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UN chief: Climate change is "most important issue we face"

KATOWICE, Poland — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a dramatic appeal to world leaders Monday to take the threat of global warming seriously and to act boldly to avert a catastrophic rise in temperatures before the end of the century.

Guterres, who spoke at the opening of the U.N. climate conference in Poland, called climate change “the most important issue we face.”

“Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption,” Guterres told delegates from almost 200 countries who gathered in the city of Katowice.

Famed British naturalist Sir David Attenborough echoed his warnings, telling the gathering that the “collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizons” if no urgent action is taking against global warming.

The 92-year-old TV presenter blamed humans for the “disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years.”

The U.N. chief chided countries, particularly those most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, for failing to do enough to back the 2015 Paris climate accord, which set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — ideally 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) — by the end of the century.

Citing a recent scientific report on the dire consequences of letting average global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees, Guterres urged countries to cut their emissions 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and aim for net zero emissions by 2050.

Net zero emissions mean that any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Such cuts, which experts say are the only way to achieve the 1.5-degree goal, would require a radical overhaul of the global economy and a move away from using fossil fuels.

“In short, we need a complete transformation of our global energy economy, as well as how we manage land and forest resources,” Guterres said.

He said governments should embrace the opportunities rather than cling to fossil fuels such as coal, which are blamed for a significant share of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.N. chief’s remark was directed at conference host Poland, which relies on coal for 80 percent of its energy. Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a news conference later Monday that the coal-rich country would work to reduce its reliance on coal but never entirely give up its “strategic fossil fuel.”

Guterres also urged negotiators not to forget that the challenges they face pale in comparison to the difficulties climate change already is causing millions of people around the world whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by rising sea levels, drought and more powerful storms.

A 15-year-old Swedish activist who takes time out of school to highlight the danger of global warming echoed his appeal. Greta Thunberg said world leaders who skip the climate summit are “very irresponsible.”

Thunberg, who protests outside Sweden’s parliament each week and has inspired students in other countries, said absent leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel “don’t realize how much power they have.”

“I think that in the future we will look back and we will either laugh at them or we will hate them,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s very sad, but if they don’t do anything right now that is the truth.”

A goal of the two-week conference in Poland’s southern coal mining region of Silesia is finalizing how governments report on their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming within the limits of the Paris climate deal.

Guterres called for a “huge increase in ambitions” during the negotiations in Poland, adding “we cannot afford to fail in Katowice.”

“This is the challenge on which this generation’s leaders will be judged,” he said.

He told reporters that the reality of global climate change has been “worse than expected, but the political will is relatively faded after Paris” and not matching the current challenges.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action film star and former governor of California, insisted the United States is “still in” the Paris accord to curb global warming despite Trump’s decision to walk away from it.

“America is more than just Washington or one leader,” he said, adding that he wished he could travel back in time — like the cyborg he portrayed in “The Terminator” — to stop fossil fuels from being used.

Calling Trump “meshugge” — Yiddish for “crazy” — for deciding to withdraw from the Paris accord, Schwarzenegger insisted that the climate deal has widespread support at local and state levels in the U.S.

Duda, the Polish leader, said participants at the conference have backed his country’s proposal that governments should ensure a “just transition” for workers in fossil fuel industries who stand to their jobs as the world shifts to renewable energy.

But Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama said any “just transition” should consider the fate of all the people around the world whose lives are affected by climate change.

Residents of the world’s smaller islands, many of whom face catastrophic flooding from higher sea levels in a warming world, have been among the world’s most vocal backers of measures to combat climate change.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Clifton and Betsy Robinson (front), with Creative Waco director Fiona Bond (center), hope to supplement the Texas Historical Marker on the 1953 Waco tornado with a kinetic sculpture downtown on the spot of the tornado’s greatest damage.

Wind sculptures to mark site of Waco tornado destruction
 Carl Hoover  / 

Hundreds of pedestrians pass by the Roosevelt Building parking lot at Fifth Street and Austin Avenue with scarcely a second thought about the open space or the historical marker planted at its corner.

For Waco businessman and arts supporter Clifton Robinson, that empty space is filled with memories: It’s the fatality epicenter of the devastating 1953 Waco tornado that leveled blocks of downtown and killed 114 people, nearly half of whom died within a block of the state historical marker.

Such a pivotal moment in Waco’s history needs more than a metal marker that so many pass by without regarding, he believes, and the Waco City Council will hear his solution: a trio of wind-driven kinetic sculptures aimed at catching the eye of passersby, both tourist and resident.

Texas Collection at Baylor University photo 

The 1953 Waco tornado destroyed the five-story R.T. Dennis furniture building at Fourth Street and Austin Avenue. Other flattened Waco businesses in the 400 block of Austin Avenue included Harlik’s Man’s Shop, Chris’s Café and the Joy Theatre. At left is the ALICO Building; in the background is the Provident Building at Fourth Street and Franklin Avenue, which was torn down in 1959.

Robinson, 81, and his wife Betsy plan to buy three wind-driven sculptures from Santa Fe, New Mexico artist Mark White — two of his Oscillators and one Passion Flower — and install them, with permission of property owners Frank and Bland Cromwell, at the corner of the Roosevelt Building parking lot’s Austin Avenue entrance. “I’m not an artsy guy at all, but I’m very community-minded,” he said.

For Creative Waco director Fiona Bond, who will speak at Tuesday’s city council work session on the subject, the sculptures offer a step into new dimensions of Waco public sculpture. The project would be a private-public arrangement where the city is a steward of private art on private property. It also opens the possibility of other sculptures and markers creating a Waco tornado walk.

The arrangement would allow the city to “adopt” a privately funded piece of public art, so the city would have some input on the fate of a work should the property on which it stands changes hands, Bond said.

“It’s a great way for making a bigger canvas for public art,” she said.

The wind-driven pieces will be planted several hundred feet from a teardrop shaped memorial to the victims of the 1953 tornado, located at Fourth Street and Austin Avenue, but will not affect that memorial. Plans are in the works to contact the Texas Historical Commission about the prospect of moving the existing Waco tornado historical marker closer to the wind sculptures. The sculptures themselves will also have an interpretive plaque.

Robinson is the lead donor in the city’s two largest collections of public sculptures, the Branding the Brazos tribute to the Chisholm Trail in Indian Spring Park with its three larger-than-life trail drivers and nearly two dozen head of Longhorn cattle, and the yet-to-be-installed Sculpture Zoo walk announced last spring.

Mark White Fine Art rendering  

An illustration places three wind sculptures at a location in the 400 block of Austin Avenue, at the site of the greatest damage from the 1953 Waco tornado, where the R.T. Dennis building and its neighbors stood. The space is now used as the Roosevelt Building parking lot.

Bond recently approached Robinson about possibly sponsoring a wind-driven kinetic sculpture, something more abstract and symbolic than the representational art he and his wife usually support. What caught his attention was using White’s moving art to catch others’ attention to a monumental day in Waco’s life.

Robinson, then a 16-year-old Waco High School sophomore, was at home after school when the 1953 tornado hit, but recalls the days that followed when he and friends joined thousands of volunteers and National Guardsmen in clearing rubble by hand, first looking for survivors, then bodies needing burial.

He had friends who were killed serving as lifeguards at the Cotton Palace swimming pool when the roof of an underground shelter collapsed. Other Waco High friends lost parents and siblings. Robinson’s family home on Parrott Avenue was near the former Hillcrest and Providence hospitals. “We heard ambulances all day and all night for weeks,” he recalled.

Burying the dead and clearing ruined buildings was only the start of recovery, he said, a process that took years if not decades. “None of us realized the impact of what (the tornado) would do to Waco,” Robinson said.

That’s why he felt it important that the site of the greatest damage, the R.T. Dennis Building and its neighbors, in the space now used as the Roosevelt Building parking lot, have some sort of physical reminder. “I want people to say, ‘Wow. We’re standing where that happened,’” he said.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

A Texas state historical marker stands at Fifth Street and Austin Avenue, the former site of the R.T. Dennis building, which was the fatality epicenter of the devastating 1953 Waco tornado. Plans are in the works to contact the Texas Historical Commission about moving the marker closer to the proposed wind sculptures down the block.

Bland Cromwell and his brother readily agreed to Robinson’s proposal, granting him use of their property and offering the city an easement to the work.

“We were thrilled to be part of it. It’s a good spot to put it. It’s in an area of walking tourism and can easily be seen. It’s also real close to the actual site of the R.T. Dennis Building,” he said.

Bond notes that there’s a Waco tornado walk in the various themed walks held by the volunteer group Waco Walks to give participants a feet-on-the-ground perspective of the deadliest day in Waco history. There’s no formal path in mind for a tornado sculpture walk nor any additional sculptures or markers, but the door is open for those who might be interested.

“We hope this will encourage other people to become involved. We’re creating a framework for this to be possible,” she said.

Robinson has no plans to add other tornado sculptures, but does have a grand vision of linking outdoor sculptures at Baylor University, McLane Stadium, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, the Branding of the Brazos and Sculpture Zoo into a miles-long circuit that would draw the eye of outsiders to his home city. “It would be as big as anyone has seen in the United States,” he said.

Editor's note: Clifton Robinson owned the Tribune-Herald from 2009-12.

Flores talks economy, political divide at chamber event
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, celebrated the state of the American economy on Monday but offered local leaders little hope that Congress would soon find bipartisan solutions to pressing issues affecting all Americans.

In remarks at the State of the Nation Luncheon hosted by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Flores said a divided Congress rife with political friction will struggle to reach agreements on health care and the national debt.

“The country is going to have a significant emotional event if we don’t fix these things,” Flores said to attendees at the Baylor Club in McLane Stadium. “I don’t want to get to that point, but I can’t see anything today that allows that to happen on a bipartisan basis. Again, I can’t sugarcoat this.”

Flores, Waco’s congressman who will begin his fifth, two-year term next month, said Congress has made progress on responding to the opioid crisis and lowering the unemployment rate, and he praised Republican efforts to cut regulations and overhaul the tax code.

“The status quo you see today on taxes and regs is likely to stay the same for the next three years,” he said.

But the country is facing a national debt exceeding $21 trillion, plus trillions more in unfunded obligations toward mandatory programs.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores (center) speaks at the State of the Nation Luncheon at the Baylor Club in McLane Stadium. Flores, a Bryan Republican, is flanked by Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Matthew Meadors (left) and Vice President of Congressional and Public Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ron Eidshaug.

“You can fix Social Security and make it solvent for 75 years without hurting today’s retirees or near-retirees,” Flores said. “You can do the same thing with Medicare. You can do the same thing with Medicaid, but we’ve got to drop the politics. Every day that we put off doing that, it gets harder and harder, because our option sets get smaller and smaller and smaller before you get to the really radical things.”

The success of 401(k) plans is prolonging those programs, he said, but federal policymakers will, at some point, have to tighten them.

David Lacy, the chairman of the chamber public policy committee, said after the event that Waco’s and McLennan County’s policy issues don’t change based on which party controls Congress.

“The approach to solving them sometimes changes, but the fact that we need I-35 work done, the fact that we need some health care issues improved upon, the fact we need other things in McLennan County, those things really don’t change,” said Lacy, president and CEO of Community Bank and Trust. “So we need to keep pushing and keep working. It’s really important to develop relationships both in Austin and in Washington on both sides of the aisle and try to continue that effort, despite who’s in charge of Congress.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, (left) speaks on Monday at the State of the Nation Luncheon at the Baylor Club in McLane Stadium.

Waco City Councilman Jim Holmes, who represents portions of China Spring, West Waco and the Highway 84 corridor, attended the event in the city’s delegation.

“Regulatory reform, I think, is good for business in general, and the tax reform, I think, is good for business in general,” said Holmes, a senior vice president at First National Bank of Central Texas. “We have to really keep a close eye on how that affects our deficits and how it all fits together going forward. You don’t want to leverage the future of the company based on tax cuts nationally. But I think, by and large, regulatory reform has worked. It’s the right time in the economic cycle for it.”

Flores said he disagrees with President Donald Trump’s politicization of the Federal Reserve and enactment of tariffs, but he echoed the president’s warnings on China.

“I can’t put lipstick on this pig,” he said. “China is a bad actor when it comes to trade. We pay the cost of that.”

About a month remains of the current congressional session. Democrats will control the House of Representatives for the next session after gaining at least 39 seats in the midterm elections last month, and Republicans retained their majority in the Senate.

Capital trial begins in murder-for-hire case
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

Tyler Sherrod Clay hired Keith Antoine Spratt to kill Joshua Ladale Pittman “out of just plain, old-fashioned revenge” after Pittman robbed Clay in 2015, a McLennan County prosecutor told jurors Monday.

A convenience store employee, a crime scene technician and a pathologist opened testimony Monday in Clay’s capital murder trial in Waco’s 54th State District Court.

Clay, 29, of Hewitt, is charged with hiring Spratt to kill Pittman, 37, who was shot four times while he was playing an eight-liner video gambling machine at an East Waco convenience store in December 2015.

Spratt, 30, also is charged with capital murder in Pittman’s death. His case remains pending.

In opening statements, prosecutor Christi Hunting Horse told jurors that an eyewitness now serving a federal drug sentence will testify that he was in the store that night and recognized the masked shooter as Spratt.

Clay’s Houston-based defense attorney, Randy Schaffer, told jurors that Pittman was a convicted child molester, a convicted drug dealer and a registered sex offender who robbed a number of people in Waco. He made a lot of enemies who wanted to kill him, Schaffer said.

He said Pittman robbed Spratt at a dice game and slapped him in front of his friends. Spratt told people he wanted to kill Pittman and he likely did, but Clay was not involved in his death, Schaffer asserted.

Schaffer acknowledged that Clay, who owned a smoke shop that included eight-liner machines, was also a gambler and a bookie. But he asked the jury why Clay would waste his money hiring Spratt when he knew Spratt was going to kill Pittman anyway.

Myron Burley, who has worked at the Pick N Pay Foodmart at 504 Faulkner Lane for 13 years, testified he was standing outside taking a break about 11 p.m. when a man with a bandanna covering the lower half of his face walked up to the store and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up to cover the top of his face.

Sensing trouble, Burley, who has been robbed twice at the store, asked the man to remove his hood before entering the store. The man did not comply and looked like he was reaching for something in his pants while walking inside, Burley said.

He started to call 911 when he said he heard four or five gunshots in rapid succession coming from inside the store. He went in to check on the clerk, thinking he had been robbed and shot. Instead, he found Pittman sitting in the same chair where he had been playing eight-liners for at least 13 hours throughout the day.

Burley said Pittman was gasping for air, and he died while Burley was on the phone with the 911 operator. The operator asked him if there was a way he could stop the bleeding.

“I said all I can do is pray for him, and I did,” Burley said.

Under cross-examination, Schaffer told Burley that police had found black tar heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana in Pittman’s pockets, and he questioned why Pittman would stay in the store that day for so long unless he had an arrangement to deal drugs there.

Burley denied that they allowed anyone to deal drugs in the store.

Dr. Jill Urban, a pathologist from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, testified that Pittman was shot once in the right cheek, once in the upper back, once in the lower back and once in the right shoulder.

She said the autopsy revealed he recently used methamphetamine and marijuana.

Prosecution testimony continues Tuesday morning.

If Clay is convicted of capital murder, he faces an automatic sentence of life without parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in the case.

Staff photo — Tommy Witherspoon 


Trump keeps up pressure on Dems over border wall

WASHINGTON — Congress is expected to introduce a two-week temporary funding bill to avert a federal government shutdown this week over President Donald Trump’s border wall as business in the Capitol comes to a standstill for ceremonies honoring former President George H.W. Bush.

The stop-gap measure would keep the government funded through Dec. 21, according to a House Republican aide familiar with the package.

Trump kept up pressure Monday on congressional Democrats funding for his promised border wall, but he also threatened other actions to deter illegal immigration as negotiations continue.

“Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally!” Trump tweeted. “We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary.”

The two sides were heading for a showdown Dec. 7 when funding for a portion of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, is set to expire.

House leaders canceled roll call votes this week for ceremonies honoring Bush, who died Friday, meaning an extension will be needed to avert a funding lapse.

While Democrats prefer a one-week extension, they likely would not object to a two-week delay, a Democratic aide said Monday. The congressional aides asked not to be identified because no decisions have been announced.

Democrats have little interest in providing the $5 billion Trump wants for the border with Mexico. And even some Republicans balk at spending more than the $1.6 billion for fencing and other security improvements already provided. But Trump has signaled he’s ready to fight for the money as one of the last big-ticket items of the GOP-led Congress before Democrats take over the House in the new year.

Trump tweeted Monday: “We would save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall.” He did not provide any evidence for the savings, but again threatened to close the “entire Southern Border if necessary.”

The president invited the top Democratic leaders, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, to the White House for a meeting Tuesday, but a Democratic aide said that in light of Bush’s funeral and other events, Democrats have asked the White House to postpone the meeting until next week.

Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Saturday he would be willing to sign a two-week funding extension to allow for ceremonies honoring Bush.

“I would absolutely consider it and probably give it,” Trump told reporters. The White House is expecting that to be between seven and 14 days, said a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Schumer has suggested one option would be for Trump to accept the Senate’s $1.6 billion bipartisan border security package, along with the remaining $1.3 billion from the current fiscal year that has not yet been spent.

The country shouldn’t have to endure a shutdown over “Trump’s temper tantrum,” Schumer said last week.

The GOP-led House has not yet approved a Homeland Security funding bill.

Besides the funding bill, Congress is considering a sweeping criminal justice package with sentencing reforms, a farm bill that’s a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other items before they adjourn for the year.

McConnell told reporters over the weekend that it’s up to Trump “to do a deal with the Democrats.” He said, “I think that’s the path to getting a signature and avoiding a government shutdown.”

Nearly three-quarters of the federal government has been funded for the fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30, 2019, but the stalemate remains over wall funding and several remaining federal agencies. Federal funding for those is set to expire at midnight on Friday.