Thousands of Low-Income Women Aren't Getting Cancer Screenings or Birth Control Because Texas Banned Planned Parenthood

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Francisco Montes
A new state report confirms what basically everyone who wasn't a die-hard anti-abortion activist or politician predicted a couple of years ago when Texas lawmakers kicked Planned Parenthood out of its widely successful program for giving uninsured, low-income women cancer screenings and birth control.

According to new numbers out of the state Health and Human Services Commission, critics that said the program would serve a lot less women if it shunned Planned Parenthood's family planning clinics (meaning even more women across the state won't get life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings or birth control) were dead-on right.

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GOP Lawmakers Want to Make It Harder for Minors to Get an Abortion Without a Parent's Consent

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thinkstock.com
Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion across the country and protecting it as a woman's constitutional right, the high court took up another thorny issue: are pregnant minors afforded that same right?

The 1979 case Bellotti v. Baird challenged a Massachusetts law requiring pregnant minors to get parental consent before obtaining an abortion. In writing the plurality opinion, Justice Lewis Powell explained that the court had to balance two competing interests. Noting the "peculiar vulnerability of children," Powell wrote that the "rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults." However, Powell also said the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy "differs in important ways from other decisions facing minors." While states may reasonably want to ensure that parents are in on the decision, Powell wrote that parents should not be allowed to exercise an "absolute, and possibly arbitrary, veto" over a girl's choice to have an abortion.

The ruling meant a couple of things. First, states could still have parental consent laws on the books if they wanted to (the court refused to extend full abortion rights given to adult women under Roe to minors). But states also had to provide an escape hatch: girls could petition a judge for approval if their parents wouldn't consent or if girls were too afraid to ask them.

Ever since, anti-abortion activists have been trying to restrict that process, known as judicial bypass, and this session there are a slate of bills filed by Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature that would make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for many teenage girls to get an abortion without the approval of a parent.

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Lawmakers Want to End Revenge Porn in Texas

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Thinkstock
A bipartisan group of women in the House and Senate have filed legislation to take down revenge porn, the act of posting naked photos of women for fun or profit.

Holly Toups, who found her 10-year-old photographs on the website Texxxans.com - use your imagination - could be called the poster girl for the movement in Texas. When the website operator told her that her own photos could be removed for a fee of $500, Toups told him he wasn't getting a dime from her.

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The State Killed Cameron Todd Willingham, But His Case Won't Die

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TDCJ
At this point, more than a decade after Cameron Todd Willingham's 2004 execution for the arson deaths of his three young daughters in Corsicana, there's something marrow-deep exhausting about the whole saga. Willingham went to his execution protesting his innocence, and in the years that have followed his death, the case has routinely reappeared in the news cycle with new revelations about either the junk arson science or the key witness used to convict him. The stories just keep coming.

Right now the focus is on the key witness against Willingham, Johnny Webb, and a letter that indicates the lead prosecutor on the case may have made a deal with Webb in exchange for Webb's testimony, according to a new report from the Marshall Project.

For years John Jackson, the lead prosecutor in Willingham's case, insisted that Webb wasn't coached on his testimony and that he got no special treatment or perks of any kind for agreeing to testify against Willingham. Webb ultimately testified that Willingham had confessed to the murders while they were in lockup together. That jailhouse confession, coupled with the "arson science" of the time, eventually led to Willingham's conviction and death sentence.

However, in addition to everything uncovered last year in a story by Maurice Possley, published by the Washington Post and the Marshall Project, a new letter written by Webb has surfaced, Possley now reports.

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DPS Is Super Worried About Glitter Bombs

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Glitter, another thing the DPS is warning about.

Well, glitter bombing has now been deemed both dangerous and a thing that gay rights groups are totally into, according to the powers that be at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Last week, a DPS captain sent out an email to Texas legislators warning that certain nefarious groups have been glitter-bombing certain super-conservative legislators. Apparently, whoever opens the mail at state Rep. Debbie Riddle's Spring office was the latest victim of this sparkly explosion and these bombs have been showing up at the offices of conservative Texas legislators with enough regularity that the DPS felt the need to warn everybody about it.


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Texas Monthly Says What We've All Been Thinking About Chron.com

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Sean Davis via Flickr creative commons

Well, we're glad we aren't the only ones who noticed.

On Wednesday, Texas Monthly called out the Houston Chronicle for a slideshow misfire the paper ran on its free website this week. The slideshow in question was attached to an aggregated story on Lacey Smarr, a Longview teenager who died of complications from an eating disorder about a month ago, and the slideshow was composed of photos pulled from Lacey's Facebook page.

That's right. The Chron illustrated a story about a girl who ultimately died from an eating disorder by slapping up a series of photos so that the "interested reader" could click through and actually see her waste away in one handy-dandy slideshow.

Texas Monthly was fittingly appalled. But this isn't the first time bizarre, tone-deaf content has made its way onto the Chron's free website (you won't find Lacey Smarr-type slideshows on the more tony and paid webpage) or Facebook page.


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USW and Shell Talked. Briefly.

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Photo by Max burkhalter
Lee Medley and the USW District 13-1 union members outside of the USW Hall in Pasadena.

Representatives from United Steelworkers International and Royal Dutch Shell were back at the bargaining table Wednesday and it seems they talked just long enough to decide they'll try this whole talking thing again next week.

That means the strike is definitely going on for another week, at least, which is rough news for those hoping it would be over by now.

The USW oil refinery strike, the first major oil refinery strike in 35 years, started February 1 and the USW members at Shell Deer Park, LyondellBasell and Marathon Texas City were some of the first called to walk out on strike by the national arm of USW. Since then USW has pulled out more than 6,000 workers at 15 plants across the country, including 12 refineries.

USW has been negotiating a national contract that the local union groups will use as guidelines for their contracts with the company. Shell is negotiating on behalf of the oil industry. They've been trying to hammer out a deal since January 21. So far, things haven't gone well.

Meanwhile, the tensions between the strikers and management have been ratcheting up. People have been crossing the picket line at Shell Deer Park since the second week of the strike. Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh says that 20 percent of the 800 union members have come back to work at Shell Deer Park. Lee Medley, president of USW District 13-1 that represents Shell workers, says that the number is closer to around 100. Either way, strikes depend on union members not crossing picket lines, as we've already noted, so this is a pretty big deal to the local union.


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USW and Shell Are Talking About Talking

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Photo by Max Burkhalter
USW protestors rally at the Shell building in downtown Houston on February 6. They've been on strike since February 1.

Representatives from the United Steelworkers and Royal Dutch Shell have been arguing over a new national contract for the oil refinery workers with no success, but now it looks like the two sides are gearing up to sit down and try once again to work out a new national contract. Or at least they're talking about talking, which seems something like progress at this point.

So far, USW reps have rejected at least seven contract offers from Shell, and pulled more than 6,500 workers at 15 plants -- with about 5,000 coming from 12 oil refineries -- since the strike started on February 1. Locally, the strike started by pulling union workers out of LyondellBasell, Marathon's Texas City Refinery and Shell Deer Park. The two sides are reportedly butting heads over safety issues, rules that make sure fatigued workers aren't stuck on the job, and contractors. Things haven't exactly been going well.


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Bill Calls for Outside Prosecutors to Present Cop-on-Civilian Shootings to Grand Juries

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Courtesy of Janet Baker
Jordan Baker was unarmed when HPD officer Juventino Castro shot and killed him last January
Jordan Baker was riding his bike near a strip mall off 5700 West Little York last January when he encountered Juventino Castro, an HPD officer of over a decade. Castro was moonlighting as a security guard, hired by a group of stores that had recently reported a string of burglaries. Police say Castro, who was in uniform, flagged 26-year-old Baker because he looked suspicious and matched the description of the robbery suspects -- the "description" being that Baker was a black man wearing a hoodie.

Investigators would later say there's no reason to think Baker had anything to do with the robberies at the strip center. He had a kid at home, was studying to become a welder, and had no criminal record to speak of (he'd been charged with misdemeanor pot possession and evading arrest when he was a teenager, but those charges were dismissed). Yet for some reason, "a brief struggle and foot chase ensued" when Castro tried to stop and talk to Baker, according to police. Castro later claimed that, for some reason, Baker stopped running at some point, turned toward the officer and reached for his waistband, even though he was unarmed. Castro fired once, killing Baker.

As with all officer-involved shootings, the Harris County District Attorney's Office presented the case to grand jury in December to decide whether Castro was justified in shooting and killing an unarmed man. According to the DA's office, there were no witnesses to the shooting; it was Castro's word against that of a dead man. And, as has been the case in every single HPD-involved shooting for over a decade, the grand jury cleared Castro.

Invoking Baker's name, Missouri City state Rep. Ron Reynolds has filed a bill to take officer-involved shootings out of the hands of local district attorneys, and would instead call for a special Attorney General-appointed prosecutor to investigate and present such cases to a grand jury. "Jordan Baker. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. There are blatant problems with the criminal justice system, and many of you have demanded change," Reynolds said in a statement announcing his HB 1840.

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Ugly Social Media Response to Suspected Arson at Islamic Community Center

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Screengrab from Facebook
The social media response to the Quba Islamic Institute fire hasn't exactly been encouraging.

In the wake of the fire that gutted a building owned by the Quba Islamic Institute last Friday, people have taken to social media to air their thoughts and opinions about the suspicious fire. Go figure that a lot of those thoughts have been remarkably ugly and lobbed directly at the Islamic community center.

Within hours investigators with the Houston Fire Department told Imam Zahid Abdullah that it looked like the fire was started using accelerants, a strong indication that the fire wasn't an accident. (HFD officials announced that Darryl Ferguson, 55, had been arrested and charged with felony first degree arson late Monday, according to KTRK.) The center posted this information on Facebook and has also been fielding questions from people interested in making a donation to help the center.

But in addition to a lot of good will from social media, people have been posting on the Quba Islamic Institute's Facebook page with comments that run the gamut from snide glee to blatant bigotry. The fire is the first serious incident that has occurred at the institute since Abdullah opened it about two years ago, he says. That has made some of the negative comments on social media that much more shocking, he says. "It definitely makes you think and wonder why people think that way," Abdullah says. "It's a very simple thing. You have to understand that we are here to promote love, that's all. That's what the prophets Mohamed, Moses and Jesus have demonstrated all their lives and we have to be followers of those teachings."


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