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MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Flushed Down
The Texas Senate seems primed to kill the bathroom bill passed by the Texas House on Sunday, so we’re still going to be talking about bathrooms for a while. According to the Texas Tribune, Senator Larry Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood, promised to reject the changes made in the House to his Senate Bill 2078, requesting the formation of a special committee to work out a compromise. Apparently Taylor thought the amendment to SB 2078 that targeted bathroom access for transgender students in public schools didn’t go far enough. “I heard it reported as a compromise, but it really doesn’t do anything,” Taylor said, according to the Tribune. But the amendment’s author, Republican state Representative Chris Paddie of Marshall, is sticking his guns and doesn’t seem particularly inclined to move forward on forming a special committee. “I don’t speak for the entire House, but I’d like to hear the reasons why before I say it’s something I think is necessary,” Paddie said, according to the Tribune. “I believe it accommodates all children and I believe that the House has taken a very thoughtful, reasonable approach to trying to address concerns that have been raised leading up to this session… I believe we did it in the right way.”

Wall Ball
President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal sets aside $1.6 billion toward his promised border wall, but according to the Dallas Morning News that would only go so far—about 74 miles, to be specific. Trump’s 2018 budget would pay for just 60 miles of new barrier along the Texas-Mexico border, plus 14 miles of replaced fences near San Diego. Based on this budget, the math puts Trump about $48.5 billion short of what would be needed for the “big, beautiful wall” Trump has promised would stretch along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border. Still, the Trump administration seems optimistic. “We are absolutely dead serious about the wall,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Tuesday after the proposed budget was released, according to the Morning News. But this specific spending plan for the wall may be a non-issue, given the fierce opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to Trump’s budget. Texas Senator John Cornyn called the budget “dead on arrival,” according to NBC, adding that most presidential budgets fail in Congress anyway.

Brisket Battle
Outspoken Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller took to the online pages of the Texas Tribune on Wednesday to write an op-ed addressing a matter of utmost importance to his Texan constituents: barbecue. Miller led off his piece with a Bible verse (Proverbs 20:10), because barbecue is the official religion of Texas, obviously. He went on to challenge Governor Greg Abbott to veto a bill that would exempt barbecue joints from state inspections of the weights and scales they use to measure meat. According to Miller, the current inspection law “prevents any dishonest business owner from putting their thumb on the scale and ripping us off,” but that the Lege has instead “decided that everyone that runs a barbecue joint is as honest as the day is long.” Miller says that’s a mistake. “Horse hockey,” Miller writes. “As Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust but verify.’ I trust my local barbecue guy, but I still want to see that when I buy a pound of sausage I’m getting a pound of sausage.” Miller clearly doesn’t mess around with his meat.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Court Crackdown
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court also handed down a ruling that may spell the end of the glory days for a federal court in Marshall, which has become known for hosting an insane amount of patent infringement cases. The justices ruled unanimously to make it more difficult for parties to file patent infringement lawsuits in courts that are friendly to their cause, according to the Washington Post. It overturns a ruling by a federal appeals court that allowed plaintiffs more room to pick and choose where their cases were heard, which resulted in a ridiculous number of cases being filed in the federal court in tiny Marshall (we wrote about that a few years ago). One single judge in Marshall oversaw about a quarter of every patent case in the country from 2014 to 2016. Now companies will have more of a home court advantage over so-called “patent trolls,” and the court in Marshall will likely be a lot quieter from now on.

End Of An Era
The San Antonio Spurs were eliminated from the NBA playoffs on Monday, swept out of the Western Conference Finals in four games by the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs were shorthanded against the best team in the league, with star Kawhi Leonard missing the final three games with an ankle injury, but it’s still a disappointing end to their season. Monday may have also been the last time we see Spurs legend Manu Ginobili take the court. Perhaps knowing the Spurs were unlikely to play another game, coach Gregg Popovich gave the 39-year-old sixth-man his first start in the playoffs since 2013 “out of respect,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. Ginobili made the most of the opportunity, scoring fifteen points with seven assists before heading to the bench with 2:25 left, as the home crowd showered him with cheers and chanted, “Manu! Manu!” After the game, however, Ginobili didn’t exactly sound ready to ride off into the sunset. “I do feel like I can still play,” Ginobili said, according to the Express-News. “But that’s not what’s going to make me retire or not. It’s about how I feel, if I want to go through all of that again.”

Rest In Peace
Texas learned Monday of the deaths of four beloved musicians: Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave died on Sunday after a long battle with cancer; George Reiff, another Austinite known for playing the bass and producing, also passed away Sunday from cancer; Barbara Smith Conrad, a world-famous opera singer from tiny Center Point, Texas, died Monday at the age of 79; and in Houston, blues-rock guitarist Kenny Cordray and his 33-year-old son were found shot dead in their home on Sunday in a possible murder-suicide. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the 61-year-old LaFave was one of Austin’s best-known musicians, seeing his biggest success was his 2001 album Texoma. He continued performing even after he was diagnosed with cancer. Reiff, 56, toured with dozens of Austin artists and produced albums for many more, and he once toured with Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, according to the Statesman. Conrad was one of the first black undergrads at the University of Texas-Austin, where she became a controversial figure in the national civil rights movement after being cast as the lead in a school musical opposite a white male actor, according to the Statesman. She went on to perform around the world for a bunch of different operas, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and the Houston Grand Opera. Cordray, 62, was a beloved member of Houston’s blues-rock community, according to the Houston Press. Police are still investigating the circumstances of his death.

Texas’ New Immigration Crackdown Appears To Be Headed Straight To Court

Texas’ New Immigration Crackdown Appears To Be Headed Straight To Court

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure into law on Sunday.

AUSTIN, Texas ― Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Sunday one of the harshest immigration laws to pass a state legislature since Arizona’s 2010 crackdown.

But opponents say the bill is headed straight to court.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund plans to file a lawsuit in the coming months that could block the bill’s implementation in September, its president, Thomas A. Saenz, told HuffPost.

“This bill is crazy,” Saenz said. “There are so many different legal problems with this, it’s almost like a law school exam intended to test your knowledge … I expect a judge will have problems with virtually every section of it.”

Senate Bill 4 bans so-called “sanctuary” policies that shield some undocumented immigrants from federal authorities by declining requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold them in local custody on the agency’s behalf. Under the law, no jurisdiction may refuse an ICE detainer, despite the fact that the Justice Department continues to view them as requests rather than mandatory.

“Elected officials and law enforcement agencies ― they don’t get to pick and choose which laws they will obey,” Abbott said in a Facebook Live video of the bill signing.

Jurisdictions that violate the law would be subject to fines and the loss of state grant money. Local officials face the possibility of getting tossed from elected office and spending up to a year in jail for refusing to comply with ICE detainers.

The new law also gives police the authority to question those they stop about their immigration status, drawing comparisons to Arizona’s 2010 immigration crackdown, which opponents dubbed the “show me your papers” law. The provision extends to police on university campuses, despite the fact that the state has another law on the books allowing undocumented immigrants to attend colleges at in-state tuition rates.

The Republican-dominated state legislature passed the law over the objections of immigrant rights groups, faith leaders and many of the state’s top law enforcement officials.

The bill offers fruitful ground for a legal challenge, critics say. Courts have ruled in the past that holding people in local jails who would otherwise go free on bond or because their charges were dropped violates the Fourth Amendment.

Critics say this law also looks too much like an attempt for Texas to draft its own immigration policies. The U.S. Constitution reserves that authority for the federal government, which pre-empts the states from creating or enforcing immigration laws on their own. Barbara Hines, who headed the immigration clinic at the University of Texas at Austin and still serves as a professor there, said there’s no federal law that criminalizes declining an ICE detainer.

“I think there clearly are pre-emption issues,” Hines told HuffPost. “Pre-emption would be a facial challenge, like in the Arizona bill, which means this would go straight to court before it gets implemented. Because what the state is doing is getting involved in immigration policy.”

Opponents argue that giving local officers the ability to inquire about immigration status would lead to racial profiling, which could also be challenged in court.

“We can only anticipate that vulnerable people will be subjected to profiling and other constitutional violations,” Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said on a call with reporters. “By giving local police the green light to inquire about a person’s immigration status, we know from experience that people ― that is citizens and noncitizens alike ― will be held unlawfully for extended periods of time while their status is checked.”

Texas has built a track record for passing laws with discriminatory intent that won’t help it in court. This year alone, federal judges have ruled that the state legislature acted with intent to discriminate against Hispanics and other minorities in two separate cases ― when passing a 2011 law requiring voters to present a photo ID to cast a ballot, and when drawing the state’s congressional districts in the same year.

The only Texas jurisdiction that has a formal policy limiting detainers is Travis County, which includes the capital of Austin. Seeking to avoid challenges to the new law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against Travis County and Austin elected officials that asks a federal court to declare the new law constitutional under the Fourth and 14th amendments and to agree that the bill does not pre-empt federal law. The lawsuit could force coming legal challenges to be consolidated into one case, according to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. 

“SB4 is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton said in a statement. “SB4 guarantees cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement to protect Texans. Unfortunately, some municipalities and law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with the federal government and claim that SB4 is unconstitutional.”

Greg Casar, an Austin city councilman, told HuffPost last week that several jurisdictions beyond Travis are already planning legal challenges to the new sanctuary policies law.

“We won’t be coerced,” Casar told HuffPost during a sit-in at the governor’s offices that got him and more than 20 other protesters arrested for civil disobedience. “Even if [Gov. Abbott] threatens us with criminalization, even if he threatens to remove us from office, we can’t betray our communities.”

Elise Foley contributed reporting. This article has been updated with a statement from the Texas attorney general.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Officer Involved
Former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver was arrested and charged with murder on Friday after he shot and killed fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards last weekend, according to the Dallas Morning News. This happened shockingly fast—in most cases when a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting, there’s a lengthy investigation and a grand jury is often involved in a months-long process. Even then it rarely results in murder charges for the officer. But in Oliver’s case, he was fired days after the shooting and was charged with murder within a week. Edwards, a high school freshman, is the youngest of 339 people nationwide who have been fatally shot by police so far in 2017, according to a Washington Post database. He was leaving a party with his friends when Oliver allegedly fired several shots into his car, striking Edwards in the head. He was laid to rest in Mesquite on Saturday.

Democracy In Action
Saturday was election day across Texas, with several notable local races. The mayoral races in both San Antonio and El Paso are headed for runoffs, according to the Texas Tribune. Incumbent San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor earned 42 percent of the vote and will face City Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who got 37 percent of the vote. In El Paso, former state Representative Dee Margo won 45 percent of the vote. Her runoff challenger will be David Saucedo, who tallied 24 percent of the vote. An eighteen-year-old high school student was elected to the school board in Pearland. Corpus Christi City Councilman Joe McComb won 52 percent of the vote and will become the city’s new mayor, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Hopefully McComb works out better than his predecessor, Dan McQueen, who lasted just 37 days in office before resigning amid questions about his resume. And Pasadena seems primed to elect local leaders in runoff elections who actually represent the city’s Latino population, under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice after a federal court ruled in January that the city violated the Voting Rights Act and intentionally discriminated against minorities.

Better Days?
Last week was pretty dark in the Lone Star State. Tornadoes left five people dead in East Texas, a fifteen-year-old boy was allegedly murdered by a cop outside Dallas, a student was fatally stabbed on campus at the University of Texas at Austin, a man fatally shot his own godfather and wounded a neighbor before shooting and seriously injuring a Dallas firefighter-paramedic, a gunman shot and killed a woman before turning the gun on himself at North Lake College in Irving, a high school student slashed the throat of a classmate in Fort Worth, and a crazed customer opened fire in an Arlington sports bar, killing the venue’s manager before he was shot and killed by another patron with a gun. Again, all of that happened in one week. That’s an average of one high-profile incident of disturbing violence per day. Let’s hope that this week we can focus on remembering the victims we lost and not add any new ones.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

More Tragedy
This has been a tough week for Texans; lots of bad, tragic news, from deadly tornadoes to the fatal police shooting of an black teen near Dallas to a stabbing attack at the University of Texas at Austin. The unfortunate streak continued Wednesday with a pair of deadly shootings in public spaces in North Texas. First was an apparent murder-suicide at North Lake College in Irving. According to the Dallas Morning News, the campus was placed on lockdown at 11:42 a.m. after shots were fired, and about an hour later police found two bodies, 20-year-old Janeera Nickol Gonzalez and 21-year old Adrian Victor Torres. Police said Torres had what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That’s pretty much all we know right now, but the incident left students terrified and shaken. Then, at 6:15 p.m. on the same day, a man walked into Arlington sports bar Zona Caliente and shot and killed an employee before the shooter was taken down by a customer with a gun, according to the Dallas Morning News. In addition to the two fatalities, one other person was injured by glass while attempting to flee during the shooting. Not much is known about the incident at this point.

Win-Lose
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Houston Rockets in a must-win game Wednesday night to tie the Western Conference Semifinals series one to one. But the Spurs lost veteran guard Tony Parker, who went down with an apparent left leg injury in the fourth quarter and had to be carried off by two teammates. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Parker will undergo an MRI on Thursday, but the general sense so far is that the point guard’s injury may be serious. “It’s not good,” head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game, according to ESPN. Spurs guard Manu Ginobili didn’t seem too optimistic, either. “It’s hard to see him limping and hurting now, and you kind of know we’re not going to see him anytime soon,” Ginobili said. “That’s a tough blow. We shall see. We don’t know.” The Spurs were already rolling when Parker went down, leading 97-83 before ultimately defeating the Rockets 121-96, led by Kawhi Leonard’s 34 points in a ridiculous 13-for-16 shooting performance. Leonard would likely move into a point-forward role should Parker miss time.

Untrue Crime
When news of Monday’s fatal stabbing at the University of Texas at Austin broke, it was quickly followed by reports of another stabbing incident in the nearby West Campus neighborhood. Well, Austin police checked that one out, and though they initially confirmed that there was a second stabbing incident, on Wednesday they said in a press release that the second stabbing wasn’t all that it seemed. According to KXAN, UT student Lewis Romel Yarbrough originally told police that he witnessed a man threatening a woman with a knife, and when Yarbrough stepped in to break it up, he was stabbed. This dude did get stabbed, but it was apparently the result of him playing with a knife. Not, you know, being attacked by an assailant. And get this: when Yarbrough finally admitted the truth to the police, he said he lied because he thought it would lead to his medical bills being covered. Now, in addition to his medical bills, he’s also facing potential criminal charges of giving a false report to a police officer.

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MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

UT Stabbing
As the University of Texas at Austin community continues to grieve following Monday’s fatal stabbing attack, more details are slowly coming out about the suspect. Law enforcement officials said on Tuesday that the suspect, Kendrex White, was suffering from mental illness before the incident, but they fell short of identifying a possible motive, according to the Austin American-Statesman. University of Texas Police Chief David Carter said White, a 21-year-old junior biology major, had been “involuntarily committed” recently in Bell County. That’s all we know about White’s commitment at this time. White was arrested by UT police on April 4 for driving while intoxicated. According to an arrest affidavit from that incident, White told an officer that he took “happy pills,” and a report filed by UT police said White told officers he was only supposed to take one 35-milligram pill of Zoloft, but that he had taken two of them at around 4 p.m. the day before. Carter also dismissed rumors that White was targeting fraternity or sorority members. “This was not a conspiracy,” Carter said. “This was not a person that had a vendetta against any particular group. We have solid grounds and reason to believe that the individual was suffering from mental health issues.”

Special Relationship
Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law on Tuesday that prevents the state from doing business with any companies who boycott Israel. “You can always count on Texas,” Abbott said at a public ceremony at the Jewish Community Center in Austin, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy. Texas is not going to do business with any company that boycotts Israel.” The bill had bipartisan support in the Texas Lege, and Abbott has always been a huge Israel fan. According to the Chronicle, Abbott praised Israel on Tuesday for its cultural and economic connections to Texas, and referred to it as an “essential international ally.” According to the Jewish Daily Forward, Texas is the seventeenth state to implement such a law. The signing ceremony just happened to come on Israel’s Independence Day too.

Public Enemies
Summer might be around the corner, but Texas’s pro sports rivalries are already scorching hot. A San Antonian pretty much blacklisted himself in the Alamo City by posting a picture on Facebook of a Tim Duncan jersey engulfed in flames. According to the San Antonio Express-News, David Sheffield-Scott posted the photo with the following poetic caption: “F—k the spurs y’all bout to lose 4-0 to the rockets y’all have absolutely no chance in this series f—k the players and the coaches.” The Rockets surprised pretty much everyone with a blowout victory over the Spurs in game one of the Western Conference Semifinals, so it’s not like the Spurs needed any more motivation before taking the floor in game two tonight. Meanwhile, tempers flared in Monday’s matchup between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers, their first series of the season, when an Astros pitcher threw behind a Rangers player and the benches cleared, leading to some pushing and shoving. The Astros stole the first two games of the series and will look to complete a three-game sweep tonight. Whoever you root for, it’s a good time to be a sports fan in Texas.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Civil Disobedience
Activists staged a daylong sit-in blocking the entrance of the State Insurance Building on Monday to protest Senate Bill 4, legislation that could effectively ban local governments from implementing sanctuary policies. More than two dozen of the protesters were arrested Monday evening and charged with misdemeanor trespassing, according to the Texas Tribune, marking the end of an act of civil disobedience that had begun at around ten in the morning. Among those placed in handcuffs include a local pastor and an Austin city councilman. “We know [Governor Greg Abbott] has set his stake into passing this unconstitutional and anti-immigrant law,” Councilman Greg Casar told a crowd of protesters after he was released from custody, according to the Tribune. “This community, we are gonna rise up. The day he signs the bill is only the real beginning of the fight on SB 4.”

Different Story
The Balch Springs Police Department originally claimed that a police officer fatally shot a black teen Saturday night because the car he was in was driving in an “aggressive manner,” but the chief of police retracted that statement on Monday. At a press conference, Police Chief Jonathan Haber said that after reviewing body camera footage from the incident, the car was actually fleeing when the officer opened fire, according to the Dallas Morning News. Haber said the officer’s actions “did not meet our core values.” Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards was shot in the head by the officer late Saturday night as he was leaving a party. Police had been called to the area after a resident complained about alleged underage drinking, and when officers arrived they heard gun shots, ran outside, and saw Edwards’s car backing away from the scene. The family’s attorney said Edwards and four other teens had also heard the gun shots and were simply attempting to get away from the party. The officer has not yet been publicly named, and he’s on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting.

Out Of The Running
U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro announced Monday that he won’t be challenging Ted Cruz for Senate in 2018. It looked like Castro had been angling for a Senate run for a while, but he’d apparently been non-committal right up until last week, according to the Texas Tribune. “I’ve kept my pledge to fight for hard-working Texans, and I’ll keep doing that,” Castro said in the email to supporters announcing his decision. “However, with the threats posed by Russia and North Korea, coupled with the reckless behavior of this Administration and their failure to invest in economic opportunity for the American people, at this time I believe I can best continue that work by focusing on my duties in the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees.” This opens the door for upstart congressman Beto O’Rourke, who announced his candidacy last month. It appears as though the 2018 Senate race will be a one-on-one affair: Beto vs. Ted. Let’s get ready to rumble.

13 Dead, Dozens Injured After Tornadoes, Storms Batter South

13 Dead, Dozens Injured After Tornadoes, Storms Batter South

The National Weather Service said that in addition to the flooding over the center of the nation, severe thunderstorms were possible from the Mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast on Monday afternoon and evening, bringing damaging winds, isolated tornadoes and possible large hail.

Canton, Texas, Mayor Lou Ann Everett said Sunday that at least four people were killed and 49 others were taken to hospitals after four tornadoes touched down in the eastern part of the state on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the damage was “devastating” during a news conference with local officials Sunday afternoon.

“You saw homes and other buildings that were incompletely flattened, as well as others that were nothing more than rubble,” he said, adding that he saw “large swath after large swath of devastation.”

Tornadoes, floods ravage parts of South and Midwest: At least 15 killed

The tornadoes touched down Saturday as severe storms ripped through parts of the South and Midwest, bringing heavy rain and flash flood warnings for a section stretching from eastern Oklahoma to western Kentucky and parts of Illinois.

The NWS said on Monday that “major to record flooding” continued over portions of the central U.S., including Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Rivers were expected to gradually recede over the next few days, the NWS said.

On Sunday in Missouri, the state highway patrol said that 18-year-old Gideon Jenkins died after his vehicle was swept away by flash floods while trying to traverse a low-water crossing area.

Another man, Clifford Brandt, 77, died after slipping and falling into a creek. And on Saturday, a 72-year-old woman drowned after her car was swept away by floodwaters. The husband of Madelaine Krueger attempted to rescue her, the highway patrol said.

In Arkansas, a total of at least three people were killed including a 10-year-old girl who died after being swept away by rushing waters in Springdale on Saturday, authorities said on Sunday.

Image: The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas
The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas on April 30. Brandon Wade / Reuters

The Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Sunday afternoon that Cove Creek Pearson Fire Chief Doug Deckard died during a “tragic accident” while serving in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm.

Another person was killed on Saturday after a tree fell onto a mobile home in Dewitt, Arkansas County Emergency Management spokeswoman Whitney Green said.

In Madison County, authorities were looking for two children, a 4-year-old boy and an 18-month girl, who went missing after they were separated from their mother after her car got stuck in high water on Saturday night. The county sheriff’s office said Sunday that the search for the missing toddlers had become a recovery operation, and that the two were believed to be dead because of their age.

In Mississippi, two storm-related deaths were reported Sunday, in Holmes County and Rankin County, where a child died from electric shock in floodwaters, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said. No details of the Holmes County death were immediately available.

A 2-year-old girl was killed Sunday in Antioch, Tennessee, when a heavy metal soccer goal toppled onto her in high winds, Nashville police said.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Dirty Work
On Thursday a federal judge ordered ExxonMobil to fork over nearly $20 million for spewing a bunch of air pollution into the skies near Houston, according to the Texas Tribune. The decision is a huge victory for environmentalist groups, including the Sierra Club and Environment Texas, who originally sued Exxon in 2010, alleging the company’s facility in Baytown exceeded emissions regulations by about eight million pounds of hazardous chemicals over a five-year period. The director of Environment Texas told the Tribune that the $20 million fine could be the “largest penalty resulting from a citizen suit in U.S. history.” In a statement to the Tribune, Exxon said it will consider appealing the judge’s decision. According to CNN, the court found that Exxon pocketed about $14.2 million by not complying with environmental regulations, and that the oil giant violated the Clean Air Act 16,386 times between October 2005 and September 2013 at the Baytown complex.

Infowar Lost
Austinite and Infowars host Alex Jones suffered a big loss in his child custody battle with his ex-wife. The verdict came in on Thursday in Travis County, and Jones’s ex-wife, Kelly, was granted joint custody with the right to have their three children make their primary residence with her instead of her husband, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Jones will eventually have visitation rights. The children had been living almost exclusively with media personality since the couple divorced in 2015. The verdict marks the end to what was one of the most bizarre trials in recent memory—that, of course, came as no surprise considering Jones’s line of work as the conspiracy theory-peddling host of Infowars. During the trial, Jones discussed in his testimony George Soros, chili, and Obama, among other similarly apropos things, and he even had a bit of an existential crisis after his own attorney asserted in a court filing that Jones’s Infowars persona was all an act.

Texas Showdown
It really doesn’t get any better than this for NBA fans in Texas. The San Antonio Spurs knocked out the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night to advance to the second round, where they’ll face the Houston Rockets in a best-of-seven series starting Monday, according to the San Antonio Express-News. This is just the fourth time the two franchises have faced off in the postseason, and it promises to be a true heavyweight matchup. The Spurs entered the playoffs as the NBA’s second-best team, and the Rockets have enjoyed an excellent season, too, finishing a handful of games behind the Spurs to land the third seed in the Western Conference. Both teams are led by potential MVP candidates, who have already performed exceptionally well in the playoffs. The Spurs’s Kawhi Leonard averaged 31 points in 6 games against the Grizzlies, while Harden averaged 33 points per game (while adding 7 assists and 6.4 rebounds) in 5 games against the Thunder.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Killer Stuff
Texas isn’t going down easy after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently told the state it could not use 1,000 vials of an execution drug that it imported in 2015. On Wednesday, Texas asked a federal court to overturn the FDA’s ruling, which required the state to get rid of 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental because it was unapproved and misbranded, according to the Texas Tribune. The complaint filed by Texas claims the FDA’s ruling is unlawful, arguing that it might make the Texas Department of Criminal Justice look bad. “The refusal order has caused, and is substantially likely to continue to cause, adverse publicity that has and will injure TDCJ’s reputation by asserting that TDCJ has attempted to import drugs in violation of federal law,” the complaint says, according to the Tribune. Sodium thiopental hasn’t been used to execute anyone since 2011, after the only U.S. manufacturer took it off the market because it was being used in lethal injections.

Unaffordable Housing
Houston’s affordable housing agency won’t be able to offer housing vouchers to more than 28,000 low-income families who are currently on a waiting list for the rest of the year thanks to federal funding freeze, according to the Houston Chronicle. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development halted funding to the local voucher program last Friday in an effort to help close the program’s projected $9 million hole, meaning tens of thousands of families waiting for vouchers won’t receive any for at least the next nine months. The Houston Housing Authority also plans to take vouchers from another 900 families who have chosen homes that have yet to pass inspection. This agency that has long struggled to effectively provide housing for low-income Houstonians. This will also likely halt the city’s promise to house 500 chronically homeless people by September. Instead, that total is now projected at 200.

Draft Day
Today is the one day every NFL fan can look forward to, even those who root for the hapless Cleveland Browns. The Browns have the top overall pick in Thursday night’s NFL draft, and if all goes as planned (never a guarantee), then Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett should be the first player off the board. Garrett dominated as a defensive end for the Aggies, and the Arlington native is a perfect fit for the Browns’ defensive scheme, according to the Houston Chronicle. He’s long been rated as the best player, regardless of position, in the draft pool, and he’s widely regarded as a can’t-miss prospect. The Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys are set to select from the 25 and 28 slots, respectively. The Texans plan to announce later round picks from outer space (yes, really), but they’ll stay rooted on Earth for the first round. It’s unclear who they may pick, but they definitely need a quarterback, and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes seems to be a popular candidate if he’s available. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are overwhelmingly expected to add to their pass rush or secondary.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Blood Money
Senator Ted Cruz thinks he’s found a great way to pay for President Trump’s border wall: drug money. According to the Dallas Morning News, Cruz introduced a bill on Tuesday called the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act, which, spectacularly, reduces to the acronym EL CHAPO. The bill suggests that the government tap into the $14 billion in assets currently being sought from Joaquin Guzman, the elusive longtime kingpin of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. El Chapo is currently incarcerated in Brooklyn. “Fourteen billion dollars will go a long way toward building a wall that will keep Americans safe and hinder the illegal flow of drugs, weapons, and individuals across our southern border,” Cruz said in a statement, according to the Morning News. He also made an online petition, so you can sign your name in support of the bill to “build the wall and make El Chapo pay for it!

Air Uber
Uber has ruled the ride-hailing market when it comes to ground transportation, and now it’s aiming to conquer the skies too. The company badly wants to make “intra-urban flying vehicles” happen, with the air above North Texas as its testing course. According to the Texas Tribune, Uber announced at its “Uber Elevate Summit” in Dallas on Tuesday that Dallas and Fort Worth are the first of its partner cities in its “Uber Elevate Network.” They hope to have a flying car demonstration over DFW within three years. “This is an opportunity for our city to show leaders from around the world and across industries why Dallas should be a part of building a better future for urban mobility,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement, according to the Tribune. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Uber has tapped Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter to develop its fleet. The helicopter manufacturer is working on propulsion technology to build electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that will supposedly be quieter than your average helicopter.

Get Well Soon
Former President George H.W. Bush is in the midst of another lengthy hospital stay. Bush was admitted to Houston Methodist on April 14 after he couldn’t shake a cough, and he was diagnosed with a case of mild pneumonia. His spokesman said last week that Bush would be fine, but twelve days later he’s still in the hospital, where doctors will keep him under observation for at least a few more days because of chronic bronchitis, according to the Houston Chronicle. The forty-first president is in the hospital for the second time this year. He spent sixteen days at Houston Methodist in January, including a scary stint in the ICU, while fighting a bout of pneumonia. But he recovered completely, and was well enough to take part in the coin toss at the Super Bowl in Houston in February. He is once again expected to recover just fine. “We continue to monitor his cough and breathing, and expect to discharge him by the end of the week,” Bush’s doctor said in a statement. “Once President Bush is home, we will continue aggressive respiratory treatments to help minimize the effects of the chronic bronchitis.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

ICE Cold
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents hit Texas with another massive raid, scooping up 95 undocumented immigrants living near Houston last week, according to the Houston Chronicle. Thirteen of those arrested in the raids had no prior criminal record. “The importance is to secure our communities,” Bret Bradford, acting field office director for Houston, told the Chronicle. “There’s bipartisan support for getting these folks off the street.” Similar large-scale raids have hit Austin and Dallas–Fort Worth in the past few months, but this is the first big one in Houston since President Donald Trump’s executive actions enabling immigration enforcement agencies to crack down on people living here without documentation. According to the Chronicle, ICE failed to provide many details about this latest raid, which went down in a five-day period beginning April 17. People were arrested in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, and Wharton counties.

Whole Sale
Prepare for the Whole Foods apocalypse: the popular chain may soon be sold to another grocery store chain. Citing anonymous sources, Financial Times reported on Monday that the supermarket chain Albertsons is exploring taking over Whole Foods, and the company is so smitten with the Austin-based chain that it has already had preliminary talks with bankers about making a bid. Albertsons became the third-largest supermarket chain in the country after it bought Safeway for $9 billion last year, so it’s a big enough player to make a move on Whole Foods. The Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, of course, doesn’t quite cater to the same uppity and hip corner of the market that Whole Foods has laid claim to, meaning the steady kombucha supply could be in flux.

Just Desserts
Austinite and Infowars host Alex Jones can’t catch a break. Jones has made headlines since last week amid a contentious child custody battle in Travis County, and now he appears to have found himself yet another enemy: big yogurt. Greek yogurt giant Chobani filed a defamation lawsuit against Jones in Idaho state court on Monday, stemming from articles and videos published by Jones and Infowars that falsely linked Chobani to child rape and a tuberculosis outbreak near its plant in Twin Falls, according to the Washington Post. The complaint alleges Jones’s website ran a series of stories that claimed Chobani and owner Hamdi Ulukaya hired refugee workers who brought crime and disease to Twin Falls, and suggested the yogurt company was responsible for a “500% increase in tuberculosis” in the Idaho town. That’s obviously false, but a court will determine whether it’s also defamatory. Meanwhile, Jones bragged in his latest Infowars video over the weekend that he’d slept with “probably 150 women, or more” before he’d turned sixteen, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Sure you did, Jonesy.

DALLAS POLICE ARE RESPONDING TO A POSSIBLE ACTIVE SHOOTER SITUATION AT AN OFFICE BUILDING

Dallas police said officers are responding Monday to reports of a person with a gun at an office building in the north of the city.

Police provided no other details, including whether any shots were fired or any injuries reported in 911 calls Monday morning.

Television footage showed a heavy police response, including a SWAT team, at the multi-story office building along an interstate. A broken window can be seen on one of the upper floors of the mirrored tower.

Dallas Fire-Rescue said they dispatched three rescue units to the scene. A Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman could not confirm whether there were any fatalities.

Hannah Greenhaw was among the workers evacuated safely from the offices near a multi-level highway interchange known as the High Five.

Greenhaw told KXAS-TV that people from an office across the hall came over to warn them to lock the doors because there had been reports of an active shooter. Everyone in her office hurried to a corner in the back and turned out the lights, she said.

Armed tactical police officers then arrived, entered her office and told the workers to put their hands up, according to Greenhaw. Officers helped evacuate everyone from the building, she said, with some people allowed to use elevators.

“There was a few of us who couldn’t actually walk down 10 flights of stairs,” Greenhaw said.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Call It A Comeback
Oil and gas in Texas seems to be rebounding from its worst downturn in decades, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Texas Petro Index released Thursday shows Texas’s rig count is up 80 percent over the first quarter last year, drilling permits have doubled, and statewide oil and gas employment has jumped. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, energy companies have added jobs in Texas for five straight months, while the oil and gas-linked manufacturing industry added a record number of jobs in February. Overall, 2017 is looking like it’ll be a pretty darn good year for oil and gas in Texas. Although recent years have shown slight improvements since the devastating downturn, it seems this year marks the moment the industry officially gets back on track. “We still have a long way to go,” energy economist Karr Ingham, creator of the Petro Index, told the Chronicle. “But 2017 is going to be a year of recovery and expansion in the Texas statewide oil and gas exploration and production economy.”

All You Can Eat Buffett
Warren Buffett is a really, really rich dude, and as a really, really rich dude he can apparently do things like meet with Texas’s top state lawmakers and, within 24 hours, have a custom-tailored bill bearing his name pushed through the Lege. Ah, the perks of being a billionaire. According to the Texas Tribune, Buffett met with Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on Monday, and on Tuesday, the state Senate used emergency powers to introduce Senate Bill 2279, also known as the “Buffett Bill,” which grants an exemption for Buffett from strict Texas regulations that prevent vehicle manufacturers from also owning dealerships, thus allowing him to sell his RVs in Texas. The bill was set for a public hearing before a Senate committee on Wednesday, and on Thursday, as the Tribune writes, “it shot out of the panel like a lightning bolt toward the Senate floor.” Meanwhile, foster kids are still sleeping in Child Protective Services offices.

Alamo Stand-Off
Just like when Davy Crockett and Co. went down swinging at the Alamo about two hundred years ago, the famed battle site is once again the subject of a contentious power struggle. Okay, so it’s not exactly the same as a fierce gun battle, maybe more of a political tug-of-war, but the recently revealed plans to makeover the Alamo have caused a bit of a ruckus in San Antonio. According to the San Antonio Express-News, not everyone is on board with the remodel plan. Two public meetings have been held so far to discuss the plan, and the second meeting on Tuesday ran twice as long as planned after 56 people showed up to address design team members, city officials, and representatives from the Texas General Land Office and of the nonprofit Alamo Endowment. There are a lot people killed at the Alamo—Mexican soldiers, pro-independence Tejanos, American and European settlers and adventurers—so going it’s tough to please everyone. It’s a delicate balance to preserve the historic significance of the Alamo while also bringing the site up to modern museum standards. A third public meeting is set for May 2.

Syria’s chemical program: Rubio ‘gravely concerned’ about Iran & Russia complicity

Syria’s chemical program: Rubio ‘gravely concerned’ about Iran & Russia complicity

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News he’s “gravely concerned” about the Iran’s role in helping Syria develop its chemical welfare program that ended up killing dozens of people weeks ago.

Rubio, a Republican, said he was troubled by reports that both Iran and Russia were complicit in Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons program. While the Trump administration accused Moscow of covering up the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S government has not mentioned Iran’s possible role.

“Congress and the White House should work together to hold the Assad regime accountable for its war crimes and impose harsh sanctions against its enablers,” Rubio told Fox News.

Mounting evidence shows Iran’s regime enabled Assad to develop a lethal gas program that he used on civilians earlier this month and in 2013. Assad’s Air Force dropped the poisonous gas sarin on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April, killing more than 80 people, many of them children.

IRAN ISSUES THREAT OVER US STRIKES IN SYRIA

In response to Assad’s chemical attack, the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Air Base, which served as the departure point for planes carrying the deadly nerve agent. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah have long used the Shayrat Air Base, experts say.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the attack in Khan Sheikhoun “indicate that sarin or a sarin-like substance was used.”

Iran sided with Russia’s denial that the Syrian regime did not use chemical weapons.  Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the “unilateral action is dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”

Assad first used sarin nerve gas to attack the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013, killing nearly 1,500 civilians, including 426 children.

Last July, Fox News reported exclusively that Iran sought chemical and biological weapons technology, according to multiple German intelligence documents.

The British publication Jane’s Defense Weekly reported in 2005 that the Islamic Republic of Iran worked with Assad’s regime to build an “innovative chemical warfare program.” According to the report, Iran provided crucial know-how to build equipment to produce “hundreds of tons of precursors for VX, sarin nerve agents and mustard blister agent.”

According to a WikiLeaks cable on the Iran-Syria chemical warfare activities, “New Zealand assesses that the cooperation is mainly driven by Iran’s desire for increased strategic importance in the region. New Zealand also assesses that Iran’s biotechnology sector is far more advanced than Syria’s, and Iran does not mind sharing its knowledge with Syria.”

US LAUNCHES MISSILES INTO SYRIA IN RESPONSE TO CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK

In 2007, a joint Iran-Syria project accidentally caused an explosion while attempting to load a chemical warhead onto a Scud-C missile, wrote Jane’s Defense. The deadly test killed dozens of Syrian military personnel and Iranian engineers.

Sarin gas, along with mustard gas and VX nerve gas, were cited as the lethal toxins during the 2007 explosion at an Aleppo factory.

Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the Washington D.C-based American Enterprise Institute, told Fox News that Iran has long viewed Syria as a partner.

“The thing that makes Iran so dangerous is it not only exports its weapons to proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, but it brags about exporting the ability to manufacture weapons,” Rubin said.

Rubin, who has written about Iran’s chemical weapons program, said it makes strategic sense for Iran to help other countries obtain chemical agents.

“Plausible deniability has always been central to post-revolutionary Iran’s strategic calculation,” he said, “and so to proliferate unconventional weapons enables Iran to avoid accountability by raising the number of suspects every time they are used.”

Fox News reported last week that defected Syrian Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat,  who oversaw the regime’s chemical weapons, said Bashar Assad  would not “completely give up” his chemical weapons arsenal.

The recent chemical attack debunked former Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion in 2014 that the U.S. “got 100 percent of the chemical weapons [out of Syria].

A 2017 Congressional Service report released this month said Iran not only has the capability to produce chemical warfare but probably “has the capability to produce some biological warfare agents for offensive purposes, if it made the decision to do so.”

The report notes that “this raises questions about Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8, 1997.”

The emergence of Iran’s role in enabling Syria’s use of chemical weapons comes on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying: “Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods.” Tillerson said this week, however, that a recent review shows Iran has been compliant with its 2015 nuclear deal.

During the Iran-Iraq war 1980-1988, both Iran’s Islamist regime and Saddam Hussein’s secular Baath party employed poisonous gas on soldiers.

Iran’s UN diplomatic missions in New York and Geneva did not immediately respond to requests from Fox News for comment.

U.S. May Not Be Able to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles, Say Experts

U.S. May Not Be Able to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles, Say Experts

Top generals have been insisting for years that if North Korea launched a missile at the United States, the U.S military would be able to shoot it down.

But that is a highly questionable assertion, according to independent scientists and government investigators.

In making it, the generals fail to acknowledge huge questions about the effectiveness of the $40 billion missile defense system they rely on to stop a potential nuclear-armed ballistic missile fired by North Korean or Iran, according to a series of outside reviews.

“They are leading political leaders to believe that they have a military capability that they don’t, in fact, have,” says physicist David Wright, who has studied the program for years as co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Related: Maybe Those North Korean Missiles Were Just Big Green Tubes

Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said the Pentagon “is confident in our ability to defend the homeland against ballistic missile threats.” While the program had reliability challenges early in its development, “we have made significant improvements over the last several years to ensure the system is able to operate as designed,” he added.

The missile defense system relies on 60-foot-tall, three-stage rockets of its own to knock the enemy projectiles out of space, a task that has been compared to shooting a bullet with a bullet. The system is known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD.

North Korea Missile Launch: Why Did It ‘Immediately’ Blow Up?

There are 36 interceptors in operation, according to the Missile Defense Agency — four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and 32 at Ft. Greely, Alaska. Eight more are due online by year’s end. In contrast to the Iron Dome system in Israel, which is designed to counter shorter range missiles and artillery, the GMD is made to hit missiles above the earth’s atmosphere — a more difficult proposition. It is among the heirs to the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called Star Wars program launched under Ronald Reagan.

Related: Trump’s Options for North Korea Include Putting Nukes in South Korea

The missiles are based in Alaska and California because the West Coast is the best place from which to intercept missiles that would travel the shortest routes from both Iran and North Korea. Congress has pushed for a third site on the East Coast.

Image: A flight test of the exercising elements of the GMD system launched at the Vandenberg AFB
A flight test of the exercising elements of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is launched by the 30th Space Wing and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency at the Vandenberg AFB, California on June 22, 2014. Gene Blevins / Reuters file

Intelligence agencies don’t assess that North Korea is yet capable of firing a nuclear-armed missile at the U.S., but analysts believe it is on course to reach that goal.

But even through the system has been fielded, it hasn’t been proven to work.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the agency that runs the missile defense system “has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the U.S. homeland.”

In nine simulated attacks since the system was deployed in 2004, interceptors have failed to take out their targets six times, even though the flight tests were far less challenging than an actual attack, according to The Los Angeles Times, which published an investigation of the missile defense system last year that uncovered a previously unknown test failure.

North Korea is putting missile program ‘into overdrive,’ expert warns 2:24

“Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system’s performance has gotten worse, not better,” The Times concluded.

Last July, the highly regarded Union of Concerned Scientists, which is often skeptical of military programs, weighed in with a 47-page report calling the U.S. approach to missile defense “disastrous.” Of the GMD, it concluded: “Its test record is poor and it has no demonstrated ability to stop an incoming missile under real-world conditions.”

A 2012 National Academy of Sciences study called the GMD “deficient” and recommended a complete overhaul of the interceptors, sensors, and concept of operations. No such overhaul has happened.

A senior Congressional aide who regularly receives classified briefings on the system told NBC News Tuesday: “None of this stuff works reliably. Nothing. Their interceptor programs are not working. They shoot down targets some of the time, but it’s not reliable enough that we would want to risk the catastrophic failure of a miss.”

The Pentagon and its Missile Defense Agency strongly disagree. Officials have repeatedly assured lawmakers and the public that the system, despite its testing failures, is up to the task of protecting the United States.

“Today we have exactly what we need to defend the United States of America against North Korea,” Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 6.

Sen Lindsey Graham asked: “So if a missile were launched from North Korea in the next year we could knock it down?”

“Yes sir,” Robinson replied.

There is no basis for such certainty, Wright and other experts say.

The Pentagon has spent more than $40 billion to field a system that has not been proven in a real world scenario.

Related: Experts Say North Korea Is Showing Off Missiles That Can’t Fly

The system has failed about half the time in tests that are scripted, Wright says — meaning those operating the missile defense system have information about the target they would not have in real life. In 2002, the program was exempted from normal testing and procurement standards so that it could be deployed faster.

The system has still not been tested against realistic targets such as tumbling warheads, warheads accompanied by credible decoys, or warheads traveling at speeds and from distances similar to that of incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs),” the Union of Concerned Scientists report said. “Nearly 15 years after the GMD system was put on the fast track, the Pentagon’s own testing officials have said the system has not demonstrated an operationally useful capability to defend the U.S. public from a missile attack.”

Johnson, the missile agency spokesman, disputed that, asserting that the system had relied on “operationally realistic intercept tests.”

Image: Television pictures in South Korea showed file footage of a North Korean ballistic missile.
Television pictures in South Korea showed file footage of a North Korean ballistic missile. Ahn Young-joon / AP

Military officials have acknowledged that the technology is not where they would like it to be. One of the ways they would seek to improve their odds is to fire four or five interceptors at any one missile, under what is known as “shot doctrine.”

“Today the shot doctrine, or number of (interceptors) launched at one incoming long range ballistic missile to ensure success, would be a high number,” says the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a group of contractors that build the systems, on its web site.

However, the Union of Concerned Scientists has calculated that if five warheads were headed to the U.S., and each interceptor had a 50 percent chance of hitting its target, there would be a 28 percent chance that one warhead would get through. Those are not odds a president would want to rely on in the case of a nuclear weapon.

Related: U.S. Begins Shipping Controversial Anti-Missile System to South Korea

Moreover, those odds leave aside the potential use of decoys and countermeasures, which has bedeviled missile defense for years. The GMD relies on heat sensors to distinguish between the real warhead and decoys, Wright said, but that could be defeated by something as simple as using liquid nitrogen to cool the warhead before launch.

Supporters of the program argue that failed tests are part of the learning process.

“In the space business, that’s how you go fast,” said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, in a recent appearance before Congress.

“Von Braun, in the early days of the rocket business, he had a 60 percent failure rate; maybe the greatest rocket scientist of all time,” he added, referring to German scientist Wernher von Braun, who is credited with inventing the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany before being secretly spirited to the U.S., where he developed the Saturn V, which propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the moon.

But the problem, Wright and other critics say, is that the generals aren’t leveling with Congress and the American people about the uncertain state of the current technology. And they are spending billions fielding a system that may not work.

“More money to buy more bad stuff is not the answer,” the senior Congressional aide said. “More for research and development is the answer.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Plot Foiled
The FBI arrested a man who was allegedly planning a mass shooting in Austin, according to the Austin American-Statesman. According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court on Monday, 50-year-old Steven Thomas Boehle was arrested last week on weapons charges after police, acting on a search warrant for a narcotics investigation, seized three guns and 1,100 rounds of ammo from his South Austin residence. A confidential FBI source alleged Boehle is a right-wing extremist who was plotting a mass shooting, telling the federal officials that he “exhibits sovereign citizen extremism ideology.” The court filing doesn’t say anything more specific about what, exactly, Boehle was planning, and the FBI has yet to release any more information. Boehle is also charged with making a false statement after he tried and failed three times to purchase a firearm in Austin, responding “no” each time to the question asking if he had ever been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Boehle is banned from purchasing a firearm because he was convicted of assaulting his in Connecticut in 1993.

Last Call
The head of Texas’s alcoholic beverage regulatory agency resigned on Monday, likely as a result of recent revelations that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage brass essentially used the agency’s publicly funded coffers as their own personal vacation fund. No one seems particularly upset that TABC Director Sherry Cook is out. “It’s time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a tweet Monday afternoon, according to the Texas Tribune. “This is a good start.” Abbott called Cook’s departure a resignation, while the TABC said in a statement that Cook retired. The Tribune first reported the TABC’s spending habits back in March, uncovering the agency’s tendency to blow thousands of dollars on cross-country trips to party it up with liquor industry lobbyists at conferences in beach locales like Hawaii, San Diego, and Florida. Someone at the agency even created a bizarre illustrated cartoon thing for one conference, featuring top officials sharing a few six-packs of Lone Star in a private jet. Last week, TABC officials were grilled by the House for their frivolous spending.

Prepared For Takeoff
The Houston Astros won their fifth-straight game on Monday, propelling the team to a 9-4 record to start the 2017 season, tying the mark for the best start in franchise history, according to the Houston Chronicle. Pretty much everything is clicking for the Astros right now. As of Tuesday, they’re tied for the best record in baseball among teams that have also played thirteen games (the Orioles, 8-3, are the only team with a better winning percentage, but they’ve played two fewer games). They’re currently sitting atop ESPN’s MLB power rankings. They’re among the American League leaders in team batting average, ERA, and strikeouts, led by Jose Altuve (.320 average) and a resurgent Dallas Keuchel, who is 2-0 with a sparkling 0.86 ERA through 21 innings. To top it off, some of Houston’s bigger bats haven’t really gotten going yet—star shortstop Carlos Correa is hitting just .234 and Cuban third baseman Yuli Gurriel is hitting .243—so you know better days are on the horizon for that lineup. It’s only the second week of the season, but it seems like the Astros might finally be able to put it all together this year.

On North Korean border, Pence tells CNN US will drop ‘failed policy’

On North Korean border, Pence tells CNN US will drop ‘failed policy’

“We’re going to abandon the failed policy of strategic patience. But we’re going to redouble our efforts to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea. Our hope is that we can resolve this issue peaceably,” Pence said in an exclusive interview at the DMZ.
What is the DMZ?

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) is a heavily-fortified buffer, four kilometers (2.5 miles) wide and 250 kilometers (160 miles) long, that separates North and South Korea.

It was established by the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, though both sides technically remain at conflict as no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Numerous US officials have visited military bases overlooking the border, and the Panmunjom Joint Security Area, where North and South Korean soldiers stand watch facing each other and several meeting rooms straddle the border between the two countries.

To achieve this new strategy, the administration is relying heavily on China, a country President Donald Trump spent his entire campaign railing against, but has since stopped as it became clear North Korea would be a top priority requiring China’s help.
“I know the President was heartened by his discussions with President Xi (Jinping). We’ve seen China begin to take some actions to bring pressure on North Korea but there needs to be more,” Pence said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a daily briefing Monday that the onus was on all parties — including the US and China — to reach a peaceful solution.
“Resolving this issue requires all relevant parties, especially parties that bear major responsibility and play a key role in this issue, to work in the same direction and make a joint effort,” he said.

Nuclear ambition

The North Korean regime began its nuclear program in earnest during the Clinton administration, which tried to prevent its buildup with a diplomatic agreement.
It ultimately failed after Pyongyang violated it by continuing its nuclear buildup. Later, the Bush administration tried global pressure with the so-called “six party talks,” but those failed too, and North Korea launched its first nuclear test in 2006. During the Obama administration, the regime launched four more nuclear tests.
Now, some estimates are that North Korea may have the capability to launch a missile that could hit the continental US by the year 2020.
Asked about that, Pence paused for several seconds before answering.
“I know the President of the United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people. The presence of US forces here in South Korea are a long-standing commitment to the Asia Pacific. And insuring the security of the continental US will be a priority in this administration.
“Look, we want to be clear: our hope and frankly our prayer is that by marshaling the resources of nations across the Asian Pacific — not just South Korea, Japan, other allies — and China bringing renewed pressure to bear,” he said.

Pence breaks with security plan

The plan was for the vice president to stay inside the glass enclosed Freedom House at the DMZ and not step outside towards the military demarcation line (MDL), where North Korean soldiers are standing.
However, once there, Pence declared he wanted to go outside — and so he did just that. As the vice president stood and looked on, North Korean soldiers quickly came out on their side of MDL and began taking pictures of Pence.
A North Korean soldier takes a photo during US Vice President Mike Pence's visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), April 17.

Military officials here told CNN in advance that snapping photos is what North Korea does when seeing VIPs across the way — both to document their presence and intimidate.
Most US dignitaries go even closer to the North Korean side when here — to a set of blue buildings called conference row that spans the MDL and allows them to actually step foot in North Korea. For security reasons, Pence did not.
He did, however, go to Observation Point Ouellette, a lookout post from where not only are the North Korean hills visible, but its propaganda machine can be heard — music and political messages blast there across the DMZ.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives at Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), near the border village of Panmunjom.

Pence’s father awarded Bronze Star

For the vice president, this first trip to the Korean Peninsula is an emotional one. His father, 2nd Lt. Edward J. Pence, Jr., US Army, was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the Korean War.
US military officials prepared a briefing for Pence about the so-called Battle of Pork Chop Hill, where his father earned his medal.
“It’s very meaningful for me and my family to be here. So many years after my father’s service. To be honest with you, my dad didn’t talk about his combat experience much until we were all grown up. It was a lot of tough fighting here,” Pence told CNN.
“I think, in some way, my Dad just might be smiling from heaven to see the sacrifices that he and other American soldiers and South Korean soldiers made here are now passed on to my generation. That’s not changed out our commitment to the secure and prosperity of South Korea.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS . ..

Keystone Cops—An audit of Houston’s crime lab revealed on Wednesdaythat a Houston crime scene investigator made errors in 65 cases since 2015, throwing the outcome of every one of them in doubt. According to the Houston Chronicle, the audit by the Houston Forensic Science Center found the errors made by HPD Officer Justin McGee were grave enough to raise questions about major pieces of evidence in cases including 26 homicides, five officer-involved shootings, and six child deaths. Of the 88 cases handled by McGee that were reviewed in the audit, 65 were found to have incomplete documentation, including 32 with administrative errors, and evidence had been misplaced in eight cases. McGee repeatedly failed to collect DNA swabs or test for fingerprints, left sometimes-bloody evidence sitting at the scene, and, in at least two cases, failed to take measurements of bloody footprints. In one instance, McGee once said he did not take crime scene photos because he “did not want to contaminate his camera equipment.” According to the Chronicle, McGee has been reassigned back to patrol duty.

Texas-Sized Outbreak—Texas has seen more mumps cases reported this year than any year in the last two decades. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there have been 221 cases of mumps in the Lone Star State this year, the highest total since 1994, when there were 234. The latest outbreak happened among spring break-revelers on South Padre Island, according to the Dallas Morning News. State health officials are tracking an outbreak there that infected 13 people who traveled to South Padre Island between March 8 and March 22—the cases span six states, including two in Texas. In Dallas County, 78 cases have been confirmed this year, including 57 cases involving students and teachers in Cedar Hill ISD. Mumps is a highly contagious disease that is easily preventable by vaccination. But a growing number of Texans are opting out of having their kids receive vaccinations. While that may not be the specific source of these major outbreaks, it certainly doesn’t help.

Small-Town Scandal—Three more La Vernia High School students were arrested on Wednesday in connection with a hazing scandal in the school’s athletics department, bringing the total number of arrests to thirteen, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The trio of arrests came on the heels of a lawsuit filed against the school district on Tuesday by the parents of a La Vernia football player, who accuses the district of allowing the hazing to continue for years despite knowing about it. The scandal has rocked La Vernia, a small town outside San Antonio. Officials have reportedly discovered at least ten victims who had been brutally hazed, raising allegations that older members of the football, baseball, and basketball teams sexually assaulted younger members—including sodomizing them with objects like a flashlight and the threaded end of a carbon dioxide tank—supposedly as part of an “initiation ritual.” Six adults and seven juvenile students have been arrested so far. The three arrested on Wednesday were charged with second-degree felony sexual assault.

BIG NEWS

BIG NEWS

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s then nominee for Secretary of State, testifies during his confirmation hearing before Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Awkward Moment—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, as tensions appear to be running high between the U.S. and Russia over the use of chemical weapons by Russian-aligned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the ongoing congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Putin and Tillerson go way back to when Rex was the CEO of Exxon, and they once worked so well together to advance their shared drilling interests in Siberia and the Arctic that Putin gave the Wichita Falls native a friendship award. But Wednesday’smeeting was not a friendly one. Even as late as Tillerson’s arrival in Moscow on Monday, it was uncertain whether he’d actually be able to meet with Putin. The two were finally scheduled to meet on Wednesday, but according to Politico, Putin made Tillerson wait for hours before agreeing to see him. They met behind closed doors for two hours, and apparently did not make much progress. “There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Tillerson said in a press conference after his meeting with Putin, according to the Washington Post. “The world’s two primary nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov both said in the press conference that Tillerson and Putin talked about a range of issues, including Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea. But not much ground was made on any of those subjects.