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Newsclips - July 20, 2018

Lead Stories

Axios - July 19, 2018

Poll: Huge GOP majority backs Trump's Putin performance

Americans are split on whether the allegations of Russian interference are a serious issue (50%) or a distraction (47%). This breaks cleanly along party lines, with 85 percent of Republicans seeing it as a distraction and 85 percent of Democrats seeing it as a serious issue. Among Independents, 56 percent see it as a serious issue. More than half of Americans (55%) don't trust the Trump administration to take steps to prevent foreign interference in November's midterms. This poll foreshadows the coming national drama. Every piece of data, and virtually every public action of elected Republican officials, shows Trump will have overwhelming and probably unbreakable party support, regardless of what Robert Mueller finds with his Russia probe.

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Fox News - July 19, 2018

As upstart Ocasio-Cortez hits campaign trail with Bernie Sanders, high profile spurs fears of Dem rift

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is hitting the national campaign trail this week with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to stump for other left-wing candidates, even as the upstart 28-year-old democratic socialist's rising profile continues to rankle top Democrats. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are expected to campaign on July 20 for two congressional candidates seeking to unseat Republican incumbents in Kansas: James Thompson in Wichita, and former Sanders delegate Brent Welder in the suburbs of Kansas City. But Ocasio-Cortez is also set to support several progressives seeking to supplant Democratic incumbents elsewhere -- alarming Democratic leaders and pundits who worry that her rising national profile and far-left politics might fracture the party ahead of critical midterm elections. On July 28 and 29, Ocasio-Cortez will visit Michigan to lend her national spotlight to Abdul El-Sayed, 33, a progressive candidate for governor. She will travel throughout Michigan, stopping in places including Grand Rapids, Flint and Detroit. El-Sayed is Detroit’s ex-public health commissioner, and looks to upset Democratic former State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer. But even as the progressive pair seek to export their brand of progressive politics to the Sunflower State and beyond, top Democratic leaders have increasingly sounded the alarm. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., charged this week that Ocasio-Cortez was overly idealistic. "Meteors fizz out,” Hastings said. “What she will learn in this institution is that it’s glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance. “You come up here and you’re going to be buddy-buddy with all the folks or you’re going to make them do certain things? Ain’t happening, O.K.?” Hastings added. And Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said that Ocasio-Cortez's decision to pubicly feud with longtime Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., even after she defeated him in a shocking primary contest last month was upsetting Democrats in the House. "She’s not asking my advice,” Pascrell said. "I would do it differently, rather than make enemies of people.” Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo. -- who is facing a primary challenge from the left by community activist Cori Bush, who has Ocasio-Cortez's backing -- was more direct. “Once an election is over and you win, why are you still angry?” Clay asked. “I think it’s a lack of maturity on her part, and a lack of political acumen, for her to be that petty." That sentiment was echoed by former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was the Democratic Party's candidate for vice president in 2000, in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday. "When I see somebody who really says she's a socialist -- she's a very captivating, charismatic candidate -- when you look at those policies, those policies will not be supported in many places across America," Lieberman said. "If her win makes her into what Kellyanne Conway called the new face of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party's not going to have a very bright future," he added. Lieberman wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for voters to reject Ocasio-Cortez in the November elections.

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KXAN - July 19, 2018

More, younger families are choosing not to vaccinate in Texas

Four thousand more families chose not to vaccinate their school children this year than last, according to a new state report. In all, 56,738 kindergarten through 12th-grade students have a conscientious objector file in Texas schools. Compare that to 52,736 in the 2016-2017 school year. The rise in objectors is attributed to younger families filing conscientious exemption affidavit forms in kindergarten. Staff for the Texas Health and Human Services Department wrote, "Overall, Texas schools reported high rates of coverage for each vaccine. Compared to the 2016-2017 school year, however, kindergarten students have slightly lower coverage as reports of conscientious exemptions, provisional enrollment, and delinquencies all increased slightly in 2017- 2018.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

Democrat Kim Olson has more cash, less debt than Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

Not only did Democrat Kim Olson raise more than twice as much money as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in her general election bid for that office, but the political newcomer is sitting on a bigger mound of campaign cash and has less debt. Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, reported having more than $171,000 to spend on her election campaign at the end of June, according to records filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. That’s more than the roughly $138,000 former rodeo cowboy Miller has to spend on his campaign to keep his job running the Texas Department of Agriculture. While Olson raised more money throughout the first half of the year to prep for the general election, Miller flexed his political fundraising muscles earlier in the year to fend off challengers in the March primary election. He raised $156,000 from January through much of February. He has raised another $63,000 since then for for the general election. Olson raised $171,000 from January 1 to June 30. Miller’s campaign also reported $275,000 in outstanding loans.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2018

Democrats hope Beto's bucks will trickle down the ballot for key North Texas legislative races

As Democratic Party donors produce big bucks for Beto O'Rourke, they are neglecting, perhaps foolishly so, contests that give Democrats a better chance of winning. No place is that more evident than in North Texas, the biggest battleground for Texas legislative rumbles in the state. This year, Democrats have a chance to pick up two state Senate seats in North Texas, and their nominees are raising cash. In District 16 in the Dallas area, Nathan Johnson raised $362,500 for the reporting period and has $261,500 cash on hand. That's behind incumbent Don Huffines, who raised nearly $500,000 during the period and has a whopping $1 million in his campaign fund. In District 10 in Tarrant County, Burleson Democrat Beverly Powell trails incumbent Republican Konni Burton in the cash race. Powell has $140,000 cash on hand, compared to $528,000 in the bank for Burton. Democrats, who often are moved to vote and participate in politics with their hearts, have the chance to rattle the Texas political landscape in midterm elections, which would set them up nicely for the important 2020 contests, when even more voters will flood the polls. But if the bright lights of O'Rourke's campaign obscure the rest of the ballot, Democrats will miss out on building the foundation they need to one day turn Texas blue.

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Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2018

Texas lawmakers discuss what could make students violent: Mental health, social media, video games?

With a single musing, Dallas GOP Sen. Don Huffines on Wednesday crystallized what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is after in a hurry-up study of school safety after the massacre at Santa Fe High in southeast Texas. Huffines recalled that when he was in high school in North Texas in the 1970s, kids were unruly. Many even brought guns in their trucks to school. He was one, as he liked to duck hunt at dawn before first period, he said. Despite the proximity of firearms, though, there weren’t mass shootings, Huffines noted. “What has changed since then?” he asked a panel of mental health and education experts. The experts and the nine members of Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security could not pinpoint how or why society has changed since Huffines, 60, was a teen. Participants agreed, though, that things have changed -- and that improving students’ mental health is necessary to keep schools safe. Clifford K. Moy, director of behavioral health and research at the Austin-based TMF Health Quality Institute, a group that reviews the quality of care provided by Medicare for the federal government, said children should be screened for mental illness and substance abuse. Also, doctors should be trained to identify stresses that could trigger mental illness in children, Moy said. “Society has changed in the last 40 years, which we would expect it to,” he said. “We have to adapt to change.” Experts warned that such screening should be done carefully, to avoid stigma or overstating care providers’ knowledge about who potentially is dangerous. “We should not be looking for strategies to look for the next school shooter, we should be looking for kids who need help,” said Jeff Temple, director of behavioral health and research at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Students should be taught relationship skills, which would help reduce bullying and substance abuse, Temple said. The goal is to “make overall better human beings,” he said.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2018

Hallas: First-generation students are the future of higher ed in Texas

"First generation" is notoriously difficult to define (and quantify), but generally refers to students whose parents have not earned college degrees. First-generation students have existed as long as colleges have, and the policies designed to meet their needs have had massive impacts on the development of American higher education. The GI bill is perhaps the most notable example of a first-generation student program. It brought a large swath of the U.S. into the middle class, but that swath was almost exclusively white and male. Today, Texas is the only state with an increasing K-12 population, and this growth is demographically skewed to Latin Americans, low-income and first generation students, which means more of these same students applying to college. The UT System alone has several campuses where between 20 and 50 percent of its students are first-generation. Considering the lifetime impacts a college education can have on families and communities, first-generation-focused programs are an investment in Texas' development. First-generation students are often discussed in terms of academic unpreparedness and low graduation and retention rates. But it is critical to understand the challenges that can hinder earning a degree reflect gaps in institutional support systems, not students' abilities. A recent Campus Labs study found that first-generation students are actually more engaged and committed to their education, outscoring their multi-generational peers in educational and campus engagement, but lag behind in social comfort and resilience. First-generation students can thrive, but more so when institutions offer proper support. In Texas, increasing access to dual credit coursework and easing the transfer process from community college to four-year universities is one of the ways to help first-gen students graduate while also providing more pathways for all students.

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Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2018

Oops, we lost the plutonium, but Energy Department assures San Antonio there’s no danger

Samples of plutonium and cesium that went missing in San Antonio in March 2017 are “the size of a dime” and pose no risk to the public, the Energy Department said Thursday, four days after the incident came to light. Plutonium-239 is an isotope used in modern nuclear weapons. Cesium-137 is a highly radioactive substance that, in sufficient quantities, can be combined with a conventional explosive like dynamite to make a dirty bomb. Two security experts from the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory had brought a plastic disk containing a tiny amount of plutonium, and another with cesium, to San Antonio as a part of a mission to retrieve nuclear materials from a nonprofit research lab. The disks are used to calibrate radiation detectors, and the department emphasized that they contain only a “trace amount of radioactivity.” As reported Monday by the San Antonio Express News and Center for Public Integrity, the security team stopped for the night at a Marriott hotel and left the samples on the back seat of their rented SUV. In the morning, the windows had been smashed and the disks were gone, along with a radiation detector. The department never disclosed the incident to the public. Nor did the San Antonio police or FBI. The material has not been recovered, though the department said the amount was “small” and not nearly enough to fashion a weapon. On Monday, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio — whose brother Julian Castro is a former mayor of the city — demanded details from Energy Secretary Rick Perry and an update on recovery efforts. The former governor was sworn into his Cabinet post less than three weeks before the theft. He has not responded to Castro, according to the congressman’s office.

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Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2018

Brown and Murillo: Accurate 2020 census critical to Houston’s financial future

As that familiar survey begins to arrive in mailboxes across the country, the future of our city rests squarely in the hands of the people — or at least those who respond to the 2020 U.S. census. For more than 200 years, the constitutionally mandated population survey has been utilized to provide a detailed record of the country’s demographic trends, determine how many representatives each state can send to Congress, and how billions in federal dollars are disbursed to states, and localities across the country. While the practical, political and demographic considerations of an accurate census count are important, it is the financial implications of an undercount that should most concern our state, region and city. An undercount in any census is always a possibility. Contributing factors typically include limitations in federal funding to complete a thorough survey, displacement from natural disasters (like Hurricane Harvey), and the always-present challenges that exist in reaching certain subsets of the population which often include minority groups, students, and residents living in poverty. For the 2020 census, widespread concern exists among leaders across the country that an accurate count will be very difficult to achieve. The Trump administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the survey for the first time since 1950 is the preeminent contributing factor. Demographers, experts and leaders predict that simply including this question will depress response rates in immigrant households and particularly in the Hispanic community. This could threaten the state’s ability to fully capture its population and imperil vital federal funds tied to social services that many Texans depend on.

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

When the lone doctor is out, telemedicine keeps this ER running

The little hospital in the small west Texas city of Van Horn has a problem. It is the only trauma facility in a vast stretch of land — and, as with other rural hospitals, few doctors want to work there. Van Horn, home to 2,000 residents, rises from the harsh desert landscape along Interstate 10. About two hours east of El Paso, it is another shrinking city in another empty area, with a limited number of things to do but a demanding schedule for a lone doctor to handle. Rural hospitals across the state have struggled for a variety of reasons in recent years to stay open. Eighteen have closed since 2013, by one organization’s count, plus another last week, affecting both the communities and people driving through. Of the 162 rural hospitals remaining, the next closest to Van Horn is 90 miles away. Finding doctors to hire is one piece of the puzzle. This summer, staff in Van Horn’s 14-bed Culberson Hospital decided to try something new to address it. They are using telemedicine to treat trauma patients. The set-up is unique: to be licensed as a basic-level trauma facility, the state requires that a physician be no more than 30 minutes away. With telemedicine equipment installed in Van Horn, the state waived that stipulation. Like other uses of the technology, which until last year was tightly regulated in Texas, this way of doing things stands to have significant effects. The doctor lives a little less frantically. Nurses have immediate back-up. The hospital does not need to hire expensive contract physicians when the doctor goes out of town. When a patient arrives in Van Horn, staff in either of two trauma rooms can push a big button to connect with an office building in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A nurse there promptly appears on a large screen and, in a sort of high-tech Skype call, can loop in a doctor to help oversee care. “What that signals is a way forward to keep those hospitals up and running 24/7, as they need to be,” said Nora Belcher, executive director of the Texas e-Health Alliance, a trade association. Added Belcher: “If this fails, it sets everybody back.”

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Star-Telegram - July 19, 2018

Flush with cash, Granger campaigns for bigger GOP role

Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger is stockpiling money for a big race this fall — to move into one of Congress’s most coveted leadership roles. While other Texas Republicans have lagged in fundraising and received a stern warning from GOP leaders this week, Granger’s amassed more than $860,000 in her campaign’s bank account. Rather than spending much on her re-election race, which neither party considers competitive, Granger is putting that money toward her campaign to chair Congress’s appropriations committee when it opens up next year. Granger is one of a handful of lawmakers maneuvering for the position within her party. The winner could make it to the GOP’s top spot on the panel — but they’d serve under a chair controlled by a Democrat, if Republicans loses the House majority this November. Granger’s most recent report, covering the April 1 to June 30 quarter, shows contributions to many colleagues in tough races this year, including Reps. Jeff Denham, R-California, Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, and Mimi Walters, R-California. It also shows a $322,000 contribution to the NRCC in January of this year.

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Real Clear Politics - July 19, 2018

Paxton: Kavanaugh will defend the Constitution, uphold rule of law

If President Trump somehow found a way to resurrect John Marshall from the dead and nominate him, one wonders if even that would be enough for Senate Democrats. Unfortunately for them, however, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is tailor-made to expose their partisan theatrics. Judge Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified people President Trump could have nominated. He currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, unofficially dubbed “the second highest court in the land” for the magnitude of consequential cases that come before it. (Note that the “Highest Court in the Land” is the informal name of the basketball court on the fifth floor of the Supreme Court building.) Many of his more than 300 opinions have been influential at the Supreme Court. A former Anthony Kennedy clerk with impeccable credentials, he is one of the most respected jurists in the nation. Judge Kavanaugh has written in glowing terms of the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia’s judicial philosophy: “The judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law or make policy. So read the words of the statute as written. Read the text of the Constitution as written, mindful of history and tradition. Don’t make up new rights that are not in the text of the Constitution. Don’t shy away from enforcing constitutional rights that are in the text of the Constitution.” For those who have rightly been frustrated by the court’s tendency over the years to legislate from the bench and conjure fanciful new “rights” out of thin air, this is music to our ears. And his record backs up his rhetoric. In countless cases, Judge Kavanaugh has faithfully applied the plain meaning of statutes and stayed faithful to the Constitution. In a blistering dissent from a decision that forced the federal government to facilitate an abortion for an illegal immigrant minor, he lambasted the “novel” idea that the Constitution – which, of course, never mentions abortion at all – gives illegal immigrants, particularly children, a right to abortion on demand in the United States.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2018

Mayor Turner’s former press secretary indicted for withholding public records

Mayor Sylvester Turner's former press secretary, Darian Ward, was indicted by a grand jury this week, accused of violating state law by failing to turn over public records in response to a reporter’s request late last year. The indictment, handed up Thursday and released by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office, says Ward misrepresented the number of emails responsive to a reporter’s request for correspondence about her personal business activities and unlawfully withheld public records. Ward resigned in January, weeks after news broke that she had been suspended for withholding the records, and because the records showed she routinely had conducted personal business on city time. Ward, who had joined former mayor Annise Parker's staff as press secretary in 2014 and served in the same role for Turner, sent or received roughly 5,000 pages of emails about personal business from her government account over the last four years of her tenure at the city. Many of those dealt with reality shows she was pitching to television networks or a charity for which she served as an adviser. Joe Larsen, a Houston attorney with expertise in public information laws, said indictments under the act are “astonishingly rare,” saying he is aware of only one similar case since the act was passed in 1973. In 2003, the superintendent of the Llano school district was found guilty of withholding financial records from a newspaper and a county commissioner; he was fined $1,000 and given a six-month probated jail sentence. Trent Seibert, the Texas Monitor reporter whose request Ward stymied last year, said he was happy to hear the district attorney’s office was taking public records laws seriously.

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Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2018

Grigsby: This Dallas neighborhood is so dangerous, we need the feds to save us from it

The feds have embedded in northeast Dallas, and they swear they won’t leave before cleaning out the crime hot spots that make life miserable for neighbors — and the entire city more vulnerable. Their initial target: a tiny convenience store just south of LBJ Freeway off Skillman Street. If you think that’s an embarrassingly insignificant — or easy — first step, you don’t know J’s Food Mart, or similar establishments in crime-ridden pockets all over Dallas. The parking lot at 10041 Whitehurst Drive has long been littered with people up to no good. Loitering. Open-air drug sales. Prostitution. High-stakes dice games late into the night. Shootings and armed robberies as the games break up. The food mart is a perfect place for violence — and has been regardless of who has operated it over the years. The surrounding community is sick and tired of this scene. So putting J’s Food Mart out of business would be a big momentum builder for the retooled Project Safe Neighborhoods, created under President George W. Bush. U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox’s office is leading the charge, with a big assist from Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall and her department. All the big guns, including FBI and ATF, are at the table. Working from data analyzed by a TCU criminologist, the team pinpointed a section of Dallas east of North Central Expressway and largely south of LBJ Freeway as most in need of the feds’ help. Not only is this section of northeast Dallas among the most violent in the city, it’s home to a population especially vulnerable to crime — immigrants, refugees and a staggering number of children. The feds’ spadework indicates that many of the lawbreakers carving out their business here come from other parts of town. That’s why you should care about the closure of J’s Food Mart: A significant, long-term anti-crime campaign in this section of the city should have a positive ripple effect everywhere. Assistant U.S. Attorney P.J. Meitl and his crew first laid down the law to property owner Sharon Crawford with tough talk about civil forfeiture when a business is facilitating criminal activity. She got the message and this week terminated the lease of the operator of J’s Food Mart, Jordan Abdul. Abdul doesn’t seem like a bad guy, just someone who wants to be left alone to run his store. He says he’s done his best to tamp down the criminal element. Now he’s hired a lawyer and is fighting back. Certainly, business tenants have rights. And this community deserves a convenience store. But not at this location, where it’s long been all but advertised as “do your illegal business here.”

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National Stories

New York Post - July 19, 2018

Elon Musk’s bizarre tweets are raising red flags on Wall Street

Tesla’s Elon Musk has been tweeting as if he’s as high as one of his SpaceX rockets. Wall Street analysts, regulators and the media have all been recent victims of the eccentric billionaire. But his calling a member of the team rescuing the Thai soccer kids a “pedo” did more than raise eyebrows. The July 15 tweet prompted an open letter from Loup Ventures’ Gene Munster, who described Musk’s behavior as “fueling an unhelpful perception of your leadership — thin-skinned and short-tempered.” Musk doesn’t limit his wrath to individual journalists, which is why on May 23 he said he’d take on the entire industry by developing a fake news/honest journalism scorecard. “Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication,” he tweeted. “Thinking of calling it Pravda…” “The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” he continued.

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Washington Post - July 18, 2018

House GOP refuses to renew election security funding as Democrats fume over Russian interference

House Republicans on Thursday voted down a Democratic effort to increase election security spending, as Democrats accused the GOP of refusing to stand up to Russia over interference in U.S. elections. In a vote along party lines, Republicans rejected Democrats’ motion for more funding, unmoved by Democrats’ vigorous pleas and chants of “USA! USA!” on the House floor. The election security funding vote came amid a national controversy over Russian election interference, and it comes days after President Trump appeared to accept Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s contention that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 presidential race — even though U.S. intelligence agencies say otherwise. “Now is the time to double down on our efforts to prevent election hacking,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) declared ahead of the vote. “The American people are watching, and we must ensure that we — unlike our president — are on the right side of history at this pivotal moment in our democracy.” Republicans dismissed the Democrats’ effort as theatrics, contending that Congress had fully funded states’ election security needs over the years and that states still have plenty of grant money left to spend from a $380 million allocation for 2018. “Over the past decade you’ve seen billions of dollars funded, by Republicans and Democrats, in our bipartisan appropriations each year to do exactly that, secure elections here at home,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) said. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, discounted the need for any new security spending. “I know what we need for safe and secure elections, and that’s voter ID,” Jordan said. The vote came on a procedural motion by Democrats aimed at adding $380 million in state election security grants for 2019 to a broader spending bill for the Treasury Department, the judiciary and related agencies. Republicans, arguing that they’ve fully funded the grants program over the years, excluded any new funding for it in the spending bill.

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Washington Post - July 19, 2018

White House: Trump opposes Putin’s request to interview current and former American officials

The White House says President Trump opposes a proposal floated by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin that would allow Russia to interview American officials in exchange for making Russian authorities indicted in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe available for questioning. The White House announced Trump’s opposition Thursday moments before the Senate voted 98 to 0 to approve a resolution telling the president not to honor Putin’s request, which would have exposed former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul, among others, to Russian questioning. “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.” The 12 Russians is a reference to those indicted last week by Mueller for their role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Putin first proposed swapping officials for questioning at a Monday summit with Trump in Helsinki, offering to make Russian authorities indicted in Mueller’s probe available for questioning — but only if the United States also granted Russian officials similar access to current and former American officials. Trump called it “an incredible offer.” The Senate resolution — which expresses the sense of Congress that no current or former diplomat, civil servant, law enforcement official, member of the Armed Forces or political appointee should be made available to Putin’s government for an interrogation — is not binding on the president. The White House said earlier this week that it is considering the Kremlin’s request, prompting a backlash from both Republicans and Democrats, and even members of the Trump administration. In a news conference this week, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the idea of allowing the Russian government to interview American officials “absolutely absurd,” adding that allowing such a precedent “would be a grave concern to our former colleagues here.”

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Washington Post - July 20, 2018

Dan Coats: Once the Senate’s ‘Mister Rogers,’ he’s now an outspoken voice of reason on Russian interference

The Kremlin was no fan of Daniel Coats. It was March 2014, and relations between the United States and Russia were nosediving. Earlier that year, Russian military forces had bashed into Crimea, illegally annexing a portion of Ukraine in a geopolitical power grab denounced by Western nations. In retaliation, the Obama administration ordered new economic sanctions. Firing back, the Kremlin announced a list of U.S. officials banned from entering Russia. The blacklisted Congress members including then-House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), then a member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee urging a tough response against the Crimea incursion. Coats — a well-respected Washington fixture who was once referred to by a Senate colleague as the chamber’s “Mister Rogers” — brushed off the Russian ban with a pinch of wry Midwestern humor. “While I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to go on vacation with my family in Siberia this summer, I am honored to be on this list,” the Indiana senator said in a statement, The Washington Post reported at the time. “Putin’s recent aggression is unacceptable, and America must join with our European allies to isolate and punish Russia.” Four years later, Coats, now director of national intelligence, is again pushing back against a Russian agenda, a stance that has pitched him into conflict with his boss. In the wake of President Trump’s summit this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House has been engulfed in mixed messages, at best, about whether Trump believes Russian agents interfered in the 2016 election. But amid the clashing voices, Coats has struck a clear, strong note. On Monday, following the president’s news conference with Putin in Helsinki, Coats responded with a statement saying the intelligence community has “been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling.” During an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Coats admitted he would have advised against the one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin — but he had not been consulted. In front of a crowd of elite newsmakers, journalists, government officials and academics, Coats made no effort to pretend that he was anything but dumbfounded by the news, which he had not heard, that the administration was planning to invite Putin to Washington in the fall. “That’s going to be special,” Coats said almost mockingly to the laughter of the audience.

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New York Times - July 19, 2018

The districts are mostly white. The candidates are not.

Ms. Underwood, the Democratic congressional nominee in northern Illinois’s pivotal 14th District, flowed effortlessly from person to person at a meet-and-greet last month, confident in her belief that she, a 31-year-old black woman, was best suited to represent a community that is overwhelmingly white. “I learned to be a black woman in this community,” Ms. Underwood said. “This is my home, and the idea that I might not be a good fit is an idea I never gave a lot of consideration to.” Kathy Birkett, a former school superintendent who came to the event to support Ms. Underwood, said the candidate’s ideas about health care and reducing gun violence are what helped her draw support from a cross-section of voters in the district. “When you’re top notch, you’re top notch — and I don’t think that has anything to do with color,” she said. A decade after the election of America’s first black president, Ms. Underwood and several other African-American, Hispanic and minority candidates for Congress are facing a major test this fall: whether they can win in districts where white voters make up the majority of the electorate. Like Barack Obama, these contenders — most of them Democrats — often strain to avoid explicit discussions of race out of fear of alienating white voters, which stands in contrast to the uncompromising insurgent challengers that have taken hold in the post-Obama era like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York House candidate, or Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. Ms. Underwood and several other minority candidates in majority-white districts say they have not encountered overt racism aimed at their bids for office. But they also said their campaigns face distinct challenges: difficulty in finding initial support, a need to combat racial stereotypes, and most importantly, a lack of trust from even members of their own party that a minority candidate can succeed in a predominantly white district. According to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, there are 14 self-identified racial minorities out of the nearly 60 party-backed Democrats in the most competitive House races. The number is either an impressive amount or frighteningly low, depending on who is asked. Party officials say the numbers are better than previous cycles, and point out nine minority candidates are running in majority-white districts. But others have complained the number is proof the party only supports nonwhite candidates in so-called “minority districts,” where nonwhite voters outnumber their white counterparts and therefore have more electoral power.

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The Cipher Brief - July 19, 2018

Hurd: Congress’ Contribution to innovation in national security

The United States inherently boasts a creative, risk-taking culture that is inextricably linked to its free enterprise system. And while the federal government has a critical role to play in creating an environment for innovation that advances the common good, it is imperative that private companies, not government bureaucracies, are driving advancements in emerging technology. Congress, in particular, is fundamentally designed to work slowly and deliberatively, which does not always align with the speed that emerging technologies are developed. This is especially challenging during a time when allies, near-peers and adversaries are pushing to be the leader in innovation – whether that is artificial intelligence, quantum computing, internet of things or other technologies currently changing our landscape. But the role of Congress in promoting the adoption of innovative technologies and techniques by the federal government is crucial – not only for national security reasons, but also to maintain economic superiority for decades to come. Congressional oversight, particularly focused on investing in federal government modernization and incentivizing private-sector investment, can help move the needle in today’s innovation race. Oversight is one of the most important and fundamental functions of Congress. Most Americans see this as a tool for Congress to balance the power of the executive branch by shining light onto misdeeds impacting the federal government. But oversight can be proactive too. It allows Congress to examine issues critical to the future of our country while encouraging constant adaption and modernization. A great example of proactive functioning oversight is the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act which enacted the FITARA Scorecard, a semiannual report card that helps federal agencies improve their IT management, framework and workforce by holding them accountable. In the six iterations of the scorecard, we have seen agencies empower their Chief Information Officers, reduce their reliance on data centers and transition to the cloud. The changes that agencies have made through FITARA have paved the way for the adoption of new technologies and allow Congress to continue to drive changes. This is especially important as the world invests in artificial intelligence and quantum computing which could impact us in ways not previously considered. But these actions are avenues to reach a destination. Congress’ power of the purse must also be used more effectively and responsibly to drive home the importance of innovative technologies.

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Charlotte Observer - July 19, 2018

GOP panel picks Charlotte for its 2020 convention, putting city in national spotlight

The Republican National Committee’s site selection committee unanimously backed Charlotte on Wednesday as the site for its 2020 national convention, according to two party officials familiar with the process. That means Charlotte will likely be the city where President Donald Trump is nominated for a second term. He would accept the nomination in Spectrum Center, where his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, launched his own bid for another term in 2012. Charlotte would be hosting its second national political convention in a decade. The RNC is expected to formally approve Charlotte on Friday as part of its summer meeting in Austin, Texas. The convention is expected to be held in late July or August of 2020. No exact date has been set. The chairman of the Nevada Republican Party congratulated Charlotte on its likely selection as the site for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Las Vegas was the only city left in the running of the seven cities that GOP officials said had applied. McDonald credited Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat, and council supporters. “I am very proud of the mayor and City Council and the job that they did,” he said. “That’s great leadership on a difficult vote,” referring to the 6-5 vote by the Democratic-controlled council. The site selection committee adjourned with no public announcement.

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Newsclips - July 19, 2018

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

Beto O’Rourke vs Ted Cruz is the most expensive U.S. Senate race in America

The battle in Texas is now the most expensive race for the U.S. Senate in the nation — by a long shot. Almost $47 million has been amassed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and his Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke — nearly $8 million more than any other U.S. Senate race in the nation and more than double the amount built up in other super competitive races in Missouri, Florida and Indiana. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics, no other race in the nation has seen more than $40 million raised, and only two (Massachusetts and Ohio) have surpassed $30 million. And the Cruz vs O’Rourke numbers do not include millions of dollars being amassed by so-called Super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates indirectly. For instance, past Cruz donors have helped build up more than $2.7 million in a Super PAC called Texans Are. The battle in Texas is also nearly dead even when it comes to fundraising. Cruz, who is seeking his second 6-year term, has raised $23.4 million compared to O’Rourke who has raised $23.3 million. It makes Cruz the biggest fundraiser of all the Republicans running for the Senate, and O’Rourke ranks No. 2 among Democrats, trailing only U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat frequently mentioned as a presidential contender in 2020 who has raised almost $27 million for her re-election campaign.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 18, 2018

Lupe Valdez nixes Greg Abbott’s debate offer, tells him: ‘Stop hiding from Texans’

The dueling over the Texas gubernatorial debate has begun. A week after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said he has accepted an offer for a televised Austin debate on Sept. 28, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lupe Valdez said she has accepted an invitation to an October 8 debate at the University of Houston— and called on Abbott to “stop hiding from Texans” and accept her offer. Valdez said in a statement that she has accepted an invitation to debate Abbott at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8, to be streamed live on the websites of KTRK-13 in Houston and on Univision 45. It would include a real-time Spanish translation and include questions in Spanish. "I'm running to represent all of Texas, and if there is going to be a debate, town hall or other type of forum, we need to ensure a real discussion for all of Texas to hear," Valdez said in her statement. "That means making sure the event is accessible via TV and online,” she continued. “That means not choosing days when Texans typically observe the ritual that is Friday night lights football. That means having an audience to face the people we strive to serve. That means having questions in Spanish to acknowledge that Latinos are 40% of our population." Abbott, the Republican incumbent, announced last week that he has accepted a debate invitation from Nexstar Media Group to televise a one-hour debate with Valdez at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28. That debate would be televised statewide, on the 12 Texas television stations that Nexstar owns, plus stations in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Campaign aides to Abbott, who is heavily favored to win the November election, had no immediate response to Valdez’ new debate offer.

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New York Times - July 18, 2018

Maria Butina, suspected secret agent, used sex in covert plan, prosecutors say

For four years, a Russian accused of being a covert agent pursued a brazen effort to infiltrate conservative circles and influence powerful Republicans while she secretly was in contact with Russian intelligence operatives, a senior Russian official and a billionaire oligarch close to the Kremlin whom she called her “funder,” federal prosecutors said on Wednesday. The woman, Maria Butina, carried out her campaign through a series of deceptions that began in 2014, if not earlier, prosecutors said. She lied to obtain a student visa to pursue graduate work at American University in 2016. Apparently hoping for a work visa that would grant her a longer stay, she offered one American sex in exchange for a job. She moved in with a Republican political operative nearly twice her age, describing him as her boyfriend. But she privately expressed “disdain” for him and had him do her homework, prosecutors said. In a dramatic two-hour hearing in Federal District Court here, prosecutors said that Ms. Butina, who is charged with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government, was the point person in a calculated, long-term campaign intended to steer high-level politicians toward Moscow’s objectives. Though prosecutors did not name any party or politician, Ms. Butina’s efforts were clearly aimed at Republican leaders, especially those with White House aspirations in 2016, including Donald J. Trump. She “should be considered on a par with other covert Russian agents,” prosecutors said in a memo.

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Washington Post - July 18, 2018

Dianne Feinstein expects ‘at least 1 million pages of documents’ on Kavanaugh’s career in politics

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that senators expect to receive “at least 1 million pages of documents” related to Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s time in George W. Bush’s White House and as a Republican “political operative,” a sign of a mammoth task that could slow the timeline for confirmation hearings. Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, made the estimate while pressing for access to all Kavanaugh-related records from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and the National Archives. Kavanaugh spent five years in the Bush White House starting in 2001; in the mid-1990s, he worked as a deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, helping to write the report that laid the groundwork for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. “Kavanaugh has an extensive record,” Feinstein said in a statement. “We expect at least 1 million pages of documents from his tenure in the White House and as a political operative. “To properly vet Judge Kavanaugh, the Senate Judiciary Committee needs access to all documents,” she added. Republicans hope to confirm Kavanaugh before the new Supreme Court term begins in October, setting up a busy 2.5 months for senators and staffers. Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), have made a point of asking for enough time to review Kavanaugh’s full record, even if that means slowing the process. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) suggested, in response to Democratic requests for all of Kavanaugh’s papers, that the nominee’s opponents are trying to stonewall his confirmation process until after the midterm elections in November. “We’ve already begun to hear rumblings from our Democratic colleagues that they’re going to want to see every scrap of paper that ever came across Brett Kavanaugh’s desk,” Cornyn said during a news conference.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

Gov. Abbott staffer Andrew Oldham confirmed to 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

Andrew Oldham, the 39-year-old general counsel to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, was narrowly confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday to the powerful Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, giving President Donald Trump a record number of circuit judges installed during a president's first two years in office. Oldham, one of Trump’s youngest judicial nominees, would be the fourth jurist with Texan roots that the administration has put on the New Orleans-based court, helping make it one of the most conservative in the nation for decades to come. No Democrats voted for Oldham, a sign of the contentiousness surrounding Republicans’ efforts to speed the process for filling federal judicial vacancies under Trump - including on the Supreme Court - and shifting the courts’ ideological orientation to the right. Oldham’s confirmation - approved on a 50-49 party-line vote - also is being seen as a prelude to the upcoming showdown over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, cut out of the same mold of young, conservative legal minds favored by Trump. Oldham, who worked as a lawyer in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, came under intense fire from Democrats, some questioning his judicial independence after a career advocating for partisan causes. Nationally, he is probably best known for writing a legal brief in 2015 backing Abbott's challenge to Obama’s executive order protecting immigrant “Dreamers” brought into the country illegally as children. Democrats also criticized him for not clearly endorsing the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, a landmark desegregation case. Republican defenders, notably Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, called it a “phony, made-up issue” designed to discredit a nominee who sought to avoid saying how he would rule on specific cases.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2018

Fetal burial trial marks a new chapter in Texas abortion debate

Attorneys for the state of Texas are trying this week to convince a judge every aborted, miscarried or ectopic pregnancy should end with a customary burial or cremation so long as the remains were recovered by an abortion clinic or hospital. Opponents argue the forced interment is another example of government officials shaming and taking choices away from women. Passed into law in 2017, abortion providers say the mandatory burial or cremation law, which has been temporarily suspended, would create more red tape in a long-running scheme to dismantle reproductive rights. This battle of burial is different from many past abortion fights because it focuses debate on the dignity of the fetus instead of the health regulations of abortion clinics. State officials say their goals are to keep fetal and embryonic remains out of sanitary landfills where other medical tissue is disposed of, and banning an outdated procedure of grinding and flushing the remains into a sanitary sewer. “This is not going to make abortion unavailable. Abortion is readily available in Texas, that will continue,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “This is merely about assuring that the remains of babies who die from miscarriage and abortion are handled in a dignified manner.” To help defray the costs, the state built a registry of participating funeral homes and cemeteries willing to provide free or low-cost burials. Private nonprofit groups, too, can sign up on the registry to signal their willingness to help pay other related costs. Under the law, all hospitals and abortion clinics that handle the remaining tissue following a failed pregnancy would have to arrange for its burial or cremation. For abortion clinics, that means hiring a reliable vendor willing to pick up the tissue, have it cleaned and cremated or buried. Ultimately, abortion clinics and hospitals would be responsible for ensuring the process is carried out.

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

Beef lovers call bull on WeWork’s meatless edict

Texans will wait hours in the heat for a perfect slice of brisket. They’ll pay top dollar for a steakhouse where they can pick their own cut. Even city slickers in Houston understand meat’s importance to the Lone Star state, and not just because beef and cattle contribute an average of $8.7 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. So the reaction was predictable when WeWork — the New York City-based coworking company with nine Texas facilities that provide workspace to nearly 8,000 Texas members — announced it will no longer serve beef, pork or chicken at work events as part of an effort to be more environmentally conscious. WeWork will not buy meat dishes for its members, and it will not let employees expense meals containing meat. “No beef in Texas? Really? You've got to be kidding me!” Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in an email to the Chronicle. “I was very surprised and disappointed to learn of WeWork's anti-beef policy, but probably not as disappointed as their employees were. The company linked to research from the Science journal, as reported by the Guardian, saying that meat and dairy provide 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein while using 83 percent of farmland and producing 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Producers are pushing back. Richard Wortham, executive vice president of the Texas Beef Council, cited an Environmental Protection Agency report that found agriculture caused just 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture created about 4 percent and the beef industry, specifically, generated about 2 percent. For comparison’s sake, transportation and electricity each generated 28 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 18, 2018

Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas fined $6,000 for 2014 campaign miscues

Onetime Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis and her fundraising ally Battleground Texas have been fined a total of $6,000 for campaign-finance violations during her 2014 statewide race. Two orders posted Wednesday by the Texas Ethics Commission show Davis’ campaign and Battleground Texas, which teamed up with Davis in fundraising through an entity called the Texas Victory Committee, have agreed to pay a $3,000 penalty each for not reporting about $3.4 million in contributions promptly. The commission ruled that the donations should have been reported on the January 2014 campaign-finance disclosure reports of the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas, instead of on subsequent reports in July. The two groups raised money for Davis’ campaign with the agreement that it would be split evenly between the two organizations, according to the order.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2018

Landlady Lupe Valdez: Better to offer low rent than pay taxes on time

Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff and current Democratic candidate for governor has for 25 years purchased properties in Oak Cliff, fixed them up with her own money and muscle, and rented them at below-market rates in what she describes as an act of entrepreneurial social conscience and giving back. Valdez’s small portfolio of unusually affordable housing was unknown to the broader public until just after her primary runoff victory in May, when she earned the right to face Gov. Greg Abbott in the fall. That’s when the Houston Chronicle reported that Valdez hadn’t paid all of the property taxes she owed for 2017 on seven of her 13 Oak Cliff properties — nine residences and four empty lots, excluding her own home — as well as some acreage she owns in Ellis County. It seemed further evidence that Valdez — who had loaned her cash-starved campaign $25,000 early in the year, money that could have covered her overdue taxes — had not planned her run for governor very well. By the end of June, Valdez had finished paying nearly $22,000 in back property taxes, penalties and interest just ahead of July 1, when an added 20 percent penalty would have been applied. She had paid only $4,100 in taxes on those properties before the customary Jan. 31 deadline.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2018

UT: Professors have academic freedom, despite what we say in court

In defending its policy allowing the concealed carry of handguns in classrooms, the University of Texas has taken a surprising position in a federal appeals court — that individual professors do not have academic freedom. “The right to academic freedom, if it exists, belongs to the institution, not the individual professor,” says a brief filed by the state’s lawyers on behalf of UT President Gregory L. Fenves, several current and former UT System regents and Attorney General Ken Paxton. But, in a further twist, Fenves and the UT System say they don’t really buy that argument. The argument that faculty members lack academic freedom seems to fly in the face of a core principle of higher education in the U.S., which holds that the unfettered search for truth, and its free expression, are fundamental to teaching and research. Three UT faculty members — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — have cited academic freedom in their lawsuit challenging the university’s concealed carry policy. They contend that the potential presence of concealed handguns in their classrooms has a chilling effect on discussion of controversial topics. After the American-Statesman began asking questions about UT’s legal stance in the case, Fenves sent a letter Wednesday to faculty leaders seeking to reassure them. The rule notes that professors “are expected not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation” to their subjects. It adds that a faculty member who speaks as a citizen “should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but should make it plain that the faculty member is not an institutional spokesperson.” Fenves has said that handguns have no place on a college campus, declaring them “contrary to our mission of education and research, which is based on inquiry, free speech, and debate.” But he also has said he is duty-bound to comply with the state’s 2015 campus carry law, and in drafting rules for the Austin flagship he concluded that banning guns from classrooms would have the effect of generally prohibiting them on campus, in violation of that law.

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Tyler Morning Telegraph - July 15, 2018

Opioid problem in East Texas mainly involves prescription drugs

While methamphetamine addiction has been known as the staple substance abuse issue in East Texas, experts say opioids have been here for years. “We’ve always had a problem in this area with opioids, primarily prescription drug use,” says Connie Caldwell, the clinical director of the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, or ETCADA. The organization has locations in Tyler, Longview, Paris and Pittsburg, and serves as the frontline provider for people with addiction issues in northeast Texas, providing direct services and referrals. “I have seen all the multiple drug uses that come in, but opioid is specific in that they don’t always present as an opioid user, abuser,” Caldwell said. “Sometimes they come in, (and the main problem is) methamphetamine, alcohol and then they have a prescription, or they’re buying off the street.” Evidence of opioid use in East Texas is vast, and while heroin and fentanyl are out there, experts say the addiction issues mainly lie with prescription pain pills. In 2017, Castlight Health, a health care consulting company, ranked the top 25 cities in the country for opioid abuse. Most of the cities were in the South, and two of them — Texarkana and Longview — were in East Texas. Texarkana also made Castlight’s similar list of the top 25 cities in the country for the top cities for opioid prescriptions. Harold Womble, the prevention resource center director for East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said his organization focuses on getting data to relevant leaders about the prevalence of drug addiction in the area so that leaders can take action. “If you’re aware of the situation then as a person that’s in a leadership position, you’ve got the ability to make some decisions there, whereas if you don’t have the information you can’t make the decision,” he said.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - July 19, 2018

Arrington gains seat on Farm Bill Conference Committee

U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington was among the legislators chosen to serve on the conference committee assigned to negotiate the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan appointed the Lubbock Republican to serve on the bicameral, bipartisan committee established to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills that were passed earlier this year, according to a news release. Arrington on Wednesday said he’s committed to finalizing a Farm Bill that will enable U.S. farmers and ranchers to continue to strengthen our economy, and maintain our food and fiber independence. The freshman congressman is also a member of the House agriculture committee. “I am honored Speaker Ryan asked me to serve on such a critical committee for agriculture and rural America. As a representative for the hardworking farmers and ranchers across West Texas, and one of the top agriculture producing districts in the country, I know firsthand how important a Farm Bill is to our nation’s economy and national security,” Arrington said. Ryan and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, a Midland Republican, said Arrington has been a proven voice for agriculture. “As a new member of the Agriculture Committee, Jodey has proven in a short time to be a champion for agriculture and rural America, and a leader who is passionate about moving people from welfare to work,” Ryan said in a statement.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2018

Political red meat: Are proposals to abolish ICE as unrealistic as calls to dissolve the IRS?

The family separation crisis prompted calls from some Democrats to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- pitting them against Republicans eager to seize the opportunity to paint the left as reckless on crime and weak on illegal immigration. House GOP leaders wanted to bring a Democratic plan to eliminate ICE within a year to a floor vote this week, to force vulnerable Democrats to take a position ahead of the November midterm elections. The Democrats behind the effort backed away, and House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled the vote. “If Speaker Ryan puts our bill on the floor, we plan to vote no and will instead use the opportunity to force an urgently needed and long-overdue conversation on the House floor,” the three Democrats behind the bill -- Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, and Adriano Espaillat of New York -- said in a joint statement. They called the GOP plan to force a vote a “political stunt.” Instead, the House voted 234-35 in favor of a resolution in support of ICE on Wednesday. The resolution is “to stand up for our ICE agents and the people that are keeping America safe,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told reporters Monday. Of the House Democrats, 18 voted in favor -- including Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo -- and 34 voted against, while an additional 133 voted "present" at the urging of party leadership as a protest against the so-called political stunt.

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County Stories

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - July 19, 2018

A public servant lost: Nelson family, city leaders mourn long-time attorney, county judge candidate killed in crash

Community leaders on Wednesday were mourning the loss of a longtime Lubbock attorney and former city councilman who appeared set to become a Lubbock County court judge this fall. David Nelson, 67, was killed after his bicycle was struck by a pickup truck about 8 a.m. Wednesday morning as he rode on FM 41 near Ropesville on the Hockley-Lubbock County line, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Investigators believe Nelson was traveling west on FM 41 when a Ford pickup, also traveling west, struck him from behind. His family, including his wife Ainsley Nelson who serves as executive director of communications and marketing for Covenant Health, released a statement Wednesday. “We want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support we are receiving during this tragic time,” the statement reads. “We are still in shock and working to process what happened. David was a beloved member of our Lubbock community and we know many of you will miss him as much as we will. We will be ready to talk more about David and celebrate his life soon. In the meantime we ask for your continued prayers as we mourn this unexpected loss.” He was a Lubbock native, a graduate of Monterey High School and Texas Tech. Nelson this year was running for Lubbock County Court of Law No. 3. In March, he won the Republican nomination and was set to face a Democrat for the seat in the upcoming November election. Lubbock County officials said the leadership of the Lubbock County Republican Party will nominate the candidate to run for Lubbock County Court at Law #3 in November. By Wednesday afternoon, his family and community leaders past and present were remembering his impact in the legal profession, government and the non-profit organizations in which he served in leadership roles. City of Lubbock staff and officials sent statements saying their thoughts and prayers are with the Nelson family during this difficult time. “The city of Lubbock is saddened by the sudden loss of former City Councilman David Nelson. We are grateful for his years of service to our city and appreciate his continued desire to serve the public,” the statement reads. Nelson served on the city council, representing District 3, from 1997 to 2002.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2018

Downtown Fort Worth's I-35W redo wraps up ahead of schedule — and as toll lanes get a bad rap

Like many North Texas transportation projects, Interstate 35W through downtown Fort Worth couldn't be improved fast enough, officials say. Fort Worth has the fourth-most new residents of any city in the country, and 132,000 vehicles traverse I-35W — which was built in 1959 when the city was about a third its current size — every day. Transportation relief will come Thursday when the last segment of the $1.6 billion highway redo, known as the North Tarrant Express project, opens two months earlier than scheduled — and perhaps decades earlier than the region could have paid for it with tax dollars alone. But it could be among the last mega-projects funded partially with private dollars as lawmakers have increasingly rejected the funding method for transportation needs. The anti-toll attitude didn't stop regional officials from declaring Wednesday that the public-private partnership was a success for Fort Worth. "A project of this magnitude could have taken up to 25 years if built traditionally," said Scott Hall of the Fort Worth district of the Texas Department of Transportation. The project was completed under a comprehensive-development agreement, called a CDA. In such an agreement, the private developer invests money up-front to get the project moving. The result is that construction isn't piecemeal like older projects, and roads are built quicker. The flip side is that drivers can pay extra, in the form of tolls, for congestion relief. The private investor is then reimbursed with the toll revenue. The Legislature approved the North Tarrant Express CDA in 2009. When construction started in 2014, the stretch of I-35W was the sixth-most congested corridor in the state. The I-35W project added two tolled TEXpress lanes in each direction, auxiliary lanes and some frontage roads. Drivers can pay to use the TEXpress lanes or choose the rebuilt — but potentially crowded — free lanes without being tolled.

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

Houston ISD leaders optimistic about avoiding sanctions after schools post big gains

Several of Houston ISD’s longest-struggling elementary and middle schools posted significant gains on state standardized tests in 2018, including all three campuses that must meet Texas academic standards this year to avoid triggering major sanctions, according to preliminary data released this week by the district and the Texas Education Agency. District leaders are “hopeful” those strong gains will be enough for HISD to stave off campus closures or a state takeover of its locally-elected school board when final results are released in mid-August, a top HISD administrator said this week. At the same time, a few of the district’s chronically underperforming schools appear less likely to meet state standards this year, putting HISD at risk of punishment next year if those campuses do not show immediate improvement. The largely positive results offer another glimmer of hope for HISD as it seeks to avoid state intervention tied to its failure to improve performance at its lowest-performing schools in recent years, a possibility that has roiled the district for months. District officials already were buoyed by an earlier release of preliminary data, which showed strong gains in grades 5 and 8, as well as high schools. The latest data include results for grades 3, 4, 6 and 7, providing a fuller picture of elementary and middle school performance. Headed into the 2017-18 school year, 10 HISD schools had to meet state academic standards to avoid triggering sanctions after receiving at least four straight “improvement required” annual ratings. However, it is expected six of those schools will receive a one-year academic accountability reprieve due to Hurricane Harvey, leaving four campuses — Mading and Wesley elementary schools, Woodson PK-8 and Worthing High School — at risk of triggering punishment this year. HISD administrators said they cannot yet conclude whether those four campuses will meet standards before Aug. 15, when the state makes it official. However, after analyzing the available test scores and reviewing Texas’ revised accountability system, district staff are cautiously optimistic all four campuses will shed the “improvement required” label. “We’re hopeful. The data looked good for the campuses,” Carla Stevens, HISD’s assistant superintendent of research and accountability, said in an interview this week. “You can see there’s progress for a lot of these schools, and that’s what we’re counting on.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2018

Why have the Final Four, Super Bowl and other major sporting events stopped coming to AT&T Stadium?

A major announcement was anticipated this week. No one thought it would be delivered by Bob Bowlsby and that it would be confirmation that Big 12 media days will be held at the stadium instead of Frisco next July. But in case you missed it, the NCAA announced Final Four sites this week, and Arlington got kicked to the curb one more time. Houston was selected for the 2023 games followed by Phoenix, San Antonio and Indianapolis? Why is this alarming? Because all four have hosted or, in Indy's case, will have hosted Final Fours prior to these games since they were played in Arlington in 2014. Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio appear to be on a seven-year rotation. Indianapolis, the home of the NCAA, gets the Final Four every five or six years. The event set attendance records here, but it will be a minimum of 13 years between Final Fours for AT&T Stadium. We know the building is perfect for Super Bowls and we also know it was wildly imperfect the last time around. The weather was a fluke that shut down most of the country although, needless to say, some municipalities do better with snow and ice removal. It's not our strength, but it's also unlikely to be needed next time around. we will get some semifinal games but no more championships until at least January 2025. I've heard suggestions that the Arlington location hurts the stadium, and I can't say for sure that it doesn't, although no one is walking to their hotels or much of anything beyond a look at the Astrodome when they leave NRG Stadium in Houston. If Dallas had built a downtown stadium and team hotels were closer to the event, perhaps things would be different. But why even venture down that road? It didn't happen. It didn't come close to happening. Move on.

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San Antonio Current - July 18, 2018

San Antonio schools are still segregated – by income as much as race

Linda Brown died on March 25, just weeks before the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It seems like the right time to ask ourselves, “How are we doing in ending segregation?” It’s alive on the North, East, West, and South sides of San Antonio, a city that prides itself on its Mexican-American heritage. If you want to understand the city’s particular brand of segregation, no data is more compelling than the economic disparities in local schools. At McAndrew Elementary (Northside ISD) on the northern edge of Bexar County, fewer than three out of every 100 students were considered to be at an “economic disadvantage” under federal guidelines in 2017. That same year, at J.T. Brackenridge Elementary (San Antonio ISD) on the city’s near West Side, the number was 99.5 percent. Twenty-six miles separate the two schools, but according to the Bexar County Health Collaborative, the children who go there are also separated by a 10 to 20 year life expectancy gap. If they stay in the same neighborhoods, a child attending McAndrew is statistically likely to live 10 to 20 years longer than a child going to J.T. Brackenridge. But since the 1970s, researchers have realized that economic segregation — the stark contrast between the rich and poor sides of town — is on the rise. In that regard, San Antonio tops the charts. Researcher Richard Florida has repeatedly ranked San Antonio as one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation. The results reappear annually, and other studies echo these claims. Every time they do, it generates a media frenzy. We may be segregated, but high- and low-income neighborhoods pay taxes into the same City and County coffers. It’s possible to spread some of the wealth.

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National Stories

Washington Post - July 18, 2018

Kavanaugh’s role in Bush-era detainee debate now an issue in his Supreme Court nomination

Brett M. Kavanaugh was adamant as he sat in the witness chair at his 2006 confirmation hearing to be an appeals court judge. Kavanaugh was being questioned by Democrats about his knowledge of President George W. Bush’s torture policy and treatment of detainees while he served as associate White House counsel. He responded that he was “not involved” in “questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Senate Democrats have never fully accepted Kavanaugh’s answers to questions about one of the Bush administration’s most controversial policies, and now they are prepared to resurrect the issue as Kavanaugh faces a hearing as President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), whose questions in 2006 elicited Kavanaugh’s denial, said in an interview this week that “what he told us under oath is not accurate.” Democrats are seeking Bush White House files to pin down specifics of any Kavanaugh involvement in detainee policy discussions, which could slow the Trump administration’s hope to have Kavanaugh confirmed before the Supreme Court reconvenes Oct. 1. Kavanaugh was involved in at least one contentious meeting at the Office of White House Counsel in 2002, and two former White House officials detailed his role in interviews this week with The Washington Post. Bush was then developing his policy on detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and Kavanaugh was asked to interpret an important question about how the detainee policy was likely to be viewed in a Supreme Court challenge, specifically by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom he had served as a clerk. Kavanaugh weighed in on how he thought Kennedy would vote on whether certain detainees should be denied a chance to be heard and have legal counsel, according to the other participants. Kavanaugh had already been confirmed for the circuit court when the White House meeting became public in a Post report. Democrats including Durbin have sought ever since to question Kavanaugh about whether he misled the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kavanaugh declined an interview request. White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement that “Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony accurately reflected the facts.”

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Wall Street Journal - July 18, 2018

Despite record EU fine, the Android antitrust case may not trouble Google

The European Union’s $5 billion antitrust action against Google, while historic, ultimately may not prove too onerous. The reason: Even if Google loses its appeals, novel antitrust cases in the tech sector can take so long that by the time they are decided, the alleged monopolist may already be entrenched, or the entire market has already moved on. “There is no way antitrust can keep up with technology,” said Randal C. Picker, an antitrust expert at the University of Chicago Law School. “Neither private firms nor the government know what’s going to be the next great thing.” The EU’s executive arm on Wednesday ruled Google for years abused the dominance of its Android operating system for mobile devices to help expand its dominant—and lucrative—search business from desktops onto smartphones. Google denied the EU’s contentions. The EU ordered Google to rip up agreements with phone makers and telecom firms that Brussels said gave them little choice but to pre-install Google’s Chrome web browser and search engine. Those charges and changes take aim at the fastest-growing part of Google’s online-advertising business: search ads on mobile phones. Rivals hope that the decision will help level the playing field for competitors. Antitrust experts and economists, on the other hand, say it will likely prove of limited help to upstart search engines and web browsers, mainly because of the popularity and dominance of Google products. “The main flaw of this decision is that it’s so many years late. It has allowed Google to use an illegal practice to become dominant,” said Nicholas Economides, an economics professor at New York University Stern School of Business.

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Roll Call - July 18, 2018

House set to start Farm Bill talks with Senate before recess

The House is expected to trigger farm bill negotiations Wednesday, raising the House Agriculture Committee chairman’s hopes that public pressure in support of expanded work requirements for food stamp recipients could help move Senate negotiators toward accepting the House legislation. House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway said he is ready to go to conference on the farm bill with the Senate. The Texas Republican said the House will vote Wednesday afternoon to launch negotiations with the Senate that will resolve differences between the chambers on a new five-year farm bill. The most contentious divide between the chambers is the scope of work requirements for food stamp recipients. Conaway and ranking Democrat Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota said they expect the House to approve the motion to go to conference and that leadership of both parties will name conferees from the Agriculture Committee and from committees with shared jurisdiction over sections of the wide-ranging legislation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House and Senate farm bill versions would each cost nearly $868 billion over 10 years. The Senate is likely to respond to the motion early next week with a vote to go to conference with the House and the naming of conferees, Conaway and Peterson said in separate interviews.

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VICE - July 17, 2018

Owning people online really is the left's path to victory

Joe Crowley, the incumbent congressman in New York’s 14th District, had $3 million, much of it from corporate interests, in his reelection war chest. He had key endorsements from Senator Kristen Gillibrand and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio. He had gone unchallenged for the better part of two decades. Still, on June 26 he lost the Democratic primary to Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had raised less than a third of what he had by relying on small donors. She is now on her way to Congress to replace him in no small part because she owned him online. I first met Ocasio-Cortez at a bar in the East Village in the fall of 2017. She was very charming and extremely knowledgeable, but I remember thinking that her campaign would probably end up being a long shot. But then I noticed people posting about her. I saw her incredible video campaign that went Extremely Viral. People were posting pictures of themselves pounding the pavement in the Bronx and Queens for her. And of course, being a millennial she commanded a much stronger grasp of social media than Crowley, and on more than one occasion garnered some attention for that king of posts—the vicious own. She was and is a true daughter of our extremely online generation. While a great deal of credit for her victory should go to her team’s organization, door-knocking tenacity, and overall hard work, we shouldn’t underestimate what social media did for her. According to recent polling, a staggeringly small portion of the 22-to-45-year-old demographic watches cable news, and in fact almost 50 percent of young people do not watch traditional TV at all, instead opting to get their content from online streaming services, social media, and the like. Ocasio-Cortez only made one official campaign video—it involved zero consultants, and she wrote the script entirely by herself. When she posted it online, it was shared thousands of times and racked up more than a million views on Facebook and YouTube combined. How many TV ads have that kind of reach?

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New Republic - July 18, 2018

OK, Abolish ICE. But how do you do it?

A two-word rallying cry on the left against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies has grown into 2,700 words of federal legislation, as Democratic lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement—the federal agency that carries out deportations and enforces many of the nation’s immigration laws—and redistribute its powers elsewhere in the federal government. Turning that idea into policy isn’t as straightforward as the slogan suggests. There’s been ample debate about the politics of abolishing ICE: whether Democrats can unite around it, how it will play among Republicans, whom it will help or harm in the November midterm elections. But the actual policy of abolishing ICE, a $6 billion agency that employs more than 20,000 people, has received much less scrutiny. Which of the agency’s responsibilities—which extend well beyond immigration enforcement—should be eliminated entirely, and which should be preserved? And where should the latter go? The Democrats’ bill provides few answers. Most of its text is devoted to describing ICE’s flaws: providing inadequate medical care at its facilities, turning a blind eye to sexual abuse against detainees, offering insufficient budget justifications to Congress, and more. “At this point, there isn’t alignment within the immigrant-rights community and the groups that have been pushing to abolish ICE as to what a concrete next step would be,” Sean McElwee, a Data for Progress co-founder who popularized the idea of abolishing ICE last year. “What the bill is meant to do, I think it does quite effectively. The detailed findings that make up the majority of the text are quite powerful.” But McElwee indicated that liberal and left-leaning think tanks have a role to play in fleshing out what should happen next.

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BuzzFeed - July 17, 2018

Is a suicide epidemic hiding under the overdose epidemic?

Suicide by drug overdose is “profoundly under-reported” in the US, according to a study published earlier this year. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder affect more than half of people with drug use disorders. That’s a big reason why the estimated more than 2 million people in the US with opioid addictions are about 13 times more likely to kill themselves than others. Of the estimated 48,000 people who now die of opioid overdoses every year, an unknown but not insignificant number had thought about suicide before, noted addiction expert Mark Gold of Washington University in St. Louis. “Or thought that they might not ever wake up and didn't care either way, or wished to die, or were playing a version of Russian roulette.” But the official numbers don’t reflect that reality. In 2016, the CDC estimated there were just 1,819 suicides involving opioids — less than 4% of that year’s 44,000 fatal opioid overdoses. Gold and his colleague A. Benjamin Srivastava wrote last year that data from teen deaths point to a much higher suicide rate — perhaps 13.5% of all opioid deaths. Somewhere between a deliberate suicide and an accidental one is a gray area, where even the overdose victim doesn’t know if they meant to die, mental health researcher Amy Bohnert of the University of Michigan told BuzzFeed News. Accidental opioid deaths in his province are “unbelievably high” — 1,263 last year — largely driven by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl has tainted the illegal drug supply in Canada just like the US, where it is the leading cause of fatal drug overdoses.

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Associated Press - July 18, 2018

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin launches spacecraft higher than ever

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rocket company shot a capsule higher into space Wednesday than it's ever done before. The New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas on the company's latest test flight. Once the booster separated, the capsule's escape motor fired, lifting the spacecraft to an altitude of 389,846 feet. That's 74 miles or 119 kilometers. It's part of a safety system intended to save lives once space tourists and others climb aboard for suborbital hops. Wednesday's passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, an instrumented dummy in a blue flight suit that's flown before, plus science experiments. The booster and capsule — both repeat fliers — landed successfully. It was the ninth test flight and lasted 11 minutes. "Crew Capsule looks great even after it was pushed hard by the escape test. Astronauts would have had an exhilarating ride and safe landing," Bezos said in a tweet . "Great engineering and the lucky boots worked again." Blue Origin has yet to announce when it will start selling tickets or how much flights will cost. Launch commentator Ariane Cornell promised it would be soon. "It's coming," she said. Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, aims to send people and payloads into orbit from Cape Canaveral. Those missions will rely on the bigger, more powerful New Glenn rocket still under development.

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Newsclips - July 18, 2018

Lead Stories

Bloomberg - July 17, 2018

Trump retreats and says he accepts U.S. finding Russia meddled

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he accepts the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election, marking a rare retreat from comments just a day earlier amid a backlash from Republicans. But even with a prepared statement in hand, he introduced doubt, looking up from the text and saying that the meddling in the 2016 election “could be other people also.” Trump came under a torrent of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for statements at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Monday casting doubt on the U.S. findings -- denied by Putin -- that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Trump cast his reversal Tuesday narrowly. Though he said he accepts the intelligence findings that Russia intervened in the presidential campaign, he didn’t retreat from lengthy comments while standing beside Putin savaging Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s election meddling. Nor did Trump back down from comments blaming U.S. “foolishness and stupidity” for the deterioration of relations with Putin after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, incursions into Ukraine, backing for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s bloody civil war and nerve-agent poisoning of four people in the U.K.

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Vanity Fair - July 17, 2018

“This was the nightmare scenario”: The West Wing revolts after Trump embraces Putin

As he flew home from Helsinki on Air Force One following his disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump reacted with surprise at the horror and outrage that was being expressed by much of the American political world. By the time he landed, the surprise had turned to anger. “He was enraged there was a lack of people out there defending him,” one Republican close to the White House told me. The mood among West Wing advisers was downright funereal. “This was the nightmare scenario,” another Republican in frequent contact with the administration said. While National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to a source, thought Trump’s remarks were ill-advised, he believed that walking them back would only add fuel to the outrage pyre and make the president look weak. But Chief of Staff John Kelly was irate. According to a source, he told Trump it would make things worse for him with Robert Mueller. He also exerted pressure to try to get the president to walk back his remarks. According to three sources familiar with the situation, Kelly called around to Republicans on Capitol Hill and gave them the go-ahead to speak out against Trump. Appearing before reporters this afternoon, Trump blamed his comments on a grammatical mistake. “I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” he said, reading from a statement. “The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’” To those who know Trump best, the 24-hour reversal is a sign that he’s unnerved by the intensity of the backlash he provoked. “The president sent a very clear message [that] his worldview is in sync with his base and members of his party,” former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told me.

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CNN - July 17, 2018

Texas to pass Iraq and Iran as world's No. 3 oil powerhouse

The shale oil boom has brought a gold rush mentality to the Lone Star State, which is home to not one but two massive oilfields. Plunging drilling costs have sparked an explosion of production out of the Permian Basin of West Texas. In fact, Texas is pumping so much oil that it will surpass OPEC members Iran and Iraq next year, HSBC predicted in a recent report. If it were a country, Texas would be the world's No. 3 oil producer, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia, the investment bank said. "It's remarkable. The Permian is nothing less than a blessing for the global economy," said Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group, a consulting firm. The hyper growth out of Texas is needed because oil prices have risen sharply and major players like Saudi Arabia are quickly maxing out their production. Much of the excitement in Texas centers around the Permian Basin. Some oil execs believe the amount of oil in the Permian rivals Saudi Arabia's Ghawar Field, the world's largest conventional oilfield. Rapid technological advances have dramatically brought down the cost of pumping oil everywhere, especially out of the Permian. Wells there can be profitable below $40 a barrel. "The industry cracked the code on fracking," said McNally. The rise of Texas, which is also home to the Eagle Ford oilfield in the state's south, shows how the shale oil revolution has reshaped the global energy landscape. The United States is pumping more oil than ever before, making it less reliant on the turbulent Middle East for imports. "It's not going to make the world peaceful, but it will make it less volatile," said McNally, a former White House official.

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2018

Angela Paxton, Phillip Huffines spent $12M in Collin County Senate race, priciest in state history

The Republican primary for state Senate District 8 between Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines was one of the most bitter in recent memory — and now the state's most expensive. The two candidates spent more than $12 million in the Collin County race. According to reports filed Monday, McKinney educator Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, spent $3.7 million in her campaign against Huffines, a Richardson real estate developer who spent $8.4 million. Paxton's campaign included a $2 million bank loan secured by her husband's campaign. Despite being outspent by more than 2-1, Paxton secured her party's nomination in March, with 54.4 percent of the vote. That race previously held the record for the most expensive legislative primary campaign in Texas history, totaling more than $6 million, with Don Huffines spending $2.3 million before ousting Carona, who spent nearly $4 million. Don Huffines won the seat with 50.6 percent of the vote to Carona's 49.4 percent, a 635-vote margin denying the longtime legislator a seventh term in office.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2018

As Democratic candidate for governor Valdez struggles to raise money, party looks to ‘reverse coattails’ effect

Four years ago, Wendy Davis was touring Texas like a rock star as she ran for governor. Sporting the same pink Mizuno sneakers she wore for her famous filibuster against a bill to restrict abortions, she was greeted by 1,600 cheering fans here, many of them wearing “Turn Texas Blue” T-shirts. She had more than $10 million in the bank of the $37 million she would raise in her bid to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas in 20 years. Now, as former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez runs for the same office against Gov. Greg Abbott — who beat Davis by more than 20 percentage points — the crowds have often been scant. Valdez’s statewide name ID remains slim. Her bank account has been skinnier than a coyote in the desert. Nevertheless, Democratic Party insiders expressed little concern as Valdez on Tuesday reported raising $742,250 in political contributions in the past seven months. As of June 30, she had $222,050 in the bank. Instead of trying to build Valdez vs. Abbott into a marquee race, Democrats are focusing much of their attention — and campaign cash — on down-ballot and congressional races that have drawn a record number of candidates. They’re hoping for what they call the reverse coattails effect — essentially they’re banking on well-funded Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats running for Congress, state and local office to help generate turnout for statewide candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, instead of the other way around. “In years past, all the money poured into the races at the top and there was no money for the down-ballot races,” explained Mike Collier, a candidate for lieutenant governor who said he helped devise the plan after the party’s 2014 losses, including his own unsuccessful campaign for comptroller. “We as a party decided to focus on the down-ballot races for state House, Senate and local races, and on the congressional races we thought we could win. We fielded good candidates for those races. That’s what’s happened this year.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2018

Divided Senate advances Andrew Oldham for final vote to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

The U.S. Senate split along party lines Tuesday in a procedural vote to advance the nomination of Andrew Oldham, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's chief legal adviser, to the powerful 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 50-49 split sets up a final vote on the Senate floor possibly as soon as Wednesday. Oldham's nomination by President Donald Trump was praised by conservative groups but came under fire from Democrats troubled by the unwillingness of Oldham and several other Trump judicial nominees to say that the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision banning school segregation was correctly decided. Texas U.S. Sen. Cornyn, debating Oldham's nomination in a Judiciary Committee hearing in May, called the Democrats' objections "phony, made-up issue" and a "ruse." Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who also serves on the panel, argued that Oldham's support for school desegregation was beyond dispute. Cornyn and Cruz, who had recommended Oldham, emphasized his independence as a jurist, separating him from the controversial positions he has advocated on Abbott's behalf. Oldham, testifying before the Senate committee last month, explained that he drew a line between his advocacy "for a client" and his role as a federal judge. If confirmed by the full Senate, Oldham, 39, would become the third Texan President Donald Trump has installed on the Louisiana-based 5th Circuit Court, considered the most conservative in the nation.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2018

Houston company plans massive offshore terminal to export Permian oil

As more of the nation’s oil production flows to the Texas Gulf Coast, one Houston firm aims to build a massive offshore terminal to ship much of the nation’s record crude volumes overseas. Enterprise Products Partners said Tuesday it plans to construct an oil export terminal and dock miles off the Texas coastline that can accommodate the world’s largest crude-carrying vessels. Energy analysts estimated the project cost at $1 billion to $2 billion. Putting the terminal out to sea solves a critical problem for very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, more of which have been heading to Texas since the recent widening of the Panama Canal. Despite ongoing dredging efforts, water depths at Texas ports aren’t deep enough for these giant ships to fill to capacity. So Enterprise plans to build pipelines to run about 80 miles from its Houston-area network to the offshore terminal where the water is naturally deeper. The project could be years in the making. Enterprise expects the state and federal permitting processes alone to take roughly a year before it can commence construction. With Houston known as the world’s energy capital for its dealmaking and a cluster of corporate headquarters, the city is increasingly becoming the destination for much of the oil itself. Buoyed by West Texas’ booming Permian Basin, Enterprise believes the nation’s already record-high crude production will grow by another one-third from 2018 to 2022 to more than 13 million barrels a day, with most of that new oil leaving the country via the Gulf Coast. Pipelines are sending much of the crude to refining and port hubs near Houston and Corpus Christi. Enterprise’s announcement came the same day the Intercontinental Exchange Inc. commodities firm said it will base a new U.S. oil pricing benchmark on Permian oil that’s piped to Houston. The decision was made precisely because the Texas coast has become the key region for crude exports. The exchange, called ICE, said Houston makes for more accurate futures pricing than the traditional West Texas Intermediate benchmark that’s delivered to the Cushing, Okla. storage hub.

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2018

Alarming number of women not receiving prenatal care

Alarming percentages of pregnant women between Houston and Galveston receive no prenatal care, according to a new report that shows a dramatic variance in maternal risk factors in Texas. The report, which also looked at pre-pregnancy obesity and smoking during pregnancy, found that 14 percent to 16 percent of women who delivered babies in 2015 in areas such as Santa Fe, Hitchcock, Webster and League City did not get prenatal care. During the same period, the state and national averages were 2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. “A number of areas throughout the state have problems, but we really need to work on getting women into prenatal care more in those Houston-Galveston areas,” said Dr. David Lakey, former Texas health commissioner and current vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System, which produced the report. “People tend to take on aspects of their environment.” Lakey added that the report and accompanying maps show the three risk factors are widespread in pockets around the state. They include high obesity rates in the San Antonio and border areas, and high smoking rates in numerous rural areas, many in ZIP codes ranging from northeast of Houston to Beaumont. The UT System report is the second in a series providing health data by ZIP codes. The first, released in January, found some ZIP codes where a distrubing number of babies were dying before their first birthday. Lakey said the reports still to come will concern life expectancy and maternal morbidity, the term for life-threatening pregnancy complications. Obesity, smoking and a lack of prenatal care are key risk factors for poor outcomes in the birth process, both for mother and baby. Long overshadowed by the attention paid to the health of the infant, maternal health has become a great concern in recent years as numerous studies have found rates of pregnancy-related deaths and life-threatening complications are higher in Texas and the nation than other Western countries. The Texas rate was thought to be the worst in the nation, but a study this spring showed the state’s numbers aren’t nearly as bad as previously reported. The new number of maternal deaths, less than half that reported in a 2016 study that shone a spotlight on the state, ranks Texas in the middle among U.S. states.

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2018

The other kind of cannabis: Advocates push to legalize hemp farming in Texas

Texas hemp advocates want to see fields of green on farms across the state — and they’re rallying lawmakers to make it happen. A group of hemp advocates testified Tuesday before the Texas House Agriculture and Livestock Committee about the jobs and economic opportunities that are possible if the state allows Texas farmers to grow the crop. Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant but has low or untraceable amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Hemp products have become a staple at smoothie shops, wellness stores and many nationwide grocery chains. Austin-based Whole Foods carries hemp protein powders and body care items, such as lotions. The lightweight and fibrous crop has been used by home builders, clothing companies and automakers, including BMW. And hemp seeds have even been used as a garnish on cocktails and entrees. But federal law tossed hemp into the same category as its famous cousin, marijuana, and its connection with the controlled substance spooked some lawmakers. "Everybody is starting to figure out this is actually a good thing, and it's not the boogeyman," said Jim Reaves, the state legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau. In his testimony, he said the crop would give farmers another option, especially during tough years for corn, cotton or other Texas crops. The net income that Texas farmers and ranchers receive from commodities has dropped more than 50 percent in the last four years, he said. About 40 states have passed some form of hemp legislation and 19 states have begun cultivating it, according to Vote Hemp, a national advocacy group. Last year, about 25,713 acres of hemp were grown in the U.S. Colorado had the largest number of acres, followed by Oregon, Kentucky and North Dakota.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 16, 2018

Former Texas congressman Blake Farenthold shells out big dollars for legal fees — and an $860 cocktail party

Months after quitting Congress in the aftermath of sexual harassment claims, Blake Farenthold was still racking up legal expenses — and a substantial cocktail party bill. Instead of reimbursing taxpayers $84,000 for sexual harassment claims he first said he would pay, the Corpus Christi Republican spent more than $100,000 from his still-active campaign account on lawyers since the start of the year, including $41,000 just since April, when he resigned. Now he has just $3,300 left in that campaign account, making it unlikely he’ll use that source to either pay back the $84,000 or the $200,000 the state paid to cover the special election prompted by his resignation. If he were to pay taxpayers back for either, it would now have to come from personal accounts. As he resigned from Congress on April 6, Farenthold used his campaign account to put down a nearly $800 deposit for a stay at an exclusive luxury resort outside of Sarasota, Florida and then on June 22 used $860 on a cocktail party in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. Elected officials are prohibited from using campaign funds for personal uses, according to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC warns candidates in writing against using campaign funds for leisure outings. At first glance, Farenthold’s resort expense and the cocktail party are questionable uses of campaign funds because it is clear he is not seeking re-election, said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington, D.C.

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WFAA - July 17, 2018

Texas Instruments CEO resigns due to violation of company's code of conduct

Texas Instruments Chief Executive Officer Brian Crutcher is stepping down due to a violation of the company's code of conduct. Rich Templeton, the company's chairman and former CEO, will assume his role, the company said Tuesday.The violations are related to "personal behavior" that is not consistent with the company's ethics and core values, Texas Instruments said. It added it is "not related to company strategy, operations or financial reporting." The company gave no more specifics. "For decades, our company's core values and code of conduct have been foundational to how we operate and behave, and we have no tolerance for violations of our code of conduct," said Mark Blinn, lead director of the board said in the statement. The shake-up comes just weeks after Crutcher, formerly chief operating officer, took over the reigns of the company that had seen double-digit revenue growth in recent quarters and rising investor confidence. The company said Templeton is taking the role in an ongoing, indefinite basis, in addition to continuing as chairman. His appointment is not temporary, and the board is not searching for a replacement. Shares of Texas Instruments had risen more than 50 percent in the past year, and on Tuesday, shares of TI closed up $1.24, or a little more than 1 percent to finish at $115.80. After hours, those gains were lost early, with shares down more than 2 percent in extended trading.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2018

Report: Texas student arrests have soared since Parkland, Santa Fe

More Texas students are being arrested for terroristic threats and firearm violations following mass shootings at high schools in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, according to a Tuesday report commissioned by social advocacy groups. About 1,470 law enforcement referrals were made for terroristic threats and exhibition of firearms from January through May of this year, the study found. Referrals for terroristic threats are up 156 percent compared to the same period last year, while referrals for exhibition of firearms have jumped 600 percent. Sixty-six percent of the referrals for exhibition of firearms were made in response to threats, not actual possession, according to the “Collateral Consequences” report. Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas, Children’s Defense Fund-Texas and the Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy Inc. authored the study. The report’s findings are based on data Texas Appleseed obtained from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Two Central Texas school districts, Bastrop and Killeen, were listed among 14 state districts with the most school-based referrals for terroristic threats.

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D Magazine - July 17, 2018

While E-Commerce sales grew, DFW added 50 Million square feet of retail in 15 years

In 2003, online sales as a percentage of total retail sales equaled only 1.6 percent. That same year, Dallas-Fort Worth’s retail market showed a vacancy rate of around 11 percent. The resulting DFW retail occupancy rate of 89 percent was and is considered healthy, particularly for a huge market that, at the time, had more than 147 million square feet of retail inventory. In the 15 years since, online sales have grown to be an estimated 10 percent of total retail sales. During the same decade and a half, DFW’s retail inventory has added more than 50 million square feet and today stands at 200 million. Here in DFW, we’ve added on average a little more than 3 million square feet a year over the past 15 years. For 2018, our retail construction in DFW is on track to total around 3.5 million square feet, which falls right into our 15-year average. That’s not overbuilding by a long shot—especially for an economy like ours that is adding 146,000 people a year, reports unemployment well under 4 percent and that ranks as one of the nation’s most active homebuilding markets for both single-family and multifamily units! Retail follows rooftops, as always, but today we’re seeing on average a lot more rooftops than retail square footage. What we see here in DFW is playing out across the state, where all of our major metros are seeing strong population, housing, and job growth. Our new mid-year 2018 retail report shows: Austin is tops among Texas’ major metros with 96.1 percent occupancy, yet the market still reports only 700,000 square feet being added this year to an inventory of 49.5 million square feet; Houston occupancy is a strong 95 percent, with construction of only 2.8 million square feet being added to a market inventory of 160 million square feet; San Antonio occupancy is a healthy 95 percent, yet the market is adding less than 300,000 square feet—an incredibly low construction total—to an inventory of 46.1 million square feet. These markets all have a number of major retail projects in the works. San Antonio, for example, should see retail construction much more active in 2019 and, especially in 2020.

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Associated Press - July 17, 2018

Texas A&M says Secretary Perry didn't tilt nuke lab bid in favor of alma mater

Texas A&M University leaders said Tuesday that Energy Secretary Rick Perry wasn't involved in his alma mater getting a $2.5 billion nuclear weapons lab contract at the birthplace of the atomic bomb, which is changing management after years of safety and security lapses. The new director over Los Alamos National Laboratory near Santa Fe, New Mexico, also defended the University of California staying on with the lab despite being part of the current team that is losing the job over a checkered record and missed goals. At a time when the U.S. is pushing to restart production of plutonium cores for the nation's nuclear arsenal, a new consortium called Triad National Security LLC is taking over the lab that began in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project. Triad won the bid in June and is comprised of Texas A&M, the University of California and Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute. Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, speaking at length about the contract for the first time Tuesday, said Triad's proposal was favorably scored by the National Nuclear Security Administration before it reached Perry's desk. Perry, who was Texas governor until 2015, was friends with Sharp in college at Texas A&M and he appointed many of the school regents who are still serving today. The NNSA has previously said Perry played no role in the evaluation or selection of the new management at Los Alamos. Watchdog groups that have been critical of the safety lapses at the New Mexico lab were concerned about the University of California's continued role and political influence in that state. In December 2016, the Department of Energy turned down a coalition that included Texas A&M to take over the Sandia National Laboratories, another New Mexico lab that makes up the U.S. nuclear complex.

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Texas Observer - July 17, 2018

Is the realm of possibility expanding for Texas Democrats running for Congress?

Halfway through the summer, Texas Democrats’ impressive fundraising efforts show no signs of cooling down. Beto O’Rourke has attracted the most attention with continuously eye-popping fundraising figures — he brought in $10.4 million in this last quarter alone, once again outpacing his opponent, Senator Ted Cruz. But ignore the rest of the Democratic congressional candidates at your own peril. For the first time in 25 years, Texas Democrats are running in every one of the state’s 36 congressional districts. And the latest federal campaign finance reports, released Sunday, show these candidates are bringing in money at unprecedented paces and in unexpected places. Many Republican incumbents who’ve seen their elections in comfortably red districts as preordained are now faced with the prospect of actually campaigning. That’s good news for the national Democratic Party’s takeover strategy for the U.S. House, which hinges in part on upsets in Texas’ moderating suburbs. For starters, Democratic candidates are doing well where they need to be doing well. In the three GOP-held congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and that the national Democratic Party has targeted as part of its strategy to win back the House — Pete Sessions’ Dallas-area district, Will Hurd’s Southwest Texas district and John Culberson’s West Houston district — the Democratic candidates each raised more than $1 million in the latest quarter, all outraising their GOP incumbent opponents. Of course, just like the latest individual poll, it’s important not to overinterpret political fundraising numbers. The fact that Democratic candidates are raising more money than in the past is not necessarily evidence of a coming blue wave; it could just be that a charged-up base is more willing to throw money at any Democrat with a pulse.

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County Stories

Waco Tribune-Herald - July 17, 2018

Judge threatens legal action if McLennan County Commissioners deny court employees' raises

A district court judge threatened to use his judicial power to override McLennan County commissioners’ budget if they do not increase his employees’ salaries to the level of the commissioners’ own administrative assistants. For the past several years, 19th State District Court Judge Ralph Strother has asked county commissioners to give his court coordinators raises. “I’ve asked for this many times in the past, and every time it is completely and totally ignored,” Strother said. He said it is not equitable or fair that annual salaries for commissioners’ assistants are $6,000 to $11,000 more than his employees’. County Judge Scott Felton said the human resources department has worked diligently in recent years to ensure county employees salaries’ are equitable. “What your request is doing is saying, HR should speak to this, that HR is mistaken in their analysis,” Felton said. Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry told Strother commissioners have already reached a consensus to not grant raises for individual positions this year. Commissioners are focused on the $3 million in requests for new personnel positions for the fiscal year 2019 budget, Perry said. Moving forward, commissioners want to alternate annually between addressing requests for new personnel and addressing requests for individual raises, he said. The Texas Constitution gives district courts some supervisory authority over counties, Strother said after the meeting. “I don’t want to start a turf war. I don’t want to start a political battle, but if it comes down to that, I will do it,” he said.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2018

Vice president of Dallas County nonprofit gets 5 years for defrauding homeowners

A Duncanville man was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for defrauding homeowners who sought his help to prevent foreclosures, federal officials announced. Francisco Javier Gonzalez, 46, pleaded guilty in September to one count of mail fraud. In addition to prison time, Gonzalez was ordered to pay more than $600,000 in restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. While working as vice president and director of the Dallas County Community Action Committee, a nonprofit that provides housing counseling, Gonzalez also leased space in the office for an entity called Residential Counseling FJ LLC. Gonzalez claimed he was certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to give foreclosure assistance and met clients in the DCCAC offices or their homes. He used false information in their mortgage assistance applications and other forms or left them incomplete, and banks rejected the paperwork, officials said. He "specifically sought out victims who were facing financial difficulty," according to his indictment. Gonzalez also convinced the victims to stop communicating with the banks and make their mortgage payments directly to him, he then used that money to cover his personal expenses, officials said. The banks then began the foreclosure process because payments had not been received.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2018

Activists demand recount of signatures for failed paid sick leave petition

Activists have demanded that the city recount signatures for a paid sick leave petition a day after Dallas' city secretary announced that the effort fell short by 871 valid signatures. The Texas Civil Rights Project sent a letter Tuesday to Bilierae Johnson, the city's secretary, and said that her office's "process for verifying signatures resulted in the rejection of signatures that are valid and should have been counted." Johnson could not be reached for comment. The petition, which was submitted to the city in April, is part of a larger political effort to require private employers across the state to offer paid sick time, particularly for workers in service industries like restaurants and day cares. According to the letter, which was sent on behalf of Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave, there are 31,473 petition signatures that Johnson rejected that should be re-reviewed. The letter says that Johnson and her team previously reviewed 36,000 signatures that they had rejected and found 1,100 that were actually valid. But the letter claims that the same process was not used for the rest of the rejected signatures. The letter also says that 2,841 signatures were rejected because they did not include a date of birth and voter registration number and that the city made no attempt to match those signatures to voter files. Texas Civil Rights Project asked that Johnson re-examined the signatures by July 24.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2018

Pflugerville calls for $21M November bond election

The city of Pflugerville is preparing a $21.1 million November bond package to fund what several City Council members said is a dire need to reconstruct and widen several city roads. Council members last week directed interim City Manager Trey Fletcher to prepare ballot language to add four transportation projects to a special election ballot. Councilman Mike Heath cast the sole vote against the project. If approved by voters, general obligation bonds would fund design and construction costs for the projects, while certificates of obligation would be used for design-only costs. During a regular meeting on July 10, council members emphasized the need for road improvements and raised concerns over halting the progress of road construction already underway in the area. According to a presentation by city staff, projects considered under the ballot include: widening Colorado Sand Drive between Copper Mine Drive and Lone Star Ranch Boulevard to a four-lane urban divided section with curb and gutter improvements; reconstructing Kelly Lane from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane divided section from West Falcon Pointe Drive to Moorlynch Avenue; reconstructing Old Austin-Hutto Road into a three-lane section with drainage improvements from Pecan Street to FM 685; extending East Pflugervillle Parkway east of Weiss Lane to create a continuous arterial route along the existing Jesse Bohls Drive. While council members backed the bond package, Heath advocated for holding a March bond election, which he said would offer more time to find additional funding through entities like the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2018

In rare move, Houston council members call special meeting on firefighter pay

In a rare maneuver that sidesteps Mayor Sylvester Turner’s authority, five City Council members have called a special meeting this week, hoping to force the issue of Houston firefighters’ push for a referendum on pay “parity” with police. The council members aim to secure their colleagues’ support for a resolution calling on Turner to place an item on the council’s July 24 agenda to schedule a November election on the petition, which seeks to grant firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding rank. In Houston’s strong-mayor form of government, the mayor generally has sole authority to decide what appears on the agenda for the weekly council meetings. The lone exception allows three council members to set the agenda of a special meeting. Such gatherings — including this one — typically are organized without the mayor’s approval and often struggle to muster a quorum, as many of the 16 council members are loathe to invite the mayor’s wrath. Council members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum and Dwight Boykins signed a Monday memo calling a special council meeting for 10 a.m. Friday. Turner is on a trade mission in South America and will not be back in time to attend the meeting. Marty Lancton, president of the Houston professional Fire Fighters Association, cheered the news, noting that firefighters gathered voters’ signatures and submitted their petition roughly a year ago. State law sets no time limit on when charter petitions must be validated. When their petition had not been verified as of last December, Lancton and other fire union leaders sued the city, hoping to force it to count their signatures. The firefighters won that case earlier this year, and City Secretary Anna Russell reported in May that the petition contained a sufficient number of signatures to go before voters.

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National Stories

Politico - July 17, 2018

Ryan clashes with Trump allies over Rosenstein impeachment

A long-simmering rift between Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s top Hill allies is starting to boil over as both sides fight over an effort to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The Wisconsin Republican and retiring House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) have stifled conservatives’ push in recent weeks to impeach Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian contacts with Trump's 2016 campaign. Gowdy scoffed at the suggestion on national television Sunday. And Ryan — who has long sought to avoid such confrontations with the Justice Department — told reporters Tuesday morning that DOJ is “now coming into compliance” with congressional subpoenas as part of lawmakers’ scrutiny into alleged FBI bias against Trump. But those comments drew a swift rebuke from conservative Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who are leading the impeachment campaign and argue that Rosenstein is slow-walking their oversight of the FBI. Meadows told reporters Tuesday morning that Ryan appeared misinformed about what Justice has and has not turned over. "I can tell you that I guess the speaker’s staff is not fully informing him of what DOJ’s actually complying with,” Meadows said. Meadows also noted that the House had already adopted a resolution giving the Justice Department until July 6 to turn over the remaining documents that lawmakers have requested. While Ryan has said those documents are being handed over, Meadows said that’s hogwash. “We’re still waiting on tens of thousands… of documents that many of the people here today have been advocating for a long time,” Meadows said. “How long do we have to wait?” The sniping follows Trump's widely criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has led even loyal Republicans to question his judgment. Ryan allies and top Republicans thought the bipartisan outcry over Trump’s refusal to accept his own intelligence community's conclusions — that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — would shift attention away from their own internecine procedural gripes.

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Associated Press - July 17, 2018

Onetime Trump critic Roby wins Republican runoff in Alabama

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby won Alabama’s Republican runoff on Tuesday, fighting through lingering fallout from her years-old criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump in a midterm contest that hinged on loyalty to the GOP president. The four-term incumbent will now represent the GOP on the November ballot having defeated Bobby Bright, a former Democrat who tried to cast himself as the more authentic Trump ally in the low-turnout Republican contest. The Trump White House was on Roby’s side. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence endorsed the four-term incumbent. The vice president went further and recorded robocalls distributed on her behalf in recent days saying she’s a reliable vote for the Trump agenda. Some intervention was required after Roby angered Alabama Republicans in the closing days of the 2016 presidential election when she said Trump’s lewd comments about women — captured on an “Access Hollywood” tape — made him unacceptable as a candidate for president. She spent much of the last two years trying to convince her constituents in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District that she was sufficiently loyal to Trump. Trump’s support did not guarantee a victory, of course, even in a deep-red district that overwhelmingly backed him two years ago. The president has a mixed record this primary season, having backed a handful of Republican candidates in friendly districts who ultimately lost. The most noteworthy, perhaps, was Alabama’s own Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who earned the president’s strong backing but suffered an embarrassing loss just eight months ago. Voters indicated they were willing to move past Roby’s criticism of Trump.

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New York Times - July 18, 2018

Google fined $5.1 billion by E.U. in Android antitrust ruling

Google was hit with a $5.1 billion fine by European antitrust officials on Wednesday for abusing its power in the smartphone market, in the region’s latest move to rein in the clout of American tech companies. The penalty of 4.34 billion euros was a record, and far larger than the €2.4 billion, or about $2.8 billion, that the European Union levied on Google last year for unfairly favoring its own services in internet search results. The decision on Wednesday highlighted how European authorities are aggressively pushing for stronger regulation of the digital economy on issues including antitrust, privacy, taxes, and the spread of misinformation and hate speech. European officials said Google, which makes the Android mobile operating system used in smartphones, broke antitrust laws by striking deals with handset manufacturers such as HTC, Huawei and Samsung. The agreements required Google’s services, such as its search bar and Chrome browser, to be favored over rival offerings. European authorities said those moves unfairly boxed out competitors.

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Axios - July 17, 2018

Trump confirms plan to repaint Air Force One

President Trump wants to update the paint job on the next version of Air Force One, ditching the iconic robin's-egg blue (which he calls a "Jackie Kennedy color") for a bolder, "more American" look. Trump wants to change the plane's signature blue-and-white look, designed by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s. He doesn’t think the current blue (technically "luminous ultramarine") represents the USA. The president's preferred design is believed to include red, white and blue. "He can do it," said a source familiar with the negotiations, when asked about whether Trump can make the change. But the change could cause friction with the Air Force. We're told some top officers like the current look, which they point out is "known around the world."

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2018

Bruenig: The battered aspirations of the American working class

Maybe there never will be any rest for them. Even in an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., titled "The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers," laborers of every kind - slaves and free people, clockmakers and Subway sandwich workers, sharecroppers and machinists - are frozen in artworks depicting their lives, landscapes and interior worlds. These are not portraits of workers at leisure or with tasks completed; these are portraits of workers at work, with all of the intensity and stress of the labor that powers American industry exposed. Americans are ambivalent when it comes to the role of labor and the working classes in society. "The Sweat of Their Face" emphasizes that this has been the case since the country's founding. The very point of hard work in the United States is often stipulated as escaping the working class, or providing a path to posterity. But one's own departure doesn't eliminate the gulf between the extreme classes - nor does it in every case put one entirely at ease with the predisposition of the upper classes toward the lower. And ascension from the lower echelons of the working class to the upper levels of society is hardly guaranteed - it is, in fact, mathematically unlikely. Given all this, Americans are in an odd sort of bind: directed simultaneously to view work as a virtue and the working class as something to transcend, and taught to view this deeply communal activity as radically individualistic. It's a dream that's still alive, if battered by the Supreme Court's recent ruling against public-sector labor unions in the Janus v. AFSCME case - alive in this year's teacher strikes, and in every labor action that finds working people asking not for entry to another class but for dignity and respect in their lives as they are, in the roles they serve, making the complex machinery underneath the ordinary beauty of American life run. It isn't too much to ask. But outside that gallery of weathered hands and sore shoulders is a country full of people for whom relief can't come soon enough.

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CNBC - July 17, 2018

Russian operative's indictment reveals attempts to infiltrate NRA

The Justice Department on Monday revealed it had arrested prominent Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina over the weekend, accusing her of setting up "back channel" lines of communication with the Kremlin in an operation that spanned from the months before Trump announced his candidacy in 2015 through February 2017, the month after his inauguration. In the unsealed indictment, the department accused Butina of conspiring to infiltrate U.S. political groups and advance the agenda of the Russian government through her network of high-profile American contacts in politics and media. The indictment includes the most explicit and detailed accusation to date against a Russian, working with the help of an American citizen, to influence the 2016 presidential election. It also provides new details about the Russian government's attempts to curry favor among prominent Americans. Notably, the charges are not being made by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russia's attempts to meddle in the 2016 election. The investigation was carried out by the FBI's field office in Washington, and Butina is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department's national security division. Nonetheless, the timing of the charge is critical. Butina was arrested just two days after Mueller announced charges against 12 Russians for hacking into computers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, and just a day before Trump appeared with Putin in Finland and publicly questioned his intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to bolster Trump's odds. The president is not mentioned directly in the indictment. But the two were captured on camera in an exchange between Butina and then-candidate Trump at a Las Vegas campaign event in 2015. At the "FreedomFest" gathering, Butina asked Trump what he thought about sanctions on Russia. Trump responded that he had a good relationship with Putin and "I don’t think you’d need the sanctions."

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San Antonio Express-News - July 18, 2018

Ayala: A trial run at immigrant family reunification is set to become a surge

Over the next two weeks, as many as 400 immigrant families are expected to be reunited in San Antonio after being forcibly separated on the border by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. It set in motion not only what may become one of the darkest chapters of the Trump presidency but a series of events now ending with federal agencies scrambling to meet court-mandated deadlines to get children back with parents. Catholic Charities of San Antonio, one of the local social service agencies federally contracted to care for and house separated children, found it taxing enough to handle the reunifications of six Central American families last week. Now that looks like hardly a trial run. On Friday, the organization received word that San Antonio can expect a surge of reunifications. Catholic Charities quickly began prepping for the demands it will put on its staff, volunteers and pantry. The agency also asked for volunteers with flexible schedules who can be available on a “24-hour call-back” basis. They’re being asked to fill out a background check online. It’s also taking donations at its main office, 202 W. French Place, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. The agency is asking specifically for restaurant gift cards, new children’s clothing in all sizes, and new adult clothing in sizes small and medium.

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Wall Street Journal - July 18, 2018

Elon Musk apologizes for calling Thai cave rescuer a pedophile

Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk has apologized for lashing out at the British cave explorer who dismissed his efforts to help rescue the youth soccer team trapped in a Thai cave. “His actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader,” Mr. Musk said in a tweet posted on his official Twitter account Wednesday. “The fault is mine and mine alone.” The tech billionaire had taken offense at comments from cave explorer Vern Unsworth, who in a video posted by CNN late last week called Mr. Musk’s mini-submarine, built to help rescue the soccer team, an ill-informed public-relations stunt, saying it “had absolutely no chance of working” because it was too big for the cave. “He can stick his submarine where it hurts,” Mr. Unsworth said. “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it,” read a tweet on Mr. Musk’s Twitter account Sunday in response to the explorer’s criticism. The posting, which was later deleted, sent Tesla’s stock falling Monday. The outburst was the latest example of Mr. Musk’s aggressive and sometimes controversial use of Twitter. In recent months, he has used the platform to criticize regulators, taunt short sellers and debate people who criticized his political donations.

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Newsclips - July 17, 2018

Lead Stories

Washington Examiner - July 17, 2018

York: Why Trump doesn't admit Russian election interference

Was Russia's effort to interfere in the 2016 election the most important issue on the table at President Trump's Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin? No. But it's not an unimportant issue, either, and Trump knew the American press is obsessed with it. So he knew it would play a big role in the Trump-Putin post-summit news conference. There are all sorts of aspects to the Trump-Russia affair, but in light of special counsel Robert Mueller's decision to indict 12 Russian intelligence agents on the Friday before the Monday summit, the president also knew reporters would want to hear him specifically affirm Mueller's allegation that the Russian agents hacked the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign. It wouldn't be hard for the president to do. No report has proved, or even alleged, that the Russian effort affected a single vote. But there is a consensus that there was a Russian effort. So to put it in crass terms, Trump could easily have given the press what it wanted, which would probably have given him room to pay attention to issues like arms control, Syria, China, trade, and Crimea. But no. That's not how Trump handles the Trump-Russia affair. So why did he do what he did? The answer has to do with the peculiar nature of the Russia investigation, and the peculiar nature of Donald Trump. There have always been two parts to the Trump-Russia probe: the what-Russia-did part, which is the investigation into Russia's actions during the campaign, and the get-Trump part, which is the effort to use the investigation to remove him from office. Trump's problem is that he has always refused, or been unable, to separate the two. One is about national security and international relations, while the other is about Donald Trump.

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Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2018

Allred outraises Sessions as 5 Texas Democrats lead run for the money in GOP-held House districts

Dallas Democrat Colin Allred has pulled ahead of Rep. Pete Sessions in fund-raising -- one of five Democrats in Texas who have now eclipsed their rival in a district currently held by a Republican. That's encouraging news for Democrats as they look for a blue wave to sweep them back into power in Congress. The fund-raising dominance is a sign of donor enthusiasm, if not a sure predictor of victory -- and it's a wake-up call for Republicans. Midterm elections almost always bring setbacks to the party that controls the White House. Democrats need to swing 21 seats nationwide to regain control of the House. They would love to pick up a few in deep-red Texas, and the fund-raising prowess has fueled optimism they can pull that off. Apart from Allred, an NFL football player turned civil rights lawyer, the four Democrats in Texas who have topped Republicans in GOP-held districts are: Jana Lynne Sanchez, who is running against Ron Wright for the seat held by Rep. Joe Barton of Arlington, who is retiring; Lizzie Fletcher, who is challenging Houston Rep. John Culberson; Joseph Kopser, who faces Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz, in the district held by another retiree, Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio; Mary Jennings Hegar, who is challenging Rep. John Carter of Round Rock.

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Star-Telegram - July 16, 2018

Democrat has more cash than Republican opponent in race to replace Joe Barton in Congress

The battle to replace Joe Barton in Congress could soon be as hot as the Texas summer as fundraising ramps up, likely catapulting this into a multimillion dollar race. Fundraising slowed after the May 22 primary runoff election, but Republican Ron Wright out-raised Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez in the fight for the 6th Congressional District during the second quarter of this year. However, Sanchez has out-raised Wright since the runoff election, $96,913 to $91,566, and had more cash on hand by the end of June, according to new Federal Election Commission reports. “That’s an insignificant difference in a general election that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Wright, Tarrant County’s Tax Assessor Collector. “This is a marathon. It’s not a 100-yard dash. What matters is where you end up.” But Sanchez said current fundraising numbers are important in a district that has been a GOP stronghold for decades. “I think it’s really significant that I’m ahead of my Republican opponent,” she said. “It all comes down to viability. I wouldn’t be able to raise any money if people didn’t think this district was winnable.” All this comes at a time that many predict this district, which President Donald Trump carried by 12 percentage points in 2016, will remain red. But the district, represented by Barton since 1985, was recently named a tossup — and one of only four districts in Texas likely to flip from Republican to Democrat in November — by The Economist. Wright’s campaign just created a new finance team that will be headed by Bunni Pounds, who has more than a decade of experience with Republican campaigns and fundraising. On her website, she says she’s raised more than $10 million for congressional candidates and other events. Pounds made her own bid for office this year, hoping to replace the retiring Jeb Hensarling in representing the 5th Congressional District. But she lost a GOP primary runoff to Lance Gooden. “We’re very excited,” Wright said. “She’s a very prolific fundraiser for candidates.”

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Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2018

Judge orders CodeNext petition ordinance on the ballot

The CodeNext petition ordinance will appear on November’s ballot and likely pour kerosene on Austin City Council elections this year just as campaign season begins to ramp up. Travis County state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo issued the order on Monday ruling that it was premature for the Austin City Council to deny the petition ordinance. If approved, the proposed ordinance would allow voters to decide whether they wish to vote on CodeNext and any future large-scale revisions of Austin’s land development code. It also calls for a waiting period before any voter-approved land-use rewrite is adopted. “We are gratified by the court’s decision respecting Austinites’ right to vote,” said Fred Lewis, an anti-CodeNext activist and the lead attorney in the lawsuit against the city. “We expect the mayor and council to honor their word and put the petition on the ballot, per Judge Naranjo’s order.” While it was good news for Lewis and the largely anti-CodeNext groups that have been the loudest supporters of the petition ordinance, Naranjo’s order made no ruling on whether the proposed ordinance would violate state law that prevents votes on zoning. That was the main legal point outside counsel for the city of Austin made to Naranjo during arguments July 2. But in a letter to attorneys, Naranjo said it was too early to deny an election on those grounds because CodeNext remains in draft form. “Neither the parties nor the court know the exact substance of the final version of CodeNext,” Naranjo wrote. “It is subject to revisions and may never be passed by the City Council.” Council members on May 24 voted 6-4 not to allow a vote on the petition. However, they also voted to quickly order an election on the petition if a judge ruled against their action. Mayor Steve Adler voted against placing it on the ballot. When reached Monday, Adler told the American-Statesman that he would now support having an election on the proposed ordinance.

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State Stories

Center for Public Integrity - July 16, 2018

Plutonium went missing in Texas, but the government says nothing

Two security experts from the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory drove to San Antonio in March 2017 with a sensitive mission: to retrieve dangerous nuclear materials from a nonprofit research lab there. Their task, according to documents and interviews, was to ensure that the radioactive materials did not fall into the wrong hands on the way back to Idaho, where the government maintains a stockpile of nuclear explosive materials for the military and others. To ensure they got the right items, the specialists from Idaho brought radiation detectors and small samples of dangerous materials to calibrate them: specifically, a plastic-covered disk of plutonium, a material that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons, and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope that could potentially be used in a so-called "dirty" radioactive bomb. But when they stopped at a Marriott hotel just off Highway 410, in a high-crime neighborhood filled with temp agencies and ranch homes, they left those sensors on the back seat of their rented Ford Expedition. When they awoke the next morning, the window had been smashed and the special valises holding these sensors and nuclear materials had vanished. More than a year later, state and federal officials don't know where the plutonium – one of the most valuable and dangerous substances on earth – is. Nor has the cesium been recovered. When asked, officials at the lab and in San Antonio declined to say exactly how much plutonium and cesium were missing. But Idaho lab spokeswoman Sarah Neumann said the plutonium in particular wasn't enough to be fashioned into a nuclear bomb. It is nonetheless now part of a much larger amount of plutonium that over the years has gone quietly missing from stockpiles owned by the U.S. military, often without any public notice.

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Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2018

DMN: Why transparency is critical as Texas A&M deals with its own sex-abuse scandal

It's disheartening to hear of yet another university embroiled in a scandal over how it has handled sexual assault complaints on campus. This time, it's Texas A&M. Ten women told The Dallas Morning News sickening tales of sexual violence and abuse that they reported to school officials, who the women say responded poorly — protecting the accused over the accusers. There's a lot we still don't know about the handling of the cases. What we do know is that universities have a responsibility to make vulnerable students feel safe on campus. And too often, women who bravely come forward feel doubly abused by a lack of accountability from a system charged to protect them. Sadly, we've had enough of these scandals to see how investigations can go terribly wrong. Horrific sex-abuse scandals have rocked scores of universities including Baylor and Michigan State. They were made worse by secrecy and cover-ups. That's why we're encouraged that A&M President Michael Young has ordered two reviews of how his school's abuse complaints were handled — one internally and one by an outside law firm. More important, he vows transparency, a policy we applaud and urge the university to stand by.

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Wall Street Journal - July 17, 2018

Houston is a big energy hub, so why not price oil futures there?

Houston is set to get its own oil futures, a sign of the city’s growing importance as the U.S. sends more crude abroad. Intercontinental Exchange Inc. is planning a new crude futures contract with physical delivery in Houston, the company said Tuesday. The contract will provide traders with direct access to Houston prices. The exchange is aiming to launch this quarter, subject to regulatory review. U.S. exports of crude oil have surged since a 40-year-old ban was lifted in 2015. In June, crude exports reached a record high of 3 million barrels a day, and have since stayed at about 2 million barrels a day. Meanwhile, U.S. shale companies are producing at record levels of 10.9 million barrels a day. Right now, those who want to trade Houston prices use futures that track Cushing prices and contracts that track the difference between the two locations. An outright Houston contract could help streamline the process for traders and companies looking to lock in prices for their crude. “This will help our customers through the process of hedging their risk around those differentials,“ said Mark Roles, vice president of commercial crude oil at Magellan Midstream Partners LP, whose East Houston terminal will act as the settlement and delivery point for the new contract. “As more volumes hit the international market, we’re going to see a much stronger need for pricing and hedging,” he said. For decades, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices has been in Cushing, Okla., because of its accessibility through major pipelines and extensive storage space. However, with the U.S. on track to become a major energy exporter, some analysts say that pricing power is shifting to the Gulf Coast, where oil gets loaded onto tankers and shipped overseas. “Houston’s become the main trading hub," said Jeff Barbuto, vice president of oil markets at ICE. “It’s a better representation of the economics of where U.S. crude production meets the water to be exported.”

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Associated Press - July 16, 2018

Texas shrimp industry crippled by immigrant visa cap

The Texas shrimp industry is facing a worker shortage as a result of the federal cap on U.S. visas for immigrant seasonal workers. Andrea Hance, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association, told the Brownsville Herald that an estimated 70 percent of the Brownsville-Port Isabel shrimp fleet is starting off this season short-handed. The shrimp industry relies heavily on workers with H-2B visas, which are U.S. visas for temporary nonagricultural workers. A decades-old law limits the number of such visas to 66,000 for the whole country. Congress failed to renew a cap exemption this year for returning workers, creating a worker shortage. The Labor Department last year released an additional 15,000 H-2B visas through a lottery, but it fell short of covering the workers needed for this shrimp season.

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Brownsville Herald - July 14, 2018

Cuellar defends vote, secures stricter oversight of facilities

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar is standing by his vote for legislation that activists argue will allow for the indefinite detention of migrant children. Cuellar, D-Laredo, said that assessment of the Cole Amendment is wrong and that people who say it will lead to indefinite detention are either lying or ignorant.“Activists are going to paint it gloom and doom, but the average time of an immigration detention for family units is less than 20 days,” Cuellar said. “Each individual immigration case is unique; individuals can be held in custody for a few days or, depending on their circumstances, it could be longer. Depending on what they want to do to get their due process, of course it’s going to take a little longer. The talking point that people use that it’s indefinitely, either they are ignorant of the reality or they’re purposely misleading.” The Cole Amendment, introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., amends the 1997 Flores settlement, which bans the long-term detention of migrant children. Cuellar was the sole Democrat to support it. “The Cole Amendment basically takes the steps to help us close a loophole, which is the ending the catch and release of family units,” Cuellar said, of which he argued smugglers took advantage. He said family units that are released become part of the backlog of cases, of which he said there are about 700,000. In the appropriations bill, Cuellar also helped secure language that would allow the Office of Refugee Resettlement to accept in-kind donations from non-governmental entities. Donations would include medical goods and services, school supplies, toys, clothing, and other items that would help “provide for the care of unaccompanied immigrant children in HHS custody,” according to a news release issued Friday.

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Dallas Observer - July 16, 2018

Texas could insure a million residents by flipping a switch. It won't.

There's a thing Texas Republican leadership could do. It would save the state money, keep its residents healthier and make Texas a more attractive place to live. It's never going to happen, however, unless the politics in the state change drastically, enough that elected officials can swallow accepting one of the biggest parts of the Affordable Care Act — Medicaid expansion. According to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 1 million Texans without health insurance would gain coverage if the state signed up for expanding Medicaid. That's about 22 percent of the state's 4.5 million uninsured residents. Data show that the state would reap a significant savings from a decline in uninsured visits to public hospitals and other uncompensated care. Medicaid expansion cut 41 cents from every dollar that hospitals in expansion states spent on uncompensated care from 2013-15, leading to a cumulative estimated savings of $6.2 billion. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the United States at 16.6 percent. Many of those uninsured, about 638,000, are in the so-called "coverage gap." They don't make enough money to qualify for the insurance subsidies guaranteed by the ACA, but they make too much cash to qualify for Texas' Medicaid statute. In addition to those in the gap, the expansion would also cover more than 400,000 Texas residents with incomes just above the poverty line, the report says. Both groups are made up of the people the ACA's Medicaid expansion was designed to cover, but Texas' state representatives have left them out.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2018

HC: Chronically low-performing schools need more help

Our public schools’ most urgent need: The Legislature should act to fix the public school finance system. In recognition of this, the 13-member Texas Commission on Public School Finance is developing a report with recommendations for Gov. Greg Abbott to be completed before the end of the next year. Luckily for Houston’s children and our city’s workforce needs, Houstonians aren’t just waiting around for a solution from on high. Many are continuing to put into practice programs which — while they can’t fix the system —-can help point schools in the right direction. iEducate, a nonprofit serving over 4,000 school children, is one such program. Roopa Gir, a former geophysicist at Schlumberger, formed iEducate about five years ago after tutoring in a school. iEducate pays college students to work alongside elementary teachers and to share their knowledge with students in Houston’s underserved communities. The program fills a need, as teachers have their hands full due to testing requirements, the lack of supplies and the high social needs of the students. They can’t always give each student individual attention. “We divide and conquer in the classroom,” Natalia Arizmendi, 20, a former student at Lone Star College, told the editorial board. The nonprofit works with teachers and principals to review student data and develop the best strategies to give each student the support he or she needs. “We have seen notable improvements in 27 of the 29 schools that we have worked with since the inception,” said Arun Gir, executive director of iEducate.

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County Stories

Abilene Reporter-News - July 16, 2018

Taylor County requests $9 million more than last year

Taylor County commissioners are looking at $58.8 million in 2019 budget requests this week, $8.8 million over the expected revenue for this year. The requests are $9.1 million more than this year's budget of $49.7 million. Commissioners are hearing from department heads this week regarding their budget requests and, often, justifications for increases. County Judge Downing Bolls said during a break Monday that an $8 million increase from year-to-year has inherent "shock value." "It fiscally is impossible to have a tax increase of that size," he said. But the budget traditionally goes "goes through a lot of cutting" on its way to becoming official, he said, and an invaluable part of the process are the presentations made by county officials. "This is all part of it," Bolls siad. Increasing costs with Child Protective Services caseloads are among expenses driving requests, which also include seeking 17 new employees in various areas of the county. How much money the county will have to work with remains to be seen, Bolls said, though indications are that revenue will likely remain flat once figures are acquired from the Taylor County Appraisal District. Bolls said he hoped to have the county's assessment in-hand by the end of July.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2018

New details revealed about graves found at Fort Bend ISD construction site

Four months after Fort Bend ISD announced the discovery of unmarked graves at a construction site, historical and archaeological experts provided new details about the remains during a tour of the area on Monday morning. Archaeologists have identified the remains as African-American males and only one African-American female. The bodies found have muscular builds and appear to have completed a lot of heavy labor from a young age. They range in age from teenagers to 70-years-old, 5 feet two inches tall to 6 feet two inches tall and have had a lot of health stressors since they were young children, according to Whitley. Whitley said that if the population continues to be all male, then the men are most likely from the convict leasing era, where mainly African-American prisoners were leased out to do cheap labor. The school district announced the findings of the remains at the construction site of the technical center in April and as the days grew, more remains were found. The school district last year began building its James Reese Career and Technical Center at University Boulevard and Chatham to offer advanced junior- and senior-level courses. A judge gave permission to the school district last month to exhume remains found at the construction site of the new technical center, which would allow the district to learn more about the 95 remains that have been buried. Reign Clark, Cultural Resources Director for Goshawk, also said they have pinpointed the time frame of the burials to between 1878 to around 1911, which makes them more confident that the bodies are from the convict leasing era.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 16, 2018

San Antonio is one of four U.S. cities assisting with immigrant family reunifications

San Antonio is one of four U.S. cities where faith-based organizations will assist with the reunification of upward of 3,000 families separated at the border by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, since rescinded. The government is under court order to reunify families by July 26. J. Antonio Fernández, the CEO of Catholic Charities of San Antonio, said Monday the organizations here and in El Paso, McAllen and Phoenix have been enlisted to serve as national service centers. He said his agency is now ready to handle as many as 100 newly reunited families in a single day, though information from the government on the numbers and pace of such cases has been scant. “This is a disaster response,” Fernández said. “This is an emergency response.” Late last week, Catholic Charities announced that it had been contacted by its national offices to expect as many as 400 reunification cases, but those estimates have gone up and down several times, reflecting the chaotic nature of the federal response.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2018

Communities in Schools of Houston advocates for mental health services

In the wake of the Santa Fe school shooting, legislators in Texas are trying to figure out how to prevent future tragedies. Communities in Schools (CIS) of Houston believes that they can be an answer to that, by providing mental health services to students. CIS works with the school system on over 100 campuses to provide direct social services to at-risk students and connect students with available community resources. “Our goal originated with keeping at risk kids in school, but over the years we have broadened our scope. Now we do really anything and everything necessary for the student, eliminating barriers and helping them with anything that can be good for them,” Lisa Descant, chief operating officer of CIS of Houston said. Descant says that CIS has always had their finger on the pulse of mental health well before school shootings became prevalent, but it has increased their awareness of why what they do is important. CIS project managers and team members have also had to go through new trainings. Recently, CIS was awarded a grant through House Bill 13, which is expanding mental health resources on school campuses and in local communities.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2018

Houston to host Final Four in 2023, San Antonio in 2025

Houston and NRG Stadium have been selected as the host site for the 2023 men's Final Four, the NCAA announced Monday. The city most recently held the Final Four in 2011 and 2016. A regional will be held at Toyota Center in 2020. "NRG Stadium has clearly become the top venue in the nation for exciting sports championships over the past couple of years," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. "From last year's overtime game in Super Bowl LI to Villanova's buzzer beater to win the NCAA men's basketball championship two years ago, NRG is home to sports excitement. I am extremely happy that the NCAA has chosen Houston and Harris County to once again host their 2023 NCAA Men's Final Four tournament. And I look forward to more exciting stories to come." Phoenix was selected to host in 2024, followed by San Antonio in 2025 and Indianapolis in 2026.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2018

Third person dies after Gatesville hospital explosion

A victim of the Gatesville hospital explosion died Sunday, the third person to die since the construction blast happened last month. Wilber Dimas, 30, died of his injuries at Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin, according to Gatesville police. Dimas was working at the construction site on June 26, the day of the explosion. All of those injured or killed were construction workers building an expansion of Coryell Memorial Hospital. Officials are still investigating what caused the blast. The majority of the victims had second- and third-degree burns, hospital officials said at the time. The others killed were Michael Bruggman, 44, of Rogers, and Filiberto Morales, 36, of Round Rock.

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Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2018

Effort to force vote on requiring employers to offer sick time to all Dallas workers falls short

A petition to let Dallas voters decide whether private employers should be forced to give employees paid sick leave has failed due to a lack of signatures. Bilierae Johnson, Dallas' city secretary, said Monday that the petition fell short of the number of valid signatures required for the item to be put on the November ballot. The petition, which was submitted to the city in April on behalf of a group of activists, is part of a larger political effort to require paid sick time across cities in Texas, particularly for workers in service industries like restaurants and day cares. That effort has already drawn strong opposition from state legislators. To get on the ballot, the petition needed signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in Dallas — 53,756 signatures, to be exact. But Johnson said only 52,885 valid signatures were collected. Jose Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project, said the group gathered 110,000 signatures when the paperwork was submitted to the city, but Johnson said almost half of those signatures didn’t count. She said 30,000 of the signatures could not be confirmed as registered voters. Another large chunk of the signatures came from people outside of Dallas, she said. Others were collected outside the allowed time frame or were duplicate signatures.

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National Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2018

Trump 'getting played' by Putin: Shock and fury among Texans on both sides as president defends Russia

Texas lawmakers in both parties expressed shock and dismay at President Donald Trump's eagerness to brush aside allegations of Russian meddling in U.S. elections and other misdeeds at his summit Monday with Vladimir Putin. Amid the outcry, few Republicans from Texas were rallying to Trump's defense. "I don't think we should be taking a former KGB colonel's word for what their intelligence apparatus is doing or not doing. I believe our intelligence community," Sen. John Cornyn told CNN. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee and Trump foil, called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally at times, called Trump's stance the worst mistake of his presidency. Most Texas Republicans in Congress lay low on Monday afternoon, saying nothing about the commander in chief's approach in Helsinki. One came close to echoing the sentiments of Brennan and McCain, though. Rep. Will Hurd, a San Antonio Republican who served as an undercover CIA officer, leveled one of the toughest critiques, saying that Trump was "getting played" by Putin. "I've seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people over my professional career and I never would have thought that the US President would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands," he tweeted. "There is nothing about agreeing with a thug like Putin that puts America First." And he added: "To all our allies: there are still many of us in Congress that know Russia is not just an adversary to the United States but to freedom loving people everywhere."

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Washington Post - July 16, 2018

Putin again denies Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election; Trump calls probe a ‘disaster for our country’

President Trump cast doubt on the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying after his summit here Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the autocrat gave him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial. After Putin said his government played no role in trying to sabotage the U.S. election, Trump offered no pushback and went on to condemn the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country.” Concluding their first formal one-one-one summit here Monday, Trump said his message regarding the Russian interference “was a message best delivered in person” during the meeting, during which the two leaders “spent a great deal of time” discussing the Kremlin’s interference. Putin insisted publicly that the “Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in internal American affairs,” and Trump declined to dispute his assertions, instead saying that Putin “has an interesting idea” about the issue of interference. “I don’t see any reason why” Russia would interfere in the election, Trump said as he stood next to Putin at a joint news conference after their talks in the Finnish capital ended. Of their private conversation in Helsinki about the interference, Trump said, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Trump also insisted that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Moscow. “I didn’t know the president. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign.” Trump said that he holds “both countries responsible” for the frayed relations between the two nations and attacked special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

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Washington Post - July 16, 2018

Sullivan: After a stunning news conference, there’s a newly crucial job for the American press

It was press conference as national nightmare, summed up succinctly by the BBC on its home page minutes later with this headline: “Trump Sides With Russia Against FBI.” And though Monday’s joint Trump-Putin post-summit appearance in Helsinki was a news conference — with some admirably tough questions from two experienced wire-service reporters — it also was a moment in which no media interpretation was really necessary. Everything was right out there in the open. Believe your eyes and ears. As my Washington Post colleague Mark Berman put it on Twitter: “I’m really struck by what a huge story it would be if it emerged that Trump was privately questioning the intel assessment re: Russian meddling and suggesting he buys Russia’s denial. Instead, he says it out loud, on TV, while standing next to Putin.” Almost superfluous in the moment, the news media’s job became crucially important in the immediate aftermath. What happened on that stage needs to be made undeniably clear to every American citizen who isn’t hopelessly lost in denial. (And clearly, many are.) That job will fall, in part at least, to the American press, which will find itself in the uncomfortable position of calling a spade a spade, with none of the usual recourse to false equivalence or “both sides with equal weight” coverage.

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Wall Street Journal - July 16, 2018

Gun rights activist charged with acting as Russian agent

A Russian woman accused of trying to set up back-channel relationships with Republican politicians through the National Rifle Association was arrested and charged with not registering as a foreign agent in Washington, the Justice Department said Monday. Maria Butina, a 29-year-old woman who has lived in Washington as a student at American University and was known as an enthusiastic gun-rights advocate, was arrested on Sunday and made a court appearance on Monday, prosecutors said. She was ordered held without bail pending a hearing on Wednesday. The NRA and the Republican Party aren’t named in the charging document, called a criminal complaint, but were identified through documents from related congressional investigations and people familiar with the matter. Prosecutors moved quickly on the charges because they feared Ms. Butina was about to leave the Washington area, according to a person familiar with the matter. The case is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, though the issues overlap. The affidavit used to arrest Ms. Butina describes an alleged effort between 2015 and early 2017 that was directed by a Russian official who isn’t named in court papers but is identifiable as Alexander Torshin, the deputy central bank governor who was sanctioned by the U.S. in April. The pair took steps to “develop relationships” and establish private lines of communications with American politicians, which Ms. Butina referred to as “back channel” relationships, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in the affidavit. The pair took steps “in order to infiltrate” groups including the NRA and “advance the interests of the Russian Federation,” the affidavit said. An NRA representative had no comment. Mr. Torshin couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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New York Times - July 16, 2018

Charlotte reluctantly says it’s willing to host Republican National Convention

Through hours of public debate and a razor-close council vote on Monday, Charlotte, N.C., a city that prides itself on being a beacon of progress in the South, grappled with how to live up to its values. Should it be a haven for free speech and diverse ideas, or take a stand against a strain of politics that many residents bitterly oppose? At issue: whether to host the Republican National Convention in 2020. To civic boosters and business leaders in a striving city, a political convention can look like a golden ticket, promising crammed restaurants, booked-out hotels and, perhaps most important, several days in the global spotlight. But the leaders of North Carolina’s largest city found on Monday that they and their constituents were sharply divided on whether Charlotte ought to host this particular convention, which will presumably decide whether to nominate President Trump for re-election. The reluctance had little to do with the complex logistical and security challenges surrounding a convention, or any doubts about whether Charlotte was capable of meeting them. It was mostly about whether a Democratic-leaning city with a carefully cultivated reputation wanted to associate itself with what Mr. Trump and many in his party now stand for. “I’d no sooner bring Donald Trump and the R.N.C. to Charlotte, to the home that I chose and love, where my wife and I are raising our black son, any sooner than I would support a Klan rally in this city,” said Justin Harlow, a Democratic member of the City Council. Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat who championed the city’s convention bid, insisted that “hosting the R.N.C. is not an endorsement of the administration,” and argued that holding the gathering in Charlotte would offer “an opportunity to share the values that this city believes in — through peaceful protest.”

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Associated Press - July 16, 2018

Judge: Jewish heritage can be basis for race discrimination

Jewish people are protected by a law against racial discrimination in employment decisions, a federal magistrate judge has concluded in siding with a football coach suing a private Baptist college in Louisiana. The nation's highest court hasn't defined what "race" means under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, U.S. Magistrate Mark Hornsby said in a court filing Friday. But he concluded that Jewish citizens have been treated as a racial or ethnic group entitled to the law's protection against employment discrimination. The magistrate issued his findings in a civil case football coach Joshua Bonadona filed against Louisiana College in February. Bonadona claims the college's president, Rick Brewer, refused to approve his hiring because of what he allegedly called the applicant's "Jewish blood." An attorney for the college argued for dismissing the claim, saying Jewish ancestry doesn't qualify as a protected "race" under federal law. Hornsby rejected this. "America is no stranger to anti-Semitism, which is often rooted in prejudice against a person based on his heritage/ethnicity without regard to the person's particular religious beliefs," the magistrate wrote. "Jewish citizens have been excluded from certain clubs or neighborhoods, and they have been denied jobs and other opportunities based on the fact that they were Jewish, with no particular concern as to a given individual's religious leanings." The college can ask a district court judge to review Hornsby's recommendation before the court adopts it.

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Associated Press - July 15, 2018

Muslim candidates run in record numbers but face backlash

When Tahirah Amatul-Wadud heard about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's stunning upset over U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's Democratic primary last month, the first-time candidate saw parallels with her own longshot campaign for Congress in western Massachusetts. The 44-year-old Muslim, African-American civil rights lawyer, who is taking on a 30-year congressman and ranking Democrat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, said she wasn't alone, as encouragement, volunteers and donations started pouring in. "We could barely stay on top of the residual love," said Amatul-Wadud, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's lone challenger in the state's Sept. 4 Democratic primary. From Congress to state legislatures and school boards, Muslim Americans spurred to action by the anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his supporters are running for elected offices in numbers not seen since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, say Muslim groups and political observers. Many, like Amatul-Wadud, hope to ride the surge of progressive activism within the Democratic Party that delivered Ocasio-Cortez's unlikely win and could help propel the Democrats back to power in November.Still, the path to victory can be tougher for a Muslim American. Some promising campaigns already have fizzled out while many more face strong anti-Muslim backlash. There were as many as 90 Muslim-Americans running for national or statewide offices this election cycle, a number that Muslim groups say was unprecedented, at least in the post-9/11 era. But recent primaries have whittled the field down to around 50, a number that still far exceeds the dozen or so that ran in 2016, said Shaun Kennedy, co-founder of Jetpac, a Massachusetts nonprofit that helps train Muslim-American candidates.

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Newsclips - July 16, 2018

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - July 16, 2018

Trump hopes for ‘extraordinary relationship’ with Putin as summit begins

President Donald Trump began his private meeting with Vladimir Putin here Monday by declaring that he expected to have an “extraordinary relationship” with the Russian leader, hours after he blamed the U.S. for the poor state of its relations with Moscow. Speaking at the Presidential Palace at the outset of their one-on-one meeting, which is expected to last about 90 minutes, Mr. Trump said the two leaders would discuss issues related to trade, the military, nuclear weapons, missiles and China, including their “mutual friend” Chinese President Xi Jinping. “We have great opportunities together as two countries,” Mr. Trump said, as the two leaders sat beside each other, with American and Russian flags arrayed behind them. “Frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years…I really think the world wants to see us get along.” “We are the two great nuclear powers,” Mr. Trump added. “We have 90% of the nuclear—and that’s not a good thing, it’s a bad thing.” “Now is the time to have a serious conversation about our bilateral relations and about various sore spots in the world, and there are many of those,” Mr. Putin said. In his remarks, Mr. Trump made no mention of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, an issue that he has said he would raise with Mr. Putin after Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday charged 12 Russian officers with hacking the computers of Democratic organizations and ensuring the pilfered information became public. Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump in a tweet blamed the U.S. for the state of its relationship with Moscow that he said had “NEVER been worse,” raising the question of how hard he intends to press Mr. Putin on issues including election meddling and Russia’s aggression in Crimea. The Russian foreign ministry’s Twitter account on Monday “liked” the president’s tweet blaming the U.S. for the state of the relationship, and quoting the tweet, wrote: “We agree.” Russian state-owned news agencies also prominently featured the tweet. A headline on the Russian news site RIA Novosti read: “Relations with Russia have deteriorated because of the stupidity of the United States, said Trump.” No note-takers were seen in the room with the two leaders ahead of their meeting. Mr. Trump had been reluctant to include a note-taker in the one-on-one meeting because he is wary of leaks, said a foreign official briefed on the plans. But the lack of note-taker raised concerns among some diplomats and former U.S. officials that there would be no official record of the meeting, posing risks including that the Russians might offer a misleading account of what was discussed. A notepad and pen sat beside Mr. Putin on a small table; Mr. Trump didn’t appear to have any such pad.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2018

Some of Dallas' biggest political names are pondering campaigns to succeed Mike Rawlings as mayor

It's often an aggravating, dead-end job with no prospects for higher office, but that hasn't stopped numerous potential candidates from exploring campaigns for Dallas mayor. With less than a year before the 2019 municipal elections, at least 16 contenders are jockeying or being mentioned as possible successors to Mayor Mike Rawlings, who will leave office in June after serving eight years as leader of the council. The list, heavy with City Council members, includes some of the biggest names in local politics. At issue for them is how to articulate a vision for the city after the leadership of Rawlings, the former Pizza Hut CEO who tackled critical issues, including bridging the divide between the city's prosperous northern and struggling southern areas. Rawlings also excelled at crisis management, steering the city through the 2014 Ebola crisis and the 2016 ambush and shooting deaths of five police officers. "It's going to take at least $1.5 million, and that's on the low end," said Dallas political consultant Carol Reed, who managed the successful mayoral campaigns of Ron Kirk and Tom Leppert. Dallas businessman Albert Black already has a campaign manager and is aggressively seeking support. Former Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt is considering running for the top job, but so are two of her biggest allies — council members Philip Kingston and Scott Griggs. Jennifer Staubach Gates has long been mentioned as a contender but has not committed to a campaign. She's the daughter of NFL Hall of Famer and Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach. Other council members weighing their options are Adam McGough and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway. Also considering a campaign is developer Phillip Huffines, the former chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party. Huffines, who now lives in Richardson, lost a Texas Senate primary in March to Republican Angela Paxton. Two state representatives — Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, and Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, have been mentioned as potential Rawlings successors.

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Washington Post - July 15, 2018

The Midwest eases its Trump swoon and flirts again with Democratic candidates

Ohio's 12th Congressional District, which Republicans won in 1982 and have not relinquished since, supported Trump by 11.3 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Ohio overall swung dramatically toward Trump in 2016, part of a near sweep of the Midwest that gave him the presidency and his party complete control in Washington. But doubts about the ongoing tariff battle and about the administration’s agenda on health care, spending and immigration have changed the terrain. Rather than back the president and Republicans, the Midwest has begun to flirt with candidates who would keep them in check. In Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, Democratic senators once thought to be endangered have rebounded and are in fairly safe positions. In House and gubernatorial races, Democrats have grown more competitive since the start of the year — especially in House districts drawn from suburbs that were thought to be safely Republican. In special elections held in the Midwest since Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have improved on their 2016 performance by an average of 11 points. In Wisconsin, Republicans have lost two state Senate seats and a race for state Supreme Court; in Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, Democrats have held onto districts where voters had rejected Clinton. Republicans in the region have been forced into a difficult choice. They can declare independence, or they can side with a president whose actions, while popular among Republicans, are decidedly not so among other voters who will decide November’s elections.

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BBC - July 16, 2018

British caver 'could sue' Elon Musk over Twitter attack

A British cave diver who helped rescue 12 Thai boys from deep within a cave has said he is considering suing tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. In now-deleted tweets, Mr Musk had called Vern Unsworth a "pedo guy" after the cave expert ridiculed a mini-submarine built by the Tesla CEO for the rescue effort as a "PR stunt". Mr Unsworth told reporters on Monday that he was considering legal action. "It's not finished," he told Australian network Channel 7. Thailand-based Mr Unsworth's knowledge of the cave complex is said to have played a key role in the rescue effort. He travelled into the caves in the first days after the boys went missing and helped bring in top international cave rescue experts for the mission. Mr Unsworth had earlier said that the mini-sub built by Mr Musk's team and flown to Thailand before being rejected as inappropriate for the rescue mission by Thai officials would have had "absolutely no chance of working". Elon Musk, who regularly takes on journalists and other critics on Twitter, on Sunday tweeted a response to Mr Unsworth, without using his name but calling him a "British expat guy who lives in Thailand". He said he would make a video showing the mini-sub making it deep inside the cave "no problemo", adding: "Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it".

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State Stories

Star-Telegram - July 15, 2018

ST: Candidates who dodge debates and scrutiny don’t deserve your votes

Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that he’s agreed to a televised debate with Democratic opponent Lupe Valdez was a reminder of how you can be accessible to voters — but not as accessible as possible. As the clear frontrunner in his race for reelection, Abbott could probably have kissed off debates and barely hurt his chances in November. He’s busy serving Texans; he’d rather meet directly with the people; the debates don’t give candidates a chance to share their ideas fully. But to schedule it on a Friday night, during high school football season? Does anyone really think Texans are going to park themselves in front of a TV — or a mobile phone screen — when the local boys are passing and rushing for glory? So, Gov. Abbott, what about a second debate? Or a public forum where both candidates show up and face probing questions from journalists and voters? The Star-Telegram is more than ready to play host if you’ll accept.

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Beaumont Enterprise - July 13, 2018

BE: Other GOP candidates should OK debates too

Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t exactly deserve praise for agreeing to a debate with his Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, on Sept. 28. That’s something every candidate should do, and the more important the office, the greater the need for a debate. Yet Abbott, far ahead in the polls, could have ducked this showdown. To his credit, he didn’t — and other statewide GOP candidates should match his decision. They too should agree to debates with their Democratic opponents, even though most are ahead in the polls and might be tempted to avoid the fray. This commitment is especially important from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton. Patrick is the hard-right leader for Texas Republicans, and his level of respect for Texas Democrats is low at best. He should still square off against Mike Collier. Paxton has been notoriously ducking media interviews and other non-controlled formats ever since he was elected because he faces two felony indictments for fraud. He doesn’t like to be reminded of that inconvenient truth while serving as the state’s highest law-enforcement officer. Paxton knows that his Democratic opponent, Justin Nelson, would likely raise this issue in any debate. He should face him anyhow. Debates offer voters a chance to see both candidates in an unscripted setting. It should go without saying that moderators should not be left-leaning, a frequent complaint by Republican candidates that is sometimes valid. But as with Perry’s excuse for avoiding White, secondary factors should not interfere with the main goal. Go toe-to-toe with your opponent, and let voters decide who presents the best case. If you make a mistake like Perry did at a GOP forum in his presidential run in 2011 — forgetting the name of a Cabinet agency he wanted to abolish (with an infamous “oops,” no less) — that’s part of the game too. Perry lost that race but survived politically. In fact, he even heads the agency he couldn’t remember on that stage — the Department of Energy. The debates for statewide offices probably won’t bring anything that dramatic. Voters still deserve to see them scheduled — and held — soon.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2018

17 women accused a Texas doctor of sexual abuse, but he lost his license only after a male patient's accusation

An Austin doctor accused of sexual abuse by 17 women had his license revoked last month only after a male patient accused him of similar misconduct. The Texas Medical Board revoked neurologist Philip Leonard's medical license June 15, ordering him to stop practicing medicine immediately, according to board documents. Leonard was one of several doctors highlighted in a 2016 Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into doctors who have been accused of sexually abusing patients. In 2003, Leonard's medical license was temporarily suspended when allegations surfaced that he had improper sexual contact with female patients, Texas Medical Board documents show. Patients alleged Leonard had rubbed his erect penis on them or grabbed their breasts during visits. One said he put his hand down her underwear and tried to fondle her, a document shows. But the new case against Leonard centered on one patient at his private neurology clinic in Austin who said Leonard had "violated sexual boundaries" with him on multiple occasions, over-prescribed opioid painkillers and didn't keep accurate medical records.

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Dallas Voice - July 13, 2018

Dallas attorney wins decision on Title VII question

A case now making its way through the U.S. District Court’s in the Northern District of Texas could provide a precedent-setting ruling in the U.S. 5th Circuit regarding whether Title VII of the civil rights act prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Dallas attorney Rob Wiley said this week that Judge Karen Gren Scholer’s decision not to dismiss his client’s suit against Xerox claiming discrimination under Title VII marks the first time in the Northern District of Texas that a federal judge has ruled that anti-LGBT discrimination violates Title VII. Scott Berghorn filed a federal employment discrimination lawsuit against Xerox, his former employer, Xerox Corp., claiming in a second amended petition that he was fired because he is gay and “fails to conform with traditional gender stereotypes.” Lawyers for Xerox had moved to have the petition dismissed, but Judge Scholer, in an order denying that motion. While Berghorn still has to prove his case, Scholer said, “Berghorn pleads sufficient facts to state a plausible claim that Xerox terminated his employment allegedly due to his failure to conform to gender stereotypes.” Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal’s South Central Region based in Dallas, said that Scholer is, technically, not the first judge in the 5th Circuit to rule that Title VII prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination. Judge Lee Rosenthal in the Southern District of Texas, in Houston, had ruled that Title VII does allow such claims, although that case — involving a woman who said she wasn’t hired by Phillips 66 because she is transgender — was dismissed “on the facts,” Upton said. That was “not a strong case, based on the facts,” Upton said, whereas “it sounds like [Berghorn’s case] is stronger.”

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Waco Tribune-Herald - July 12, 2018

McCaw alleges 'smear campaign' against Baylor athletics, more regent misconduct

Baylor University’s former athletics director accused various university regents of spreading false information, orchestrating a “smear campaign” and even discrediting the Pepper Hamilton LLP investigation that prompted high-profile firings and a storm of lawsuits and investigations amid a sexual assault scandal, according to a Wednesday legal filing. Still, Ian McCaw said 90 percent of the school’s regents wanted him to remain in the role before he resigned amid his own feelings of bitterness toward the board. Lawyers for 10 women suing Baylor under Title IX took McCaw’s deposition on June 19 in Lynchburg, Virginia, where McCaw is athletics director of Liberty University. Some details of that meeting emerged last week: McCaw accused Baylor leadership of pinning the university’s scandal on the athletics department, and specifically, black football players. He has also said regents wrote a “phony” summary of an investigation into Baylor’s institutional response to sexual violence reports. The university denied each claim. But according to the new details presented Wednesday, McCaw’s excoriation of regents continued in his deposition. McCaw’s full testimony has yet to be released. McCaw said Baylor regent Phil Stewart, president of a San Antonio real estate investment firm, conducted his own probe of the Pepper Hamilton investigation, which “went on to discredit Pepper Hamilton and the presentation, citing a number of issues, including false, misleading and racial insensitive comments.” He also said regent Mark Hurd told him Stewart “wrote a memo” of his findings. A source with knowledge of the situation said the board appointed a small group of regents to examine the Pepper Hamilton investigation in the wake of Stewart’s memo. The full board reaffirmed its confidence in the process in December 2016.

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Austin Chronicle - July 13, 2018

Public notice: “Gerrymandering is not a game”

In view of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision not to intervene in Texas' egregiously gerrymandered House and congressional district maps, the timing couldn't be better for Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, the first game release from Lafair Family Games. "We're three siblings from a gerrymandered district in Austin, TX," says the campaign page. "We wanted to spread the word about gerrymandering, so we invented a board game." "The more I learned about gerrymandering," says high school senior Josh Lafair, "the more I realized how terrible it is for our country. Today's partisan divide can be traced back to gerrymandering. Noncompetitivedistricts take away the incentive to compromise, so politicians don't need to reach across the aisle." The Lafairs insist this is a thoroughly fun and playable game in its own right. After all, oldest brother Louis, who just graduated from Stanford University, invented the award-winning Pathwayz board game at the age of 11 and got it published and distributed. And Mapmaker already boasts an enthusiastic plug from Steve Jackson, the dean of Austin's gaming community. But they hope players can learn from the game as well. Says Louis: "We've noticed that halfway through their first game, players often comment, 'I finally get how packing and cracking works.' Then they have deeper conversations about gerrymandering afterwards." The Lafairs just launched a Kickstarter page this week to complete production, got fully funded within six hours, and hit their first stretch goal on day one. But you can still jump on the bandwagon, and the campaign includes an interesting twist: Pledge $70 or more, and in addition to the game you get, they'll send one to your governor or state legislator. Pledge more, and you can get the message to more lawmakers. Buy the "Super PAC," for instance, and you get five copies of the game for yourself, plus they'll send copies "to ALL 9 Supreme Court justices, ALL 32 governors who have VETO power over gerrymandered maps, and ALL 37 state legislatures that DRAW gerrymandered maps" "We want all members of your state legislature to get multiple copies of Map­mak­er," say the Lafairs. "To remind them, before 2021 redistricting, that gerrymandering is not a game."

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2018

More Travis County deputies getting crucial mental health training

Friday marked the end of a week-long training program at the Travis County sheriff’s office academy in Del Valle for 26 officers from agencies throughout Central Texas to earn mental health certifications. Travis County sheriff’s deputy Wes James, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was one of 10 deputies who participated in the training. James, who now works as a student resource officer at Manor High School, said he’s seen mental health calls rise through his years in law enforcement. The rate at which law enforcement officers have responded to calls involving people with mental health issues has been on the rise since 2010, at both the city and county level, according to sheriff’s office and police records obtained by the American-Statesman. Records for the sheriff’s office show Travis County deputies responded to 375 calls for emotionally disturbed people in 2010. The total steadily climbed over the next four years to 743 in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the number fell slightly into the lower 700s, but it sharply increased to 824 in 2017. About 33 percent of inmates at the Travis County Jail suffer from a mental health issue, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kristen Dark said. The training educates officers about mental health conditions, medications and complications they can expect to see in people with different diagnoses. This kind of working knowledge can increase the likelihood that people in crisis could be taken to health care facilities when they encounter officers, rather than jail.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2018

Membership rules for Austin Planning Commission both restrictive, rare

When Austin voters went to the ballot box in the spring of 1994, they were inundated by nearly two dozen proposition questions regarding possible changes to the city’s charter. One of the 22 items was yet another an attempt to establish single-member districts for the Austin City Council. That proposition failed. So did Proposition 22, an amendment that would have prohibited Austin from providing insurance benefits to the domestic partners of city employees regardless of their sex. Voters easily rejected that headline-grabbing proposition, with 62 percent voting no. The majority of the other proposed amendments were largely characterized as uncontroversial items, changes designed to tidy up the City Charter and bring it in line with state law. Buried on the May 7 ballot, though, was Proposition 13. Its language called for adding two members to the city’s chief land-use board — the Planning Commission — and mandating that two-thirds of the board be “lay members who are not connected with real estate and land development.” The ballot question garnered little news coverage and sailed to passage with 67 percent of voters in favor. Twenty-four years later, an alleged violation of that rare provision of Austin’s City Charter has drawn the wrath of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who last week sued eight members of the all-volunteer Planning Commission. In a filing, Paxton’s office stated that the eight are connected to the real estate business, violating the one-third limit the 1994 charter amendment placed on the 13-member commission. It was the first time Paxton’s office had ever sued a city land-use board and possibly the only time Paxton has sued a volunteer city commission, according to a spokeswoman for his office. No other large city in Texas has similar occupational restrictions on its land-use boards. In Central Texas, Leander and Kyle both have the same one-third limit as Austin regarding board members with direct or indirect ties to the real estate business or land development. Their provisions appear to be lifted verbatim from Austin’s City Charter, and both were adopted when Leander and Kyle became home rule cities in 1998 and 2000, respectively, after their populations exceeded 5,000 people. Officials from both cities said that they have never received any complaints about the composition of their planning boards violating the one-third rule.

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Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2018

Here are the DFW Airport and Love Field routes that generate the most cash for airlines

Leading the way was DFW International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, which grossed $361.9 million from April 2017 to March 2018, according to an analysis by airline data provider OAG of flight schedule and passenger traffic data. That was followed closely by DFW Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which checked in with $358.4 million in revenue over the same time period. Flights from DFW to Sydney, Australia, brought in $304.9 million in revenue over 12 months, the third highest route out of the North Texas Airport. The market, operated solely by American’s Oneworld alliance partner Qantas Airways, features several of the hallmarks of a high-grossing route — specifically healthy business traffic and a long distance flown. London checked in at fifth on DFW’s list of top routes, the only other international destination to make the top 10. The rest of DFW’s top routes feature a mix of American hubs — in addition to Los Angeles and Chicago, there’s Charlotte, N.C., Phoenix and Philadelphia — as well as some popular destinations that feature competition from other airlines, especially Atlanta and San Francisco. While DFW Airport can support more than 1,800 daily flights, Love Field and its 20 gates can support only about 200 per day, meaning the revenue from each over the course of the year will be significantly lower. Southwest, the airport’s dominant player, also doesn’t offer business or first-class seating, and its network has historically favored short-haul routes, although that’s been changing as the airline continues to grow. Topping the Love Field list is the route to Atlanta, which grossed $56.9 million over 12 months according to OAG. Next on the list are Los Angeles — served by Southwest and relative Love Field newcomer Alaska Airlines — at $27.2 million; New York’s LaGuardia airport at $25.2 million, San Francisco at $23.1 million and Washington’s Reagan airport at $19.2. From there, it’s a steep drop-off as Love Field’s limited number of maximum daily flights — a legacy of the Wright Amendment Reform Act — restricts Southwest and other airlines’ operations. In sixth place is Las Vegas — where Southwest operates five daily flights — with $8.2 million, followed by Seattle — an Alaska stronghold; Denver, New Orleans and, rounding out the top ten, Phoenix, which grossed $5 million in revenue over 12 months, according to OAG data. Noticeably absent from Love Field's top 10 is Houston, where Southwest operates 20 daily flights to Hobby Airport.

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WFAA - July 14, 2018

Dallas wrestles with next steps for closed McDermott pedestrian bridge

The lead engineering firm told the city of Dallas this week it needs more time to determine if two possible alternatives will finally help the Margaret McDermott pedestrian bridge open. The hike and bike portion of the project that spans the Trinity River and holds vehicular traffic on I-30, was supposed to open in 2017, but even now there is no opening date. The pedestrian bridge is held in place by a series of metal rods attached to the bridge at the bottom and leading up to the top of two signature arches. The Calatrava arches, named after famed architect Santiago Calatrava, serve no functional role in the operation of the bridge constructed by TXDOT to handle traffic. But the strength of the metal rods running vertically across both arches are key in supporting the weight of the pedestrian bridge. Already the city has seen some of the rods begin to fatigue and crack due to wind vibrations, preventing the pedestrian bridge from opening.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2018

Congressman Poe to make final speech for Kingwood Area Republican Women as elected official

Retiring U.S. Rep Ted Poe will be the featured guest speaker at the Kingwood Area Republican Women luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 22 at the Walden Country Club in Atascocita. Poe has been friends with KARW members for years and the group wanted him to speak at one of their monthly meetings before he heads off into retirement. “He has been a friend of ours since the early days when he was running for political office. We have always supported him and helped Congressman Poe in his political jobs,” KARW Public Relations Chair Lanelle Johnston said. … “Before he retires we wanted to have him speak to us one more time before he is out of office.” The congressman will talk about issues he has been fighting for while in office such as border security and immigration issues. People can RSVP with KARW Vice President of Programs and Reservations Betty Newton at 713-444-5006 or email betnewt@suddenlink.net. A $20 fee is required for those who want to have lunch during the meeting. “(Congressman Poe) is highly respected and highly regarded. He’s been one special congressman that we have all followed and have enjoyed his tenure as congressman,” Johnston said. “We’re sorry that he’s retiring but we certainly understand and appreciate him wanting to spend the rest of his life with his family.”

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Star-Telegram - July 15, 2018

Denton police chief, 2 chief deputies resign, city officials say

After six years of leading the Denton Police Department, Police Chief Lee Howell has resigned and will now be leading the Saginaw Police Department, according to the City of Saginaw. Howell accepted the position of chief of police with the city of Saginaw and will begin his first day of work sometime in August, according to a news release from the city of Saginaw. Howell, Denton police Deputy Chief Roger White and Deputy Chief Scott Fletcher all submitted their resignations, according to Denton police spokesman Shane Kizer. Howell’s resignation will be effective Aug. 6, while Fletcher’s resignation will be on July 27 with White’s resignation following on Aug. 1, according to Kizer. At this time, the City of Denton has not given any details as to why Fletcher and White turned in their resignations. The city also has not commented on when and who it might appoint as acting chief in the interim. Howell began his law enforcement career at the Denton Police Department in February 1981, according to the news release from the city of Saginaw. He served as a patrol officer and field training officer, detective, sergeant in criminal investigations and patrol, and as a lieutenant over various assignments. Howell also spent 16 years as a member of the Denton Police Tactical Unit, including 8 years as commander. He became chief of police for the Denton Police Department in October 2011.

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National Stories

Washington Post - July 16, 2018

Trump-Putin summit underway, after Trump faults U.S. ‘stupidity’ for poor relations with Russia

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met here Monday for their first formal one-on-one summit, firmly shaking hands hours after Trump began the day by blaming his own country, rather than Russia, for the hostilities between their two nations. Seated alongside Putin, Trump began by congratulating Russia on successfully hosting the World Cup soccer tournament, which concluded Sunday, then noted that the United States and Russia have “not been getting along too well” in recent years. He said he hoped that would change and that “I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.” “Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said, as Putin slouched in his chair. Trump added that the “world wants to see us getting along.” Trump said he and Putin have a “lot of good things to talk about, and things to talk about,” including trade, military issues, nuclear proliferation and China, in particular their “mutual friend,” Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump did not mention Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign as one of the topics to be discussed. Putin, who spoke before Trump made his opening remarks, said to the U.S. president: “Of course, the time has come that we speak extensively about our bilateral relations and various problem points around the world. There are enough of them that we ought to pay attention to them.”

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Weekly Standard - July 16, 2018

WS: Danger and duty in Helsinki

Today’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin was scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. in Helsinki, Finland—6:00 a.m. on the American east coast. The meeting, hosted by Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, takes place in the capital’s presidential palace. This is not the first time Trump and Putin have met, but their earlier meetings were incidental to larger symposiums; the two leaders traveled to Helsinki specifically for the purpose of bilateral talks. It is strange—and probably regrettable—that the meeting has no clear agenda. Further, the two leaders will meet for up to an hour with no other staff present. The U.S. stands to lose much and gain little from direct talks with Putin. Trump’s attitude to Putin and Russia is deeply conflicted, but it’s fair to characterize it by saying that he tends to praise Putin personally even as his administration sanctions Putin’s cronies and stiffens U.S. opposition to Russian military advancement in Ukraine and elsewhere. That has led some observers—surely Vladimir Putin is among them—to suspect that Trump himself isn’t calling the shots on his administration’s policy on Russia. From the Russian point of view, then, the Helsinki meeting serves as a valuable opportunity to extract promises from Trump that run counter to U.S. interests and the administration’s overall stance. The perception that Trump is ready to give the farm away to his Russian counterpart is even more pronounced after last week’s meeting of NATO leaders in which Trump harangued his European allies almost as if they were adversaries. The president went on to qualify his characterization of the E.U. with the phrase “in the trade sense,” but the Russian leader will not fail to draw the conclusion that Trump is unhappy with his allies and ready to work more closely with Moscow. Putin can therefore be counted on to seek major concessions. Among the biggest of those: a moratorium on U.S.-led NATO military exercises in Poland and the Baltic states. Putin considers those exercises a potential threat, and Trump temporarily suspended similar joint exercises with South Korea in a foolish concession to Kim Jong-Un. When Trump was asked last week about the NATO exercises he was noncommittal: “Perhaps we’ll talk about that.” We hope the president will not to talk about that. Russian expansionism is more than a rhetorical goblin—just ask residents of eastern Ukraine or Crimea—and the NATO drills serve to deter Russia’s designs on the states of eastern Europe. Instead, we hope Trump will press Putin on Russia’s malicious activities in foreign elections, especially ours. Until now Trump has only raised the issue with Putin in a pusillanimous way, taking the dictator’s word for it that, as Trump put it, “he didn’t do it.” That won’t work anymore. The top US intelligence official says Russia is aggressively attacking US digital infrastructure and our election, but the president he serves regularly dismisses and downplays Russia’s malign influence and sometimes even blames America.

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Associated Press - July 16, 2018

Kushner tenants: We were pushed out for luxury condo buyers

The hammering and drilling began just months after Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm bought a converted warehouse apartment building in the hip, Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Tenants say it started early in the morning and went on until nightfall, so loud that it drowned out normal conversation, so violent it rattled pictures off the walls. So much dust wafted through ducts and under doorways that it coated beds and clothes in closets. Rats crawled through holes in the walls. Workers with passkeys barged in unannounced. Residents who begged for relief got a standard reply, “We have permits.” More than a dozen current and former residents of the building told The Associated Press that they believe the Kushner Cos.? relentless construction, along with rent hikes of $500 a month or more, was part of a campaign to push tenants out of rent-stabilized apartments and bring high-paying condo buyers in. If so, it was a remarkably successful campaign. An AP investigation found that over the past three years, more than 250 rent-stabilized apartments — 75 percent of the building — were either emptied or sold as the Kushner Cos. was converting the building to luxury condos. Those sales so far have totaled more than $155 million, an average of $1.2 million per apartment. This up-close look at one of the Kushner Cos.? largest residential buildings in New York illustrates what critics describe as the firm’s sharp-elbowed business practices while it was run by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and eventual White House adviser Jared Kushner. The Kushner Cos. told the AP that it didn’t harass any tenants to get them out. But the data suggest turnover at the building known as the Austin Nichols House was significantly higher than city averages for coveted rent-stabilized buildings, leaving behind a trail of anger, disrupted lives and a lawsuit to be filed Monday in which tenants say they were harassed and exposed to high levels of cancer-causing dust.

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New York Times - July 16, 2018

Tracing Guccifer 2.0’s many tentacles in the 2016 election

The message from WikiLeaks in July 2016 to a group of Russian intelligence officers who prosecutors say were posing as a Romanian hacker named Guccifer 2.0 urged swift action before the opening of the Democratic National Convention that month. “If you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo days prefable because the DNC is approaching,” the error-ridden message read. “and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” WikiLeaks had begun seeking stolen files from Guccifer 2.0 weeks earlier, after revelations that the Democratic National Committee’s server had been hacked, according to private messages cited in an indictment filed Friday by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The organization had told Guccifer that publishing the stolen material on the WikiLeaks site will “have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” But WikiLeaks’ administrators, including Julian Assange, its founder, did not know what was in the trove — they were simply seeking anything that would widen the divisions inside the party between supporters of Hillary Clinton and those of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who had also sought the nomination. The exchange offers a new look at the central role of Guccifer 2.0, the digital persona alleged to have been set up by Russian military intelligence, which passed the stolen Democratic documents and misinformation to WikiLeaks and some Americans, who then spread it through social media and news organizations. The indictment provides never-before-seen detail of how the Russian cyberspies operated, based on intercepts that had to have come from American, British or Dutch intelligence, interviews in recent months show. All three eventually got into the Russian networks, but it was the British who had first warned the National Security Agency that they were seeing the D.N.C.’s messages running through communications lines controlled by the Russian military intelligence service, called the G.R.U. The effort by the team that posed as Guccifer to disseminate the fruits of the audacious cyberattack shows how aggressively the Russian operatives worked in 2016 to interfere with the presidential election. They showed dexterity in navigating their way through the national political debate and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of American electoral politics.

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Rewire News - July 13, 2018

Powell: A looming family leave plan in Congress could harm parents with disabilities

As attention to the importance of paid family leave, intensifies, however, it is vital that the needs of all families be considered—including parents with disabilities. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate held a hearing to discuss potential federal family policies, featuring two competing proposals. Democrats advocated for the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (S 337/ HR 947), first proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in 2013, which would fund up to 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds salary for new parents, employees with serious medical conditions, and people who need to care for sick family members. Funding for the proposed bill would come from a small payroll tax, averaging about $1.50 per week for a typical worker. Conversely, Republicans testified in favor of a proposal that would allow for paid family leave for new parents only. Under the proposed plan, which has the support of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), new parents would reportedly be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave, but they would need to tap into their individual Social Security retirement benefits to do so. Paid leave for workers with serious medical conditions and people caring for sick relatives would not be available. There is another group of families that will likely be harmed by the Republicans’ proposed plan: parents with disabilities. Although the exact prevalence is unknown, researchers estimate that there are at least 4.1 million parents in the United States who have a disability and have children under the age of 18; several million more parents with disabilities have adult children. Further, 6.6 million children—nearly one in ten children in the United States—have a disabled parent. But although their numbers are substantial, these families have been largely overlooked in paid family leave discussions.

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Daily Mail - July 16, 2018

Bombshell Bourdain interview is published one month after his suicide: Celebrity chef unloads on 'rapey, gropey and disgusting Bill Clinton and hopes Weinstein is 'beaten to death in jail'

Anthony Bourdain pulled no punches in one of his final interviews as the celebrity chef slammed Bill Clinton for being 'rapey, gropey and disgusting' and spoke of how he imagined Harvey Weinstein dying alone in a bathtub. The globe-trotting food chronicler, who hanged himself in a French hotel in June, gave a lengthy and wide-ranging interview to journalist Maria Bustillos for her recently launched magazine Popula. The interview was conducted in one of Bourdain's favorite Irish pubs in New York back in February and was only published on Sunday. It covered everything from Weinstein's downfall, the Clinton-Trump election and even Jared Kushner's eyebrows. Bourdain - one of the most outspoken male supporters of the #MeToo movement - touched on Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct allegations, saying it would not have flown today. 'Bill Clinton, look, the bimbo eruptions - it was f***king monstrous,' Bourdain said, before describing the former presidents as 'a piece of s**t, entitled, rapey, gropey, grabby, disgusting'. Bourdain went on to condemn the way Clinton and wife Hillary 'destroyed these women' who came forward with the allegations. 'He is a very charming man, I met him, he's f**king magnetic. As is (Hillary). When you're in the room, you think wow, she's really warm and nice and funny. But the way they efficiently dismantled, destroyed, and shamelessly discredited these women for speaking their truth.' Bourdain, who had been dating Italian actress Asia Argento - one of Weinstein's first accusers, also spoke of Hillary's response to the wave of sexual assault allegations leveled against the Hollywood producer. Soon after the allegations started piling up about Weinstein, Hillary said she was 'appalled' and denied having any knowledge of what was happening behind closed doors. When asked about Clinton's response in his February interview, Bourdain said: 'I will tell you that as frightening as that was at times, when I sat there with Asia, as she texted her sisters… watching the Clinton apology on Weinstein, and (Asia's) watching this statement, there was a lot of anticipation. 'People were really hoping she'd come out with a… I don't know. Let's just say with something different. I immediately tweeted my disappointment, very much shaped by what I saw around me. And I will tell you, that was really f**king frightening, the reaction to that. You know, I voted for her.

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Newsclips - July 15, 2018

Lead Stories

CBS News - July 13, 2018

Intel chief Dan Coats says of cyberattacks, "We are at a critical point"

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of an impending, potentially devastating cyberattack on U.S. systems, saying the country's digital infrastructure "is literally under attack" and warning that among state actors, Russia is the "worst offender." Speaking at a scheduled event at the Hudson Institute, he adopted the language of former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet who, in the months ahead of the 9/11 attacks, warned that the "system was blinking red." Coats, citing daily attacks from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, said, "Here we are, nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again." He said the aggressors' targets were diverse, and included businesses, federal, state and local governments, the U.S. military, academic and financial institutions, and critical infrastructure. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security had already detected Russian government actors exploring vulnerabilities in energy, nuclear, water, aviation and manufacturing sectors, he warned. "All of these disparate efforts share a common purpose," he observed, "to exploit America's openness in order to undermine our long-term competitive advantage." Coats also said there was "no question" that Russia was the "most aggressive foreign actor," and its efforts to undermine American democracy are ongoing, even if they appear to have abated from 2016 levels.

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Washington Post - July 15, 2018

Trump told Britain to ‘sue’ European Union to speed Brexit, prime minister says

President Trump told British Prime Minister Theresa May that she should “sue” the European Union for a quicker Brexit, May said Sunday. “He told me I should sue the E.U. — not go into negotiations. Sue them. Actually, no, we’re going into negotiations with them,” May told the BBC in an interview that published Sunday. It is unclear how such a lawsuit would work for Britain, a member of the European Union, but Trump has often threatened lawsuits in dealmaking. The two leaders have disagreed on how May should handle the exit from the bloc, with Trump frequently haranguing her to hurry the process. Trump has frequently begun calls by asking her to rush the process. After he landed in Europe last week, the president conducted an interview with the Sun, a British tabloid, in which he criticized May. “I would have done it much differently,” he told the Sun. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.” He added: “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one people voted on.” He also described his advice as “brutal” but did not say what the advice was. May is politically vulnerable because of Brexit, analysts say, and Trump’s comments drove nonstop headlines questioning her policy. His comments to the Sun led to a furor in London, and he eventually seemed to backtrack, saying he would support May no matter what she did. “Interestingly, what the president also said at that press conference was ‘Don’t walk away,’” May told the BBC.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2018

Texas’ fetal burial law to go on trial in federal court

In a five-day trial set to kick off Monday morning in Austin, the fate of another abortion-related restriction in Texas will be decided by a federal judge — this one requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated instead of incinerated and deposited in a landfill. Lawyers for Texas plan to argue that the 2017 law, which has not been enforced, promotes respect for human life and the dignified treatment of fetal remains, pretrial court filings show. Abortion providers will argue that the law puts clinics in danger of being forced to close because there is only one known business willing to pick up, prepare and properly dispose of fetal remains — a bottleneck that could make it impossible to comply with the law’s demands if that vendor is lost. The state has already lost one round in federal court when U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks temporarily blocked Texas from enforcing a similar fetal burial rule in January 2017. In his ruling, Sparks said the regulation was adopted by a state health agency in an apparent attempt to restrict access to abortions while offering no health or safety benefits. Texas appealed, but the case became moot when the Legislature replaced the regulation with a similar state law in May 2017 — requiring a new round of legal challenges. This time, there is a new judge on the case, Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who is based in San Antonio but will preside over the nonjury trial at the Austin federal courthouse. Ezra replaced Sparks, who, in addition to blocking the original fetal burial regulation after a two-day hearing, has ruled against two other abortion-related Texas restrictions in recent years. Under the state law, health centers that provide care to pregnant woman must ensure that fetal tissue is buried or cremated — with the ashes buried or appropriately scattered — after an abortion or a miscarriage-related procedure. The law, which prohibits the sending of ashes to a landfill, would not apply to miscarriages at home or to early-term, drug-induced abortions that typically take place at home. The law was intended to take effect Feb. 1, but Ezra blocked state officials from enforcing it until he can issue a written opinion that is not expected until well after the trial ends. In temporarily blocking the law, Ezra was careful to note that he was acting on limited information provided by both sides, adding that he will be able to “render a meaningful decision” on the statute’s constitutionality after the trial. However, Ezra also acknowledged several challenges for state lawyers working to preserve the fetal tissue law.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 14, 2018

Garcia: Gutierrez and Gallego turn up the heat in Senate special election

The current special-election contest for the Texas Senate seat vacated by convicted felon Carlos Uresti has become a slugfest between Democratic hopefuls Roland Gutierrez and Pete Gallego. Gallego, the former District 23 congressman, started the verbal fisticuffs by branding Gutierrez a tax cheat. Gutierrez, a South San Antonio-based state rep, counter-punched with a series of attacks over Gallego’s 2014 acceptance of a $5,000 campaign donation from the GEO Group, a company that operates for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities. Gutierrez has called on Gallego to return that money in the form of a contribution to RAICES, a Texas immigrant rights nonprofit, as Gutierrez recently did with a $250 contribution he received from GEO. It’s also worth pointing out that many Democratic politicians have accepted GEO’s largesse over the years. In fact, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district includes part of suburban San Antonio (and whose campaign manager, Colin Strother, also works for Gutierrez) has taken $87,490 from GEO over the past 10 years, more than any other member of this state’s congressional delegation. As for Gallego, his attacks on Gutierrez are based on my June 23 column, which reported that Gutierrez has faced six federal and state tax liens in recent years, as well as two breach-of-contract suits involving his law firm. As the column pointed out, Gutierrez said at the time that he was in the process of appealing the largest and most recent of those liens, a federal income-tax lien totaling $60,284. Gutierrez subsequently won that appeal, with the IRS withdrawing the lien and acknowledging that it had been improperly filed. “My opponent is now using your article to beat me up with,” Gutierrez said. The phrase “my opponent” is telling, because, in a field of eight candidates, both Gallego and Gutierrez regard this special election as a two-man race.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2018

Three Texas connections of note in the latest Russian meddling indictment

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the latest Russian meddling indictments Friday, he proved that big news often has a Texas connection. Twelve Russian intelligence agents are accused of hacking and meddling in a case that focuses on stealing and releasing private information ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The indictment also provides insight into how the Russians who worked for the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency meddled in the U.S. political process through social media. Cyberattacks and interference on the U.S. political system began in 2014, and involved trips to Texas, fake community accounts and even rallies in Austin. Two Russian agents, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, used fake names to travel in and around the United States in June 2014 to gather intelligence for their interference operations. They visited Texas and eight other states on the trip. In June 2016, several defendants in the case posed online as Americans to contact political and social activists. One of the groups they contacted was a person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. The indictment does not identify the group or the person who communicated with the Russians, but it says the conspirators went under the name "Matt Skiber." When news of the Texas connection came out the Texas Nationalist Movement, which advocates for secession, put out a statement saying "had no knowledge of nor any involvement with the Russian-led efforts to influence" the election. As part of their effort to create influence in the U.S. political scene, some defendants in the case were tasked with creating social media accounts that appear to be run by American users. One of these Facebook groups was called "Heart of Texas," which also had a corresponding Twitter account called "@itstimetosecede." When Facebook took the page down last August, it had hundreds of thousands of followers. At one point in 2016, the Facebook group had a larger following than the official Texas Democrat and Republican Facebook pages combined.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2018

'No running or hiding': Trump's trade war starts to hit Texas consumers

For a consumer’s guide to President Donald Trump’s trade war, just take a trip to the local appliance store. Pocketbook pain that comes from ever-widening tariffs can already be measured there on the showroom floor, now that the president’s earlier decisions to impose import levies on washing machines and two key metals have had time to ripple through the economy. It begins with laundry equipment, which saw a 19 percent price spike in the U.S. over the last three months. But it doesn’t end there, with grills, refrigerators and oven ranges also running hot. “There’s no running or hiding,” said Daniel Pidgeon, chairman of Starpower, a North Texas retailer that’s received price increase notices from several manufacturers in the levies’ wake. That cycle could be instructive as Trump has now put tariffs on tens of billions of dollars more in goods — and threatened to ultimately enact duties on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth. Tariffs on products imported into the U.S. are taxes paid by American businesses and consumers. Each escalation puts household budgets in Texas and beyond in line to come under increasing strain, even before accounting for the retaliatory levies doled out by China and others.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2018

Texan's plans for homemade guns get OK from feds after settlement, and he says that spells doom for gun control

With a green light from the State Department, Cody Wilson is inviting anyone who wants access to his code to create firearms using a 3-D printer to, well, come and take it. But don't mistake this for a Second Amendment triumph, one of Wilson's lawyers says. It's more about the First. "I know people make it about guns, but it's about free speech," said Josh Blackman, who fought the government over the prior restraint of the files on First Amendment grounds. The settlement with Wilson's nonprofit, Defense Distributed, as well as the Second Amendment Foundation, was announced Tuesday. Plaintiffs claimed it as a victory in part because it’s a way to circumvent laws regulating how guns can be purchased. It started in 2013, when Wilson was ordered by the government to remove files he’d posted online that could be downloaded and used to make guns with a 3-D printer. At the time, officials cited regulations for exporting firearms. In the settlement agreement, the government gave Wilson's nonprofit the OK to distribute such files. Wilson agrees with the hype over the settlement — that it's a First and Second Amendment win — but he's also in it to "make a resource for American gun culture," he said. The settlement “strikes at the heart of future gun control,” Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2018

Twenty five years later, is Texas still a "shining light" for Title IX and women's college athletics?

Monday is the 25th anniversary of one of the most significant events in women’s college athletics history — the settlement of a Title IX lawsuit in which the University of Texas agreed to add three women’s programs. The settlement, signed late at night on July 16, 1993 by the lonely glow provided by a Coke machine, triggered a shock wave, then an explosion across women’s athletics; what started at Texas did indeed change that world. “Texas was the shining light at the top of the hill,” said Diane Henson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in that case. “Other schools thought if this is happening to Texas, we’re going to be dead meat. That Title IX suit impacted a big football school. The waves that rocked the rest of the institutions were enormous.” Twenty-five years later, schools around the country are keeping their eyes upon Texas for a far different reason — the recent reorganization and reshuffling of the athletic department, which included the official folding in of the UT women’s department into one now headed by new athletic director Chris Del Conte with two new lieutenants, both male. This spring, the only softball coach UT has had, Connie Clark, resigned after 23 years and was replaced by a male coach, Oregon’s Mike White. The women’s track team, once a powerhouse under Terry Crawford and later Bev Kearney, now shares the same head coach as the men, with Edrick Floréal taking over from interim coach Tonja Buford-Bailey. “We never had combined teams,” said Donna Lopiano, the former Texas women’s athletic director who help instigate the Title IX suit. In 2014, Dave O’Neill took over for the only varsity women’s rowing coach UT ever had, Carie Graves, who resigned after 16 years at the helm. O’Neill’s rowing program is now making waves nationally, but the women’s team in general has been navigating some choppy waters. Since the start of the current century, Texas women’s teams have won three national championships, two of which were led by Kearney, who recently settled a discrimination lawsuit against Texas. In that same time frame, UT men’s teams have won 12. Yes, Eddie Reese’s swimming program accounts for eight of those, but he was joined, most importantly, by football, baseball twice and golf.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2018

AAS: Texas must do more to end suspensions of youngest students

Just two years ago, Austin schools issued 321 suspensions to the district’s youngest students, those in prekindergarten through second grade, sometimes over infractions as small as using rude language or leaving the classroom without permission. Those numbers included 288 out-of-school suspensions and 33 in-school suspensions. This year, Austin had just eight out-of-school suspensions for that age group, and fewer than five in-school suspensions, according to preliminary Austin school district figures. That’s a commendable improvement, thanks to changes in district policy and state law allowing suspensions of the youngest students only when a firearm, act of violence or substance abuse is involved. However, as the American-Statesman’s Julie Chang recently reported, some Central Texas districts still suspend these students at concerning rates, continuing a disproven practice that disproportionately burdens boys, African-American and Hispanic students, and those with learning disabilities. Even in districts with falling suspension numbers, the job is far from done; the need for more counseling and mental health support in schools is undeniable. We urge the Legislature, which took an important first step last year in curbing the use of suspensions for the youngest students, to press the issue further next session. Lawmakers should empower the Texas Education Agency to hold districts accountable when they misuse their suspension tool. They should also create a central resource for training and supporting teachers who are dealing with difficult students in the classroom.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2018

Texas bikini bars fight seven-figure ‘pole tax’ bills, saying they aren’t strip clubs

Dozens of “bikini bars” from Houston to San Antonio are suing the state after the Texas Comptroller accused them of skirting the so-called pole tax on nude entertainment and slapped them with seven-figure fees, according to the lawsuits. The fight focuses on the state definition of nude, which includes any part of the buttocks or a woman’s breast below the top of the areola. And in federal court, the clubs are questioning why they are taxed for bikini-clad performers, but not concert halls or sports venues that host cheerleaders and musicians wearing thongs or cleavage-baring tops. The Comptroller’s office said it follows the law and determines which clubs should be taxed by looking at their social media posts and marketing. The office also sends inspectors inside to see what dancers are wearing. The fees are being contested in a state appeals process by 34 clubs across Texas, including a dozen in the Houston area. At least 27 more clubs have filed lawsuits, including 14 clubs based in Houston, according to the Comptroller’s Office. These are the latest in a string of court battles over the 2007 pole tax that lawmakers levied on strip clubs to fund programs that help sexual assault victims. It applies to sexually oriented businesses with nude dancing and alcohol consumption. The bikini bars are contesting the bills — some as a high as $1.2 million — calling them overinflated. They argue the state’s $5-per-patron fee doesn’t apply to their bars because dancers aren’t topless or fully undressed, according to several of the lawsuits filed in Travis County Court this year.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 15, 2018

SAEN: Gutierrez for state Senate District 19

Early voting begins today in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Carlos Uresti, convicted and sentenced for charges including money laundering and fraud. The Editorial Board recommends state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, to fill the seat. Of the eight candidates, two rise to the top to represent this sprawling district — Gutierrez and former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, who lost four years ago to Rep. Will Hurd in Congressional District 23. The senate district, which includes 15 counties and parts of Bexar and Atascosa, runs 400 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border to the New Mexico state line. Both candidates have similarities on key issues. Both have records they can be proud of — Gallego as a former state representative and congressman, Gutierrez as a former San Antonio City Councilman and state representative. But, we give Gutierrez the nod because of his home base — San Antonio and Bexar County. There is merit in adding another state senator to the delegation who mostly calls the city and county home. Gallego lists his home in Alpine, which is in Brewster County, though the congressional district he once represented covers much of state Senate District 19. Others running in this race are state Rep. Tomas Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat and brother of Carlos Uresti; Democrat Charlie Urbina Jones; retired state game warden Pete Flores, a Republican; Republican Jesse “Jay” Alaniz, a former Harlandale ISD president; Carlos Antonio Raymond, a former candidate in the House District 117 GOP primary; and Libertarian Tony Valdivia, who works for USAA and is a real estate investor.

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Star-Telegram - July 14, 2018

Kennedy: Don’t trust the media? Surprise: We have our doubts, too. But we’re not fake news

We know a little more now about why you trust or don’t trust the news. And we also know more about ourselves. Two recent studies, one by a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, tell us that readers trust us less now than a year ago overall, but trust their favorite news source more. But after a week when a globetrotting U.S. president refused a question from one cable news network as “fake news” and called another a “real network,” the UT Dallas study reminds us that journalists are not totally sure we trust each other. Assistant Professor Angela M. Lee’s study titled “We’re More Ethical Than They Are” won some readers outside the traditional academic journal audience by pointing out that even though journalists believe our co-workers are ethical, we’re also skeptical of other journalists. The other study, from the American Press Institute, showed that Americans whose parents grew up reading newspapers no longer understand print or online journalism. Half don’t know what an “op-ed” is (an opinion commentary) or how to tell an opinion post like this from a news report. Nearly half don’t know what “attributing” facts means. Two-thirds are confused about newsgathering methods.

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Texas Observer - July 11, 2018

A timely, enraging documentary humanizes the rape kit backlog crisis

In Texas, about 20,000 backlogged rape kits were identified in 2011. Since then, lawmakers have passed a range of laws and provided new funding to address the backlog. All but about 2,000 of the kits have been processed. But new kits have piled up in the meantime, and there’s no comprehensive total of how many have accumulated. (A new law passed last session requires the Department of Public Safety to implement a tracking system for sexual assault evidence by next year.) With insufficient state funds, Texas lawmakers are now asking private citizens to crowdfund efforts to clear the backlog. A law authored by state Representative Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, last session allows Texans to donate to rape kit testing programs when applying for or renewing a driver’s license. The measure raised nearly $250,000 in its first five months, but a Dallas Morning News editorial in June notes that an estimated $15 million is needed annually to test kits; Neave’s program is expected to raise only about $1 million per year.in I Am Evidence, a new documentary that powerfully spotlights rape survivors whose traumatic experiences have otherwise been boxed up and stashed away, thew problem thew la seeks to solve. Now streaming on HBO GO, the film is an enraging story of survivors who are forced to become advocates just to get basic attention on their most harrowing moments. Even then, they learn a system intended to protect is ultimately stacked against them.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - July 15, 2018

Texas Tech president visits Chinese universities, talks globalization in Chengdu

Three hundred of Texas Tech’s 3,000 international students are Chinese, President Lawrence Schovanec said in explaining why he spent a week in China visiting universities there and even giving a speech at Sichuan University’s International Curriculum Week in Chengdu. Chinese educators, Schovanec said on Wednesday after returning from Asia, are really intent on bringing the world to them and becoming both globally competent and globally connected. “There are great opportunities to still recruit Chinese students. They want to come, especially in the humanities and liberal arts areas. We don’t have visa problems, and we just have to be more aggressive in recruiting,” the Tech president said. Schovanec was impressed that administrators at nine universities he visited within seven days across China knew about Texas Tech, and they all knew that Tech has moved up in Carnegie’s highest research activity classification. He said the president of Sichuan University, Li Yanrong, told him, “Texas Tech has a superb reputation in China.” A vice president from Sichuan University told Schovanec that his son is a Texas Tech doctoral student, and marveled over Tech’s dorms and student recreation center. While speaking at the opening ceremonies of Sichuan University’s International Curriculum Week, Schovanec focused his speech on global connections and competency. Global competency is not a luxury for today’s students, he said.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2018

Austin mayor claps back at a constituent: Texas’ attorney general

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are exchanging words, as Texas vs. Austin tensions continue to flare. Adler shot back Thursday at an opinion piece by Paxton calling the city hypocritical and disdainful of the rule of law. “The city of Austin recently declared itself a ‘freedom city’ — meaning that it will make every effort to thwart enforcement of the immigration and drug laws duly enacted by representatives of the people, based on trumped-up claims of racism among its own police officers — while seeking to deny its residents the freedom to use a disposable bag at the grocery store, take an Uber to the airport, call your ailing mother while driving to the airport or have a compost bin in the backyard,” Paxton wrote in the op-ed commentary, printed in the American-Statesman last week. Adler posted an open letter response to Paxton on his website saying the attorney general, as a resident of the city and constituent, has a right to complain, but is flat wrong. “We get it. You don’t like the way we do things in Austin,” the mayor wrote. “I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth with you. Suffice it to say that Austin follows the law and does not thwart its enforcement, and we point out racial disparities only where they exist – and they do. “Besides, if I refute your every single claim, point by point, it would come off like an indictment, and that wouldn’t do anything for our relationship.” The problem with their relationship, Adler said, isn’t Austin breaking laws, it’s Texas passing new laws to overturn and undermine city ordinances.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2018

Petition filed to require an efficiency audit of Austin City Hall

Another petition has been filed with the city of Austin that could place an initiative before Austin voters this November. But this one has nothing to do with CodeNext. On Thursday, organizers with the political action committee Citizens for an Accountable Austin filed a petition with more than 33,000 signatures calling for an outside audit to examine government efficiency across the entire city of Austin. The Austin city clerk’s office has 30 days to certify the petition once it determines that at least 20,000 of the signatures are from registered Austin voters. The PAC’s treasurer Michael Searle said volunteers and paid workers began gathering signatures in May. They verified the signatures’ validity as they went on and found that at least 21,000 were from registered voters before they turned in the petition on Thursday. “I’m particularly excited about it because it has bipartisan support,” said Searle, who was an aide in City Council Member Ellen Troxclair’s office until March. Searle estimated that the audit, which would be conducted by an outside group and would examine managerial structures and other city operations for inefficiencies, would save the city $80 for every dollar spent. That figure relies on a back-of-the-napkin estimated cost of $2 million to conduct the audit.

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2018

City of Baytown sues cancer-stricken firefighter to avoid paying insurance claims

A firefighter battling cancer is being sued by the City of Baytown in order to deny paying him insurance coverage for his treatment over the last 18 months. Patrick Mahoney, a battalion chief for the Baytown Fire Department, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in December 2016, forcing him to have half of his thyroid removed and undergo continued treatment, including thyroid hormone supplements and regular blood work. Immediately after his diagnosis, Mahoney, 36, filed a workers compensation claim, seeking insurance coverage for his treatment, which he is currently paying out of pocket. Mahoney believes he was exposed to carcinogens as part of the hazards of his work as a firefighter, and Chapter 607 of the Texas Government Code, known as the "presumptive statute," ensures treatment of job-related illnesses. Mahoney prevailed in the initial benefit review conference with the TML Intergovernmental Risk Pool, the city's workers compensation administrator, and also won on appeal. After the appeal victory, the city decided to sue Mahoney in May in order to deny Mahoney's claim, retaining an outside counsel, attorney Brandi Prejean of the San Antonio-based law firm Thornton Biechlin Reynolds & Guerra. "(The city has) spent a tremendous amount of money fighting this, probably more than they would have paid if they had just paid the claim in the first place," Mahoney said. Prejean said in a statement Friday that the city has the right to appeal the decision. Mahoney's health insurance through the city does not cover cancer treatment. Two recent studies commissioned by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general U.S. population. This concern for the safety of firefighters led President Donald Trump to sign on July 9 the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which calls for the collection of voluntary data including whether a firefighter is a career professional or volunteer, years on the job, the number of calls responded to, and incident type so that researchers can better understand the impact of smoke inhalation and other job-related dangers that may lead to cancer.

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El Paso Times - July 13, 2018

Russian operatives posed as news sources from El Paso, other Texas cities on Twitter

Operatives in Russia posed as local news sources on Twitter from at least five Texas cities as part of the country's information attack against the United States during the 2016 election cycle, according to a report from National Public Radio. The pages, which purported to be from El Paso, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Odessa, were identified on a list of 1,100 Twitter accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia. Operatives with the agency posed as American Twitter users, partisan pages and news outlets. NPR identified 48 accounts that were billed as news sources for cities across the country, including one page named @ElPasoTopNews. The accounts in question did not spread misinformation; instead, they appeared to be trying to build trust with online users while growing their following. "Twitter accounts linked to the (Internet Research Agency) often impersonated local news sources in order to build credibility and sow disinformation narratives into targeted communities," reads a blog post from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian influence operations and first identified the agency's practice of posing as local news sources.

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National Stories

Politico - July 14, 2018

‘It's a big FU from Mueller’: Trump’s allies question timing of latest Mueller indictments — on the eve of the Putin summit.

President Donald Trump has accused special counsel Robert Mueller for months of running a politically driven “witch hunt” against him. The lead Russia investigator has now given the president and his allies fresh ammunition for that claim. On Friday, Mueller rolled out new grand jury indictments against 12 Russian military officials for their role two years ago in allegedly trying to subvert American politics — just three days before Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, exposing the former FBI director to charges of playing politics with international diplomacy. “It’s a big FU from Mueller,” a White House official said in an interview, speculating that it “wasn’t an accident” that the public rollout landed right before the Putin summit. “This is just one more case of political malpractice,” added Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser who remains close to the White House. “These guys all deserve to be indicted and deserve to be convicted. But to do it the Friday before the Monday meeting? Not so smart.” Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the Mueller probe, said he briefed Trump about the upcoming criminal charges earlier this week and insisted in a news conference that the timing of the indictments was “a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, and the law and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time.”

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New York Times - July 14, 2018

Women rewrite the political playbook and run as … themselves

After years of being told to put on a suit and recite their résumé, women running for office are now revealing themselves in more complex ways. The surge of women’s activism in the Trump era has produced a record number of women running for office. And after years of being told to put on a suit and recite their résumé — and smile! — female candidates are revealing themselves in more complex ways. They aren’t running as men, but they aren’t exactly running as women in a stereotypical way. They’re running as individuals — something like the voters they are trying to reach. On the trail, women are mixing discussion of health care and tax policy with intimate stories of debt and divorce, exposing their tattoos and, among African-American candidates, wearing natural hair. In ads, they are breast-feeding and talking about “handsy” men and their fights against gender discrimination. Studies have long shown that voters hold female candidates to a higher standard. They tend to support a male candidate they don’t like as long as they think he’s qualified, and they presume he is — after all, for several centuries, most leaders have looked like him. But women have to prove that they are both qualified and likable. That can seem like an either-or proposition. The old advice, strategists and candidates say, didn’t really work anyway. In focus groups conducted after Mrs. Clinton’s loss in 2016, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which works to help elect more women, found that voters want to know about a woman’s personal life. If she doesn’t share, they make assumptions about it.

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New York Times - July 14, 2018

Cleaning toilets, following rules: a migrant child’s days in detention

Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case. Lights out by 9 p.m. and lights on at dawn, after which make your bed according to the step-by-step instructions posted on the wall. Wash and mop the bathroom, scrubbing the sinks and toilets. Then it is time to form a line for the walk to breakfast. “You had to get in line for everything,” recalled Leticia, a girl from Guatemala. Small, slight and with long black hair, Leticia was separated from her mother after they illegally crossed the border in late May. She was sent to a shelter in South Texas — one of more than 100 government-contracted detention facilities for migrant children around the country that are a rough blend of boarding school, day care center and medium security lockup. They are reserved for the likes of Leticia, 12, and her brother, Walter, 10. The facility’s list of no-no’s also included this: Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita — your little brother or sister. Leticia had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But “they told me I couldn’t touch him,” she recalled. In response to an international outcry, President Trump recently issued an executive order to end his administration’s practice, first widely put into effect in May, of forcibly removing children from migrant parents who had entered the country illegally. more than 2,800 children — some of them separated from their parents, some of them classified at the border as “unaccompanied minors” — remain in these facilities, where the environments range from impersonally austere to nearly bucolic, save for the fact that the children are formidably discouraged from leaving and their parents or guardians are nowhere in sight.

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The Hill - July 14, 2018

Some MAGA hats made in China may increase in price because of tariffs

A California-based company that sells "Make America Great Again" hats similar to the official hats sold by the Trump campaign says its prices may rise in response to trade tensions with China prompted by President Trump's tariffs. David Lassoff, who runs the company IncredibleGifts, told ABC News that prices of the hat could double from between $9 and $12 to at least $20 if he is forced to abandon his Chinese manufacturers and make the hats in the United States. The hat, Lassoff said, is his website's best-selling item. He claims to have sold hundreds of thousands of the hat. "We usually sell the MAGA hats for around $9 to $12. But it could go up to $20 if we had to make them in the U.S. and embroider them here," Lassoff said. "There might be a limited quantity [of hats] in the future. We’re trying to make sure we have enough hats in stock now, so if things change, we’re prepared," he added. Lassoff's company is not involved with the official Trump campaign "Make America Great Again" hat, which, according to the campaign store's website, is manufactured entirely in the U.S.

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Wall Street Journal - July 13, 2018

U.S. and allies consider possible oil-reserve release

U.S. and Western officials are considering an eventual emergency release of stockpiled oil if new supplies can’t prevent another sharp rise in prices, according to people familiar with the matter. The Trump administration is actively assessing whether to dip into the country’s emergency oil stocks while it simultaneously pushes other countries to boost their output, according to people familiar with the matter. The discussions are part of a broader effort to ensure oil markets remain well supplied amid a host of production disruptions around the world, and rising global demand. Any draw down of the so-called Strategic Petroleum Reserve isn’t imminent, according to people familiar with the matter. Such releases have been rare, and typically only as a last resort. The current discussions about such a move—while preliminary—-underscore growing worry among consuming nations over supplies. OPEC and Russia have committed to pumping more crude to ease markets, but a host of global production constraints—and rising demand—have raised questions about whether that new oil will be enough. Some senior Trump advisers are strongly opposed to the idea, and the administration is primarily concerned with keeping its options open, according to people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, a group that advises industrialized nations on energy policy and coordinates emergency oil releases globally, told a private dinner last month that a release was an option if supply outages worsen, according to people at the dinner.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - July 15, 2018

Lobbyists target Conaway with local billboard

A Washington, D.C.-based doctors’ lobby group wants people on government assistance to have healthier diets, and it’s targeting the head of the House Committee on Agriculture in his hometown. U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway is the subject of a billboard in south Midland that challenges him to support the SNAP Healthy Incentives Act. The bill aims to amend the farm bill to add a financial incentives program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to purchase fruits and vegetables, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the group behind the billboard. Conaway is chairman of the House ag committee. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, helps low- and no-income people purchase food. It is part of the larger farm bill. On June 21, Conaway’s farm bill narrowly passed the House 213-211, with all 191 Democrats voting no. The Senate passed the bill 86-11 with several changes June 28, and both houses are heading into conference to resolve their differences. One major issue that Democrats oppose is the House’s proposed work requirements for SNAP recipients: People 18 to 59 who are able to work must work at least 20 hours per week or participate in a training program, with certain exclusions. In its press release, the Physicians Committee urges Conaway and other lawmakers to instead consider a financial incentives bill to get SNAP recipients to eat healthier foods. The sparsely worded billboard, which went up Thursday at 1503 Rankin Highway, addresses Conaway and encourages him to support HR 4855, the SNAP Healthy Incentives Act. A half-page advertisement addressing the congressman in the Reporter-Telegram’s June 21 edition is more specific: “Improve the efficiency of the program, and the health of participants, by emphasizing fruits, veggies, beans, and grans instead of soda, chips, meat, cheese, and energy drinks.” The same ad ran in Roll Call, a publication that focuses on D.C. politics.

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2018

For Louie Gohmert clash with FBI's Peter Strzok was another personal battle

For Texas U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, the Justice Department probe of possible Russian collusion with President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign has become personal. Gohmert, a former state judge from Tyler who said he's being "watched" by unspecified people in the Justice Department, was one of sharpest GOP skeptics in Thursday's House grilling of embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok, whom he accused of lying under oath. Gohmert brought down the house in a nationally televised clash by going somewhere few other lawmakers dared: He asked Strzok, who is under fire for sending anti-Trump texts during the presidential election, about lying to his wife over an affair he had with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. "I can't help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk — how many times did you look so innocently into your wife's eye and lie to her about Lisa Page," Gohmert asked Strzok during a joint hearing before the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees. Gohmert, elected to the House in 2004, is one of a handful of congressional Republicans who have called for Mueller's resignation. The episode continued Gohmert's long association with conspiracy controversies. He has been a target of derision on the left ever since he brought the term "terror babies" into the national lexicon. That started with a 2010 floor speech asserting that the FBI was looking at terrorist cells that might be sending women to the U.S. to have babies so they could then be raised as terrorists abroad – armed with U.S. citizenship, thus enabling them to return to commit future acts of terror on the homeland. Gohmert, 64, frequently tangled with Obama administration officials, particularly former Attorney General Eric Holder, who he once accused of failing to prevent to Boston Marathon bombing. In one heated exchange in a 2013 hearing, Gohmert famously mangled his words, saying "The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus." Holder recalled the encounter a year later, when he ended another testy exchange with Gohmert by saying "Good luck with your asparagus."

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2018

Mazzella: GOP can bolster moderate credentials with net neutrality bill

Amid a toxic political climate fraught with controversy and warring factions, centrist Republicans in Congress facing election across the country increasingly worry about being defined by positions they must take on today’s most divisive issues. That’s particularly true where swing voters in their districts believe that Congress is accomplishing little of substance. To overcome those perceived headwinds, such centrist Republicans should act now on popular, common-sense measures to assure skeptical voters that they can actually accomplish meaningful reform in sectors vital to the public interest. A perfect place to start would be “net neutrality” — the policy idea that the internet must remain free and open, and that no internet provider company should block websites, censor viewpoints or strangle competitors by gratuitously slowing down or manipulating their data. Voters and political leaders of good faith and across party lines, not to mention actual stakeholders, agree that America needs strong, permanent and comprehensive “net neutrality” protections and a compromise should be easily in reach. To date, unfortunately, the issue has remained marooned in a divided Congress. But a common-sense center recognizes that failure to secure necessary legislation to settle this issue poses immense risk for an internet sector vital to sustained economic growth. Accordingly, joining that common-sense coalition to enact permanent and effective net neutrality rules would allow moderate Republicans to demonstrate their effectiveness and independence.

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Los Angeles Times - July 15, 2018

In rebuke of Dianne Feinstein, Kevin de León wins endorsement of California Democrats in Senate race

California Democratic Party leaders took a step to the left Saturday night, endorsing liberal state lawmaker Kevin de León for Senate in a stinging rebuke of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. De León’s victory reflected the increasing strength of the state party’s liberal activist core, which was energized by the election of Republican Donald Trump as president. The endorsement was an embarrassment for Feinstein, who is running for a fifth full term, and indicates that Democratic activists in California have soured on her reputation for pragmatism and deference to bipartisanship as Trump and a Republican-led Congress are attacking Democratic priorities on immigration, healthcare and environmental protections. De León, a former state Senate leader from Los Angeles, received 65% of the vote of about 330 members of the state party’s executive board — more than the 60% needed to secure the endorsement. Feinstein, who pleaded with party leaders meeting in Oakland this weekend not to endorse any candidate, received 7%, and 28% voted for “no endorsement.” It’s not clear that the endorsement will have a significant effect on the general election. Feinstein crushed De León in the June primary, winning every county and finishing in first place with 44% of the overall vote. De León finished far behind with 12%, which was enough for a second-place finish and a ticket to the November election under the state’s top-two primary system. The endorsement can come with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money, which the De León campaign will have to help raise, as well as party volunteers and political organizing assistance. De León needs that support to increase his odds of victory in November. Feinstein had $7 million in campaign cash socked away as of May, 10 times what De León had.

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Newsclips - July 13, 2018

Lead Stories

Fox News - July 12, 2018

GOP Rep. Gohmert unloads on 'smirking' Strzok: 'How many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eyes and lie to her?'

An already raucous hours-long Congressional hearing into FBI agent Peter Strzok's apparent anti-Trump bias boiled over on Thursday afternoon, as a top Republican asked the "smirking" Strzok whether he was lying under oath the same way he "lied" to his wife while he carried on an affair with now-former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. "The disgrace is what this man has done to our justice system," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, shouted over objections by Democrats. "I can't help but wonder, when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eyes and lie to her about Lisa Page?" Democrats immediately erupted into more objections, with one yelling, "Mr. Chairman, this is intolerable harassment of the witness" and another calling out, "You need your medication." Strzok and Page exchanged numerous text messages on their FBI-issued phones expressing hostility toward then-candidate Trump in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, even as Strzok was a lead investigator on the Hillary Clinton and Russian meddling probes. Gohmert's question was just one of several tense moments in the hearing, the Republicans' first opportunity to question the embattled FBI agent publicly. Democrats frequently interrupted the proceedings during questioning by GOP representatives. At one point, Republicans threatened Strzok with contempt for initially refusing to answer questions on the Russia probe.

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Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2018

With school funding on their minds, four Dallas ISD trustees take rare step of playing favorites in Texas House race

With Dallas ISD poised to send millions of property tax revenue back to the state, and looming budget woes likely if the Legislature doesn’t address public school funding in a substantive way, four DISD trustees have taken an unusual step of raising their voices in a partisan Texas House race. The trustees -- Edwin Flores, Dustin Marshall, Dan Micciche and Miguel Solis -- have offered their endorsements en masse to Democratic challenger John Turner, a candidate in the Texas House District 114 race. It’s a rare move, given the non-partisan nature of school board races and the ideological affiliations of those involved. But each of the quartet -- a conservative, two centrists and a liberal whose four trustee districts overlap with District 114 -- called Turner a clear choice over far-right Republican challenger Lisa Luby Ryan, who upset Republican incumbent Jason Villalba in the March primary. For the first time in its history, DISD is expected to send money back to the state in recapture, the process of redistributing tax revenues between property-rich and property-poor districts. “We know what happens if we don’t get the support, because we’re seeing other large urban districts having to pay back millions of dollars right now,” Solis said. Turner -- who stated that public education is a central reason for running for office -- mirrored Solis’ concerns, calling school finance “a huge priority for the Legislature right now.”

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KXAN - July 12, 2018

What we know about the south Austin homicide, shooting spree suspect

Austin police say the man who went on a shooting spree on the city's south side Wednesday afternoon is also the suspect in the deadly shooting of Christian Meroney, 32, at the Post South Lamar apartments earlier this week. Charles Wilson Curry Jr., 29, is currently in the Travis County Jail charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after police arrested him at the Post South Lamar apartments Wednesday afternoon. Records show Curry lives at the Post South Lamar apartments. The Austin Police Department says it plans on filing a murder charge soon.

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Texas Observer - July 11, 2018

In race to replace Uresti, could private prison cash become a liability for Texas Democrats?

On Tuesday, Democratic state Representative Roland Gutierrez lashed out at one of his opponents in the race to replace Uresti, former Democratic Congressman Pete Gallego, for accepting a $5,000 donation from private prison giant GEO Group during the 2014 cycle. GEO operates immigrant detention facilities around the country, including ones now holding parents split from their kids. Gutierrez added he had also received an “unsolicited” $250 donation from GEO, but since donated the money to RAICES, a San Antonio immigrant rights nonprofit. Gutierrez called on Gallego to do the same. Gallego rejected the idea he should donate the $5,000, calling Gutierrez’s attack disingenuous. He said that he’s not currently accepting contributions from GEO and believes the company should use its profits to help reunite families. Last year, Texans for Public Justice found that state legislators accepted more than $225,000 in private prison contributions from 2013 to 2016 — many prominent Democrats included. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, pulled in $25,000. A movement targeting Texas Democrats beholden to the private prison industry would have plenty of targets. The 2018 party platform, approved last month, actually calls for “eliminating private prisons” in the state.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2018

Report: Austin selected as site of Army’s new Futures Command center

The U.S. Army has selected Austin as the site for its Futures Command center, according to published reports. The Bloomberg news service was first to report the development Thursday. Austin had been one of five finalists, along with Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Raleigh, N.C. The Army declined to comment when contacted Thursday by the Statesman. The Pentagon is expected to make a formal announcement at 9 a.m. Friday. The Futures Command center will focus on modernizing the U.S. Army and developing new military technologies. It is expected to employ up to 500 people. The University of Texas System Board of Regents has posted plans for a telephone meeting Friday afternoon to discuss leasing space in the system’s downtown headquarters building “to the United States government,” possibly the Army.

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Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2018

Jeffers: Race between Pete Sessions and Colin Allred could turn on their cultural, generational differences

The 32nd Congressional District race features a self-described new Democrat making his first run for public office and a powerful, veteran incumbent from the traditional conservative wing of the Republican Party. The reason the race between Democrat Colin Allred and Pete Sessions is attracting so much attention is a direct result of the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the Dallas-area district. That signaled to progressives that, perhaps, the district had evolved enough to give a Democrat a chance. The contest could turn on the candidates' cultural and generational differences, as well as the demographic changes in a district originally drawn to assure Sessions' re-election. To win, he has to turn out new Democratic voters to offset Sessions' structural advantage. Sessions and Republicans have pushed back against the narrative the he's in trouble simply because Hillary Clinton won his district against Trump. Every major Republican candidate, with the exception of Trump, won in the district, including Republican House members Jason Villalba, Morgan Meyer, Linda Koop, Cindy Burkett and Angie Chen Button, suggesting that down-ballot candidates didn't get caught up in a Trump backlash.

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Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2018

Schnurman: Small and mean: Texas wants to kill local efforts to require paid sick time for all workers

Is paid sick time a right or a privilege? That’s the crux of a political fight taking shape in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, and headed to the Texas Legislature next year. Federal law doesn't require companies to provide paid time off for being sick, but 10 states have adopted such provisions since 2011, and over 80 percent of full-time workers have the benefit. Still, many fall through the cracks, especially low-income and part-time workers. An estimated 300,000 in Dallas don't have paid sick time, and many cannot afford to stay home to recover or care for a sick child. On the most basic level, paid sick time is about strengthening the safety net. Without it, some of the most vulnerable residents suffer, chipping away at public health and the economy. On another level, the issue is about local control and state preemption. The Texas attorney general argued that state law supersedes local ordinances on paid sick time, and he’s fighting Austin’s recently adopted plan and warning San Antonio not to follow that path. In Dallas, business and political leaders often tout the importance of local control, from adding paid tollways to regulating payday lenders to embracing an anti-discrimination ordinance. Will they support this policy? That's still to be determined, and it could become one test of how far the region will go to address problems faced by the working poor. On Thursday, the Dallas city secretary was still checking signatures to see whether there were enough verified residents — 53,700 — to move forward with the process. She said an official count would be released soon.

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Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2018

Lupe Valdez to get new campaign manager

Democratic gubernatorial challenger Lupe Valdez has a new campaign manager in her longshot bid to unseat Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in November. The replacement of well-known strategist Bill Romjue with Tyler Tucker, who worked on the successful election of Democrat Ralph Northam as Virginia governor a year ago and worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign before that, joins a Valdez campaign that has struggled for months. Abbott has raised well over $40 million in campaign contributions compared with Valdez’ tally in May of less than $300,000. Valdez spokesman Juan Bautista Dominguez said Romjue is transitioning out as campaign manager to become a senior adviser after he was seriously injured when he was hit by a car outside a bookstore in Dallas on Feb. 24, just two days after he arrived in Texas to take over the Valdez campaign. Tucker served on the senior staff for Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2017 election as governor over Republican Ed Gillespie, in a race that featured debate on many of the same issues present in the Texas governor’s race: A ban on sanctuary cities, abortion rights, the death penalty, the high cost of college, gun ownership and decriminalizing marijuana.

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Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2018

HC: Fake anti-abortion experts got rich off the taxpayer dime. Thank Ken Paxton.

Reasonable Texans can disagree on abortion policy. But generally, we agree that government should be free of waste, incompetence and anything smelling of financial shenanigans. So, the revelation that a statewide elected official helped dole out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to unqualified consultants is cause for concern. The fact that the elected official is already under indictment for security’s fraud is cause for alarm. Ken Paxton really ought to know better. After all, he’s Texas attorney general. He should understand not only the letter of the law, but also its spirit. Instead, we discover that the AG’s office has been funneling public funds to a network of anti-abortion rights activists by casting them as “expert witnesses” with the qualifications to defend the state’s tough abortion restrictions in federal court. Our tax money has enriched these so-called “experts” for offering testimony that’s done little or nothing to help the state win its cases. Judges have repeatedly seen through the ruse and rejected their input as irrelevant, but this inside job is cheating taxpayers and needs to stop. Alejandra Matos in the Chronicle’s Austin bureau discovered the AG’s office has paid $500,000 to 21 supposedly “expert” witnesses to testify on abortion laws and regulations enacted since 2013. Testimony was dismissed because the state’s “experts” lacked medical or scientific credentials, because they didn’t know enough about the law, or because they were just expressing their opinions. Federal judges hearing these cases indicated they thought the attorney general’s office didn’t heed the difference between an expert witness — who’s supposed to offer relevant facts — and an advocate who simply spouts personal viewpoints.

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2018

HC: A floody mess: Congress needs to fix insurance program

Thousands of badly flooded homes are rebuilt, then flood again, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion in recurring losses. Indeed, a Houston Chronicle investigation reported by Mark Collette revealed that Houston has more properties with evidence of this problem than any other city. It’s a glaring issue that must be addressed as Congress reforms the federal flood insurance program. The underlying problem is that local officials, who sympathize with traumatized homeowners, deliberately lowball property damage estimates. That spares storm victims the immediate expense and ordeal of elevating or demolishing their homes, but it also puts them right back into flood-prone houses. And all too often, it saddles the federal flood insurance program with the financial burden of repeatedly rebuilding the same disaster stricken homes. One of the nation’s worst examples of this expensive phenomenon sits on the San Jacinto River in Kingwood. Since 1979, that house alone has been responsible for 22 flood insurance claims totaling more than $2.5 million. The federal program has paid out at least eight times what the house is worth. Without congressional reauthorization, the nation’s flood insurance program is set to lapse at the end of this month. Lawmakers in Washington have offered up a host of ideas for reforms, but none of them directly address the fundamental problem posed by local officials skirting their responsibility to adequately enforce elevation requirements for flood-prone properties. As the system stands now, local authorities are basically signing blank checks obligating federal taxpayers to repeatedly rebuild homes that ought to be demolished. That’s costing us hundreds of millions of dollars and endangering flood victims who are encouraged to keep living in disaster-prone areas. Unfortunately, it’s clear there’s far too much subjectivity involved in this process. The federal government must establish and enforce more rigorous, objective standards for setting damage estimates. And if local officials can’t do an honest job of realistically assessing the flood damage done to their constituents’ properties, that critical duty must be reassigned to other authorities.

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City Stories

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - July 12, 2018

'Operation Triple Beam' results in more than 170 arrests

More than 170 arrests were made during “Operation Triple Beam,” a 90-day operation that concluded June 30. The operation was a joint effort between the Odessa Police Department, the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, the Midland Police Department, the Midland County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety-Criminal Investigation Division, Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, according to a press release from the U.S. Marshals Service. Operation Triple Beam was an initiative to reduce violent gang crime by targeting and arresting violent fugitives and criminal offenders who committed high-profile crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault and sexual assault, illegal possession of firearms, illegal drug distribution, robbery and kidnapping, according to the release. Each agency utilized enforcement techniques and statutory authority in order to disrupt the criminal operations of violent gangs in the Midland/Odessa area, according to the release. The operation resulted in 172 arrests and the seizure of seven firearms, 1.064 kilograms of cocaine, 839 grams of methamphetamine, seven pounds of marijuana, $10,000 in currency and two vehicles.

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Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2018

Tired of dueling tributes, Mayor Turner asks city to rally behind one MLK parade

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday again called on the Houston community to unite behind one of the city’s two parades honoring Martin Luther King Jr., saying the two-decade feud that has split the celebration is “antithetical to the legacy and the message” of the slain civil rights leader. Flanked by numerous public officials, civic leaders and pastors, including the Rev. Bill Lawson and the Rev. F.N. Williams, both of whom marched with King, Turner backed the Black Heritage Society’s 40-year-old parade. Just months removed from the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, the gathering will become an official city event for the first time, the mayor said, receiving assistance and support from special events staff. “Far too long, people have been asked to divide their time, their energy and their loyalty between two parades while the city sits on the sidelines,” Turner said. “There are many people who don’t participate on MLK Day because they don’t want to pick one parade over the other, they don’t support the optics, and they just are frustrated by what they see. It’s certainly not a reflection of Dr. King’s legacy. Now is the time for us to rise above personalities.” For 17 years starting in 1978 — which by some accounts made it the first such parade in the country — Houston’s Black Heritage Society and leader Ovide Duncantell staged the only downtown MLK parade in Houston, led by people with connections to community organizations committed to advancing King's ideals of social and economic justice. In 1995, society volunteer Charles Stamps surprised Duncantell by applying for and receiving a city permit for a parade under the banner of a newly formed MLK parade foundation. Stamps’ event, known as the MLK Grande Parade, become a glamorous pageant featuring celebrity grand marshals and financed by corporate sponsors. Things went downhill from there, with Stamps and Duncantell — who was said to be in poor health and unable to attend Thursday’s announcement — taking turns accusing each other of profiteering on parade proceeds. Yet Stamps, who also has applied for his own permit for a Jan. 21, 2019 parade, said the mayor’s announcement simply was a public reflection of the quiet support city officials and other politicians long have given to the heritage society parade.

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The Atlantic - July 11, 2018

ICE welcomed in at least South Texas town

The immigrant jail outside Raymondville, a remote South Texas town, erupted in a riot in 2015, after years of alleged sexual abuse, vermin infestation, and overcrowding had made it one of the most notorious lockups in the country. Advocates hailed the prison’s closure shortly after the riot, but the loss of hundreds of jobs in such a small town was a major blow. Now, amid President Trump’s immigration crackdown, the facility is poised to reopen. Though two previous attempts to jail undocumented immigrants here ended in failure, local leaders recently signed a contract welcoming Immigration and Customs Enforcement back to the area, in the hopes that it will bring an economic boom. The new detention facility, formerly called the Willacy County Correctional Center, faces little local opposition despite the region’s demographic makeup: Almost 90 percent of the county’s residents are Latino, and 67 percent voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Even as “Abolish ICE” emerges as a rallying cry among some Democrats, in Willacy the influx of jobs will be a godsend, local leaders say. “I’ve got a lot of phone calls from [out-of-state] activists, but not my constituents,” Willacy County Commissioner Eliberto Guerra told me last week, as a small crowd of demonstrators drove in to oppose the new detention center. “So am I going to represent my constituents or activists? Because 95 percent of Willacy County wants the jobs.”

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Star-Telegram - July 12, 2018

Bell just got a big military aircraft contract. Will Fort Worth get any new jobs?

Fort Worth-based Bell and its partner Boeing have won a $4.2 billion military contract to deliver 58 tiltrotor aircraft over the next six years. Company officials say it’s too early to speak about whether the deal will lead to the creation of new jobs at the Fort Worth helicopter manufacturing facility. But the news certainly bodes well for the roughly 4,200 North Texans who already work there. “This multi-year production contract provides program production stability through at least 2024 and supports existing jobs,” spokeswoman Lindsey Hughes said in an email. Much of the work on the military contract is expected to be done in Fort Worth, while other portions of it will be done at Bell and Boeing facilities in other cities. Bell assembles the V-22 at its Amarillo location. Bell has committed to keep 4,500 employees in Fort Worth through 2020 and 3,900 workers through 2028, under terms of a $13.5 million tax incentive deal with the city of Fort Worth. More than 200 Ospreys — a tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane — are in operation with the U.S. military.

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Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2018

Clear Creek ISD security panel opts against metal detectors, armed teachers

Clear Creek ISD's school safety committee has advised against purchasing metal detectors and arming teachers, instead opting to back the hiring of 15 additional police officers and 15 student support counselors, according to preliminary recommendations. The committee will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. on July 16 to receive community feedback on the recommendations before presenting its final list to the district's board of trustees. The Southeast Houston-area district shares a southern border with Santa Fe ISD, where a 17-year-old gunman opened fire in the district's sole high school, killing 10 and wounding 13. Santa Fe ISD's own security committee is to finalize a series of recommendations at a closed meeting Thursday and will present them to that district's board of trustees at a special meeting on Monday. In Clear Creek, the committee's preliminary recommendations would increase the number of school liaison officers at each high school from two to three, and at each intermediate school from one to two. The committee also recommended establishing or expanding community policing and outreach programs such as DARE and Watch D.O.G.S. in elementary schools. Hiring 15 additional student-support counselors would help the district decrease its counselor-to- student ratio from one counselor for every 496 students to a ratio of one per 450 students, the state average. The recommendations also called for ensuring that classroom doors can be locked from both sides, limiting the number of uncontrolled access points, replacing older cameras, installing more panic buttons, adding bullet-resistant film to some windows and developing individual site plans for each campus.

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National Stories

New York Times - July 12, 2018

Justice Department plans appeal of AT&T-Time Warner merger approval

The Justice Department filed a motion to appeal the approval of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner on Thursday, extending the government’s legal challenge of a blockbuster deal that has reshaped the media industry. A federal judge signed off on the deal a month ago, saying the government, in its suit to block the $85.4 billion agreement, did not sufficiently prove that it would harm competition and consumers. Since then, the companies have moved forward with the agreement, creating a media and telecommunications giant. An AT&T executive is already in charge of the Time Warner properties like HBO and the news network CNN. The Justice Department’s legal maneuvering will not immediately change the business. But if the Justice Department ultimately prevails in its appeal, AT&T would have to detach the Time Warner business, now renamed Warner Media. AT&T’s general counsel, David McAtee, expressed confidence about the company’s chances in an appeal. “The court’s decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based, and well-reasoned,” he said in a statement. “While the losing party in litigation always has the right to appeal if it wishes, we are surprised that the D.O.J. has chosen to do so under these circumstances.” The Justice Department declined to comment beyond pointing to its filing to appeal.

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New York Times - July 12, 2018

As May’s government teeters over Brexit, Trump gives it a shove

President Trump put his brand of confrontational and disruptive diplomacy on full display Thursday, unsettling NATO allies with a blustering performance in Brussels and then, in a remarkable breach of protocol, publicly undercutting Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain in an interview published hours after landing in her country. In the interview with The Sun, Mr. Trump second-guessed Mrs. May’s handling of the main issue on her plate: how Britain should cut ties to the European Union. He cast doubt on whether he was willing to negotiate a new trade deal between Britain and the United States, and praised Mrs. May’s Conservative Party rival, Boris Johnson, as a potentially great prime minister. The interview was published as Mr. Trump and Mrs. May were wrapping up what appeared to be a chummy dinner at Blenheim Palace — earlier, they had walked inside holding hands — and a day ahead of the president’s scheduled meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. There was no immediate response from the British government. “Well, I think the deal that she is striking is not what the people voted on,” Mr. Trump said in the interview, speaking of the approach Mrs. May is taking to Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit, under which the British economy would effectively continue to be subject to many European regulations. Speaking of Mr. Johnson, who resigned this week as foreign secretary in protest over Mrs. May’s Brexit strategy and who has long been seen as likely to challenge her for her job, Mr. Trump said: “Well, I am not pitting one against the other. I’m just saying I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes and I think he’s got the right attitude to be a great prime minister.” Coming after his combative performance in Brussels with leaders of the 28 other NATO nations, the day amounted to a global disruption tour unlike anything undertaken by any other recent American president.

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Wall Street Journal - July 12, 2018

From seafood to mattresses: How the latest tariffs would affect U.S. businesses

The White House on Tuesday said it was weighing imposing tariffs on a further $200 billion in Chinese products, a move that could expose $250 billion of Chinese goods to U.S. import taxes. President Donald Trump has said he is ready to assess tariffs on yet another $200 billion in merchandise—or nearly all the $505 billion in exports China sends to the U.S. While some businesses have supported the tariffs, many have said they would hurt their profits or lead to higher prices for customers. The Trump administration has decried China’s habit of flooding world markets with goods—often made by state-owned enterprises—while erecting barriers to foreign competition at home, and forcing some businesses seeking access to the Chinese market to form local joint ventures and hand over technology as a condition to entry. The latest tariffs would put duties on dozens of varieties of seafood including tilapia, salmon, cod and tuna. Chemicals are another target, and makers argue the proposed tariffs could make raw materials more expensive while threatening access to a key export market. That could mean higher costs for farmers and consumers. The trade group estimates about $9 billion in chemicals-based exports are already exposed to retaliatory tariffs outlined this spring by the European Union, China, Canada, and other countries. Also affected are dozens of auto products, including everything from struts and parts for gearboxes to brake pads and windshield glass. Semiconductors and related products are among the tech goods hardest hit by last week’s levies on $34 billion of Chinese exports of machinery, components and electronics. Chinese-made mattresses would be subject to tariffs, according the latest list of proposed levies. The U.S. imported $1 billion worth of mattresses in the 12 months ended May 31, and about $850 million of that was imported from China.

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Politico - July 13, 2018

Poll: 64 percent of Americans want Roe v. Wade to stand

Nearly two-thirds of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, according to a new poll. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide should stand, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday. That is up 11 percentage points from 53 percent in 2012. The Roe v. Wade decision made its way back into the news after the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy – which gave President Donald Trump the opportunity to nominate a new justice. The president said he did not ask Supreme Court candidates about Roe v. Wade. The Gallup poll showed that 28 percent believe the case should be overturned, down 1 percentage point from 2012. Nine percent said they have no opinion.

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Washington Post - July 12, 2018

Allegations against Jim Jordan strike at the wrestling persona he has carefully cultivated

Wrestling wasn’t just a youth sport for Rep. Jim Jordan. It’s central to the Ohio Republican’s identity. When Jordan floated himself as a candidate for House speaker, his allies cited his history on the wrestling mat as a reason for how tough and serious he would take the race. “If Congressman Jordan decides to run, just like he did when he was a two-time national champion wrestler, I don’t think he’s going to run for last,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close ally, said the day after Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) announced plans to retire. A visit to Jordan’s campaign website finds this opening statement: “Jim Jordan’s background as a four-time state champion and two-time NCAA champion in the sport of wrestling helped prepare him to take on some of the toughest political opponents in Washington.” Now Jordan is the one under withering scrutiny as he faces multiple accusations that he knew or should have know about the alleged sexual misconduct of a doctor who worked with the Ohio State wrestling team when Jordan was an assistant coach there between 1986 and 1995. He has reacted to the charges with the same combative persona he has cultivated for years — denying he knew anything and aggressively counterattacking by raising questions about the motives of the former wrestlers who have come forward to describe the abuse. But it could be a perilous approach, with Jordan’s critics pointing out he has rarely given others the benefit of the doubt he is now expecting. Even his defenders acknowledge there were problems in the athletic program while Jordan was working there, and the state’s attorney general office, overseen by Republican Mike DeWine, is examining “acts of sexual misconduct” in several of the school’s sports programs.

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National Review - July 9, 2018

New: Recent polls overstate public support for Roe v. Wade

One key talking point among many abortion-rights groups is that Roe is a decision that enjoys broad public support and should be considered settled. Indeed, a flurry of polls released in recent days by NBC News/Survey Monkey, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Quinnipiac University all purportedly find that over 60 percent of respondents support Roe v. Wade. These polls are all misleading for several reasons. First, a significant number of Americans are unfamiliar with the Roe v. Wade decision. A Pew Research Center poll taken in 2013 found that only 62 percent of respondents were aware that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion. Seventeen percent thought Roe v. Wade dealt with some other public-policy issue and 20 percent were unfamiliar with the decision. Furthermore, even many who realize Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion fail to understand the full implications of the decision. Many wrongly think that overturning Roe v. Wade would result in national ban on abortion, instead a reversal of Roe would return the issue to the states. Additionally, many polling questions, including the recent questions by NBC News/Survey Monkey, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Quinnipiac University all fail to inform respondents that Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy and makes it difficult to place limits on late-term abortions. Historically, there has been very little public support for second-trimester or third-trimester abortions. For instance, a Gallup poll that was released this June found that only 28 percent of people thought second-trimester abortions should be legal and only 13 percent thought third-trimester abortions should be legal.

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Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2018

Trump's tough talk at NATO left a mess for ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison to repair

The dust President Donald Trump kicked up at the NATO summit left allies bewildered. And once he left Brussels on Thursday, the task of mopping up and smoothing bruised feelings fell to his ambassador, Texas' former senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison -- a traditional foreign policy hawk whose commitment to the alliance has always seemed far more solid than his. That was the former Texas senator at his side as he berated NATO's secretary-general over breakfast, in footage the cable news shows played in an endless loop. Years in the Senate had given her practice at keeping a straight face, though she looked no more thrilled at the rant against Germany than White House chief of staff John Kelly, whose fidgets, ear scratch and lack of eye contact gave pundits endless fodder. Friends and former aides have little doubt she disapproved of the bluster. Her style has always been more polite and assertive than coarse and belligerent. But after 11 months on the job, they said, she wouldn't have been surprised by anything Trump does, and they see no reason she can't continue as his ambassador to NATO. "There's the personal part, the style part, all of the antics. Twitter and the kind of Archie Bunker style, which Kay cannot like," Dallas businessman Jim Francis said. A top GOP donor and longtime friend and supporter of Hutchison, he's sure she finds Trump's style "repugnant." "Kay probably doesn't have a substantive problem with what he was saying, minus the insults." Francis noted that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also prodded NATO members to step up their contributions. "The difference with Trump is he goes in the room and smashes all the china," he said.

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Washington Examiner - July 11, 2018

Senate steps forward on paid family leave after more than a year of work with Ivanka Trump

Senators came together to examine ideas on paid family leave Wednesday, July 11, encouraged along by the support of first daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump. A key Senate panel held a hearing to weigh some of the ideas currently on the table following 17 months of talks between Trump and lawmakers. While Democrats have long supported paid family leave, Republicans in recent months have shown growing interest, even though the parties still disagree on policy details. The hearing, according to Trump, "represents an incredibly important opportunity for Congress to work across the aisle and advance a national paid family leave plan that supports American families and the American workforce." The U.S. stands in contrast to other industrialized nations that have set a mandatory or subsidized leave policy. The first daughter has not endorsed a specific idea, but her staff stressed in an interview that the main aim is to allow members to bring their ideas forward and arrive at a plan that gains support and can pass.

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