defeat of Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018 is convinced the El Paso Congressman should run for president. Jeff Roe, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief strategist, told a conference of political consultants in Austin that O’Rourke has a “hot hand” and should strike while he has it.

“You don’t get that very often,” Roe told the American Association of Political Consultants audience. “If you have a hot hand, take it.” Roe, who also worked on Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, said if Democrats are looking for a charismatic standard bearer, O’Rourke has “buckets full of it.” “He would win Iowa,” Roe said of the Iowa Caucus, which is the first presidential primary contest in 2020. O’Rourke declared late in his U.S. Senate campaign that he would not run for president in 2020 no matter whether he won or lost the Senate race. But late last month at an El Paso town hall meeting with constituents, O’Rourke appeared to change that position. Asked if he will run for president, O’Rourke didn’t say no or yes. Instead, O’Rourke said he would sit down with his wife Amy to talk about what they should do next. The Washington Post reported that O’Rourke recently met with former President Barack Obama. And Obama has praised O’Rourke in a podcast called “The Axe Files” that is hosted by his former strategist David Axelrod. “What I liked most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested,” Obama said of O’Rourke’s campaign. “It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly, it’s not.” Roe, who lives in Houston, said that behind the scenes the U.S. Senate campaign went through big momentum swings. In early September, he said their polling showed them with just a 2 point lead. But later that month the margin grew back to 12 points. Then as early voting started, the numbers began to close again. Cruz won by less than 3 percentage points. Roe said early on in the campaign he could tell O’Rourke was going to be a serious challenge because he seemed carefree, less cautious and had an outsider appeal.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 5, 2018

Criminal probe launched after Texas prison workers admit to falsifying inmate disciplinary records

The Texas prison system's Office of the Inspector General has launched a criminal probe after two Telford Unit workers admitted to falsifying inmate records in an apparent effort to improve disciplinary statistics at the northeast Texas lock-up.

Both employees were put on probation after the allegations surfaced earlier this year, and one has since been fired for a separate incident in September when she allegedly lied about telling a prisoner he had a disciplinary hearing. The other employee - a captain -- is no longer with the agency, though officials did not say why he left. The OIG launched its investigation into both incidents Monday after the Houston Chronicle began asking questions about the disciplinary actions. "We have opened a criminal case," said Deputy Inspector General Joseph Buttitta. "We're just starting an investigation and as soon as we get it done we'll take it to a grand jury." Texas prison spokesman Jeremy Desel said the department would cooperate and pointed out that officials immediately took action in disciplining the employees involved. "The Texas Department of Criminal Justice always supports the independent Office of Inspector General in any investigation," he said. "If any suspected criminal wrongdoing were to be found, we support OIG in its efforts." It all started back in January, when another worker spotted inconsistencies in prison records. A few dozen inmates had been marked down as transfers who had been moved to a different unit - but in fact they were all still at Telford in New Boston, according to records the Chronicle obtained through an open records request. All of the inmates had pending disciplinary cases, and in each instance it was one of two people - counsel substitute Shelia Forte or Capt. Tony Rust - who had marked them down as gone. As counsel substitute, it was Forte's job to notify inmates of disciplinary hearings and help them with those hearings. Rust was the disciplinary hearing officer who would hear the cases. Forte could not be reached and Rust declined to comment. According to Texas Department of Criminal Justice documents, Forte and Rust said the falsified records were part of an effort to improve the unit's disciplinary stats. The documentation provided by TDCJ doesn't specify how marking inmates as transfers would bolster numbers. But former Telford Capt. Mark Adcock, who is no longer with the agency and is not connected to the case, said the transfer designations could buy workers more time for disciplinary cases and make the unit look better on paper.

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National Stories

New York Times - December 5, 2018

Greenhouse gas emissions rise like a ‘speeding freight train’ in 2018

The world’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising at a faster pace in 2018 than they did last year, researchers said Wednesday, the latest evidence that planet-warming pollution is proliferating again after a three-year lull in the middle of the decade.

That trend is accelerating the earth’s collision course with some of the most severe consequences of climate change, scientists warned. Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to studies published in three respected scientific journals by the Global Carbon Project. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said. In an accompanying commentary in the journal Nature, scientists said the increases put the world on track with the highest emissions trajectory modeled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations scientific group. That group issued an alarming report in October that warned that, if emissions continued to rise at the current rate, the planet would warm 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, opening the door to widespread food shortages, wildfires, coastal flooding and population displacement. But the recent rise in global emissions, together with other factors, including natural variability, could accelerate the timeline, thrusting the earth above that threshold of warming by 2030, the scientists said. They compared the emissions increases to a “speeding freight train.” Led in large part by China, the United States and India, the world will release a record 37.1 gigatons of planet-warming emissions in 2018, according to the researchers’ preliminary analysis and economic projections. That is roughly 100,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building. Even as coal has fallen out of favor in some markets, the rise in emissions has been driven primarily by stronger demand for natural gas and oil, scientists said. And even as renewable energy generation has expanded exponentially, it has not been enough to offset the increased use of fossil fuels. “We’ve seen oil use go up five years in a row,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science and an author of one of the studies. “That’s really surprising.” “We thought oil use had peaked in the U.S. and Europe 15 years ago,” he said. “The cheap gasoline prices, bigger cars and people driving more miles are boosting oil use at rates that none of us expected.” In the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter of heat-trapping gases, the Trump administration has moved to roll back regulations designed to limit emissions from vehicle tailpipes and power-plant smokestacks.

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New York Times - December 5, 2018

‘A mixture of sad and joyful’: The old Bush gang gathers for a final send-off

More than a quarter-century after the original Bush administration left Washington and nearly a decade after the departure of the second, the men and women who once ran the nation and, by extension, the world were back. On the eve of the state funeral for President George Bush, they caught up, shared stories and honored those no longer around.

“Everybody’s a mixture of sad and joyful because we’re celebrating a great life,” said Jonathan Bush, the younger brother of the 41st president and uncle of the 43rd. “It’s kind of fun to see old friends and old campaign associates. It’s a great reunion, that’s really what it is. Everybody’s happy, nobody’s weeping. They had such fun with him, it’s like having fun with him for the last time.” Theirs was a different time and a different capital. George Bush was president as the Cold War ended and helped usher in a new world order with the United States the lone surviving superpower. While politics were fractious, a Republican president could still do business with a Democratic Congress. Cable television was in its infancy. Presidential statements were not measured in 140-character increments. Today, the veterans of that administration have long since moved on to other ventures or retirement. Some have written books. Others have taught college classes. So the occasion of Mr. Bush’s death has become the occasion to bring the team back together in what may be its last such gathering. Around town could be seen plenty of familiar faces: James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and longtime friend of the president who was in the room with him, rubbing his feet, when he died; Dick Cheney, who served as defense secretary in the first Bush administration and vice president in the second; Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the first and secretary of state in the second. Waiting outside the Capitol on Monday when the former president’s coffin, draped with a flag, arrived were John H. Sununu, his White House chief of staff; Bill Barr, his attorney general; Elizabeth Dole, his secretary of labor. Bob Dole, 95, her husband and former Senate majority leader, went to the rotunda on Tuesday and was helped out of a wheelchair to his feet so he could salute the man who defeated him for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. And of course there were the Bushes themselves, a large and boisterous clan from Maine, Texas and everywhere in between. George Bush and his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April, had six children, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and then there were the spouses and cousins and step-grandchildren and others. Former President George W. Bush, who will deliver a eulogy at the cathedral on Wednesday, was hosting a small reception for members of his family on Tuesday night at Blair House, the presidential guesthouse across from the White House. Another event for family members was being held at Decatur House on the edge of Lafayette Square. And other administration veterans were gathering at the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just down the street.

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Washington Post - December 5, 2018

Saudi-funded lobbyist paid for 500 rooms at Trump’s hotel after 2016 election

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington — then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers. At first, lobbyists for the Saudis put the veterans up in Northern Virginia. Then, in December 2016, they switched most of their business to the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. In all, the lobbyists spent more than $270,000 to house six groups of visiting veterans at the Trump hotel, which Trump still owns. Those bookings have fueled a pair of federal lawsuits alleging Trump violated the Constitution by taking improper payments from foreign governments. During this period, records show, the average nightly rate at the hotel was $768. The lobbyists who ran the trips say they chose Trump’s hotel strictly because it offered a discount from that rate and had rooms available, not to curry favor with Trump. “Absolutely not. It had nothing to do with that. Not one bit,” said Michael Gibson, a Maryland-based political operative who helped organize the trips. Some of the veterans who stayed at Trump’s hotel say they were kept in the dark about the Saudis’ role in the trips. Now, they wonder if they were used twice over: not just to deliver someone else’s message to Congress, but also to deliver business to the Trump Organization.

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Washington Post - December 5, 2018

Eyeing White House bid, Washington Gov. Inslee urges supporters to oppose fellow Democrat Manchin

As he mulls a potential 2020 White House bid, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is taking aim at an unusual target: Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-WV.

n an email to supporters Tuesday, Inslee argued that Manchin, a moderate Democrat, “simply can’t be trusted to make the bold, progressive decisions we need” and should not be allowed to become the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I need your help to stop this,” Inslee said in the email. “Our party must be wholly committed to ending America’s dependence on fossil fuels and building a robust clean energy economy. And Joe Manchin literally shot climate legislation in one of his campaign ads. He supports Donald Trump’s dirty energy agenda.” The email asked supporters to sign an online petition opposing Manchin’s ascension to the top Democratic spot on the panel. Manchin’s office declined to comment on the petition Wednesday. Manchin, who last month won reelection in a state President Trump carried by more than 40 points in 2016, has embraced some of the president’s environmental initiatives and met with him for lunch at the White House on Monday. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, the current ranking minority-party member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is expected to become the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee in the next Congress, with Manchin poised to take her spot on the energy panel. The development has prompted alarm among liberal and environmental groups who worry the West Virginia Democrat will stymie their climate agenda.

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Associated Press - December 5, 2018

Wisconsin Republicans weaken incoming Dem governor, AG

Wisconsin Republicans pushed through protests, internal disagreement and Democratic opposition Wednesday to pass far-reaching legislation that would shift power to the GOP-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat who defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker last month.

The vote, coming after an all-night debate, was the height of a lame-duck legislative session aimed at reducing the authority of the office Republicans will lose in January. Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul warned that resulting lawsuits would bring more gridlock when the new administration takes over. Walker has signaled his support for the bill. He has 10 days to sign the package from the time it’s delivered to his office. Republicans were battered in the midterm election, losing all statewide races amid strong Democratic turnout. But they retained legislative majorities thanks to what Democrats say are gerrymandered districts that tilt the map. “Wisconsin has never seen anything like this,” Evers said in a statement Wednesday. “Power-hungry politicians rushed through sweeping changes to our laws to expand their own power and override the will of the people of Wisconsin who asked for change on November 6th.” The GOP move comes as Michigan Republicans discuss taking action before a Democratic governor takes over there. North Carolina lawmakers took similar steps two years ago. The legislation passed in a session marked by stops and starts as GOP leaders tried to muster enough votes in the Senate. That chamber ultimately approved the package 17-16, with just one Republican voting against it, around sunrise. The Assembly approved it on a 56-27 vote about two hours later, with just one Republican defecting.

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Associated Press - December 5, 2018

Documents show Facebook used user data as competitive weapon

Internal Facebook documents released by a U.K. parliamentary committee offer the clearest evidence yet that the social network has used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.

The parliament’s media committee accused Facebook on Wednesday of cutting special deals with some app developers to give them more access to data, while icing out others that it viewed as potential rivals. In other documents, company executives discussed ways to obfuscate how the company was collecting and exploiting user data. The committee released more than 200 pages of documents on the tech giant’s internal discussions about the value of users’ personal information. While they mostly cover the period between 2012 and 2015 “the first three years after Facebook went public ” they offer a rare glimpse into the company’s inner workings and the extent to which it used people’s data to make money while publicly vowing to protect their privacy. Facebook said the documents are misleading and that the information they contain is “only part of the story.” “Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform,” the company said in a statement. “But the facts are clear: We’ve never sold people’s data.” In a Facebook post , Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to put the documents in context. “Of course, we don’t let everyone develop on our platform,” he wrote. “We blocked a lot of sketchy apps. We also didn’t allow developers to use our platform to replicate our functionality or grow their services virally in a way that creates little value for people on Facebook.” The U.K. committee seized the documents from app developer Six4Three, maker of a now-defunct bikini-picture search app. Six4Three acquired the files as part of a U.S. lawsuit that accuses Facebook of deceptive, anti-competitive business practices. The documents remain under court seal in the U.S. In a summary of key issues pertaining to the documents, the committee said Facebook “whitelisted,” or made exceptions for, companies such as Airbnb and Netflix, giving them continued access to users’ “friends” even after the tech giant announced changes in 2015 to end the practice. “Facebook have clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends data,” the committee said in a statement. “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.” The documents “raise important questions about how Facebook treats users’ data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market,” said committee chair Damian Collins. “We don’t feel we have had straight answers from Facebook on these important issues, which is why we are releasing the documents.” The cache includes emails from Zuckerberg and other key members of his staff. The emails show Zuckerberg and other executives scheming to leverage user data to favor companies not considered to be threats and to identify potential acquisitions.

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Associated Press - December 5, 2018

Nation bids goodbye to Bush with high praise, cannons, humor

The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime.

Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as “the brightest of a thousand points of light.” After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush’s casket left for a final service in Houston and burial Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3. The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush’s public life and character — with plenty of cracks about his goofy side, too. Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others. George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.” The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries. The elder Bush was “the last great-soldier statesman,” historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times. But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, “Never know. Gotta ask.” Meacham recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said the key to doing an impersonation of Bush was “Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.” None of that would be a surprise to Bush. Meacham had read his eulogy to him, said Bush spokesman Jim McGrath, and Bush responded to it with the crack: “That’s a lot about me, Jon.”

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CNBC - December 5, 2018

No deal on auto tariffs as White House backpedals, Volvo threatens to move jobs overseas

What looked earlier this week like a resolution to the costly automotive tariff war with China has proven to be little more than a presidential boast.

The tit-for-tat trade war with China has been proving costly for the U.S. with signs that some automakers might be ready to move some production and jobs out of the country. That's why carmakers and car parts manufacturers on both sides of the Pacific were initially buoyed by the claim of an "incredible" trade deal emerging from the 2½ hour dinner meeting President Donald Trump held with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Saturday at the G-20 summit. But the White House has now backpedaled, acknowledging there was no deal in place to roll back automotive tariffs. Trump himself on Tuesday tweeted there "probably will" be a trade deal to follow the dinner meeting, even as he declared himself "a Tariff Man." He might actually ramp up the trade dispute with the world's largest automotive market if there isn't a broader agreement within 90 days. Hopes were buoyed when Trump told reporters in Argentina that he had reached an "incredible" deal with Xi, and followed by a tweet saying, "China has agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S. Currently the tariff is 40 percent." The Chinese tariff had been 25 percent and, earlier this year, the country was set to roll the tax back to just 15 percent. But when Trump announced broad new U.S. tariffs on Chinese made goods, the Beijing government raised duties specifically on American-made automobiles and parts. The impact is actually less than that being felt in some other sectors of the U.S. economy, such as agriculture, but it is still a hit to the auto industry, which shipped about 250,000 vehicles to China last year. Vehicle sales were expected to grow because demand for SUVs had risen there.

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CNBC - December 5, 2018

Putin ups the ante, threatens to develop disputed nukes in response to Trump administration ultimatum

Russian President Vladimir Putin upped the ante Wednesday by saying he is prepared to develop nuclear-tipped missiles if the U.S. withdraws from a Cold War-era arms agreement.

Putin, in televised comments, said Moscow would develop midrange nuclear missiles, a weapon that is currently banned from U.S. and Russian arsenals under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty. The INF treaty, signed in 1987 between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibited the development and deployment of ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges of 310 miles to 3,420 miles. President Donald Trump has promised to withdraw from that treaty, claiming Russia has been cheating. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered an ultimatum to Russia on Tuesday. The Russian leader suggested the U.S. was the one itching to escalate the arms race. "Now it seems our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that the United States must also have such a weapon. What's our response? It's simple: in that case we will also do this," Putin said. U.S. arms experts said the Kremlin needs to take responsibility. "Russia's violation is unacceptable and requires a firm U.S. and NATO diplomatic, economic and treaty-compliant military response strategy," Kingston Reif, director of disarmament research at the Arms Control Association, told CNBC following Putin's remarks. "Russia's had treaty-violating missiles for years, so they're not fooling anybody by alleging that they'd have to start building treaty-violating missiles. It's a transparent ploy to put the onus back on the U.S., but it won't work," said Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Putin's response came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited material evidence that Russia has quietly added nuclear-tipped missiles that are currently banned by the INF treaty to its colossal arsenal.

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Wall Street Journal - December 5, 2018

Canadian authorities arrest CFO of Huawei Technologies at U.S. request

Canadian authorities in Vancouver have arrested Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer at the request of the U.S. government for alleged violations of Iranian sanctions, the latest move by Washington to crack down on the Chinese cellular-technology giant.

A spokesman for Canada’s justice department said Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 and is sought for extradition by the U.S. A bail hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Friday, according to the spokesman. Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, serves as the company’s CFO and deputy chairwoman. Ms. Meng’s arrest comes amid a year-long U.S. government campaign against a company it views as a national-security threat. In the past year, Washington has taken a series of steps to restrict Huawei’s business on American soil and, more recently, launched an extraordinary international outreach campaign to persuade allied countries to enact similar curbs. BT Group PLC, Britain’s largest wireless carrier, said it was removing Huawei equipment from its systems that transfer calls and internet traffic. The company didn’t say why it was disclosing the move now. The U.S. is seeking Ms. Meng’s extradition so as to have her appear in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, according to people familiar with the matter. A Huawei spokesman had no immediate comment on Ms. Meng’s arrest Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that the Justice Department had launched a criminal probe into Huawei’s dealings in Iran, following administrative subpoenas on sanctions-related issues from both the Commerce Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

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Barron's - December 5, 2018

When the Fed Chair speaks, the market moves. Data proves it.

Markets often seem to hang on the words of the Federal Reserve chair. Now there’s hard data to back that up. A recent New York Fed paper found that equity markets treat the Fed chair almost as the pope of Wall Street—with his or her words significantly and consistently moving equity markets by an amount that might surprise even the seasoned Fed watcher.

Technically, the Fed chair is just one—albeit the first among equals—of the 12 voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets the important federal-funds rate, at which depository institutions lend uncollateralized reserve balances to each other overnight. Anecdotally, the power of the chair’s remarks is evident from time to time. On Nov. 28, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said that interest rates were “just below” the neutral level, suggesting a halt to rising rates was in sight. The U.S. stock market rose 2.3% that day, the second-biggest daily rally of the year and the best day in eight months. It wasn’t an FOMC meeting, but what he said mattered—a lot. Now there are numbers that back up the chair’s unique power. Two days before his talk, the New York Fed released a study of the equity market’s reactions to the chair’s news conferences, which take place after four of the eight FOMC meetings a year. It looked at seven years’ worth of FOMC meetings, from April 2011 to June 2018, and discovered that statistically, the chair’s remarks have the aura of a papal bull for equity investors. When there is no press conference after an FOMC meeting, the study found no effect on stock prices. But when the chair does hold a press conference, S&P 500 returns are positive. Specifically, on average, the peak of the “Fed Drift,” as the authors have dubbed it, occurs just after the press conference wraps up and accounts for about 70 basis points of outperformance. (A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point.) The authors, David O. Lucca and Emanuel Moench, note that it may not be the press conference itself that drives U.S. equities higher. It could be the information contained in the “dot plot” of the FOMC’s Summary of Economic Projections, which shows the FOMC members’ projections of the future level of interest rates, or some combination of that with the chair’s commentary during press questioning. (The Fed chair began holding news conferences after March 2011.)

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NPR - December 5, 2018

Cuba extends Internet to mobile phones, promising new access

Cuba's state telephone company will allow mobile phone customers to use the Internet via a new 3G network, starting on Thursday. But as with previous tech advances in the island nation, only those who can afford it will be able to take advantage of the access — which remains under the control of the autocratic government.

Phones have emerged as a key method of accessing the Internet in Cuba. After all, it was only 10 years ago that the Castro government lifted its ban that prohibited regular citizens from buying computers, and Internet access in private homes was rare before 2016. With a population of more than 11.1 million people, Cuba currently has 5.3 million mobile lines and 1.3 million landlines, according to the phone monopoly ETECSA, or the Telecommunications Company of Cuba S.A. It provides mobile service through nearly 800 3G base stations and more than 1,000 2G stations. ETECSA says its new offering will "expand the possibilities of Internet access as part of the process of computerization of the Cuban society." That likely will be welcome news to many Cubans, who live in a country that the nonprofit rights monitor Freedom House calls "one of the world's least connected and most repressive environments for information and communication technologies." Cubans also "continue to face extremely slow connections of 1 Mbps, even at Wi-Fi hotspots," according to Freedom House's report on Cuba's Internet access that was released last month. To take advantage of the new service, Cubans will need to pay the equivalent of $7 for 600 megabytes of data, $10 for 1 gigabyte and $30 for 4 gigabytes, according to the state-run Granma news agency. The cost of access poses a steep barrier in a country where nearly 60 percent of the population lives on $100 or less per month, as a 2016 Cuban consumer survey found. Despite that obstacle, 68 percent of Cubans said they had a Facebook account, and 57 percent said they had an email address, the survey said. The promise of wide mobile access to the Internet comes more than a year after Google helped boost Internet speeds within Cuba, installing servers through a deal with ETECSA. The country's main Internet link comes through the ALBA-1 submarine cable, which runs from Venezuela. ETECSA also routes some traffic through a private satellite.

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Medical Express - December 5, 2018

Nearly one in three U.S. physicians are immigrants

At a time when immigration is a hot-button issue, the American health care system is highly dependent on professionals born in other countries, an analysis of U.S. census data shows.

In 2016, roughly 17 percent of professionals in 24 medical fields—from optometrists to chiropractors to veterinarians—were foreign-born, and almost 5 percent of them were not U.S. citizens, according to the analysis published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The analysis could not distinguish between professionals trained in their country of origin and those trained in the United States. The rates were even higher for the most educated providers. About one in five pharmacists, one in four dentists, and 29 percent of physicians—approaching one in three—were foreign-born. Among one of the biggest occupational groups—psychiatric, nursing and home health aides—23 percent were foreign-born. "We rely very heavily in health care on those who were born abroad," said lead author Anupam B. Jena, an economist and physician at Harvard Medical School. "That tells you what would happen if we had a policy that restricted skilled immigration." Controversy has surrounded the Trump administration's policies aimed at curbing illegal immigration from Mexico, and his ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries. But changes that are less well known have chipped away at legal immigration, including new compliance rules, documentation requirements, and visa restrictions for skilled workers and college students. Jena's interest in the intended and unintended consequences of immigration policy is partly personal. He was born in Chicago, but his parents—a physician and a physicist—emigrated from India. "People like my mom who are able to make it to this country and perform professionally, these are generally very skilled, very motivated people," Jena said. Yet doctors trained outside the U.S. are so often perceived as less qualified or less competent that Jena and his colleagues did a study to evaluate the quality of the care they provide. The study found that hospitalized Medicare patients who were treated by international medical school graduates had lower mortality rates than patients treated by U.S. medical graduates. For another study, Jena looked at the scientific contributions of foreign medical graduates by counting their journal publications, federal research grants, and clinical trials. The conclusion: Physicians educated abroad but working in the U.S. account for nearly a fifth of U.S. biomedical research scholarship. Jena led the new analysis—which used data from an annual household survey conducted by the Census Bureau—to look broadly at the health care workforce. While studies over the past decade have reported that about a quarter of doctors working in the U.S. were born abroad, most other health care professions haven't been examined.

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Fox News - December 5, 2018

France's Macron scraps fuel tax rise amid fears of more protests, violence

French President Emmanuel Macron has canceled a planned fuel tax increase after three weeks of nationwide protests that left four people dead and sparked the worst anti-government riot in Paris since 2005.

An official with the Elysee Palace told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the president decided to get rid of the tax, while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed to lawmakers that "the tax is now abandoned" in the 2019 budget. A day earlier, Philippe announced that the tax increase would be suspended for six months. But despite the government's concession, protest leaders have said demonstrations are likely to continue with trade unions and farmers joining the fray against Macron's increasingly unpopular policies. Jacline Mouraud, a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the so-called "yellow vest" protesters, told The Associated Press that Macron's move "is on the right path but in my opinion it will not fundamentally change the movement." She urged protesters to seize on the French government's weakness to push other demands such as a rise in the minimum wage. More protests are planned for Saturday in Paris. On Wednesday, France's largest farmers' union said it will launch anti-government protests next week after trucking unions called for a rolling strike. A joint statement from the CGT and the FO trucking unions called for action Sunday night to protest a cut in overtime rates. France's transportation minister agreed to meet with truckers' representatives on Thursday. The FNSEA farmers' union said it would fight to help French farmers earn a better income but would not officially be joining forces with the "yellow vests" — protesters wearing the high-visibility vests that French motorists are required to keep in their cars. French police have cleared most of the fuel depots that protesters had blocked earlier in the week, but fuel shortages continued to hit parts of France on Wednesday, with hundreds of gas stations affected. Demonstrators were also blocking toll booths, letting drivers pass without paying, to press demands that ranged from higher incomes and pensions to the dissolution of the National Assembly, France's parliament. Macron's popularity has slumped to a new low since the first demonstrations took place on Nov. 17. The former investment banker, who has pushed pro-business economic reforms to make France more globally competitive, is accused of being the "president of the rich" and of being estranged from the working classes.

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The Atlantic - December 5, 2018

After years of infighting, the Democrats may finally have found an environmental consensus in the Green New Deal

On Monday, speaking at a town hall led by Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez framed her chosen climate policy—the Green New Deal—through the lens of gallant American exceptionalism. “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation,” she said.

The Green New Deal aspires to cut U.S. carbon emissions fast enough to reach the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate goal: preventing the world from warming no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. In a blockbuster report released in October, an international group of scientists said that meeting this goal could skirt the worst climate effects, such as massive floods, expansive droughts, and irreversible sea-level rise. To actually make the target, though, the world must start reducing its carbon pollution immediately, and cut it in half by 2030. And we’re nowhere close. Global emissions levels just hit a record high, and even the Barack Obama administration’s most breakneck climate policy did not put the United States close to making its part of the goal. The Green New Deal aims to get us there—and remake the country in the process. It promises to give every American a job in that new economy: installing solar panels, retrofitting coastal infrastructure, manufacturing electric vehicles. In the 1960s, the U.S. pointed the full power of its military-technological industry at going to the moon. Ocasio-Cortez wants to do the same thing, except to save the planet. MORE STORIES A collage of images of Nancy Pelosi, Carlos Curbelo, and Jay Inslee The New Politics of Climate Change ROBINSON MEYER The Republican Carbon Tax Is Republican, Say Republicans ROBINSON MEYER 17 Bipartisan Governors Vow to Fight Climate Change—And President Trump ROBINSON MEYER Washington State Likely Rejects a Historic Carbon Tax ROBINSON MEYER I have no idea whether the Green New Deal will result in a federal climate law two or five or 10 years from now. The proposal clearly has momentum on the left. Since early November, I’ve seen the Green New Deal talked about as a story of Democrats in disarray, or as another example of the party’s turn toward socialism. Both analyses miss the mark. The Green New Deal is one of the most interesting—and strategic—left-wing policy interventions from the Democratic Party in years. As I wrote last year, the Democrats have a problem: They are the only major political party that cares about climate change, but they don’t have a national strategy to address it. Party elites know that they want to fight climate change, of course, but after that the specifics get hazy, and almost no one agrees on what new laws should get passed. For the past two years, this lack of agenda hasn’t really hampered them, because they could unite around blocking Donald Trump’s deregulation extravaganza. But as Democrats consider the possibility of controlling Congress and the White House in 2020, they will feel more pressure to zero in on a strategy. For the first time in more than a decade, Democrats can approach climate policy with a sense of imagination. They can also approach it with a sense of humility, because their last two strategies didn’t work particularly well. When the party last controlled Congress, in 2009, Democrats tried to pass a national cap-and-trade bill, a type of policy that allows polluters to bid on the right to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It failed to pass in the Senate. Starting in 2011, President Obama tried to use the EPA’s powers under the Clean Air Act to fight carbon-dioxide emissions. After President Trump was elected, he terminated that effort by executive order.

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USA Today - December 5, 2018

Supreme Court tackles 'double jeopardy' exception that allows federal, state prosecutions for same crime

An unusual coalition of liberal and conservative Supreme Court justices may be ready to stop the federal and state governments from prosecuting suspects twice for the same crime.

If that sounds like a no-brainer, think again: The "dual sovereignty" exception to the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy clause enabled Mississippi to convict Edgar Ray Killen of murdering three civil rights workers in 1964 after federal charges didn't stick. It helped the federal government convict two Los Angeles police officers for the notorious 1991 beating of Rodney King after a county jury acquitted four officers of nearly all charges. It helped federal officials win a guilty plea last year from a South Carolina police officer for the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, after a state jury deadlocked. And it may even help special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. If President Donald Trump pardons former campaign chairman Paul Manafort for federal tax and bank fraud violations, Mueller could set his sights on state courts. Stack those anecdotes up against the Fifth Amendment's bar on double trouble "for the same offence," however, and most legal analysts agree the Constitution may come out on top at the Supreme Court. Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law, says defenders of federal and state overlap can cite "public policy exigencies of the moment.” But a bar against double jeopardy, he says, represents “core values.” The case to be heard Thursday is one of the most significant on the court's thus far underwhelming docket. A ruling against the Trump administration, which is supported by 36 states, would upend 170 years of history and high court precedents dating back nearly 60 years. It would provide a victory for Terance Gamble, who received a one-year prison sentence from Alabama and 46 months from the federal government for the same firearms offense in 2015. Two lower courts upheld the sentences, citing Supreme Court precedent. Although the terms are running concurrently, Gamble won't be released until 2020. Had the federal government been barred from a second prosecution, he would be a free man. "The purpose of the double jeopardy clause," his lawyers argue in court papers, "is to protect against this most ancient and basic of evils." Two years ago, the court ruled 6-2 that Puerto Rico could not prosecute a suspect following his federal conviction because the territory, unlike states, derived its power from the United States. But Associate Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, said state sovereignty represented “the very bedrock of our union." Not so fast, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a concurrence, joined by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. The pair suggested that the high court reconsider dual federal-state sovereignty in a future case. "Ordinarily, a final judgment in a criminal case, just as a final judgment in a civil case, should preclude renewal of the fray anyplace in the nation," Ginsburg wrote. That view has plenty of proponents who argue that the double jeopardy clause prevents abuse by prosecutors. They say it helps in obtaining plea bargains because defendants cannot hope for a second trial. What's more, nearly half the states already have bars against double jeopardy. That's important for Mueller's prosecution of Manafort, because the special counsel would have to cite different illegal conduct to bring state charges on top of federal charges. The government's position, ironically, would help Mueller in the event of a Trump pardon. Clearing Manafort of federal tax charges would leave open the possibility of trying him on state tax charges. “Even if Trump gave the broadest federal pardon to everybody, there would still be state statutes available," says Adam Kurland, a law professor at Howard University School of Law, who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of its Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center.

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Bloomberg - December 6, 2018

It’s the worst time to make money in markets since 1972

Market statisticians are falling over each other in 2018 to describe the pain being felt across asset classes. One venerable shop frames it this way: Things haven’t been this bad since Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Ned Davis Research puts markets into eight big asset classes — everything from bonds to U.S. and international stocks to commodities. And not a single one of them is on track to post a return this year of more than 5 percent, a phenomenon last observed in 1972, according to Ed Clissold, a strategist at the firm. In terms of losses, investors have seen far worse. But going by the breadth of assets failing to deliver upside, 2018 is starting to look historic. Nothing’s working, not large or small-cap stocks in the U.S., not international or emerging equities, not Treasuries, investment-grade bonds, commodities or real estate. Most of them are down, and the ones that are up are doing so by percentages in the low single-digits. That’s all but unique in history. Normally when something falls, something else gains. Amid the financial catastrophe of 2008, Treasuries rallied. In 1974, commodities were a bright spot. In 2002, it was REITs. In 2018, there’s nowhere to run. Clissold has a villain: evaporating central bank stimulus. “Overhanging the markets have been concerns over how asset prices would handle the removal of ultra-easing monetary policies,” Clissold, chief U.S. strategist at Ned Davis Research, said in a note published last week. During previous instances of market turbulence, “there was a bull market somewhere.” The Federal Reserve has hiked rates eight times since 2015, and policy makers in Europe and Japan are slowly winding down their accommodative programs. That along with global growth concern has soured investor sentiment across the board. This week, optimism over a temporary trade-war truce between the U.S. and China proved short-lived as concerns from Brexit to a flattening yield curve to a global growth slowdown took hold. Tuesday, the S&P 500 Index posted its fifth drop of more than 3 percent this year.

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Politico - December 6, 2018

'We have a crisis': Democrats at war over voter data trove

Democrats are at war over the party’s most precious commodity — voter data — and it’s threatening their chances of beating President Donald Trump in 2020.

The fight involves a trove of Democratic voter information splintered among state parties, outside groups and the Democratic National Committee. The DNC wants to pool all of it into one massive database that could be leveraged to the benefit of the party’s eventual presidential nominee. But state parties are accusing the national party of mounting a power grab that could enrich a handful of elite party figures. “We have a crisis,” said Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in 2016. “Republicans are going to have a major strategic advantage over us in 2020 if we don’t fix it.” But the DNC’s answer has provoked a fierce backlash among state parties, who have most of the ownership rights to the party’s voter file. Tensions flared at a meeting of state-based party officials here last week. The DNC is advocating a proposal modeled on the Republican Party’s data operation. It would amass all the voter data from Democratic groups into a single, for-profit entity. The structure has two advantages. Because the voter data firm would be set up as a private organization, it would allow Democrats to raise money for it free from campaign finance limits. The setup would also enable liberal groups to integrate the data as they gather it, instead of continuing with the balkanized system currently in place. In theory, the progressive ecosystem could then work in concert to collect more data points on each voter. But in interviews with more than two dozen state party chairs, vice chairs and executive directors, the response to the proposal being pushed by DNC Chairman Tom Perez and his leadership team ranged from skeptical to outright hostile. Both sides agree that being able to swap data seamlessly with outside groups is necessary, but they’re at loggerheads over the best way to make it happen. “I’m not willing to give up one of our most important tools to a group of people who have never even worked on a campaign before,” Trav Robertson, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said of Perez’s team. If not resolved soon, the fight between the states and the national party could hobble the eventual Democratic nominee as he or she emerges from a bruising 2020 primary election. President Donald Trump has been preparing for reelection since the day he was sworn into office, and his Democratic challenger will need a robust data infrastructure to effectively take him on. Frustrations among several state party officials focused on the DNC’s chief technology officer, Raffi Krikorian, who came to the party from Silicon Valley, and on its recently named chief executive, Seema Nanda, who worked for Perez in his previous job at the Labor Department. Neither official has significant campaign experience.

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Newsclips - December 5, 2018

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

Lawyers prosecuting Attorney General Ken Paxton ask court to reconsider key ruling

The special prosecutors assigned to build a white-collar crime case against Attorney General Ken Paxton want the state's top criminal court to reconsider a ruling that they say jeopardizes their ability to proceed.

Houston attorney Brian Wice has argued the $300 per hour rate a North Texas judge agreed to pay him and three other attorneys is reasonable to take on the extraordinary case against the high-ranking state official. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected that argument last month. In a 5-4 ruling, the court found the judge lacked authority to agree to pay the attorneys more than a total of $2,000 for pre-trial work because it exceeds a cap on criminal casework set by officials in Collin County, where Paxton was indicted. Wice on Monday asked the court for more time to explain why the justices should rehear the case. A motion for rehearing is due Dec. 6, however Wice is asking to have until Dec. 21 to wade through the assenting and dissenting opinions of the appellate court’s judges. Wice is one of three criminal defense attorneys tapped to act as special prosecutors in the 2015 criminal case against Paxton. The attorney general is accused of committing securities fraud and failing to register as an investment adviser as he encouraged clients, including a fellow lawmaker, to invest in a technology firm that failed. Members of the Collin County Commissioners’ Court, most of whom are allies of Paxton, refused to pay the special prosecutors about $200,000 in 2017. The trial court delayed Paxton’s trial in late 2017 while awaiting resolution on the special prosecutors’ pay. Paxton maintains his innocence.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2018

Well-wishers pay respects to George Bush, with nostalgia for the tone he set as president

Thousands of well-wishers lined up on a chilly Washington day for a glimpse of George Bush's flag-draped casket and the opportunity to pay respects ahead of a state funeral Wednesday that will bring together five U.S. presidents and an assortment of kings, princes and prime ministers.

The 94-year-old Bush left office 26 years ago, and his death Friday night has provided a reminder of a kinder, gentler time in the nation's political life. Memories flowed all day Tuesday at the Capitol, where Bush lay in state. "He brought respect to the office and respect to other people in general," said Houstonian Kathy Jacobs, 63, who had come to Washington with family to see the White House Christmas tree. "He did a lot for our country." The genial demeanor of the 41st president, his wartime heroism and lifetime of public service will be celebrated Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral. Former President George W. Bush will speak about his father, patriarch of one of the nation's most successful political dynasties. The current president, Donald Trump, will not deliver a eulogy. That's a break from decades of tradition and reflects his strained relationship with the Bushes, including the late president's son Jeb, a former Florida governor whom Trump drove from the 2016 primaries. Trump visited privately with the family for about 15 minutes Tuesday afternoon at Blair House, the official guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. George and Laura Bush greeted him. The brief interaction witnessed by news media was nothing but genial. The funeral will mark the first time that Trump has been in the same place with all his living predecessors. Jimmy Carter, born four months after the elder Bush, is 94. Trump, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are all 72. Barack Obama is 57.

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New York Times - December 4, 2018

Flynn was key cooperator and deserves little prison time, Mueller team says

Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, helped substantially with the special counsel’s investigation and should receive little to no prison time for lying to federal investigators, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Mr. Flynn was a key cooperator who helped the Justice Department with several investigations, prosecutors for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said. He sat for 19 interviews with Mr. Mueller’s office and other prosecutors and handed over documents and communications, they said. “His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight” into the subject of Mr. Mueller’s investigation — Russia’s election interference and whether any Trump associates conspired, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing recommendation memorandum and an addendum that was heavily blacked out. In particular, they wrote, he might have prompted others to cooperate with the inquiry. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming,” prosecutors said. They also indicated that Mr. Flynn helped with other investigations without revealing details about them. Mr. Flynn, who served briefly as the president’s national security adviser, is the only White House aide and the first person from the president’s inner circle to strike a cooperation deal with the special counsel’s office in exchange for a more lenient penalty. He pleaded guilty a year ago to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak. “The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” prosecutors wrote. The cases of some other former Trump aides caught up in the special counsel investigation are also nearing resolution, marking an active week for Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. By Friday, Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors are due to enumerate how they believe Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, violated a plea agreement and separately to outline the extent of cooperation by Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer. Another longtime Trump associate whom Mr. Mueller is scrutinizing, Roger J. Stone Jr., said on Tuesday that he had invoked his the Fifth Amendment rights in response to a request from Democratic investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hand over documents and testimony relevant to their own Russia inquiry. Mr. Stone’s lawyer, Grant J. Smith, said the committee’s request was “overbroad” and stressed that Mr. Stone was “an innocent citizen who denounces secrecy.”

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Washington Post - December 4, 2018

Stocks are plummeting, but a U.S. recession doesn’t look imminent

Alarm bells sounded on Wall Street this week as something happened that hasn’t occurred in a decade: The U.S. yield curve inverted. This is one of the most reliable predictors of a recession, and it spooked investors enough to send the Dow down almost 800 points (along with the realization that President Trump’s trade “deal” with China is flimsy, at best).

But this doesn’t mean a recession is happening tomorrow or even in 2019. Roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy is powered by consumer spending. As long as consumers are happy and opening their wallets, the economy will keep growing, and right now, consumers are in very good shape. Here’s what happened Monday: The yield (amount of interest) on the two- and three-year U.S. Treasury bonds moved above the yield on the five-year Treasury bond. Inversion is when a short-duration bond is suddenly worth more than a long one. “A flattening yield curve traditionally has been seen as a sign that investors expect future growth to weaken,” Vincent Heaney, Jon Gordon and Chris Swann of UBS wrote in a client note. “An inverted yield curve is seen by some as an early warning sign of an impending recession.” As UBS noted, this is an early warning sign, and it could take years for the recession to materialize. Consider that the three-year bond yield moved above the five-year in August 2005, yet the Great Recession didn’t begin until December 2007. According to many Wall Street analysts, this week’s inverted yield curve isn’t a reason to panic but is another sign that the U.S. economy is probably peaking. Growth is widely expected to slow somewhat next year and even more so in 2020 How much and how quickly the economy tapers is going to depend on U.S. consumers. “This is the most confident American consumers have been in 18 years,” said Lynn Franco, director of the team that produces the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index. “Just on holiday gifts, consumers plan to spend around $627 this year versus $560 last year, one of the strongest jumps we’ve seen.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

Alvarado, Hernandez report big fundraising edge in District 6 Senate race

State Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez have raised and spent far more money than the two other candidates seeking to replace Rep.-elect Sylvia Garcia in the Texas Senate, according to filings posted Tuesday by the Texas Ethics Commission.

Between the two Houston Democrats, Alvarado has proven the more prolific fundraiser, taking in about $115,000 and spending about $391,000 from Oct. 28 through Dec. 1, the period covered by her latest campaign finance report. During the same period, Hernandez raised about $66,000 and spent about $162,000. The totals place Alvarado and Hernandez well ahead of Republican Martha Fierro, who has raised about $4,000 since Nov. 15, and Mia Mundy, a Democrat who did not report raising or spending any money. Hernandez and Alvarado both announced their candidacies in March, after Garcia won her congressional primary, while Fierro and Mundy decided recently to run. The district covers parts of East Harris County, Pasadena, Baytown and the Heights. Alvarado, who entered the race with a sizable war chest, has been running an ad on cable television, and she says the spot will begin running on network stations in the lead-up to Election Day on Dec. 11. Alvarado's spending on those ads does not appear to be included in her campaign finance report. During the late October to early December period, Alvarado received about $60,000 from "entities" — mostly political action committees, including those of other lawmakers, and limited liability companies — which accounted for a little more than half her overall haul. Meanwhile, Hernandez received about $44,000 from entities, or about two-thirds of her fundraising, though some $4,300 of that total came from state Reps. Garnet Coleman, Mary Ann Perez and Armando Walle, who are backing Hernandez. Former state and U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego contributed $1,000 to both candidates. Fierro received donations from Phillip Aronoff, Garcia's Republican opponent in the 29th Congressional District, and state Rep. Briscoe Cain. Fierro also lent herself $1,000. Both Alvarado and Hernandez have invested heavily in direct mail, their reports show.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

Fort Bend ISD files objection to court order concerning 95 remains

Fort Bend ISD has filed an objection to a judge's appointment of an attorney to help make decisions on the 95 African-American remains discovered at a construction site earlier this year.

Fort Bend District Judge James H. Shoemake appointed attorney Michael W. Elliott last month to help work with those interested in the case and ultimately come to a resolution on what to do with the human remains, believed to be of persons who were a part of a post-Civil War era convict-leasing system in which prisoners were contracted out to perform cheap labor across Texas. "The district has worked in good faith with various stakeholder groups including some of our community activists like Reggie Moore and the city of Sugar Land and the Texas Historical Commission," said Veronica Sopher, spokeswoman for the district. "These conversations have been ongoing and the appointment of a master in chancery is used when there is a complicated scientific or technical question that the court needs assistance with. The district is not engaged in a scientific or technical complex question with the judge regarding permission to re-inter the remains." The attorney's appointment came after the school district filed a petition to move the remains to the nearby Old Imperial Farm Cemetery. A majority on a cemetery task force established by the city of the Sugar Land voted in October to keep the remains at the construction site because they felt it was more respectful. During a court hearing the week of Thanksgiving, the judge said he did not want to rule on where the remains should go until he got a better sense of what interested community members wanted to do. He said he hoped that a resolution could be made in the case by March. "I'm not going to give that permission until I'm convinced we've given a good try for all who are concerned to achieve the goals they'd like to see achieved," Shoemake said during the Nov. 19 hearing. Elliott, who was appointed as an independent master in chancery for the case, has experience in real estate law and the title industry, according to court records. He would work with interested parties as an independent figure to come up with possible options and a resolution to the case. In its objection Friday, the school district said it found the court's order of appointing a master in chancery "legally impermissible" and "unnecessary." The school district describes how it formed an interlocal agreement with the city of Sugar Land to have the remains re-interred at the city's Old Imperial Farm Cemetery, the burial place of prisoners also believed to be a part of the convict-leasing system. It sits near the construction site of the Fort Bend ISD technical center where the remains were discovered.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

Alvarado, Hernandez throw jabs at Senate District 6 debate

State Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez swatted at each other’s legislative records Tuesday evening during the only debate in the special election to fill the Texas Senate seat vacated by Sylvia Garcia.

Hernandez suggested Alvarado “compromised her values” to win chairmanships and Alvarado pushed back that she was proud to gain leadership appointments under a moderate Republican speaker. Otherwise, Hernandez, Alvarado and Mia Mundy, a Democrat also seeking the seat, laid out staunchly progressive platforms, calling for the state to kick in more funds for public education and registering agreement on each immigration issue raised, including unanimous opposition to a border wall and Texas’ anti-“sanctuary cities” law. Martha Fierro, a precinct chair for the Harris County Republican Party who is also running, declined to attend the debate, which was hosted by KTRK-TV ABC 13 and Univison 45 at the University of Houston-Downtown. The back-and-forth dialogue kicked off about 40 minutes into the event, when Hernandez was asked about the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board’s statement that she “hasn’t gained the sort of leadership positions that Alvarado boasts.” Hernandez, first elected to the House in 2005, noted that she has served in the lower chamber under Republican leadership. With the GOP in control, she said she has not received chairmanships like Alvarado has because doing so “compromises the values that you’ve been elected to represent.” “To have to compromise and negotiate to be in a leadership position, I will not do that,” she said. “I will represent the best interests of my constituents.” Alvarado, given time to respond, said she and Hernandez have “pretty much the same” voting records, but indicated she believes it’s possible to be progressive while working with Republicans. “When you have to get 76 votes to pass something, you have to work across the aisle,” said Alvarado, who chairs the Urban Affairs Committee and was first elected to the House in 2008. “And I’m proud of the trust and the confidence that a moderate Republican like (Speaker) Joe Straus placed in me not to chair one committee, but two committees.” She went on to invoke the chairmanships of Democratic state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Garnet Coleman. “So I would say by mentioning the words ‘compromise your values,’ I’ve never done that,” she said. “I don’t forget where I come from. I live in my community, I actually live in this district.” Hernandez, who said after the debate that she does in fact live in Senate District 6, shot back, saying, “This moderate Republican speaker that has appointed her (as) chair, it’s the same one that pushed SB 4” — a reference to the law that requires local law enforcement to abide by federal officials’ requests to detain people believed to have entered the country illegally. “You tell me if that’s moderate,” Hernandez said, adding, “and I’m glad that you mentioned Senfronia Thompson and Garnet Coleman, because I am proud to have their endorsement for my candidacy for Senate District 6.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

In Houston, George H.W. Bush carved out a niche for GOP moderates

In 1963, when he was elected chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, George H.W. Bush hardly fit the profile of an up-and-comer who would challenge what was then the Democrats’ solid hold on Texas.

“You could have put all the Republicans in Harris Country in a phone booth,” said Peter Roussel, a Houston public relations consultant and longtime aide to the late president. Many thought George Herbert Walker Bush wasn’t even much of a Texan, despite having been shot down as a Navy pilot in World War II and making a fortune in the oil business. He was still the well-born scion of a patrician New England family. His father had been a Republican senator from Connecticut who supported the United Negro College Fund, Planned Parenthood, the Peace Corps, and civil rights. “In the early days, his opponents would use that against him,” Roussel recalled. “He’s not from Texas. He’s from back East.” Bush, however, proved himself the master of reinvention, winning a U.S. House seat in traditionally Democratic Houston in 1966 - and helping Texas’ transformation to a red state as he charted a path for other moderates who have been fighting off the party’s right wing for 60 years, from the John Birch Society to the Tea Party. But for a child of wealth who first drove to Texas in a red 1947 Studebaker - a gift from his parents - Bush’s political path was not an easy one. Significantly, it included some uneasy detours on civil rights, mistakes for which he would later try to atone. One of his first orders of business as Harris County GOP chairman was to modernize the party and blunt the influence of the John Birch Society, a hard-right faction that saw him as a “country club” Republican. “The first people he had to fight off were the John Birchers,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who was a high school student at the time. “They wanted to take over the party.” Still, Bush could hardly afford to alienate a swath of potential GOP allies. “In typical fashion,” wrote author Mark Updegrove in “The Last Republicans,” Bush “reached out to them, making them stakeholders by offering them positions within the party.” Then, in an unsuccessful Senate bid the next year, Bush campaigned as a states’ rights opponent of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was a position more in line with GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and many white voters in Texas than his Connecticut past. Much like the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of his 1988 presidential campaign, which critics denounced as a play on white fears of black crime, it was a move Bush would regret. Roussel credited the change of heart to a tour Bush took of Vietnam, where he saw black soldiers carrying a disproportionate share of the war burden. Bush had also been moved by the marches in Selma and Washington, D.C. Bush’s public turnaround came in 1968, two weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was at a now legendary town hall meeting at Houston’s Memorial High School, where Bush defended his decision to vote for the Fair Housing Act, Johnson’s landmark bill barring racial discrimination in housing. Roussel, who was there, recalls the booing and hissing. There were death threats. But Bush stood his ground, insisting that he had to vote his conscience. Other Republicans took notice. “He was one of the few Southerners of any stripe to vote for the Fair Housing Act,” Emmett said. “He put his whole neck on the line for civil rights.” To some black leaders in Houston, 1968 still remains Bush’s central political legacy, one that helped transform the image of the entire Republican Party. “I saw George H.W. Bush as somebody who put principle above party,” said U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat who grew up in the Jim Crow South. “He also put his country above his career.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 4, 2018

As he contemplates presidential run, Beto O’Rourke met with Barack Obama

Former President Barack Obama, who recently likened U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s style of campaigning to his own, met with the El Paso Democrat last month as he contemplates whether to run for president in 2020.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Obama and O’Rourke met Nov. 16 at Obama’s office in Washington, D.C. During his failed campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O’Rourke, whose term in Congress ends in January, said he was not interested in running for president in 2020. But in recent early polls asking about preferred candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, O’Rourke emerged in third place, only behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. After a congressional town hall meeting in El Paso last week, O’Rourke said that in the aftermath of his narrow defeat last month, he and his wife, Amy, are thinking over what to do next, and were not ruling out a presidential run. Other supporters would like to see him challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for re-election in 2020, but O’Rourke has told those in his inner circle that the idea doesn’t tempt him. Many have likened O’Rourke’s political approach to Obama’s “hope and change” campaign for president in 2008, and the premium each candidate placed on personal “authenticity.” In a Nov. 20 interview with his former political adviser, David Axelrod, on Axelrod’s Axe Files podcast, Obama was asked for his “impressions of Betomania.” “What I liked most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested,” Obama said. “It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly it’s not.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 5, 2018

Dennis Bonnen supports removing Confederate plaque

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the presumptive next Texas House speaker, called late Monday for the removal of a Capitol plaque that honors the Confederacy and contains a passage that historians say is inaccurate.

The announcement came after Gov. Greg Abbott called for the State Preservation Board to meet Jan. 11, leading to speculation that the board would vote to remove the plaque. “I commend the governor for calling this meeting to begin the process of removing the Confederate plaque from the halls of the State Capitol,” Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton, said in a statement. “It is historically inaccurate, and I stand by those who have called for its removal.” Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has been the most prominent voice opposing the plaque, which features the “Children of the Confederacy Creed,” stating the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” Johnson renewed calls for the immediate removal of the plaque after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a recent opinion that the Preservation Board, the Texas Historical Commission, the Capitol curator and the Legislature each have the power to authorize removing the plaque. Abbott, who is chairman of the Preservation Board, has not said publicly what would be discussed at the upcoming meeting. Johnson told the American-Statesman Tuesday he is hopeful the board will address the issue, adding he’s in favor of the “quickest and cleanest” route to the plaque’s removal. The Capitol curator has “a valid, timely submitted request from a sitting lawmaker,” said Johnson, who filed the request October 2017. “We’ve waited a long time for this plaque to come down.” Abbott has said it is up to the Legislature to vote to remove the plaque because the Legislature approved it in 1959. Abbott also said in a debate with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez that he opposed the plaque. “Should they take it down, because of the factual inaccuracy? Absolutely, and I’ll be working with the Legislature on that issue this next session,” he said during the debate. “But because the Legislature was the body that put it up, it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to take it down. I don’t think a governor should unilaterally have the authority to be dismissive of an act of the Legislature. If you can do that with one issue, you can do that with virtually any issue, and I think that raises questions.” Retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio — who said he would vote to remove the plaque — and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are co-vice chairmen of the board, and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Alethea Swann Bugg, a representative of the general public, are also members of the board.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 4, 2018

Texas power grid could face crunch this summer

Record electricity demand and triple-digit temperatures strained the state’s main power grid to near capacity last summer –– but it turns out the challenge was just a trial run for an even bigger test in 2019.

This coming summer, the cushion between peak electricity usage and maximum generation capacity is likely to be the skimpiest in nearly 20 years, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the grid and is commonly known as ERCOT. A tight initial estimate of the electricity grid’s planning reserve margin ahead of summer 2018 prompted the agency to warn at the time that a variety of emergency measures might be needed -- including rolling blackouts -- if demand exceeded supply. The situation was alleviated without resorting to such efforts, however, after a number of power plants that hadn’t been expected to be operational ended up coming online. But ERCOT is forecasting even less room for error next year. The planning reserve margin for summer 2019 has been pegged at 8.1 percent, compared to 9.3 percent in early forecasts for summer 2018. “With the declining reserve margin, there certainly is a greater risk that we would enter into an energy emergency situation,” in which measures such as voluntary outages for large customers or rolling blackouts might be needed, said Pete Warnken, manager of resource adequacy for ERCOT. Still, Warnken noted that plenty of variables could change actual electricity usage and power generation next summer from the early projections, so he said “we really can’t speculate at this point” if emergency measures will be needed. Weather conditions will have a major impact on electricity demand and generation, he said, and unforeseen circumstances could cause power plants to produce more or less than anticipated. Peak demand for electricity in the state’s deregulated market set a record in summer 2018, when it hit 73,473 megawatts between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on July 19. But ERCOT is forecasting the record will be broken again next summer, estimating peak demand will come in at 74,853 megawatts.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 5, 2018

DPS auditing Austin police sexual assault clearance rates

The Texas Department of Public Safety is conducting an audit of Austin police’s sexual assault clearance rates to determine whether the department accurately reports how these cases are closed.

The Police Department asked for the audit after a report from investigative news site ProPublica quoted former Austin police Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan as saying that she was pressured to close rape cases by exceptional means. Donegan, who retired last year, told ProPublica the clearance numbers used by Austin police give the city “a false sense that a case has been thoroughly investigated and closed.” “I had been told on two different occasions from the same commander under two different lieutenants that I needed to go back in and look at these cases that were suspended and change the clearance code because we were not up to the national average of exceptional clearance in Austin,” she told ProPublica. In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, which compile crime data from law enforcement agencies around the country, cleared cases can be classified in the following ways: Arrest: police arrested a suspect; Unfounded: Police do not believe an offense occurred; Suspended: Police investigated the case but reached a point where they could take no further steps in the investigation; Exceptional: Police identified an offender, know where the person lives and have probable cause to make an arrest, but don’t for an array of reasons. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said he is aware of concerns over the Police Department’s rate of exceptional clearances. “I think that it has been noted in the past that we have a higher level of exceptional clearances here in Austin than in some of the other communities,” he said. “I think there are some things that feed into that, but I cannot say that with certainty.” Manley said exceptional clearances can be made when a suspect dies, when prosecutors decline to bring charges against a suspect, or when a victim or survivor is not ready to speak with investigators.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2018

The owner of two Texas coal-fired power plants says its going carbon-free by 2040

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy announced Tuesday that it wants to get out of the fossil fuel business by 2040. That goal would require the company to shut down or sell all five of its Texas power plants.

The company owns two coal plants, two natural gas plants and one combination natural gas and fuel oil plant in West Texas and the Panhandle. Xcel has nearly 262,000 electricity customers in Texas. It's not certain how quickly those Texas plants would be sold or retired, but the company set a goal of being 80 percent carbon free by 2030. Company officials said that's feasible with current technology, but the 100 percent carbon-free goal would require "technologies that are not cost-effective or commercially available today," according to a company statement. This announcement points to a continued decline in Texas coal. Three large coal-fired plants closed this year, and a fourth is scheduled to shut down at the end of 2018. Xcel plans to offset some of its fossil fuel decline with the opening of 12 wind power plants between 2017 and 2021. Combined, they'll have a capacity of 3,700 megawatts and include locations in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2018

'Texas Seven' escapee convicted in Irving police officer's death is executed

A member of the notorious "Texas Seven" gang of escaped prisoners was executed Tuesday evening for the fatal shooting of an Irving police officer during a Christmas Eve robbery 18 years ago this month.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt the execution of Joseph Garcia, 47, and he received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. Garcia said that he should be spared because he wasn't the one who killed 29-year-old Officer Aubrey Hawkins in 2000, blaming the slaying on other escaped inmates he was with. Asked by the warden if he had a final statement, Garcia replied: "Yes, sir." "Dear heavenly Father, please forgive them, for they know not what they do," Garcia said. He then paused for nearly a minute before speaking again. "To some of you," Garcia said, pausing again as the lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital apparently had already started. "They've already started and I ain't even finished," he said. He gasped three times and snored twice before all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m. On Dec. 13, 2000, Garcia, who was 29 at the time, and six other inmates broke out of the Connally Unit, about 60 miles south of San Antonio. The group — made up of robbers, murderers, rapists and a child abuser — overpowered workers at the prison in Kenedy. They stole the workers' clothes and guns from the armory and drove away in a prison truck. On Christmas Eve, the escapees robbed an Irving sporting goods store dressed as security guards. Hawkins, who had just finished dinner with his family, responded to the robbery call. As the convicts were leaving, Hawkins confronted them and was shot 11 times.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

Outgoing Harris County Judge Emmett to teach at Rice University, his alma mater, in January

Outgoing Harris County judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday he will teach at Rice University, his alma mater, starting in January. Emmett made the impromptu announcement after a Rice University undergraduate spoke during the public comment portion of Commissioners Court, when he encouraged her to sign up for his class.

"I'll be teaching a class in the spring and two classes in the fall, and assisting the Kinder Institute on policy projects," Emmett said. He will be a non-tenured professor and senior fellow at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Though he said he looks forward to taking a step back from politics, Emmett's first class will focus on policy topics within the Texas Legislature, which returns to Austin in January. In an interview at his office, Emmett said Rice President David Leebron approached him last month about joining the faculty. Emmett in November lost his bid for a third full term as county judge, a position he has held since 2007. Bill Fulton, the director of the Kinder Institute, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Emmett, who lives less than a mile from campus, earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Rice in 1971. He entered the school as a physics major, but credited Rice for spurring his interest in public policy. Emmett praised the university's small student body and rigorous curriculum. "Rice created good work habits in me that have held me in good stead the rest of my life," Emmett said. "If I'd gone to the University of Texas, I'd have been lost in that shuffle." The Kinder Institute, an in-house think tank at Rice, studies many of the issues Emmett has grappled with as county executive, including transportation, disaster preparedness, housing and health care. He said he looks forward to serving as a resource to the city of Houston and Harris County as leaders continue to deal with the region's rapid growth.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 4, 2018

Does Austin really need more scooters? Lyft thinks so

While electric scooters and bicycles already seem to be everywhere in downtown Austin, that’s not deterring more competitors from jumping into the crowded market.

On Tuesday, ride-hailing giant Lyft became the latest to enter the fray. The company has started to sprinkle its pink and black e-scooters throughout Austin, making Central Texas its fifth U.S. market. Lyft joins a packed e-scooter and dockless bicycle scene that already features thousands of e-scooters from Uber, Lime, Bird and other companies. Lyft will initially deploy 500 scooters downtown, the limit the city has set for that area, and the company could eventually add more scooters outside of Austin’s core. Each ride, which can be booked through Lyft’s ride-hailing app, will cost $1 to start and 15 cents per minute. The company is deploying scooters in Austin days after it closed on its purchase of New York-based shared bike startup Motivate. “The main thing that differentiates Lyft is that Lyft is already a brand people are familiar with,” said Mike Kilpatrick, Lyft’s Central Texas operations manager. “It’s all in one app.” Since e-scooter companies Lime and Bird began operating in downtown this year, the scene has grown to include local brands, as well as scooters and e-bikes from Uber subsidiary Jump. A revolving door of dockless bike companies has also permeated the market. In August alone, dockless scooters logged 297,423 trips, while dockless bikes had 12,786. There are now more than 11,300 e-scooters and dockless bikes in the Austin metro area, according to city data. The sudden explosion of these new modes of transportation has created a complex and sometimes contentious relationship between Austin City Hall and the companies. Like other cities throughout the U.S., Austin has had to figure out regulations on the fly, with the city constantly having to review guidelines and respond to public worry over safety and other issues. The rulebook’s latest iteration, adopted in November, includes statutes related to parking, service areas and collision recording. The city this month is also beginning a pilot a program that will allow both e-scooters and dockless bikes to be operated on some trails maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department. Issues remain over the safety of the devices, along with ensuring providers are following the rules. Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services responded to about 30 scooter-related crashes between May and September. And, the city last week penalized Lime for deploying more scooters downtown than city rules allow. The city said Lime repeatedly placed more than 500 scooters in an area known as the Downtown Austin Project Coordination Zone, which borders from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Oltorf Street and from MoPac Boulevard (Loop One) to Chicon Street. Lime has been forced to temporarily remove 1,000 scooters, leaving its fleet with 4,000 scooters.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 4, 2018

Local chambers call for repeal of San Antonio’s sick-time ordinance

A coalition of local business organizations Monday called on the City Council to repeal the mandatory paid sick leave ordinance it passed this summer after a group pushing the initiative collected more than 140,000 signatures supporting it.

Bolstering their argument by pointing to a 3rd Court of Appeals ruling last month that shot down Austin’s mandatory paid sick leave ordinance, North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cristina Aldrete said her organization and several others want the council to reconsider its ordinance before it takes effect in 2019. She suggested that businesses would be affected by the ordinance beginning Jan. 1, though enforcement of the law wouldn’t begin until August. “It has been ruled unconstitutional by the courts; the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ruled earlier this month that it was an illegal ordinance,” she said. “The Austin ordinance is exactly like the San Antonio ordinance.” The local ordinance has not been litigated here, where the 4th Court of Appeals would handle an appeal. The issue likely would have to be decided by the Texas Supreme Court, though the Legislature may pre-empt it in its 2019 session, making the case moot. The coalition of business organizations — which includes the Alamo Asian Chamber of Commerce, the South Texas chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, the Real Estate Council of San Antonio, the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, the SA Auto Dealers, the San Antonio Manufacturers Association and the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce — sent a letter Friday to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the council asking that they reconsider the ordinance. In a prepared statement, Nirenberg appeared unmoved by the request. “San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance was brought forward by petition, and supporters gathered more than 140,000 signatures. City Council faced the choice of passing the ordinance or putting it on the ballot. The council’s action preserved the flexibility to craft a San Antonio-specific policy before any business is required to comply,” he said.

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National Stories

Politico - December 4, 2018

Stone pleads the Fifth to snub Senate document request

President Donald Trump's longtime political ally Roger Stone invoked his Fifth Amendment protection as he declined to share documents and testimony with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a letter posted Tuesday by the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

"Mr. Stone's invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege must be understood by all to be the assertion of a Constitutional right by an innocent citizen who denounces secrecy," Stone's attorney, Grant Smith, said in the letter, dated Dec. 3. Stone is under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, in part over allegations that he had foreknowledge of WikiLeaks' October dump of Clinton campaign emails. Stone has denied any advanced knowledge, despite a series of tweets foreshadowing the contents of the emails, which he attributed to educated guesses and indirect information provided through an intermediary with WikiLeaks. Stone told POLITICO on Monday that he doesn't have a pact with Trump's legal team to share defense strategies, unlike former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is in jail after being convicted of tax and bank fraud. But Stone has largely aligned his public messaging on Mueller with the president's, frequently bashing the special counsel's tactics. Stone's approach earned him a supportive tweet from Trump this week, when the president praised Stone's "guts" for refusing to testify against him.

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Politico - December 4, 2018

Homeland Security chief Nielsen has saved her job — for now

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was recently on the brink of losing her job, is now expected to survive the Cabinet shake-up President Donald Trump has spent weeks teasing — and she may have the caravan to thank.

On the verge of firing by a president who has said she isn’t a strong enough defender of the U.S.-Mexico border, Nielsen has adopted — and made sure to publicize — a tough stance in response to the caravan of Central American migrants headed toward the U.S. that Trump turned into a major midterm campaign issue. She has visited the southern border three times since October and recently hailed Trump as a forceful “leader.” The firm posture seems to have impressed her most important audience: the president. Five sources inside and close to the administration describe a clear shift in the president’s feelings toward his DHS chief, about whom he has repeatedly complained over the past year. Her fate is of particular interest because, administration officials say, White House chief of staff John Kelly, a longtime Nielsen mentor and defender, could quickly follow her out the door in frustration. Even some of her critics concede that Nielsen seems to have bought herself time with some savvy presentation. “She’s playing the part of an immigration hawk as opposed to actually being one,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, who’s been critical of Nielsen in the past. There is no such thing as total job security in Trump’s administration, where every official is subject to the president’s whims. But in recent days Nielsen, backed by powerful allies including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has shown off policy actions and political positioning that seem to have mollified Trump. Nielsen jumped to Trump’s public defense late last month amid blaring criticism over the use of tear gas by U.S. border officers against asylum seekers who tried crossing illegally into the United States. In a statement under her name and posted on the Facebook page of the Department of Homeland Security, she accused organizers of the caravan of using women and children as “human shields.” She also praised Trump, thanking him for the decision to send U.S. military troops to the border. “Instead of ‘a political stunt,’ as suggested by some, this was in fact the act of a leader concerned about the rule of law,” she wrote of a president who eight days earlier had said that Nielsen needed to “get much tougher” on border security. Soon after that statement, she sent a memo to a half-dozen federal agencies, first reported by POLITICO, urging them to deploy all available civilian law enforcement officers to the border. Both moves, combined with a recent surge in Nielsen’s social media posts about border security, have placed the Cabinet secretary on safer ground, according to allies of the Homeland Security chief and two people familiar with Trump’s thinking.

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Politico - December 4, 2018

Perry planning another trip to Saudi Arabia

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday he is planning to make another trip to Saudi Arabia, just weeks after relations between the U.S. and the kingdom were roiled because of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

I’m headed to the Middle East later here — to Qatar and then to the Kingdom — so speaking of interesting, these are interesting times,” Perry told the National Petroleum Council, a group of current and former industry executives that advises the Energy Department. “But there’s never been a more interesting time from my perspective to be in the oil and gas business.” Perry didn’t disclose the reason for his trip, but he has pushed for the country to use U.S. companies to develop its nuclear energy industry since a visit there last year when he met with Saudi officials. Earlier this year in Texas, he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence agencies say ordered Khashoggi's killing. Perry has said those talks were not proceeding quickly and had slowed over non-proliferation issues. He told reporters in September he informed the Saudis that being “perceived as very, very strong on non-proliferation was a most important message, globally.” The Energy Department declined to provide additional details about the upcoming trip other than to say he would "engage with his energy counterparts in the region." Perry, his advisers and the nuclear industry have spent more than a year trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to hire U.S. businesses to build two reactors, the initial phase of the Saudis' $80 billion plan to erect as many as 16 reactors in the coming decades. President Donald Trump has said that he is unsure whether the crown prince was involved in ordering Khashoggi’s murder, and that he stands by the United States’ partnership with the Saudis. Trump spoke briefly with bin Salman on Friday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

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Politico - December 4, 2018

Emails of top NRCC officials stolen in major 2018 hack

The House GOP campaign arm suffered a major hack during the 2018 election, exposing thousands of sensitive emails to an outside intruder, according to three senior party officials.

The email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for several months, the party officials said. The intrusion was detected in April by an NRCC vendor, who alerted the committee and its cybersecurity contractor. An internal investigation was initiated and the FBI was alerted to the attack, said the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the incident. However, senior House Republicans — including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-LA — were not informed of the hack until POLITICO contacted the NRCC on Monday with questions about the episode. Rank-and-file House Republicans were not told, either. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-OH, who served as NRCC chairman this past election cycle, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Committee officials said they decided to withhold the information because they were intent on conducting their own investigation, and feared that revealing the hack would compromise efforts to find the culprit. "We don't want to get into details about what was taken because it's an ongoing investigation," said a senior party official. "Let's say they had access to four active accounts. I think you can draw from that." The hack became a major source of consternation within the committee as the midterm election unfolded. The NRCC brought on the prominent Washington law firm Covington and Burling as well as Mercury Public Affairs to oversee the response to the hack. The NRCC paid the two firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to help respond to the intrusion. The committee’s chief legal counsel, Chris Winkelman, devoted hours of his time to dealing with the matter. Party officials would not say when the hack began or who was behind it, although they privately believe it was a foreign agent due to the nature of the attack. Donor information was not compromised during the intrusion, the party officials said. “The NRCC can confirm that it was the victim of a cyber intrusion by an unknown entity. The cybersecurity of the Committee’s data is paramount, and upon learning of the intrusion, the NRCC immediately launched an internal investigation and notified the FBI, which is now investigating the matter,” said Ian Prior, a vice president at Mercury.

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Wall Street Journal - December 4, 2018

Postal Service review proposes sweeping changes likely to lead to higher delivery prices

A Trump administration review of the struggling U.S. Postal Service proposes sweeping changes in its operations that could raise alarm bells—and prices—for Amazon.com Inc. and other major businesses.

The report, requested last April by President Trump, prescribes raising prices for many types of commercial package deliveries, a growing business area for the Postal Service. The report says that package deliveries “have not been priced with profitability in mind.” It adds that the Postal Service should have the authority to charge market-based prices for mail and package items that aren’t deemed essential services. The study was compiled by an administration task force headed by the Treasury Department. Mr. Trump has often claimed on Twitter that the Postal Service has given a sweetheart arrangement to Amazon, which he blames for unfairly hurting bricks-and-mortar retailing. The president also has clashed with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose Washington Post has been critical of Mr. Trump. “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon,” Mr. Trump tweeted in April, a few days before signing the executive order calling for the report. “THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country ... not a level playing field!” Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Since Mr. Trump’s election, Amazon and Mr. Bezos have largely avoided responding directly to Mr. Trump’s tweets about them. The report says that the Postal Service isn’t correctly assessing the costs it incurs in delivering packages for companies like Amazon. It says that the current cost methodology doesn’t “capture the cost implications that the rapid decline in mail volume and the rapid rise of package volume have had on the USPS’s cost structure.”

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Wall Street Journal - December 4, 2018

U.S. to suspend nuclear treaty with Russia in 60 days

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the U.S. would suspend its obligations to the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate-range Nuclear Force in 60 days’ time unless Russia took steps to return to compliance.

The move was prefigured in October, when President Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the INF Treaty, which prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles. The president said Russia had been violating the agreement “for many years.” Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. would be free to develop and test a range of weapons if Russia failed to meet the deadline. He said Russia was in “flagrant violation” of the accord, citing cruise-missile tests as an example. Moscow has denied breaching the accord. Mr. Pompeo’s statement, delivered at the Brussels headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, opened up the possibility of an intensified arms race between the U.S. and Russia at a time of tension between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Mr. Pompeo also noted that China and Iran aren’t parties to the INF, allowing them to develop missiles forbidden to the U.S. and Russia. “We don’t want a new arms race,” said Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after Mr. Pompeo’s announcement. “It is up to Russia now to preserve the INF treaty.” All Nato allies supported the U.S. move, Mr. Stoltenberg added. Mr. Pompeo was in Brussels for a meeting of Nato foreign ministers that focused heavily on Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships last week near the Kerch Strait, which separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov. The standoff is testing the alliance’s resolve to come up with a joint response to prevent a further escalation. Russia is also holding 24 Ukrainian sailors and partially blocking passage through the Kerch Strait, near Crimea, which Russia unilaterally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Pompeo said the goal for Tuesday’s discussions in Brussels was to jointly chart a path forward. “There is complete unity around this,” Mr. Pompeo he said. “We will collectively develop a set of responses.”

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The Hill - December 4, 2018

Avenatti says he won't run for president in 2020

Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, announced Tuesday that he will not run for president in 2020, ending speculation that he could challenge President Trump.

"After consultation with my family and at their request, I have decided not to seek the presidency of the U.S. in 2020," Avenatti said in a statement shared on Twitter. "I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family. But for their concerns, I would run." Avenatti noted that he will continue to represent Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in her lawsuit against Trump and that he will not rest until the president "is removed from office, and our republic and its values are restored." “I remain concerned that the Democratic Party will move toward nominating an individual who might make an exceptional president but has no chance of actually beating Donald Trump,” Avenatti said. “The party must immediately recognize that many of the likely candidates are not battle tested and have no real chance at winning." “We will not prevail in 2020 without a fighter," he added. "I remain hopeful the party finds one.” Avenatti’s announcement comes only weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence. Mareli Miniutti, the actress who brought the allegation against Avenatti, filed a petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court last month in an attempt to get a restraining order against him. Avenatti has fiercely denied the allegations and has said that he will be fully exonerated.

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The Hill - December 4, 2018

Second woman says she was paid to collect absentee ballots in North Carolina House race

A second woman has come forward claiming that a Bladen County, N.C., electioneer paid her to collect absentee ballots for last month's midterm elections.

Cheryl Kinlaw told WSOCTV, a local news station in Charlotte, N.C., that Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. paid her $100 to collect ballots in their district, adding that Dowless “has been doing it for years." Kinlaw said that she never mailed the ballots she collected and that she instead handed them over to Dowless. She said she was unaware that what she was doing was illegal. Her comments come a day after another woman, Ginger Eason, told the news station that Dowless, the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, paid her between $75 and $100 to pick up ballots. Both of them have said they do not know what Dowless did with the ballots. Dowless has been named twice in sworn affidavits as someone who worked for Republican candidate Mark Harris's campaign as an independent contractor and has been at the center of an investigation into the results of the election in North Carolina's 9th District. When asked by WSOCTV about paying people to pick up ballots on Monday, Dowless said he had no comment. In November, Democrat Dan McCready conceded to Harris in their House race when he was down by approximately 700 votes. But the elections board decided not to certify the results, citing “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting.” WSOCTV reported that it has discovered what appears to be a targeted effort to illegally pick up ballots in Bladen County. The news station noted that it consistently found the same people signing as witnesses for the people voting, something it notes is unconventional. Eason was listed as signing as a witness for 28 submitted and accepted absentee ballot envelopes.

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CNN Business - December 4, 2018

Fate of The Weekly Standard is uncertain, editor tells staff

The fate of The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine that has staked out a position as a publication on the right still critical of President Donald Trump, is uncertain, Editor-in-Chief Stephen Hayes told staff in a series of phone calls Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The magazine's precarious position comes after its leadership spent months searching for a buyer, the people told CNN. The people explained that The Weekly Standard's leadership had butted heads with MediaDC, the current publisher of the magazine, and that the two parties had agreed to allow Hayes to search for a new owner. However, MediaDC recently informed The Weekly Standard's leadership that the company was no longer interested in a sale, the people said. Instead, Ryan McKibben, the chairman of MediaDC, asked to meet with Hayes in a meeting tentatively scheduled for late next week, the people said. McKibben, they said, also requested the entire staff of The Weekly Standard be made available following the meeting. That request, coupled with MediaDC's Monday announcement that its other conservative news organization, The Washington Examiner, would be expanding its magazine into a weekly publication, has left The Weekly Standard's leadership worrying about the future of the magazine. Employees at the magazine are bracing for the worst, multiple people familiar with the matter told CNN. Alex Rosenwald, a spokesperson for MediaDC, told CNN in a phone call on Tuesday morning that he was not aware of The Weekly Standard's situation. Rosenwald said he was focused only on the marketing for the just-announced Washington Examiner Magazine. Rosenwald did not respond to an email or phone call on Tuesday afternoon requesting comment after CNN had learned of Hayes' phone calls to staffers. However, after this story was originally published, a spokesperson for Clarity Media Group, Inc., the parent company of MediaDC, released a statement to CNN. "It is no secret that news organizations across the U.S. are dealing with an evolving business landscape," the statement said. "The Weekly Standard is dealing with these same issues. Clarity Media has been exploring a number of possibilities regarding the future of The Weekly Standard. At this time, Clarity does not have any news to share about its evaluation process." Hayes did not respond to emails on Monday and Tuesday requesting comment.

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CNN Business - December 4, 2018

Dow plunges 799 points on trade, slowdown fears

That was fast. Wall Street's enthusiasm for the US-China trade truce has completely vanished. The Dow dropped 799 points, or 3.1 percent, on Tuesday. At one point, the index was down 818 points. The S&P 500 declined 3.2 percent, while the NASDAQ tumbled 3.8 percent.

The selloff wipes out a chunk of last week's huge rally. The Dow jumped 288 points on Monday on relief about the ceasefire between the United States and China on trade. But investors are quickly realizing that the US-China trade war is not over. The tariffs already put in place remain. And new tariffs could be implemented if the two sides fail to make progress. "People are still very concerned about the trade war," said Dan Suzuki, portfolio strategist at Richard Bernstein Advisors. "Financial markets are increasingly showing signs of fear of a recession." The selling erased nearly $800 billion from the S&P 500's market value, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Even though it was the Dow's fourth-biggest point decline in history, the percentage loss doesn't even crack the top 25 from the past decade. All three major indexes remain positive on the year. President Donald Trump did not help Wall Street's trade war worries on Tuesday. Trump said that he would "happily" sign a fair deal with China but also left open the possibility that the talks will fail. "President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will," Trump tweeted. "But if not remember... I am a Tariff Man." Those words aren't likely to bolster confidence among investors already worried about the negative consequences of the trade war. Steel and aluminum tariffs have lifted raw material costs and caused disarray in supply chains. And uncertainty about trade policy makes it very difficult for companies to make investment decisions. "This tariff situation still looms large over the market," said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.

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Washington Post - December 4, 2018

GOP senators: The Trump administration is covering up Khashoggi’s killing

Republican senators emerged from a briefing Tuesday about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and essentially accused the Trump administration of misleading the country about it — and even covering it up for Saudi Arabia.

n remarks after a briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-TN, and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham. R-SC, suggested there is no plausible way that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t order the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, and said that the evidence is overwhelming. This is completely contrary to the narrative that has been put forward by President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Trump has said it’s unknowable whether the crown prince was actually behind it — despite the CIA concluding this with “high confidence” — while Pompeo said last week that there was no “direct reporting” implicating him. Graham said Tuesday that you’d have to be “willfully blind” to not know Mohammed was responsible — a clear rebuke of Trump’s argument that this whole thing resides in some kind of gray area. Graham was also asked about Pompeo’s comments and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s comments that there was no “smoking gun.” The senator said there was indeed a “smoking saw” — a reference to the reported bonesaw that was brought to dismember Khashoggi — and that Pompeo was being a “good soldier” by toeing the administration’s line. So that’s basically saying Pompeo aided Trump’s “willful” effort to obscure the truth. “If they were in a Democratic administration,” Graham said of Pompeo and Mattis, “I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.” Corker was about as full-throated, saying, “If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes” — another clear rebuke to Trump’s statement and Pompeo’s and Mattis’s suggestions that this is some kind of unknown.

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New York Times - December 4, 2018

C.I.A. briefing on Khashoggi solidifies Senators’ view of Prince Mohammed’s complicity

A bipartisan group of senior senators on Tuesday said that a classified briefing by the C.I.A. director had only solidified their belief that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ordered the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed “is a wrecking ball,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters after an hourlong briefing by Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director. “I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible.” Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama and the Appropriations Committee chairman, echoed that “all evidence points to that, that all this leads back to the crown prince.” “This is conduct that none of us in America would approve of in any way,” Mr. Shelby said. The clear and biting assessment put Republican senators at odds with the White House, which has steadfastly refused to cast blame on Saudi Arabia’s leadership for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and Washington Post columnist. His killing sparked international outrage over the kingdom’s heavy-handed tactics and renewed attention to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Senators, however, were divided as to what steps to take next, following a stinging vote last week to consider a measure cutting off American military aid to Saudi Arabia’s campaign. “Somebody should be punished, but the question is: How do you separate the Saudi crown prince from the nation itself?” Mr. Shelby said. Mr. Graham said he would not vote for the Yemen resolution. Instead, he said, he would rally support for a different, broader effort against the kingdom — to cut off arms sales and military aid for the war in Yemen, and impose new sanctions on those responsible for the killing, including the crown prince. “There is not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Mr. Graham said. “You have to be willfully blind” not to see it. He was referring to a bone saw that Turkish officials have said was used to dismember Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. President Trump has maintained his support for Saudi Arabia and, specifically, Prince Mohammed. In an extraordinary statement last month that appeared calculated to end debate on the killing, Mr. Trump said it was possible that the crown prince “had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

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New York Magazine - December 4, 2018

Democratic weakness among Florida Latinos in 2018 a danger sign

While there were a number of disappointments for Democrats in an otherwise outstanding 2018 midterm elections, perhaps the most surprisingly depressing were the two big statewide elections in the huge battleground state of Florida.

In a review of his site’s generally accurate projections of the midterm vote, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver listed 11 races in which all his models were wrong. The third and sixth most surprising were the Florida gubernatorial and Senate races; Nate’s models gave ultimate Republican winner Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott less than a 30 percent probability of victory. The final polling averages at RealClearPolitics were off by 4 percent in the governor’s race and 2.6 percent in the Senate race. This outcome was especially disappointing for Democrats because the solidly favored Gillum could have broken up a Republican redistricting trifecta in a state with a large House delegation. And trends in Florida will matter a lot in 2020; it’s a state Donald Trump must carry if he is to win reelection. It’s not too hard to find the smoking gun in Democratic underperformance in the Florida midterms. Exit poll showed Hillary Clinton winning 62 percent of the state’s large Latino vote in 2016. Losing 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist won 58 percent. But this year, Nelson and Gillum each only won 54 percent. And that was in a national political environment in which Democrats took 69 percent of the Latino vote. An in-depth exploration of that outcome at Politico magazine by Michael Grunwald and Marc Caputo cited evidence that the state’s traditionally conservative Cuban-American electorate — and the more conservative older voters among it — turned out at significantly higher rates than other Latinos. Not coincidentally, both Scott and DeSantis chose Cuban-American running mates, and benefited from the active support of Cuban-American senator Marco Rubio. Meanwhile Nelson and Gillum were hurt by a long-standing underinvestment in Democratic get-out-the-vote infrastructure in Democratic-leaning Latino communities (notably Central Florida’s enormous Puerto Rican population).

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Barron's - December 4, 2018

What President George H.W. Bush’s Day of Mourning means for the markets

President George Herbert Walker Bush, who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94, will be remembered at a National Cathedral memorial service in Washington on Wednesday, which has been designated a national day of mourning by President Donald Trump. It is the first such farewell to a president in over a decade.

U.S. flags will fly at half-staff, and U.S. markets, including trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, will grind to a halt in honor of the U.S.’s 41st president. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 index, and the Nasdaq Composite Index thus will be at standstills. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, an influential financial-industry trade group, has recommended that bond markets close on Wednesday. That means that trading in bonds like the 10-year Treasury note could see limited action on Dec. 5. Meanwhile, futures giant CME Group will shut down trading of interest-rate and futures and options products for the day, though electronic trading and trading in energy and metals futures will have a regular session, including those for oil and gold. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of President George H.W. Bush,” wrote CME Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Terry Duffy, in a Sunday news release. The last time the market closed to mark the death of a president was on Jan. 2, 2007, in the wake of President Gerald Ford’s death. And the last time markets closed outside of a regular holiday was on Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 2012, during the worst of Hurricane Sandy, according to Dow Jones Market Data. (Investor’s Business Daily, noted that that was the first weather-related, consecutive-day closure of stock trading since 1888). President Bush’s death comes about eight months after the death of his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush. Bush is to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda from Monday until the memorial service at the National Cathedral on Wednesday. A second memorial service is slated to be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston on Thursday. Burial is slated to follow on the grounds of Bush’s presidential library at Texas A&M in College Station.

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Fox News - December 4, 2018

John Fund: Why was George H.W. Bush a one-term president?

The death of former President George H.W. Bush at age 94 Friday closes out the remarkable life of a public servant who over a 50-year-span did everything from bravely tangling with Japanese planes in World War II to successfully managing the end of the Cold War.

But George H.W. Bush was also our most recent president to serve only one term. Despite a largely successful first term he lost a bruising re-election battle against Bill Clinton in 1992. Having won 40 states in a landslide victory in 1988, Bush only won 18 states in 1992 as his fellow Texan Ross Perot poached the votes of millions of independents and disillusioned conservatives. How could that have happened? Many factors went into Bush’s defeat. A misdiagnosed glandular condition sapped him of energy and may have contributed to what was a haphazard and listless re-election campaign. The economy slipped into recession after he won the first Iraq War in 1990, and media bias obscured the fact it was in recovery when voters went to the polls. But author Jon Meacham’s 2015 biography of George H.W. Bush – written with the former president’s complete cooperation – focuses on another factor. In 1990, a year and a half into his presidency, Bush made an infamous reversal of his “Read My Lips, No New Taxes” pledge – a vow that went a long way to convincing voters he would follow the same course as his predecessor Ronald Reagan had. Meacham called Bush’s retreat on taxes a Machiavellian maneuver. He told National Public Radio: “He thought if he were to take positions that he might not particularly feel strongly about in order to amass power, that was not cynical but instrumental.” But in a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam political environment Bush didn’t realize that cynical voters wouldn’t be as forgiving as previous electorates had been. Millions of Republicans and fiscal conservatives abandoned Bush for Ross Perot, costing Bush the White House. “It did destroy me,” Bush admitted to Meacham as he assessed the damage breaking his campaign pledge had created.

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Associated Press - December 5, 2018

The last salute: A guide to George HW Bush’s funeral

President George H.W. Bush is getting a national farewell at Washington National Cathedral before family, friends, presidents and foreign dignitaries. Things to know about the event Wednesday:

Bush’s casket and the family will arrive at the cathedral just before 11 a.m. EST Wednesday, when the service is expected to begin. Bush had been lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda since Monday, with a river of mourners passing through around the clock. The viewing came to a close at 7 a.m. Wednesday. The service is closed to the public, but will be aired live on C-SPAN and covered by major television networks. Four men are expected to deliver eulogies. The late president’s son George W. Bush, also a former president; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who held the post while the elder Bush was president; former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who has known the Bush family since the 1960s; and historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography. All eyes will be on the row directly in front of the pulpit. That’s where President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are expected to sit, along with the remaining former presidents and their families: George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and his wife — Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump has had strained relations (at best) with all of them. But since Bush’s death, Trump has extended traditional courtesies to the Bush family, including allowing them to stay at the presidential guest house and visiting with them there. Also attending: Britain’s Prince Charles, the king and queen of Jordan, Polish President Andrzej Duda and other dignitaries from around the world. Look, too, for some of the graybeards from the late president’s administration. Look for much discussion of Bush’s legacy of decency, humor and a determination to avoid referring to himself with the pronoun “I.” That last habit alone, instilled in Bush by his mother, sets up a contrast with Trump that no one has to mention out loud. Likely, no one will, in keeping with the Bush family’s reported wish that the nation mourn their patriarch without the drama of such distractions. But Meacham wrote an op-ed for The New York Times this week about Bush that ended with a hard-to-mistake reference. “The nation mourns him not least because we no longer have a president who knows that the story of the nation is not all about him,” Meacham wrote. Bush’s casket will return to Texas late Wednesday for the last time. He’s expected to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston until 7 a.m. EST Thursday. The church will also hold its own memorial service for the former president later that morning. A motorcade will take Bush’s body to Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility, where a funeral train will transport the late president’s remains to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He’ll be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

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San Francisco Chronicle - December 5, 2018

Reports: Chinese researcher who claimed to have gene-edited babies goes missing

A Chinese researcher has gone missing a week after announcing he successfully edited the DNA of babies, Chinese media reports.

Researcher He Jiankui said last week that he had altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. He said two of the edited embryos were born healthy twin baby girls. Their DNA had been altered to try to make them resistant to infection with the HIV virus. There is no independent confirmation of what He says he did. Over the weekend, reports emerged in Chinese media that He was being kept under house arrest. He was last seen Wednesday during an appearance at a conference in Hong Kong. He's employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, denied reports that the scientist was detained. "Right now nobody's information is accurate, only the official channels are," a spokesperson told the South China Morning Post. She refused to comment further. China's government ordered a halt on the work of He and his team on Thursday. Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV Thursday that his ministry is strongly opposed to the efforts that reportedly produced twin girls born earlier this month. Xu called the team's actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered. Mainstream scientists have also condemned the experiment.

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Newsclips - December 4, 2018

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2018

As Trump lobbies against OPEC output cuts, energy sector, economy could take hit

President Trump’s political pressure on Saudi Arabia and other foreign oil producers to keep crude prices low is harming the U.S. energy sector and the Texas economy, according to energy analysts and a new report.

Oil prices have cratered — falling by nearly one-third since early October — because of soaring output from the world’s top producers, especially the United States. Trump has called on OPEC and its allies to resist production cuts to push prices higher, a move aimed at keeping U.S. gasoline prices low. Many analysts predict that if OPEC, Russia and other producers meeting in Vienna this week fail to agree on output cuts it will push crude oil prices even lower. Analysts say that Trump’s insistence on lower oil prices appears to miss the changes in the U.S. energy industry and economy. As recently as a decade ago, higher oil prices were an unabashed drag on the U.S. economy. But today, the country is the world’s biggest oil producers and rapidly expanding exporting, selling about 2 million barrels of oil a day to foreign buyers. The volatile and falling oil prices hurt the economy, especially the Houston energy sector, even more than low fuel costs help consumers, said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at the investment firm Morningstar, in a new report. The recent drop in crude prices costs energy producers about $300 million a day, he said, versus about $275 million in daily savings from gasoline. “The current administration’s policy of rejecting any OPEC move to cut production is driven by short-term pursuit of headlines,” Fielden stated. “The longer-term consequences for the U.S. oil industry of pushing Saudi Arabia to reject production restraint will be felt directly in states such as Texas and North Dakota.” The United States now produces more oil than it does gasoline, so the impact of falling oil prices on the economy is greater than it was in recent decades, he added. Energy companies retrench, many thousands of people lose their jobs and states with large energy sectors feel the pain. U.S. crude production is estimated at a record 11.7 million barrels a day, compared to gasoline production of less than 10 million barrels a day. The continued weakening of crude prices would scale back production next year.

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CNBC - December 3, 2018

Megadonor Sheldon Adelson wants GOP fundraising groups to shape up or risk losing support in 2020

Sheldon Adelson, the biggest Republican donor, wants key GOP fundraising groups to shape up after this year's midterm wipeout in the House or risk losing his support for the 2020 election cycle, CNBC has learned.

Adelson's closest advisors are preparing to warn the heads of the GOP congressional fundraising committees that they need to make significant changes to the way they raise money if they want to see the Las Vegas Sands CEO invest in the 2020 congressional elections, according to one of Adelson's top lieutenants, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Adelson and members of his inner circle are frustrated with the top Republican fundraising organizations, such as the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee, particularly in the way their consultants handled being outraised throughout the 2018 midterms, according to this person. "The money will no longer go to inefficient organizations," this person said. "You have to give them time to reform but if they are resistant to it, we will have to leave them behind." Adelson was the top individual donor in the past election with $112 million in contributions. Less than $200,000 of that total went to the committees he's considering walking away from. Adelson gave more than $100,000 to the NRCC and more than $33,000 each to the RNC and NRSC, according to Federal Election Commission records. Adelson's frustrations may also lead to a cutback in donations to Republican super PACs, including the Congressional Leadership Fund and the Senate Leadership Fund, said people close to the casino mogul. Adelson gave more than $40 million combined to these two PACs in 2018.

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Wall Street Journal - December 3, 2018

McConnell predicts lawmakers will avoid government shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted lawmakers would avert a government shutdown when a proposed stopgap measure expires later this month, saying neither party wants the political blame for a lapse in funding.

“I don’t think we’ll get to that point,” Mr. McConnell said Monday,addressing the annual meeting of The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. The Kentucky Republican suggested that President Trump negotiate with Democrats, whom he said were “not irrelevant” in Washington after last month’s midterm elections gave the party control of the House. Mr. McConnell spoke hours after congressional leaders introduced a two-week spending bill to give lawmakers more time to avoid a partial shutdown; current government funding expires this weekend. The talks on a short-term measure had been in the works last week but an extension quickly became more necessary because of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral proceedings in Washington. The biggest point of contention remains Mr. Trump’s demand that Congress approve $5 billion to build more of a wall along the southern border. Democrats have balked at the $5 billion figure, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. D-NY, said last week that Senate Democrats would support $1.6 billion in border security that was included in a bipartisan Senate bill. “He and Schumer and Pelosi need to sit down and discuss how to resolve the differences,” Mr. McConnell said, referring to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D, CA. Mr. McConnell, in an evening dinner before a group of the nation’s chief executives, also sized up the split nature of the next Congress. Mrs. Pelosi is poised to lead the Democrats as House speaker after the party picked up 40 seats in the House; meanwhile, Mr. McConnell will lead an expanded 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate. Mr. McConnell said that divided government was the “perfect time” to deal with big issues. “They have governing responsibility,” he said of House Democrats, whom he invited to help Republicans solve thorny issues like rising health-care costs. Mrs. Pelosi still needs to shore up support within her party to clear a floor vote early next year to capture the speaker’s gavel, but Mr. McConnell spoke of her as if she had already locked up the speakership. She faces dissent from a small group in her party but no one has stepped up to challenge her 16-year reign as House Democratic leader.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Gov. Greg Abbott calls meeting of board with power to remove Confederate plaque from Texas Capitol

Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a meeting of state officials who could discuss the fate of a controversial Confederate plaque in the Texas Capitol.

On Monday, Abbott sent a letter to the five other governing members of the State Preservation Board, an agency responsible for the upkeep of historic sites including the Capitol and governor's mansion. While the letter did not specify he wanted to discuss the Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque, it was sent amid growing calls for the divisive marker to come down. "As the Chairman of the State Preservation Board, I hereby call a board meeting for January 11, 2019," Abbott wrote in his succinct letter. "Please coordinate all administrative issues related to the meeting." Erected in 1959 with the Legislature's blessing, the plaque features the Children of the Confederacy creed, which, until recently claimed to "teach the truths of history ... one of the most important of which is, that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery." That statement directly conflicts with Texas' reasons for seceding from the Union, which included "the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery." "The crisis upon us involves not only the right of self government, but the maintenance of a great principle in the law of nations — the immemorial recognition of the institution of slavery," Oran M. Roberts, president of the Secession Convention of Texas, said on the first day of its meeting. The Children of the Confederacy is an auxiliary of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a national group headquartered in Richmond, Va. A few years ago, it changed its creed to remove the claim that slavery was not an underlying cause of the Civil War. Several lawmakers have called for the plaque's removal over the decades. Rep. Eric Johnson, a Democrat from Dallas, picked up the mantle last year, when his Capitol office was relocated nearby. He's called the plaque's message incorrect and offensive, a sentiment echoed by other Democrats and outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican. Abbott, too, has supported its removal but has said he thinks lawmakers should determine its future. Then, last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that said the preservation board, the Capitol curator (who oversees the historical artifacts there) or the Texas Legislature each have the authority to remove the plaque.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Kay Bailey Hutchison, happy with NATO post, nixes rumor that she's on short list for U.N. ambassador

Kay Bailey Hutchison says she's not under consideration to be President Donald Trump's ambassador to the United Nations — as had been rumored — explaining that she's instead "very happy" in her current role as U.S. ambassador to NATO.

"I would really take myself out of that potential," the former U.S. senator from Texas told The Dallas Morning News during the weekend, referring to the U.N. opening. She added: "I love NATO." Hutchison's stance would cross one name off Trump's list of potential replacements for Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who is leaving the U.N. job by the end of the year. The Texan was floated in October as a candidate for the prime diplomatic duty — with media reports putting her among a group of contenders that also reportedly included Nancy Brinker, the former Dallas resident who founded the breast cancer-fighting organization Susan G. Komen. More recent chatter has focused on State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, a former Fox News host, though CNN reported last week that Trump's selection process has slowed. The inclusion in that conversation of Hutchison, a trailblazing Republican woman, was no big surprise. The Texan has long been a prominent GOP expert on foreign policy and defense. Her measured tone is well-suited to balance Trump's freewheeling style on the global stage. Hutchison's posting at NATO has already put those characteristics to the test. Trump often browbeats America's NATO allies for not committing enough money to the shared defense pact. That frustration boiled over during a tense breakfast meeting in Brussels this July, when the president, with Hutchison at his side, unloaded on NATO's secretary-general. While Hutchison has helped carry out Trump's agenda, she's also remained a steadfast advocate of the alliance.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Texas lawmaker files bill to undo ban on brass knuckles, kitty key chains

A lawmaker has filed a bill to undo the state's ban on brass knuckles, a law that also prohibits Texans from carrying the kitty-shaped key chains that have become fashionable self-defense items with women.

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 446 on Monday. A former prosecutor who chairs the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Moody was spurred to action after The Dallas Morning News reported that possessing self-defense key chains is also prohibited under the law that bans knuckles. "Maybe there was a time when these kinds of laws addressed a legitimate threat, but that hasn't been true for a long time," Moody told The News. "In practice, we're now criminalizing novelties and legitimate self-defense tools, which is sticking mostly very young people with serious criminal charges they don't deserve." Current law bans "any instrument that consists of finger rings or guards made of a hard substance and that is designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by striking a person with a fist enclosed in the knuckles." Simple possession of such an item is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and a year in jail. In 2017, 93 people were convicted under the state's knuckles ban, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. It's unclear how many were like Kyli Phillips, a Carrollton resident who was arrested for "possession of a prohibited weapon" — the kitty key chain. Phillips, 21, has not been formally charged with a crime, according to her mother, who welcomed the news that Moody is trying to overturn the ban. "That's actually really awesome, and hopefully that would assist Kyli's case in getting dropped," Kelly Broeker said Monday. "It's still hanging over her head."

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Ted Cruz quips that he needed Beto O'Rourke to teach him humility, since Trump's lesson didn't take

Fresh from a brush with political death last month, the newly bearded Sen. Ted Cruz cracked jokes at a black tie dinner with journalists in a speech laced with some wicked jabs - many aimed at the president and himself.

As a Republican, I believe everything happens for a reason,” Cruz said. “The 2016 race was meant to teach me humility. Beto’s candidacy was meant to teach me humility when the first time didn’t take.” Much of the Texas senator’s routine at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner focused on his close call against Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat held him below 51 percent and raised a whopping $70 million, a showing so strong that Democrats nationwide have urged him to run for the White House. “I know that all of you in the media were betting big on Beto. And what gets me is that you still are,” Cruz said. “I’m starting to see a disturbing pattern.... I took on Trump. He became president. I beat O’Rourke, and somehow that’s launched Beto 2020. ... It’s like there’s some unspoken rule that anybody is presidential timber once they have proven they’re not Ted Cruz.” Cruz poked plenty of fun at himself - “what my friend Rick Perry calls self-defecating humor.” There’s no record of the energy secretary and former Texas governor saying that, though he did have that “oops” moment in a GOP debate in 2011. The spring 2012 dinner put Perry on the road to recovery. He joked that his short presidential campaign amounted to "the three most exhilarating hours of my life." Poetic license isn’t forbidden by the Gridiron, a group of journalists that throws dinners twice a year devoted to satirical songs and camaraderie. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer elected to Congress last month in Virginia, spoke for the Democrats. Both were well-received and both, per tradition, paid homage to the role of a free press. “What separates us from authoritarianism is not principally the Second Amendment or the 10th, but the First,” Cruz said. “An independent, even adversarial press is baked into the Constitution. I don't always like it but I will always defend it, because the alternative is unthinkable and un-American.” This was his second Gridiron appearance. He used the 2014 spring dinner, five months after a government shutdown that left him exceedingly unpopular in Washington, to rebuild his image.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Irving-based Nexstar to capitalize on political ad spending in Tribune Media deal

Irving-based Nexstar Media Group Inc. is partly banking on a hotly contested 2020 presidential election — and the billions that'll be spent on political advertising — to capitalize on Monday's purchase of Tribune Media Co.'s 42 TV stations.

The deal, valued at $6.4 billion, makes Nexstar the nation's largest local TV station owner and expands its audience reach to 39 percent of all U.S. TV households. Nexstar will pay $46.50 a share — 15 percent above Tribune's Friday closing price — and take on the Chicago-based company's debt. In discussing the deal with Wall Street analysts, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook and chief financial officer Tom Carter said they both saw growth potential in political advertising in two years when national, state and local offices are up for grabs. Carter described it as "an anticipated robust 2020 political process." Political spending in the 2016 election cycle totaled $9.8 billion, with the bulk going to TV ads, according to estimates at the time by media tracking firm Borrell Associates. Nexstar expects to close the purchase by Sept. 1, well before the 2020 election cycle gets under way. Tribune's stations give Nexstar 216 nationally, including 18 of the nation's top 25 markets and 37 of the top 50 markets. Nexstar and Tribune have overlapping ownership in 15 markets, where divestiture will likely be required to meet regulatory and antitrust laws. Sook said he spoke with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday morning to assure him Nexstar had a plan for divestiture. He also said he had already heard from four companies interested in buying what gets put up for sale. Aside from the TV stations, the deal also includes entertainment cable network WGN America, a 31 percent stake in Food Network, a 5 percent ownership in the Chicago Cubs and investments in several digital media businesses.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

Arrival of George H.W. Bush brings a mellower mood to Washington

As befitting a fallen leader, George H.W. Bush’s final trip to Washington on Monday was marked by bands, honor guards, and 21-gun salutes.

But as a hearse carrying his casket crept toward the colonnades of the U.S. Capitol, a mood of perils surmounted and gentler times past descended over a city caught up in the throes of an embattled chief executive at war with the same machinery of government that is central to the Bush legacy. In the morning hours as the 41st president was memorialized in Houston and flown to the nation’s capital on Air Force One - renamed “Special Air Mission 41” for his last journey - President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of tweets about Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller and other figures in the ongoing Russia investigation. Settling into a mellower mood as the plane carrying Bush’s casket took to the air, Trump tweeted, “Looking forward to being with the Bush Family to pay my respects to President George H.W. Bush.” Out of deference to Bush, who died Friday at 94, Trump also agreed with the decision of congressional leaders to postpone what had been expected to be a weeklong partisan battle over funding for his proposed border wall -- a fight that could end with a partial government shutdown. But for a moment, to the soft strains of “My Country Tis of Thee,” there would be a brief spell of unity in America. The public tributes in Washington began spontaneously Sunday night at the Kennedy Center, where a gala event honoring American artists began with an extended standing ovation in Bush’s memory at the request of singer Gloria Estefan. “I think it’s appropriate to recognize the passing of a wonderful man who dedicated his life to service and who graciously attended this event many times during his administration, laughing, applauding, singing along and even shedding a tear from right up there in the presidential box,” Estefan said. Her remarks provided an inescapable contrast Trump’s combative relationship with many of the artists and Washington figures featured in the event, which Trump has skipped as president.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2018

Disability activist reflects on Bush’s legacy through the ADA

Lex Frieden’s first formal meeting with George H.W. Bush came about as an indirect result of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986.

Frieden, then director of the National Council on Disabilities, and three other colleagues were set to meet with President Ronald Reagan to discuss a report they authored which recommended a law that would later come to be known as the American Disabilities Act, or the ADA. With Reagan focused on the Challenger, Frieden and his colleagues were instead invited to meet with then Vice President Bush. Frieden recalls Bush expressed his interest in the report, having reviewed it the night before with his wife Barbara. The vice president assured Frieden he would do more if he had the power to do so. Bush later won the presidency, and on July 26, 1990, he kept his word, signing the ADA into law. “He will be remembered as the ADA president,” Frieden said, “the one that made America accessible to all.” Frieden, a professor at the School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth and prominent local disability rights activist, said the ADA was perhaps the most significant piece of legislation in Bush’s one term. Within just a few years of its passing, the everyday landscape of the country transformed for Americans with disabilities. Public buses across the United States added ramps. Employers rewrote their hiring practices. Businesses, including restaurants and theaters, became more physically accommodating. Seeing the changes meant the world to individuals like Frieden who said he suffered discrimination in a pre-ADA world. A car accident in 1968 left Frieden paralyzed from the neck down. When he applied to Oral Roberts University in his home state of Oklahoma, he said he was turned away due to his disability. “Those experiences were demeaning, gut-wrenching,” he said. “Unfortunately, we still see people making exceptions to what we know to be the rule.” Frieden cited the ride-sharing app, Uber, as an example of a modern-day company that has struggled to address accessibility. Since the company relies on drivers’ personal vehicles, wheelchair accessible options have been limited. On Nov. 20, Uber announced a partnership with MV Transportation to improve the number of modified vehicles available to customers.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2018

CPS pressured investigator to charge mom after agency hit with $127K sanction

Child Protective Services workers allegedly pressured a Harris County investigator to file charges against the mother whose case prompted a $127,000 sanction against the agency, the family’s lawyer said Monday in court.

Dillon and Melissa Bright ended up in the middle of a legal imbroglio earlier this year after CPS wrongfully removed their children amid apparently unfounded suspicions of child abuse. Following an October court hearing in which a CPS caseworker repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment on the stand, the family ultimately won back their kids and last month Juvenile Judge Mike Schneider slapped the state with what may be the largest-ever sanction against the agency. Aside from the financial penalty - aimed an offsetting the Tomball parents’ legal and medical costs - the judge also ordered the agency to come up with new training protocols for CPS employees. When the agency on Monday turned in its plan for the program, the judge rejected it and asked for additional sections on family law and perjury. Then, family attorneys Stephanie Proffitt and Dennis Slate came forward with allegations about a tip they’d received from a Harris County Sheriff’s Office investigator. Last week, Proffitt said, an investigator contacted her to let her know that at least 10 CPS workers “up and down the foodchain” had allegedly called and “pressured (him) to file criminal charges” against Melissa Bright, without mentioning that the court had sanctioned the agency for their actions in the case. “It just goes to show how CPS thinks they’re above the law because here they are in a court of law and the court tells them what you’ve done is improper and illegal,” Proffitt told the Chronicle after court, “and then they turn around and to cover up what they’ve done try to go in the back door and get criminal charges against these parents.” But late Monday, the sheriff's office said their investigator - who is still working on the case - had only gotten three calls for status updates, and that he never felt any pressure to seek charges. Agency spokeswoman Tiffani Butler said CPS is working to fulfill the judge’s request to expand the scope of the training. “As far as the alleged calls to a detective, if that happened, that would be part of our investigation and therefore confidential,” she added. “CPS does not encourage, pressure nor ask law enforcement or a district attorney’s office to file charges against anyone.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2018

U.S. Rep McCaul to have new foreign affairs job in Congress

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, who represents Katy in Washington, D.C., will return to Capitol Hill with a different position than the one he held before the elections.

McCaul was selected by the House Republican Conference to serve as the senior member of the GOP on the House Foreign Affairs Committee for the 116th Congress. In a statement released by his office, McCaul said he was honored to be selected and saluted the outgoing chairman, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R- CA, who will retire from Congress. “I’d also like to recognize my fellow candidates, Congressman Joe Wilson and Ted Yoho, for all of their hard work on behalf of the American public,” McCaul said in a statement. McCaul was previously Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Although he won reelection in the last election, enough Democrats were victorious to shift the balance of power from the Republicans in the House of Representatives. However, McCaul wouldn’t have returned to the Homeland Security leadership in any case before of a GOP term limit rule. With the Democrats in power, McCaul will be leading Republican on the Foreign Affairs committee - known as the “Ranking Member.” “It will be my mission to partner with (Secretary of State Michael Pompeo) and my colleagues to advance a foreign policy that promotes American leadership on the world stage,” McCaul said on his official Twitter page.

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Associated Press - December 3, 2018

University of Texas student among 48 U.S. college students awarded scholarships to study in UK

Forty-eight U.S. students have been awarded the 2019 Marshall Scholarship, the largest class of scholars in the program's 65-year history. One of the winners is University of Texas student Laura Hallas of Allen, Texas.

The U.K. government mainly funds the scholarships and announced them Monday. Recipients come from across the U.S., and next year's group includes more women than ever before. The scholarships enable intellectually distinguished young Americans to study for up to three years at any U.K. institution. The scholarship was created in 1953 and began as a gesture of gratitude to the U.S. for assistance the U.K. received after World War II under the Marshall Plan, the program that aided in Europe's economic recovery between 1948 and 1951.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 3, 2018

Last vestiges of criminal past erased for wrongly convicted ‘San Antonio Four’

It was a very long time coming, but the San Antonio Four no longer have a criminal history. State District Judge Catherine Torres-Stahl handed out orders Monday expunging the records of Elizabeth Ramirez, 44, Cassandra Rivera, 43, Kristie Mayhugh, 45, and Anna Vasquez, 43.

With the judge’s order, all government agencies that house information on criminal charges, indictments, arrests or convictions related to the cases in which the women were found innocent must seal or destroy the records. The women consistently maintained their innocence from that day 24 years ago when Ramirez’s nieces, then ages 7 and 9, accused the women of brutalizing them while on a weekend visit with Ramirez, their aunt. Ramirez was convicted in 1997 and the other three in 1998 of aggravated sexual assault of a child. The case was the subject of a documentary film that opened in San Antonio in September, “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four.” After the women served nearly 15 years in prison, one of the nieces publicly recanted. She said family members upset that her aunt had come out as a lesbian told her to lie. So did her father, who she said was upset that Ramirez had spurned his advances. “Whatever it takes to get them out, I’m going to do,” Stephanie Limon Martinez told the Express-News in 2012. “I can’t live my life knowing that four women are sleeping in a cage because of me.” Her older sister has maintained the assaults occurred but said she wouldn’t testify again. During court testimony in the aftermath of the recanting, it was also shown that faulty science helped support the charge of rape. The four women were exonerated by the state’s highest criminal court in 2016. “If that (exoneration) was a successful surgery, even successful surgeries leave scars: Criminal records. Indictments. Falsely convicted. Wrongly convicted,” said Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, which fought for the women’s freedom for years. “Judge Torres-Stahl has signed orders erasing those final scars, such that they no longer will have their criminal histories. It’s a very important step.”

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Rivard Report - December 3, 2018

Texas sites cited at a high risk from climate change in federal report

The latest federal climate report had some dire warnings for South Texas, using case studies of how extreme weather is threatening its coastal region, the Rio Grande, and the Edwards Aquifer.

The second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment has drawn attention across the U.S., despite its quiet release on Black Friday. It follows on the heels of a United Nations science report this year warning time is running out to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. The latest U.S. report, a more than 1,600-page assessment, is the product of 12 federal agencies and 350 scientists. Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe, one of its lead authors, called it the most comprehensive and up-to-date assessment on how climate change is affecting the U.S. and how the country is responding. “Climate change isn’t a distant issue anymore,” Hayhoe said in a webinar hosted by Climate Matters, an independent organization of scientists and journalists. “It’s affecting every single one of us, in every part of the U.S., across almost every sector.” Texas is ground zero for these effects. Since 1980, 105 weather and climate events in Texas have caused at least $1 billion in damage, more than in any other state, Hayhoe said, citing information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization. “The release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment last week confirms the importance and urgency of action to both mitigate our local contributions to climate change and to adapt and prepare for not only future impacts, but those that we are experiencing now," Doug Melnick, the City's chief sustainability officer, said in an email.

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Star-Telegram - December 3, 2018

Tarrant Republicans invited to train with anti-Islam ex-FBI agent before vote on Muslim

Less than two weeks before Tarrant Republicans plan to vote on whether to remove a Muslim from a party leadership post, some first will meet with an anti-Islam, former FBI agent.

Many of the party’s local precinct chairs have been invited to attend a private six-hour gathering — on the topic of “Islam and Sharia Law versus the U.S. Constitution; are they Compatible?” — on Dec. 29 with John Guandolo at an undisclosed location, according to emails shared with the Star-Telegram. This is the same group of people who will vote in January on a controversial proposal to remove Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, from a party leadership post. On Monday, the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the Tarrant County Republican Party to cancel the event featuring a man who they say “has peddled conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims.” “Given Guandolo’s history of anti-Muslim bigotry, this training will inevitably incite hatred of Islam and Muslims,” acting CAIR-DFW Executive Director Ekram Haque said in a statement. “We urge the Tarrant County Republican Party to cancel the event and call on Texas GOP leaders to repudiate this merchant of hate and his bigoted message.” The time and location of the event hasn’t been announced because there is a “possible security problem” because “one of our own, a member of the dark side, is talking to the press,” according to an email from Republican Dale Attebery to other precinct chairs. In another email, he promised a presentation by Guandolo that will include “facts/figures that will frighten you.” “To date, we have an impressive number of requests” to attend, he wrote. The issue of whether to remove Shafi from his position was discussed by Republicans behind closed doors during their Nov. 10 meeting. A vote is scheduled Jan. 10 for the Tarrant County GOP executive committee, which is made up of precinct chairmen. At issue is an effort that began months ago when a small group of Tarrant Republicans began pushing to remove Shafi from the post of vice chairman. Those behind the move to oust Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake City Council member, say this is not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected “to Islamic terror groups.” The Star-Telegram recently reported that the effort to remove Shafi has expanded. Others targeted include the party chairman, Darl Easton; a precinct chairwoman and area leader, Kelly Canon; and a precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim, Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem. Printouts of emails detailing the efforts were delivered anonymously to the Star-Telegram, which has been writing about this effort since August. The reason for the Dec. 29 training class, Attebery writes in an email, is “because we need to know the truth before Jan. 10.” Shafi has said he became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and soon joined the Republican Party. He said he’s not associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, nor the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “nor any terrorist organization.” He also said he supports Second Amendment rights and American Laws for American Courts. And he said he’s never promoted Shariah. Several top Republicans have spoken out against the effort to remove Shafi. And the State Republican Executive Committee on Saturday passed a resolution stressing that members across the state have the “freedom to practice all faiths.” The resolution in part states that all “Republican county executive committees (are encouraged) to follow the Rules of the Republican Party of Texas related to participation in meetings and conventions; and reaffirm our core values of religious liberty and the freedom to practice all faiths.“

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Austin American-Statesman - December 3, 2018

Gov. Abbott proclaims Wednesday a day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush

Gov. Greg Abbott Monday proclaimed Wednesday an official day of mourning in honor of former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday in Houston, encouraging Texans to gather and pay their respects to the 41st president of the United States in homes, businesses, public spaces, schools and places of worship.

To allow state employees to attend such observances, state offices will be closed Wednesday with operations maintained by skeletal work crews. President Donald Trump ordered federal offices closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Trump and Abbott have ordered U.S. and state flags flown at half staff. Bush is lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda through Wednesday morning, when his casket will be transported by motorcade to the National Cathedral for a state funeral that will be attended by the president and first lady, Melania Trump. The president will not deliver a eulogy. Following the service, Bush will be flown to Houston and taken to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where he and his wife, Barbara, who died in April, regularly worshiped. There will be a public viewing of Bush’s casket from 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday, followed by a private funeral service with about 1,200 invited guests starting at 10 a.m. After the service, Bush’s casket will be taken by motorcade to a train station north of Houston, and transported by Union Pacific train to College Station, home to Bush’s presidential library at Texas A&M University, where he will be buried in the gated family plot near his wife and daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at age 3.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 2, 2018

San Antonio police wrestled a teenager to the ground. An officer was suspended. Was that the right call?

David Ramirez was listening to music on headphones while walking in the middle of a residential street on the near Southwest Side. A police car, in the neighborhood for an unrelated call for service, pulled up behind him and honked once. Within minutes, Ramirez, then 18, and two officers are wrangling on the ground as Ramirez pleads with them to stop and they try to pin his arms back and subdue him.

Police body-camera video of the altercation, which the Express-News obtained recently through an open records request, shows how a stop for a seemingly minor infraction can escalate quickly into a physical clash. The struggle lasted about five minutes and ended when the two officers lifted Ramirez, by then handcuffed, from the ground and one forcefully pushed him onto the hood of the patrol car. Chief William McManus later concluded one officer used excessive force — a determination that happens rarely in the department. But to others who watched the video, including two professors with expertise in officers’ use of force, the incident reveals the difficult nature of police work and the way officers are trained to handle it. “I didn’t see anything that was really concerning to me from a use-of-force perspective,” said Michael Smith, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at University of Texas at San Antonio. “If they didn’t have a lawful reason to stop him, then you have a problem.” McManus suspended officer Arnoldo Sanchez for two days in August 2017, about six months after the incident. The suspension was specifically for violating the department’s treatment of prisoners procedures and using “unnecessary physical force” in slamming Ramirez onto the hood of the car while he was handcuffed. Sanchez was not disciplined for other actions during the altercation, according to department records. Such a suspension is unusual. For example, of the roughly 80 suspensions of San Antonio police officers last year, only three — including Sanchez’s — were for excessive force. It was not the first time Sanchez, an officer for four years, had been in the public eye. In 2015, Sanchez and another officer responded to a call about a family disturbance. Norman Cooper’s brother had called police about Norman’s erratic behavior. The officers ended up using their Tasers a total of nine times on Cooper, according to court records. Cooper, 33, became unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the scene. Cooper’s family is suing Sanchez and another officer in civil court, claiming they wrongfully caused his death. The family’s lawyer, Matthew Gossen, said the altercation between the officers and Ramirez caught his attention. “They were just stopping someone for walking on the street. I didn’t understand why force was used at all,” he said. He does not claim to have the expertise to know whether Sanchez’s actions were appropriate in that situation. “It’s hard to say,” Gossen said. “Does it raise questions? Yes, of course.”

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 3, 2018

Bush family seeks to steer clear of anti-Trump sentiment at 41st president's funeral

The family of former President George H.W. Bush has planned a state funeral that will steer clear of the kind of anti-Trump sentiment evident at the recent funeral of Sen. John McCain, according to people familiar with the funeral planning.

The Bush family contacted the White House this past summer to say that President Donald Trump would be welcome at the funeral, scheduled Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, and to assure him that the focus would be on Bush's life rather than their disagreements, according to one former administration official. The truce with Trump allows the Bush family, and the nation, to honor the legacy of a president who guided the United States through the 1991 Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, without becoming mired in today's toxic politics. Trump in turn has been effusive in his praise of Bush since his death Friday, and was slated to pay respects Monday night at the U.S. Capitol, where the 41st president is lying in state. But the detente also comes after Trump's long history of insulting and taunting the Bush family - calling his 2016 primary opponent "low-energy" Jeb Bush, saying the 9/11 attacks were partly due to President George W. Bush's failure to keep the nation safe, and mocking George H.W. Bush's signature "thousand points of light" volunteerism program. And it comes as Trump has fully taken control of the Republican Party, leading a bare-knuckle rejection of the traditional GOP establishment that the Bush family represented and helped build. One person close to the funeral planning said the Bush family's overtures to Trump were at least partly pragmatic. Trump has the final say over important funeral details, this person said, including providing Air Force One to carry the former president's remains from Texas to Washington, D.C., on Monday for the funeral and back to Texas on Thursday for another service and burial. While Trump will not deliver a eulogy, he will be seated in the front row alongside former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Bush's son, former President George W. Bush, will deliver a eulogy. Neither he nor the other eulogists - former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, former Sen. Alan Simpson, and presidential historian and Bush biographer Jon Meacham - are expected to focus on the stark differences between the genteel and patrician Bush and the bombastic Trump. "If you have a sensitivity for human feelings, you just don't get into that," Simpson said in an interview Monday. "It's not what a funeral is for." Another Bush confidant said, "The comparisons are presenting themselves; we are not heightening them," according to a person familiar with the funeral preparations.

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Washington Post - December 3, 2018

GOP-held state legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan are trying to limit new Democratic governors’ powers

Two of the Democratic Party’s biggest wins last month occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan, where their candidates won gubernatorial elections, unseating a well-known incumbent in the former and flipping the seat in the latter.

But in both states, Republicans maintained control of both chambers of the legislature. So, in anticipation of having to work with a Democratic governor, state lawmakers are aiming to hurriedly pass legislation that would dilute the executives' powers. In Wisconsin, Gov.-elect Tony Evers, a Democrat, is fighting to beat back Republican attempts to weaken his authority, calling it “a repudiation of the last election.” “The last election changed the state in a way that apparently the legislature has decided to not accept,” said Evers, who defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November. Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “everything’s on the table” in terms of attempting to block the GOP plan, including legal action. The Republicans, who have enjoyed single-party rule in the state for close to a decade, are gearing up this week to pass a suite of changes in an “extraordinary session” — which is where the legislature calls itself back after the session ends — that would, among other things, limit early voting; move the Wisconsin 2020 presidential primary from March, when Democratic turnout will be high, to April (an apparent effort to boost the chances of a conservative judge in that April’s state Supreme Court election); restrict the governor’s ability to make certain appointments; and otherwise hand more power to the state legislature. In Michigan, where Democrats last month won the governor’s mansion as well as the races for attorney general and secretary of state, Republican lawmakers last week introduced measures that would water down the authority of those positions on campaign finance oversight and other legal matters. All three statewide winners are women, as one Detroit Free Press columnist pointed out. A spokeswoman for the incoming secretary of state Jocelyn Benson decried the move as “shameful,” the Free Press reported.

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Washington Post - December 3, 2018

How the Willie Horton ad factors into George H.W. Bush’s legacy

The death of former president George H.W. Bush last Friday at 94 is prompting eulogies from across the political spectrum, remembering him as a public servant, a gentleman who was able to work across the aisle as president and a gracious statesman in his post-presidential life.

For many black Americans in particular, though, the elder Bush’s legacy is tainted by the fact that part of his successful bid for the presidency included one of the most infamous political ads in history, one that stoked racial stereotypes that continue to shape criminal justice policy years later. Many of the remembrances of Bush are from prominent African Americans, including former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Bush’s administration. The ad was part of a broader Bush strategy in his 1988 election campaign to portray his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, as soft on crime. At the time Dukakis was governor, Massachusetts offered a furlough program for some prisoners, a common practice for state and federal prison systems in their rehabilitation efforts. William Horton, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Massachusetts, was granted a weekend furlough in 1986 but did not return to prison. Nearly a year later, he turned up in Maryland, where he had bound, gagged and stabbed a man in his home, raped his fiancee and then escaped in a car belonging to the man. The “Willie Horton ad,” titled “Weekend Passes” was deployed as an independent expenditure in support of Bush’s campaign. Before it aired, Bush spoke frequently about Horton in reference to Dukakis’s record on crime.

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New York Times - December 3, 2018

Israeli PM's Netanyahu’s obsession with image could be his downfall

In a fiery Hanukkah speech to his fellow Likud party stalwarts a year ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Israeli left for the corruption investigations engulfing him, saying that because his opponents couldn’t defeat him at the ballot box, “they tried to beat us with slander.”

On Sunday, he addressed the same audience on the same holiday in the same place on the same subject, but the target of his ire was not the Israeli left. It was the outgoing Israeli police chief, his own appointee, who oversaw the investigations that have resulted in three recommendations that Mr. Netanyahu be indicted on bribery and fraud charges. He is still playing the victim. But if his legal troubles spell the end of his storied career — and no one is writing him off yet — the evidence uncovered by the police suggests that Mr. Netanyahu will have only himself to blame. For a decade now, Mr. Netanyahu has led Israel like no other leader since the nation’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, personifying and championing the country on the world stage, dominating Israelis’ self-perception, eclipsing and marginalizing opponents and right-wing rivals alike, and steadily remaking its politics in his image. Yet throughout his political life, his detractors have discerned in Mr. Netanyahu an unseemly obsession with his public image, even for a politician. And his present troubles arose out of what amounted to his most audacious attempt to gain control over that image: a long-term offensive on the news media itself. For a prime minister who sees himself as a historic figure — protecting Israel against Iran’s regional ambitions, providing Jews the world over with a haven from anti-Semitism — the prospect that he could be brought low by self-regard is practically Shakespearean, said Dan Shadur, the director of the new documentary “King Bibi: The Life and Performances of Benjamin Netanyahu.” “He’s so obsessed with his reputation that it’s actually threatening his rule,” Mr. Shadur said.

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New York Times - December 3, 2018

With border achingly close, it's decision time for caravan migrants

A long, arduous journey from their homes in Central America, traveling as part of a large caravan, followed by more than two weeks languishing in an overcrowded and increasingly fetid migrant shelter in Tijuana, had come to this: a late-night trip to the border fence, and perhaps a desperate attempt to cross.

“We’re going for a better future for our son, in a place that’s safe,” said Samuel García, 30, a Honduran who was crouched alongside his wife and their 5-year-old son. Mr. García nodded toward the border fortifications of a nation whose president did not want him to enter. “There’s got to be a weak spot,” he said. Many of the migrants who arrived on the northern Mexico border in caravans in recent weeks had set out from home with a different idea of how things might turn out. President Trump had cast them as an invading horde of opportunists looking to game the American immigration system. But many clung to the belief that once they arrived at the border, the president’s heart would be touched and the gates would magically swing open. In recent days, they have seen their dreams all but splinter against the cold, immovable reality of the border, and of American policy. The journey for more than 6,000 migrants came to a halt here in Tijuana in mid-November. For weeks, most watched the hours and days pass in a municipal sports complex that had been converted into a shelter. Food was scarce. Privacy was nonexistent. Respiratory diseases flourished. If any migrants still thought Mr. Trump might be moved by their plight, they were disabused of that notion a week ago, when hundreds broke away from a peaceful march and ran toward the American border. They were repelled by United States border guards firing tear gas, and scores of migrants were arrested by the Mexican authorities. Several days later, a big rainstorm descended on the city, turning the sports complex into a swamp and adding to the migrants’ misery. In light of the week’s events, and Mr. Trump’s continuing tough rhetoric, the migrants have started re-evaluating their options amid growing frustration and desperation. Hundreds have called it quits and signed up to be voluntarily repatriated to their homelands. Many others have decided that their best course of action is to take the Mexican government up on its offer of one-year humanitarian visas that permit them to stay and work in Mexico, even if, for some, it is just to bide their time until they can try to enter the United States.

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Wall Street Journal - December 3, 2018

CIA Director Gina Haspel to brief senators Tuesday on Saudi journalist’s death

Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel will brief Senate leaders Tuesday morning on what the spy agency knows about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death at the hands of Saudi operatives, people familiar with the matter said.

Ms. Haspel’s planned briefing follows criticism that the Trump administration received from several lawmakers last week after she failed to join an earlier briefing on Saudi policy conducted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. According to a highly classified CIA assessment, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmansent at least 11 messages to his closest adviser, who oversaw the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi, in the hours before and after the journalist’s death Oct. 2, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The Saudi government has denied Prince Mohammed had any role in the killing. Ms. Haspel is expected to brief the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Armed Services Committees, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Bipartisan opposition to President Trump’s Saudi policy is increasing among U.S. lawmakers, who are angered by civilian casualties in Yemen caused by Saudi-led airstrikes and by the death of Mr. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist. The U.S. military provides Saudi Arabia with intelligence and other support in its ongoing war in Yemen. The Senate last Wednesday voted to advance a measure to withdraw U.S. support for Saudi-led forces in Yemen, defying Messrs. Pompeo and Mattis who just hours earlier had urged the lawmakers to do the opposite. Some senators voiced outrage that Ms. Haspel didn’t attend the session with Messrs. Pompeo and Mattis. Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened to hold up action on legislation until he received a CIA briefing. “I am not going to blow past this,” said Mr. Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “Anything that you need me for to get out of town—I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.” Ms. Haspel is the only top Trump administration official believed to have heard audio recordings from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that document Mr. Khashoggi’s death. The CIA chief traveled to Turkey, where she listened to the tapes and briefed Mr. Trump upon her return.

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Politico - December 3, 2018

Trump names hardliner Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to be 'vigilant' in China talks

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a longtime hardliner on China, has been tapped to lead the administration team that will be aggressively pressing Beijing to make extensive changes to its economy to address longstanding complaints by President Donald Trump.

“Mr. Lighthizer will be as vigilant as anybody in the business in monitoring this, and I hope it has a happy ending,” White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon. Lighthizer will work in concert with other top administration officials to demand changes to address a litany of complaints that the U.S. has about China’s practices. The White House has accused China of “stealing” corporate trade secrets and technology, and earlier this year, the administration had produced a list of roughly 142 demands they wanted Beijing to address. Lighthizer’s reputation as a hardened negotiator might help accomplish some of Trump’s goals. Two weeks ago, Lighthizer and his office released an update to a March report slamming China, saying the country has done little to improve the problems that the Trump administration has pointed to as a way of justifying U.S. tariffs. The new U.S.-China meetings, whose dates haven’t been set yet, will be the next significant step after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed over the weekend to a 90-day pause on increasing tariffs between the two countries as they work to strike a deal on an array of trade issues, including cyber crimes and a large trade imbalance between the two nations.

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Politico - December 3, 2018

Congress moves to delay shutdown fight following Bush's death

Congress is punting its shutdown fight over President Donald Trump's border wall until just before Christmas, delaying a brutal battle after the death of President George H.W. Bush essentially shut down the Capitol this week.

House leaders unveiled a bill on Monday afternoon that will extend government funding until Dec. 21, moving a partial shutdown date two weeks down the road from this Friday's deadline. And while lawmakers are hopeful that more negotiating time will help resolve a prolonged standoff around Trump's demand for $5 billion in wall funding, people in both parties lamented that two more weeks will do little to change the overall dynamics of the impasse. "We could have finished it today," groused Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, who is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "We've been negotiating all weekend." "I don't know why we'd have [a spending bill] going to Dec. 21. We know what we have to do. Let's just get it done in a shorter period of time so we can go home for the holidays," agreed Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-TX. He dubbed former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, "a grinch" for having the Senate in before a Christmas holiday in the past. While the two-week spending bill does buy some time for talks to continue, it doesn't mean Trump and Democrats will find consensus on the border wall. Congressional leaders are now betting that the pain of staying in Washington deep into December is motivation enough for lawmakers to reach a deal and avoid what people in both parties now fret could be a long partial shutdown later this year month. "We have to avoid a shut down. If we haven't learned our lessons in the past I don't think we'll ever learn them," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the GOP's most senior senator.

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Associated Press - December 3, 2018

Looks like Bernie Sanders is running for president again, despite big warning signs

An insurgent underdog no more, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is laying the groundwork to launch a bigger presidential campaign than his first, as advisers predict he would open the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season as a political powerhouse.

A final decision has not been made, but those closest to the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist suggest that neither age nor interest from a glut of progressive presidential prospects would dissuade him from undertaking a second shot at the presidency. And as Sanders' brain trust gathered for a retreat in Vermont over the weekend, some spoke openly about a 2020 White House bid as if it was almost a foregone conclusion. "This time, he starts off as a front-runner, or one of the front-runners," Sanders' 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver told The Associated Press, highlighting the senator's proven ability to generate massive fundraising through small-dollar donations and his ready-made network of staff and volunteers. Weaver added: "It'll be a much bigger campaign if he runs again, in terms of the size of the operation." Amid the enthusiasm — and there was plenty in Burlington as the Sanders Institute convened his celebrity supporters, former campaign staff and progressive policy leaders — there were also signs of cracks in Sanders' political base. His loyalists are sizing up a prospective 2020 Democratic field likely to feature a collection of ambitious liberal leaders — and not the establishment-minded Hillary Clinton. Instead, a new generation of outspoken Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris are expected to seek the Democratic nomination. All three have embraced Sanders' call for "Medicare for All" and a $15 minimum wage, among other policy priorities he helped bring into the Democratic mainstream in the Trump era. Acknowledging the stark differences between the 2016 and 2020 fields, Hollywood star Danny Glover, who campaigned alongside Sanders in 2016, would not commit to a second Sanders' candidacy when asked this weekend.

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Associated Press - December 4, 2018

Lawyers for Trump seek to punish porn star in court fines

Lawyers for President Donald Trump asked a court Monday for nearly $800,000 in lawyers' fees and penalties from porn actress Stormy Daniels for a failed defamation lawsuit against him.

Attorney Charles Harder defended ringing up a nearly $390,000 legal bill for the president and asked for an equal amount in sanctions as a deterrent against a "repeat filer of frivolous defamation cases." Judge S. James Otero didn't immediately rule. He noted that fees by Harder's firm — as high as $840 an hour — were reasonable but the 580 hours spent on the case appeared to be excessive and might be trimmed in his eventual award. He didn't indicate how he felt about the requested penalties, but had questioned whether attorneys' fees alone would serve as a deterrent. Harder had not put a dollar figure on sanctions he was seeking before the hearing and Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti objected vehemently, calling it "absurd and outrageous." "You can't just pick a number out of thin air in an effort to put my client under Donald Trump's thumb and intimidate her," Avenatti said. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had a one-night affair with Trump in 2006. She sued him earlier this year seeking to break a non-disclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 election about the tryst as part of a $130,000 hush money settlement. Trump has denied the affair, but essentially acknowledged the payment to Daniels. Despite the deal to stay quiet, Daniels spoke out publicly and alleged that five years after the affair she was threatened to keep quiet by a man she did not recognize in a Las Vegas parking lot. She also released a composite sketch of the mystery man. She sued Trump for defamation after he responded to the allegation by tweeting: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!" Otero ruled in October that Trump's statement was "rhetorical hyperbole" against a political adversary and was protected speech under the First Amendment.

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Associated Press - December 4, 2018

Should social media check be required to get a gun license?

Should authorities be able to deny handgun licenses for hateful tweets? A New York lawmaker is raising the question with a bill that would require police to scrutinize the social media activity and online searches of handgun license applicants, and disqualify those who have published violent or hateful posts.

State Sen. Kevin Parker says he hopes his proposal sparks discussion about how to balance public safety and online privacy. The Brooklyn Democrat noted that mass killers often provide warning signs through their social media posts, as in the case of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect, who ranted online that Jews were “children of Satan.” “It’s a new time. It’s a new technology,” Parker said. “It’s time that we in fact start having that conversation about how we monitor social media in a way that we can create safety for our communities.” Free-speech watchdogs and even some gun-control advocates have raised concerns about the bill, which would require handgun applicants to turn over login information to allow investigators to look at three years’ worth of Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram postings. Google, Yahoo and Bing searches over the previous year also would be checked. Licenses could be denied if investigators uncover threats of violence or terrorism or the use of racial or ethnic slurs. The process would be the same for five-year re-certifications. The bill will be among many related to guns waiting for lawmakers when they return to New York’s Capitol in January. While Democrats now control both houses, only a fraction of those measures are expected to make it to floor votes in the coming months. Still, Parker has already succeeded at one of his goals of creating “fodder for discussion,” including pushback. At the American Tactical Systems gun range, a short drive from New York’s Capitol, gun owners called the proposal unnecessary and intrusive. “I don’t think the government should have access to anybody’s history, especially for pistol permits,” Steve Wohlleber, who works at the range. “And the state police have enough to worry about besides checking everyone’s social media.” Even likely allies raised concerns. Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence staff attorney David Pucino said while he shared the legislator’s goals, he thought there were better alternatives, such as another bill that would create a court order of protection to bar people considered dangerous from possessing or buying guns. Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said he believes bill language directing police to consider “commonly known profane slurs or biased language” is too broad to pass constitutional muster. “A person could be prejudiced,” Siegel said. “That doesn’t mean he’s not entitled to his Second Amendment right.”

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USA Today - December 3, 2018

George H.W. Bush leaves mixed record on race, civil rights

Early in George H.W. Bush’s political career, when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, he came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, deriding his opponent as “radical” for supporting the bill that ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination.

The stand seemed at odds with his family’s long history of supporting civil rights (his father, Prescott Bush, a Connecticut senator had worked to desegregate schools and protect voting rights) and with his own work raising money for the United Negro College Fund. But in Texas, where the Republican party was steadily becoming more conservative and embracing the Southern Strategy of appealing to white voters, Bush’s position made sense. He would later regret opposing the groundbreaking bill, even apologizing to his pastor, according to historian Timothy Naftali, author of “George H. W. Bush: The American Presidents Series.” “He came from the northern Republican tradition, which was moderate and somewhat progressive on race at the time,” Naftali said. “But George Bush sometimes chose expediency in his campaigning. He didn’t always have the courage of his convictions as a candidates, but more often than not, he had the courage of his convictions in office.” As a freshman Congressman from Texas, Bush joined a group of moderate Republicans to support civil rights legislation and voted in favor of the 1968 Fair Housing Act –– a move that did not sit well with his conservative constituents back home. Still, said David Greenberg, a a professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Bush, who died Friday at the age of 94, was often torn between the “the right thing to do versus the political thing to do.” In his 1988 bid for the presidency, Bush would seem to again opt for expediency in a campaign that is often cited as one of the nastiest in political memory, with the blatant racism of the Willie Horton ad, which mined ugly stereotypes of African-Americans, and for Bush’s questioning of the patriotism of his opponent, Michael Dukakis, because of his Greek heritage. As president, Bush’s actions often called into question his stands on race and civil rights, said Johnson. “It’s fair and reasonable to critique everything we can about George Bush,” said Johnson. “We can say he was horrendous on civil rights, but that he was a good father and treated people decently.” In 1990, Bush vetoed a Civil Rights Act that would have expanded job protections, becoming the only president, other than Ronald Reagan, to veto a civil rights measure since the start of the civil rights era. Bush said the bill would have introduced the “destructive force of quotas into our national employment system." The move garnered criticism from civil rights leaders and progressives, including the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy D-MA, who said the veto showed that Bush was “more interested in appeasing extremists in his party than in providing simple justice.” “It was not a good look to be vetoing a civil rights bill when you are trying to offer a kinder, gentler version of Reagan,” said Greenberg, who noted that the backlash led Bush to work on a compromise bill, the 1991 Civil Rights Act, which passed the following year. However, Bush’s most lasting legacy in race relations may stem from his nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his role in escalating the war on drugs. By selecting the conservative Thomas, an ardent opponent of affirmative action, to replace Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice who championed equal rights and challenged discrimination, Bush stalled or set back progress in civil rights issues for decades, said Johnson, who likened the choice to “trolling.” Bush has also been criticized for his role in the war on drugs, which began in the Reagan administration and carried on into the Clinton years, and led directly to the mass incarceration of many African-American men. In his first significant policy speech as president, on Sept. 5, 1989, Bush chose to focus on drug policy and the cocaine epidemic. Sitting in the Oval Office, Bush lifted up a plastic bag. “This is crack cocaine seized a few days ago by Drug Enforcement Agents in a park just across the street from the White House,” he said. “It could easily have been heroin or PCP. It’s as innocent looking as candy, but it’s turning our cities into battle zones, and it’s murdering our children.”

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Yahoo - December 3, 2018

Mueller preparing endgame for Russia investigation

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors have told defense lawyers in recent weeks that they are “tying up loose ends” in their investigation, providing the clearest clues yet that the long-running probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election may be coming to its climax, potentially in the next few weeks, according to multiple sources close to the matter.

The new information about the state of Mueller’s investigation comes during a pivotal week when the special counsel’s prosecutors are planning to file memos about three of their most high profile defendants — former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen. A Flynn sentencing memo is due Tuesday, and memos about Manafort and Cohen are slated for Friday. All three documents are expected to yield significant new details on what cooperation the three of them provided to the Russia investigation. There has been much speculation that Mueller might file his memo in Manafort’s case under seal in order to prevent public disclosure of the additional crimes his office believes Manafort committed when he allegedly lied to prosecutors and broke a plea deal after agreeing to cooperate. But Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel, confirmed to Yahoo News on Monday that the Manafort memo “will be public,” although he added there could be some portions that are redacted or filed as a sealed addendum. The Manafort memo has been requested by the federal judge in his case so that prosecutors could, for the first time, spell out what matters they believe Manafort has lied to them about. The fact that Mueller is planning a public filing about Manafort suggests he may no longer feel the need to withhold information about his case in order to bring additional indictments against others. That would be consistent with messages his prosecutors have given defense lawyers in recent weeks indicating that they are in the endgame of their investigation. “They’ve been telling people they are tying up loose ends and trying to conclude,” said one source familiar with the communications between Mueller’s office and defense lawyers who represent key witnesses in the case. That message was reinforced to some degree Monday when Mueller’s office talked to congressional investigators as part of an ongoing discussion about whether new subpoenas for testimony by House and Senate committees might interfere with Mueller’s investigation.

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CNN - December 3, 2018

Theresa May to address Parliament one week out from key Brexit vote

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will attempt to drum up parliamentary support for her beleaguered Brexit bill later Tuesday, as lawmakers prepare to vote on whether she broke the rules over publishing the full legal advice on her plan.

May is expected to tell lawmakers that her deal -- agreed last month with European leaders but opposed by large swaths of opposition parties and even her own Conservatives -- "delivers for our country." But her speech has been delayed because lawmakers are holding a debate about whether she or her ministers should be held in contempt of parliament for ignoring a vote to publish the legal advice on her deal in full. In theory, she or her ministers could be expelled from parliament if the vote goes against her. In practice, a lesser sanction is likely to be applied. In her speech, May will say that her deal delivers on the Brexit referendum. "An end to free movement once and for all. An end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. An end to those vast sums we send to Brussels every year. And a fair settlement of our financial obligations, less than half what some predicted," according to prepared remarks shared ahead of her speech. "A new Free Trade Area with no tariffs, fees, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks -- an unprecedented economic relationship that no other major economy has. And at the same time, the freedom to have an independent trade policy and to strike new trade deals all around the world." While May mentions the "integrity of our United Kingdom," and the importance of border control, her provided remarks notably do not directly touch on the issue of Northern Ireland, which has emerged as the main hurdle for any Brexit deal. One of the biggest concerns about Brexit is that it could lead to the return of a hard border between EU member the Republic of Ireland, and Brexiting Northern Ireland –– which many fear could lead to a return to violence in the region.

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ProPublica - December 3, 2018

New disclosures and investigations straining three Trump associates’ relationship with the new VA secretary

Newly released emails about the three Trump associates who secretly steered the Department of Veterans Affairs show how deeply the trio was involved in some of the agency’s most consequential matters, most notably a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans.

Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman — part of the president’s circle at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — reviewed a confidential draft of a $10 billion government contract for the electronic-records project, even though they lack any relevant expertise. In preparing the contract, the agency consulted more than 40 outside experts, such as hospital executives, according to the records, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Mar-a-Lago trio were listed among those experts. Perlmutter, a comic book tycoon, appears on the list between representatives from the University of Washington Medical Center, Intermountain Healthcare and Johns Hopkins University. But none of the three men has served in the U.S. military or elsewhere in government, and none of them has expertise in health information technology or federal contracting. The list is one of hundreds of newly released documents about the so-called Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s sway over VA policy and personnel decisions. The records show them editing the budget for a government program, weighing in on job candidates and being treated as having decision-making authority on policy initiatives. In a June 2017 email, a VA official identified Perlmutter alongside then-VA Secretary David Shulkin as “top principles [sic].” In another message, Moskowitz named himself, Perlmutter and Sherman to an “executive committee.” Since the role of the troika was exposed by ProPublica in August, lawmakers have called their influence “wildly inappropriate” and “textbook corruption and cronyism.” A liberal veterans group sued to block them under a Watergate-era sunshine law on advisory committees. House Democrats and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said they would investigate. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has repeatedly distanced himself from the trio. His spokesman, Curt Cashour, blamed previous leaders. “Although his predecessors may have done things differently, Sec. Wilkie has been clear about how he does business,” Cashour said in a statement. “No one from outside the administration dictates VA policies or decisions — that’s up to Sec. Wilkie and President Trump. Period.”

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Marketwatch - December 3, 2018

Good news might be coming in the next jobs report but the stock market won’t like it

Wall Street has rallied after inflation worries calmed down and Federal Reserve honchos implied interest rates might not rise much further, but the upcoming U.S. jobs report could arouse more anxiety.

The economy likely produced another 200,000-plus new jobs in November, keeping the unemployment rate at or near a 48-year low of 3.7 percent, economists predict. “The jobs report is shaping up to be hawkish across the board,” economists at TD Securities said. That’s great news, all right, except for one thing. An extremely “tight” labor market usually leads to higher wages—and that’s historically been viewed as a signal of higher inflation. That could bring some headwinds to the stock market after the best week for the S&P 500 in 8 years. The increase in hourly wages in the 12 months ending October, for instance, climbed to 3.1 percent to mark the biggest such gain since 2009. By contrast, wages grew around 2 percent a year or less during most of the recovery that followed the Great Recession of 2007-2009. At the same time wages were rising, the yearly rate of inflation moved from almost zero in 2015 to around 2 percent, using the Federal Reserve’s preferred PCE index. Wage growth could show an even bigger increase in the November employment report that comes out on Friday. Many economists predict the yearly advance in hourly pay will hit 3.2 percent, helped by Amazon’s decision to begin paying all workers at least $15 an hour starting in November. What’s the big deal? Economists and investors have long believed that rising wages eventually contribute to higher inflation, though there’s quite a bit of disagreement about exactly how much. What’s more, the link between low unemployment, rising wages and higher inflation is not as close as it once seemed. Still, the increase in wages spawned by a strong economy has spooked investors and, until recently, even some Fed officials. What’s adding to the worries are U.S. tariffs on key industrial goods such as steel and aluminum. That’s also raising costs for American businesses and could potentially boost inflation.

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The Guardian - December 3, 2018

Trump's praise for Roger Stone could amount to witness tampering, according to experts

Donald Trump heaped public praise on a potential witness in the Russia investigation on Monday in a manner that legal experts said could amount to criminal witness tampering.

Trump tweeted in praise of Roger Stone, his longtime political adviser, who allegedly made contacts with the WikiLeaks organization through an intermediary in an effort to help the 2016 Trump campaign. Stone has denied all wrongdoing but has said he expects to be indicted. The flow of information between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen by Russians from the Hillary Clinton campaign, has emerged as a focal point for special counsel Robert Mueller, who has yet to interview Stone. “‘I will never testify against Trump’,” the president tweeted. “This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” Prominent lawyers and analysts led by George Conway, the husband of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, said the tweet appeared to violate a section of the US code that makes it a federal crime to “corruptly persuade” a witness with intent to influence or prevent that witness’s testimony in a criminal proceeding. The offense, which prosecutors said is common in organized crime cases, is not typically committed in public because it is illegal activity, lawyers said. “Having prosecuted mob bosses,” tweeted Daniel Goldman, a former assistant US attorney in the southern district of New York, “it’s unfair to compare them to Trump. Mob bosses are far smarter and way more savvy and discrete than Trump.”

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CBS News - December 2, 2018

Pelosi pledges to pass Dream Act with Democratic House majority

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed to pass legislation that would put so-called Dreamers — young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — on a pathway to citizenship when her party retakes control of Congress' lower chamber in January.

"America draws strength from our long, proud heritage as a nation of immigrants. In the Majority, Democrats will work to reverse the Republicans' destructive anti-immigrant agenda," Pelosi said in a statement Saturday, responding to a letter sent Thursday by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "Our House Democratic Majority will once again pass the Dream Act to end the uncertainty and fear inflicted on patriotic young men and women across the country." Lawmakers in the Caucus urged Pelosi — who is vying to secure her second spell as speaker of the House during the upcoming congressional session — to schedule votes on legislation to codify protections for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and for immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) within the first 100 days of the 116th Congress. "We will protect TPS recipients and those fleeing unimaginable violence," Pelosi added in her statement. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-New York, one of the members of Congress who signed the letter to Pelosi, told CBS News that Democrats should move ahead "expeditiously" in January to pass bills that shield Dreamers and TPS holders from deportation, without providing any funding for a wall on the southern border — which President Trump and many Republicans have said needs to be included in any bipartisan immigration proposal. "I think the Dream Act should be taken on alone, with no poison pills attached to it," Espaillat said. The congressman from New York added House Democrats should try to pass the bills within the first 100 days of the next session — something Pelosi did not promise in her statement. "These young people are still in limbo," Espaillat said. "Had it not been for the courts, they would probably be underground, they would be in the shadows."

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HuffPost - December 3, 2018

Running for office is really hard if you're not a millionaire

Many of the lawmakers walking the gilded halls of Congress are, financially, far better off than the constituents they represent. Millionaires comprise nearly 40 percent of Congress, compared to being just 4 percent of the U.S. population. This lopsided representation is not just some coincidence.

Rich people have a significant advantage running for office in a political system that relies on private donations. Rich people have rich friends who can donate to their campaign. They have the resources to make sure everything is taken care of in their personal life so that they can focus all their attention on running for office. And they can fund their own campaign and not worry about spending all their time raising money. “The notion of being able to just write a check for that much to help pay for ads and such ? that would be completely out of my abilities,” said Shawna Roberts, who quit her part-time job at McDonald’s to run as the Democratic candidate in Ohio’s 6th congressional district. “It’s absurd to imagine people who don’t have deep pockets doing it on their own,” she added. “And yet, it’s one of the things that we have to do if we’re going to have an actual democracy that actually functions instead of what we have right now, which is an oligarchy without the name.” The 2018 elections saw a surge of first-time candidates running for office. It was the most diverse field in history. But financially, many of these candidates found it tough to make ends meet. Federal campaign laws allow candidates to give themselves a salary, up to how much they would be paid if they were elected or what they made in the previous year ? whichever amount is lower. Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform for the Campaign Legal Center, said that most candidates don’t take the salary ? even though some of them probably should. Many candidates are wealthy and don’t need the money, and the ones who aren’t are often reluctant to take a salary because it might not look good politically. “We want candidates from diverse backgrounds to run for office, and if they need to pay themselves a salary to do so, that’s entirely permissible and the law allows for it,” he said. Fischer said candidates are also allowed to use campaign funds for child care, but only if the candidate was a stay-at-home parent previously and now has child care expenses that exist only because of the run for office. Kerri Harris ran a long shot, progressive, grassroots campaign to unseat Sen. Tom Carper in the Delaware Democratic primary. She had just five paid staffers, and said she couldn’t justify “taking for myself when there were people who were working just as hard taking nothing.” Harris, who has two young children, receives veterans disability benefits. (She served in the Air Force.) But she gave up her other source of income ? organizing work ? when she launched the campaign, because she didn’t want it to be seen as a conflict of interest. “By summer I was losing about $1,600 a month, which was very painful,” said Harris, whose primary was Sept. 6. “I don’t make a lot of money as it is. ... It was stressful. It was an added stress on top of the stress of campaigning.” Federal election laws also don’t allow candidates to pay for personal items of clothing. So Harris made do with one pair of dress pants for the campaign ? and the day of her debate against Carper, in late August, her pants suddenly had a hole in them. Roberts said she was lucky that she had a little extra money saved up to get them through the campaign. She didn’t take a salary because she simply wasn’t raising enough to do so, and it was more important to pay the bills and expenses for the campaign. “I’m a terrible fundraiser, and I knew this about myself going in,” she said, noting that she never is able to sell popcorn or magazines when her children need help with school fundraisers.

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Weekly Standard - December 3, 2018

Life's about to get more difficult for Chuck Schumer

When Republicans captured the House from Democrats in 2010, the most conservative members and activists took it as a cue to oppose President Obama without compromise. It stretched Speaker John Boehner between the many hardline members of his caucus and the need to govern with a Democrat in the White House—and eventually ripped apart his tenure.

Eight years later, the roles are reversed—House Democrats ascendant, Republicans on the decline, Donald Trump in the Oval—and Democratic leaders in Congress seem destined to experience similar stress to Boehner and that of his successor, Paul Ryan. The most observable hint, though, is not in the House, where Nancy Pelosi already has cut deals with dissenting voices in her ranks to ensure her return to the speakership. It’s in the Senate, where leader Chuck Schumer is taking heat from both southwestern Democrats and the progressive grassroots for his position on border security negotiations. Senate Democrats favor including $1.6 billion of funds for the southern border in a spending resolution to avert a government shutdown at the end of this week. The number was not invented after the November elections—it was written into a Homeland Security appropriations bill in June, which Schumer now says in December would pass with bipartisan support. The amount would go toward “approximately 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley,” the legislation specifies. The modest length and the conditions of its construction are familiar. The “pedestrian fencing” must meet the same structural requirements specified in the omnibus appropriations bill enacted in March, which provided $1.3 billion for “operationally effective designs deployed as of the date of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 … such as currently deployed steel bollard designs.” Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged the difference between such designs and Trump’s preference for a solid wall in May 2017, when Congress approved the relevant act. It contained $314 million for border fencing, which Spicer called “a down payment on what the president is going to prioritize in the 2018 budget”: in other words, a wall. Of course, Trump hasn’t gotten one. What he’s received instead are snack-sized portions of border security funds for limited activity. They derive from the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was bipartisan. If anything, the recent bills appropriating money for fencing have been more controversial among Republicans than Democrats. Despite being in a total minority, Schumer’s party—with a little help from Trump’s self-sabotage, when a deal on DACA and the border fell through in March—has effectively kept the wall down. But that’s no longer good enough among a loud segment of newly empowered Democrats and progressives. Texas representative Henry Cuellar wrote Schumer last week “to express … alarm and opposition to your comments that $1.6 billion for a physical wall along the border is the starting negotiating position for Democrats.” In one respect, Cuellar is guilty of the same case of mistaken identity as President Trump, who has insisted to his supporters that border security funds Congress has approved for fencing are, in fact, for a literal wall. Except in Trump’s case, he’s trying to reassure his base. Cuellar is trying to alarm his.

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Newsclips - December 3, 2018

Lead Stories

Washington Post - December 2, 2018

Even with a pause in trade war, U.S. and China’s economic relationship is forever changed

The trade talks that President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping launched this weekend have raised hopes for a peaceful resolution of the trans-Pacific tariff war — but the economic relationship between the U.S. and China has been permanently altered.

Over dinner following the Group of 20 summit Saturday, Trump agreed to cancel a planned Jan. 1 tariff increase in return for increased Chinese purchases of American farm and industrial goods. The two sides also will commence talks about “structural changes” in Chinese practices, including forced technology transfer, trade secrets theft, and non-tariff barriers. The goal is to secure an agreement in 90 days. “Markets should be happy, in that the worst is postponed. But I don’t see the West ever going back to business as usual with China. Too many genies have been let out of bottles,” said Fraser Howie, author of “Red Capitalism,” a book about China’s financial rise, in an email. Over the past quarter century, American manufacturers grew dependent upon low-wage Chinese workers to produce iPhones, clothing and industrial parts, often at the expense of factory employees in the industrial heartland. China, in turn, invested more than $140 billion in the U.S. since 2000, according to the Rhodium Group, further knitting together two economies that account for roughly 40 percent of global output. But almost a year of heated U.S. rhetoric, escalating tariffs and tighter investment and export controls have shaken Chinese government officials and global business executives. As repeated tariff salvos prompt companies to rethink their reliance upon Chinese factories, Beijing is stepping up efforts to wean itself from what it sees as an unpredictable American partner, according to trade analysts, business executives and former government officials. “Both sides have set in motion policies that won’t be up for negotiation. So it’s not realistic to expect a return to the status quo,” said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator now with Akin Gump via email. “We are in a new world.” A great deal has changed between Washington and Beijing in the almost two years since Trump began implementing his “America First” trade policy overhaul — and it cannot readily be unwound. The president’s abrupt return to brinkmanship over a new North American trade deal, which he signed Friday along with leaders of Mexico and Canada, underscored U.S. unpredictability.

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CNN Business - December 3, 2018

Qatar is pulling out of OPEC after 60 years to focus on gas

OPEC is losing one of its oldest members. The small, gas-rich state of Qatar said Monday that it will leave the oil cartel on January 1 after nearly 60 years. The country's state oil company, Qatar Petroleum, made the announcement in a series of tweets.

"The withdrawal decision reflects Qatar's desire to focus its efforts on plans to develop and increase its natural gas production," Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, the country's newly-appointed minister of state for energy affairs, was cited as saying in one of the tweets. Qatar has been under a diplomatic and economic embargo by its Arab neighbors, including OPEC members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for the past 18 months. In response, Qatar has been increasing gas production, the mainstay of its economy. OPEC has no role in the global market for natural gas. And Qatar made no reference to the dispute with other Gulf states in its announcement, emphasizing plans to cement its position as the world's leading supplier of gas. Its exports currently account for about 30 percent of global demand. "Achieving our ambitious growth strategy will undoubtedly require focused efforts, commitment and dedication to maintain and strengthen Qatar's position as the leading natural gas producer," Al-Kaabi said. Qatar is a marginal player in OPEC when compared to some of the cartel's biggest producers, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It pumps about 600,000 barrels of oil a day out of more than 27 million from all OPEC members. But the surprise move comes at a critical time for OPEC. Its members and other major producers are due to meet in Vienna this week to discuss cutting production to boost oil prices. Concerns about oversupply have sent oil prices plunging. US crude futures hit a four-year high above $76 a barrel in early October. They are now trading at around $53 a barrel. "The decision by Qatar to withdraw from OPEC does come as a surprise, but is unlikely to have a significant impact on the oil market," Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Peter Kierna said.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

State funeral of George H.W. Bush information: Services at Capitol, National Cathedral, Houston church, Texas A&M

The official schedules for President George H.W. Bush's state funeral and related services in Washington, D.C.; Houston; Spring; and College Station were announced Sunday.

The casket carrying Bush will depart Monday morning after a 10:30 a.m. ceremony at Ellington Field in Houston and be flown to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, with an arrival ceremony there at 2:30 p.m. Dallas time. From there, the casket will be transported to the U.S. Capitol for an arrival ceremony at 3:45 p.m. His remains will lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol from 6:30 p.m. Monday until Wednesday at 7:45 a.m., with a guard of honor in attendance. A funeral at the National Cathedral is set for Wednesday at 10 a.m. After the funeral, the casket will return to Joint Base Andrews for the trip back to Houston's Ellington Field, arriving at 4:30 p.m. It will be transported to St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where he will lie in repose from 6:45 p.m. until 6 a.m. Thursday. A private funeral service will follow at 10 a.m. Bush's remains will then be moved to the Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility in Spring for a train trip to Texas A&M University, arriving at 3:45 p.m. for interment in the family plot at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. President Donald Trump has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning and a federal holiday for workers. He also ordered flags to fly at half-staff for 30 days in honor of Bush.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 2, 2018

Texas GOP delivers rebuke after challenge to Muslim party official

In a sharp rebuke to an effort by some Tarrant County Republicans to remove their county party’s vice chairman because he is a Muslim, the Texas GOP executive committee Saturday affirmed its commitment to religious liberty and freedom as core values that all party organizations need to adhere to.

“Let’s get this done. Let’s stand as one. Let’s be as one. Let’s show everybody, this is the Republican Party of Texas. We are not the party of bigots,” said JT Edwards, a representative of Senate District 11 on the State Republican Executive Committee, made up of two members from each of the state’s 31 Senate districts. With the party’s chair and vice chair also voting, the tally at the quarterly meeting of the executive board was 63-0 for the resolution with one abstention, Rhonda Lacy, who declined to explain her vote to the American-Statesman. The debate and vote came amid mounting state and national attention to a move by Dorrie O’Brien, a precinct chair from Grand Prairie, to remove Dr. Shahid Shafi as vice chair of the county party. A Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, Shafi is a trauma surgeon and twice-elected member of the Southlake City Council. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to speak fully without breaking down,” Shafi told the meeting after Saturday’s vote. “Today you have reaffirmed my faith in our party and in our country.” Shafi became a naturalized citizen in 2009 and immediately became involved in GOP politics. He said that as he has contended with the controversy for the past six months, “There were moments of doubt in my mind.” “Today we removed all doubts as to what we are and what we believe in as conservatives and Republicans and I will take that message back to Tarrant County,” Shafi said. “This is and remains and should always be the party of Lincoln and Reagan.” In July, Darl Easton, the Tarrant County GOP chairman, named Shafi as vice chairman, drawing the ire of O’Brien and some allies who made unsubstantiated claims that Shari supported Shariah law and was associated with terrorist-affiliated groups, assertions that Shafi, in an open letter in November, said were “based upon unfounded allegations, lies and innuendo.” The effort to remove him was debated behind closed doors at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Tarrant County Republican executive committee. A vote is slated for its Jan. 10 meeting. House Speaker Joe Straus and Land Commissioner George P. Bush tweeted their condemnation of the effort to remove Shafi, and Travis County Republican Chairman Matt Mackowiak wrote Easton on Thursday encouraging him to “reject a bigoted effort” to oust Shafi. In a Facebook post Thursday, O’Brien mocked the efforts to defend Shafi: “He’s a nice guy who helped start a Republican club and has gone to state cons (conventions), but has never left Islam. If you all were truly the conservatives and Christians you say you are, you’d witness him into the body of Christ.” The original resolution offered by Summer Wise, representing Senate District 24, pointedly called on the Tarrant County party to stand by Shafi.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2018

Threats of murder, stalking enter prominent Dallas Ruff family's lengthy legal battle over $50 million fortune

When Dallas businessman and civic leader Arthur L. Ruff died, the decorated war veteran left behind a legacy of success and giving to his community. Ruff, a banker who made the city’s Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial a reality, left more than enough money for his widow and five children.

But the $50 million fortune is entangled in a lengthy and bitter legal battle among family members. It has spawned dozens of lawsuits in multiple North Texas courts. It began with allegations that the trusted, eldest son pilfered millions from his mother. And seven years after the first lawsuit, it has escalated to accusations of stalking, email hacking, harassment, assault and even threats of murder. At the heart of this family tragedy is a tale of a mother and two sons — the younger son, a convicted sex offender whom she welcomed home; and his older brother, a businessman she claims betrayed her. As Matthew Ruff, now 38, went to prison for child pornography in 2010, his mother, Suzann, began her fight to take control of her inheritance from Michael Ruff, 43. She’s now battling four of her five children in court. When he got out of prison in 2016, Matthew, the second-youngest, joined forces with his mother against his siblings. His brothers and sisters say in court documents that Matthew is a violent and dangerous, gun-obsessed sociopath who has stalked and threatened them, and turned their mother against them. Joining Michael are Mark Ruff, 37, an Air Force major and American Airlines pilot, and their two sisters: Tracy Ruff Bakshi, 44, a physician; and Kelly R. Frazier, 40, a lawyer. Frazier told The Dallas Morning News she feels like she’s lost both of her parents. “There’s a profound sadness and there’s a sense of loss,” she said. The ordeal, Frazier said, has been both stressful and painful. But she said she and her three close siblings have found strength in one another. A Dallas County probate court in April issued a $49 million judgment against Michael, upholding an arbitration panel’s finding that he fraudulently “misappropriated” Suzann Ruff’s assets. Suzy, as she’s known, is still trying to recover that money, which now totals about $66 million, court records show. She claims in court filings that Michael Ruff has been hiding assets from her by using multiple LLCs, and stymying her collection efforts with bankruptcy filings. D. Bradley Kizzia, one of Suzy’s lawyers, told The News that multiple courts have “seen through Mike Ruff’s elaborate, even desperate attempts to distract and delay his day of reckoning.” “Justice will eventually come for Suzanne Ruff — AND for Mike Ruff, the sooner the better,” Kizzia said in an email. Suzy and Matthew Ruff declined through their lawyers to comment. Multiple attempts to reach Michael Ruff were unsuccessful.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Flip side of George Bush's flexibility? Ideology took back seat to survival

George Bush projected decency and restraint in a life of public service, and pragmatism over purity. There were other sides to the 41st president and other ways to assess his record.

His ideological flexibility allowed him to navigate political crosscurrents — and also made voters wary. His record of fighting hard and a bit dirty, even while coming across as so nice he had to tamp down an image as a wimp, struck opponents as disingenuous. Glowing eulogies have flowed since Friday night when the one-term president died in Houston at the age of 94, highlighting his many admirable traits and feats: patrician manners, war heroics, devotion to public service. But he was also a politician like many others, willing to take unpalatable steps for survival and advancement. He denounced Ronald Reagan’s “voodoo economics” as rivals in the 1980 primaries, then defended the trickle down school of thought as Reagan’s vice president. Bush’s campaign manager in 1988 vowed to turn a black parolee who raped a white woman into his opponent’s running mate, figuratively speaking. He set aside support for abortion rights to woo the right. Then he cynically offered voters a no-new-taxes pledge, and abandoned it once in office. Cynicism, in fact, may have been Bush’s “defining political hallmark,” argued David Greenberg, a Rutgers University presidential historian. Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to Bush’s son, former President George W. Bush, put it this way: “He was more diplomatic and civil than any other modern politician, but he knew politics wasn’t beanbag.” But flexibility was also an exceedingly useful attribute in an era of divided government, with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate throughout Bush’s tenure as president. “We had to reach across the aisle to get support for what we wanted to do,” his vice president, Dan Quayle, said Sunday on Fox News. “And look at what we did. We did get budgets passed, clean air, comprehensive clean air legislation, disabilities.” Bush needed support from 10 Senate Democrats for a resolution to repel Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and “the majority leader, George Mitchell, was opposed to us. We had the chairman of the Senate Armed Services, Sam Nunn, was opposed to us,” Quayle recalled.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2018

Steve Brown: Dire DFW home market expectations are probably overdone

The Mark Twain in me would like to point out that the Dallas housing market isn't dead. Rumors about the demise of the local home market are probably exaggerated.

As things stand right now, pre-owned home sales in 2018 are virtually tied with the total this time last year. And 2017 was a record high sales year. Home prices in North Texas are up between 4 percent and 5 percent year-over-year. That's up from a record high price in 2017. The latest forecast calls for home purchases in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to drop about 1 percent in 2019. That would make next year the second best ever for home sales in North Texas. Having said all that, anyone trying to sell a house knows the residential market this year has changed. Houses are taking longer to sell. And in most cases there isn't a line of buyers fighting to overpay for your property. That was last year and the year before. This year, the local home market has returned to something more like normal — modest price increases and slower sales. And after the boom in housing we've seen over the last few years, any kind of slowdown is likely to cause some anxiety for sellers. Just this week The Wall Street Journal postulated that the slowdown in the Dallas area's home market is a sign of things to come for the entire nation. "Dallas' once-vibrant housing market is sputtering," The Journal said. But housing analyst Paige Shipp of Metrostudy Inc. says the sky is not falling. "Dallas-Fort Worth, the nation's top new home market, is slowing from a frenzied, overheated pace to a more stable, normalized market," Shipp said. "D-FW was one of the first, if not the first, housing market to emerge from the downturn. "Our market was hot, dare I say 'overheated,' since 2012," she said. The D-FW area housing boom of the last few years is unlike almost any in the last 50 years. And if price increases hadn't slowed, we'd be looking at a California-style housing crash soon. The cooldown in our housing market is different from past cycles because the region's employment market and population — both of which fuel housing demand — are still exploding. What made our home market hit the "pause" button are higher mortgage costs combined with a more than 40 percent increase in median home costs over the last five years.

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2018

'Mission complete': George H.W. Bush's service dog will now help wounded soldiers

George H.W. Bush's service dog, Sully, who has been by the former president's side since June will now go on to help wounded soldiers. Bush's spokesman, Jim McGrath, posted a photo on Twitter of the yellow Labrador on the ground next to a flag-draped casket accompanied by the words "Mission complete."

The picture was also shared on the dog's Instagram account, which features photos of Sully going to the polls with Bush in November and at the wedding of granddaughter Barbara Bush in October. Bush died Friday at his home in Houston at age 94. The former president got Sully through America's VetDogs over the summer, about two months after the death of former first lady Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years. Sully was chosen to provide "support and companionship" for Bush, VetDogs said in a written statement. The nonprofit trains and places guide and service dogs with veterans and first responders. Sully will now join the facility dog program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He will work with two other dogs to help wounded soldiers and active duty members recovering at the center, America's VetDogs said on Facebook. "As much as our family is going to miss this dog, we're comforted to know he'll bring the same join to his new home, Walter Reed, that he brought to 41," George W. Bush said on Instagram. Sully will accompany Bush's casket on the Monday flight from Houston to Maryland, CNN reported, citing a source familiar with the plans. Bush's remains will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda from Monday night until Wednesday. He will be interred at the family plot at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station.

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Houston Chronicle - December 1, 2018

Vowing to focus on the working class, López Obrador sworn in as new president in Mexico as Texas wonders its role with administration

Andres Manuel López Obrador became Mexico's president Saturday promising to bring sweeping change to its politics and economy in favor of the country’s impoverished population.

Mexico’s first left-leaning president in nearly four decades, López Obrador, 65, takes power with a firm control of the national congress and a solid hold on legislatures in many of the 32 states. That potentially makes him the most powerful Mexican president since democracy took root here 18 years ago. Popularly known by his nickname, AMLO, López Obrador vows that his six-year term will bring about a profound “fourth transformation” of Mexico in its two centuries as an independent nation. Unlike the previous three watersheds, he says, this one will be accomplished peacefully. “It might seem pretentious or exaggerated, but today doesn’t begin just a new administration, but rather a new political regime,” López Obrador told Congress in an 80-minute speech in which he declared the political and economic policies that have defined the past 35 years a “disaster, a calamity for the public life of the country.” “We will govern for everyone, but we will give preference to the dispossessed,” he said. “For the good of everyone, the poor come first.” The avowedly austere López Obrador has promised fiscal discipline as he moves to dismantle what he calls a “mafia of power” - the political and economic elites that he and many Mexicans blame for deep corruption, enduring poverty, yawning inequality and hyper violent organized crime. “It’s going to be a very hectic sexenio,” said political analyst and democracy advocate Sergio Aguayo, referring to López Obrador’s term. “But it’s better than the paralysis, corruption and expansion of organized crime we have had.” As he tries to fulfill the sweeping promises of change, López Obrador will need to mollify those very elites in order to maintain the private investment — largely anchored by exports to the U.S. — that in three decades have forged Mexico into an industrial power. He'll have to do that as he contends with an often vocally hostile President Trump, who has kept the pressure on Mexico over immigration, trade and public security issues. With its 1,200-mile border with Mexico and holding a lion's share of U.S. trade with the country, Texas has a lot riding on how it all plays out.

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Houston Chronicle - December 2, 2018

HBO’s Sandra Bland documentary makes her more than a grim statistic

Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner have built an awards-studded career often making documentaries about cracks in the criminal justice system where lives can slip through unseen.

From “The Newburgh Sting,” about four men swept up in an FBI operation in an upstate New York Muslim community, to “The Cheshire Murders,” which dug into the investigative missteps in a gruesome Connecticut home invasion, they’re attracted to stories of struggle against civic authority. So it’s no surprise that the case of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old African-American woman who was found hanging in her cell while in police custody in Waller County after a confrontational traffic stop with Texas state trooper Brian Encinia, snagged their attention when it hit the headlines in July 2015. That interest mushroomed into their latest project, “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland,” debuting at 9 p.m. Monday on HBO. Bland’s death, which authorities designated a suicide while Bland’s family and their supporters raised the specter of racism, foul play, botched oversight and possible homicide, came at a time when the issue of African-Americans dying at the hands of the police was at the top of the news — with fallout from the fatal shootings of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Eric Garner in New York City, Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., and Tamir Rice in Cleveland among others still reverberating through the media. But something about Bland’s case jumped out to Davis and Heilbroner: She was a woman. “There has been a systemic gender bias,” Davis says in a phone interview, regarding media coverage. “There have been women who have fallen at the hands of the police or in police custody. So, yes, that added a certain importance to me, to the story. “There are other elements, too. There was a mystery enshrouding what the heck happened. All we really knew at the time was that she was brutalized at the roadside by a cop and, strangely and seriously, three days later, was found in her jail cell, so the authorities said. That led to so many questions.” Davis and Heilbroner, himself a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, managed to get incredible access, not only to the Bland family — particularly her grief-stricken mother and sisters — but to jailhouse photos, videos and autopsy evidence. They also devote a significant portion of the film to letting both the Blands as well as Waller County sheriff R. Glenn Smith and district attorney Elton Mathis tell their side of the story. It took nearly two years for the film to be completed as the filmmakers had to convince everyone to participate and wait for the case to be settled. In 2016, the Bland family received $1.9 million and changes in Waller County jail procedures from their wrongful-death suit. Subsequently, the Texas Senate passed the Sandra Bland Act which was designed to force local jails to increase mental-health supervision of their charges and suicide-prevention training for employees.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2018

Houston Rep-elect Sylvia Garcia gets another shot at ‘Dreamer’ legislation

Ten years ago, as a Harris County Commissioner, Sylvia Garcia joined a national conference of Latino leaders where then-presidential candidate Barack Obama — proclaiming “Si, se puede” (Yes, we can) — promised to sign the Dream Act, providing legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

“Of course, we stayed on him and stayed on him about that,” Garcia said about the long-stalled bill, which bogged down in partisan gridlock and never made it to Obama’s desk. Now, as one of two newly-elected Latina congresswomen from Texas, Garcia, a Democrat from Houston’s working-class east side, will get her turn as part of a renewed push to pass legislation protecting “Dreamers.” Whether there’s a deal to be done in the Congress that convenes in January will depend in large part on the politics of the border wall that President Donald Trump made the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign. Despite Trump’s frequent claims to the contrary, it remains an unfulfilled promise to his conservative base - and the focus of a threatened government shutdown by Friday. As the current lame-duck Congress grapples with Trump’s $5 billion wall funding request for next year, incoming lawmakers are already looking ahead to the potential endgame of a comprehensive immigration package - including a “fix” for Dreamers - that is certain to be a top priority of the new Democratic majority in the House. But much like the Republican House majority they will replace, Democrats are divided both on tactics and aims of negotiations with the Trump White House and the Republican-led Senate. While some see a historic opportunity for compromise in a divided Congress, others remain skeptical that Trump, with an eye on 2020, will abandon a list of hardline immigration demands - including restrictions on legal immigration and ending birthright citizenship - that has only expanded since he took office. Meanwhile it’s increasingly doubtful that longtime immigration activists like Garcia will go along with a deal to exchange wall funding for Dreamer protections - a formula that blew up in an acrimonious Senate debate earlier this year. “I’d have to see the whole deal, but right now I can’t imagine a package that would include the wall and the Dream Act that I could support,” she said. “You can’t be a welcoming country, providing for children, and still want a wall. They’re two different messages.” Garcia, the president of the National Associations of Latino Elected Officials when Obama took office, could be an influential new voice in the debate, along with Congresswoman-elect Veronica Escobar, who will represent the El Paso district of rising Democratic star Beto O’Rourke.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 2, 2018

Fewer than 600 patients get medical cannabis under restrictive Texas law

It’s been about a year since the first legally grown marijuana plants were harvested in Texas for their medicinal oils. But since then, fewer than 600 patients have seen any benefit out of the estimated 150,000 who suffer uncontrollable epileptic seizures that the medicine is meant to help.

Roughly 45 doctors, mostly concentrated in urban areas, have signed up to prescribe the cannabidiol. Just three companies in Central Texas have been licensed to distribute the drug. One doesn’t seem to have opened its doors, and another reports losing money with such a small client base. “The way to assure the Compassionate Use Program has a future is by expanding access to more patients,” said Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation in the Austin area. “The worst thing that can happen is nothing gets done, because then we set the program back.” Texas’ therapeutic marijuana program is among the strictest in the nation, giving only patients with intractable epilepsy access to cannabidiol that’s low in THC, the element that gives pot users a high. Recent legislative efforts to expand the program failed. But some state lawmakers are trying again in 2019 with proposals to roll back restrictions on THC and give more patients access, including those with cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious medical conditions. “This is not a liberal or conservative issue, this is a medical issue,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who has filed a bill to expand the program. “Why do we as a Legislature get to think we know better than the doctors? Why are we limiting this and keeping people that have glaucoma, MS, cancer, from having access?” While the Texas House has been open to letting more patients use cannabidiol and marijuana for medicinal purposes, the state Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott have been resistant to such changes. Abbott has cited “abuses” in other states as cause for concern. “I am still not convinced yet,” Abbott said in an October gubernatorial debate, a position that hasn’t changed, a spokesman said this week. Marijuana is illegal under federal law and considered a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and ecstasy. Thirty-three states, however, allow use of the drug for medicinal purposes, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. And 13, including Texas, let some patients use cannabidiol that is low in THC. The Texas Compassionate Use Act became law in 2015, but the rollout has been slow and rocky. Despite getting more than 40 applications, the Texas Department of Public Safety licensed just three companies last year to distribute cannabidiol, the minimum number allowed by the law.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 2, 2018

Bush remembered in San Antonio as ‘unfailingly kind’ and ‘a true American statesman’

During Joe Straus’ time in the Texas House, the retiring speaker and San Antonio state representative said he kept one maxim in mind: “There could be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.” It was uttered by former President George H.W. Bush, who Straus said he has known for most of his life.

His mother, Joci Straus, had been a friend and supporter of George and Barbara Bush since the 1960s. “He inspired my public service,” Straus said. “I’ve kept pictures of him in my office here and in the Capitol so I would be constantly reminded of what a true public servant was.” Straus was one of many elected officials from San Antonio to celebrate Bush’s life Saturday. Mayor Ron Nirenberg called Bush “a true American statesman.” state Rep. Lyle Larson called him “one of the finest gentlemen we have ever had as our president.” Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose district includes part of the Alamo City, said his “unyielding leadership, commitment and servitude to his family and to our country will be matched by none.” A resident of Houston, Bush also cemented a legacy in San Antonio and South-Central Texas. One of his landmark initiatives as president was realized here, when Bush signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in October 1992. The agreement later was ratified under President Bill Clinton. “This meeting marks a turning point in the history of our three countries,” Bush told the ceremony’s audience then, gathering at the Plaza San Antonio Hotel Conference Center with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. “We are creating the largest, richest and most productive market in the entire world.” His son George W. Bush said in 1992 that the agreement would “change San Antonio for the better for a long time coming” and called the agreement “the single-most important achievement of George Bush’s presidency in regards to Texas.” Straus, who had left his post at Bush’s Commerce Department but helped with the arrangements of the ceremony, said it was important to the president that it was held in San Antonio. “As I recall, it was something that meant a lot to President Bush. I think he very much wanted to have it here,” Straus said. “While there were some people who wanted him to have it in Houston, I think he knew … that San Antonio was a much better cultural fit.”

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WFAA - December 2, 2018

McKesson, U.S.’s biggest pharmaceutical distributor, to relocate HQ to Las Colinas

Another high-profile California corporation is making the move to North Texas. Healthcare giant McKesson, the 6th largest company in America according to Fortune, will relocate its headquarters to Las Colinas, effective April 1 of next year.

McKesson opened a corporate campus in Irving last spring that hosts hundreds of employees who work in various functions. “We are excited to strengthen our presence in Texas and make Las Colinas our official global headquarters,” John H. Hammergren, chairman and chief executive officer of McKesson, said in a press release. “[Texas Gov. Greg Abbott] and the Irving/Las Colinas community have provided tremendous support since we opened our Las Colinas campus last April. Making this move will improve efficiency, collaboration and cost-competitiveness, while providing an exceptional work environment for our employees.” On Friday, the company announced it would move “most San Francisco Bay Area jobs” to Las Colinas and other hubs by 2021. It will keep about 1,400 of its more than 64,000 employees in California. "I’m delighted McKesson, a Fortune 6 company, is making Texas the home of its new global headquarters,” Gov. Abbott said. "The company has a long record of success in our state. McKesson’s expansion is an example of the kind of high-quality companies and jobs Texas has attracted as a result of our focus on economic growth, and I am proud to welcome them to the Lone Star State.” The move to Las Colinas is part of a hub relocation strategy included in growth plans unveiled by McKesson in April. According to Fortune, McKesson netted more than $5 billion in profits last year, but fell one spot from No. 5 on the Fortune 500 list – a compilation of the country's biggest revenue drivers. McKesson has been on the Fortune 500 list for 24 years, and in the top 20 every year since 2003. The news of McKesson’s move came on the same day as confirmation from the PGA of America – a group of 29,000 PGA professionals who run golf clubs across the country – that it was relocating its headquarters to Frisco.

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Associated Press - December 3, 2018

Even with ethics investigation underway at Rice, ould anyone have stopped gene-edited babies experiment?

Early last year, a little-known Chinese researcher turned up at an elite meeting in Berkeley, California, where scientists and ethicists were discussing a technology that had shaken the field to its core — an emerging tool for "editing" genes, the strings of DNA that form the blueprint of life.

The young scientist, He Jiankui, saw the power of this tool, called CRISPR, to transform not only genes, but also his own career. In visits to the United States, he sought out CRISPR pioneers such as Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University's Dr. Matthew Porteus, and big thinkers on its use, like Stanford ethicist Dr. William Hurlbut. Last week, those shocked researchers watched as He hijacked an international conference they helped organize with an astonishing claim: He said he helped make the world's first gene-edited babies , despite clear scientific consensus that making genetic changes that could be passed to future generations should not be attempted at this point . U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins called He's experiment "a misadventure of a major sort" — starring "a scientist who apparently believed that he was a hero. In fact, he crossed every line, scientifically and ethically." But nobody stopped him. How can that be? To be fair, scientists say there's no certain way to stop someone intent on monkeying with DNA, no matter what laws or standards are in place. CRISPR is cheap and easy to use — which is why scientists began to worry almost as soon as the technology was invented that something like this would happen. And there is a long history in science and medicine of researchers launching experiments prematurely that were met with scorn or horror — some of which led to what are now common practices, such as in-vitro fertilization. Gene-editing for reproductive purposes is effectively banned in the U.S. and most of Europe. In China, ministerial guidelines prohibit embryo research that "violates ethical or moral principles." It turns out He wasn't exactly tight-lipped about his goals. He pursued international experts at Stanford and Rice Universities, where he had done graduate studies work, and elsewhere, seeking advice before and during the experiment. Another U.S. scientist said he not only encouraged He but played a large role in the project. Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice University and He's doctoral degree adviser, said he had worked with He since the scientist returned to China around 2012, and that he sits on the advisory boards and holds "a small stake" in He's two genetics companies in Shenzhen. Deem defended He's actions, saying the research team did earlier experiments on animals. "We have multiple generations of animals that were genetically edited and produced viable offspring," and a lot of research on unintended effects on other genes, Deem said. Deem also said he was present in China when some study participants gave their consent to try embryo gene editing.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - November 30, 2018

Study: Tourism delivers more dollars, more jobs for San Antonio in 2018

San Antonio’s leisure industry delivered an economic punch of $15.2 billion last year, up $1.6 billion from 2015, as more tourists crowded the River Walk and hotels and restaurants hired more workers, according to a new study.

Industry leaders discussed the study results Friday as they geared up for a City Council vote next week on a “tourism public improvement district” they say would generate $10 million a year. “Travel, tourism and conventions (are) big business in San Antonio,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, a public-private nonprofit that acts as the city’s sales and marketing arm. “The results show that we continue to contribute to the vibrancy of this very city.” The industry employed one out of every seven San Antonio workers last year, according to the report, which was commissioned by Visit San Antonio, the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association and the San Antonio Restaurant Association. Another benefit of tourism: It brings people with “diverse perceptions and diverse experiences” to San Antonio, said Mary Stefl, a Trinity University professor who worked on the report. The industry also represents a “significant source of support for our local governments,” said Richard Butler, another Trinity professor who worked on the study, referring to sales and visitor taxes. Tourism generated $214 million in tax and fee revenue for the city and $419 million for Bexar County, school districts and other government entities. Matej and hospitality business leaders say the creation of the tourism district, which council members will vote on Thursday, would help San Antonio remain competitive with other cities. The estimated $10 million a year in new revenue it’s expected to generate would go toward promoting and marketing the city as a tourism and convention destination. The district would include all of San Antonio and charge hotel guests a fee -- calculated at 1.25 percent of their room rate at hotels and motels with over 100 rooms. The fee would be in addition to the 16.75 percent occupancy tax tourists currently pay on stays at inns of that size. To seek council approval, supporters successfully collected the signatures of more than 60 percent of the city’s hoteliers, Matej said. “If we get approval on Thursday, we will start activating the (district) in January,” she said. “We won't see dollars that we can use until April.” The council finalized a management agreement in 2016 to convert the city-run Convention and Visitors Bureau into Visit San Antonio, a public-private nonprofit. Supporters argued the shift would allow the agency to offset tax dollars for marketing and promoting the city with contributions from private companies. Opponents, on the other hand, said the move would diminish government oversight and transparency.

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National Stories

New York Times - December 2, 2018

Lawmakers discuss deal to push back shutdown deadline while mourning Bush

Lawmakers were discussing on Sunday a short-term spending bill that would avert the possibility of a partial government shutdown as Washington mourns former President George Bush, according to people familiar with the talks.

Staring down a Friday deadline with major conflicts left to resolve, lawmakers had expected to be engaged in fierce bargaining this week over a longer-term spending package that President Trump has said must include funding for a border wall. But as the nation’s attention turns toward the former president, who died on Friday and is set to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda through Wednesday morning, a bill that delays the deadline for one or two weeks would allow them to set aside negotiations and pay respects to Mr. Bush. Mr. Trump, who ordered “all executive departments and agencies” of the federal government closed on Wednesday in a gesture of respect, said he would most likely approve such a bill. “If they come — which they have — to talk about an extension because of President Bush’s passing, I would absolutely consider it and probably give it,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Saturday. Many lawmakers are also expected to attend Mr. Bush’s state funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday, which Mr. Trump designated a national day of mourning. Before Mr. Bush’s death, lawmakers were already considering a short-term spending bill or a one-year stopgap bill that would maintain this year’s funding level for the Department of Homeland Security without fulfilling the president’s demands for billions of dollars for a concrete wall at the southern border. The wall, a Trump campaign promise that Republicans have tucked into border security funding, has been by far the most contentious roadblock in the negotiations to keep the remainder of the government fully funded. Though a shutdown would be relatively minor compared with previous instances because Congress has already passed bills to fund much of the government, it would still hinder a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Commerce Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

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New York Times - December 3, 2018

Trump clearing way for oil exploration in pristine the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

It is the last great stretch of nothingness in the United States, a vast landscape of mosses, sedges and shrubs that is home to migrating caribou and the winter dens of polar bears.

Aside from a Native village at its northern tip, civilization has not dented its 19 million acres, an area the size of South Carolina. There are no roads and no visitors beyond the occasional hunter and backpacker. But the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a federally protected place of austere beauty that during a recent flyover was painted white by heavy snowfall — is on the cusp of major change. The biggest untapped onshore trove of oil in North America is believed to lie beneath the refuge’s coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea. For more than a generation, opposition to drilling has left the refuge largely unscathed, but now the Trump administration, working with Republicans in Congress and an influential and wealthy Alaska Native corporation, is clearing the way for oil exploration along the coast. Decades of protections are unwinding with extraordinary speed as Republicans move to lock in drilling opportunities before the 2020 presidential election, according to interviews with over three dozen people and a review of internal government deliberations and federal documents. To that end, the Trump administration is on pace to finish an environmental impact assessment in half the usual time. An even shorter evaluation of the consequences of seismic testing is nearing completion. Within months, trucks weighing up to 90,000 pounds could be conducting the tests across the tundra as they try to pinpoint oil reserves. While actual oil production would be a decade or more away, the turnaround represents a prized breakthrough in the Trump administration’s campaign to exploit fossil fuels and erase restrictive policies protecting the environment and addressing global warming. The Interior Department, which has jurisdiction over the Arctic refuge, has been central to the administration’s regulatory rollback in Alaska and beyond, accommodating the wishes of big businesses to strip down rules on how federal lands can be used. The oil and gas industry has been among the biggest beneficiaries as the administration has relaxed or abandoned regulations meant to safeguard air quality, groundwater supplies and wildlife.

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New York Times - December 2, 2018

Despite big House losses, Republicans show no signs of changing course

With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats.

Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout. President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy. And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back. The quandary, some Republicans acknowledge, is that the party’s leaders are constrained from fully grappling with the damage Mr. Trump inflicted with those voters, because he remains popular with the party’s core supporters and with the conservatives who will dominate the caucus even more in the next Congress. But now a cadre of Republican lawmakers are speaking out and urging party officials to come to terms with why their 23-seat majority unraveled so spectacularly and Democrats gained the most seats they had since 1974. “There has been close to no introspection in the G.O.P. conference and really no coming to grips with the shifting demographics that get to why we lost those seats,” said Representative Elise Stefanik, an upstate New York Republican who is planning to repurpose her political action committee to help Republican women win primaries in 2020. “I’m very frustrated and I know other members are frustrated.” Ms. Stefanik said there had been “robust private conversations” but she urged Republicans to conduct a formal assessment of their midterm effort. The Republican response, or lack thereof, to the midterm backlash stands in stark contrast to the shake-ups and soul-searching that followed its loss of Congress in 2006 and consecutive presidential defeats in 2012.

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Washington Post - December 2, 2018

George H.W. Bush was the accidental catalyst that built the new Republican Party

The statement in the name of then-President George H.W. Bush was posted quietly in the White House pressroom on the morning of June 26, 1990, but there was nothing innocuous about its contents. It was a political thunderclap, the beginning of the remaking of the Republican Party and part of the unintended legacy of Bush’s presidency.

It was a statement designed to jump-start budget talks that had been stalled for months. It did that and more, providing the catalyst that changed the Republican Party into an aggressive and hard-edge brand of conservatism that would hold sway for two decades. The statement was a renunciation of one of the most famous campaign promises in modern American politics: Bush’s declaration of “no new taxes,” which he made as he accepted the Republican nomination in 1988. The pledge was a bow to conservatives, who always regarded him with suspicion, if not outright hostility. When he reneged on the promise, they exacted revenge. Bush, who died Friday at age 94, will be remembered for many things. His long and exemplary service to country, the steadiness that marked his governance, and the humility and decency he brought to his political relationships are central elements of his legacy. He was not above rough politics. His 1988 campaign will be remembered as one in which he pushed the envelope with tactics and issues — the Pledge of Allegiance and prison furloughs — that put his opponent, Michael Dukakis, on the defensive and left Democrats crying foul. In office, he was still in the shadow of former president Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 had selected him as vice president. Rhetorically, he was no Gipper. As president, Bush proved that experience matters, that knowledge of the world is an asset, that careful and methodical can be more effective than big and bold, that responsibility to country takes precedence over loyalty to party, even if sometimes it comes at great cost, that compromise is not a dirty word. His presidency came during a time of upheaval in the world. If Reagan’s presidency hastened the end of the Cold War, it was left to Bush to manage the decline and fall of the Soviet empire and to do so safely and without bloodshed. He accomplished that with skill and strategy, aided by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a longtime friend, and trusted national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. When Saddam Hussein invaded tiny Kuwait in the summer of 1990, Bush famously declared, “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” Bush was resolute in the face of the Iraqi threat, just as he had been in pursuing the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall against the advice of some allies. Again, with Baker and Scowcroft at his side, he quickly began to deploy a massive U.S. force in the Persian Gulf while assembling an international coalition to build support at the United Nations for ejecting the Iraqi forces from Kuwait and to help underwrite the cost of the military conflict that came early the next year. After the war ended, with U.S. forces ordered to stop short of Baghdad, Bush’s approval rating soared close to 90 percent, scaring away veteran Democrats who were thinking of challenging him. Twenty-one months later, he was driven from office by the voters. A transition inside the Republican Party that was already underway accelerated.

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The Hill - December 2, 2018

Comey reaches agreement with Republicans for testimony

Former FBI director James Comey will testify before Congress in private this week after reaching a deal with Republicans and dropping his challenge to a House subpoena. His lawyer, David Kelly, confirmed to The Hill that Comey had reached an agreement to testify next Friday.

Comey tweeted earlier Sunday that he had reached a deal with Republican lawmakers regarding his testimony, which he wanted to give in a public hearing. "Grateful for a fair hearing from judge. Hard to protect my rights without being in contempt, which I don’t believe in," Comey wrote on Twitter, following a hearing on his challenge. "So will sit in the dark, but Republicans agree I’m free to talk when done and transcript released in 24 hours," he added. "This is the closest I can get to public testimony." The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte R-VA, last week offered to publicly release a transcript of Comey's closed-door testimony if he agreed to appear. Comey had earlier demanded that his testimony before the committee regarding the FBI's conduct surrounding the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election be public. A committee aide confirmed to The Hill that an agreement had been reached, adding that the panel believed it would have prevailed had Comey continued to wage his legal battle. Goodlatte told Fox News earlier on Sunday that he expected Comey to agree to speak with congressional Republicans. "I expect that later today Mr. Comey will withdraw his motion to quash our subpoena and agree to voluntarily appear for a transcribed interview," Goodlatte said. "That of course remains to be seen, it hasn't happened yet, but the counsel for the House and the counsel for Mr. Comey have been working cooperatively and I expect that'll happen." A judge intended to rule on Comey's challenge to the subpoena on Monday morning, barring a deal. Comey's legal team had argued that the GOP would try to "peddle a distorted, partisan political narrative about the Clinton and Russia investigations through selective leaks" if he was not interviewed publicly. Thomas Hungar, the general counsel for the House of Representatives, had challenged the legitimacy of Comey's legal push, saying it was unprecedented for courts to block congressional efforts to subpoena a witness. House Republicans have sought Comey's testimony for months.

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Wall Street Journal - December 2, 2018

Trump administration to try again to fulfill infrastructure pledge

The Trump administration is preparing to make another attempt at honoring one of the biggest unfulfilled promises of the president’s election campaign: a $1 trillion upgrade of the nation’s road, rail and energy infrastructure.

That program failed to materialize during President Trump’s first year in office, as the administration pursued a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which failed, and a major tax cut, which he signed into law in December 2017. In 2018, a package that would have compelled cities and states to come up with at least 80% of the funding for infrastructure improvements was dead on arrival in Congress. Even Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans voted instead to increase spending in existing grant programs that send federal money to local governments for infrastructure as part of a budget deal, which the president signed. This time around, people familiar with the White House’s plans say, the administration’s effort is likely to include a lot more federal cash—which makes it more likely to pass muster with the new Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. “There has to be real money, real investment,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR,, a veteran lawmaker who is in line to take over as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the next Congress. “It needs to be done soon.” Mr. DeFazio, who briefed reporters on his plans the day after Democrats won the House majority in November, said he had delivered that message to Shahira Knight, the White House’s legislative-affairs chief. Ms. Knight agreed, he said, that a successful deal would have to include major new federal funding. A White House official confirmed that Mr. Trump is “open to more federal funding.” “This isn’t going to get done without support from the president,” Mr. DeFazio said. Republicans have also signaled a willingness to strike a deal, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, who chairs a key appropriations subcommittee that helps set funding levels for existing federal programs for roads, bridges and railroads. The declining quality of infrastructure is “creating a serious threat to our economy and safety,” Ms. Collins said in a statement. “I have long believed that an infrastructure package could be an avenue for bipartisanship and deliver positive, lasting results.” Mr. Trump’s approach to infrastructure has long been a moving target. During his first two years in office, Mr. Trump seized on some of the work of a team led by D.J. Gribbin, then his special assistant for infrastructure policy.

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Wall Street Journal - December 3, 2018

Paris rioting puts Macron's economic overhaul to test

The worst rioting to hit the French capital in years left President Emmanuel Macron weighing an emergency crackdown on protests and scrambling to shield his pro-business agenda from surging public anger at his government.

Mr. Macron convened a crisis meeting of ministers on Sunday after protests by the gilets jaunes—or yellow vests—escalated violently the day before, leaving the Arc de Triomphe vandalized and the heart of Paris dotted with burning cars and smashed storefronts. The gilets jaunes movement, sparked in October by Mr. Macron’s proposal to raise fuel taxes to reduce pollution, gained strength in areas outside big cities where people depend on cars. It has since broadened to a rallying cry for those who say his policies favor the wealthy and punish the working class. Saturday’s protesters largely came from the provinces, highlighting France’s political divide under Mr. Macron: between urban, often wealthier voters who support him and those from the French hinterlands who view him as “president of the rich.” The outburst of violence caught authorities off guard and raised the stakes for Mr. Macron’s plans to push through economic overhauls. Mr. Macron’s party is firmly in control of the legislature, but a few members have suggested the government at least reverse course on the fuel tax for the sake of public order. It was the third consecutive weekend that gilets jaunes massed throughout the country, but the leaderless movement, which has no spokespeople or defined membership, has refused to name representatives to sit down with the government. After the meeting, Mr. Macron’s spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, said the president was considering declaring a state of emergency, which allows authorities to prevent protests and other public gatherings. “We can’t have each weekend becoming a ritual of violence,” Mr. Griveaux said. “All options have to be studied to keep public order and security.” Mr. Macron’s government was searching for avenues to negotiate. A meeting between some gilets jaunes and Prime Minister Édouard Philippe was tentatively set for Monday, Mr. Griveaux said, after a group of them sent a letter to a weekly newspaper saying they were willing to talk. Mr. Macron also instructed Mr. Philippe to meet with the leaders of France’s political parties on Monday and asked his interior minister to examine a big increase in the law-enforcement presence on the streets. The gilet jaunes have gained followers angered by Mr. Macron’s broader economic agenda, such as the elimination of France’s wealth tax for all assets except real estate, and reduced job protections for workers. Other Macron policies that have drawn the protesters’ ire are cuts to housing aid and his government’s opposition to increasing the minimum wage. Many at Saturday’s protests said low wages and high taxes make it impossible for ordinary French to make ends meet. “It’s always the little guy who pays,“ said Luc Hue, a civil servant from the suburbs of Paris. ”I don’t manage to live anymore.”

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The Hill - December 2, 2018

Trump’s Mueller problems deepen, worrying allies

President Trump’s problems are deepening after a dramatic week in the Robert Mueller probe, and even his allies are worried about what might come next.

Trump has become increasingly enraged about the special counsel’s probe after a week in which his former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and affirmed his full cooperation with Mueller. Mueller also stepped away from a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, accusing Manafort of lying. And the author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi publicized a draft plea agreement with Mueller, even as he rejected that deal. “It is something that has again taken the president way off message, and it creates a sense of political doom or disaster,” said one Republican strategist with ties to the White House. “It’s hard to tell what you’re dealing with — until you actually have charges.” Another GOP operative had an even pithier summation: “Darkness falling,” the source said. The Cohen deal is the most troubling development for Trump, given that his former fixer is now acknowledging that talks about building a Trump Tower in Moscow went on for months longer than he had originally stated. Cohen says the proposed project was only formally abandoned in June 2016, when Trump was virtually assured of the GOP presidential nomination. Cohen had earlier said that the idea had been shelved in January 2016, before the first GOP caucuses were held in Iowa. Separately, BuzzFeed News reported that one element of the proposed tower deal would have installed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a $50 million penthouse. There is nothing criminal about such a plan, but it is the kind of personal, striking detail that adds to Trump’s political difficulties on Russia. Trump canceled a proposed meeting with Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, though the stated reason for that decision was the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and, specifically, the recent seizure of three Ukrainian vessels by the Russians. He did nonetheless have "informal conversations" with Putin and other world leaders at a dinner on Friday evening, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Beyond last week’s developments, there are several other potential pitfalls that worry Trump allies. One is the relentlessness and secrecy with which Mueller works, a pattern that causes new developments to land like no-warning bombshells. Another is the possibility of the Trump family coming under increasing focus — the new legal filings in the Cohen case describe him talking about the project with unspecified "family members." A third factor is the incoming Congress where, in January, Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives, with the ability to set the agenda and subpoena witnesses. Referring to the new Democratic-led House, the GOP strategist with White House ties said: “It’s a huge problem. I don’t think [Trump] really understands what is coming at him until it does. He is used to dealing with the reality of what the message is today but not the reality of what things will be like a few months ahead.”

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Politico - December 3, 2018

‘Nothing’s invisible now’: How the 2020 contenders are trampling the old rules

For decades, the most critical early stages of a presidential campaign unfolded largely out of public view, with candidates quietly courting financiers, party bosses and interest groups influential in the nominating process.

But two years after President Donald Trump proved a candidate could flout traditional power structures and succeed — and with the 2020 campaign now picking up — the reign of the “invisible primary” is in decline. New Democratic Party rules have stripped party leaders of much of their power in selecting a nominee. The prevalence of small-dollar fundraising has tilted the presidential landscape toward more public maneuvers designed to build massive lists of supporters online. And the rise of progressive populism is making its mark, prioritizing high-profile appeals and personal brand-building — typically through digital platforms — over the behind-the-scenes pursuit of party elites. The shift toward an increasingly open, early presidential primary is exemplified by uncharacteristically brazen campaigning by top-tier contenders, more than a year ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Informed not only by Trump, but by the potent, small-dollar operation built by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, in 2016, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Kamala Harris D-CA, have spent months cultivating lists of small donors on highly public social media channels, while promoting themselves on TV. In the process, they have pulled back the curtain — or removed it entirely — from a critical stage in the nomination process. “Nothing’s invisible now,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean. “This notion that if you got the endorsements and you got the money and played your cards right, you became the de-facto choice of the party, whatever that means … Trump blew all that up. That’s all out the window now.” He said, “Trump is the tsunami that came, and as the wave pulls back, there’s nothingness. Anybody can fill it up … Do donors still matter? Sure. Will an endorsement matter in a given state? Of course. But they’re not decisive in any way.”

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Politico - December 2, 2018

Feds plan unusual appeal in emoluments suit against Trump

The Justice Department is planning an unusual appeal to stop the governments of the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia from using a federal lawsuit to demand access to information about whether President Donald Trump is using his luxury Washington hotel to unconstitutionally profit from his office.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte turned down Trump’s request for permission to seek an appeal of early rulings in the case that went against him. Now, federal government lawyers say they plan to appeal anyway, using a rarely invoked process that can block a wayward judge from pressing on with a course of action alleged to be illegal or improper. On Friday, the Justice Department informed Messitte that the federal government plans to try to get the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the case. “The Solicitor General of the United States has authorized the filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit of a petition for writ of mandamus against this Court’s orders declining to dismiss the case and to certify an interlocutory appeal, as well as an application for a stay of District Court proceedings pending resolution of the mandamus petition,” Justice Department attorneys wrote. Lawyers for Maryland and Washington, D.C.. have asked the judge to open a six-month discovery period where they could take depositions from witnesses, demand records and issue written questions focused on how the Trump International Hotel’s business has benefited from Trump’s election as president. The attorneys general of D.C. and Maryland have said they may seek “limited discovery” from Trump directly, but will try other sources of information first. The suit, filed in June, alleges that Trump is violating two “emoluments” clauses in the Constitution by using his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel to reap financial dividends from his presidency. One provision covers business with foreign governments. The other prohibits federal officials from profiting from financial relationships with individual states. The Trump Organization has pledged to donate to the U.S. Treasury any profits from hotel business with foreign governments. However, there is little transparency about how those amounts are calculated. In his ruling last month denying Trump permission to appeal in the case, Messitte also noted that while lawyers representing Trump in the emoluments case were complaining that litigation would be a distracting burden for the president, the president regularly threatens to sue those he feels aggrieved by. “It bears noting that the President himself appears to have had little reluctance to pursue personal litigation despite the supposed distractions it imposes upon his office,” the judge wrote. Earlier this year, Messitte — an appointee of President Bill Clinton — issued an opinion turning down arguments from Justice Department attorneys that Maryland and D.C. lacked legal standing to pursue the emoluments issue against Trump. The judge also rejected arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the Constitution’s definition of emoluments includes only direct payment for official services and excludes all private business transactions.

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NBC News - December 3, 2018

Families of Americans held in Iran ask Trump to pull visas for kids of top Iran officials

Families of Americans detained in Iran have urged the Trump administration to deny U.S. visas to the children of top-ranking officials in the Iranian government, but the White House has yet to take action, two sources close to the families told NBC News.

The families of the imprisoned Americans see the administration's response to their request as part of a broader failure to place a top priority on securing the release of their loved ones, despite a campaign promise from the president to resolve the issue, two family friends and two congressional aides told NBC News. At least four American citizens and one U.S. legal resident are currently imprisoned in Iran after secretive trials on charges of alleged espionage. Human rights groups say the detentions are arbitrary and baseless. The families have provided the administration and several lawmakers with a list of Iranian nationals living in the U.S. alleged to be the children or relatives of senior Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani himself. Nadim Zakka, whose father Nizar, a U.S. legal resident, was invited in 2015 to take part in a conference on the internet in Iran and was then imprisoned, said revoking visas of Iranian officials and their families "is the minimum the United States Government can do to stop this trend of hostage-taking that has been happening for 40 years." Added Zakka, "They need to pay the price on a personal basis so that they would know that each action will affect them personally." "I'm at a loss why this administration would be so soft on the regime knowing full well it is these very senior officials targeting innocent Americans for persecution," said a friend close to one of the families. "Surely the least we could do is deny their family members the benefits of living and working in our great country." Two sources in the Iranian-American community told NBC News that the list is accurate in identifying relatives of senior figures in Iran's government. Among those named is the son of Masumeh Ebetekar, who rose to fame as the unapologetic spokeswoman for the student protesters who seized the U.S. embassy in 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. She is currently a vice president for family and women's affairs in the Iranian government. According to his social media profile, her son is a student in Los Angeles. Hashemi's presence in California has been reported previously by Radio Free Europe and other media.

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Fox News - December 3, 2018

Three charged in alleged scheme to defraud Pentagon billions, DOJ says

Three Northern Virginia men were charged last week for their alleged roles in a scheme to defraud the Pentagon after receiving an $8 billion contract in 2012 to provide food and supplies to troops in Afghanistan, the Department of Justice announced.

Federal prosecutors said the three—all executives connected to Anham FZCO, a defense contractor based in the United Arab Emirates--- knowingly gave false estimates of completion dates for a warehouse intended to provide supplies for troops in Afghanistan in order to win contracts. They allegedly provided "misleading photographs" to show that the project was further along than it was. "Specifically, the indictment alleges that, in February of 2012, the defendants and others caused Anham employees to transport construction equipment and materials to the proposed site of one of the warehouse complexes to create the false appearance of an active construction site," a Department of Justice statement read. The company won the contract in 2011 to build warehouses at Bagram Air Field, but as the deadline approached, prosecutors said one warehouse was a concrete slab in the ground, and construction did not yet start on the second one, Stars and Stripes reported. Abdul Huda Farouki, 75, the former Anham CEO; his brother Mazen Farouki, 73; and Salah Maarouf, 71, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to eight counts each of fraud and violating sanctions against Iran, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. The men were charged in Washington, D.C. Abdul Huda Farouki and his wife were Washington socialites and donated to the Clinton family charity, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Washington Post reported that the former CEO celebrated New Year's Eve with the Clintons in 1999 and was invited to a state dinner. The report pointed to a Bloomberg article that cited a government audit that found that Anham overbilled the Pentagon $4.4 million. The Journal first reported on the company allegedly moving equipment in a military contract through Iran, a possible violation of sanctions. The government said that the former CEO fired off an email to a senior defense official that "falsely claimed" senior management at the company were unaware of the transshipments.

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CBS News - December 1, 2018

From one Texan to another: Bob Schieffer remembers the kindness of George H.W. Bush

CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer, who covered the former president's runs for the White House in 1980 and 1988, described for "CBS This Morning: Saturday" his first interview with Mr. Bush, who died Friday at age 94.

"In 1981, the Iowa caucuses [he] beat Reagan, and he was on CBS the next morning and I said, 'So how do you feel?' He said, 'I feel like I've got 'Big Mo.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'Big Mo. Big Mo.' I had never heard this term. "I said, 'I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean.' "He said, 'Mo! Mo! Momentum!'" When asked about Mr. Bush being possibly the most qualified man to have become president given his resume, Schieffer said, "Who knows what qualifies someone to be president? But he had all of this experience. And in the end, I think what we'll remember him for is, number one, the invasion of Iraq when Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, he drove him out, American forces did. And he got other countries in that region to pay for it, which was a remarkable thing. "But I think even more important than that, in history, he was the one who was in office when the Soviet Union came apart, when it collapsed. And I think the way he guided American reaction to that, he would not allow bragging and talking about how, you know, we're superior to them and all that. He just kind of played it cool. And I think the tone that he took, other countries – our allies and friends – took the very same tone. And I think it probably got us through a very difficult time that, who knows what might have happened if some desperate person in the Soviet Union, they had all these nuclear weapons, had decided to try to overturn this? So, I think he gets great credit for that." Following the Gulf War, in 1991, President Bush's approval rating was nearly 90 percent. And yet, the following year he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton. In his concession speech he allowed that he would continue to find ways to serve, while also getting active in "the grandchild business." When asked how hard that defeat was for him, Schieffer said, "It was very difficult because, what it was, he had to break a campaign promise. He had gone through that campaign with the mantra 'Read my lips: no new taxes.' And then the country got into an economic bind and he had to do just that. His popularity went down sharply and he lost the election."

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Reuters - November 28, 2018

U.S. women earn half the income of men, new study finds

Women earned roughly half the income of men in the United States over a 15-year period, taking into account time off for family or child care, according to a report released on Wednesday, which found the pay gap is far greater than has commonly been assumed.

In an examination of women’s income from 2001 to 2015, the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women’s income was 51 percent less than men’s earnings, which includes time with no income. “Much ink has been spilled debating whether the commonly cited measure of the wage gap - that women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man - is an exaggeration due to occupational differences or so-called ‘women’s choices’,” Heidi Hartmann, president of the institute and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “But our analysis finds that we have actually been underestimating the extent of pay inequality in the labor market,” Hartmann said. The study, “Still a Man’s Labor Market,” showed that the wage gap has narrowed since 1968, with women’s inflation-adjusted income rising to an average of $29,000 for the period from 2001 to 2015, compared with $14,000 from 1968 to 1982. But women are nearly twice as likely as men to take at least one year off work, and they pay a high price for it. Women who left the workforce for a year earned, during their years on the job, an average of 39 percent less than men, the study found.

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Associated Press - December 2, 2018

Explosive device set off at US consulate in Mexican city

The attorney general's office in the western Mexico state of Jalisco says federal officials have taken over an investigation into reports that an explosive device was detonated at the U.S. consulate in the city of Guadalajara.

The consulate in Mexico's second biggest city said via Twitter that the office was closed because of what it described only as a "security incident" Friday evening. The tweet gave no details, though it said nobody was injured. It said U.S. officials are also investigating. The consulate says it will provide more information as it becomes available, including whether consular operations will be available Monday. Neither Mexican officials nor the consulate alluded to possible suspects in the incident.

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