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Newsclips - December 13, 2019

Lead Stories

NBC News - December 12, 2019

In a surprise move infuriating Republicans, Judiciary Committee delays impeachment vote until Friday

After a grueling 14-hour meeting, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee suddenly announced that the panel would not vote as planned late Thursday night on two articles of impeachment, angering Republicans. Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said shortly after 11 p.m. that the committee would instead vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump on Friday at 10:00 a.m. The move caught Republicans on the committee off guard.

"That was the most bush league play I have ever seen in my life," said Rep. Doug Collins, D-Ga., who accused Nadler of turning the committee into a "kangaroo court." Collins and other Republicans alleged Democrats abruptly changed the schedule only to get more media attention during the day on Friday for the impeachment vote. "They want the prime time hit," Collins said. Before banging his gavel to recess the meeting that began at 9:00 a.m., Nadler said, "It is now very late at night. I want members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over the last two days and to search their consciences before they cast their final votes."

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Houston Chronicle - December 12, 2019

George P. Bush says rumors he wants Santa Anna statue at Alamo are ‘flat out racist’

More than 180 years after the fall of the Alamo, one key Texas elected official suddenly finds himself angrily fighting false rumors that he wants to erect a statue of Mexican dictator Santa Anna. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush took to social media on Wednesday to slam Santa Anna as a murderous dictator that he would never consider honoring in the redevelopment of Alamo Plaza, as some of his critics have accused him of wanting do.

“The idea that I would EVER place a statue of Santa Anna at the Alamo is patently false,” Bush wrote on his Facebook account. “Enough is enough. This is an outright lie, and is quite frankly, flat out racist.” Bush questioned if he’s being targeted because of his family heritage. “One must ask themselves, why am I being accused of honoring the murderous dictator Santa Anna?” Bush wrote. “Is it because my mother (now a naturalized citizen) is from Mexico? I was born in Houston, my wife is from San Angelo, and my boys were born — you guessed it — here in Texas.”

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Associated Press - December 13, 2019

UK’s Johnson claims Brexit mandate as Tories secure majority

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a thumping majority of seats in Britain’s Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month. With 642 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 358 seats and the main opposition Labour Party 203.

Johnson said it looked like the Conservatives had “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.” The victory makes Johnson the most electorally successful Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in almost equal measure. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in. Corbyn called the result “very disappointing” for his party and said he would not lead Labour into another election, though he resisted calls to quit immediately. Results poured in early Friday showing a substantial shift in support to the Conservatives from Labour. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262.

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Wall Street Journal - December 12, 2019

Trump agrees to limited trade deal with China

President Trump has agreed to a limited trade agreement with Beijing that will roll back existing tariff rates on Chinese goods and cancel new levies set to take effect Sunday as part of a deal to boost Chinese purchases of U.S. farm goods and obtain other concessions, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump met top economic and trade advisers on the agreement for an hour Thursday, and senior administration officials were making calls to tout the outlines of an agreement, the people said.

If confirmed, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai are expected to sign at least the outlines of a deal on Friday, said another person familiar with the matter. Michael Pillsbury, an adviser to the president, said he spoke with Mr. Trump, who said the deal calls for China to buy $50 billion worth of agricultural goods in 2020, along with energy and other goods. In exchange the U.S. would reduce the tariff rate on many Chinese imports, which now ranges from 15% to 25%. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that the U.S. side has offered to slash existing tariff rates by half on roughly $360 billion in Chinese-made goods, in addition to canceling the tariffs on $156 billion in goods that Mr. Trump had threatened to impose on Sunday. That offer was made to Beijing in the past five days or so.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Flaring likely as TPC neighbor gets operations back to normal

Port Neches residents who live near the blast-damaged TPC Group chemical plant could see more pyrotechnics in the skies through early next year. Huntsman, which operates an adjacent plant that was temporarily shut down after the TPC explosion, has sent out letters alerting people that an extended turnaround and restart process is expected to bring additional traffic to the area in January and February as more contractors head in and out of the plant. Management also warned neighbors they are likely to see and hear “periodic flaring” at structures along Spur 136 from now until early March.

The Huntsman plant, which makes several products including the fuel additive MTBE, halted operations as a precaution immediately after the Nov. 27 blast. The company has since resumed operations at all units except for one PO/MTBE processor. The company said earlier that while there was no damage on Huntsman property, some of the piping that supplied feedstock chemicals to the unit from TPC Group was destroyed. “While we await access to the adjacent site and further evaluate alternatives to safely bring this unit fully back online, the expected duration of downtime and economic impact is unknown,” company representatives said in a Dec. 2 statement. The statement also projected a negative financial impact of “a few million dollars” in the fourth quarter.

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Houston Chronicle - December 12, 2019

Trump says two Texas Democrats ‘purposely misquoted’ him in impeachment inquiry

President Donald Trump targeted two Texas Democrats on Twitter Thursday morning, accusing them of "purposely" misquoting him during hearings as they work on articles of impeachment.

“Dems Veronica Escobar and Jackson Lee purposely misquoted my call,” Trump tweeted, referring to U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar of El Paso and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, two members of the House Judiciary Committee set to vote today on articles of impeachment. “I said I want you to do us (our Country!) a favor, not me a favor,” Trump tweeted. “They know that but decided to LIE in order to make a fraudulent point! Very sad.” Escobar fired back with a tweet including a Russian greeting, “???????, @realdonaldTrump.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 12, 2019

Olin shuttering two Freeport chemical plants

The petrochemical manufacturer Olin Corp. said it will permanently shutter two of its plants in Freeport next year.

Missouri-based Olin said it will close a chlor-alkali plant with a production capacity of 230,000 metric tons and its vinylidene chloride production facility at its Freeport campus because of slumping sales. Olin, which employs more than 1,000 people in Freeport, will still maintain a sizable presence, but the company did not immediately reveal how many jobs would be lost from the plant closures.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Health report: Texas ranks 34th in the nation

If Texas were a patient, it would have to be hospitalized — and the lack of insurance might be a problem. A new state-by-state health report found that Texas ranks worst in the nation when it comes to uninsured residents. For the number of diabetes patients, it ranks 40th. The state’s also notable for its severe shortage of mental health care providers.

The state ranked 34th overall in the 30th annual America's Health Rankings report, released by the United Health Foundation, the charitable arm of Minnesota-based insurer UnitedHealthcare. The healthiest state is Vermont, according to the report, while Mississippi came in last. Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare, said researchers crunched health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. Texans suffers from an outsize rate of diabetes, with nearly 13 percent of adults in the state affected, compared with Colorado, which ranked No. 1 with only 7 percent of its adult residents living with the chronic disease.

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Dallas Morning News - December 12, 2019

With impeachment vote looming, Allred visits White House for Ivanka Trump event on paid family leave

With an impeachment vote looming in the House, Dallas Rep. Colin Allred on Thursday made a rare trip to the White House – for a Democrat, at least – to participate in a roundtable discussion about expanding child care and paid family leave. The freshman lawmaker and first-time dad used the occasion to promote bipartisan legislation he’s cosponsoring to provide new parents more flexibility in using a child tax credit.

“You have to find the common ground where you can,” said Allred, whose wife, Aly, gave birth to their son, Jordan, in February. “If there can be bipartisan consensus around giving families some flexibility … then I’m going to pursue that all day.” Allred joined several other lawmakers – including Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston – in attending the White House confab, which was hosted by Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s daughter, senior adviser and lead advocate for boosting paid parental leave. The gathering came soon after Trump, a Republican, reached a deal with Congress to give all federal workers 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a new child.

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Dallas Morning News - December 12, 2019

Bezos’ Blue Origin chalks up another successful rocket test in West Texas

Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin completed another successful rocket test in West Texas Wednesday. The New Shepard rocket was launched shortly before noon on Wednesday and soared 66 miles above earth and into space reaching a maximum velocity of more than 2,000 mph. The entire mission from launch to landing lasted about 10 minutes.

The test was the 6th one for Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster – a record for the company which has thus far reused two boosters five times each. There were no updates to the rocket since previous launches, and the most recent test was intended primarily to continue gauging the rocket’s safety and reliability, according to Blue Origin.

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Dallas Morning News - December 12, 2019

We won. No, you won. Wait! We won! Confusion in a Texas school bond election isn’t going away.

Midland County currently faces its own threat to the sanctity of its election system. Nobody is officially accusing anyone of cheating, but there are problems galore. Much of the problems stem from the first-time use of new voter machines that are supposed to protect ballot security. Called hybrids, they record a vote both electronically and through a backup paper ballot. Most Dallas/Fort Worth area counties have switched to them or are working on a switch. But, so far, that promised measure of security hasn’t worked in that part of West Texas.

Midland ISD sought voters’ support in November for a half-billion-dollar bond issue. Campaigning was fierce, even inside school district property, some taxpayers tell The Watchdog. After an election night slow-count due to machine troubles that delayed results, the bond purchase was declared the winner by 31 votes out of about 23,000 cast. Celebrations ensued. But then a few days later, when provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the vote totals flipped the results to the other side. The ‘no’ vote won by 25 votes. The other side celebrated.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 12, 2019

Texas lawmaker battling lung cancer fears Democrats’ drug plan, HR 3, will kill cures

U.S. Ron Wright got personal on Thursday. As Congress debated a measure that would lower the cost of prescription medicine, the Arlington Republican explained that he feared it would “halt innovation” and lead to fewer medical cures. And if the proposal had been law just years ago, Wright said he could be dead.

Wright, 66, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer last year. “I was told that the average life expectancy was 16 months. That was 16 months ago,” Wright said from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. “By the grace of Almighty God and American biotech ingenuity, I’m still here and I will get to enjoy another Christmas with my family.” Wright, who received a standing ovation, went on to explain that he was prescribed chemotherapy and “an immunotherapy wonder-drug called Keytruda,” which was approved for his regimen in May 2017.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 13, 2019

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Unlike Tarrant case, top Texas Republicans quick to condemn recent racism from leaders

Texas Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, were quick and decisive in their recent condemnations of two party leaders’ uses of racial slurs. It’s an encouraging development, especially after the long, divisive battle over a Muslim party member that scarred the Tarrant County GOP earlier this year. First, there was state Rep. Rick Miller. The Houston-area lawmaker told the Houston Chronicle that two of his primary opponents were running against him because they are Asian Americans in a district where that population is growing.

Abbott quickly rescinded his endorsement of Miller, and within a day, the incumbent had abandoned his re-election bid, apologizing for his comments and expressing a desire to not be a distraction to his colleagues. Then, Galveston County GOP Chairwoman Yolanda Waters was reported to have used a racial slur in a text message referring to a black member of the State Republican Executive Committee, a Texas GOP leadership group. She called it a typo and noted her own African American and Latina heritage, but Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and state party chairman James Dickey asked her to resign. So far, she’s resisting the calls.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 12, 2019

‘Is Tinslee’s case hopeless?’ Debate over baby on life support continues at hearing.

A judge ruled Thursday that a temporary restraining order will continue until Jan. 2 while she decides whether a Texas law that allows hospitals to remove patients from life support is constitutional. The ruling comes after a months-long legal battle between Cook Children’s Medical Center and the family of Tinslee Lewis.

The family of the 10-month-old baby girl argued against Cook Children’s on Thursday at a hearing to determine whether the hospital will be permitted to take the baby off life support. At the center of the legal battle over Tinslee’s life is the controversial Texas Advance Directives Act — Texas Health & Safety Code 166.046 — that physicians can use to end a patient’s care they determine is futile, even if the family disagrees. “We’re here to determine whether 046 is unconstitutional,” Texas Fourth District Court of Appeals Chief Justice Sandee B. Marion said at the beginning of the hearing Thursday in the 48th District Court in Fort Worth. Tinslee was born prematurely with a rare heart defect called an Ebstein anomaly. She also suffers from a chronic lung disease and severe chronic pulmonary hypertension, and has undergone several complex surgeries.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 12, 2019

Sandy Hook lawyer asks judge to hold Alex Jones liable without trial

When asked during the course of a three-hour deposition about his sources for years of claims that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, Alex Jones answered “I don’t remember,” 44 times and “I don’t know,” 51 times.

For Houston attorney Mark Bankston, who interrogated Jones last month on behalf of parents whose children were among the 20 first graders killed seven years ago at the Newtown, Conn., school and are suing him for the pain he caused them amid their tragedies, the Jones deposition confirmed that he would never take the case seriously enough to properly answer questions. That, along with what plantiffs attorneys considered an equally fruitless deposition of InfoWars news director Rob Dew the same day, compounded their failure to preserve and provide pertinent videos, emails and interoffice messages essential to the plaintiff’s case.

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Associated Press - December 13, 2019

George P. Bush says GOP can't let 'racist' episodes slide

Republican George P. Bush, the only member of the Bush dynasty still in public office, condemned Thursday recurring episodes of what he described as racist or hateful rhetoric within the Texas GOP, and ripped what he called false accusations fanned by his Hispanic heritage. Bush, Texas' land commissioner, first denounced a white GOP state legislator who suggested “Asian" challengers on the ballot in 2020 were motivated by race. He then joined others Saturday in calling for the resignation of a Republican county chairwoman near Houston who used a racial slur in a text message about a black party organizer.

But his latest rebuke was personal: in a tweet Wednesday, Bush questioned whether critics had falsely accused him of plotting to erect a statue of Santa Anna — the Mexican general whose troops killed Texas independence fighters at the Alamo in San Antonio in 1836 — because his mother, Columba Bush, was born in Mexico. He called the accusation “flat out racist." Bush is the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, who died last year, and the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was a presidential candidate in 2016. “I don't want to elevate the status or the identity of those that are on the extremes in this discussion that have called out people's backgrounds, called out my ethnicity, my mom's heritage," Bush told The Associated Press. "But for those that aren't adding value by injecting hatred and racism, (they) should have no place in civil discourse."

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Texas Standard - December 12, 2019

Some farmers are taking advantage of a visa program for specialized workers

In the 1990s, the North American Free Trade Agreement was created to better align the economies of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. One small part of it was a special work visa program that allowed American employers to more easily hire skilled foreign workers in certain fields, including in agriculture. But some employers took advantage of the program.

María Pérez is an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and discovered that U.S. farmers have been hiring Mexican veterinarians to do low-paying jobs like cleaning barns and milking cows. Pérez says this is happening because farmers are having a hard time finding low-wage workers. “What some farms are doing is classifying these workers, these engineers and veterinarians that are coming from Mexico, as animal scientists so that they can bring them with that visa,” Pérez says. “But then, once they arrive here, the jobs that they perform … don't require a college degree.”

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KUT - December 12, 2019

Expert says even as the economy booms, Texas should focus on those left behind

Limited business regulation has led to an influx of large companies and skilled workers in Texas over the past few years. It's contributed to the state's $1.7 trillion economy. But despite massive economic growth, critics say some Texans are left behind.

Steven Pedigo studies Texas’ growth as director of the Urban Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He says that low graduation rates and high levels of poverty are obscured by the state’s overall success. “If you dive a little bit deeper into the metrics about the types of jobs, the education attainment levels that Texans have, I think what we start to find is a bit of a gap here,” Pedigo says. Texas needs to invest in its people, places and enterprises to ensure continued economic growth, Pedigo says. One way to do that, he says, is reorganizing high school and vocational programs.

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Texas Monthly - December 12, 2019

Chris Hooks: Weird candidates and fifteen-way races: The Texas primary ballot is madness

The march of the holidays continues: Halloween, Thanksgiving, filing day. On Monday, the deadline passed in most races to add names to the March primary ballot, meaning that the brackets for next year’s interminable democracy tournament have taken shape, for the most part. Time to take stock of the field.

There were no new entrants to the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, which must come as a relief to Beto O’Rourke, since he can stop getting pestered about it. Democrats will have to make do with their crowded, but arguably weak, field of would-be challengers to John Cornyn. Not having an A-lister in the marquee race is not great, but things look much better throughout much of the rest of the ballot. Democrats can brag about having candidates in a great many races that might, in years past, have gone uncontested. Last election cycle, Democrats ran a candidate in every congressional district in Texas for the first time in ages. They have a full slate again this year. (So do Republicans.) Of 16 Texas Senate districts up this year, Democrats are contesting 15 and Republicans are running in 14, while Dems have candidates in 122 of 150 Texas House districts to the GOP’s 115. Whatever that’s

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KERA - December 12, 2019

Why Fort Worth and other big cities struggle with police diversity

Like a lot of cities, Fort Worth has been working to recruit and hire a more diverse police force. Researchers have found strong support nationwide for the idea that a police department should look like the city it serves, but most departments don't — they're a lot more male, and a lot whiter.

After a string of controversial policing incidents in recent years involving people of color in Fort Worth and elsewhere damaged trust in police, building a more diverse police force has been seen as a way to restore trust and strengthen ties between officers and the residents they're sworn to protect. About 40% of Fort Worth residents are white, but 65% of Fort Worth police officers are white. In 2010, nearly 70% of the department was white. An analysis of the last 10 years of Fort Worth Police Department staffing data shows the department growing more Latino as it becomes less white. Latino representation on the force has grown from 16% to 21%. In 2017, 35% of Fort Worth residents were Latino.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 12, 2019

SAISD superintendent takes on poverty, charters, and the teacher's union

On a rainy morning, Pedro Martinez and his senior academic administrators opened their laptops around a conference table to face their own report cards. The superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District has drawn national attention for attempting what no superintendent in the country has yet achieved: sustainable, across-the-board academic success in a large, high-poverty, urban school system.

The Texas education commissioner had called SAISD the fastest-improving district in the state but still gave low marks to 55 of its 100 schools, which required improvement plans. So eight top staffers were having an acronym-heavy conversation, moving through lists of priorities — strong school leadership, planning, well-supported teachers. Some of them oversaw the flashy new school models the superintendent has championed, including dual language academies, a Montessori school and a project-based pre-K-12 academy.

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Dallas Morning News - December 12, 2019

No thanks, Donnie Nelson: Dallas turns down $10 million plan to renovate historic Reverchon Park

There will be no minor-league baseball at Reverchon Park. Or rugby or soccer. Or concerts. Or usable bathrooms. Or bleachers that don’t fill your back pockets with splinters. Or much of anything else, really, for the foreseeable future. The Dallas City Council saw to that Wednesday night. Without a majority in favor -- the vote was 7-7, with Far North Dallas’ Cara Mendelsohn absent when the vote was taken -- the council decided not to turn over control of the 100-year-old ballfield to a group of architects and investors led by Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson.

His Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment, LLC was prepared to spend upward of $10 million, of its own money, rebuilding the city-owned field and facilities gone to seed in the shadow of Uptown and the North Dallas Tollway. That would have meant a new ballpark designed by HKS Architects, the same firm responsible for the Texas Rangers’ new Globe Life Field and Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium. A turf field would have been planted, allowing for year-round play – something no other city park has. The North Dallas High School Bulldogs and other city leagues who have long called Reverchon home would have shared the field with a minor-league team called the Dallas Eagles. There would have been rugby, soccer, lacrosse; live music, too.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 12, 2019

Austin among nation’s ‘emerging jobs’ leaders, report finds

Technology-related careers dominate the list of fastest-growing U.S. jobs -- and Austin is one of the country’s top markets for those jobs, according to a new report from business networking site LinkedIn.

In its 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, LinkedIn identifies the jobs with the highest rate of hiring growth over the past five years, based on data compiled by all LinkedIn members with a public profile who have held a full-time position in the U.S within the part five years. The “emerging jobs” were determined by the share of hiring and compound annual growth rate for each occupation between 2015 and 2019, according to the report. These emerging jobs will in many cases require people in the workforce to learn new skills to maintain an existing job or pursue a new one, according to the report.

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KUT - December 12, 2019

Once hailed as a renewable mecca, Georgetown hires Shell to manage its energy portfolio

The City of Georgetown earned international attention a few years ago by becoming the largest city in the U.S. to run completely on renewable power. Now, the city has chosen a subsidiary of Shell Oil to take over management of its energy holdings. In 2015, when Georgetown went 100% renewable, it signed contracts for more electricity than it needed, hoping to sell the extra power back to the Texas grid for profit. Then energy prices fell; Georgetown lost money and needed to raise rates for its utility customers to cover the cost.

The city announced on Thursday its plan to outsource management of its electricity portfolio to Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of the international oil company. In a statement, Georgetown said Shell will develop “recommendations regarding how Georgetown’s energy is traded in the Texas energy market. They will also assist in forecasting energy needs, energy costs, and addressing challenges related to transmitting energy around the state, all of which affect the City’s costs associated with purchasing power.”

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 12, 2019

House Democrats brace for some defections among moderates on impeachment of Trump

House Democratic leaders are bracing for some defections among a group of moderate Democrats in swing districts who are concerned a vote to impeach President Donald Trump could cost them their seats in November. Lawmakers and senior aides are privately predicting they will lose more than the two Democrats who opposed the impeachment inquiry rules package in late September, according to multiple officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly. Two senior Democratic aides said the total could be as many as a half-dozen while a third said the number could be higher.

Predictions about some defections comes as a core group of centrists from districts Trump won in 2016 are having second thoughts. While many knew impeachment would never be popular in their GOP-leaning districts, some have been surprised that support hasn't increased despite negative testimony about Trump from a series of blockbuster hearings last month. Several moderates have privately pined for other options, including a censure vote they know they're unlikely to get. Others have even considered what one moderate called "splitting the baby": backing one article of impeachment but not the other to try to show independence from the party. The House Judiciary Committee is poised to vote Thursday on one article charging Trump with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to help his reelection chances in 2020 and another on obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony from witnesses and ignoring requests for documents in the impeachment inquiry.

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Washington Post - December 12, 2019

Ryan Crocker: I served in Afghanistan. No, it’s not another Vietnam.

In 2008, Congress established the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone. In the past week, The Post has published an account, “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War,” based on more than 2,000 pages of SIGAR interviews the paper obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. (Ryan Crocker was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in 2011-2012. He is a diplomat-in-residence at Princeton University.) From the headlines, a reader could not be blamed for thinking that Afghanistan is a wall-to-wall disaster for the United States, another Vietnam about which we must admit defeat and get out. Yet, for anyone who has been paying close attention, there are a few surprises here. Having served twice in Afghanistan, as chargé d’affaires and as U.S. ambassador, I have a particular interest in this story.

But I acknowledge that I’m not even close to having read all the interviews. I gave the document what is known inside the Beltway as “a Washington read,” looking for references to me. The main ones are two interview transcripts totaling 95 pages. I don’t think I gilded many lilies in talking about Afghanistan, whether in public comments or during my interviews with SIGAR. But regarding Afghanistan, I have also been inclined to see the glass as half-full — the missteps, mistakes and bad decisions notwithstanding. Part of this involves perspective. Mine has its roots in the beginning of our efforts in early 2002. When Hamid Karzai was appointed chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority, he had nothing to work with. No institutions, no accepted or enforceable body of laws, no army, no police, no economy.

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The Guardian - December 12, 2019

Fox host lambasts Trump over 'most sustained assault on press freedom in US history'

A leading host on Fox News, a conservative network notorious for its loyalty to the White House, has lambasted Donald Trump for mounting the most direct attack on press freedom in American history. Chris Wallace, widely admired for breaking ranks from Fox colleagues by putting tough questions to administration officials, delivered his most stinging critique yet of the US president at an event celebrating the first amendment.

“I believe that President Trump is engaged in the most direct sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history,” Wallace said to applause at the Newseum, a media museum in Washington, on Wednesday night. “He has done everything he can to undercut the media, to try and delegitimise us, and I think his purpose is clear: to raise doubts when we report critically about him and his administration that we can be trusted. Back in 2017, he tweeted something that said far more about him than it did about us: ‘The fake news media is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.’” Wallace recalled that retired admiral Bill McRaven, a navy Seal for 37 years, had described Trump’s sentiment as maybe “the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime” because, unlike even the Soviet Union or Islamic terrorism, it undermines the US constitution.

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CityLab - December 5, 2019

Most electric scooter riders are men. Here's why.

Bicycles, scooters, Segways, skateboards, and other foot- and battery-boosted “little vehicles” represent a diverse assortment of contraptions, but they’re united by one thing: They all draw significantly more men than women in major U.S. cities, according to new research published last month in Transport Findings. ? That paints a consistent pattern with what local ridership studies of dockless electric scooter use in Portland and Austin have found. And the danger factor of micromobility appears to be the main barrier to adoption, both in terms of the vehicles themselves and the infrastructure they rely on. ?

“Younger males are more willing to give up safety considerations on account of speed or quickness,” said Kevin Krizek, a professor of transportation at the University of Colorado Boulder who co-authored the new research. “That is somewhat of a reflection of the vehicle. But I’d venture to offer that it’s more about safety on the streets.” To more broadly sketch out who’s using the types of devices that have recently proliferated in electric-powered, shared, dockless form, Krizek and Nancy McGuckin, an expert in travel behavior analysis, studied the most recent National Household Travel Survey, which offers a nationally representative sample of how tens of thousands of U.S. individuals got around on a given day. Although the dataset is small (compared to, say, the census), it’s considered the best indicator of who’s likely to use different transportation modes in the U.S., and what types of trips they’re likely to make with them.

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CNBC - December 12, 2019

Airbnb says its will reach $2 billion in tourist and occupancy taxes remitted by end of 2019

Airbnb said on Thursday that its tourist and occupancy taxes remitted will reach $2 billion by year-end. The company has also resolved the “majority” of its outstanding litigation in U.S. cities, including Boston and Miami Beach.

The home-sharing company, which is gearing up for a 2020 stock market debut, is indicating that it’s put proper measures in place to collect taxes and work with local governments. Airbnb said 72% of bookings made in the U.S. are covered by collection and tourism or hotel taxes. But compliance with strict regulations could dent Airbnb’s business model, especially as cities around the world look to establish laws around vacation rentals. In Boston, for example, Airbnb removed thousands of listings in order to comply with new regulations.

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The Hill - December 12, 2019

House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices

The House on Thursday passed a sweeping bill aimed at lowering prescription drug prices, a step toward a long-held Democratic goal that was met with sharp Republican resistance. The bill passed on a largely party-line vote of 230-192. The measure, which would allow the government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, is one of House Democrats’ top priorities and is expected to be touted by vulnerable Democrats up for reelection next year.

The party is also looking to show that it is focused on kitchen table issues like lowering drug costs even as lawmakers prepare for an impeachment vote against President Trump. “What I hear most often is not impeachment, it's not what's on the front page of The Washington Post, it's ‘What are you going to do about the cost of our prescription drugs?’ ” said Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), one of several freshmen facing competitive reelection races who showcased the bill on the Capitol steps Thursday. “And this bill is an answer to my constituents.” Two Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), both moderates who face competitive reelection races next year. No Democrats voted against the bill.

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NPR - December 12, 2019

Congressional negotiators reach tentative deal on $1.3 trillion spending package

Congressional negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on a package of bills to fund the government through the end of September 2020. Lawmakers have until the end of next week to approve spending legislation in order to avert a government shutdown. The White House has not publicly weighed in on the agreement. The deal covers all 12 regular spending bills — which total $1.3 trillion. This figure was agreed to in a bipartisan budget package that was enacted by the president this summer.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-NY, confirmed the tentative agreement to reporters following a meeting with the other top Hill leaders from House and Senate spending panels. "When you look at the 12 bills, I think we can be very proud of the good work that this Congress is doing," Lowey said. The agreement also includes includes $1.375 billion for a fence along the U.S. Border with Mexico, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

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Newsclips - December 12, 2019

Lead Stories

CNN - December 11, 2019

McConnell will move to acquit Trump if he's impeached, not merely dismiss charges, 2 Republican senators say

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to hold a final vote to acquit President Donald Trump, should he be impeached, when a majority of senators believe his trial has run its course instead of holding a vote on dismissing the articles of impeachment, two Republican senators told CNN on Wednesday. Republicans want to have a vote on acquittal -- to clear the President of the charges against him -- not simply rely on a 51-vote threshold procedural motion to dismiss the hotly disputed case.

The Constitution mandates 67 votes are required to convict the President and remove him from office, a barrier widely considered too high to be reached in this case. One vote McConnell can't rely on is that of Vice President Mike Pence, who has "no role in impeachment," according to a GOP leadership aide, despite being president of the Senate with the mandate to break ties. Pence's power, which applies to legislation and nominations, isn't in effect when the Senate is weighing removing his boss, an obvious conflict of interest since he would replace Trump if he were removed. Instead, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would preside at the trial and any tie motions would fail.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Texas found a cancer cluster in Houston in August. Residents didn’t find out until December.

The Texas Department of State Health Services assessment that found a cancer cluster in the north Houston neighborhoods of Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens was not disclosed to residents for nearly four months after the conclusion was reached. The study, which was public in August but not communicated to residents until early December, according to residents and city officials, has spurred calls from politicians and local officials for more health studies and environmental testing.

The cluster was found near a rail yard site known to be contaminated by creosote, a probable cancer-causing substance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Greater-than-expected rates of adult cancers were identified in 10 census tracts near the Englewood Rail Yard, owned by railroad company Union Pacific since 1996, where creosote, a wood preservative, was used to treat railroad ties for decades until the 1980s. Creosote, absorbed into the ground, formed a plume that moved beneath an estimated 110 properties in the area.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 12, 2019

Uninsured rate for Texas’ youngest children jumps, report says

The percentage of Texas’ youngest children without health insurance has increased since 2016, according to a report released Wednesday. In 2018, 8.3% of Texas children under age 6 — a total of 198,014 — were uninsured. The rate has grown by 1 percentage point, or about 23,000 children, since 2016, according to a report by Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. The data mirrors growth seen in the uninsured rates among all Texans.

Texas has the second highest rate of uninsured young children, behind Alaska. Nationally, more than 1 million children under the age of 6, or 4.3 percent, lack health insurance. About 19% of the country’s uninsured young children are in Texas, even though Texas’ share of the nation’s population of young children is about half that percentage. “We have a particularly extreme problem in Texas and the time seems ripe to pay attention to it,” said Anne Dunkelberg with the Austin-based liberal policy think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities. Georgetown researchers say the increases are likely driven by a decline in Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage of eligible children. Since 2016, Congress has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut Medicaid and delayed the reauthorization of CHIP. The Trump administration has decreased outreach and programs that help people sign up for Obamacare.

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New York Times - December 10, 2019

Interior official, formerly with TPPF, broke ethics rules, watchdog finds

A top Interior Department official broke federal ethics rules by improperly meeting with his former employer, an Austin-based conservative research organization, to discuss the rollback of endangered species protections that the group had been pushing, the department’s internal watchdog said in a report published Tuesday. The watchdog, the Interior Department’s inspector general, concluded that the official, Douglas Domenech, an assistant Interior secretary for the office with stewardship of the nation’s oceans and coasts, violated federal rules in April 2017 when he met with representatives of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he was working before he joined the Trump administration.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has salted the Trump administration with many of its top officials, elevating its influence and prestige. Federal ethics laws prohibit government officials from meeting with their former employers for at least a year after they take public office to prevent those employers from improperly influencing the outcomes of public policy. At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Domenech led the group’s Fueling Freedom Project, which aims to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” by making the case that preserving oil, natural gas and coal shields the poor from higher energy costs. Domenech also worked on lawsuits designed to undo or weaken federal environmental policies. His April 2017 meeting with his former employer, which was still pursuing litigation against the Interior Department, was a clear violation of federal rules, the inspector general said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Rep. Doggett pushes for more teeth in landmark drug-pricing bill

With the House set for a long-awaited vote on legislation to lower prescription drug prices, Rep. Lloyd Doggett and allies came up short in their drive for an even more ambitious plan to expand government authority over the pharmaceutical industry. The House is expected to vote today on a landmark drug-pricing bill, which promises to be central in the Democrats’ 2020 elections appeal.

The legislation gives Medicare authority to negotiate the price of 50 of the most expensive drugs — as the Veterans Administration already does with all prescriptions — and would cap prices based on costs in other developed countries. Doggett, D-San Antonio, leader of an alliance of like-minded liberals, failed in the Democratic-run Rules Committee late Tuesday to get provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for many more drugs and include the uninsured in the savings. Democratic leaders, heeding warnings from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, declined to accept the changes.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Texas inmate who killed prison supervisor executed amid claims of false testimony

Travis Trevino Runnels died without a last word. The state’s final execution of 2019, the 46-year-old did not offer apologies or last regards before he died Wednesday night on the Huntsville gurney. Prison officials recorded his time of death at 7:26 p.m., less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his final appeal. Though Runnels’ attorneys had raised claims about a now-notorious state witness they say gave “false testimony,” the courts ultimately decided it didn’t matter and just before 7 p.m. ruled that his execution could go forward.

Runnels was not the most sympathetic of characters: He was already serving 70 years for aggravated robbery when he killed 38-year-old prison supervisor Stanley Wiley in the Clements Unit boot factory in 2003, slicing his neck to the bone. From the outset, Runnels admitted his guilt, so the entire trial came down to one question: Did he deserve death, or could he be sentenced to life in prison? To answer that, a jury had to unanimously agree that Runnels would pose a future danger, even behind bars.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Twice as many Texas Republican women running for Congress in 2020

Heavy recruiting of female candidates paid off for Texas Democrats in 2018, but it is Republican women who are making a splash in 2020. At least 30 Republican women from Texas have filed to run for election to Congress next year, more than twice as many as in the 2018 elections. That year, 13 women ran under the GOP banner while almost three times as many women ran in the Democratic primary, state and party records show. “If we’re going to have a pink wave, you need to have red in there,” said Nancy Bocskor, a longtime GOP fundraiser who is now director of the Center for Women and Politics at Texas Woman’s University.

Political strategists say the boost is a reaction to the 2018 election after Democrats made major gains in the suburbs, flipping a dozen Texas House seats and coming within striking distance of defeating several established Republicans in statewide office. Bocskor likens it to a wake up call: “They were asleep at the switch, they were not prepared.” In a state of nearly 28 million people, white men make up the majority of Republican officials representing Texas. Of 24 Republicans in Congress, just one is a woman and one is African-American.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Prosecutors: Recent arrest shows teeth in new credit card skimming law

A new state law designed to crack down on credit card skimming has begun to pay off for prosecutors. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office says a man allegedly caught last week with 78 fraudulent credit cards during a traffic stop is just the lastest defendant charged locally under the law. Ernesto Alvarez, 40, is among the first of 19 people in the county facing a charge of fraudulent use or possession of credit or debit card information, the DA’s Office said. In his case, the charge is a first-degree felony with a maximum punishment of life in prison.

At the time of his arrest Dec. 2, Alvarez remained on probation for a similar charge for which he pleaded guilty last year, court records show. In the previous case, he was caught with credit cards re-encoded with at least 10 other people’s financial information, authorities said. Investigators say they believe both cases originated from credit card skimming, which generally involves a device that extracts credit card data during transactions. The new charge was created as part of a flurry of bills that passed during the last legislative session designed to tackle skimming, which officials say is rampant throughout Houston and the state. The laws, which took effect in September, include a caveat that conceals skimmer locations from the public — a provision that recently met criticism.

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Houston Chronicle - December 12, 2019

Editor: Why the Houston Chronicle stopped using Bloomberg News for coverage of presidential campaign

A little more than a week ago, we published what, at least these days, seemed like a fairly routine story on page A7: A federal appeals court had ordered banks to give congressional investigators the tax returns of the president of the United States. Yet it wasn’t the article itself that caught my eye. It was the byline. The story was written by Bloomberg News, a wire service owned by Michael Bloomberg. The Houston Chronicle has used it for years. Bloomberg provides valuable stories for our readers, particularly to supplement our already-significant coverage of the energy industry.

But the plot has thickened with Michael Bloomberg’s belated entry into the presidential campaign — and with Bloomberg News’ inexplicable decision that it will not cover its boss seriously. That is, it will not cover candidate Bloomberg with the same vigor with which it pursues revelations about President Donald Trump. The same soft treatment awaits other Democrats in the race: No serious journalism to come from Bloomberg News. This made my stomach rumble during breakfast. Why would we use Bloomberg’s work involving presidential politics? I wrote a quick note to several editors in the newsroom, saying we shouldn’t publish Bloomberg News’ stories on the campaign, and that we should look closely before publishing any of the news service’s energy stories if they involve Trump administration policies. End of story.

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Dallas Morning News - December 11, 2019

Dallas County judge removed from 7-year-old transgender child custody case after Facebook post

The judge in a Dallas child custody case has been removed, according to court documents, after posting about the case on Facebook. Last week, Dallas County Judge Tena Callahan granted the recusal request from the child’s mother, Anne Georgulas, who says her 7-year-old is transgender. Georgulas filed a motion seeking the recusal of Judge Kim Cooks after Cooks shared a Dallas Morning News story about the case on her official Facebook page in October.

Another user originally posted the story with the caption, “Here’s the truth! READ IT and THEN GO RUN TELL THAT!” In her post, Cooks said, “The Governor nor any legislature had any influence on the Court’s Decision.” The post no longer appears on Cooks’ Facebook. She could not immediately be reached for comment. Georgulas’ attorneys argued that Cooks should recuse herself because the post called into question her impartiality.

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Dallas Morning News - December 12, 2019

Immigrant detentions in North Texas region lead nation for third year

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday that the North Texas region led the nation for the third year in a row in the number of civil arrests of immigrants. But across the nation, the number of immigrants detained dropped about 10 percent from the previous year to about 143,000. The acting director of ICE credited a high level of cooperation from local and state law enforcement authorities for the number of apprehensions in the region.

“One of the things which is unique — although it shouldn’t be — is [that] the level of cooperation between state and local law enforcement and our officers here is unsurpassed anywhere in the country,” said Matthew Albence, who flew in from Washington, D.C., for a news conference Wednesday to highlight the regional results for the fiscal year that ended in September. “When you have that cooperation, you get these kinds of results."

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Dallas Morning News - December 11, 2019

Three Texas Democrats remain noncommittal on Trump impeachment: Reps. Cuellar, Allred and Fletcher

Ten of the 13 Texas Democrats in the House solidly favor impeachment. The other three have yet to make up their minds or declare how they’ll vote next week. That includes Dallas freshman Colin Allred and a Houston freshman who also toppled a longtime GOP congressman last year, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Both are unopposed in the March 3 primary, but high priority targets in the fall for Republicans eager to reclaim seats they’d controlled for more than a decade. The Trump campaign tweaked Fletcher for having cold feet in the face of fading public support for impeachment. Another holdout, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, faces a spirited challenge in the primary. He’s taking heat from a Democratic rival for refusing to commit to support impeaching President Donald Trump. “We’re going to wait till everything is brought in and then once everything’s brought in, I’ll make a decision based on the evidence,” Cuellar said Wednesday. “So, next week, you’ll get an answer from me, but as for right now, I’m waiting for them to ... close the case, and then we’ll take it from there.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 11, 2019

Biden holds 20-point lead in Texas, poll says

Former Vice President Joe Biden has opened up a commanding 20-point lead in the Texas Democratic primary, according to a CNN poll released Wednesday. Among likely Democratic primary voters, 35% say they support Biden, compared with 15% for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 13% for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and 9% for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Julián Castro, former U.S. housing secretary and the remaining Texan in the race, garnered just 3% of likely primary voters’ support in his home state.

Biden had 23% support in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in November. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who registered 14% support in that survey, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California have since dropped out of the race. But Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said it’s unlikely that Biden picked up a majority of O’Rourke and Harris supporters, and it’s too early to know where their supporters will go, he said. “This is still a race where name recognition is driving some of the responses,” Henson said. “What we’re seeing is name recognition more than any other powerful driving force.” In potential general election matchups, the CNN poll found Biden performed the best against President Donald Trump in Texas.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 12, 2019

House committee to evaluate quarry oversight after Statesman, KVUE investigation

Lawmakers and quarry industry leaders will examine the toll of rock mining in Texas in the wake of investigative reporting by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV that raised serious questions about the public health and environmental implications of the rapidly expanding industry.

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, announced the appointment of the special committee Tuesday. It follows a series of stories in September that highlighted how quickly ranch land, particularly in the treasured Hill Country, is being converted into quarries and how the growth has outpaced regulatory oversight. The lacking oversight prompted several communities to file lawsuits to try to block the growth, which they say is destroying the tranquility around their homes and bringing dust that is both a nuisance and health threat, among other concerns. Mining industry leaders, however, contend the state provides plenty of oversight and that their operations pose no public health threats.

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Texas Standard - December 12, 2019

Little-known surveillance centers keep close eye on Texans

More money is about to flow into eight surveillance centers located across across the state. The Texas Department of Public Safety helps oversee these intelligence-gathering hubs, known as "fusion centers," but it doesn't talk much about what they do. Texas opened the centers after 9/11 as a way to bring together intelligence gathered by federal, state and local law enforcement. Now they're getting more resources from the state after Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order following recent mass shootings.

Dave Lieber is Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News, and says the centers have access to a variety of public and law enforcement databases to look up information about Texas residents. The centers combine information and other resources from multiple agencies. "They call them 'fusion centers' because they fuse local, state and federal law enforcement all together inside a joint operation," Lieber says. Though the surveillance centers provide a means of coordination during times of crisis like Hurricane Harvey, Lieber says they operate full time, and are able to gather and share information from a variety of sources.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 12, 2019

Feds sue Harris County over documents related to recent chemical fires

A federal investigative agency has asked a judge to order Harris County to hand over documents related to two recent chemical fires, saying the delay in responding is hindering two of its investigations. Federal prosecutors in Houston filed a petition Wednesday to order Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie L. Christensen to produce documents and other relevant materials related to the investigations. The Chemical Safety Board alleges the county has failed to comply with requests even after it issued administrative subpoenas.

“The CSB’s attempts to conduct an efficient and effective set of investigations have been harmed by hostility and entrenchment of the county's asserted legal positions,” Dan Tillema, investigator-in-charge, wrote in a court affidavit. The fire marshal’s office said it had requested an opinion from the Texas attorney general regarding the release of specific information requested by the CSB, and it “stated that certain information could not be released because it is a part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the office. She stressed that the fire marshal’s office “provides information to all local, state and federal entities interested, as permissible by law.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 11, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: Former probate judge drops a bomb on county commissioner race

Tom Rickhoff was supposed to be asking a question. But it felt suspiciously like a declaration. Rickhoff, the former judge whose 17-year probate-court run ended last year, sat in the audience during a Dec. 3 San Antonio Family Association forum for candidates hoping to fill the Precinct 3 county commissioner seat being vacated by Kevin Wolff. Nearly 90 minutes into the forum, Rickhoff, 75, got his chance to address the candidates. In doing so, he took the stage and delivered a speech with only the thinnest suggestion that there might be a question mark at the end of it.

Rather than focusing on the six contenders — five Republicans and one Democrat — on stage, he directed his message to a prominent contender who declined to show: Trish DeBerry, a well-connected consultant who ran for mayor in 2009. Citing her business and government ties, and her history of working with clients across the political spectrum, Rickhoff suggested that DeBerry was the ultimate insider, someone who had been handpicked by County Judge Nelson Wolff — a Democrat — to replace his son — the court’s lone Republican — in the GOP-dominated Precinct 3. “We cannot, we must not ignore the elephant in the room,” Rickhoff roared. Declaring that DeBerry was a de facto lobbyist, Rickhoff said she is “coming out of the Wolff pack” and alleged that her victory would enable the Wolff family to control the county for the next decade.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 12, 2019

Tarrant ranks in top five Texas counties for these sexually transmitted diseases

Chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea cases are on the rise across the country, including Tarrant County. Tarrant is home to the fourth most cases of chlamydia and the fifth most cases of gonorrhea and syphilis in Texas, according to the the Texas Department of State and Health Service’s recently released STD Surveillance Report.

And a new list ranking cities with the most sexually transmitted diseases puts Fort Worth at No. 5 and Arlington at No. 10 in the state. “STD rates have increased nationally and Tarrant County’s rapid growth reflects the national data,” said Kenton Murthy, the deputy medical director in Tarrant County. “What is important is that people practice safe sex and get tested regularly at their doctor’s office or one of our clinics in Fort Worth and Arlington, both of which offer full STD testing and treatment.” Tarrant is the third largest county in Texas, with 2.08 million residents.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 11, 2019

San Antonio mayor’s aquifer maneuvering surprised — and annoyed — Council allies

Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s announcement that SAWS would take over an existing Edwards Aquifer protection program to free up sales tax funding to improve the city’s bus service has exposed long-simmering tension with City Council members who don’t believe he fully briefs them before unveiling major initiatives. The dispute puts on display the delicate balance of personalities and politics that any big city mayor must navigate. But in San Antonio, the problems are between a liberal mayor — he prefers “progressive” — and liberal council colleagues. They might share his policy views but frequently are surprised by steps he takes to achieve them, several said Wednesday.

“This lack of communication with the mayor is not a perception. It is real,” Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said. “This is not the first time I and others on the council have found out about a major decision in the media before we heard from the mayor’s office.” At issue is Nirenberg’s request that SAWS take over a widely supported program that has protected 160,000 acres from development over environmentally sensitive parts of the aquifer, the source of most of the city’s water. The program, which also funds linear parks, now is managed by the city and funded by a voter-approved, 1/8-cent sales tax that has brought in about $40 million a year for 20 years. Leaders of the city-owned utility signaled their willingness to adopt the program at a meeting Tuesday, though at what level of funding remains unclear. Nirenberg is on the SAWS board.

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Houston Chronicle - December 12, 2019

Acevedo: Bullet did not pierce slain Houston police sergeant’s vest

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Wednesday night that a bullet did not pierce Sgt. Christopher Brewster’s body armor, clearing up earlier concerns that rounds possibly penetrated the bulletproof vest. Brewster, 32, was shot and killed Saturday evening while responding to a domestic violence call in Magnolia Park. The suspect, Arturo Solis, has been charged with capital murder.

“As our investigation into the Level II soft-body armor continued today, we discovered that out initial concerns about a ‘potential penetration’ were unfounded,” Acevedo said in a statement released on Twitter. “A careful examination today with necessary medical personnel, investigators, CSU (Crime Scene Unit), and the Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Sgt. Brewster’s vest had a strike at the edge which did not actually penetrate the vest.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 11, 2019

City Council gives preliminary approval to land development code overhaul

The Austin City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to the controversial effort to overhaul the city’s rules on what can be built and where. In a 7-4 vote, the council approved the first of three required readings of a rewrite to the city’s land development code and zoning map. “This code is a really big deal. This day is a really big deal,” Mayor Steve Adler said.

Council Members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo voted against the code. “There are too many basic issues that are not done yet,” Kitchen said. “There is a lot more work we need to do. I passionately believe we have to make this work for the whole community.” Wednesday’s vote came after more than 20 hours of debate over three consecutive days on the land development code. The council has gone through the tedious process of examining more than 200 amendments to the code that will apply to the next iteration of the code, which will be taken up in the coming months.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Turner holds wide lead over Buzbee in new mayoral runoff poll

Mayor Sylvester Turner leads runoff opponent Tony Buzbee by more than 20 points, according to a KHOU/Houston Public Media poll released Wednesday. The survey found 56 percent of likely voters support the mayor, while 34 percent back Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer who finished second in the first round of the mayoral election.

The poll of registered voters who previously were surveyed for a September poll also revealed that 53 percent of those who supported Bill King, the third-place finisher, were backing Buzbee, while 37 percent support Turner. The survey took place between Nov. 20 and Dec. 5, and involved 234 of the 516 voters who participated in the September poll. The margin of error is 6.4 percent. Asked about the poll result, Turner said, “the only poll that really matters will be the poll that comes out on Saturday,” which is Election Day. Early voting ended Tuesday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 9, 2019

Some Colleyville residents say city prioritized $2.7M plaza over sidewalks, roads

As residents gathered Friday night to celebrate the city’s Christmas tree lighting at the recently completed plaza in front of city hall, others questioned why Colleyville isn’t focusing on adding sidewalks to schools and working on road repairs. The issue was debated in a public Facebook group, Colleyville Citizens for Accountability. Matthew Laiety, a Colleyville resident who also is an administrator of the Facebook group, said he keeps a close eye on what is happening in the city.

But city officials and residents who served on committees are painting a different picture. They describe how Colleyville is moving ahead with building sidewalks and on a five-year capital improvement plan which includes road repairs. When asked about the questions from some residents about the $2.7 million plaza project, councilwoman Tammy Nakamura said, “It’s politics, that’s all it is.” “What we had (before the plaza was built) was people sitting all over the lawn. This will give people a place to meet and enjoy events,” she said.

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National Stories

Associated Press - December 11, 2019

Watchdog caught in political crossfire on his Russia report

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog was caught in a political tug of war Wednesday as Republican and Democratic senators used his report on the origins of the Russia investigation involving Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign to support their views that it was a legitimate probe or a badly bungled farce.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his findings that while the FBI had a legitimate basis to launch the investigation and was not motivated by political bias in doing so, there were major flaws in how that investigation was conducted. The hearing was the latest reflection of Washington’s intense politicization. Senators from both parties praised a detailed, nuanced report by a widely respected, nonpartisan investigator, while pressing him to call attention to findings that back their positions. Horowitz himself tried to strike a balance.

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Associated Press - December 12, 2019

Fed leaves low rates alone and foresees no moves in 2020

The Federal Reserve left its benchmark interest rate alone Wednesday and signaled that it expects to keep low rates unchanged through next year. The Fed's decision follows three rate cuts earlier this year. It reflects its view that the U.S. economy has so far withstood the U.S.-China trade war and a global slump and remains generally healthy. Its benchmark rate — which influences many consumer and business loans — will remain in a low range of 1.5% to 1.75%

In a sign of its confidence about the economy, the Fed's latest policy statement dropped a phrase it had previously used that referred to "uncertainties" surrounding the economic outlook. That suggests that the Fed may be less worried about the impact of the U.S.-China trade war or overseas developments. Financial markets moved slightly up soon after the Fed issued its statement. For now, the Fed appears inclined to leave rates alone through 2020, an election year. But many analysts note that the economy faces risks from the trade conflicts, a global slowdown and a potentially disruptive Brexit and say the Fed may feel compelled to cut rates at least once next year.

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Associated Press - December 12, 2019

Fears of anti-Semitisim hang over New Jersey attack probe

Investigators are looking to pinpoint what prompted a deadly attack on a Jewish market in Jersey City amid fears that it was motivated by anti-Semitism. A gunbattle and standoff at the JC Kosher supermarket this week turned the neighborhood into a virtual war zone and left six people dead — the two attackers, a police officer and three people who had been inside the store. Officials recounted Wednesday how a man and woman deliberately targeted the store a day earlier.

They also believe the two dead attackers identified themselves in the past as Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement whose members have been known to rail against white people and Jews, according to a law enforcement official who was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition, authorities have found social media postings from at least one of the attackers that were anti-police and anti-Jewish, the official said. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop called the bloodshed a hate crime against Jews, as did New York's mayor and governor.

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ProPublica - December 11, 2019

Donald Trump Jr. went to Mongolia, got special treatment from the government and killed an endangered sheep

The rocky highlands of Central Asia, in a remote region of Western Mongolia, are home to a plummeting population of the largest sheep in the world, the argali. The endangered species is beloved for its giant curving horns, which can run over 6 feet in length. On a hunting trip this August, Donald Trump Jr. shot and killed one.

His adventure was supported by government resources from both the U.S. and Mongolia, which each sent security services to accompany the president’s eldest son and grandson on the multiday trip. It also thrust Trump Jr. directly into the controversial world of Mongolian trophy hunting — a polarizing practice in a country that views the big-horned rams as a national treasure. The right to kill an argali is controlled by an opaque permitting system that experts say is mostly based on money, connections and politics. Trump Jr. received special treatment during his summer trip, according to records obtained by ProPublica as well as interviews with people involved in the hunt.

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Washington Post - December 11, 2019

Mike Bloomberg to donate $10 million to House Democrats targeted by GOP

Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will donate $10 million Thursday to defend vulnerable Democratic House members against paid Republican attacks on their support for impeachment proceedings against President Trump. The money, which is meant to even an arms race on the 2020 congressional battlefield, was cheered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has been fielding concerns from some of her members over a costly Republican advertising offensive as the House moves toward an impeachment vote next week.

In addition to ads by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign, The Post reported Saturday, two Republican groups have committed about $10 million to attack Democratic members of Congress in their districts for embracing what one spot calls the “impeachment charade” in lieu of other legislative priorities. Up to now, the Democratic response had been led by House Majority Forward, a group with close ties to Pelosi, which ran $1.5 million in television ads promoting the accomplishments of 11 Democratic lawmakers in October.

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Wall Street Journal - December 12, 2019

Harvey Weinstein, ex-associates, accusers reach tentative $47 million settlement

Harvey Weinstein, his former associates, insurers and accusers have reached a nearly $47 million tentative settlement of almost all the civil cases pending against him, about $25 million of which will compensate women who have accused the Hollywood producer of sexual misconduct, according to people familiar with the matter. Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Weinstein and his former associates, including board members of his former studio, didn’t admit wrongdoing, the people said.

The deal still needs to be approved by a bankruptcy judge and a judge overseeing a proposed class-action lawsuit. The bulk of the settlement money will be paid by insurance policies, including those held by his former studio, Weinstein Co., some of the people said. The deal resolves all but two of the civil sexual-misconduct lawsuits and other legal claims filed against Mr. Weinstein, the people said. The tentative settlement won’t affect the criminal case brought by Manhattan prosecutors, which is set to go to trial on Jan. 6. Mr. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

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CNN - December 11, 2019

House passes defense bill that would include paid family leave for federal workers for the first time

The House of Representatives passed an annual defense authorization bill on Wednesday with a provision that provides all federal workers with 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the first time in American history. The paid parental leave provision was added after a significant push from Democrats, who during the course of the negotiation saw an opening with President Donald Trump's desire to see the establishment of Space Force as a branch of the US military.

In the White House push for Space Force's inclusion, it was made clear, aides familiar with the negotiations said, that any number of Democratic priorities were potentially on the table. Over the objection of congressional Republicans, the White House agreed to the paid parental leave for federal workers in order to ensure the establishment of Space Force, the aides said. Democrats celebrated the paid leave provision in the must-pass legislation, although the bill on the whole was met with dismay from some progressive members who felt they lost on many of their other legislative priorities after negotiations with the Republican-held Senate. The bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 377-48. Forty-one Democrats and six Republicans opposed it, along with independent Rep. Justin Amash.

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Newsclips - December 11, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

After a dreary six months, Texas Republicans try to regroup

When you have unemployment at record lows and the economy is stout, surely Texas Republicans will hold onto both houses of the Legislature next year. Right? Not if they have another 12 months like their last six months.

Starting last summer, the scandal that embroiled Speaker Dennis Bonnen over a secretly recorded conversation quickly spilled over into open rancor at a fractious October meeting of the House GOP caucus. The Angleton Republican has announced he’ll leave the House by 2021. Then came a leaked state GOP battle plan for next year’s election. It showed the party’s anything but surefooted and confident. Last week, Sugar Land GOP Rep. Rick Miller’s raw comments to a reporter about the ethnicity and motivations of two Asian-American Republicans seeking to oust him led to a big flap — and his decision to follow Bonnen into retirement.

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Associated Press - December 10, 2019

Democrats unveil impeachment charges; Trump left ‘no choice’

House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, declaring his actions toward Ukraine “betrayed the nation” as they pushed toward historic proceedings that are certain to help define his presidency and shape the 2020 election. The specific charges aimed at removing the 45th president of the U.S.: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of impeachment inquiry committees at the U.S. Capitol, said they were upholding their solemn oath to defend the Constitution. Trump responded angrily on Twitter: “WITCH HUNT!” Voting is expected in a matter of days by the Judiciary Committee, and by Christmas in the full House. The charges, if approved, would then be sent to the Senate, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Trump, but not without a potentially bitter trial just as voters in Iowa and other early presidential primary states begin making their choices.

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Wall Street Journal - December 10, 2019

Revised trade pact set for likely approval by Congress in 2020

A new U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada gained backing from House Democrats, setting the agreement on course for likely ratification by Congress in 2020 and marking a victory for President Trump after months of negotiations to modify it. Mr. Trump ran for office in 2016 on a pledge to remake or blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement, and his administration used a combination of pressure tactics and closed-door negotiations to win support for an amended version of the agreement from Democratic lawmakers, labor unions and Mexican officials.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) embraced a version that Democrats had negotiated with the administration just an hour after she backed two articles of impeachment accusing Mr. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That sets up an expected House vote on the trade deal next week, before a likely divisive election year in 2020. “We are so proud of the distance that we have come from where we started with the administration on this legislation,” Mrs. Pelosi said of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. “This victory for America’s workers is one we take great pride in advancing.”

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CNBC - December 11, 2019

Saudi Aramco shares surge 10% as historic IPO begins trading

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO), surged past expectations as it debuted on the country’s stock exchange on Wednesday morning. Shares of the state-owned oil company rose to 35.2 Saudi riyals ($9.38) from 32 riyals in early deals in Riyadh, up 10% and hitting their daily limit. The price gives it a valuation of $1.88 trillion and makes it the largest listed company in the world, comfortably ahead of Microsoft and Apple.

Aramco’s public debut, which listed 1.5% of its shares locally on the Saudi Tadawul, is the biggest on record — topping the $25 billion Alibaba raised when it went public in September 2014. The oil giant has also surpassed its earlier valuation of $1.7 trillion, announced when share pricing was disclosed last week at the top of the market range. But the $1.88 trillion valuation remains below what the kingdom had initially targeted and relied heavily on local investors after the company canceled international roadshows due to lackluster foreign interest.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Almost 700,000 Californians moved out of state last year. Most of them came to Texas.

The tidal wave of Californians headed to Texas shows no sight of slowing, with almost 700,000 leaving the Golden State last year. More than 86,000 of those California expats came to Texas, according to a new report by Yardi Systems. “Texas takes second place on the podium among the most popular states for moving to in 2018, with almost 564,000 newcomers,” according to the new report by Yardi System’s StorageCafe. About 15% of the people who moved to Texas last year hailed from California.

Florida had the largest number of interstate moves in 2018 with most of the transplants coming from New York. Florida continues to be a haven for retiring baby boomers. Most of Texas’ newcomers are moving for jobs. Texas’ employment base has grown by almost 300,000 jobs in the last year. Dallas-Fort Worth is the top job growth market in the country, accounting for a third of Texas’ employment gains. Almost 140,000 people moved to the D-FW area last year, with the most relocations to Dallas and Tarrant counties.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Is Texas trying to blow the 2020 census? Let’s hope not for everyone’s sake

If you set out to mow a lawn, you ought to mow the whole lawn and finish the job. If you set out to paint a room, you ought to paint the whole thing, even those hard-to-reach corners. And if you set out to conduct a census of everyone in a country, you ought to count every person in the country. That seems like an obvious truth, and one Americans could embrace in 2020. But the devil, along with the politicians, is in the details.

Texas is one of only five states that has elected not to set up a “complete count committee” — a statewide ad hoc organization working with counties and cities to make sure that every person in the state is counted. In the absence of such a committee, a coalition of 120 counties and nonprofit agencies has created a statewide campaign called Texas Counts to help ensure a fair and accurate count. There’s a lot at stake here. According to the education advocacy group Educate Texas, failing to count 1% of the people in Texas would cost the state $300 million in federal funding per year for the next 10 years. And there are political stakes as well. Texas could gain three new seats in Congress.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Former top Mexican official accused of taking millions from violent cartel captured in Dallas

A former top law enforcement official with the Mexican government who’s been charged with taking millions in bribes from a violent drug cartel in that country in exchange for protection had his first appearance Tuesday in federal court in Dallas. Genaro Garcia Luna, 51, was arrested in Dallas on Monday in the parking garage next to an apartment he leases in the city. He is wanted by the feds in New York where he was indicted on Dec. 4 on four counts, including being involved in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy.

A court filing says Garcia Luna took millions in bribes from the notorious Sinaloa Cartel to allow it to “operate with impunity in Mexico.” Garcia Luna moved from Mexico to Miami in 2012 after leaving his Mexican government post and obtained lawful resident status, according to the filing, made in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. Garcia Luna also is accused of lying about his past on a 2018 application for naturalization, for which he is charged with making false statements. He faces up to life in prison if convicted. His attorney left the courtroom after Tuesday’s arraignment without talking to reporters.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Dallas Morning News Editorial: While California burns, researchers at Texas A&M offer technology that could save the state

This year was a tough one for those poor souls who live in California. Not only did wildfires rage across the state, but a utility fell into the habit of shutting off the power to large areas in hopes of not sparking the next conflagration. But then, lucky us, researchers at Texas A&M University may have developed a new technology that can put an end to this blunt approach to fire prevention. At first blush, this may seem a bit fanciful. After all, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. shut off the power because it’s impossible to know when certain electric equipment will fail and spark a new blaze. After being hit with lawsuits that pushed it into bankruptcy, PG&E wasn’t in the mood to take chances and was shutting off the power in elevated risk situations. If this left large swaths of the state in the dark, well that’s the price to pay for avoiding the next costly fire.

Or so many people thought. But then, our friends in Aggieland had a better idea. Researchers at A&M invented technology that can detect when there is deterioration in electric equipment. So with this technology, power companies could know in advance when equipment is breaking down and fix it before it sparks a fire. If successful, this technology would prevent wildfires and prevent power outages as well. “Once it blows up we tend to get it offline really fast, but it’s already blown up. This is about prediction and prevention,” said Don Russell, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M. He and research professor Carl Benner have been studying outages for years and created Distribution Fault Anticipation software. The software analyzes the electrical current on power lines to detect deteriorating conditions before something breaks. Believe it or not, computer-based diagnostic tools, long standard in cars, are new for utilities.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Gov. Abbott endorses Houston Rep. Sarah Davis, after opposing her in 2018

Less than two years after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spent over $223,000 in a failed effort to defeat State Rep. Sarah Davis in a GOP primary, the Republican governor is now supporting her re-election. On Tuesday, after no Republicans filed to challenge Davis as she seeks re-election next year, Abbott released a statement to the media declaring he is endorsing Davis this time. “She is an effective leader for improving flood control and disaster preparedness,” Abbott said. “Representative Sarah Davis has proven her ability to deliver results that matter for her district and should be re-elected to the Texas House."

That is a striking divergence from his comments almost two years ago when he said Davis was “absolutely hostile” to his policies and should quit the Republican Party to run as a Democrat. Abbott endorsed Davis’s primary opponent Susanna Dokupil, contributed over $223,000 to her campaign and appeared in ads for her. It didn’t work. Davis defeated Dokupil by 12 percentage points in the primary and in November 2018 defeated Democrat Allison Lami Sawyer by 6 percentage points to win her fifth two-year term representing the 134th District, which includes West University Place, Bellaire and Southside Place. Davis responded at the time that it was a “sad and pathetic failure of leadership” for Abbott to be working against fellow Republicans.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Diverse Republican contenders flood Houston-area congressional battleground

A vaping-business owner, a professional sitar player, a sheriff and a former border patrol agent are among a growing field of candidates competing in a Fort Bend County-based district that has fast become one of the hottest congressional races in the nation. Already 12 candidates have qualified to run just in the Republican primary for the 22nd Congressional District, with more still likely to join the fray by the end of Monday when the filing deadline hits. And Democrats, too, could be looking at two or three candidates in the primary for the district that both parties have declared a must-win in 2020.

The growing field of candidates is largely due to the 22nd Congressional District being a rare open seat with no incumbent seeking re-election. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced earlier this year he would not run for a seventh term in Congress. But it also exemplifies a surge of congressional candidates in Texas in the era of President Donald Trump. A combined 200 Republican and Democratic candidates have filed to run for Congress in Texas in 2020. In 2016, the last presidential election cycle, just 129 candidates were running for Congress in Texas from the two major parties. The district has been solidly in Republican hands for decades, but in 2018, Olson won by just 4 percentage points — the closest re-election of his career in a fast-changing area that has become increasingly diverse.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Houston billionaire buys nearly 1 million shares of Enterprise Products Partners

Houston billionaire and philanthropist Randa Duncan Williams bought nearly 1 million shares of Enterprise Products Partners, a pipeline company founded by her late father Dan Duncan in 1968. Williams bought more than 950,000 shares of the company's stock, valued at nearly $25 million, over the past week, filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show.

The transactions give Williams more than 699 million shares of the company's stock, or just under one-third control of the company. Ranked by Forbes as the 100th richest person in the world, Williams is estimated to be worth $6 billion. She is considered to be the second-richest person in Houston just behind Kinder Morgan co-founder Rich Kinder.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Chip Roy: Let House vote on clean USMCA bill

Robust free trade throughout the Western Hemisphere is critical to the future of our national economy and national security. Twenty-five years removed from the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, we are a stronger nation, our economy is more robust, and it’s time to update the agreement by passing a clean United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement into law. As reports surfaced this week that trade negotiators have reached an agreement that may pave the way for USMCA’s ratification, we still have not seen final legislative text.

It is critical that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bring implementing text to the floor for a vote that is consistent with the principles under which it was agreed to a year ago. A clean USMCA, not a version that panders to the progressive wing of the Democratic conference, is a necessary step for modernizing NAFTA to meet the demands of our vibrant 21st century economy. This isn’t a partisan issue — it’s an American one. The need for modernization is clear given that the fundamental makeup of the U.S. economy is notably different than it was in 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law. Growth in the health care, energy, technology, construction and retail sectors, coupled with decades of entrepreneurial activity and innovation across the broad spectrum of the U.S. economy have changed the complexion of our workforce in order to meet consumer demands.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 10, 2019

Hearing set to determine if Cook Children’s Hospital can end baby’s life support

A hearing has been set to determine whether or not Cook Children’s Medical Center will be barred from ending the life-sustaining treatment of a 10-month-old baby. A hearing for Tinslee Lewis’ case has been scheduled at 9 a.m. Thursday in the 48th District Court in Fort Worth, Tinslee’s family’s attorney Joe Nixon confirmed Tuesday.

Cook Children’s moved to end Tinslee Lewis’ treatment in October under the Texas Advance Directives Act, which grants physicians the power to end life support treatment if an ethics committee deems the treatment futile. Tinslee’s family filed for a temporary restraining order against the hospital in November, and Family Court Judge Alex Kim extended the order to Dec. 10. The family is hoping to receive an injunction against the hospital that will prevent its physicians from ending Tinslee’s treatment, Nixon said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 10, 2019

State Rep. Bill Zedler drew a primary challenger and dropped out of the race. Here’s why.

One day after Mansfield Mayor David Cook filed to challenge him in the Republican primary to represent House District 96, state Rep. Bill Zedler withdrew his bid to seek re-election. Zedler, 76, said Tuesday that he has been having health issues and talked to his wife about retiring from the Texas Legislature. “Maybe it’s just time to take care of yourself, take care of medical issues you’ve got,” Zedler, R-Arlington, said he thought. “I’ll still work to make sure we have a successful November.

Joe Drago is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face Cook in the November general election. The House district includes parts of Arlington, Burleson, Crowley, Fort Worth, Kennedale and Mansfield. It is among the five that Tarrant Democrats have said they are targeting, along with districts 92, 93, 94 and 97. “We know District 96 is highly winnable for a Democrat,” Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples said. “We are confident that whoever is in that (Republican) primary, we are going to win the race.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 10, 2019

Hearing set to determine if Cook Children’s Hospital can end baby’s life support

A hearing has been set to determine whether or not Cook Children’s Medical Center will be barred from ending the life-sustaining treatment of a 10-month-old baby. A hearing for Tinslee Lewis’ case has been scheduled at 9 a.m. Thursday in the 48th District Court in Fort Worth, Tinslee’s family’s attorney Joe Nixon confirmed Tuesday.

Cook Children’s moved to end Tinslee Lewis’ treatment in October under the Texas Advance Directives Act, which grants physicians the power to end life support treatment if an ethics committee deems the treatment futile. Tinslee’s family filed for a temporary restraining order against the hospital in November, and Family Court Judge Alex Kim extended the order to Dec. 10. The family is hoping to receive an injunction against the hospital that will prevent its physicians from ending Tinslee’s treatment, Nixon said.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 10, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Even on free gun locks, the state is faltering

Distributing gun locks across Texas is one small, yet potentially life-saving step. After the school shooting in Santa Fe last year, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would distribute $1 million worth, or an estimated 625,000, of free gun locks to the public through local law enforcement. But more than one year later, only about 10,000 have been distributed, according to Express-News reporter Allie Morris. And none have been sent to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, its spokesman Johnny Garcia told us. “That’s still a work in progress,” Garcia said.

Local officials have instead independently secured gun locks for distribution. Abbott’s office told Morris the 2018 grant applications had already closed at the time of the governor’s gun locks announcement, which caused the delay. The organization that ships the lock kits, National Shooting Sports Foundation, wasn’t awarded the money until April, his office said. Fortunately, local organizations took matters into their own hands. A collaboration between the sheriff’s department, Bexar County, University Health System and others led to the GunSafety4Bexar campaign. A couple weeks ago the campaign had secured 17,000 free gun locks for the public. Right now the sheriff’s two substations each have 1,000 locks, Garcia said. Deputies on patrol are also distributing them. But not all Texas counties have the resources to independently secure gun locks. How many counties are still waiting for the state to deliver?

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San Antonio Express-News - December 10, 2019

GOP revolt against party chair in San Antonio includes lawsuit threat

Three Bexar County Republican candidates met with party chairwoman Cynthia Brehm on Monday to pressure her to agree to hold the March 3 primary election jointly with Democrats and abandon her plan to hold a separate contest. Backed by the threat of a lawsuit, the three — who had been delegated by a larger insurgent group of disaffected GOP leaders upset with what they consider Brehm’s divisive leadership — extracted a promise that she would change her plan, said Mike Berlanga, a Republican running for county tax assessor-collector.

He said the three Republican candidates who met with Brehm had all previously held public office — he would not name them — and that the meeting lasted about 90 minutes at Republican Party headquarters at 12000 Starcrest Drive. The riled Republicans believe, with considerable evidence, that joint primaries run by the county elections office at the same polling places increase turnout. Last week, Brehm refused to sign a routine resolution at a Commissioners Court meeting agreeing to let the county elections office run the GOP primary jointly with other parties.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 10, 2019

Beto O’Rourke isn’t running in 2020, but his staffers jumped into U.S. Senate race

Beto O'Rourke isn’t running for Senate again as many Democrats had hoped. But the people who helped the former El Paso congressman come closer to winning statewide office than any Democrat in a generation are now working to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. Many of the staffers from O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign are now working with Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a progressive labor organizer in the crowded Democratic primary field vying to take on Cornyn. They include his former campaign manager, Jody Casey, and 20 other members of his campaign.

“I believe that Cristina’s incredible work ethic and community-focused approach will inspire and activate Texans, and will be the key to defeating John Cornyn in 2020,” Casey wrote in an online post, in which she describes first meeting Tzintzún Ramirez while working on O’Rourke’s Senate campaign. Tzintzún Ramirez will first face a field of nearly a dozen Democrats who have filed to run, including former Houston congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar and Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards.

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KXAN - December 6, 2019

Former Congressman Chris Bell says experience gives him an edge to beat John Cornyn

Former U.S. Congressman Chris Bell has turned his sights towards the U.S. Senate. In a crowded primary field where name recognition will be important, Bell is the Democratic candidate most voters have heard of, according to a University of Texas and Texas Tribune poll. Bell said one of the main reasons he’s running is because he can’t stand the the direction the country is headed, so he wants to take it back. “I think in order to accomplish that it’s going to take individuals with experience to run against John Cornyn and be able to take him down,” Bell said. “I think Texas deserves better leadership.”

Texas ranks as one of the worst states in healthcare. Bell supports Medicare for all, but he said he still wants Texans to have the option to choose their insurance company. “But for others who have really found this whole system to be a nightmare, I do think they should have the ability to buy into a public option,” Bell said. When it comes to paying for Medicare for all, Bell said it depends on where the economy is, but he believes President Donald Trump’s tax plans have been a disaster. “I think there are a lot of other ways to increase revenue for the United States,” Bell said. “Whether we’re going to have to look at some kind of wealth tax to have wealthier individuals pay their fair share, I think all of those things are going to be on the table.”

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Houston Public Media - December 11, 2019

GOP, Dems kick off massive fundraising efforts for control of Texas House

Just nine seats separate Republicans and Democrats for control of the Texas House. With that control comes the ability to draw maps not only for the state legislature but also for Texas’ congressional districts. The financial race to determine who will wield that power after the 2020 elections is already underway. Five million dollars. That’s how much State Representative Charlie Geren of Fort Worth told the Texas Tribune Republicans aim to raise to defend their majority in the Texas House in 2020.

“You know, that was off the top of my head,” Geren told Houston Public Media. “That’s a good number, but I don’t know if that’s a realistic number yet. We, actually, we’re just now getting started raising the money.” Geren is one of the leaders of the new political action committee Leading Texas Forward PAC. The group has enlisted legendary Republican strategist Karl Rove as its treasurer. “We’re setting up some fundraising events in different locations around the state, where Karl Rove’s going to come to some of those, and we’re going to host these others ourselves and solicit donations from, you know, across the board, $1,000 donations or $100,000 donations,” Geren said.

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Texas Standard - December 11, 2019

The testimony of one jailhouse informant sent over 37 people to prison

For decades, jailhouse informants have been presented as credible witnesses at criminal trials. In the movies, you've seen them called “snitches.” They testify about what they say they heard while being held in the same facility, or even the same cell, as the defendant.

Using one jailed suspect to testify against another is perfectly legal. Ex-police officer Paul Skalnik has been in and out of jail on 31 charges of writing hot checks, including a couple of felonies. While serving his sentences, Skalnik made a career of being an informant. His testimony has helped send 37 people to prison in Texas, and four to death row in Florida. Pamela Colloff is an Austin-based investigative reporter for ProPublica and a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. She profiled Skalnik’s prolific informant career, and the concerns that using informants as witnesses raise in the criminal justice system.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 10, 2019

Acevedo slams Cruz, Cornyn over gun measure

In wake of officer fatal officer shooting, Houston chief decries opposition to gun measure Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo is denouncing Texas’ two U.S. senators over gun laws in wake of the shooting death of a Houston officer. Acevedo, formerly Austin’s often outspoken police chief, sharply criticized U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Monday for failing to support an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act that would broaden gun ownership restrictions for domestic abusers.

The emotional remarks came after Houston police Sgt. Christopher Brewster, 32, was killed while responding to a domestic violence call over the weekend. Houston police charged 25-year-old Arturo Solis with capital murder. In his remarks, Acevedo, who served as Austin police chief from 2007 to 2016, also called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for siding with the National Rifle Association on the issue. “We all know in law enforcement that the one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women’s Act is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends,” Acevedo said at a news conference.

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Tyler Morning Telegraph - December 9, 2019

Democrat challenges Schaefer for Texas Legislature as local, state, federal candidates file for March primary

The Democratic challenger of Republican incumbent state representative Matt Schaefer believes East Texans need better representation. Julie Gobble is running for the Texas House of Representatives District 6 seat against Schaefer, according to filings for the March 3 primary. Schaefer, who came into office in 2013, has filed as a Republican. Gobble is a full-time political science undergraduate student and has worked on several campaigns at various levels.

She said one factor in her decision to run were Schaefer’s comments on gun reform after the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, which left 22 people dead and 24 injured. “I am NOT going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans,” Schaefer wrote on his social media platforms. “Period. None of these so-called gun-control solutions will work to stop a person with evil intent." He encouraged prayers for those affected by gun violence.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Luis Carassco: We honor Houston Police Sergeant Christopher Brewster

Houston Police Sergeant Christopher Brewster was shot and killed Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance call. The death of the nine-year veteran of the department is a tragic reminder of the dangers law enforcement face every day so the rest of us may be safe. We are grateful for his service and our thoughts and condolences are with his family.

He is the second law-enforcement officer to be gunned down in the line of duty in Harris County this year. In September, Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was shot from behind during a traffic stop. Eleven other law enforcement officers have died this year in Texas The man who allegedly shot Brewster, 25-year-old Arturo Solis, was walking down the street when police arrived on the scene. According to reports, he was identified by his girlfriend. “That’s who you are looking for,” she said. Brewster knew the suspect could be armed, but as he stood in the residential area, with the man’s girlfriend close by, he waved and called out to Solis to get his attention.

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Houston Chronicle - December 11, 2019

Early voting ends in Houston runoffs with higher turnout than first round

Early voting in Houston’s runoff elections ended Tuesday with 115,204 ballots cast in Harris County, producing a higher turnout than the first round despite two fewer days to visit the polls. Nearly all county ballots were cast in Houston’s runoffs for mayor and City Council, along with contests for the Houston ISD and Houston Community College boards. The exception: two City Council races in Bellaire, where there are 12,481 registered voters, compared to 1,085,813 in Houston.

In the Nov. 5 election, about 109,000 Houston voters cast ballots early and by mail in Harris County, short of the total reported Tuesday evening by the Harris County Clerk’s Office. It was not immediately clear how many of those voters live in Bellaire, though just 955 voters turned out early for that city’s mayoral election in the first round. The Houston mayoral runoff has proven more lackluster than expected, particularly after second-place finisher Tony Buzbee and fellow challenger Bill King spent much of the nearly yearlong campaign attacking incumbent Sylvester Turner as corrupt. The runoff, nonetheless, produced a higher per-day early vote total than the first round, indicating Buzbee and Turner were using their political machines effectively to keep supporters engaged, University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 11, 2019

Fort Worth to appeal decision to rehire teacher who tweeted Trump on ‘illegal students’

Fort Worth school officials are appealing a ruling that reinstated an English teacher who was fired after she asked President Donald Trump on Twitter to crack down on immigration at Carter-Riverside High School. At a Fort Worth Independent School District meeting Tuesday night, the school board voted unanimously to appeal the Texas Education Agency decision to district court. In May, former teacher Georgia Clark’s tweets ignited a national backlash.

In June, Superintendent Kent P. Scribner recommended Clark be terminated for using racially insensitive language and abusing social media. The school board unanimously agreed and she was placed on leave. On Sept. 26, Clark’s contract was officially terminated. However, Clark appealed her termination. On Nov. 25, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath ruled she is entitled to get her job back, along with back pay and employment benefits from the time her contract was not renewed. If she is not reinstated, the school district may pay her one year of salary. On Nov. 26, the school board announced it would appeal that decision.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 10, 2019

Austin council steps away from second motel to house homeless

Austin City Council members on Tuesday walked away from a planned purchase of a second motel to house Austin’s homeless, at least for now. The council had weighed purchasing the Microtel at 7705 Metro Center Drive, which would have provided 71 bridge housing units to the city’s homeless service network.

The motel is situated in a cluster of hotels near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Ending Community Homelessness Coalition Executive Director Matt Mollica said the decision came down to the ability to eventually convert units at the property to permanent supportive housing so close to the airport. The property would have cost up to $6.8 million, and another $1 million to the project for renovations, bringing the grand total to $7.8 million.

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National Stories

Politico - December 10, 2019

Small group of Democrats floats censure instead of impeachment

A small group of vulnerable House Democrats is floating the longshot idea of censuring President Donald Trump instead of impeaching him, according to multiple lawmakers familiar with the conversations. Those Democrats, all representing districts that Trump won in 2016, huddled on Monday afternoon in an 11th-hour bid to weigh additional — though unlikely — options to punish the president for his role in the Ukraine scandal as the House speeds toward an impeachment vote next week.

The group of about 10 Trump-district lawmakers included Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), and Ben McAdams (D-Utah.). “I think it’s certainly appropriate and might be a little more bipartisan, who knows,” Schrader said Tuesday when asked about the possibility of a censure resolution. But he acknowledged: “Time’s slipping by.” The idea of censure, according to the lawmakers, is to offer a competing alternative to impeachment that could attract at least some Republican support on the floor. It would also help Democrats avoid a lengthy impeachment trial in the Senate, which some in this group fear could tilt public opinion toward the GOP in the final months before the 2020 election.

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Washington Post - December 11, 2019

Federal judge blocks Trump plan to spend $3.6 billion in military funds on border wall

A federal judge in El Paso on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration’s plan to pay for border barrier construction with $3.6 billion in military funds, ruling that the administration does not have the authority to divert money appropriated by Congress for a different purpose. The Trump administration was planning to use those funds to build 175 miles of steel barriers, and the court’s permanent injunction is a setback for Trump’s pledge to erect 450 linear miles of fencing by the end of next year.

District Court Judge David Briones, a Bill Clinton appointee, said in his ruling that the administration’s attempt to reprogram military construction funds by emergency proclamation was unlawful and that the plaintiffs in the case were entitled to a permanent injunction halting the government. A ruling Briones issued in October placed a temporary hold on Trump’s plan to use the funds, but that decision did not have a nationwide scope.

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Washington Post - December 10, 2019

ExxonMobil prevails over New York in high-profile climate fraud case

ExxonMobil prevailed Tuesday in its much-watched legal battle with the state of New York, beating back claims that it misled investors for years in how it calculated the financial risks of climate change. The high-profile trial, which saw testimony from former ExxonMobil chief executive and former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, marked the culmination of a more-than-three-year probe under three different New York attorneys general, during which Exxon handed over millions of documents about its internal dealings.

But that extensive effort wasn't enough to convince New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager that the oil and natural gas giant broke state securities laws when describing to shareholders how it analyzed the effect of future greenhouse gas regulations on the company's bottom line. During a 12-day trial this fall, the state tried to wield a powerful anti-fraud law, called the Martin Act, that does not require prosecutors to prove that a company intended to deceive investors. The office of Letitia James, New York's current attorney general, tried to show the company lied to investors by keeping two sets of books - one public, one private - for estimating the cost of complying with future climate regulations. But even with that relatively low bar, Ostrager found New York's allegations "to be without merit" and the use of the state's securities law to be a stretch in this case.

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New York Times - December 10, 2019

Impeach Trump or work with him? Democrats are pushing forward on both

On the day that House Democrats formally accused President Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors, something unusual happened in the capital: Divided government actually started to work. Within minutes of announcing on Tuesday that Democrats would charge Mr. Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was behind closed doors with her rank and file, informing them that she was ready to deliver the president his biggest economic priority: passage of a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

That was not all. Democrats are also on the brink of approving a bipartisan defense bill, the largest in the nation’s history, after weeks of negotiations with Republicans, and intend to pass legislation this week on another issue that Mr. Trump has made a top priority: lowering the cost of prescription drugs. The sudden outbreak of bipartisan cooperation, almost certain to be fleeting, was hardly an accident. To Ms. Pelosi, it was proof that Democrats could deliver on their legislative agenda, while effectively stripping Mr. Trump of the argument that Democrats were ignoring the important business of their country in their zeal to get rid of him.

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USA Today - December 10, 2019

Merriam-Webster announces ‘they’ as the word of the year

Merriam-Webster announced the word of the year for 2019: the singular non-binary pronoun “they.” According to Merriam-Webster, searches for “they” increased 313% over the year.

“English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years,” Merriam-Webster said in a statement.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Venezuela reported to have released ‘Citgo 6’ from prison

Six executives of Houston refiner Citgo are out of a Venezuelan prison, according to a late Monday report by Reuters. After spending two years in prison on corruption charges, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira are said to have been released on house arrest.

Known as the “Citgo 6,” the executives were called to a meeting in Caracas at Citgo’s parent Petroleos de Venezuela SA in November 2017. Once in Venezuela, they were arrested and accused of various corruption charges. With some of them naturalized U.S. citizens and their families living in Houston and Louisiana, their arrests became a source of tension between the United States and Venezuela. While not directly confirming the report, Citgo did issue a statement Tuesday morning reacting to the news.

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CBS 2 - December 10, 2019

Jersey City shootout: 6 dead including police detective, 2 suspects, 3 civilians

A police officer was among six killed in a lengthy gun battle in Jersey City Tuesday. The two suspects were also killed, along with three civilians. Their bodies were found in a kosher grocery store at Bayview Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard after an intense, hours-long shootout with police. Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly said police believe the three civilians killed in the grocery store were shot by the suspects.

t began at roughly 12:30 p.m. at the Bay View cemetery at Garfield Avenue. The suspects were spotted at the cemetery in a stolen rental van. Kelly said he believes Det. Joseph Seals – who was part of the unit responsible for removing guns from the street – was attempting to interdict weapons in the van when he approached the suspects, and they opened fire. Det. Seals was hit. He was rushed to the hospital, but did not survive. The suspects then drove about a mile to the grocery store in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where more shots were fired.

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Newsclips - December 10, 2019

Lead Stories

Associated Press - December 9, 2019

Democrats poised to unveil 2 impeachment articles vs. Trump

House Democrats are poised to unveil two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — with an announcement expected early Tuesday. Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with formal charges saying the president put U.S. elections and national security at risk by asking Ukraine to investigate his rivals, including Joe Biden, while withholding military aid for an ally trying to counter hostile Russia neighbors. They warn Trump could do it again if left unchecked.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined during an evening event Monday to discuss the articles or the coming announcement. Details were shared by multiple people familiar with the discussions but unauthorized to discuss them and granted anonymity. When asked if she has enough votes to impeach the president, the Democratic leader said she would let House lawmakers vote their conscience. “On an issue like this, we don’t count the votes. People will just make their voices known on it,” Pelosi said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. "I haven’t counted votes, nor will I.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Harris County Commissioner Radack won’t seek re-election, vacating powerful county commissioner seat coveted by Democrats

Steve Radack will not seek a ninth term as Harris County commissioner for Precinct 3, vacating a powerful position he has held for three decades that Democrats hope to flip next year. Radack, 70, said he plans to invest his time and significant campaign account into helping Republicans regain seats after disastrous elections in 2016 and 2018. “I’m not through being involved in public service, and I felt that there’s a lot I can do to help the Republican Party,” Radack said.

Harris County commissioners are among the most powerful Texas politicians, outside statewide elected officials. Though Commissioners Court governs the whole unincorporated county, members traditionally have refrained from meddling in each other’s precincts, effectively rendering each a fiefdom of more than 1 million residents where commissioners individually control tens of millions in annual infrastructure spending. Court members often serve until retirement; in the four decades preceding 2016, they were more likely to be forced from office by criminal indictments than tossed out by voters. Radack’s retirement creates the first open seat since 2016, when Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee died unexpectedly.

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Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2019

White House, Democrats reach tentative agreement on USMCA trade deal

Democratic negotiators and the White House have reached a tentative agreement on a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, which could be voted on in the House before the end of the year, according to sources close to the trade talks on Capitol Hill. Since President Donald Trump signed the United States Mexico Canada Agreement last year, the White House has been working to win over House Democrats to get the deal ratified in Congress. Chief among the outstanding issues was an enforcement mechanism to ensure Mexico complied with trade rules designed to bring some Mexican manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

But nothing is final yet. After news reports of a deal emerged Sunday night, one unnamed Democratic aide told The Hill, “we’re still studying the proposal.” The USMCA would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has come under increasing criticism from Democrats and Trump alike for allowing industry to move too easily overseas. One new provision would require 75 percent of automobile components be manufactured in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as 40 to 45 percent of automobile parts made by workers earning at least $16 an hour by 2023. The USMCA appeared a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in recent weeks, as Washington remains hotly divided over Democrats’ efforts to impeach Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate Democratic president candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

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New York Times - December 8, 2019

Jamelle Bouie: Why the ‘wokest’ candidates are the weakest

Democrats are too “woke” for their own good, or so goes the argument. “Today’s progressivism is more or less a secular form of religion with its own high standards,” Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist, wrote this spring. “Eventually,” he concluded, “the revolution devours its own.” Wokeness, in this rendering, is an overly rigid commitment to identity politics and social justice ideology.

And in their zeal, these woke Democrats are pushing the Democratic Party away from the voters it needs to beat President Donald Trump in 2020. If this were actually true, you would expect real traction for the wokest candidates in the Democratic presidential race. But it’s been just the opposite. The woke candidates have been the weakest, electorally speaking, and the defining attribute of the Democratic primary has been a preoccupation with the voters that put Trump in the White House. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York centered her campaign on racial justice and the fight against sexual assault. During one debate, she identified herself as a “white woman of privilege” and promised to reach out to “white women in the suburbs who voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is.” Fluent in wokeness, Gillibrand hoped to win the most progressive, social justice-minded Democrats.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

Texas oil and gas regulator sued over flaring decision

Texas oil and gas regulators have granted almost 30,000 permits to burn natural gas into the air over the past seven years, but a pipeline company is now challenging its authority to unilaterally green-light the practice of flaring. Williams Cos., based in Tulsa, Okla., is suing the Texas Railroad Commission in state District Court in Travis County, arguing that it made the wrong decision when it recently allowed oil exploration company Exco Resources Co. to flare.

The commission ruled that Exco didn’t have to use a Williams pipeline in the Eagle Ford shale play to transport gas Exco pumped as a byproduct from its oil wells in the South Texas field. The low prices for natural gas — several times this year, producers would have had to pay to get the gas taken off their hands — and a shortage of pipelines have driven energy companies to file a blizzard of flaring permits. And the Railroad Commission, looking to spur oil production in Texas, has approved nearly every request. The commission is also charged with preventing waste of the state’s natural resources. Oil producers have traditionally asked the commission to OK flaring only when there was no pipeline available to transport the gas. It hasn’t always been that way, Williams lawyers contend. Oil and gas regulators had rejected gas flaring applications by oil companies.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

No shortage of interest in the seat Rep. Will Hurd will vacate in 2021

Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s pending retirement from Congress has triggered a flood of candidates in a district some regard as ripe to be picked off by Democrats in 2020. For years, the 23rd District has generated highly competitive races and drawn national attention. It stretches from San Antonio nearly to El Paso and includes a vast expanse of the U.S.-Mexico border Hurd, a moderate serving his third consecutive term, gave Republicans an unlikely foothold in a fast-changing, predominantly Latino swath of Texas. But in August, he announced that he would leave Congress at the end of his current term.

Now, Republican hopefuls must chart a path to victory in the 23rd without the advantages of incumbency and in the midst of a Democratic blitz aimed at the district and five others in Texas. Hurd, 42, a former CIA case officer known for his willingness to break with Republican orthodoxy, won by narrow margins in each of his three successful campaigns in the 23rd. Last year, he edged out Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones by fewer than 1,000 votes. Since Hurd’s surprise announcement that he wouldn’t run again, some Washington analysts have moved the seat from the “toss-up” column — meaning Democrats and Republicans had an equal shot at winning — to “lean Democratic.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

Homeowners along Texas coast want the rest of us to help defend their risky choices

Owners of hurricane-prone properties are trying to pass the price of their high-risk choices onto all Texas property insurance holders this week, manipulating a little-observed corner of state politics while most of us are not paying attention. Coastal home and business owners will crowd into a Texas Windstorm Insurance Association meeting in Corpus Christi on Dec. 10 and refuse to pay their fair share. They want you and me to subsidize more of the cost of insuring their property or rebuilding it when the next storm hits.

Texas’ 367 miles of coastline exposes the state to all of the dangers the Gulf of Mexico can muster. Every two to five years, the warm water produces a storm capable of literally blowing the roofs off our economy. The problem for policymakers and the public is how to insure against those predictable disasters. Whether due to location or condition, a market-based premium to insure some coastal properties would exceed what anyone can pay. To provide affordable wind and hail coverage for those properties, the Texas Legislature formed the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. This quasi-governmental entity requires private insurance companies to put aside $1 billion for about 200,000 high-risk properties; a cost passed on to the rest of Texas’ property insurance policyholders.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

With Beto O’Rourke out of the picture, Democrats in Texas can look for a champion against Sen. John Cornyn

After months of being maligned as candidates who aren’t ready for prime time, the contenders for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Texas have the chance to seize a star-making role. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julián Castro will be on the ballot for the March 3 Senate primary, a reality that disappoints some Democrats but provides opportunities for others.

Whether it’s former Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston council member Amanda Edwards, former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock, activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez of Austin or state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, the opportunity exists for a Democrat with a compelling message to rise to challenge John Cornyn in the 2020 general election. The changing politics of Texas didn’t begin or end with O’Rourke, whose electrifying but unsuccessful 2018 campaign against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz set a high bar for this year’s crop. Democrats must be able to field an array of candidates with the potential to win statewide races.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Texas congressional primaries play out against backdrop of impeachment

Texas voters will fill three dozen seats in Congress in the March 3 primaries and the general election. In ordinary times the vast majority would be incumbents. But these are not ordinary times. Exhibit A: The impeachment drama coming to a head this week in the House, a drama that will overshadow those congressional fights. Exhibit B: The incredible turnover in the delegation. GOP incumbents are leaving a half-dozen seats vacant.

Some barely survived the decimating midterms, when Democrats made huge inroads in suburbia. Others held safe seats but could see the party’s dim prospects for reclaiming the majority and figured it wouldn’t be much fun. What happens when those factors come together? In the two or three true battleground districts, congressional candidates will have to choose between ginning up the base, or moderation aimed at broadening their appeal. In GOP districts, backlash against impeachment will favor the most adamantly pro-Trump candidates.

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Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2019

Pierce Bush announces run for 22nd Congressional District

Pierce Bush, the grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, is running as a Republican for the 22nd Congressional District, he said in a phone interview Monday. Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, joins a crowded GOP primary field seeking the nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Sugar Land Republican who is not seeking re-election. Earlier this year, Bush weighed a run for the 7th Congressional District, the seat once represented by his grandfather. He filed for the 22nd district Monday morning, ahead of the 6 p.m. deadline to sign up for Texas’ March 2020 primaries.

At least 14 candidates have qualified to run in the Republican primary for the district, which covers parts of Fort Bend, Brazoria and Harris counties. Democrats also are targeting the seat, which Olson won by his narrowest margin ever in 2018. Asked how he would distinguish himself among a packed primary field, Bush said he would emphasize his work at the Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate, which provides youth mentoring services. He also downplayed the importance of his family name. “If you have met my grandmother, Barbara Bush, you would know that no grandkid of hers could be entitled and think that anything was theirs because of anything else,” Bush said.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Houston Councilman Jerry Davis to challenge state Rep. Harold Dutton

Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis filed Monday to run as a Democrat for House District 142, a northeast Harris County seat long represented by state Rep. Harold Dutton.

Davis, who has represented District B since 2011, is prevented from seeking re-election due to Houston’s term limits. His council district overlaps part of the House district, which includes the Fifth Ward and runs east and then north to FM 1960. The move ensures Dutton, D-Houston, will have his most challenging primary in years. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1984 and frequently has coasted to victory without primary opposition. Last cycle, he beat primary challenger Richard A. Bonton, 65 percent to 35 percent. Bonton is running for the seat again this cycle.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Former O’Rourke adviser announces for Congress, picks up his endorsement

Sima Ladjevardian, a Houston attorney and former adviser to Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, filed Monday to run as a Democrat for the 2nd Congressional District, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston.

Ladjevardian announced her filing in a tweet and was endorsed soon after by O’Rourke, who called Ladjevardian’s candidacy “[g]reat news for Texas and the country.” “Sima is one of the smartest, hardest working people I’ve met,” O’Rourke said. “She helped produce record turnout in 2018 in Texas for my campaign and will beat Crenshaw in 2020 in hers!”

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Brownsville Herald - December 7, 2019

ACLU files federal lawsuit, seeks to stop removals of asylum seekers

Civil rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging an “expedited removal” pilot program put into place by the Trump administration which strips asylum seekers at certain ports of entry along the U.S/Mexico border of their right to counsel. According to a press release circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX), the coalition filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia against several government agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that handle immigration and asylum cases.

Reports indicated that the Trump administration implemented two new, secretive asylum processes on or around Oct. 7 in which would expedite applicants’ credible fear interview. Credible fear interviews are an integral piece of the asylum process where those who have fled their home countries are given the opportunity to present a “credible”, or believable fear of torture or persecution if they were to return in accordance with both federal and international law. The lawsuit filed by ACLU attorneys in D.C. this week alleged that the two new programs, called Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) force applicants to go through the process while detained in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities commonly known as “heirlas” (or “iceboxes”).

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 9, 2019

Watch this Fort Worth area race. It could help decide which party controls Texas House

House District 92 is in the spotlight. Not only have Tarrant Democrats targeted this district, but now at least three Republicans are in the race to replace the retiring Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “This district has been growing steadily more Democratic in the past decade, making it a very flippable district for 2020 if the Democrats nominate a strong candidate,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Suburban Texas has been and will be the battleground where party control of the Legislature is won and lost.

The battle for the seat ramped up earlier this year when Stickland, long known as a firebrand and political bomb thrower, announced he wasn’t seeking re-election to the post he has held since 2013. “It is not the Lord’s will,” he said. Democrat Steve Riddell, who claimed 47.43% of the vote to Stickland’s 49.8% in 2018, was already in the race. He recently was joined by fellow Democrat Jeff Whitfield, an attorney and veteran. And at least three Republicans: former Bedford City Councilman Jeff Cason, small business owner and veteran Taylor Gillig and former Bedford Mayor Jim Griffin. Cason, a former Bedford city councilman, said he’s in the race “to put Texas back on a conservative path and ensure conservative representation” for the district.

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KUT - December 10, 2019

How one Gulf Coast city is planning for its cut of $4 billion in Harvey relief

The Texas General Land Office has proposed a plan to help mitigate damage from Hurricane Harvey – damage that some homeowners are still dealing with over two years later. Over $4 billion in federal community development block grants will go to those affected. But first, local governments have to figure out how, exactly, to spend the money.

Patrick Rios is mayor of Rockport – the Gulf Coast town near where Harvey first made landfall. He says Rockport plans to use the money to prepare the city for future storms. “We’re looking at how we can make our community more resilient, harden our resources against any future storm,” he says. “We know there’ll be another storm, we just don’t know when.” He says in practice, mitigation will involve improving the city’s infrastructure – things like streets, storm drainage and water treatment plants.

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KVUE - December 6, 2019

You may not find out where credit card skimmers are found until months later

If you’ve ever had a skimmer steal your credit card information, you pause before you fill up your tank. Maybe check the card reader to see if it’s loose. If you haven’t been a victim, the Texas Department of Agriculture regularly reminds Texans how the thieves work. “We all know it’s a growing problem,” said Paul Hardin, president and CEO of the Texas Food and Fuel Association (TFFA).

TFFA represents gas station owners in the Texas legislature. They pushed for House Bill 2945, which “amends the Business & Commerce Code and Government Code to provide for the reporting and investigation of payment card skimmers on motor fuel dispensers, for related enforcement provisions, and for the creation of a payment fraud fusion center.” The bill was signed into law on June 10. The Office of the Attorney General will create rules for merchants, like protocols for skimmer inspections and what to do if one is suspected. Violating the rules could result in a fine. The fusion center will operate in Tyler, Texas. It will cost taxpayers $1.2 million over the next two years.

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Newsweek - December 10, 2019

Houston Police Union condemns Chief Art Acevedo's comments after he accused GOP of siding with NRA

The Houston Police Officers' Union has hit out at Chief Art Acevedo's words against GOP lawmakers for failing to pass the Violence Against Women Act. Acevedo made the comments after a police sergeant was killed on-duty while responding to a domestic violence call. Acevedo singled out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texan Republican senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn for criticism during an emotional press conference outside the funeral home of Sergeant Christopher Brewster. The police chief condemned the GOP-controlled Senate for stalling the bill, which would ban those convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms.

Brewster, 32, was shot multiple times after police received a call from a woman saying her boyfriend was armed and assaulting her. Brewster was killed at 7400 Avenue L about 5:45 p.m. on December 7, after seeing the couple walking down the street together. "We all know in law enforcement that the one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women's Act is because the NRA doesn't like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends," Acevedo told reporters. "And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend. "I don't want to see their little smug faces about how much they care about law enforcement when I'm burying a sergeant, because they don't want to p*** off the NRA. "Make up your minds. Whose side are you on gun manufacturers, the gun lobby or the children are getting gunned down in this country every single day." Acevedo added: "That will be the last thing I say this week because the rest of this week is going to be about Christopher Brewster and his sacrifice. And the fact that his mom, his father, his wife, his sisters, his friends, and ultimately the community that he laid down his life for, will be putting him to rest before Christmas because of the cowardice of the political people that we have in office."

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 9, 2019

Judge Julie Kocurek draws surprise opponent on filing deadline for Dem primary

The widely held belief in Travis County was that no one would dare challenge state District Judge Julie Kocurek in next year’s Democratic primary. The concern was that any interested candidates would come across like they were picking on a woman who nearly lost her life in a botched assassination attempt in front of her teenage son four years ago. On Monday, that prediction turned out to be false.

Albert Amado, an attorney who lives in Austin but does not practice here, announced on the final day of the filing period that he will pursue the 390th district court bench that Kocurek has occupied for the past 20 years. Calling the attack on Kocurek “heinous,” Amado said Monday he is sympathetic to the anguish his opponent went through following the shooting outside of her Tarrytown home — but that Democratic voters deserve an alternative. “I have tremendous amount of sympathy for any person who has gone through what she went through,” Amado said. “The attack on her was an attack on the judicial system. I certainly hope no one views my political interests in sharpening the debate as anything like an attack on her. Certainly, I mean no disrespect by running against her.” He said he’ll remind the public that Kocurek was once a Republican who was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. George W. Bush before switching parties to protect her political ambitions. If elected, Amado said he’ll make it a priority to catch social and class inequities early before people enter the criminal justice system.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 9, 2019

In county attorney race, some see Delia Garza as strong candidate; critic says she’s the ‘least qualified’

Austin City Council Member Delia Garza made it official Monday and filed paperwork to run for county attorney in Travis County, ending months of speculation that she would attempt the unconventional shift from crafting municipal policies to prosecuting misdemeanor crimes. Garza, who is Austin’s mayor pro tem and is the first Latina to serve on the council, made the announcement on the last day to file for the Democratic primary, becoming the fourth candidate to line up for the position that will open when longtime county attorney David Escamilla retires.

Her announcement was met with disdain from former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, who addressed a three-page letter to Garza that he also circulated to media outlets saying she’s unqualified due to her short legal experience. “If you get elected, you would be — demonstrably — the least qualified county attorney in Travis County’s history,” Aleshire wrote. “Your ability to lead that law office would be suspect from day one.” Aleshire, an open-government lawyer, also raised concern that Garza might accept contributions in her bid for county attorney from special interest groups that want favors from her as a city council member. Garza will remain on the council until her term expires in 2021. Aleshire called for Garza to resign from her council seat or adhere to the city’s campaign finance rules, which cap an individual’s donation to a race at $400. Garza, who has represented District 2 in Southeast Austin since joining the council in 2015, said on Monday she couldn’t comment because she was in a meeting about the city’s new land development code.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

Bexar County deputy arrested, but District Attorney’s Office rejects charge of domestic violence

A sheriff’s deputy was taken into custody Monday on suspicion of domestic violence, but hours later, the Bexar County district attorney rejected the charge and the deputy was released. It was an unusual turn of events for an arrest highly publicized by the Sheriff’s Office, which has been rocked by criminal charges against dozens of deputies. In a statement, Sheriff Javier Salazar remained adamant that his office will continue to investigate the deputy and press charges again if warranted.

The deputy was off duty when he was taken into custody at 1 a.m. Monday by sheriff’s patrol deputies in North Bexar County and charged with assault bodily injury after a family disturbance, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. Salazar touted his agency’s actions in arresting the officer, whose name was not released. “Our employees are constantly trained and reminded of our strong stance regarding family violence and off-duty conduct,” he said. “When that point is still not taken and an incident occurs, we have to act in the interest of justice. I’m extremely disappointed in this employee’s alleged misconduct, but proud of the way deputies, supervisors and investigators on scene made the right call.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2019

Tax rate cut, ambitious budget requests leave Harris County with tough choices

Several Harris County departments are seeking significant budget increases for the upcoming fiscal year, though Commissioners Court may have little room for generosity after two members forced a property tax cut in October. Ahead of budget hearings next week, department heads asked for $114 million in additional funds, led by ambitious requests from the sheriff and district attorney and a pitch by Harris County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Umair Shah to nearly double his funding.

With less revenue expected, Budget Officer Bill Jackson estimated the county would be able to offer an additional $50 million to spend in the upcoming fiscal year. That figure may make the funding requests appear excessive, though Jackson said the county asked departments to be candid about their deficiencies. The current county general fund budget is $3.07 billion. Shah’s request for $28.6 million — an increase of 97 percent — is the boldest proposal. It would fund 189 new positions, including 62 health clinic staff, 46 for the county animal shelter and 31 focusing on nutrition and chronic disease prevention.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 9, 2019

‘Don’t read between the lines,’ Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says of letter on crime uptick

In his first State of the City address on Monday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said it was finally an appropriate time for him to call for a concrete plan from the Dallas Police Department about the city’s rise in violent crime. After submitting a strongly worded letter to City Manager T.C. Broadnax last week, Johnson said the public shouldn’t “read between the lines” and interpret anything from his actions beyond what he said. “I’m not a read-between-the-lines type of leader,” Johnson said, denying any tension between him and Broadnax or Police Chief U. Reneé Hall. “If I wanted to call for someone’s removal, I’d call for their removal."

In a question-and-answer session with Julie Fine of KXAS-TV (NBC5) — similar to the format used by former Mayor Mike Rawlings in his State of the City address last year — Johnson said he faced pressure earlier in his administration from media and his political opponents to “play into scare tactics" and call the uptick in crime a public safety “crisis.” It was unhelpful from a leader and too early to tell, he said Monday. Now, as the year comes to an end, Johnson noted that the city’s on pace to have more homicides than the city has had in over a decade. The number of African Americans alone that have been killed this year rivals the total number of homicides Dallas usually counts in a year, he said. "It's a concern. It's a significant concern," Johnson said.

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KUT - December 10, 2019

Chief Equity Officer calls Austin ISD's school closure process inequitable and 'short-sighted'

School closures and consolidations are not "equity strategies," the Austin Independent School District's chief equity officer says in a report released Monday.

"They are short-term and often short-sighted approaches to cost savings that are seldom reinvested in programming in the very school communities that are displaced and dispossessed," Stephanie Hawley continues. The report was dated Nov. 14 – five days before the vote to close four schools last month.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 9, 2019

As growth consumes the Texas prairie, Fort Worth considers a plan to slow sprawl

Each year, Fort Worth developers are turning 2,800 acres of Texas prairie into housing divisions, strip malls and warehouses. That’s equal to about 2,100 football fields. While the growth is good for Fort Worth, it’s not great for the air and water quality in North Texas or its natural habitats. Fort Worth is growing by about 20,000 people a year, and to lessen the effect on the environment, city planners have pitched a partnership with the Trust for Public Lands, a nonprofit that advocates for public open space and helps cities develop park plans.

The effort will identify high priority property still in a relatively natural state that may be worth maintaining, if the City Council gives the OK. To get an idea of where there is still undeveloped land worth protecting, the Trust for Public Land plans to examine data like flood plain and land use maps, said Robert Kent, the nonprofit’s North Texas director. The trust will build a website where the public can see possible zones worth protecting, weighed against how the open land would benefit public health, mitigate flooding, improve water quality and spur economic development. Cost of the land and its ecosystem preservation will also be factors. Identifying those areas could cost Fort Worth about $360,000, less than what Dallas spent on a similar initiative that finished last year.

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National Stories

New York Times - December 9, 2019

Documents reveal US officials misled public on war in Afghanistan

Prominent American officials concealed pessimistic assessments about the long-running military campaign in Afghanistan, according to thousands of pages of documents published by The Washington Post on Monday. Taken together, the documents paint a stark picture of missteps and failures.

The United States military achieved a quick but short-term victory over the Taliban and Al Qaeda in early 2002, and the Pentagon’s focus then shifted toward Iraq. The Afghan conflict became a secondary effort, a hazy spectacle of nation building, with intermittent troop increases to conduct high-intensity counterinsurgency offensives — but, over all, with a small number of troops carrying out an unclear mission. Even as the Taliban returned in greater numbers and troops on the ground voiced concerns about the American strategy’s growing shortcomings, senior American officials almost always said that progress was being made. The documents obtained by The Post show otherwise.

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New York Times - December 7, 2019

Video games and online chats are ‘hunting grounds’ for sexual predators

When Kate’s 13-year-old son took up Minecraft and Fortnite, she did not worry. The video games were hardly Grand Theft Auto — banned in their home because it was too violent — and he played in a room where she could keep an eye on him. But about six weeks later, Kate saw something appalling pop up on the screen: a video of bestiality involving a young boy. Horrified, she scrolled through her son’s account on Discord, a platform where gamers can chat while playing. The conversations were filled with graphic language and imagery of sexual acts posted by others, she said. Her son broke into tears when she questioned him last month.

“I think it’s a huge weight off them for somebody to step in and say, ‘Actually this is child abuse, and you’re being abused and you’re a victim here,’” said Kate, who asked not to be identified by her full name to protect her family’s privacy. Sexual predators and other bad actors have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes. The criminals strike up a conversation and gradually build trust. Often they pose as children, confiding in their victims with false stories of hardship or self-loathing. Their goal, typically, is to dupe children into sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves — which they use as blackmail for more imagery, much of it increasingly graphic and violent.

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Bloomberg - December 9, 2019

Paul Volcker, inflation tamer who set bank risk rule, dies at 92

Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who broke the back of U.S. inflation in the 1980s and three decades later led President Barack Obama’s bid to rein in the investment risk-taking of commercial banks, has died. He was 92. He died Sunday in New York, according to the New York Times, which cited his daughter, Janice Zima.

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Volcker became a one-man economic cleanup crew, called on to devise a successor to the gold standard, a cure for runaway inflation and, in 2008, a response to the housing-market collapse that exposed Americans as perilously leveraged and their banks as highly prone to risk. That last effort led to the Volcker Rule, widely loathed by bankers and subsequently a top priority for overhaul by the Trump administration. The grandson of German immigrants, Volcker held strong beliefs about the dangers of inflation and the virtues of frugality. He flew coach, grumbled about restaurant prices and took his first wife on a honeymoon to a fishing cabin in Maine rather than to Bermuda, as she’d hoped. He scorned financial industry innovations such as credit-default swaps and quipped that the best new financial product in recent decades was the automated teller machine.

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The Atlantic - December 10, 2019

Harry Reid is still the party’s kingmaker

Swing past Caesars Palace; head up the Bellagio’s driveway, where its famous fountains are erupting to an auto-tuned Cher hit. Walk by the Dale Chihuly glass-flower ceiling above the check-in line, and the animatronic exhibit with the half-human, half-monkey figures. Head past the blackjack tables and the jangling slot machines and the chocolate fountain to the austere concrete corridors beyond them. There, getting wheeled around in a red metal-frame wheelchair is the 80-year-old man on whom the unity of the Democratic Party in 2020—if not the Democratic nomination—may hinge. If he can stay alive that long.

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have both stopped by for meetings and checked in via phone. Pete Buttigieg made a special pilgrimage to see him. Bernie Sanders welcomed Reid to his hospital room after his recent heart attack. Before Mike Bloomberg started filing the paperwork to enter the primaries, he didn’t alert many Democratic Party figures—but he did call Reid. He smiled, running his right hand over his left wrist, then his left hand over his right wrist. He usually knows exactly what he wants to say, but seconds ticked by. He tapped his foot. “I don’t know ...” he said, stalling. Barack Obama would seem to be the natural choice; he’s not only the last Democratic president, and the only one since Franklin Roosevelt to be elected twice with majorities of the electorate, but he remains the most popular figure, by far, in the Democratic Party.

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Fox News - December 8, 2019

America’s rural hospital crisis becomes major 2020 campaign issue

Since 2010, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed, with another 430 at risk of shutting their doors, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. This poses a huge challenge -- and danger -- for the 20 percent of the population living in rural America. As the crisis worsens, it has started to generate increased attention on the campaign trail. Presidential candidates are now talking about the rural hospital shortage on a regular basis, unlike past cycles, as they court voters in critical states like Iowa where the thinning medical infrastructure is an everyday reality.

“Rural health just simply has not been a topic in presidential debates and campaigns in the past,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA). “We're seeing a unique focus on rural health … this presidential campaign that we haven't seen in the last 20 to 30 years … It's surfacing the issue as a key presidential campaign topic as we move forward.” Voters in rural Iowa say health care access is one of their top concerns and will play a role in deciding who to vote for in the Feb. 3 caucuses. Most of the major Democratic primary candidates have outlined plans to tackle the crisis, with many in favor of expanding "telehealth" services -- essentially doctor's appointments via video chat, and increasing reimbursement rates for rural hospitals.

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Washington Post - December 9, 2019

James Comey: The truth is finally out. The FBI fulfilled its mission.

For two years, the president of the United States and his followers have loudly declared that the FBI acted unlawfully in conducting a counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. They repeatedly told the American people that the FBI had done all sorts of bad things, such as tapping Donald Trump’s wires during the campaign, opening an investigation without adequate cause, with the intent to damage Trump, and inserting secret informants into the Trump campaign.

The president said the FBI’s actions were “treason.” The current attorney general even slimed his own organization by supporting Trump’s claims, asserting there had been “spying” on the campaign. Crimes had been committed, the Trump crowd said, and a whole bunch of former FBI leaders, including me, were likely going to jail. On Monday, we learned from a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, that the allegation of a criminal conspiracy was nonsense. There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no “spying” on the Trump campaign.

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Associated Press - December 10, 2019

A free pass for Trump? GOP presses edge in key battlegrounds

A full year before Election Day 2020, Republicans quietly executed a “dry run” of President Donald Trump's massive reelection machine. They activated tens of thousands of volunteers and tested phone bank capabilities and get-out-the-vote operations in every state in the nation. Before and after the sprawling exercise, GOP officials coordinated thousands of so-called “MAGA Meet ups” to organize and expand their network of Trump loyalists, paying close attention to battlegrounds like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

And on Tuesday, Trump himself will face thousands more cheering supporters in Pennsylvania, his fourth appearance in the swing state this year. The nation's best known Democrats, meanwhile, are pouring most of their time and resources into the states that matter most in their primary fight: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Three of the four will be considered swing states next November, but they are far from the biggest electoral prizes come Election Day 2020.

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Newsclips - December 9, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Ted Cruz calls impeachment ‘kangaroo court,’ pushes debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in 2016 election

Sen. Ted Cruz came out swinging on impeachment on Sunday, accusing Democrats of mounting a “show trial” meant to railroad President Donald Trump while averting their eyes from actual corruption regarding Democrat Joe Biden. “This is a kangaroo court in the House,” Cruz said. “The American people know this is a waste of time and this is Democrats putting on a circus.”

He insisted that Trump was justified in pressing Ukraine for dirt on Biden because Ukraine “interfered” in the 2016 election. That’s a theory that U.S. intelligence agencies have not endorsed. Trump critics consider the theory baseless, and a theme of Kremlin propaganda aimed at deflecting attention from Russia’s own election meddling while simultaneously driving a wedge between Kyiv and Washington. Cruz also likened Russia’s hacking in the 2016 election, which Vladimir Putin denies, to a public condemnation by Ukraine’s government when then-candidate Trump floated the idea of conferring U.S. recognition on Russia’s control of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory it had invaded and occupied for two years.

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Reuters - December 8, 2019

Democrats zoom in on Trump impeachment charges this week

Democratic lawmakers could vote this week on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, the House Judiciary Committee chairman said on Sunday as lawmakers sharpened their focus on charges of wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine. U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler said the panel will not decide on the specific articles until after a hearing on Monday to consider evidence gathered by the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation of the Republican leader.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 election. Nadler told NBC's "Meet the Press" that articles of impeachment would be brought to the panel later in the week. Asked on CNN if lawmakers could vote this week, he said, "It's possible." Democratic lawmakers on Sunday played down the possibility of basing one of the articles of impeachment on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference in 2016.

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Politico - December 8, 2019

House-Senate fix could break gridlock on 'surprise' medical bills

Bipartisan efforts to protect patients from “surprise” medical bills are regaining momentum after stalling out over the summer. Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the chairman of the Senate health panel announced a deal Sunday they said would rely on “a new system for independent dispute resolution often called arbitration." The lawmakers didn't elaborate.

The administration is "supportive," according to a senior administration official. Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), called for swift passage of the package, though it's unclear whether there's enough time in a legislative calendar already consumed with impeachment and year-end spending debates. Congressional aides said details of the legislation were forthcoming. The top Democrat on Senate HELP Committee, Patty Murray notably hasn't signed on to the deal — in a sign significant hurdles could remain.

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KUT - December 9, 2019

Ahead of 2020, voting group warns most county election websites in Texas are not secure

Almost 80 percent of county election websites in Texas are not secure ahead of the 2020 presidential primary, according to a report from the League of Women Voters of Texas. Before every major election, the nonpartisan voting group says, it looks through the state’s 254 county election websites to make sure they have the information they are legally required to have, that the information is easy to find and that it’s easy to read. League of Women Voters of Texas President Grace Chimene said as the group conducted this review, it found a glaring issue.

“One of things that stood out to us is that there is a definite problem with website security,” she said. “I was really surprised. I was totally shocked that this is a problem.” In particular, Chimene said, 201 of the 254 sites don’t have https in their URLs, signaling the website is secure. “This is just the most simple thing to fix and it hasn’t been fixed,” she said. The overwhelming majority of sites also didn't have a .gov address, indicating they are government-verified domains. Chimene said only nine counties in the state have a .gov address. “Voters need to know that when they land on a website that it is actually the correct website,” she said. “Right now we have websites that are .net, .org, .com, and it’s really hard to tell whether it’s an actual website by the government or if it’s another website by perhaps some other organization that doesn’t have good purposes and wants to lead voters astray.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Here’s why Charles Schwab and other finance companies keep coming to North Texas

A rising tide may lift all ships, but what happens when the momentum turns and things get rough? For Dallas-Fort Worth, prospects can get even better. That’s one way to think about Charles Schwab’s recent decision to move its corporate headquarters from San Francisco to North Texas. Schwab, a leading discount broker, has been facing financial pressure from online upstarts, heavyweight rivals and low interest rates.

In September, it laid off 600 employees, about 3% of its workforce, and the next month, Schwab cut commissions to zero for online trading of stocks and options. The no-fees move shook up the brokerage business. Then Schwab followed up with a blockbuster deal to acquire TD Ameritrade. It touted the combination’s money-saving potential, what executives like to call synergies. The new company expects to save up to $2 billion annually by cutting overlapping jobs, real estate, overhead and other areas. That means fewer workers and offices — except in Westlake, where Schwab is building a major campus for 6,000 employees and has room to grow. Next door, in Southlake, Ameritrade has a sparkling regional office that opened in 2018.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

3 men indicted on capital murder charges in slaying of Joshua Brown, witness in Amber Guyger’s trial

Three men have been indicted on capital murder charges in the slaying of Joshua Brown, a witness in Amber Guyger’s murder trial for the slaying of Botham Jean. A Dallas County grand jury handed down the indictments Thursday for 22-year-old Thaddeous Charles Green, 20-year-old Jacquerious Mitchell and 32-year-old Michael Diaz Mitchell. Three men have been indicted on capital murder charges in the slaying of Joshua Brown, a witness in Amber Guyger’s murder trial for the slaying of Botham Jean. A Dallas County grand jury handed down the indictments Thursday for 22-year-old Thaddeous Charles Green, 20-year-old Jacquerious Mitchell and 32-year-old Michael Diaz Mitchell.

The Mitchells — who are uncle and nephew — are being held in the Dallas County jail. Green remains at large more than two months after the fatal shooting. Brown, 28, was shot Oct. 4 outside the Atera apartments in the 4600 block of Cedar Springs Road, near the Dallas North Tollway, where he’d moved after Jean’s slaying at the South Side Flats near downtown Dallas. He died later at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Brown had testified just days earlier in the high-profile murder trial of Guyger, a former Dallas police officer. He lived across the hall from Jean and told the jury what he had seen and heard the night of Sept. 6, 2018, when Guyger shot Jean while she was off duty but still in uniform.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Could a Texas lawyer make Facebook face its ‘ugly’ truth? So far, she’s winning

It’s one thing for social media giants to let their platforms be used as agents of foreign powers to manipulate the American people, sow social discord and disrupt democracy. Our elected leaders and even the courts appear willing to abide that disgrace. But it is altogether another thing to stand by while social media companies facilitate the work of sex traffickers who groom and exploit children and then see those companies use federal law as a shield against taking any real responsibility for what happens on their websites.

That has long been the secret of Big Tech’s consolidation of power and influence — a bad law. And that is the reason that a small number of tech companies have captured near-monopolistic market share — because of a provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act that gives them almost blanket immunity from liability for what people post on their sites. Forget about fake news. To Big Tech, child sex trafficking and other horrible abuses aren’t really their problem — at least not when it comes to taking legal responsibility for the way their sites are used as mediums of exchange for this sort of terrible material. Maybe, though, that is about to change, and maybe Texas will lead the way.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Erica Grieder: Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ movement reflects nation’s broken gun debate

Last month, Montgomery County became a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” Shortly thereafter, Waller County followed suit. Houston-area residents who heard about either development might well have been perplexed. A number of counties across the country have adopted such resolutions, which seek to protect residents from unconstitutional restrictions on their Second Amendment right to bear arms. That includes a growing number of Texas counties since Hudspeth County, in west Texas, in the spring became the first to proclaim such a status.

Still, when it comes to guns, this would seem to qualify as a sanctuary state. The explanation for the movement’s traction, however, is straightforward enough. Some advocates for Second Amendment rights were frustrated by the results, or lack thereof, of this year’s legislative session. Many are worried about restrictions that might be put on law-abiding gun owners by the federal government — or even by the state, given that Democrats have a chance of retaking the Texas House in 2020. And even in Texas, it’s hard to miss that the tone of debates about gun laws has changed in recent years.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Ilan Levin and Adrian Shelley: Budgets for industry oversight are shrinking as industry profits, and disasters, grow

“The black stuff floating, don’t touch it,” Troy Monk, the director of health, safety and security for the Texas Petroleum Chemical Group in Port Neches, said. “You don’t want to be downwind from this.” Port Neches residents had just survived two explosions at the TPC plant in their community. As the fire burned, they posted frightening photos and videos taken from the front steps of their homes, windows blown out by the propulsive force of the first explosion at 1 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving.

“You don’t want to be downwind from this,” Monk said. But what choice did TPC give Port Neches, Groves, Nederland and Port Arthur? “This” was at least the fifth petrochemical disaster — with ITC in Deer Park, KMCO in Crosby and ExxonMobil in Baytown, twice — this year in the region. Quickly, many observers drew a link from TPC to President Trump’s recent gutting of the Chemical Disaster Rule. That link is difficult to establish without knowing what caused the Port Neches explosions, but the rule, enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration after the deadly explosions in West, Texas, in 2013, was designed to prevent exactly this.

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Click2Houston - December 2, 2019

What is TxDPS doing about the upcoming federal requirements established by the REAL ID Act?

The question: What is TxDPS doing about the upcoming federal requirements established by the REAL ID Act? Stricter ID rules take effect in October 2020 as part of the federal REAL ID Act and the Lone Star State is working to ensure Texans comply with the new requirements.

The REAL ID Act is a federal law passed by Congress in 2005. Spurred by the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” the law establishes specific federal requirements for state-issued driver licenses used for federal purposes, like boarding a domestic flight or entering a federal building. The Act prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet the requirements listed in the act. While the law was passed in 2005, it does not go into effect until 2020.

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Rio Grande Guardian - December 5, 2019

Rep. Vincente Gonzalez not opposed to classifying drug cartels as terrorist organizations

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez says he is not opposed to classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, claiming the violence they inflict on Mexican citizens is no worse than violence in the Middle East. Gonzalez, D-McAllen, spoke about insecurity in Mexico during a news conference with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in Mission on Monday. For his part, Cuellar, D-Laredo, acknowledged that the violence perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels is horrific but did not believe it warranted their reclassification.

Asked by a reporter if classifying Mexican drug cartels as terror groups would provide more federal dollars to fight them, Gonzalez said: “I do not know if there would be more funding. There is a huge pushback from the federal government that could impact trade and business. Now me, personally, I am not completely opposed to the idea because I see some of the murders and massacres that are happening in Mexico. They do not look that different to some of the things that are happening in the Middle East.” Gonzalez acknowledged that Mexico is a friend and neighbor to the United States.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 8, 2019

Land donated to Rey Feo foundation sold to chairman’s grandson

In summer 2018, the Rey Feo Scholarship Foundation found itself in an enviable position as a property owner. A developer had donated about 2 acres of land to the nonprofit on behalf of Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey. At that time in 2015, the appraisal district had valued the vacant property on the far East Side at about $96,000. Two years later, H-E-B purchased land near the foundation’s property, and by summer 2018, the grocery company was months away from breaking ground on a 1.6 million-square-foot warehouse, the first phase of a plan to develop the 871 acres into a master-planned campus for manufacturing and distribution.

Johnny Gabriel Sr., owner of the Don’s & Ben’s and Gabriel’s Liquor store chains and longtime chairman of the Rey Feo foundation board, knew the value of the donated land at 518 Saints Haven soon would rise due to H-E-B’s nearby investment. Tom Rohde, the developer who donated the property, said the land’s value could skyrocket to $1 million, depending on its use. But rather than put the land up for sale on the open market, the foundation’s board voted that summer to sell it for $95,000 to Gabriel’s grandson, Regan Gabriel. The proceeds — about $89,000 — went back to the charity, Gabriel Sr. said. At the time of the vote, 60 percent of the foundation’s board consisted of Gabriel family members, including Gabriel Sr. and two of his children, Inez Cindy Gabriel and Ronnie Gabriel, minutes of the meeting show.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 8, 2019

Almost $700,000 - Why DFW Airport’s leader is the highest-paid airport CEO in America

There are a lot of takeoffs these days at DFW Airport, including the chief executive’s salary. The Dallas Fort Worth Airport board on Thursday approved a hefty bonus and merit pay increase for Sean Donohue, airport chief executive officer. Donohue is believed to be the highest-paid airport CEO in the United States. Including his salary and bonus, Donohue is expected to earn a total of $694,863 in 2019.

“He has been here six years and he has done a beautiful job,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who sits on the DFW Airport board. “All you have to do is look at the financials, the increase in passengers, in revenue.” Donohue, whose base salary for 2019 was $511,568, on Thursday was awarded a one-time bonus of $183,295, based upon a complicated formula in which Donohue gets credit for the airport’s achievements in revenue, passenger volume and other goals. For 2020, Donohue received a 3 percent merit increase in his base salary, bringing it to $526,915. A year from now, he could be eligible for an additional six-figure bonus, if the airport meets certain financial targets and other goals.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2019

Texas Libertarians celebrate as judge strikes down filing fees

One week before the filing deadline for Texas candidates, a judge in Harris County blocked the secretary of state from assessing a new fee for third-party candidates that was added by the Legislature this past session. Seven Libertarian voters and potential candidates sued over the law in state District Court in Harris County in October.

Being freed of filing fees ranging from $750 for a candidate for state representative to $5,000 for a U.S. Senate election is a big advantage for a party that operates on a shoestring budget and whose candidates often run with little to no cash in their campaign coffers. In a temporary injunction issued Monday, Judge Kristen Hawkins called the fees an “actual or threatened violation of the Texas and United States Constitutions.” The injunction applies statewide. “This temporary injunction was a crucial step to ensuring voters have choice at the ballot box, as half of all Texas races in 2018 would have been unopposed without Libertarian Party nominees,” said Harris County Libertarian Party Chair Katherine Youngblood, who represented the plaintiffs.

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Washington Post - December 8, 2019

Texans on southern border vow to fight Trump's efforts to take their homes for border wall

Salvador Castillo was yearning for tranquility when he became enchanted by a one-acre homestead close - but not too close - to the city, a place where cows graze beneath whispering mesquite trees on the property's edge. They never imagined a border wall could dissect their property someday. But the first letter, stamped with an official government seal, arrived about a year ago. Their neighbors, the Carrascos and Trevinos, got them too. The United States wanted permission to enter and survey their land - three homes targeted in two neighboring U-shaped Texas subdivisions - in preparation for construction of the Trump administration's new border wall system.

President Donald Trump aims to build 166 miles of border barrier in Texas, almost all of it slated to go on private land that the government has yet to acquire - thousands of parcels along the river, an unknown number of them occupied by their owners, including churches and single-family homes. No new border wall has been built on private land in Texas since the president took office, but land acquisition in the Rio Grande Valley is about to enter a new phase this week, as U.S. attorneys began filing initial petitions in court while making cash offers to property owners, according to Justice Department officials with knowledge of the process. On Friday, the federal government filed its first land acquisition case to condemn nearly 13 acres of private property in the Rio Grande Valley, a parcel near the river levee in Hidalgo County. The owner was offered $93,449 in compensation for the land.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - December 7, 2019

Waco Tribune-Herald Editorial: Gov. Abbott's meddling in independent commission's affairs only adds to confusion about rule of law

It’s rotten luck that not only McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley but also the city of Waco — so earnestly striving to portray itself to tourists as an inviting, all-inclusive, non-judgmental community — now finds itself swept up in a tempest involving Gov. Greg Abbott. The Republican governor’s apparent behind-the-scenes political machinations now ensure that an embarrassment concerning Justice Hensley’s religious reservations about same-sex marriages will fester amid evidence of Abbott’s seeming intolerance, contempt for settled law, even corruption.

The Trib last week reported that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has issued a warning to Justice Hensley regarding the inappropriate practice of officiating opposite-sex weddings but refusing the same service to same-sex couples. In doing so, the commission cited the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct: “A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities [such as performing wedding ceremonies] so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge....” Last week Hearst Newspapers reported that two members appointed by Abbott to the judicial conduct commission in 2018 — neither yet confirmed by the Legislature — saw their nominations pulled by the governor’s office ahead of confirmation.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Advocates, reformers oppose Harris County DA’s request for more prosecutors

A coalition of advocates, legal groups and a workers’ union wrote to Harris County commissioners on Sunday, opposing the district attorney’s upcoming budget request for 58 more prosecutors and questioning her commitment to justice reform. The groups’ four-page letter, which comes one day before Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is set to appear before commissioners with her $7.4 million ask, faults the elected Democrat for “overzealous prosecution” of low-level cases, opposition to a bail reform agreement and “inefficient use of prosecutorial resources.”

The request comes nearly a year after Ogg asked commissioners for $21 million to fund 102 new prosecutors, a move that drew criticism from some of the progressive groups who once backed her candidacy. The high-dollar request failed, but the new, scaled-back plea brings more opposition — including from Service Employees International Union, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project and a half-dozen other groups. In her request, Ogg focused on the need for more resources to address the growing number of pending cases and the increased workload created by changes in the law and the proliferation of body camera footage, which can take hours to review. She highlighted her office’s accomplishments, including the creation of a new unit to handle requests for evidence and thus relieve some of the workload from overburdened trial prosecutors.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Harris County DA Kim Ogg says prosecutors will review additional narcotics casework

Prosecutors will review a 2013 drug possession case in which a Houston police narcotics officer told a local judge he used another cop as his confidential source, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said this week. The review by the district attorney’s office is the latest to hit the Houston Police Department’s embattled narcotics division, which came under scrutiny after a drug raid at 7815 Harding St. in January ended in a shootout that left two homeowners dead and five officers shot or injured.

After the Harding Street shooting, authorities accused Gerald Goines — the officer who orchestrated the fatal raid — of lying about having a confidential informant buy drugs at the home. The debacle — one of the worst scandals to hit the police department in decades — sparked investigations into Goines, his squad and the narcotics division. In November, the Houston Chronicle published an investigation into HPD’s narcotics division, probing Goines’ past cases and troubling conduct by other officers. The 2013 drug case being reviewed by Ogg’s office involved an officer named Marco Santuario. The Chronicle’s investigation showed that an HPD narcotics officer told a Harris County judge during a 2016 court hearing that Santuario acted as his confidential source in their case against a defendant named Arthur Welborn.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 8, 2019

Sheriff: Deputy conducted unlawful strip searches on 6 women while on-duty in South Bexar County

A Bexar County sheriff’s deputy has been arrested and charged in connection with unlawful strip searches of at least six women. Floyd Berry, 49, a patrol deputy, was arrested late Saturday evening on three counts of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. In one incident, Berry allegedly instructed a woman to “lift her bra and shake” four times during a traffic stop, fully exposing her breasts Berry, an 18-year veteran of the department, was issued a proposed termination, which is tantamount to firing, for the alleged misconduct.

He was taken off patrol and put on administrative duty Dec. 4, a day after two victims reported improper strip searches to the sheriff’s office. The accusations prompted an investigation by the agency’s Public Integrity Unit and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Berry was arrested after he reported to duty at the Adult Detention Center around 11 p.m. Saturday. His bond was set at $45,000. Berry’s arrest comes as the sheriff’s office struggles with personnel problems that have plagued the agency since Sheriff Javier Salazar took office Jan. 1, 2017. More than 40 employees have been arrested for family violence, drunk driving and other misconduct.

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City Stories

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - December 8, 2019

Elections Administrator concludes Midland ISD bond vote failed by 25 votes, stands by machines

Elections Administrator Deborah Land said she believes the 820-vote discrepancy between the manual paper ballot recount and electronic machine tabulations is a result of an error that may have happened during the recount. “All along, I have stood by our equipment and our system, and I still do,” Land said. She said she believes the outcome tabulated by electronic machines on Nov. 12 — showing the bond failed by 25 votes — is the accurate result rather than the recount that shows the bond passing by 11 votes.

Land told the Reporter-Telegram she didn’t have a report on how many residents signed to vote at each polling location, but it matched the exact number of ballots tabulated on the electronic machines. Including Greenwood, Precinct 202, there were 24,862 ballots cast on electronic machines. She said, if she did the math correctly, about 23,828 ballots were cast (excluding Greenwood), and 23,631 were cast “for” or “against” the bond measure. “(No one) is going to find out that (electronic votes) have been duplicated, because the number of ballots we have and show on our tapes is the same number of people who signed in,” Land said. “Those numbers matched, and those are different systems.”

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Patch - December 6, 2019

Nonprofit delivers thousands of coats, shoes to Houston students

As the season of giving ramps up, a Houston nonprofit is working with partners near and far to make the holidays a little brighter—and warmer—for local kids. Communities In Schools of Houston (CIS) teamed up with national nonprofit Soles4Souls and its subsidiary Clothes4Souls, as well as Macy's, Gordmans and Skechers to deliver more than 1,500 coats and more than 4,000 pairs of shoes to Houston-area students and their families.

Every student at Houston Independent School District's Wesley Elementary lined up to be fitted for brand new shoes courtesy of CIS, Soles4Souls and Skechers. After finding the perfect fit, each child was able to personalize their new kicks at decorating stations. All the kids received a toy and a gift card to Gordmans, too. And with another cold front expected next week, CIS, Macy's and Clothes4Souls provided new coats to hundreds of students and their families at Houston ISD's Neff Elementary in Sharpstown.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 8, 2019

Forest Hill mayor fined for violating Texas Election code

Forest Hill Mayor Gerald Joubert was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine after the Texas Ethics Commission found that he violated numerous sections of the election code. According to the ethics commission report, Joubert accepted contributions from a corporation, improperly documented campaign expenditures and failed to properly list his name and address on reports.

The report found that Joubert accepted four prohibited political contributions, three of which were “intertwined” with Conatser Construction Inc. and included JRC Investments, Inc., JRC Management, L.L.C., and Jerry Conatser. The contribution was for $2,500. Jerry Conatser contributed to Joubert’s 2017 campaign as well as Conatser Site Services. When asked about the commission’s findings on accepting contributions from corporations, Joubert said, “I thought that they were from a personal friend of mine (Jerry Conatser). I’ve known him for 10 years.” Conatser could not be reached for comment.

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KUT - December 6, 2019

Parts of Lamar, Congress and Cesar Chavez are still state roads. The city wants to change that.

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to begin the process of possibly taking over portions of some of the city’s most prominent roads that are currently controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation. The move could make it easier to make infrastructure and transit improvements, by removing a step in the process. The technical names of the roads are State Loop 343, which encompasses portions of South Lamar Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street, and State Loop 275, which includes portions of North Lamar Boulevard in North Austin and South Congress Avenue.

“They used to be the main highways through town at one time, and as we’ve built more regional facilities like I-35 and MoPac, these streets or these highways have really become remnant roads,” said Robert Spillar, director of transportation for the City of Austin. He said the goal of taking over the roads is to “have better control of the management and operations of those roadways.” The city manager will now formally request that TxDOT transfer ownership of the roads, a process that will involve negotiations and an ultimate vote from the Texas Transportation Commission. A TxDOT spokesman said the agency “is aware of the request.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Arturo Solis charged with capital murder in shooting death of Houston Police Sgt. Christopher Brewster

Arturo Solis had racked up a slew of criminal convictions dating back to 2014, but his father said on Sunday he seemed to be getting his life back on track. His son, however, now faces a capital murder charge and is accused of fatally shooting and killing Houston Police Sgt. Christopher Brewster. “He’s going to have to pay for what he did,” Roberto Solis, 59, said of his 25-year-old son. “But it wasn’t him. It was his mind.” Authorities said Solis’ girlfriend called 911 on Saturday and reported he was armed with two guns and had assaulted her. Brewster arrived to find the woman walking down the street behind Solis.

She yelled out, “That’s who you are looking for,” pointing to her boyfriend, according to the statement prosecutors read Sunday morning at Solis’ probable cause hearing in which a Harris County judge ordered him to be held without bond. The prosecutors stated Brewster waved and called out to Solis to get his attention, at which point the east Houston man shot the nine-year HPD veteran “unprovoked” multiple times near the 7400 block of Avenue L. Despite his injuries, Brewster managed to radio in a description of Solis to his fellow officers before losing consciousness. The officer was wearing a bulletproof vest but was struck in areas it did not cover.

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National Stories

Politico - December 8, 2019

Epic Sunday: Trump goes all-in on the tweets

President Donald Trump had a quiet Sunday schedule, with just one afternoon event in the Blue Room. But by midnight, he had fired off 105 tweets and retweets, going for the usual suspects — Democratic rivals, the impeachment inquiry and allegations of fake news by the mainstream media. Trump’s Twitter barrage comes the day before House impeachment investigators will present their findings against the president to the Judiciary Committee. The White House has chosen not to participate in future Judiciary Committee hearings designed to outline evidence in support of Trump’s impeachment. Here are some highlights from Trump’s day on social media.

In a brief, late afternoon tweet, Trump teased the release of the much-anticipated Inspector General report Monday, which coincides with House investigators’ presentation to the Judiciary Committee — a key step before Democrats finalize articles of impeachment. The IG report will examine the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, detailing the bureau’s decision to open an investigation into Trump-Russia ties and its conduct during that investigation. “I.G. report out tomorrow. That will be the big story!” the president wrote Sunday.

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Politico - December 7, 2019

Medicare chief asked taxpayers to cover stolen jewelry

A top Trump health appointee sought to have taxpayers reimburse her for the costs of jewelry, clothing and other possessions, including a $5,900 Ivanka Trump-brand pendant, that were stolen while in her luggage during a work-related trip, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Seema Verma, who runs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, filed a $47,000 claim for lost property on Aug. 20, 2018, after her bags were stolen while she was giving a speech in San Francisco the prior month. The property was not insured, Verma wrote in her filing to the Health and Human Services department.

The federal health department ultimately reimbursed Verma $2,852.40 for her claim, a CMS spokesperson said. Verma’s claim included $43,065 for about two dozen pieces of jewelry, based off an appraisal she'd received from a jeweler about three weeks after the theft. Among Verma's stolen jewelry was an Ivanka Trump-brand pendant, made of gold, prasiolite and diamonds, that Verma’s jeweler valued at $5,900. Verma’s claim also included about $2,000 to cover the cost of her stolen clothes and another $2,000 to cover the cost of other stolen goods, including a $325 claim for moisturizer and a $349 claim for noise-cancelling headphones.

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Axios - December 9, 2019

Poll: Impeachment is helping Trump in 3 key battleground states

Quarterly polling by the Republican firm Firehouse Strategies, with Optimus, had President Trump struggling in the mega-battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — but in the newest edition, he beats every Democrat.

Trump won by an average of six percentage points in hypothetical match-ups against all current Democratic candidates, including Joe Biden, who was performing well in head-to-head contests against Trump in polling conducted earlier in the year.

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Axios - December 8, 2019

Biden promises restrictions on Hunter, family if elected

Former Vice President Joe Biden, in an interview with "Axios on HBO," promised to prohibit his son Hunter, and other family members, from cashing in on his name and position overseas if he wins the presidency. Questions may intensify as impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump move to the Senate and the Iowa caucuses approach. Biden already has drawn scrutiny for allowing his son to get paid handsomely by a Ukrainian business while the VP led the Obama administration's anti-corruption push in Ukraine.

The big question: Will Biden move away from a posture of defending his son's honor to acknowledge and address legitimate concerns about his own judgment among some Democrats and swing voters? Biden told Axios' Mike Allen that Hunter did nothing wrong — but that he has not dug into what Hunter actually did while working in Ukraine. “I don't know what he was doing. I know he was on the board. I found out he was on the board after he was on the board and that was it,” Biden told us. Asked whether he wants to get to the bottom of it, Biden said, "No. Because I trust my son."

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Associated Press - December 8, 2019

Schumer: Fed workers to get 12 weeks of paid parental leave

The Senate’s top Democrat said Sunday that congressional leaders have reached a “real breakthrough” deal to give 12 weeks of paid parental leave to millions of federal workers as part of the annual defense policy bill. Sen. Charles Schumer said the agreement over the National Defense Authorization Act was reached late Friday night and a vote is expected later this week. The establishment of President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force is also included in the bill.

Trump administration officials have said Space Force is urgently needed to preserve U.S. dominance in space. A proposal from the Pentagon released earlier this year suggested the service would have about 15,000 personnel and begin in 2020. Space Force would reside within the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps exists within the Navy. The must-pass bill includes a provision that would allow more than 2 million federal government workers to take paid leave to care for a new baby or for an adopted child. Parental leave was a priority for high-ranking Democrats, including Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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The Hill - December 8, 2019

Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests

President Trump on Sunday renewed his criticism of Fox News, claiming that the network was pandering to the Democratic Party by repeatedly hosting liberal lawmakers to discuss the impeachment inquiry.

"Don’t get why @FoxNews puts losers on like @RepSwalwell (who got ZERO as presidential candidate before quitting), Pramila Jayapal, David Cicilline and others who are Radical Left Haters," Trump said on Twitter just hours after Fox News anchor Chris Wallace hosted Cicilline, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, on "Fox News Sunday."

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Washington Post - December 8, 2019

Jennifer Rubin: It has come to this: Ted Cruz is Putin’s stooge

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has spent his entire adult life touting the West’s defeat of communism in the Cold War. In July 2014, he declared to a young conservative group, “‘Mr. Putin, give back Crimea.’ Why is it so unimaginable for President Obama to utter those words?” He continued, “We need to stand up and speak out for freedom. The words that come from the president of the United States matter. President Reagan demonstrated that. One of the saddest things is President Obama doesn’t do that.”

So Cruz and other Republicans, in particular President Trump, have been lying about Obama’s stance on Ukraine for a long time. One can argue, as I did at the time, that Obama’s response should have been stronger, but he was no apologist for Russia. In that regard, Obama cannot hold a candle to Trump, who in the 2016 regurgitated Russian talking points that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” To quote Cruz, why is it so imaginable that Trump should not tell Vladimir Putin to give back Crimea? I see you there, chortling. Of course it is unimaginable that Trump should demand anything of Putin or demand it cease its illegal invasion and annexation of Ukraine.

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McClatchy - December 6, 2019

How progressives are plotting to stop Pete Buttigieg’s rise in the 2020 race

Progressive activists around the country are mobilizing to halt the momentum of Pete Buttigieg, who they increasingly view as a formidable threat to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Top liberal leaders from multiple organizations are independently crafting strategies that center around three prongs: a heightened focus on Buttigieg’s checkered record on race in South Bend, Ind., his little-known work at the McKinsey consulting firm and an argument that his tempered policy proposals align with the wishes of large corporations.

The escalation of attacks against Buttigieg comes not only as he emerges as a next-generation alternative to moderate Joe Biden, but as he shows signs of undercutting a progressive’s path to victory in the 2020 primary. “My expectation is that as he gets more scrutiny, he’ll come down. He has liabilities as a candidate,” said Joe Dinkin, the campaigns director for the Working Families Party, which endorsed Elizabeth Warren in September. “I think Pete is not going to hold up well to the scrutiny.” Warren allies see Buttigieg’s ascent as coming at the expense of the Massachusetts senator, whose position in the race has declined over the last month as white college-educated Democrats have shifted their allegiance to the 37-year-old mayor. They believe Buttigieg’s attacks on Medicare for All helped resurrect some voters’ anguish about Warren’s electability.

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Newsclips - December 8, 2019

Lead Stories

KUT - December 6, 2019

After controversy, Texas Medical Board is no longer writing rules for surprise bill law

The Texas Medical Board will no longer be writing the rules for a new law outlawing surprise medical bills for some Texans. The law goes into effect Jan. 1. During a meeting Friday morning, the board decided to relinquish its rulemaking authority after consumer advocates accused it of undermining the law. Earlier this year, Republican and Democratic lawmakers came together to pass legislation that would shield people with state-regulated health insurance plans from getting expensive bills for out-of-network care – particularly in cases where patients cannot choose their provider.

Senate Bill 1264 creates an arbitration process for insurers and providers to negotiate fair prices for that out-of-network care without involving patients. Currently, patients can get a “surprise bill” when both sides can’t agree on a fair price. Consumer advocates – who championed SB 1264 – began raising concerns when agencies started writing rules for the law. Specifically, they pointed to an alleged “loophole” within rules proposed by the Texas Medical Board that would have allowed providers in non-emergency situations to ask patients to agree to pay high out-of-network prices.

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Reuters - December 8, 2019

Saudi airman may have become radicalized before U.S. Navy base attack

The Saudi airman accused of killing three people at a U.S. Navy base in Florida appeared to have posted criticism of U.S. wars and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on social media hours before the shooting spree, according to a group that tracks online extremism. Federal investigators have not disclosed any motive behind the attack, which unfolded at dawn on Friday when the Saudi national is said to have begun firing a handgun inside a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a public appearance on Saturday he was not ready to label it an act of terrorism. A vigil was held on Saturday for those wounded and killed, among them a recent Naval Academy graduate who dreamed of being a fighter pilot and a teenage Arab American. A sheriff's deputy fatally shot the gunman, authorities said, ending the second deadly attack at a U.S. military base within a week. Within hours, Saudi Arabia's King Salman had called U.S. President Donald Trump to extend his condolences and pledge his kingdom's support in the investigation. Authorities confirmed the suspect was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Republicans look to hold off Democrats’ gains in Dallas, win back Texas House seats in 2020

Luisa del Rosal is a dream candidate for Dallas County Republicans. She’s a millennial, a Latina and an immigrant. She’s also a traditional pro-business Republican who describes herself as “pro-life.” “I’m a conservative Republican and I’m a proud one,” she said. “I want to talk about all the things we’ve done that have led to prosperity.” But del Rosal faces several challenges next year as she runs for a seat in the Texas House. She’s up against an incumbent Democrat, John Turner, whose moderate approach and yeoman work ethic during his first session in the Legislature impressed many in his district and kept him out of the political fights that engulfed other freshman Democrats.

Many Dallas County Republicans are facing the same test as they look to win back seats they lost in 2018, or at least hold on to the seats they still have. The fields will be set Monday at 6 p.m., the filing deadline for the March 3 GOP and Democratic primaries. Perhaps a bigger concern — or advantage, depending on whom you ask — is that del Rosal is on the ticket during a year when President Donald Trump and his no-holds-barred style of Republicanism will be on the ballot. Jim Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas, said the expectation in the state given last year’s election is the continued growth of Democratic voters. But because 2018 had an unusually high turnout, it is difficult to gauge how much more growth is left. “Was the big surge in 2018? Was 2018 closer to a new floor or a new ceiling?” he said. “I’m not sure anybody knows. Everybody is trying to figure it out.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Steven W. Pedigo: Texas’ rapid economic growth is reaching its limits. Here’s what we should do

We Texans have more than earned our bragging rights when it comes to our state’s economy. If Texas was a country, its $1.7 trillion economy would be the tenth largest in the world. Our statewide unemployment rate is just 3.4%, the lowest it has been since tracking began. Chief Executive magazine has ranked Texas “The Best State for Business” for 15 years running.

I’m from Southeast Texas and as proud a Texan as any. But as the newly-appointed director of the Urban Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and an advisor to more than 50 cities around the world, it’s clear to me that our state’s relentless focus on growth for growth’s sake is rapidly approaching its limits. For decades, Texas has relied on its low taxes and light regulations to draw jobs and people to the state. Up until now, it’s worked very well; more than 3 million people have moved to the state since 2010. But too many Texans are being left behind. To ensure a sustainable future, Texas must make five central investments:

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New York Post - December 7, 2019

Professor renowned for predicting elections says 2020 ‘too close to call’

A professor who has accurately predicted the winner of eight of the last nine presidential elections says 2020 is still officially “too close to call.” “This is a very close and very difficult call. I don’t think either the Democrats or the Republicans should be sending up any victory flags at this point,” Allan J. Lichtman, a political historian at American University, told The Post. “Too much is still up in the air and in the age of Trump, things can change very quickly.”

Lichtman, 72, has become a cult figure in American politics for developing a set of 13 criteria which he has used to make his prediction. Metrics include things like scandal, foreign military failure and social unrest. The theory is laid out in his 1996 book “The Keys to the White House.” The system was able to predict Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection back in 1982 — during a recession. (In 2000, he predicted Al Gore would win the popular vote, though tripped up on the ultimate outcome of the electoral college. Something he still doesn’t accept. “2000 was a stolen election,” he says.)

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Associated Press - December 8, 2019

Watchdog expected to find Russia probe valid, despite flaws

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog will release a highly anticipated report Monday that is expected to reject President Donald Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation was illegitimate and tainted by political bias from FBI leaders. But it is also expected to document errors during the investigation that may animate Trump supporters.

The report, as described by people familiar with its findings, is expected to conclude there was an adequate basis for opening one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history and one that Trump has denounced as a witch hunt. The report comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress centered on his efforts to press Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Trump also claims the impeachment investigation is politically biased. The release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review is unlikely to quell the partisan battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation. It’s also not the last word on that investigation. A separate internal investigation continues, overseen by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr and led a U.S. attorney, John Durham.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Shaheen Pasha: Muslim-American politicians face Islamophobia online, but hardly ever from their constituents

Watching the results roll in on election night, I felt a curious mix of emotions. As a Muslim-American woman I took pride in the news that Virginia had elected its first two Muslim women to office. My heart expanded even more as I discovered that two Muslim Somali-American women — former refugees — had been elected to their respective city councils in Minnesota and Maine. The momentum set by Muslim women in the 2018 midterm elections is accelerating ahead of the 2020 election, and this was a moment of validation that my identity was finally being represented in a meaningful way in the country in which I was born.

But as a journalist and the co-author of a recent report on Islamophobia in the 2018 elections, my pride was tinged with sadness at the road that lies ahead for this new class of Muslim politicians. It’s a road paved with Islamophobia and misogyny that starts on the campaign trail and extends to service. It’s one that I understand all too well, not only as a researcher who examined this issue but as a Muslim woman in the media who has been at the receiving end of such vitriol on social media. Last year, I was asked to join a research project, led by Lawrence Pintak, to examine the experiences of the roughly 80 Muslim American candidates who ran for office in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2019

Texas is one of the most gun friendly states. These county officials want to keep it that way.

For nearly a dozen years, the routine has been the same for Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds. A constituent or two would approach him convinced that the federal government was coming for their guns and that he would help them. Deeds would do his best, one at a time, to reassure his neighbors that wasn’t the case. Then Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and onetime presidential candidate, promised that if he were elected to the nation’s highest office, he really would confiscate military-style assault weapons.

Folks in Hood County, which sits about 90 minutes southwest of Dallas, freaked out. So, Deeds began researching his options and learned that cities and counties across the country were declaring themselves sanctuaries for gun owners and fierce defenders of the Second Amendment. Since the fall, nearly 20 Texas counties have adopted similar resolutions, according to the conservative news website The Texan. The latest -- and so far, the most populous -- is Collin County, which adopted its resolution Nov. 25. The counties -- including Hood, Ellis, and Palo Pinto -- represent a tiny fraction of local governments in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Insurance won’t fully cover costs to replace 3 Dallas schools damaged by tornadoes. So DISD is getting creative

Insurance will not completely cover the cost to rebuild three Dallas schools damaged by the October tornadoes, DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Thursday. District officials got the news this week as DISD worked on a proposal that would shuffle around grade offerings at a handful of North Dallas campuses near neighborhoods affected by the storm. The district is currently expecting about $60 million to $70 million in insurance reimbursement. But rebuilding could easily top $100 million depending on design costs and other specifications that could pop up during rebuild.

Hinojosa said the district is pushing back against the insurance determinations and is working with the county to urge federal officials to declare a federal disaster designation, which could significantly help the district in rebuilding. The Oct. 20 tornadoes significantly damaged three schools. Cary Middle School was destroyed and will not be rebuilt, Hinojosa said. Those students have been moved into two other middle schools. Insurance officials declared that Thomas Jefferson High School and Walnut Hill Elementary have “significant” damage, meaning the district won’t receive full replacement costs. Hinojosa said the district will try to salvage what it can from the two sites. The Walnut Hill site, for example, has some “good bones” in the façade that might be saved. The district was already planning to bring a bond proposal to voters in 2020. Now DISD will have to include rebuilding costs in that plan, Hinojosa said. The district could also tap into savings if needed.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Methodist conference sues SMU over university’s steps to redefine its relationship with the church

The United Methodist Church’s South Central Jurisdictional Conference last week filed a lawsuit against Southern Methodist University to prevent the university from reconfiguring its relationship with the church. At stake is whether the university is controlled by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference or by the university’s own board of trustees. The dispute is related to division within the United Methodist Church over the church’s stance on LGBTQ inclusion.

Delegates at a conference in February voted in favor of a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which strengthened bans on LGBTQ-affirming practices within the church. The proposal widened a rift within the church's progressive and conservative members. The controversy has raised the possibility that the church will split into different denominations. On Nov. 6, SMU amended its articles of incorporation to say the university is not controlled by the SCJC but by the school’s own board of trustees. SMU President R. Gerald Turner said the university’s actions were done to protect the school’s future. “We’re trying to get this done before the church decides what kind of split they’re going to have, so that we can continue to educate everybody from all Methodist denominations and from other denominations, and people who don’t believe at all.” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Digital roughnecks: Oil and gas workforce changing as tech’s role grows

Scrum master. Agile coach. Data scientist. Cloud architect. Jobs in the oil and natural gas industry are changing as technology plays an ever larger role in extracting fossil fuels beneath the ground and under the sea. A younger, diverse class of tech workers holding these and other titles, such as big data engineer or user experience designer, are increasingly replacing roughnecks, roustabouts and other blue collar workers who toil under the hot Texas sun or on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Energy companies, fighting to stay profitable with oil prices stuck in the $50 to $60 range, are making a major push to digitize and automate operations, allowing drilling in West Texas or in the middle of the ocean to be operated and monitored from control rooms in Houston. That push is driving the growth of six-figure tech jobs that prize skills such as coding, design, data analysis and computer system architecture over physical prowess. While statewide employment in the oil and natural gas industry is down by 3 percent compared to a year ago, tech jobs in the sector appear to be growing, especially in Houston where nearly two-thirds of the estimated 228,000 tech jobs in the region are outside of traditional technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Dell.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Celebrations of the Confederacy don’t belong in Texas

If you’ve been to the state Capitol you’ve probably seen it. The Confederate Soldiers monument is one of the first things that greets visitors coming through the southern entrance. Also known as the Confederate dead monument, it features four bronze statues representing the branches of the Confederate military, while a figure of Jefferson Davis towers over all. Words etched in the granite base — about how the south, “animated by the spirit of 1776,” decided to secede — exalt the Confederate fighters who “died for states’ rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

This means that standing in a place of honor since it was erected in 1903 — in the heart of Texas — there is a memorial that’s topped by a traitor to the United States and based on a lie. Perhaps one day soon, Texas lawmakers can honestly discuss what it means to have monuments that celebrate the Confederacy, and which perpetuate the false claim that it was anything other than the preservation of slavery that was at the heart of the Civil War. When they do, they’ll finally understand that it’s not history critics of the memorials are contesting, but rather the contemporary judgments we make about which historic figures should be honored, and which should instead simply be studied in textbooks, museums and other appropriate settings.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2019

Dannenbaum pleads guilty to illegal donations

James Dannenbaum, the former head of a prominent Texas engineering firm and a major political donor, pleaded guilty Friday to circumventing federal election laws by helping employees funnel illegal campaign contributions to congressional and U.S. Senate candidates.

Dannenbaum, a Houston resident who served a six-year term as a University of Texas regent, admitted to a federal judge that he helped employees make illegal donations to the re-election campaigns of a candidate for the U.S. Senate and two candidates for U.S House of Representatives in a single year. He pleaded guilty to a single count of making contributions in the names of other people when he gave $10,000 to $25,000 in a single year by illegal means. The former company CEO, now 80, arrived at the Houston federal courthouse in a wheelchair. He provided a written statement prior to his court appearance.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Fort Bend’s Nehls announces bid for Congress

Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls announced Saturday he is running for Congress, joining a crowded field of candidates vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Pete Olson. Nehls made the announcement on the conservative morning show “Fox & Friends,” then kicked off his campaign at Freedom Hall in Richmond Saturday evening.

Nehls’ announcement comes more than four months after Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced in July he would not seek a seventh term representing the district, which covers parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria counties and a sliver of south Harris County. Nine Republicans have filed for the seat, according to the Texas Secretary of State, ahead of Monday’s filing deadline. At least three Democrats are running, too, including 2018 Democratic nominee Sri Kulkarni. National Democrats have the district in their sights, encouraged by its quickly diversifying population and Kulkarni’s 5-point loss in 2018, a far narrower result than in prior years.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 6, 2019

Why Republicans are confident Donald Trump will carry Texas in 2020

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has a simple message for Democrats who think the nation's most reliable red large state is ripe for the flipping: Bring it. It's Patrick's job to shower cold water on Democrats. In addition to being the No. 2 statewide elected official in state government, he's also President Donald Trump's point man in Texas. And as such, Patrick filed the paperwork needed to put Trump's name on the March 3 GOP Texas primary ballot.

When he turned in the box containing some 15,000 petition signatures of Republican voter to party officials in Austin to secure Trump's spot on the ballot, Patrick made the bold prediction that the president would surpass his 2016 performance when he carried Texas by 9 percentage points. That margin appears to be comfortable enough. But in the recent history of Texas political, a 9-point spread actually qualifies as a nail-biter for the Republicans in a presidential election. Four years earlier, Republican Mitt Romney smoked President Barack Obama by 16 points. Before that, Texan George W. Bush carried in his home state by more than 22 points in his two presidential elections.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 8, 2019

Areas producing oil, gas in Texas see more fatal crashes

Danielle Galvan was driving to Dallas from her parents' home in the Panhandle when her compact Chevrolet Spark crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that was attempting to back up onto U.S. 287 about 10 miles west of Wichita Falls. The 23-year-old aspiring fashion designer and model died in the fiery wreck on the night of March 6, 2018, leaving behind two children and a grieving extended family in Hereford, southwest of Amarillo. The crash that claimed her life occurred on a highway that connects some of the largest and busiest oil- and gas-producing regions of Texas to the sprawling population center anchored by Dallas and Fort Worth, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported.

Galvan was among the 1,673 people who lost their lives in 2018 while motoring through one of Texas' five largest oil and gas plays, according to figures compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety. That's about half of all traffic fatalities in the state and represents a grim downside to the Texas resurgent energy sector that is helping to propel the state's booming economy. "It's very scary out there right now," said Richard Minnix, the owner of McClatchy Brothers, a Midland trucking company that serves the booming and oil-rich Permian Basin. "The biggest problem is distracted driving. It's jacking with your cell phone, text messages." The TxDOT figures still show speeding as the No. 1 cause of crashes in Texas, with distracted driving close behind. Lawmakers in 2017 banned texting and driving in Texas, but the crash rate still increased during the first year the law went on the books.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 5, 2019

Record number of children adopted from Texas foster care system, new figures show

The number of children adopted from the state's foster care has reached a four-year high and just over half of the kids were adopted by family members, according to data released Wednesday by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. “This is certainly great news, and affirmation that our year-round adoption efforts are paying off,” said Kristene Blackstone, an associate commissioner for Child Protective Services, an arm of DFPS.

All tolled, more than 20,000 children left Texas foster care during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 1. However, only 6,107 found permanent homes through the adoption process. Of those, 3,095 were placed with family members. Both numbers are all-time highs, officials said. Also, the number of children who left foster care outnumbered those entering the system care by more than 1,700 children, the state agency said. "The increase in relative adoptions is especially good news, said Kate Murphy, a senior policy associate for Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group. "There is a growing recognition that in most cases children in foster care do better when they live with a family rather than in a group or institutional setting, and even better still if they are able to stay connected to their actual family members or community."

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Wichita Falls Times-Record - December 6, 2019

Wichita County Commissioner Lee Harvey filed to run for Congress

Wichita County Precinct 2 Commissioner Lee Harvey has thrown his hat into a ring already crowded with candidates running for the 13th Congressional District seat. Harvey has filed with the Texas Republican Party for a place on the March 3 GOP Primary ballot after floating the idea on Facebook Thursday morning.

Thornberry is the Republican from Clarendon who has served as the 13th CD congressman for about 25 years. He announced earlier this year that he is not seeking re-election and is retiring in January 2021. Eleven Republicans, including Harvey, and two Democrats have filed to run in the primaries as of Friday evening, according to the websites of the Texas Secretary of State and the Texas Republican Party.

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2019

Josh Flynn’s eligibility for battleground House District 138 race questioned

A state law that deems certain officeholders ineligible for the Legislature is raising questions about whether Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is allowed to run for the seat while keeping his current position as a Harris County Department of Education trustee. Flynn, one of three Republicans to file for the House District 138 primary in March, joined the HCDE board in January after winning the Position 4, Precinct 3 election in 2018. The board elected Flynn president at his first meeting.

The law in question is a section of the Texas Constitution that deems “any person holding a lucrative office under the United States” ineligible for the Legislature. The law does not define “lucrative office,” but a 1992 Texas Supreme Court opinion issued by then-justice John Cornyn determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.” Flynn and his fellow HCDE trustees receive $6 per meeting, as required by state law. The Constitution and the Supreme Court opinion do not appear to specify when “lucrative” officeholders must resign in order to be eligible. However, a 1995 attorney general letter opinion determined that the law “does not disqualify the holder of a lucrative office from running for the legislature ... if the officeholder resigns from the lucrative office before filing for the legislature.”

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El Paso Times - December 6, 2019

Backed up at the border: What caused worst wait times in 10 years at international bridges

Pedro Rey has a wife, two kids, a trucking company and a life that straddles the border. He lives in the U.S. and works in Mexico, where his parents and grandparents still reside; weekends are split between the cities. So he faces down the international bridge lines on a near-daily basis, along with the more than 50,000 people who cross each day between El Paso and Juárez. Which is to say: He knows how bad it's been this year.

Border wait times for passengers and pedestrians have stretched into hours-long odysseys in 2019, a year in which immigration news has figured prominently in national politics and provoked a flurry of policies that have stoked bottlenecks at ports of entry.But even SENTRI lane wait times have grown from 10 to 15 minutes, to 40 minutes on a good day, he said — slow enough to read books on his Kindle. Earlier this year, he waited two hours in the "fast" lane, he said. A sharp increase in migrants arriving at the Juárez-El Paso border earlier this year — many of them with children, seeking asylum — set in motion policy changes that have made cross-border commutes longer and more unpredictable.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 7, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: Warring Bexar County Dems could be headed for truce

Whatever divisions you find within a political party just get intensified at the local level. While Democrats on the national stage are working out their ideological differences on health care, college tuition funding and immigration reform, within the Bexar County Democratic Party, most of the fighting tends to be over personalities and family feuds. A good chunk of the party’s County Executive Committee never accepted or trusted Manuel Medina, the political consultant who served as Bexar County chair from 2012-18.

When Medina lost his seat last year to Monica Alcántara, Medina’s loyalists — derisively called “Manuelistas” by his detractors — refused to cooperate with her. This conflict has almost nothing to do with policy or political strategy differences between Medina and Alcántara. If such differences exist, it would take a high-powered microscope to spot them. Nonetheless, as we approach Monday’s filing deadline for this state’s 2020 primary election, the Bexar County Democratic Party is basically operating as two organizations that refuse to recognize each other’s legitimacy.

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Texas Public Radio - December 6, 2019

Military families at Randolph, Laughlin, ask judge to stop ‘negligent’ private housing contractor

Eight military families who claim they were sickened by mold, vermin and other toxins while living in privately-managed housing at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and Laughlin Air Force Base are now upping the ante in court.

They sued contractor Hunt Military Communities for damages and mental anguish in October, attributing their housing problems to the company’s "profound neglect, malfeasance and greed." In an amended pleading filed Thursday, they asked a federal judge to stop Hunt from putting more people at risk. The families want Hunt to be prevented from moving anyone else into base housing at Randolph or Laughlin until an outside inspector deems the homes safe to live in. In the meantime, they want to freeze the automatic rent payments Hunt receives. The families also seek to enjoin Hunt from retaliating against those who complain of mold and other health and safety conditions, according to their court filing.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 7, 2019

Ken Herman: Church, state, Texas politics and ‘enemies of the word of God’

We’ve had some interesting recent crossings (pardon the expression) into democracy’s most precarious intersection, that of church and state and politics. Let’s take a look and see what we think. First, let me reiterate that I don’t believe in total separation of church and politics. One’s religion should inform one’s politics. Religions offer guidance on a variety of important issues hashed out in the political arena, including education, abortion, adoption, marriage, capital punishment, human rights and more.

It is in the inevitable interaction between politics and state that we run into difficulties, difficulties we never have and never will sort out to everyone’s satisfaction. Our first example today is one in which Rick Perry recently raised some hackles, mostly among people who have seen Perry as a hackle-raiser since back before the turn of the century. In a November interview on Fox News during his closing days as energy secretary, Perry told us he had told President Donald Trump that he’s God’s “chosen one” to lead the United States. Our ex-governor said God “is still very active in the details of the day-to-day lives of government.?

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2019

Willie D’s plan to run for county commissioner rejected by Harris County Democrats

Former Geto Boys rapper William “Willie D” Dennis wants to run for Harris County Commissioners Court, but local Democratic party officials rejected his application to get on the ballot, citing his criminal history and a state law that has become a lightning rod in north Houston politics over the last month. Dennis filed an application Thursday with the Harris County Democratic Party, seeking to challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for the court’s Precinct 1 seat. He said he wants to bring his unique perspective to government.

On Saturday, the party notified him that he was ineligible because of his 2010 felony conviction for wire fraud charges, stemming from an iPhone sales scam. The party cited a state law that forbids candidates from running for public office if they have been convicted of felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.” The statute doesn’t define that phrase and has invited varying interpretations that have not been definitively resolved by courts. It is currently the subject of a contentious lawsuit surrounding the stalled runoff in the Houston city council’s District B election. “I would add that this is not my decision,” said party chair Lillie Schechter. “We follow the Texas Election Code.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

As flu soars early in Tarrant County, a child has died of the virus, authorities say

A child has died of the flu in Tarrant County for the first time since 2015, authorities said Thursday.

The child had other health conditions that Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja did not describe. “The patient tested positive for Influenza B, which is circulating early and predominantly this season,” he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 7, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Past time for bail reform in Bexar County

Now that a federal judge has signed off on Harris County’s historic bail reform agreement, criminal court judges here in Bexar County have no excuses to not follow suit. Under the Harris County agreement, cash bail has been eliminated for roughly 85 percent of misdemeanors. These are nonviolent offenses. There are exceptions for family violence, bond violations and repeated drunken driving. There are myriad reasons for eliminating cash bail for these minor offenses. Numerous studies have shown the longer people languish in jail, the more likely they are to end up there again.

It’s expensive for taxpayers to jail defendants. Families are separated and employment is disrupted — all before innocence or guilt is established, mind you. But the prevailing concern is what’s known as wealth-based detention. That is, two people might be charged with the same crime. But one can afford to pay his or her bail while the other cannot, and that can be the difference between guilt or innocence. Many indigent defendants will plead guilty simply to be released from jail. As Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her opinion: “No system can guarantee that all those accused of misdemeanors who are released on personal bonds — rich or poor — will appear for hearings or trial, or that they will commit no crimes on release.”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 6, 2019

Did the Austin chamber influence school closures?

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for years has quietly pressed plans to close Austin schools, culminating this summer with an offer of financial assistance for communication strategies for school closures, according to multiple former board members and district records obtained by the American-Statesman.

The chamber directed $10,000 to an outside firm that helped shape the school board’s messaging strategy in the runup to a 6-3 vote to shutter four campuses, a role by the chamber that was previously undisclosed. “I have never before seen the chamber financially support the district’s efforts to close schools,” said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, a former Austin school board president who opposes the school closures. “It is the chamber’s prerogative to have an agenda to close schools. What is disappointing to me in all this is that the school district, the public institution, has not been transparent about that relationship.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 6, 2019

Austin’s 2nd motel for homeless will cost up to $6.8 million

Less than a month after the Austin City Council approved an $8 million purchase and renovation of a motel in Southeast Austin to provide housing to the city’s homeless, council members on Monday will consider the purchase of a second motel for $6.8 million. The Microtel Inn and Suites at 7705 Metro Center Drive, near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, is a 71-room motel situated in a cluster of hotels immediately southwest of the intersection of East Ben White Boulevard and U.S. 183.

“The property is an ideal location given the proximity to areas where individuals who are experiencing homelessness live, accessible by public transportation, close to major arterials, and within reasonable distance of health care facilities,” city documents said. The property sits on a 1.4-acre lot and is valued at nearly $5.6 million, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District. City leaders plan to allocate another $1 million to the project for renovations, bringing the grand total to $7.8 million. Should the purchase go through, the city will have amassed 158 bridge shelter units for the city’s homeless response system within a month.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 7, 2019

Hundreds express ire with Austin’s planned rewrite of land use rules

A sizable number of residents registered their ire Saturday with the city of Austin’s ongoing effort to overhaul the decades-old land development code during a marathon public hearing. The hearing was the only one before the Austin City Council on Monday considers preliminary approval of the code rewrite, which will dictate what can be built and where throughout the city of Austin.

In total, 703 people indicated their thoughts on the proposed rewrite with 483 — or about 69% — signing up as against the rewrite as it stands. The land development code rewrite broadly aims to address a housing shortage by encouraging the construction of 135,000 new housing units in the next decade. The hope is that the city can do that while preserving neighborhoods and encouraging density near the city’s more well-traveled streets in so-called transition zones. However, many have scoffed at transition zones as an existential threat to well-established Central Austin neighborhoods. “What you are proposing is taking my home away,” said Virginia Hoffman, a District 9 resident.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Fort Worth city manager defends choice of Ed Kraus for police chief

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke defended his choice to hire a permanent police chief without a national search or public engagement on Thursday as residents of minority communities questioned the city’s commitment to end racial division.

Ed Kraus, who had served as interim police chief since May, accepted the department’s top job Wednesday when it was offered to him. The roughly six-month period included multiple officer-involved shootings and unrest, but also offered Kraus a tryout period in which he “more than stepped up,” Cooke said. “During a very difficult time as our chief, he has been very responsive and visible in the community,” he said. “He is open and transparent and he is humble and exhibits sincere empathy.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 7, 2019

San Antonio ISD giving high-schoolers the gift of internet at home

Lanier High School senior Uriel Agundiz constantly has college-level homework for Advanced Placement literature and statistics classes. He also has two younger brothers in school — and no internet at home. That is, until Friday, when Agundiz received a wireless hot spot with 10 gigabytes of high-speed monthly data — all for free until he graduates. “It gives more opportunities to my family,” said Agundiz, 17, in the school library, as he cradled a little cardboard box holding the black rectangular gadget that will connect him to the world. “I’m happy to help them in any way I can.”

Agundiz is one of an estimated 42 percent of high-schoolers in the San Antonio Independent School District who lack reliable internet at home, according to a survey conducted this fall in all the district’s high school English classes. At Lanier, on the West Side in the city’s poorest ZIP code, that number jumps to 76 percent, said Patti Radle, president of the SAISD board and a longtime resident of the area. All of the students who said they had little or no internet access — almost 5,200 across SAISD — will receive free hotspots or cellphones in the next two weeks with paid-for data plans, courtesy of Sprint and the 1Million Project Foundation, a national nonprofit seeking to bridge the digital divide.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2019

Texas IDs cancer cluster in polluted Houston neighborhood

Texas health officials identified a cancer cluster in a north Houston neighborhood polluted by the wood preservative creosote from a nearby railroad operation, prompting calls from residents and the city for a more in-depth investigation of potential ongoing risks. An assessment by the Department of State Health Services didn't attempt to determine whether the cancers were linked to chemicals beneath homes in the city's Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens.

But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requested the assessment because of residents' concerns that a plume of polluted groundwater from the Union Pacific site had made some of them sick, and city health officials said it underscored the need for a closer examination. ”I was crying and frustrated," after learning about the cancer cluster, resident Leisa Glenn told the Houston Chronicle. Creosote, deemed a probable human carcinogen, was used for more than 80 years in a rail yard in the historically black area, until the 1980s, the Chronicle reported. The assessment found that the number of lung and bronchus cancers was, on average, 36% higher than would be expected, esophagus cancers almost 63% higher and larynx cancers 90% higher. But the study cautioned that lifestyle and other factors also could be a cause, and it did not account for how long residents had lived in the area.

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National Stories

New York Times - December 7, 2019

Trump can’t resist campaigning for governors. But they can resist him.

His grip on Republican senators has held in the lead-up to a historic impeachment trial. Members of the House have faced the prospect of retiring before going against him. And he frequently boasts about his strong approval ratings among Republican voters. Yet for a party leader who inspires fear in Washington, President Trump has been bedeviled by governor’s races time and again, even after his aggressive campaigning has helped Republican candidates win.

Unable to modulate his excitement for other people’s political battles — and, according to advisers, not understanding the distinct incentives for governors who run their own states and senators who have to work with him in Washington — Mr. Trump has plunged headfirst into contests that have done little but expose his own political vulnerabilities. In the last month, two Republican candidates the president supported lost their off-year races for governor, puncturing his self-proclaimed role as kingmaker. But even his successes in the 2018 governor’s races have left him disappointed: The winners he championed, once in office, have defied his wishes and cast aside his allies, as recently as this past week.

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New York Times - December 7, 2019

Katie Hill: It’s not over after all. I overcame the desperation I felt after stepping down from Congress, and I’m still in the fight.

On Nov. 6, 2018, I was elected to Congress; at 31, I was one of the youngest women ever elected to the House of Representatives. One year later, I was sitting on a train to New York to meet with my lawyers about suing The Daily Mail for cyber exploitation — and I was no longer a member of Congress. A few days earlier, on Oct. 31, 2019, I stepped up to the microphone to deliver my final speech on the House floor.

It was the first time I had spoken publicly since my relationship with a campaign staffer was exposed, since naked photos of me — taken without my knowledge and distributed without my consent — had been posted online, since wild accusations from my estranged husband about a supposed affair with a congressional staffer (which I have repeatedly denied), since I had resigned my hard-fought seat in Congress. That day, oddly, I didn’t get nervous the way I normally did. I got every part of the routine right. I felt calm and strong as I began to speak, because I had to be. I needed to say something to the countless people who had put their faith in me. I needed to say something to the girls and young women who looked up to me, and also to those who didn’t even know my name.

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Wall Street Journal - December 8, 2019

Mexico’s polarizing president presides over rising violence, flailing economy

On Dec. 1, tens of thousands of people gathered in Mexico City’s gritty central square to celebrate Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first year in office. His supporters chanted “It’s an honor to support Obrador.” A few blocks away, thousands of protesters marched along the city’s elegant Reforma boulevard to rail against the president. Their chant was different: “It’s a horror to support Obrador.”

Since taking power, the silver-haired populist has polarized Mexico more than any president in recent memory. A majority see him as their first honest leader in decades, a man of the people and champion of the forgotten poor. For a growing minority, the president is a dangerous authoritarian who is consolidating power and failing to address the country’s basic problems like out-of-control crime and weak economic growth. His first year wasn’t an optimistic harbinger of his remaining five years in power. Mexico’s economy hasn’t grown at all this year, its worst performance in a decade. Even as the U.S. economy chugs along, Mexican businesses have slowed investment, spooked by the president’s governing style and economic decisions like suspending the country’s historic opening to private investment in the energy industry.

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Wall Street Journal - December 6, 2019

Buttigieg releases details about his work at McKinsey

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, responding to questions about his past employment, released a detailed timeline and lengthy statement Friday evening about his nearly three years at McKinsey & Co. The new information comes after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a top nomination rival, this week called on Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., to disclose the names of his clients while he was at the consulting powerhouse.

In his statement, Mr. Buttigieg said much of his work at McKinsey, including the names of clients served, is covered under a confidentiality agreement he signed when he started working at the firm. “I am today reiterating my request that McKinsey release me from this agreement, and I again make clear that I authorize them to release the full list of clients I was assigned,” Mr. Buttigieg wrote in the statement. “This company must recognize the importance of transparency in the exceptional case of a former employee becoming a competitive candidate for the U.S. presidency.”

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Vox - December 6, 2019

A former Republican Congress member explains what happened to his party and why it belongs to Trump now.

Republicans haven’t used the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump to question the underlying facts of the case Democrats are making against him. Instead, they’ve gone all in for Trump, echoing conspiracy theories and pushing alternative narratives for conservative media to consume. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee ranking member from California, spent most of his time at the November 13 hearing railing against the media. “Anyone familiar with the Democrats’ scorched-earth war against President Trump,” he said, “would not be surprised to see all the typical signs that this is just a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”

Other Republicans, like Jim Jordan (R-OH), obsessed over the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint initiated the impeachment process. The point, of course, was to divert attention away from the substance of the claims (which were already corroborated by transcripts released by Trump’s own White House). There really is no doubt that Trump did what Democrats accused him of doing. But so far, Republicans have been unwilling to admit it. They may be dishonest, and they’re almost certainly acting in bad faith, but are they being irrational? Not necessarily. I reached out to David Jolly, a former GOP Congress member from Florida. Jolly left Congress in 2017 and has since renounced his membership in the Republican Party. He explained his reasoning in an article last year, rejecting not only Donald Trump, but what the Republican Party had become.

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Associated Press - December 8, 2019

Andrew Yang having fun, but Democrat's message is serious

Of all the many Democrats running for president, Andrew Yang is having the most fun. Unburdened by expectations and unbothered by political convention, the tech entrepreneur has spent months cruising around the country, mixing his dark warnings about America's new tech economy with doses of humor and unscripted bluntness. He has crowd-surfed, skateboarded and made memorable quips at nationally televised debates. At a new office opening in New Hampshire, he sprayed whipped cream from an aerosol can into the mouths of hyped-up supporters.

Later this month in Las Vegas, he'll raise money for his campaign at a high-roller poker tournament featuring World Series of Poker champions. The formula has made him one of this 2020 campaign's phenomenons. His outsider bid is fueled by policy, personality and technology. It's outlasted the White House campaigns this year of some governors and senators, and seems to be following the advice of a state party chairman who said voters can tell whether candidates are enjoying themselves. Yang's campaign may not have him on track to winning the nomination, but it may be delivering sober warnings to conventional Democrats about the kinds of voters they're leaving behind.

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Miami Herald - December 8, 2019

Someone ate the $120,000 banana at Art Basel. Some quick thinking saved the day

Someone ate a really expensive snack at Art Basel Saturday afternoon — to the tune of $120,000.

For one banana. By now you have probably heard of the now world-famous banana duct-taped to Emmanuel Perrotin’s outer gallery wall at Art Basel Miami Beach. The piece that sold to an art collector for $120,000.

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Washington Post - December 7, 2019

Trump touts accomplishments in address meant to woo Jewish voters and bolster support in Florida

President Trump pitched his administration’s record on Israel while slashing into political opponents in front of a packed beachfront ballroom here Saturday night, seeking to convince Jewish voters that they should vote for him in 2020 even if they don’t like him or his tactics. In a 45-minute speech to the Israeli American Council that hewed to a script more than many of the president’s rally jeremiads, Trump crowed of pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2017, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and eliminating funding for the Palestinian Authority as consequential achievements that made him deserving of a second term.

The president dismissed the lack of a Middle-East peace plan by his administration, which he has vowed to create since taking office, calling it the hardest deal ever to strike. The ballroom address, coupled with a private speech to GOP activists a few miles away, were designed to buttress his support in Florida, highlight his popularity among conservative Jewish voters and pay homage to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and megadonor to Trump. The president regularly mentioned Adelson throughout his remarks.

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Axios - December 8, 2019

Rep. Matt Gaetz calls Giuliani's Ukraine trip "weird"

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on ABC's "This Week" that Rudy Giuliani's trip to Ukraine to dig up information that he hopes will undercut the impeachment proceedings is "weird," but added that he's glad Giuliani has expressed an interest in coming before Congress to "explain his role."

"It is weird that he's over there, and I am grateful that very soon after I made those comments on CNN, the president put out a statement that said that Rudy Giuliani does want to come into Congress and explain his role, explain what's been up to. And I believe that the president urging Mayor Giuliani to provide that clarity to the Congress will be helpful in resolving what seems to be odd having him over there at this time," he said. Allegations that Giuliani led a shadow campaign on behalf of Trump to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

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Newsclips - December 6, 2019

Lead Stories

New York Times - December 5, 2019

Pelosi says House will draft impeachment charges against Trump

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that the House of Representatives would begin drafting impeachment articles against President Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Wrapping her announcement in the words of the Constitution and the nation’s founders, Ms. Pelosi said it had become clear over the course of two months of investigation that Mr. Trump had violated his oath of office by pressing a foreign power for help in the 2020 election. Allowing Mr. Trump to continue in office without remedy, she said, would come at “the peril of our republic.” “His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” Ms. Pelosi said in a formal address lasting less than six minutes, delivered against a backdrop of American flags from the hallway outside her office in the Capitol. “Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Trump’s Texas fundraising surges as Democrats push for impeachment

As Democrats in Congress push for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, his fundraising in Texas is surging as donors seek to defend him. In September, after Democrats began their impeachment inquiry, Trump had his best fundraising in Texas since he took office, pulling in more than $1.3 million for the month. That is more than double the amount of money he raised the month before.

And with tens of thousands more raised in Dallas and Fort Worth last month during a rally and fundraiser that has yet to be reported, Trump now has raised almost as much in Texas for his re-election as he did in his entire 2016 campaign. “Democrats have spent 2019 focusing on partisan witch hunts and pushing socialist policies while President Trump and Republicans have amassed a huge cash advantage allowing us to build our campaign infrastructure early in the cycle,” Trump re-election campaign spokesperson Samantha Cotten said. “As a result, we are in a prime position to win up and down the ballot in 2020.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Ex-members of Judicial Conduct Commission say Abbott ousted them over gay marriage case

Two former members of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct say Republican Gov. Greg Abbott removed them from the panel because he disagreed with their position on a case involving same-sex marriage. Retired information technology executive Amy Suhl and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Maricela Alvarado were appointed as public members to the agency, which disciplines judges, in June of last year. About nine months later, when it came time for the Texas Senate to confirm them, their names were removed from consideration.

It’s extremely uncommon for Abbott’s office to go back on an appointment. Since 2017, only one other person has been removed for a reason other than a resignation or death, records show. The two say they were told that the governor had decided to go in a different direction. But they believe Abbott pushed them out because of their votes to sanction a Waco judge who officiates opposite-sex marriages while refusing to conduct gay marriages. Suhl made an audio recording of a meeting with the governor’s staff and a later phone call. The recordings, which were reviewed by Hearst Newspapers, shows that the staffers were encouraging her to act with Abbott’s views in mind.

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Politico - December 5, 2019

Senate Republicans puncture House GOP dreams for impeachment trial

On Wednesday, a conservative backbencher in the House issued an explosive request to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham: Subpoena the phone records of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. On Thursday, Graham had a succinct response: “We’re not going to do that.”

The demand from Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) reflects House Republicans’ eagerness to see Democrats squirm once impeachment moves to the GOP-controlled Senate and out of the “sham” process they’ve derided in the House. “I’m talking to my Senate colleagues: here are the witnesses you should call and here are the questions you should ask,” said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). “It’s going to cast us in a different very light. This is a chance to tell the other side of the story.” President Donald Trump has joined in as well, tweeting on Thursday that he wants to call Schiff, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Bidens as witnesses in his impeachment trial.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Frack to the Future: Houston’s economy is emulating the 1980s oil bust

Fracking Bust: The Sequel. At least, that’s how Greater Houston Partnership’s lead economist Patrick Jankowski sees Houston right now. With an over-saturated real estate market, an overbuilt industrial market and a bleak outlook for oil and gas, history may not be repeating itself, but it looks pretty close, Jankowski wrote in his annual economic forecast report for the region. “There was a downturn in the 80s, and things got better in ‘85, and then another downturn in ‘86,” he said. “We had a downturn (in 2016), then 2017, 2018 looked pretty good, and now we’re seeing another downturn. It’s a very similar pattern.”

The good news: Houston’s banking sector isn’t about to collapse (like it did in the 1980s). And the rest of the nation is doing fine, which is likely to continue to propel Houston’s economy forward. “The U.S. economy is performing better (right now) than everyone thought it would,” Jankowski said. The Houston economy will likely add 42,300 jobs in 2020, according to the GHP forecast. That would be a slowdown of more than 22,000 jobs from what Houston is on track to add by the end of 2019, at 64,400. Houston’s economy is tied to the energy market, and the energy market is not doing so hot. Energy makes up 9 percent of the local economy, and the sector is set to lose a net 4,000 jobs next year, according to the GHP’s forecast.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

HPD chief Acevedo and Sen. John Cornyn joust over who is holding up key legislation

Once again, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are clashing on Twitter over public policy. Acevedo, the city’s police chief for the past three years, started this one saying that it is “past time” for the U.S. Senate and, more specifically, Texas Sens. Cornyn and Ted Cruz to lead and get the Violence Against Women Act passed and to the president for his signature.

“It’s time for the Senate to act,” Acevedo said during a press conference earlier on Thursday at the Houston Area Women’s Center. “Lives are sitting in the balance.” The Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding and grants for domestic abuse programs, passed originally in 1994. However, it needs to be reauthorized by Congress. The House passed a version earlier this year but it includes a provision that Republicans and the National Rifle Association have opposed that would expand the list of people who could be banned from purchasing guns to include dating partners convicted of abuse or those who have a restraining order against them.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Blinded in detention, a Houston immigrant struggles to see his future in war-torn Sierra Leone

Mohamed Gordon’s vision was fading. A legal resident from Sierra Leone, Gordon had slipped in the Fort Bend County jail in the fall of 2017, smacking his head so hard he ended up in the hospital. Months later his eyesight blacked out, and doctors diagnosed him with a detached retina. He needed urgent surgery to save his right eye, he was told. Gordon, 27, shuttled between county jail, state prison and federal immigration custody, where he finally had the operation weeks later in August 2018.

But that only marked the beginning of a months-long saga to recover his sight. Gordon complained to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Conroe at least 17 times of pain and pressure, explaining that he needed follow-up care, his medical records show. Doctors warned that without an immediate second surgery, he risked losing his vision permanently. His mother pleaded for ICE to allow him out on bond so that she could pay for the operation. Advocates say the case is another example of the government’s “systemically failing” to provide adequate medical care to many of the more than 47,200 immigrants held daily in some 200 civil federal detention centers across the country — roughly a third of them detained by private prison companies in Texas. Complaints about the facilities have persisted for years, but came under increased attention in recent months as lawmakers, watchdog outfits and advocacy groups accused the government of knowing about “horrific, inhumane, punitive” conditions, but doing nothing to improve them.

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Houston Chronicle and NBC News - December 6, 2019

Hundreds of parents accused of child abuse by doctors come forward

Parents in Michigan lost custody of their 6-week-old son after a doctor observed marks on the baby’s abdomen and reported them as “diagnostic of physical abuse.” A judge ordered the child and a sibling to be returned months later, however, after hearing evidence that the lesions were likely caused by the straps of a baby swing. A special education teacher in Florida and her paramedic husband were separated from their 4-month-old son after a doctor told child welfare workers that bleeding in the boy’s brain must have been the result of violent shaking. But the doctor had overlooked an underlying medical cause.

These stories are among those shared with NBC News and the Houston Chronicle by more than 300 families from 38 states, following a yearlong investigation highlighting the plight of parents accused of child abuse based on mistaken or overstated reports by doctors. The flood of responses demonstrates the nationwide reach of problems detailed in the series, which showed that child welfare workers in Texas removed children from homes after receiving reports from doctors that were later called into question.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Ryan Rusak: Before you curse city, county for high property taxes, hear what Tarrant Judge Whitley has to say

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley really wants you to know that he and other county officials are not the reason your property tax bill is high — no matter what state leaders say. In response to a sustained assault from Austin, Whitley has honed a presentation about local governments’ taxes and spending. He argues that counties in particular are in a bad spot: The state allows them to raise money in only a few ways, but they’ve been taking much of the blame for homeowners’ ever-escalating bills.

“We’re not overtaxed, we’re over property-taxed,” Whitley, a Hurst Republican, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board this week. His perspective is important, because this issue is not going away. If anything, it feels like we’re nearing a breaking point over property taxes and how Texas pays for public education. Like the accountant he is, Whitley lays out a numbers-heavy argument. Here’s the crux of it: Texas is a low-tax state overall, ranking 37th in government revenue as a share of overall personal income, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. But it’s heavily reliant on property taxes, particularly to fund schools, and other streams of income have lagged. Consider the gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised in 20 years.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Cook Children’s motion granted for new judge in 10-month-old baby’s life support case

A Texas judge granted a motion Wednesday to remove another judge from the case of a 10-month-old baby whom Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth has sought to take off life support. Family Court Judge Alex Kim signed a temporary restraining order against Cook Children’s on Nov. 10 and extended the order on Nov. 19, giving the family of Tinslee Lewis until at least Dec. 10 to find another hospital for the baby.

Cook Children’s moved to end Tinslee’s treatment under the Texas Advance Directives Act, which grants physicians the power to end life support treatment if an ethics committee deems the treatment futile. The hospital filed a motion to have Kim recused from Tinslee’s case, saying the juvenile court judge is biased and he and the family’s lawyer violated legal procedure by handpicking Kim for the case. Fourth Administrative Judicial Region Judge David Peeples granted the motion Wednesday, Cook Children’s spokeswoman Kim Brown confirmed Thursday. “Today’s hearing is out of care and concern for Tinslee,” Cook Children’s said in a statement Wednesday night. “We believe she deserves to have a judge with the appropriate judicial oversight and experience to review and assess her case fairly.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 6, 2019

Fort Worth trans inmate sues Texas over law that prevents her from changing legal name

Three transgender inmates, including one from Carswell Prison in Fort Worth, are arguing that a Texas law that prohibits them from legally changing their names is unconstitutional. The women are suing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton in a lawsuit filed in the Austin division of district court Wednesday. They, and their attorneys, argue the inability to legally change their names to reflect their gender is cruel and unusual punishment.

Abbott and Paxton’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.Texas Family Code 45.103 prohibits a person with a felony conviction from changing their name within two years of serving their sentence. Those in the lawsuit want the state to declare the provision unconstitutional and allow the women — Donna Langan at FMC Carswell, Teresa De Barbarac at FCI Texarkana and Alexandra Carson, who was recently released from prison — to change their names to reflect their gender.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 6, 2019

Can you get alcohol delivered in Texas? Soon – just in time for your holiday parties

If you’re hosting a party in Texas and the booze is running low, you soon won’t have to worry about driving to the liquor store. Alcohol delivery will be available shortly — just in time for the holiday season, officials say.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is accepting applications from companies that want to bring beer, wine and liquor to customers’ front doors, according to a Thursday news release. Third-party companies such as Favor or Instacart will pick up alcohol from bars, restaurants and liquor stores.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 5, 2019

Accused Santa Fe shooter transferred to mental health facility in Vernon

The young man charged with capital murder in the Santa Fe High School shooting rampage that left eight students and two teachers dead has officially been transferred from county jail to a mental health facility, his attorney said Thursday. The accused gunman, 19-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, arrived Thursday at the maximum-security North Texas State Hospital in Vernon where he will be evaluated and medicated for at least 120 days.

“The idea is that in 120 days we should get some kind of progress report indicating kind of where he is,” said Nick Poehl, Pagourtzis’ defense attorney. Pagourtzis was evaluated by three independent psychiatric experts, all of whom agreed that he was not fit to stand trial in his current mental state. Galveston County prosecutors did not challenge the finding and state District Judge John Ellisor on Nov. 15 officially signed the order declaring Pagourtzis’ incompetency. Ellisor wrote Pagourtzis, “does not have the sufficient present ability to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 5, 2019

Castro warns of dwindling diversity in Democratic presidential field without Kamala Harris, has seen surge of support

Julián Castro says he has enjoyed a surge in financial support since Sen. Kamala Harris of California ended her presidential campaign, but he is also warning that the absence of diversity in the top tier of Democrats could damage the party next year. “I’m worried that if we have a debate stage without any racial and ethnic diversity on it, that we are putting ourselves at a greater risk of failure in 2020,” Castro said Thursday while speaking to reporters.

As of Thursday night, the six candidates who have qualified for the next debate this month — four men and two women — were all white. They are former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire turned liberal activist. The end of Harris’ campaign this week compounded the racial disparity in what started as a highly diverse field. Castro said that since Tuesday, when Harris quit, his campaign has taken in $360,000 and signed up enough new donors to meet one of the Democratic National Committee’s criteria for participating in the Dec. 19 debate.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 5, 2019

Here's who saved Kingsville Record, Bishop News from brink of closure

The Kingsville Record will go on after all thanks to a rallying of support from community leaders and organizations that fought to save it from closing. The 113-year-old newspaper's last edition was set to print this week after its owners, the King Ranch, decided to shutter it. That also meant the closure of the Bishop News. But now plans are in the works for ownership to transfer to the Kingsville Area Industrial Development Foundation, according to a Thursday story from the Kingsville Record.

That foundation's chairman, Kleberg Bank President Brad Womack, told the Kingsville Record, that the community — which has a population of about 25,000 — had fought to save its newspaper. “With support from folks like Mayor Sam Fugate, Dr. Mark Hussey and Robert Underbrink we have gained great support for this transfer,” Womack told the newspaper. Underbrink, King Ranch Inc.'s CEO, told the newspaper the company would still lend its support and help ease the transition of ownership. With the new ownership will come new leadership for the newsroom. Tim Acosta was named the editor and publisher of Kingsville Record. The Texas A&M University-Kingsville graduate served as an editor for several years at the newspaper.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 5, 2019

John Cornyn: Impeachment 'will never be successful' in ousting President Trump from office

Republican U.S. John Cornyn called Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to push forward with impeaching President Donald Trump a partisan process that "will never be successful." Cornyn, who is seeking his fourth six-year term in 2020, would not say whether he was troubled by the underlying action for impeachment — the president's demand that Ukraine look for political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden's son. But he did say the act did not merit removing the president from office.

"The question is, should he be removed from office," Cornyn told Texas reporters in a conference call from the nation's capital. "I don't see anything that has come to light yet that deserves that treatment, particularly less than a year before the election." Asked if he would consider asking Afghanistan to dig up damaging information on Democrat MJ Hegar, who served in that country as a combat pilot and is now seeking her party's nomination for Senate next year, Cornyn sidestepped the question. "I'm not going to indulge in a bunch of hypotheticals," he said. Hegar, a former combat helicopter pilot and one of several Democrats seeking the nomination in the March primary to challenge Cornyn, chastised the Republican for not outright condemning any foreign interference in U.S. elections.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Lockheed Martin expects Grand Prairie-based division to lead growth in 2020, CFO says

Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control unit based in Grand Prairie is driving the fastest growth in the company and that’s expected to continue next year, CFO Ken Possenriede told investors Thursday. “Our fastest growth business area still is Missiles and Fire Control," Possenriede told attendees at the Credit Suisse Annual Industrials Conference in Palm Beach Florida this week.

Possenriede said he expects Missiles and Fire Control’s growth to be “a little less” in 2020 compared to its performance in 2019. The unit was just awarded a $988.8 million modification contract by the U.S. Airforce for its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW. The division represents roughly 14% of Lockheed Martin’s sales, according to the company, but has been a significant driver for growth in the last year. Missiles and Fire Control saw $2.6 billion in revenue in the third quarter. The F-35 program also is expected to continue growing, Possenriede said. Lockheed recently struck a $34 billion deal with the Pentagon to produce 478 more of the fighter jets, which have been the company’s largest source of profit.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

UT to disclose names of professors with sexual misconduct violations to people who request them

The University of Texas at Austin says it will disclose the names of faculty and staff with sexual misconduct violations to anyone who submits an open records request, but students want the names published online. Spokesman J.B. Bird said UT is working to compile a summary of violations as far back as November 2017. It will be released to individuals who have submitted open records requests within this calendar year, but a university working group will be reviewing whether to publicly release the information.

“This year with the protests there’s been a lot of interest in this information,” Bird said. “Whether the university should publish the information instead of just releasing it, that’s a question that students have asked and that we’ve decided to review.” Students have held several sit-ins and protests after learning that two professors, Sahotra Sarkar and Coleman Hutchison, returned to teaching after being disciplined for sexual misconduct. Students told The Dallas Morning News they signed up for the professors’ courses without knowing about their history.

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Texas Public Radio - December 5, 2019

Texas politicians clash over developing Trump impeachment

Saying she had “no choice but to act” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she wanted House committee chairs to proceed with articles of impeachment. “The facts are uncontested – the president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival,” Pelosi said.

In the six minute formal address, the San Francisco Democrat said over the course of the two months of investigation it became clear that President Trump’s actions strike at the very heart of our constitution. But speaking to reporters in a conference call, Texas Sen. John Cornyn called into question Pelosi’s motivations. “I think she's lost control of her own radical base among house Democrats and is doing this against her better judgment,” said Cornyn. Cornyn, a high ranking Senate Republican, said he can only reach this conclusion about Pelosi based on what she has said in the past about impeachment.

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Austin Chronicle - December 5, 2019

How Texas Impact turns faith into a tool for progress

When one thinks about how big Texas is, the scope doesn't just come down to geographical measurement. Really, what makes Texas loom so large in the collective American consciousness is how many perspectives can fit within it: It's a place whose peoples can be as varied in faith and philosophy as the global community. That's why Austin-based interfaith policy organization Texas Impact works to bring a local faith perspective to discussions of globally impactful issues like climate change – and vice versa.

As Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy/Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead explains, previous groups like the Texas Conference of Churches eventually closed up shop in part because "churches [are] kind of an outmoded way of talking about it. ... It used to be [that] people were like, 'Interfaith. So, Catholic and Protestant, right?'" But that limited view doesn't take into account the diversity of faith in Texas, where, as Moorhead points out, Houston alone has "more than 80 separate faith traditions." "Our job," she continues, "is to be the convener for the institutional bodies that are kind of the thought leaders within those traditions." As different policy issues come up, Texas Impact's work is to find a legislative position with "100 percent consensus on the part of all the people representing all these different faith traditions. They have to all agree that the teachings of their tradition lead them to that same conclusion."

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Texas Monthly - December 4, 2019

Chris Hooks: Rick Miller’s racist remarks about “Asians” were not part of the GOP plan for Fort Bend County

We didn’t even make it to three this time. On November 15, Democratic state representative Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass turned himself in after dropping a cocaine-filled envelope with his office letterhead on it at an Austin airport. On Tuesday, Republican state representative Rick Miller of Sugar Land dropped off a present of his own on the doorstep of the Houston Chronicle, when he was asked to characterize his two challengers in the upcoming GOP primary: He summed up one of his opponents like this: “He’s a Korean,” said Miller, describing Jacey Jetton, a former chairman of the Fort Bend GOP. “He has decided because, because he is an Asian that my district might need an Asian to win. And that’s kind of racist in my mind, but anyway, that’s not necessary, at least not yet.”

A bit of context: Fort Bend County, which Miller represents, is one of the most interesting political battlegrounds in the country, a place where you can watch Texas change in real time at a block-by-block level. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since 1964, and in 2018 Beto O’Rourke won the county and Democrats won control of the commissioners court. Fort Bend is in the crosshairs again in 2020. The Republican collapse there has several factors, but one of them has certainly been the growing political power of the county’s Asian American communities. (Of course, it’s silly to group Chinese and Vietnamese and Korean and Indian Americans under a single label, as Miller did.)

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Fort Hood Herald - December 3, 2019

Roger Williams: Our nation's military needs a defense bill

As we gather together with family and friends during the holiday season, I hope we will all take pause and think of our military servicemembers who will spend their Thanksgiving and Christmas deployed in our nation’s defense. America’s warriors spend these cherished moments far from home, sacrificing time spent with loved-ones to guarantee the safety of every American family celebrating at home.

Texas’ 25th District is home to Fort Hood, one of the largest military installations in the world and the headquarters for the III Armored Corps. Since 2003, the installation has deployed hundreds of thousands of troops for combat and humanitarian missions across the globe. Our “Phantom Warriors,” as they are so heroically known, have participated in every major combat operation since 9/11. And while our warriors across the military commit themselves to our security, the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. has failed to respond in kind.

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El Paso Times - December 5, 2019

With presidential run over, how much influence does Beto O'Rourke have in Texas races?

Beto O'Rourke's time on the Democratic presidential campaign trail has ended, but the former congressman turned senate, then presidential hopeful continues to push for a blue Texas. And though that presidential run didn't go anywhere as well as O'Rourke or his followers hoped, political experts say his voice still carries weight in state races.

O'Rourke in a Monday email to supporters asked for donations for Flip the Texas House, an initiative that started this year and is working to flip more than a dozen state House seats filled by Republicans. It's not the first time since exiting the presidential field about a month ago that O'Rourke has lent his voice to fellow Democrats. Just weeks after exiting the presidential race, O'Rourke called on supporters to get behind the Democratic presidential nominee. He has also chimed in on a special runoff election in House District 28, where Democrat Eliz Markowitz is vying to win the seat vacated by Republican John Zerwas. Cari Marshall, who volunteered for O'Rourke during his senate run and leads the Flip the Texas House initiative for the Texas Blue Action Democrats, said there are many in the state who value his judgement.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 6, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: An open letter to Cynthia Brehm

Dear Cynthia: It’s probably an understatement to say that you’re disinclined to take advice from me. As we both know, I’ve been pretty critical of the way you’ve handled your duties as Bexar County Republican Party chair during your first 18 months in office. Your tenure got off to a rocky start, to be sure. You campaigned on the strength of your status as a “retired Army wife” but somehow neglected to tell party members that your husband, Norman, pleaded guilty to indecently exposing himself to your then-14-year-old daughter — his stepdaughter — in 1999.

After this history came to light, you faced a revolt within your party, including a resolution calling for your resignation. You survived that rebellion, but the Bexar County GOP has been a dysfunctional, fractious organization on your watch, with some party officers avoiding all contact with you and many precinct chairs openly showing their disdain for your leadership. You’ve also shown yourself to be susceptible to conspiracy mongering, a trait that caused all kinds of ugliness at the Bexar County Elections Office in June, during San Antonio’s municipal runoff. You and your friends camped out at the elections office between the end of early voting and election day and became so disruptive that Jacque Callanen, the county elections administrator, had to call the sheriff’s office for reinforcement.

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KUT - December 5, 2019

Longtime Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty won't seek reelection

Longtime Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty says he does not plan to seek reelection when his term expires next year. He has been elected to four four-year terms and is currently the only Republican on the five-member commissioners court.

In his announcement Thursday, Daugherty touted his accomplishments to bring more transportation infrastructure to Precinct 3 – in particular, the completion of State Highway 45 in Southwest Austin. Daugherty served on both the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization during his tenure on the court. Daugherty said he would continue advocating for expanded transportation infrastructure after his term ends next November.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2019

Dallas County DA John Creuzot seeks dismissal of contempt case over interview about Amber Guyger trial

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot filed a motion Thursday seeking dismissal of his contempt case, in which he is accused of violating a gag order in the murder trial of former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger for the fatal shooting of Botham Jean.

State District Judge Tammy Kemp, who presided over Guyger’s trial, filed a show-cause order in October requiring Creuzot to appear in court to explain why he should not be held in contempt for giving an interview to KDFW-TV (Channel 4) about the case. In the order, Kemp said the interview was a “direct violation” of a gag order she set in place to prevent prosecutors and defense attorneys from speaking publicly about the murder case. Creuzot’s motion Thursday asks a judge to dismiss Kemp’s order.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Robert Wilonsky: ‘It’s Fair Park’s time’: Maybe, after decades, Dallas has a plan to turn albatross into jewel

The urban designer from Minnesota saw Fair Park for the first time on August 13. Before his arrival, John Slack had read nearly everything he could on the subject – musty histories, dusty master plans, racist reports penned in the ‘60s, a far more recent proposal authored by college students who suggested a future for a place more past tense than present. He knew as much about Fair Park as any stranger could from a distance and more than most in this city. But it wasn’t until his visit, on a 100-degree Tuesday, that he saw it with his own eyes. And then …

“I was …” Here, during our conversation this week, Slack took a moment, to make sure he used the right word. “I was surprised,” said the landscape architect based out of architecture firm Perkins & Will’s Minneapolis office. “There is no access to the park from the surrounding neighborhoods, which look underserved. There’s a fence around the park. The gates were open, but it’s hard to tell: Is it open to the public or not? And when you’re in the park, there’s nobody there, nothing to do.” All of these are things that have been said about Fair Park countless times on an endless loop. Slack, the outsider who didn’t sit through all those council and community meetings held in recent years, who never made or broke a promise to the neighborhood, who doesn’t suffer from the Fair Park fatigue that ails so many of us, is the man tasked with erasing those grievances. It’s his job now only to give us what we’ve been promised ad infinitum.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Video leads Dallas ISD bus driver to be placed on leave for refusing to allow student to board bus

A bus driver from Dallas Independent School District’s transportation department has been placed on leave after a video posted on social media showed him refusing to allow a student to board the bus, even as the student implored the driver to open the door while standing in the middle of a busy street. In the video, which was posted to Facebook on Tuesday and originally reported by WFAA-TV, a student is standing in front of the bus, arm extended.

Initially, the driver -- who remains unnamed by the district as of Thursday afternoon -- did not bring the bus to a complete stop. Instead, he continued to roll the vehicle forward slowly, forcing the student to walk backward in front of the bus as several cars passed by. The driver stopped only after a bystander banged on the side of the bus, yelling at the driver to stop. As the student yelled to “open the door," the bystander took pictures of the driver. Later in the video, the bystander said that he was calling the police.

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KUT - December 5, 2019

World War II Veteran Richard Overton's home is now a historic Austin landmark

The home of Richard Overton, who was believed to be America's oldest World War II veteran before he died last year, will now be harder to alter or tear down after Austin City Council members deemed it historic Thursday. “He was a physical link to the history of our nation and our city, and now that he’s gone his house is our physical link to him," said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who oversees the district where Overton's house sits.

Overton died Dec. 27 at the age of 112 after being hospitalized for pneumonia. Born in Bastrop County in 1906, Overton joined the U.S. Army in 1940 as part of an all-black engineer aviation battalion, serving in Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific theater at Okinawa and Iwo Jima. "Uncle Sam called me in, and I went there and I had to do it," he told KUT in 2015. Roughly 2,000 people attended a funeral service for Overton in January, before he was buried with full military honors at the Texas State Cemetery.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Fort Worth police chief hire deserved nationwide search, with diversity a priority

By nearly all accounts, Ed Kraus is a strong choice to be Fort Worth’s police chief. Is he the best possible choice? We can’t know that, and neither can city officials. That’s because in the six and a half months Kraus has had the job on an interim basis, the city does not appear to have considered other candidates.

City Manager David Cooke told the Star-Telegram on Wednesday night that he had conducted no national search for a new chief. That’s unusual for a city of Fort Worth’s size, and less than ideal for one facing its challenges. Since taking over when Chief Joel Fitzgerald was fired in May, Kraus has performed admirably under difficult circumstances. His first few months on the job saw officers fatally shoot civilians six times. Black residents, already distrustful of the force, were enraged when an officer shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home without identifying himself. Kraus handled these situations as well as could be expected. He was quick to denounce the actions of Officer Aaron Dean, Jefferson’s killer, and to declare that Dean did not represent the department’s 1,700 other officers.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

From ghost routes to empty bags, how Houston police foil robbers in armored car heist capital of U.S

In the two weeks leading up to a thwarted armored truck heist outside a Walgreens in November, a team of Houston police officers was tracking a crew of men who were apparently amassing stolen cars and casing the entrances to a supermarket, a drug store and a meat market. These were all places where armored trucks carrying cash made regular drop-offs. When unmarked police units and camera surveillance detected the robbery crew was poised to strike, Sgt. David Helms employed a tried and true strategy to foil the plan.

From an unmarked car and again from his office far from the scene, he contacted the armored trucks making deliveries and told them to ditch the drop-offs, according to his testimony at a hearing for two men arrested in the incident. “I am personally disrupting routes, calling routes off,” explained Helms, an HPD officer assigned to the FBI Violent Crime Task Force who specializes in robbery. He called these scenarios where no cash is dropped off “ghost routes.” The aim is to protect the couriers and, of course, to prevent crime.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2019

Feds’ court filing says late Dallas council member told candidates how to evade campaign laws

In court documents filed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, statements by former Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis explain quite clearly how council members and candidates could skirt campaign finance laws — and avoid the FBI. The filing comes nine months after Davis pleaded guilty to pocketing $40,000 in bribes from an affordable housing developer — and five months after she and her daughter were killed in a car crash.

Federal prosecutors filed court documents alleging that developer Ruel Hamilton “engaged in a scheme to corruptly influence public officials.” Chief among them was Davis, who four months before her death pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Hamilton while she chaired the council’s Housing Committee. This new indictment adds two charges to those already leveled against Hamilton: conspiracy to commit bribery and a violation of the federal Travel Act, which prohibits using the mail to “promote, manage, establish, carry on" illegal activities.

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National Stories

Associated Press - December 6, 2019

Uber reports more than 3,000 sexual assaults on 2018 rides

Uber, as part of a long anticipated safety report, revealed that more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported during its U.S. rides in 2018. That figure includes 235 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides last year. The ride-hailing company noted that drivers and riders were both attacked and that some assaults occurred between riders.

The Thursday report, which the company hailed as the first of its kind, provides a rare look into the traffic deaths, murders and reported sexual assaults that took place during billions of rides arranged in the U.S. using Uber’s service. It is part of the company’s effort to be more transparent after years of criticism over its safety record. In 2017, the company counted 2,936 reported sexual assaults — including 229 rapes — during 1 billion U.S. trips. Uber bases its numbers on reports from riders and drivers, meaning the actual numbers could be much higher. Sexual assaults commonly go unreported.

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Associated Press - December 5, 2019

House Speaker Pelosi rebukes reporter: ‘Don’t mess with me’

Finger pointing and voice hoarse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday delivered a broadside to a reporter that might well apply to all of impeachment-era Washington: “Don’t mess with me.” It was a warning scarcely needed among the official set, least of all by President Donald Trump as he fights Pelosi and the Democrats in their drive to impeach him.

Only a few hours earlier, Pelosi had instructed the Judiciary Committee to write articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and resisting Congress’ probe. The House speaker insisted she brought impeachment proceedings because Trump’s conduct and the Constitution left the House no choice. “The president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution,” Pelosi said from the speaker’s office at the Capitol. “He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”

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Washington Post - December 5, 2019

Biden calls Iowa voter a ‘damn liar’ after he brings up his son and Ukraine

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden got into an extraordinary exchange Thursday afternoon with an Iowa farmer who first called him too old to run and then challenged him on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine, triggering Biden to call the man “a damn liar.”

During an event in New Hampton, Iowa, the man rose to say he had two issues with Biden’s candidacy. “You’re damn near as old as I am,” the man started. “You’re too old for the job. I’m 83, and I know damn well I don’t have the mental faculties I did 30 years ago.” Then he turned toward what he said was a more pressing concern.

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Bloomberg - December 6, 2019

Saudi Aramco to lead elite $1 trillion-plus club after IPO

It seems like only yesterday equity investors had pegged $1 trillion as the dividing line between run-of-the-mill large cap companies and freakishly huge ones. Saudi Aramco just took things to a whole new level.

The oil producer’s initial public offering Thursday valued the company at $1.7 trillion. That may have trailed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s hoped-for $2 trillion valuation, but it gives the Saudi Arabian behemoth about a $600 billion lead on Apple Inc. and Microsoft Inc., the only two other companies in the world worth more than $1 trillion.

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NPR - December 5, 2019

White House names controversial pick to head homelessness office

The Trump Administration has named its choice to lead the federal office on homelessness: Robert Marbut, a well-known consultant to cities trying to tackle the issue. As the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, it will be Marbut's job to coordinate the 19 federal agencies and departments that have some responsibility for the issue -- including Housing, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Veterans Affairs. The office also works with state and local officials, conveying the administration's philosophy on the best ways to combat homelessness.

But advocates for the homeless worry that Marbut's appointment signals a turn away from the approaches that have worked over the last 20 years, getting more people into housing. Marbut's strategies, they say, are more like those that prevailed in the 1990s, such as attaching services and housing to good behavior. Critics say his work has shifted taxpayer money away from proven strategies such as permanent and affordable housing, and funneled it instead into large shelters that some have compared to prisons. Homelessness in the U.S. actually decreased by 15 percent from 2007 to 2018, but it remains a huge issue: more than a half million people were experiencing homelessness on a single night last year. California, in particular, is struggling with a large population of unsheltered homeless people.

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Slate - December 5, 2019

Republicans invade Barron Trump’s privacy, drag him into politics

At the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment-related hearing earlier today, constitutional law expert Pamela Karlan sent Republicans into a frenzy when she publicly mentioned that the president has a son by the name of Barron. The noting of the existence of the president’s youngest child came in response to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who asked Karlan about comparisons “between kings that the Framers were afraid of and the president’s conduct today.” Karlan offered the following in response: "Contrary to what President Trump says, Article Two does not give him the power to do anything he wants. The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron."

It is, admittedly, an awful pun that is nonetheless perfectly clear in its meaning. Most people would have forgotten the bit of wordplay entirely if it weren’t for what happened next. First came the White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham: “Classless move by a Democratic “witness”. Prof Karlan uses a teenage boy who has nothing to do with this joke of a hearing (and deserves privacy) as a punchline. And what’s worse, it’s met by laughter in the hearing room. What is being done to this country is no laughing matter.” While Grisham’s complaint was a little haphazard (was she mad that people were laughing at a sentence that contained the word Barron or that people were laughing at something related to impeachment?), Melania Trump’s Twitter account jumped in to help streamline the matter: “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

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Politico - December 5, 2019

Joe Biden defends son Hunter but acknowledges Ukraine work 'may have looked bad'

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden acknowledged it "may have looked bad" for his son to serve on the board of foreign companies, but the former vice president stood firm that his son did nothing wrong.

"What may have looked bad but wasn't anything wrong is totally different than whether a president has held up $400 million in aid for the Ukrainian military when Ukrainians are dying," Biden said during an interview with Telemundo released Thursday. "That is criminal."

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