News, policy discussions, and major events happening in or related to Texas, told from an Austin perspective

Illustration by Todd Wiseman

Ramping up its fight over the rights of transgender people, Texas is expected to file a lawsuit 

Tuesday against the federal government over a regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in some health programs. 

Michel Marizco/Fronteras Desk (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When Sasha Von Oldershausen moved from New York City to Presidio, Texas, a few years back, her friends told her to get a gun and lock the doors. They imagined her moving to the stereotypical lawless Southwest.

But Von Oldershausen knew better – in the vast majority of the tiny Texas towns that dot the borderlands, crime rates are low, the landscape is indescribably beautiful and the sense of solitude is profound. Then ,she discovered she wasn't nearly as alone as she thought. Texas Monthly writer Sasha Von Oldershausen recounts her experience in her article "Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself."

Von Oldershausen says she experienced firsthand the capabilities of Border Patrol's surveillance methods while walking on a trail near the Rio Grande one day.



From Texas Standard:

Jeff Wood was supposed to die this week.

He was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of a convenience store clerk, even though it's been well established that he never killed anyone. A friend of his killed a Kerrville gas station clerk in a botched robbery and Wood was waiting in a truck outside the store.

He was still held accountable for the crime under the Texas' law of parties. Similar to laws of accomplice liability in other states, Texas law says that anyone who "solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense" is criminally liable as well.

But on Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Wood's execution. The court ordered that his case should be re-tried – not because of any issue with the law of parties, but because of potentially flawed testimony from a psychiatrist nicknamed Dr. Death.


Todd Wiseman / Texas Tribune

Today the Sunset Advisory Commission – which evaluates the effectiveness of state agencies and decides whether they should be disbanded or reformed – will meet to look at one agency that’s managed to avoid  reform for years: the Railroad Commission of Texas. 

Jorge Sanhueza Lyon / KUT

A federal court has blocked the Obama administration’s guidelines for bathroom use by transgender students in schools. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and 12 other states filed suit to block the guidelines issued this summer. In Judge Reed O’Connor’s injunction ruling, he says the federal government skirted rules that require public comment prior to a rollout of the guidelines such as these and that the guidelines themselves contradict state laws. 

Execution Halted For Jeff Wood, Who Never Killed Anyone

Aug 19, 2016
TDCJ via Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has halted the execution of Jeff Wood — a man who never killed anyone — six days before he was set to die by lethal injection.

IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Omran Daqneesh is in the back of an ambulance, sitting alone in a padded orange seat. The young Syrian's hair is a messy mop of dust. There’s blood on the seat’s headrest behind him. Blood masks half his face and his entire body is covered in dirt. The video circulated by Aleppo Media Centre shows a man in a reflector jacket carrying Daqneesh into the ambulance amidst shouts. He places the boy down on the seat, where Daqneesh wipes his hand over his face. He takes his hand away and looks at the blood that's left there.

Which Texas Taco Town is Most Improved?

Aug 18, 2016
Gus Contreras / KERA News

From Texas Standard:

In a state where taco is king, assertions of a town's taco superiority are fightin' words, as past events have shown us.

So claiming one specific town is "most improved" is a risky move. But taco journalists Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece say one Texas city deserves that honor. In fact, one of the city's establishments was just named one of the best in the nation.

Jaime Chapoy/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

East Texas has seen multiple deadly downpours this year. Yet in south Texas, Brooks County Sheriff-elect Benny Martinez says he wants it to rain along the border to alleviate the unbearable heat. “I’m hoping the rains continue,” Martinez said Monday. “I’m hoping we get a hurricane.”

The heat index down south was over 100 degrees for most of July, which has in part contributed to the hundreds of migrant deaths. Kristian Hernandez, with the McAllen Monitor, says the sheriff’s bold statement comes from his experience with the effect the heat can have on migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

Project 404/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

It's been a long time since kids sat with parents on living room couches watching live pictures from Mission Control in Houston. Even though NASA no longer looms in the American imagination as much as it once did, with a Mars expedition in the works and the rise of Space X and Blue Origin among others, a powerful case can be made that a renaissance is just around the corner.

Houston-area U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, who's chair of the House Space subcommittee, has launched a new mission on Capitol Hill.

Pete Souza/Instagram

From Texas Standard:

It's been smooth sailing for Leon Bridges this summer. The 27-year-old neo-soul singer from Fort Worth has gotten lots of critical acclaim as well as a mighty big hat tip from President Obama, who included Bridges on his second-annual summer Spotify playlist.

The playlist runs the gamut from indie rockers like Courtney Barnett and Edward Sharpe to Brazil's Caetano Veloso. Dan Solomon, who writes for Texas Monthly, thinks the president may have overlooked some Texas flavor. 

Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Lucy, Flo and the Old Man are not content to rest in museum collections. Sure, they’re known for their places in the evolution of humanity, but they, too, have their own Facebook and Twitter followers. They’re also known for something more: they have a role in the evolution of the evolution narrative.

Johannes Jander/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Houston Democrat Rep. Jessica Farrar is calling on the State Auditor’s Office to review a $1.6 million state grant awarded to a group she says funnels money to an unlicensed medical provider with an anti-abortion agenda.

Mengwen Cao/KUT News

From Texas Standard:

Americans use social media for a variety of reasons – to stay connected to family and friends, to share something funny, and increasingly, to get news and express political opinions.

Now, a new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that the way that Americans use and consume social media is closely tied to race. It found that there's a significant difference between the way that black and white adults use social media when it comes to race-based content. Black social media users were about twice as likely as their white counterparts to say that the content they see on social networks is race-related. A similar gap appeared when asked about their own posting habits.


Anna Casey/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

Editor’s note: Some of the stories in this post may be disturbing to young readers.

Camp Brave Heart sits just outside of Wimberley, near the Blanco River. It looks just like any other American summer camp. But here the swimming, bonfires and camp songs are secondary to the main mission.

All Brave Heart’s campers have experienced the recent loss of a loved one.


Courtesy Justin Bohannon

From Texas Standard:

Two shootings in July: one in Dallas, the other in Baton Rouge. First, a sniper shot down five police officers at a protest. A few weeks later a man ambushed and killed three police officers.

It’s been over a month since the two shootings, and there are still a lot more questions than answers. You can’t talk about one without mentioning the other – both incidents were eerily similar. There were two different shooters, both of them black, both upset about recent police violence. There is also another similarity, one that hasn’t been mentioned a lot – they were both black veterans.

The facts immediately bring up a lot of questions, ones about post-traumatic stress disorder, collective trauma and race. But there's one question we haven't found the answer for yet: What would push someone to commit such an act?

Justin Bohannon is a combat vet from the Army. At the time of his deployment he was also one of the few black soldiers in his unit. Bohannon said he experienced racist jokes, tougher punishments and a general sense of isolation. I asked him how he overcame racism on the front lines – he said he didn’t.


Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

From Texas Standard:

The lobby of the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Austin was bustling on a recent Sunday afternoon. Kids of all ages waited in line for snacks before taking their seats. The star of the day was “Pete’s Dragon” director and co-writer David Lowery. He was giving out hugs and handshakes.

Why Commercial Venison Sales Are Banned in Texas

Aug 12, 2016
huntingdesigns/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

If you want a taste of white-tail deer in Texas, your best bet is to go out and shoot one, because you can't buy it at the grocery store.

Courtesy AFL-CIO

This is part two of a two-part series looking at the historical 1966 farm workers strike in Texas. From Texas Standard:

Our collective dictionary for the concept of civil rights, historically speaking, includes heroes such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. It includes iconography like the white signs held by striking Memphis sanitation workers, proclaiming "I am a man" in bold capital letters. It includes songs, like "We shall overcome."

frolicsomepl/Pixabay (Public Domain)

From Texas Standard:

Katie Meili, a 25-year-old from North Texas, took home the bronze medal this week in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But Meili might have placed even higher on the podium. Yulia Efimova of Russia won the silver medal. Efimova has failed multiple tests for performance-enhancing drugs. She was initially banned from the Olympics because of the failed tests, but the International Olympic Committee ultimately allowed her to compete.

Efimova's participation in the games, as with many Russian athletes, was controversial. Doping isn't new, It’s been around for decades, but advances in drug testing methods and technologies haven't kept illicit drugs away from elite athletics.