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Sunday, June 12, 2011


Local News
Community Seeks Answers About Downtown Bryan Shooting

Bryan Police Chief Eric Buske was met with some hard questions from members of the North Bryan community this week during the second meeting related to the recent officer-involved shooting. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that among some of the things residents wanted to know: Was 20-year-old Johnnie Walton Harris Jr. armed when he was shot multiple times by Officer William Cross? Why did the officer show up to his grand jury interview Thursday with a gun in his holster? When will the video from the officer's patrol car camera be released? But because of an ongoing internal investigation that will determine if Cross violated policy and will be able to return to duty, Buske had to deflect most questions with some form of "no comment." He told residents that he expects the investigation to wrap up within the next month or so, at which point he'd come back to them with more answers.

Local Politics
Bryan Redistricting Map Draws Few Challenges

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, as redistricting sparks bitter political battles across the state, the city of Bryan's plan appears likely to pass with little controversy. The city released the first draft of its new map last month. It would give almost 3,000 people new representation on the City Council and more evenly divide the council districts after uneven growth in the past decade. That could be done with only two changes. The first would be moving the border between Councilman Art Hughes' District 5 and Councilman Richard Cortez's District 1 from West Carson Street to Villa Maria Road. That will add about 1,552 people who live around the Bryan Municipal Golf Course to Cortez's district. The second change will bring all of the Memorial Forest Neighborhood into Ann Horton's District 4, adding 1,430 people. The neighborhood is currently split along a dry creek bed, with half in Chuck Konderla's District 3. Those slight alterations have brought few complaints. The City Council unanimously accepted the plan at its most recent meeting.

Texas A&M News
Student Petitions Texas A&M to Add Sexual Orientation to Nondiscrimination Policy

A Texas A&M University student is circulating a petition to university administrators to include sexual orientation and gender identity in A&M’s official employment nondiscrimination policies. The Texas Independent reports that neither federal nor Texas law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although many major private companies have those policies in place, as the Texas Independent has previously reported. The petition will be delivered to A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, along with the Board of Regents and other members of the administration. Garrett Nichols, the petition’s author and a graduate student in A&M’s English department, said he decided to circulate the petition because of the lack of response by administrators about attacks on the campus’s LGBT community from student group Texas Aggie Conservatives (TAC), who have secretly filmed videos of workshops at A&M’s GLBT Resource Center that TAC has termed “pornographic.”

Texas News
Texas' Community Colleges Say State Funding Won't Meet Growth

According to an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, although Texas community colleges are emerging from the 82nd Legislature with funding levels similar to those of 2010-11, some say the money won't be enough to meet growth. Community college funding for the upcoming two-year budget cycle appears to be about $1.7 billion for instructional funds versus the $1.9 billion that the colleges received in the last budget cycle, according to the Texas Association of Community Colleges. The cut in classroom-related dollars also comes on top of community colleges losing state contributions to employee health insurance and retirement benefits. Reductions in the state's financial aid for low-income students will also affect community colleges, a college official said. The community college budget is part of the $21.7 billion that's been recommended for Texas higher education, but lawmakers continue working on critical budget issues in the special session called by Gov. Rick Perry, and some funding totals may be adjusted.

Texas Politics
Texas Senate Approves GOP-Drawn Congressional Map

According to an article in the Texas Tribune, a new redistricting map, drawn to promote and protect Republican interests in the U.S. Congress, sailed out of the GOP-led state Senate this week. The map, predictably approved 18-12 along strict party lines, would give Republicans a decent chance of retaining every congressional seat they now hold. They also would have a good shot at picking up one additional district with the elimination of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who would be drawn into a heavily Republican seat. Currently, the GOP has a 23-9 edge in the Texas congressional delegation. Elections are always unpredictable, but the GOP clearly is looking to maximize its gains with the proposal. And if the map passed by the Senate gets through all the legal hoops ahead, the GOP could potentially end up with 26 seats, leaving Democrats with 10. That includes two seats that Republican candidates won in 2010, in major upsets, in predominately Hispanic districts in South Texas. During the debate, Democrats complained loudly — and are sure to argue in court — that the plan illegally packs blacks and Hispanics into a small number of districts and fails to adhere to provisions in the federal Voting Rights Act aimed at protecting and expanding the interests of minority voters.

National News
Report Finds Foreclosure Fraud Cost $20 Billion

The nation's largest mortgage companies are operating on the assumption that they will have to pay as much as $20 billion to resolve claims of widespread foreclosure abuse, an amount four times what they had originally proposed, the top federal official overseeing the discussions told state officials this week. The Huffington Post reports that Associate U.S. Attorney General Tom Perrelli told a bipartisan group of state attorneys general during a conference call that he believes the banks have accepted the realization that a wide-ranging settlement to the months-long probes will cost them much more than the $5 billion offer they floated last month, according to officials with direct knowledge of the call. Perrelli said he's basing his belief on his recent conversations with representatives of the five targeted firms: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial. Three unresolved issues remain, these people said. State and federal officials have not agreed on the scope of banks' release from liability that would accompany such a deal; negotiators continue to hammer out how much of the money pot will be split between restructuring borrowers' mortgages and bank fines, and officials are not yet near an agreement on how the coalition of state and federal government agencies will monitor and enforce bank behavior in the wake of a settlement agreement.

International News
US Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes

According to an article in the New York Times, the Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials. The acceleration of the American campaign in recent weeks comes amid a violent conflict in Yemen that has left the government in Sana, a United States ally, struggling to cling to power. Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to Al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to the capital, and American officials see the strikes as one of the few options to keep the militants from consolidating power. On Friday, American jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike. Weeks earlier, drone aircraft fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who the United States government has tried to kill for more than a year. Mr. Awlaki survived.

War & Peace
US Drone Strikes Kills Scores in Pakistan

At least 23 people have been killed after a pair of US missile strikes hit an alleged fighter training facility and a vehicle in a tribal region in Pakistan, local intelligence officials have said. Al Jazeera reports that one drone strike killed 18 people on this week when it hit a compound in the Shawal area, which lies along the border that separates the South and North Waziristan tribal regions. The other struck a vehicle carrying five men. The compound is believed to have housed a training camp for "extremists", Pakistani officials said. Both regions are home to various fighter groups, including several involved in attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan. The area hit on this week was on the North Waziristan side, in territory under the control of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a warlord involved in the Afghan fight. North Waziristan is the usual target for US missiles because it is home to more groups fighting in Afghanistan and because the Pakistani military has resisted US appeals to launch an offensive there. But this week's strikes had mostly hit South Waziristan or along the border of the two regions. Since 2008, the US has boosted its use of drone-fired missiles to take out al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

Foreign Policy
Report Finds Afghan Nation-Building Programs Not Sustainable

According to a report by the Washington Post, The hugely expensive U.S. attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan has had only limited success and may not survive an American withdrawal, according to the findings of a two-year congressional investigation released this week. The report calls on the administration to rethink urgently its assistance programs as President Obama prepares to begin drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this summer. The report, prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff, comes as Congress and the American public have grown increasingly restive about the human and economic cost of the decade-long war and reflects growing concerns about Obama’s war strategy even among supporters within his party. The report describes the use of aid money to stabilize areas the military has cleared of Taliban fighters — a key component of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy — as a short-term fix that provides politically pleasing results. But it says that the enormous cash flows can overwhelm and distort local culture and economies, and that there is little evidence the positive results are sustainable.

Domestic Policy
Federal Proposal Would Toughen Debt Restrictions on Mortgages

Consumer borrowing is so rampant in the United States that most people who took out a mortgage last year to buy a home ended up spending more than a third of their income to pay that loan and other debts. The Washington Post reports that now, a federal proposal would target borrowers with heavy debt loads by making it tougher for them to get the cheapest mortgages. The initiative is part of a broader measure that aims to prevent another foreclosure crisis and could confront borrowers who do not meet certain conditions with higher interest rates and fees. The debt restrictions are on top of other conditions, including a requirement that borrowers pony up a 20 percent down payment to qualify for the cheapest mortgages. While the down-payment condition has captured the public spotlight since the government unveiled its plan in March, experts who track the housing industry say the proposed debt limits could be just as onerous for borrowers.

Climate Change
Study Finds Rising Forest Density Offsets Climate Change

According to a report by Reuters News Service, rising forest density in many countries is helping to offset climate change caused by deforestation from the Amazon basin to Indonesia, a study showed on this week. The report indicated that the size of trees in a forest -- rather than just the area covered -- needed to be taken into account more in U.N.-led efforts to put a price on forests as part of a nascent market to slow global warming. "Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon," experts in Finland and the United States said of the study in the online journal PLoS One, issued on June 5 which is World Environment Day in the U.N. calendar. Trees soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. Deforestation in places from the Congo basin to Papua New Guinea is blamed for perhaps 12 to 20 percent of all emissions by human activities. The report, based on a survey of 68 nations, found that the amount of carbon stored in forests increased in Europe and North America from 2000-10 despite little change in forest area.

Immigrant Rights
Supreme Court Makes Two Key Immigration Decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions on immigration Monday. The first reversed a federal court decision that a Hazleton, Pa. immigration ordinance was unconstitutional. Like the ordinance in Fremont, Nebraska passed in June 2010, the ordinance would require employers to verify the legal residence of workers. Both ordinances had been prevented from going into effect by challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union. New America Media reports that the second Supreme Court decision upheld the constitutionality of the California law making undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition. About 41,000 students in California have taken advantage of the special tuition rule in the last year, mostly at community colleges.

Race & Racism
Census Finds Big Jump in Minority-Owned Businesses

According to a report by New America Media, the number of minority-owned businesses in the U.S. jumped 45.5 percent from 2002 to 2007, more than double the 17.9 percent increase for U.S. businesses as a whole, according to Census data released this week. Revenues of minority-owned firms increased 55 percent to $1.0 trillion over the five-year period, compared with a 33 percent increase for all businesses nationwide. In 2007, more than one-fifth of the nation's 27.1 million firms were minority-owned. Of the 5.8 million minority-owned firms, 766,533 had paid employees, an increase of 22 percent from 2002, the Census Bureau reported. These firms employed 5.8 million people, a 24 percent increase from 2002, and their payrolls totaled $164.1 billion, an increase of 42 percent. In 2007, minority firms with no paid employees (nonemployers) numbered 5.0 million, an increase of 50 percent from 2002. These firms had receipts totaling $164.3 billion, an increase of 59 percent.

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