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AP
Storms sweep across the South, killing 6 and injuring dozens
 
 04.14.19

Powerful storms swept across the South on Sunday after unleashing suspected tornadoes and flooding that killed at least six people — including three children — injured dozens and flattened much of a Texas town.

Nearly 90,000 customers were without power in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia as of midday Sunday, according to www.poweroutage.us as the severe weather left a trail of destruction.

Two children were killed on a back road in East Texas when a pine tree fell onto the car in which they were riding in a severe thunderstorm Saturday near Pollok, about 150 miles southeast of Dallas.

The tree “flattened the car like a pancake,” said Capt. Alton Lenderman of the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office. The children, ages 8 and 3, were dead at the scene, although both parents, who were in the front seat, escaped injury, he said.

At least 25 people were taken to hospitals for treatment after a suspected tornado struck the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in East Texas during a Native American cultural event in Alto, about 130 miles southeast of Dallas, said Police Chief Jeremy Jackson. At least eight were critically hurt.

There was widespread damage in Alto, a town of about 1,200, and the school district canceled classes until its buildings can be inspected to ensure they are safe.

A tornado flattened much of the south side of the Central Texas town of Franklin, overturning mobile homes and damaging other residences, said Robertson County Sheriff Gerald Yezak. Franklin is about 125 miles south of Dallas.

The weather service said preliminary information showed an EF-3 tornado touched down with winds of 140 mph.

The tornado destroyed 55 homes, a church, four businesses, a duplex, and part of the local housing authority building, authorities said. Two people were hospitalized for injuries that were not thought to be life-threatening, while others were treated at the scene, Yezak said. Some people had to be extricated from their damaged dwellings.

Heavy rains and storms raked Mississippi into the night Saturday as the storms moved east.

A 95-year-old man died after a tree crashed onto his trailer in northeastern Mississippi, Monroe County Road Manager Sonny Clay said at a news conference, adding that a tornado had struck. Nineteen residents were taken to hospitals, including two in critical condition. A tornado was reported in the area 140 miles southeast of Memphis, Tennessee, at the time.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Moore said a possible twister touched down in the Vicksburg, Mississippi, area. No injuries were reported there, but officials said several businesses and vehicles were damaged.

The storm damaged a roof of a hotel in New Albany, Mississippi, and Mississippi State University’s 21,000 students huddled in basements and hallways as a tornado came near the school’s campus in Starkville.

University spokesman Sid Salter said some debris, possibly carried by the tornado, was found on campus, but no injuries were reported and no buildings were damaged. Trees were toppled and minor damage was reported in residential areas east of the campus.

The large storm system also unleashed flash floods in Louisiana, where two deaths were reported.

Authorities said 13-year-old Sebastian Omar Martinez drowned in a drainage canal after flash flooding struck Bawcomville, near Monroe, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Department.

Separately, one person died when a car was submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, also near Monroe.

As the storm moved into Alabama, a possible tornado knocked out power and damaged mobile homes in Troy, about 50 miles south of Montgomery.

A county employee died after being struck by a vehicle while he was helping clear away trees about 2:15 a.m. Sunday near the Birmingham suburb of Hueytown, said Capt. David Agee of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The man, whose name was not released, died after being taken to a hospital.

The forecast of severe weather forced officials at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, to begin the final round of the tournament early on Sunday in order to finish in midafternoon.


Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Round Rock’s Cactus Ranch Elementary first-graders look over the SpaceX exhibit at the Mayborn Museum. The exhibit will be on display through fall 2019.


Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Round Rock’s Cactus Ranch Elementary first grader Liani Dennis looks over a thruster from the Draco capsule at the SpaceX exhibit at the Mayborn Museum. The exhibit will be on display through fall 2019.


AP
NRA has history of advising gun-rights groups outside US
 
 04.14.19

BOISE, Idaho — The recent revelation that National Rifle Association representatives had met with Australian politicians to discuss talking points after a mass shooting generated outrage from various politicians.

The reality is that the NRA has been exerting its influence on gun debates outside the U.S. for a number of years, exporting its firebrand rhetoric and belief that more guns will lead to less crime.

The lobbying group has sought sway at the United Nations to make it easier to sell American guns overseas and has on more than one occasion guided gun-rights groups in Brazil, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. It advised gun activists in Russia, entanglements that in recent years made the NRA vulnerable to allegations it allowed alleged Russian operatives to use the organization to influence American politics.

While American gun rights are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution — something that doesn’t translate to most countries around the world — the group’s track record of aggressively shaping the debate has nevertheless turned it into the go-to group for other gun-rights activists outside the U.S.

There are several reasons why the NRA doesn’t confine itself to the U.S.

For one, it’s helpful to American gun makers if other countries make it easier for citizens to buy and possess firearms, opening up new markets. And when other countries ease restrictions, it helps bolster one of the NRA’s most prominent messages.

“They can make the argument, you know, ‘Look, other nations don’t like stricter gun laws either,’ because one of the debate points that has hurt the NRA is that pretty much every other democratic nation has stricter gun laws than us and lower gun ownership,” said Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and a longtime watcher of the NRA.

A documentary aired last month by Al Jazeera reported officials with Australia’s far-right One Nation party met with two NRA representatives and other gun-rights advocates seeking money to undermine Australian gun laws. During the meeting, captured on video by an undercover journalist posing as a gun lobbyist, they ask the NRA officials for advice on how to respond after a mass shooting. They’re told to start with silence and then if it persists, to go on the offensive.

The NRA said it met with the Australians but did not provide any of the requested money.

The NRA has a long overseas track record.

Perhaps its biggest success has been in Brazil, where the NRA worked with activists to help reject a referendum in 2005 that would have banned the sale of firearms and ammunition to civilians.

Working with gun-rights activists in that country, the NRA helped shape the debate. A turning point, some observers have said, was a television ad that flashed scenes from key moments in history: Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. It emphasized gun rights as a fundamental right to freedom and liberty.

Brazil has a low rate of gun ownership — an estimated 2 million among its 59 million residents — and gun control was backed by the Roman Catholic Church and other powerful forces in the country. One poll a month before the referendum put support for it at 73 percent. It was rejected handily.

Brazil suffers from high crime rates, especially in the poor areas around big cities, and what resonated were the NRA messages that are familiar to Americans: Owning a gun is a fundamental right of freedom, and if good guys have their guns taken away, only criminals will still have them.

Canada’s own gun-rights movement has been closely tied to the NRA since the 1990s. In the decades since, NRA leaders have traveled to the country to warn that gun restrictions would interfere with a citizen’s right to bear arms, though that country does not consider it a constitutional right.

When Canada first sought to restrict gun access in the 1990s, the NRA threatened a boycott by American hunter tourists.

The NRA also has worked closely to advise such groups as the Canadian Shooting Sports Association on how to lobby against that country’s registry of gun owners. It took more than a decade but Canada’s gun registry was ultimately repealed in 2012.

Gun-control advocates weren’t surprised to hear the NRA’s advice heard in the Al-Jazeera video on how to respond to mass shootings.

“It’s the two-step playbook: It’s one, silence, and two, if the pressure gets too hot, to deflect by arguing that we shouldn’t politicize a shooting by talking about policies that could prevent these shootings from happening in the future,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of the gun-control group named after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured after being shot during a constituent meeting in 2011.

Gun-rights supporters viewed it differently.

“While it came across on the Al Jazeera clips as manipulative, it’s Defense 101 and I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all,” said Jeff Knox, an NRA member and director of the Firearms Coalition, adding: “It is such a difficult situation because you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When some horrific act is perpetrated by some deviant, if you immediately come out and say something in defense or support of the right to arms, then you’re heartless and you’re politicizing this tragic event. But at the same time, the other side does not hesitate to jump out.”


City_of_waco
featured
City council considering sewer plant for China Spring
 JB Smith  / 
 04.14.19

City of Waco officials are considering a new wastewater treatment plant in the China Spring area as faster-than-expected growth threatens to overwhelm existing lines and lift stations.

The Waco City Council on Tuesday will consider spending $132,000 for a China Spring wastewater study by HDR, an engineering firm.

The council is scheduled to vote on the study, along with ordinances on shipping containers and bike and scooter rentals, at a 6 p.m. business meeting, following a 3 p.m. work session at the Waco Convention Center’s Bosque Theater.

The study will model the wastewater needs of the growing area through 2050 and propose solutions to accommodate the growth. A new “satellite” sewer plant, similar to one the city built at Bull Hide Creek near Lorena, is a possible solution, Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said.

Currently, sewer mains carry wastewater about 10 miles from China Spring to the main Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System plant south of town on the Brazos River. But those lines are likely to reach capacity in coming years, and replacing or expanding them would be expensive.

Already, growing demand has strained the Village Lake sewer lift station on China Spring Road, causing it to become overwhelmed during heavy rains. In a 2018 study, HDR recommended replacing the lift station and building a gravity sewer line across Waco Regional Airport.

But city officials said that might not be enough to handle China Spring’s expected growth, which includes five new subdivisions now in the works. Ford said growth in China Spring may happen more quickly than the city’s Comprehensive Plan envisioned.

City planners in 2017 projected the China Spring area, which is north and west of the airport, would have a population of 8,400 by the 2020 Census, up 62 percent from the 2010 census count of 5,200 people.

Ford said that until the study is completed, it is too early to say where a wastewater treatment plant might be located. He said the city is also monitoring growth in the Highway 84 corridor and discussing another potential wastewater treatment plant in that area, though no details have been nailed down.


AP
White House: Migrants to sanctuary cities not a top choice
 
 04.14.19

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump wants to explore a twice-rejected proposal to send migrants to “sanctuary cities,” but that is not the preferred solution to fix the straining immigration system, the White House said Sunday.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said it was one of many options, though she hoped Congress would work with the president on a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

The Trump administration is dealing with an ever-increasing number of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, an influx that has pushed the immigration system to the breaking point.

Laws make it hard to quickly return Central Americans, and many of them spend years in the U.S. waiting for their immigration cases to play out. Others claim asylum and wait just as long, living and working in the U.S. as they wait.

“Sanctuary cities” are mostly left-leaning places such as New York City and San Francisco where laws prohibit local police and correction officers from working with immigration officials to help arrest and deport people living here illegally.

Trump seized on reports last week of the proposal that sought to send migrants already detained to Democratic locations or transport migrants that have just crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to sanctuary cities.

Sanders said the idea would be to spread out the number of migrants so the strain would not be on “one or two border communities.”

“The president likes the idea and Democrats have said they want these individuals into their communities so let’s see if it works and everybody gets a win out of it,” Sanders said. “Again, this is not the ideal situation.”

Trump tweeted on Saturday evening that the U.S. had the “absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities.”

But the plan had already been eschewed twice.

People with knowledge of the discussions say it was first brought to the Department of Homeland Security from White House staff in November, and was again discussed in February but was put down after DHS officials reviewed it and found it was too costly, a misuse of funds and would be too timely. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

It actually could make it more difficult for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to arrest people facing deportation because sanctuary cities do not work with ICE.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University announced last week that an analysis found that immigrants in sanctuary cities are 20% less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.

Democrats criticized the White House proposal as a political stunt that used humans as pawns and would not work.

“Look, you can’t threaten somebody with something they’re not afraid of,” said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, a candidate for president. “And we are not afraid of diversity in the state of Washington. We relish it. It is the basis of our economic and cultural success. We’re built as a state of immigrants.”

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., questioned the legality of the proposal.

“This is again his manufactured chaos that he’s created over the last two years on the border,” Thompson said of Trump, adding Democrats were more than willing to sit down and talk about immigration legislation.

But Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said sanctuary cities showed contempt for the law, though he didn’t know whether there were any legal concerns with transporting migrants to the locales.

“I mean, maybe he’s just saying this to make everybody crazy,” he said of Trump.

Sanders appears on ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday.” Scott was on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Inslee was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Thompson appeared on ABC.