The Darsch Report: March 8 to 14

San Antonio Restaurant Vandalized

Early Mar. 14,  a San Antonio man’s ramen restaurant was vandalized with anti-Asian slurs and death threats following a CNN interview in which the man spoke out against Gov. Greg Abbott’s rollback of the mask requirement in Texas.

After the interview, Mike Nguyen, owner of Noodle Tree, was prepared for plenty of online hate comments but not for something like this.

“I’m still a little shocked that this would actually happen,” Nguyen said Sunday. “When I got here, that’s when it actually sunk in.”

Nguyen moved to San Antonio 5 years ago and started off with a food truck that eventually turned into a restaurant staple of UTSA Boulevard. He has made headlines before for refusing to open his business despite loosening COVID-19 restrictions because as he says the “money was not worth losing lives over.”

Nguyen, who is currently battling lymphoma, lost his grandmother recently after she contracted COVID-19 and he refuses to put any of his customers or employees at risk.

Nguyen says he believes that the Governor’s decision to repeal the mask mandate hurts business owners who now have to bear the burden of enforcing rules and the backlash that may follow.

“I will say that the governor doesn’t have us Texans’ interest at play at this point. I think it’s more of a personal interest,” Nguyen said Wednesday on CNN. “I think the decision to drop the mask mandate is selfish and cowardly, and there’s no reason to do it.”

Crisis at The Texan Border and FEMA Deployed

According to the Daily Mail, ICE is requesting additional personnel to be deployed to the US-Mexico border as a south Texas migrant complex is seven times overcapacity and reports are surfacing of children being forced to sleep on floors of detention centers. 

More than 3,500 unaccompanied teens and children have been held in Customs Border Patrol (CBP) detention centers with reports that many are spending an average of 108 hours in the facilities when they are only allowed to be there for 72 hours. 

Children at one facility in south Texas were reportedly going hungry and were only able to shower once every seven days as the center was at 729% of its legal capacity.

In response to the crisis, the Biden administration is mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help take some of the pressure off of CBP, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Saturday evening.

The FEMA deployment will support what DHS called a 90-day government-wide effort at the border, where the Biden administration is struggling to care for a record number of minors arriving without their parents.

“The federal government is responding to the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border,” DHS said in a statement.

Soon after taking office, the Biden Administration quickly ended many of the Trump administration’s border policies put in place to deter illegal immigration and has relaunched the Obama-era policy of “Catch and Release.” However, the administration has not responded to questions concerning why they did not anticipate or better prepare for the unprecedented surge that has occurred since then in the Rio Grande Valley.

AstraZeneca Vaccine

As early as this month or early April, AstraZeneca will be filing for U.S. emergency use authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine according to sources who informed Reuters on Friday. This vaccine has already been authorized for use in the European Union and many countries but not yet by U.S. regulators.

The British drugmaker completed enrollment in its trial of more than 32,000 volunteers in January and now has data on at least 150 cases of Covid-19, two sources familiar with the trial told Reuters.

“The U.S. Phase III study results are necessary for the FDA’s evaluation of an EUA request for our vaccine,” a company spokeswoman said, without confirming trial details being reported by Reuters. “We expect data from our U.S. Phase III trial to be available soon, in the coming weeks, and we plan to file for emergency use authorization shortly thereafter.”

There are safety concerns, however, regarding reports of serious blood clots in some vaccine recipients that have led several nations to pause administering the vaccine.

AstraZeneca is defending the vaccine, saying in a Sunday statement that more than 17 million doses have been administered in Europe and U.K., with no evidence that the shot increased the risk of blood clots.

The number of blood-clotting events are lower than what would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of that size, AstraZeneca’s Chief Medical Officer Ann Taylor said. In studies, participants getting the vaccine had fewer clots than those given placebo.

The UK Takes a Stand to China?

At the end of February, the Hong Kong government charged 47 democracy activists and protestors under a new national security law that prohibits “conspiracy to commit subversion.” The law criminalizes four types of activity: secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities. In practice, it severely curtails whatever autonomy that Hong Kong had previously enjoyed under Chinese rule.

Many of those arrested were Hong Kong’s most vocal democracy activists and if convicted could face up to life in prison.

In response, the UK government sent out a press release on Mar. 13 stating that China is in “a state of ongoing non-compliance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

“Beijing’s decision to impose radical changes to restrict participation in Hong Kong’s electoral system constitutes a further clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in the statement.

The statement does not indicate what actions the United Kingdom will take against the People’s Republic but does come a day after a joint statement from the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., and the European Union denouncing the undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy by the Chinese government.

The US Economy

Over the course of the past week, the US stock market has been doing very well. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by +976.20 points, +3.07%, and closed at a record high on Friday, March 12th, of 32,778.64. The S&P 500 Index, not wanting to be outdone but just barely falling short, increased by +121.99 points, +3.19%, over the course of the week and closed at a new record high of 3,943.34 on Friday. The NASDAQ, having been on a decline over the past month made, increased to 13,319.86 making a remarkable gain of +710.71 points, +5.64%, but still way below its Feb 12th high of 14,095.47.

Gas prices in the US also continue to see rapid price increases with the current national average according to AAA at $2.859 for a gallon of regular gas. This is a near 10 cents, ~3.2%, increase over last week’s average of $2.768 and a 35 cents, ~14%, increase over the national average from a month ago. This is likely due to a combination of three factors all at once; Saudi Arabia cutting oil production in February, increasing gas and oil demand as more vaccinations are leading to more people traveling, and Biden canceling the Keystone pipeline which would have allowed for more domestic oil refining.

New Covid Relief Bill

On Thurs., Mar. 11, President Joe Biden signed a new covid relief bill totaling $1.9 trillion in spending.

In the plan are some major spending changes, including:

  • Extending a $300 per week jobless aid supplement and programs making millions more people eligible for unemployment insurance until Sept. 6
  • $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans and their dependents with checks starting to phase out at $75,000 in income for individuals and are capped at people who make $80,000. However, these checks are not protected from debt-collection agencies.
  • Expanding the child tax credit for one year and increasing it to $3,600 for children under 6 and to $3,000 for kids between 6 and 17.
  • $350 billion in relief to state, local and tribal governments and more than $120 billion to K-12 schools.

The bill passed the House by a 220-211 margin without a Republican vote and Democrats also approved the plan on their own in the Senate through the special budget reconciliation process.

Biden celebrated the passing of the bill in a Wednesday statement stating “This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance.”

Republicans are arguing though that with this massive increase in spending we may see rising inflation, especially with an economy on the road to recovery with vaccines rolling out and many states now reopening.

“There is a real risk here, of this kind of massive stimulus overheating the economy. … I just think it’s sad because we could’ve done, I think something much more targeted and focused on Covid-19,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told CNBC on Wednesday morning.

Texas Tax-Payer Funded Lobbying

As of Mon., Mar. 15, there are 77 days left in the Texas legislative session, and 10 Texas State Senators, led by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–7), chair of the Local Government Committee, have joint authored Senate Bill 10 to stop Texas cities’ and counties’ use of public funds to lobby the state Legislature.

SB 10 joint authors include State Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-22), Donna Campbell (R-25), Charles Creighton (R-4), Bob Hall (R-2), Kelly Hancock (R-9), Bryan Hughes (R-1), Angela Paxton (R-8), Charles Perry (R-28), and Drew Springer (R-30).

“Taxpayer-funded lobbying diverts funding from local governments’ ability to provide local needs and results in money being used to advocate for policies not always in Texans’ best interest,” said Bettencourt. “The Texas Ethics Commission data showed that an estimated $32 million was spent on lobbyist compensation in 2018, a non-session year. We can’t have tax dollars being used to advocate for greater spending, more taxing authority, and increased regulatory power at the local government level without taxpayers’ consent.”

SB 10 does not prohibit city or county elected officials, officers, or employees from providing information to members of the Legislature, appearing before committee hearings at the request of a member, or advocating on legislation while acting in their official capacities.

The vast majority of Texans support this policy, and it is a legislative priority for Texan Republicans and conservative groups like the Young Conservatives of Texas. Because of staunch support for the policy, it has a high chance of passing the Senate. But it could also end up like similar legislation from the last session that was proposed and passed in the State Senate but was ultimately voted down in the House.

CPS Energy vs San Antonio Family

Following the death of San Antonio resident Esequiel Mendoza during the February winter storm, the man’s family is suing CPS Energy over his death.

The wrongful death suit, filed Mon., Mar. 8, in the 166th District Court, accused the San Antonio utility company of negligence that caused his death.

In the week before his death, Mendoza was not able to receive his usual life-saving dialysis treatment due to controlled outages imposed by CPS Energy at the request of the state grid, which is run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Instead of receiving between four and five hours of treatment, Mendoza only received two, according to the lawsuit.

It is at least the second wrongful death suit filed against CPS Energy related to the winter storm. The first lawsuit was brought by the husband of a woman who is believed to have died of hypothermia.

According to the lawsuit, the family is seeking financial compensation for their loss, and as of Friday morning, attorneys for CPS Energy declined to address the pending litigation.

“Unfortunately, these types of deaths require a thorough investigation into the relevant environmental conditions as well as assessment of the individual’s underlying health conditions, often including additional laboratory testing,” according to a statement from the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office. “Therefore, these deaths take several weeks to adequately investigate and determine. Thus, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office does not currently have an accurate count of these types of deaths and may not for some time.”

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