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Club for Growth wades into Texas primary battles

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. The conservative attack on Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is getting reinforcements from a high-profile national group that typically focuses on congressional races. Club For Growth, a political action committee that raises money for hard-right federal candidates, on Tuesday announced it had spent $4 million on a TV ad targeting five Texas House Republican incumbents facing runoffs. The group will air a 30-second spot that calls Phelan “unwaveringly liberal” and a “Democrat in disguise.” It also takes aim at Reps. Gary Vandeaver of New Boston, Justin Holland of Rockwall, John Kuempel of Sequin and DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, who all voted against school vouchers. “From failing to support school choice to allowing radical liberal Democrats to chair committees, Speaker Phelan is a certified RINO with a long record, and he will be held accountable by the voters in the runoff,” said David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth’s Super PAC. Club for Growth’s focus has traditionally been focused on congressional races. The group is a major supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz, and has committed to spending $10 million in his reelection race against U.S. Rep. Colin Allred. But in March, Club for Growth announced it had jointly raised eight figures, along with Gov. Greg Abbott and AFC Victory Fund to get involved in state House runoffs over school vouchers, which would allow public dollars to follow Texas students to private and religious schools. “You can no longer consider yourself a conservative if you oppose school freedom,” McIntosh said at the time. “We are proud that AFC Victory Fund and Governor Abbott’s team are allies in our united goal to win these runoffs in Texas and remove these so-called ‘republicans’ from office.” Over two regular legislative sessions, the House under Phelan has passed some of the most conservative legislation in the chamber’s history, including allowing permitless carry of handguns and a near-total ban on abortion. Phelan has come under particular criticism from many within his party for the House’s failure last year to approve a school voucher bill favored by Abbott. Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, a school voucher supporter who contributed $6 million to Abbott’s campaign in December, is also a major donor to Club For Growth. Kuempel, VanDeaver, Holland and Burns all were among 21 Republicans who killed the governor’s voucher bill in November. Abbott vowed revenge on the group and so far has gotten a taste. During the first round of primary voting last month, six anti-voucher Republicans who sought reelection lost outright. Phelan told The Texas Tribune in January that he would have preferred a voucher bill to pass the House. But that admission was not enough to save him from a runoff, where many voters in his district were also upset that he supported the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. We can’t wait to welcome you to downtown Austin Sept. 5-7 for the 2024 Texas Tribune Festival! Join us at Texas’ breakout politics and policy event as we dig into the 2024 elections, state and national politics, the state of democracy, and so much more. When tickets go on sale this spring, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

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Texas counties face surprise bill from elections tech vendor

Sign up for the We the Texans newsletter to receive twice-monthly updates on our year-long initiative dedicated to boosting civic engagement and chronicling how democracy is experienced in Texas. This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan news organization covering local election administration and voting access. The article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy. A vendor of voter registration management software is asking Texas counties that use its services to pay tens of thousands of dollars in surcharges to help the company stay afloat, or scramble for alternative ways to deal with sensitive voter information in a presidential election year. The request has election administrators in some of the state’s largest counties consulting with county attorneys about their legal options. Others are trying to find the money to pay, worried about the stability of the vendor, California-based Votec Corp. Election officials have few other options to store and manage the voter registration data of millions of voters across the state only months ahead of the May runoff election and November’s presidential election. Election administrators in Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Collin, Williamson, and Hays counties all received the request for additional funds. Those counties represent a substantial percentage of the state’s 18 million registered voters. In a message to counties on March 21 obtained by Votebeat, Votec CEO John Medcalf said some customers in Texas were “up to seven months late” making payments. “These delays, plus mishandling by our payroll/health insurance company caused additional concern,” Medcalf wrote. He predicted that his company will be financially strong in 2025, based on the expected release of a new product, but said he must assess a “one-time” surcharge of 35% on Texas clients this year. Thirty-two counties in Texas use Votec’s voter registration management software, dubbed Vemacs, and the company has done business in the state for more than two decades. It’s one of only three companies certified in Texas to manage voter registration data. The software is also used by counties in Nevada and Illinois, but so far, Votec has asked only Texas counties to pay the surcharge. In Dallas County, the election department received an invoice from Votec with a surcharge of $66,000. In Collin, the surcharge is more than $40,000, and in Hays County, it’s close to $20,000. “This is a huge deal,” said Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Doinoff. “Any time that a vendor of one of the most important components of an election indicates financial distress, that’s scary.” She said her county has yet to decide next steps, but said she can’t easily write a check for the surcharge Votec is seeking. “We all have purchasing processes and procurement policies that we have to abide by,” Doinoff said. Votec CEO says some counties have agreed to pay Medcalf told Votebeat the surcharge is not “a last play before going out of business.” But he added that he didn’t yet know what steps he’d take if counties in Texas were unable or unwilling to pay the additional charges. “We don’t want to see the counties harmed in any way,” he said. “We will enter discussions with them, ask how they can help while we’re helping them. I just have to assume we’ll all be adults in the room.” He said that for the most part, he’s gotten a “positive response” to the request, and that some counties have already agreed to pay. Medcalf said a looming threat to Votec’s client base in Nevada, where 12 counties are customers, is not a major concern. Nevada is in the process of launching a new statewide voter registration system that counties will be required to use. Medcalf told Votebeat that the contracts with its Nevada customers are in effect until the end of this year, and said his company will be fine. He said the Nevada customers account for around $200,000 in revenue, or 5% of the company’s total. “So we’ll miss them. But we expect much more than to compensate for that,” Medcalf said. Votec has already lost two big customers in Nevada. Clark County, the state’s most populous, cut ties with Votec in 2022 after more than a decade. Medcalf said he had a falling out with the county’s registrar of voters at the time, but did not elaborate. Nevada’s, second-largest county, Washoe, also no longer has a contract with the company. Documents show Medcalf pushed back when Washoe signaled that it wanted to end the relationship. In a 2020 letter to the county’s registrar of voters, Medcalf wrote: “We can tell the registrar wants out of the contract. The registrar has terminated twice. The Registrar offered no reason for the first termination other than being nervous. To my unbelief, the purchasing and contracts manager upheld nervousness as a valid cause for contract termination.” Texas’ own voter registration system has flaws The Help America Vote Act, a federal law enacted in the early 2000s, requires states to develop and implement “a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list.” Exactly how that’s done varies by state. Some states have one central database that connects to terminals in local jurisdictions. Other states gather and compile information from each local jurisdiction’s voter registration database. Texas uses a combination of those methods. Most Texas counties enter their voter registration data directly in a statewide database called the Texas Election Administration Management system, or TEAM. The state developed the system in 2004, to meet the HAVA requirements. But the system had flaws. Nearly half of Texas’s 254 counties reported it was slow and did not allow them to “perform their jobs effectively,” according to a 2007 audit by the State Auditor’s Office. More than a decade later, election officials say TEAM remains inconsistent. For example, they say TEAM can take anywhere from minutes to hours to produce a standard report using election data, such as a list of voters in the county who have requested an absentee ballot. So dozens of counties, including the largest ones, maintain their own voter registration databases using private vendors, and sync their data daily with TEAM, as required by law. The vendors have to go through an extensive certification process by the Secretary of State’s Office. The information they help counties manage includes voters’ addresses, voting history, registration applications, images of signatures for verification, images of mail-ballot envelopes, and other personal data. The state has been working on a revamped version of TEAM set to launch next year. Counties can migrate their data to the state system and start using it instead if they choose. The state already has most of the data, since counties that use private vendors are required to sync their information with TEAM. The transition, however, would require training voter registration officials on how to use a new system. Votec is part of a large industry of technology contractors and vendors that government entities use to manage key functions. Almost every state and federal government agency in the country relies on third-party vendors to manage and store important data. Issues between vendors and government agencies aren’t uncommon, but election offices, which are chronically underfunded and have deadlines tied to statutes and elections, have little flexibility to get around disruptions, and fewer specialized vendors to choose from. If a U.S. Department of Defense vendor seeks more money due to inflation, the federal government’s budget has more wiggle room, said Mitchell Brown, a political science professor at Auburn University in Alabama whose research focuses on the interplay between election departments and other organizations supporting elections. “We do not fund elections very well, and it puts additional pressure on the system. And this is why things like this become really critical,” Brown said. Natalia Contreras is a reporter for Votebeat covering election administration and voting access in partnership with the Texas Tribune. Contact Natalia at ncontreras@votebeat.org Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here. We can’t wait to welcome you to downtown Austin Sept. 5-7 for the 2024 Texas Tribune Festival! Join us at Texas’ breakout politics and policy event as we dig into the 2024 elections, state and national politics, the state of democracy, and so much more. When tickets go on sale this spring, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

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Small Texas towns gear up for solar eclipse crowds

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. Cities and small towns in Texas from the Mexico border to Texarkana are bracing for a flood of visitors ahead of next week’s solar eclipse, with some local leaders warning their residents to prepare by stocking up on food and water and staying home on Monday. They’re also watching the weather forecast carefully. Along the eclipse’s path through Texas, meteorologists are predicting cloudy and rainy conditions in south Central Texas and cloudy skies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which could ruin eclipse viewing parties and other planned events. In Llano, Mayor Marion Bishop said regardless of what the weather does, his city of 3,300 residents is expecting large crowds of eclipse tourists, heavy traffic and potential shortages of food, water and medications. He’s advising Llano residents to “hunker down, stay still and hold on, because it’s gonna be a wild ride.” Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth. In Texas, the eclipse’s path is expected to begin near Eagle Pass at around noon and end at Texarkana around 3 p.m., passing through small towns like Uvalde and Kerrville as well as big cities like Austin and Dallas along the way. Llano is in the path of totality, meaning that for about four minutes the moon will block the sun entirely. According to NASA, a solar eclipse like this year’s won’t happen again for another 20 years. That’s caused an expected crush of eclipse tourism next week, with visitors from other parts of Texas and around the country booking hotels, vacation rentals and RV parks months in advance. Multiple Central Texas counties have declared local disasters in order to control people moving in and out of the areas and more easily tap into state resources, KXAN reported. Kaufman County in North Texas did the same. Meanwhile, Texas airports are preparing for more than the usual number of travelers. Dallas Love Field plans to have extra staffing. Austin’s airport was bracing for a surge of rental car rentals and returns before and after the eclipse. There’s a reason for the frenzy. Viewing a total eclipse is a spectacular, visceral experience, said Stephen Bradshaw, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University. As the moon moves in front of the sun, the temperature drops, and a diamond of light beams emerges around the moon’s edge. Being able to witness a total eclipse over land is also unusual, Bradshaw said. This one is passing through densely populated areas that are relatively easy to reach, sparking thousands of road trips. In Bradshaw’s view, it’s worth making the effort to see. “It’s almost sort of a whole body experience,” Bradshaw said. “I think these days, especially, people are a lot more about having experiences. And this is one of nature’s most spectacular.” Prepping in Llano In Llano, Bishop’s main concern next week is gridlock at the Roy B. Inks Bridge over the Llano River. Built in the 1930s, it’s the only bridge connecting the northern and southern halves of the city. “We’re making the best we can out of not a good situation,” Bishop said. “[The bridge] is not going to be able to handle the demands of the traffic that’s going to be going across it.” The mayor has asked residents to stock up with a week’s worth of food and fill up their gas tanks before this weekend. Bishop said the city’s 90 bed and breakfasts are totally booked. The city has spent $35,000 to rent 150 portable toilets. The city is warning visitors that cellphone service may be spotty with so many people in town. “You can’t take a town of 3,300 people, and then bring in 60,000 [more] and not expect to run out of everything,” Bishop said. “When you’ve got a horde of hungry people, and they’re here for a day or two, then all the supplies are going to disappear.” Tony Guidroz, the city’s community development director, said Llano has held three town halls in preparation for the eclipse. He added that the city is viewing the eclipse as an opportunity, not an emergency, and hopes that local businesses, hotels and restaurants will experience an economic boost. “We’re really excited for the opportunities that our businesses and lodging properties may have to really capitalize on the economic impact that the event can provide,” he said. At Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Manger Chris Engelman said that the restaurant has stocked up with about 50% more than its regular supply of meat, paper goods and to-go containers. Cooper’s will extend its hours and asked employees to report for work about four hours earlier than usual, he said. “We are going to knock it out of the park. We’ve put in as much research and preparation as we can. It’s about taking care of the customers, while giving relief to employees,” Engelman said. In Junction, worries about I-10 congestion Roughly 80 miles west of Llano in Junction, Andrew Burnard, a volunteer leader with Kimble County’s Community Emergency Response Team, said the county has emergency plans in place in case of traffic jams on Interstate 10, a major trucking route connecting Houston and Los Angeles. “We are very worried that people are going to pull off of [the highway] and look at the eclipse and then cause more traffic delays for the truck driver that just wants to get his load all the way to LA,” Burnard said. The eclipse is supposed to reach Junction at 1:30 p.m. and will last about three minutes. The weather forecast for Junction on Monday is mostly cloudy with possible thunderstorms. Adam Hammons, a spokesperson with the Texas Department of Transportation, said in an email that the agency will have crews available to direct traffic where it’s needed and will put messages on electronic highway signs warning people not to park along the highway. South of the city at South Llano River State Park, Superintendent Cody Edwards said the park’s 220 day-use parking spots and all 58 campsites are already booked for the eclipse. Park staff have pumped out the park’s septic system and prepped the restrooms for the influx of eclipse visitors. Edwards said staff is working hard to give visitors “the best possible outdoor experience” to view the eclipse from its two-mile river frontage or more than 20 miles of trails. In Eagle Pass, a chance to change the subject For months, Eagle Pass has been the center of Texas’ efforts to militarize the border as the state entered a still unresolved standoff with the federal government over the enforcement of immigration law — exemplified by the state’s seizure of a city park on the Rio Grande as a staging area for state troopers and Texas National Guard members. On Monday, some city officials hope to paint the border city in a different light as they welcome thousands of expected visitors who want to see the solar eclipse in one of the first American cities to experience the path of totality. “What’s being shown on the news is not what is actually happening in our community, we’re very safe, we’re very welcoming, there’s nothing out of control,” City Manager Homero Balderas said. “We want people to experience it for themselves.” To showcase the city’s offerings, officials have planned for more than a year to put on a music festival coinciding with the eclipse, Balderas said. They booked artists and began promoting the event — investing close to $2 million — that was initially planned for Shelby Park. When state officials seized the park and closed it to the public against city officials’ wishes, that forced a last-minute relocation to the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino. Balderas said he was concerned that the relocation — approved by the city in late February — and the publicity about the border enforcement standoff might hurt attendance at the festival , but that he remains hopeful that visitors will get to see the city for what it is — welcoming and safe — while witnessing a unique natural event. “We’re excited and we’re definitely ready, whether it’s 5,000 or 20,000 [visitors] — we’ve been working very hard,” he said. In Sulphur Springs: a parking space and a plate for a fee In Northeast Texas, St. James Catholic Church in Sulphur Springs — the oldest and only Catholic church in Hopkins County — is renting out the church’s 350 parking spots for $25 each and plans to sell food and special glasses to view the eclipse. Karen Lozano, head of the pastoral committee at the church, said there is a nervous energy around town ahead of the eclipse, which is supposed to reach Sulphur Springs at 1:42 p.m. and last four minutes on Monday. “The number one worry is that we may not have cell service or internet service here. We are a little town and now everybody wants to come to Sulphur Springs because we’re in the direct center of the [eclipse] path,” she said. Lozano said the church has already sold more than 50 parking spots. Restaurants that normally close on Sundays are being asked to stay open all week. Schools are also renting out parking spaces and using that money to fund their science programs. Hotels and RV parks in town and surrounding areas are booked. In Powderly, about 40 miles north of Sulphur Springs near Paris, Jason Besteman is opening his family-owned ranch to visitors for the first time. Besteman said his family has been building short-term rentals on a portion of their dairy farm, believing that agricultural tourism is what will help them survive. “The farming business is tough at times,” he said. “I really see [agricultural tourism] as a big thing as people are trying to get out of the city and experience the fresh air of rural outdoors.” For the eclipse, the family has set up more than 100 RV spaces and campsites for $250 a night. He hopes the farm will see an economic boost from the eclipse. “We have a really pretty view on a hilltop,” he said. “I don’t know what the weather is going to do, but we are hoping a lot of people come into town.” Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here. We can’t wait to welcome you to downtown Austin Sept. 5-7 for the 2024 Texas Tribune Festival! Join us at Texas’ breakout politics and policy event as we dig into the 2024 elections, state and national politics, the state of democracy, and so much more. When tickets go on sale this spring, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

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Orange Anti-Christ

News & Views Claytoonz News & Views Latest News & Views Metro Detroit News Michigan News Politics & Elections Flint Water Crisis Abortion Rights ICYMI Detroit Guides Digital Issue Arts & Culture Latest Arts & Culture Arts Stories & Interviews Things to Do Culture Movies Television Movie Times Find a Theater Horoscopes Food & Drink Latest Food & Drink Food News Drink News Restaurant Reviews Find a Restaurant Music Latest Music Music News Local Music Concert Announcements Find a Concert Weed Latest Weed Marijuana News Canna-Business One Hitters Business Directory Things to Do Today’s Events This Weekend Submit an Event Detroit in Pictures Best Of Detroit Best Of Home Food Bars & Clubs Drinks Best Bet Shops & Services Arts & Entertainment Weed Events & Contests Win Stuff! Events Subscribe Username View Profile Edit Profile Log Out Search in Articles & Posts in Locations in Events in Slideshows All GO News & Views Claytoonz Latest News & Views Metro Detroit News Michigan News Politics & Elections Flint Water Crisis Abortion Rights ICYMI Detroit Guides Digital Issue Claytoonz LOL Orange Anti-Christ By Clay Jones Apr 3, 2024 at 6:00 am Send a News Tip Share on Reddit Share on Facebook Share via email Print Adjust text size [ { “name”: “GPT – Leaderboard – Inline – Content”, “component”: “35519556”, “insertPoint”: “5th”, “startingPoint”: “3”, “requiredCountToDisplay”: “3”, “maxInsertions”: 100 } ] Tags: ClaytoonzLOL About The Author Clay Jones Follow Us Facebook X Instagram Threads TikTok NewsBreak Reddit Apple News Google News RSS Subscribe to our Newsletter Read Next Highland Park man inherited his mom’s beloved Thunderbird — then police ‘stole’ it ‘I went into a psychotic rage,’ Bob Nelson says By Steve Neavling Trending in News & Views Highland Park man inherited his mom’s beloved Thunderbird — then police ‘stole’ it By Steve Neavling Apr 2, 2024 Lapointe: ‘Romney’ McDaniel takes her turn driving the GOP clown car By Joe Lapointe Apr 1, 2024 Disability justice groups demand more resources in Detroit’s budget By Steve Neavling Apr 1, 2024 This Week’s Issue Find Metro Times in Print Subscribe to Metro Times Newsletters Local Detroit News & Views Things to Do Arts & Culture Food & Drink Music Weed Detroit in Pictures More Best Of Detroit Detroit Guides Submit an Event Sponsored Articles Gaming About Metrotimes About Us Advertise Contact Us Jobs Staff Big Lou Holdings, LLC Cincinnati CityBeat Detroit Metro Times Louisville Leo Weekly St. Louis Riverfront Times Sauce Magazine Local Detroit News & Views Things to Do Arts & Culture Food & Drink Music Weed Detroit in Pictures More Best Of Detroit Detroit Guides Submit an Event Sponsored Articles Gaming About Metrotimes About Us Advertise Contact Us Jobs Staff Big Lou Holdings, LLC Cincinnati CityBeat Detroit Metro Times Louisville Leo Weekly St. Louis Riverfront Times Sauce Magazine Facebook X/Twitter Threads Instagram Tiktok Calendar Submission Guidelines Freelance Guidelines Privacy Policy Terms & Conditions All material © 2024 Detroit Metro Times, Ferndale, MI. All rights reserved. Subscribe

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Lieberman’s legacy

News & Views This Modern World News & Views Latest News & Views Metro Detroit News Michigan News Politics & Elections Flint Water Crisis Abortion Rights ICYMI Detroit Guides Digital Issue Arts & Culture Latest Arts & Culture Arts Stories & Interviews Things to Do Culture Movies Television Movie Times Find a Theater Horoscopes Food & Drink Latest Food & Drink Food News Drink News Restaurant Reviews Find a Restaurant Music Latest Music Music News Local Music Concert Announcements Find a Concert Weed Latest Weed Marijuana News Canna-Business One Hitters Business Directory Things to Do Today’s Events This Weekend Submit an Event Detroit in Pictures Best Of Detroit Best Of Home Food Bars & Clubs Drinks Best Bet Shops & Services Arts & Entertainment Weed Events & Contests Win Stuff! Events Subscribe Username View Profile Edit Profile Log Out Search in Articles & Posts in Locations in Events in Slideshows All GO News & Views This Modern World Latest News & Views Metro Detroit News Michigan News Politics & Elections Flint Water Crisis Abortion Rights ICYMI Detroit Guides Digital Issue This Modern World LOL Lieberman’s legacy By Tom Tomorrow Apr 3, 2024 at 6:00 am Send a News Tip Share on Reddit Share on Facebook Share via email Print Adjust text size [ { “name”: “GPT – Leaderboard – Inline – Content”, “component”: “35519556”, “insertPoint”: “5th”, “startingPoint”: “3”, “requiredCountToDisplay”: “3”, “maxInsertions”: 100 } ] Tags: This Modern WorldLOL About The Author Tom Tomorrow Follow Us Facebook X Instagram Threads TikTok NewsBreak Reddit Apple News Google News RSS Subscribe to our Newsletter Read Next Orange Anti-Christ By Clay Jones Trending in News & Views Highland Park man inherited his mom’s beloved Thunderbird — then police ‘stole’ it By Steve Neavling Apr 2, 2024 Lapointe: ‘Romney’ McDaniel takes her turn driving the GOP clown car By Joe Lapointe Apr 1, 2024 Disability justice groups demand more resources in Detroit’s budget By Steve Neavling Apr 1, 2024 This Week’s Issue Find Metro Times in Print Subscribe to Metro Times Newsletters Local Detroit News & Views Things to Do Arts & Culture Food & Drink Music Weed Detroit in Pictures More Best Of Detroit Detroit Guides Submit an Event Sponsored Articles Gaming About Metrotimes About Us Advertise Contact Us Jobs Staff Big Lou Holdings, LLC Cincinnati CityBeat Detroit Metro Times Louisville Leo Weekly St. Louis Riverfront Times Sauce Magazine Local Detroit News & Views Things to Do Arts & Culture Food & Drink Music Weed Detroit in Pictures More Best Of Detroit Detroit Guides Submit an Event Sponsored Articles Gaming About Metrotimes About Us Advertise Contact Us Jobs Staff Big Lou Holdings, LLC Cincinnati CityBeat Detroit Metro Times Louisville Leo Weekly St. Louis Riverfront Times Sauce Magazine Facebook X/Twitter Threads Instagram Tiktok Calendar Submission Guidelines Freelance Guidelines Privacy Policy Terms & Conditions All material © 2024 Detroit Metro Times, Ferndale, MI. All rights reserved. Subscribe

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Free Will Astrology (April 3-9)

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Aries author Eric G. Wilson claims, “Darker emotional states — doubt, confusion, alienation, despair — inspire a deeper and more durable experience of the sacred than contentment does.” I disagree. I know for a fact that an exquisite embrace of life’s holiness is equally possible through luminous joy and boisterous triumph and exultant breakthroughs. Propagandists of the supposed potency of misery are stuck in a habit of mind that’s endemic to the part of civilization that’s rotting and dying. In any case, Aries, I’m pleased to tell you that in the coming weeks, you will have abundant opportunities to glide into sacred awareness on the strength of your lust for life and joie de vivre. TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Will humans succeed in halting the decimation of the environment? Will we neutralize the power of fundamentalism as it fights to quash our imaginations and limit our freedoms? Will we outflank and outlast the authoritarians that threaten democracy? Sorry I’m asking you to think about sad realities. But now is an excellent time for you to ponder the world we are creating for our descendants — and resolve to do something in loving service to the future. Meditate on the riddle from Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” GEMINI (May 21-June 20): The genius polymath Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) contributed much treasure to science and engineering. One encyclopedia sums up his legacy: “He was the father of observational astronomy, modern-era classical physics, the scientific method, and modern science.” Unfortunately, many of Galileo’s ideas conflicted with the teachings of Catholicism. The church fathers hounded him for years, even arresting him and putting him on trial. The Vatican eventually apologized, though not until 350 years after Galileo died. I expect that you, too, will generate many new approaches and possibilities in the coming months, Gemini — not Galileo level, of course, but still: sufficiently unprecedented to rouse the resistance of conventional wisdom. I suspect you won’t have to wait long to be vindicated, however. CANCER (June 21-July 22): Now would be a perfect time to prove your love. How? You might begin by being extra considerate, sensitive, sweet, and tender. I hope you will add sublime, scintillating touches, too. Maybe you will tell your beloved allies beautiful truths about themselves — revelations that make them feel deeply understood and appreciated. Maybe you will give them gifts or blessings they have wanted for a long time but never managed to get for themselves. It’s possible you will serenade them with their favorite songs, or write a poem or story about them, or buy them a symbol that inspires their spiritual quest. To climax all your kindness, perhaps you will describe the ways they have changed your life for the better. LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Leo naturalist and ornithologist William Henry Hudson (1841–1922) said, “I am not a lover of lawns. Rather would I see daisies in their thousands, ground ivy, hawkweed, and dandelions with splendid flowers and fairy down, than the too-well-tended lawn.” I encourage you to adopt his attitude toward everything in your life for the next few weeks. Always opt for unruly beauty over tidy regimentation. Choose lush vitality over pruned efficiency. Blend your fate with influences that exult in creative expressiveness, genial fertility, and deep feelings. (P.S.: Cultural critic Michael Pollan says, “A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.”) VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): I praise and celebrate you for your skills at helping other people access their resources and activate their potentials. I hope you are rewarded well for your gorgeous service. If you are not, please figure out how to correct the problem in the coming months. If you are feeling extra bold, consider these two additional assignments: 1. Upgrade your skills at helping yourself access your own resources and activate your own potentialS. 2. Be forthright and straightforward in asking the people you help to help you. LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): I don’t regard a solar eclipse as a bad omen. On the contrary, I believe it may purge and cleanse stale old karma. On some occasions, I have seen it flush away emotional debts and debris that have been accumulating for years. So how shall we interpret the total solar eclipse that will electrify your astrological house of intimate togetherness in the coming days? I think it’s a favorable time to be brave and daring as you upgrade your best relationships. What habits and patterns are you ready to reinvent and reconfigure? What new approaches are you willing to experiment with? SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): At your best, you Scorpios are not invasive manipulators. Rather, you are catalysts. You are instigators of transformation, resurrectors of dead energy, awakeners of numb minds. The people you influence may not be aware that they long to draw on your influence. They may think you are somehow imposing it on them, when, in fact, you are simply being your genuine, intense self, and they are reaching out to absorb your unruly healing. In the coming weeks, please keep in mind what I’ve said here. SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): In my astrological opinion, it’s prime time for you to shower big wild favors on your beautiful self. Get the fun underway with a period of rigorous self-care: a physical check-up, perhaps, and visits with the dentist, therapist, hairstylist, and acupuncturist. Try new healing agents and seek precise magic that enhances and uplifts your energy. I trust you will also call on luxurious indulgences like a massage, a psychic reading, gourmet meals, an emotionally potent movie, exciting new music, and long, slow love-making. Anything else, Sagittarius? Make a list and carry out these tasks with the same verve and determination you would give to any important task. CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): The coming days will be a favorable time for you to wrestle with an angel or play chess with a devil. You will have extraordinary power in any showdown or collaboration with spiritual forces. Your practical intelligence will serve you well in encounters with non-rational enigmas and supernatural riddles. Here’s a hot tip: Never assume that any being, human or divine, is holier or wiser than you. You will have a special knack for finding compassionate solutions to address even the knottiest dilemmas. AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Your featured organ of the month is your nose. This may sound beyond the scope of predictable possibilities, but I’m serious: You will make robust decisions and discriminating choices if you get your sniffer fully involved. So I advise you to favor and explore whatever smells good. Cultivate a nuanced appreciation for what aromas can reveal. If there’s a hint of a stink or an odd tang, go elsewhere. The saying “follow your nose” is especially applicable. P.S.: I recommend you take steps to expose yourself to a wide array of scents that energize you and boost your mood. PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): When is the best time to ask for a raise or an increase in benefits? Can astrology reveal favorable periods for being aggressive about getting more of what you want? In the system I use, the time that’s 30 to 60 days after your birthday is most likely to generate good results. Another phase is 210 to 240 days after your birthday. Keep in mind that these estimates may be partly fanciful and playful and mythical. But then in my philosophy, fanciful and playful and mythical actions have an honored place. Self-fulfilling prophecies are more likely to be fulfilled if you regard them as fun experiments rather than serious, literal rules. Homework: Imagine that everything and everyplace in your life are holy.

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The dark side of food delivery services like DoorDash

Chowhound is a weekly column about what’s trending in Detroit food culture. Tips: [email protected]. Has a food delivery service ever let you down? Have you ever used one and gotten something for nothing? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you’re affirming claims made by two former DoorDash drivers I recently interviewed, who say things go wrong in that line of work routinely, and for all kinds of reasons. To hear them tell it, chinks in the chain of possession, problematic service protocols, and plain dishonesty in customers and drivers alike all contribute to a food industry service that often fails to deliver. “Anything can happen,” Jasmine, my first interviewee, couched cryptically to open the conversation. She drove for both DoorDash and Instacart from 2021 to 2022. “People don’t like to answer the door for starters, and that causes lots of problems.” “There’s all kinds of issues and a high rate of delivery failures,” seconded Adam, who started as a “Dasher” for a time in 2018 before delivering regularly between 2020 and 2022. “Try reaching people on the 20th floor of the Penobscot Building and trying to find parking that you won’t have to pay for, because there’s no reimbursement for that, while everything’s being tracked and timed [by the delivery apps and their users].” Outlining working rules they ran with as drivers, A & J explained what pick-up and delivery-drop procedures they were expected to follow, along with what the real rules of the road became after they confronted the actual rigors of their jobs as meal jockeys. Officially, after arriving at a delivery destination, they were required to alert the customer (click, call, text, knock, ring, etc.). Failing any response, drivers are then required to remain at the location for a full five minutes in an effort to confirm customer receipt of service. During that time, delivery service software can verify a driver’s whereabouts. “Some [customers] learn to play the game,” Adam insists. “After those five minutes, we’re supposed to leave our delivery ‘in a safe space’ and take a pic. Well, customers catch on quick. They learn to wait me out until I leave that order, then grab it and still claim they couldn’t find it right there. And in that case, it becomes a race to the [app] button. If I’m not quicker to click ‘order has been delivered’ than they are to hit ‘didn’t receive food,’ I’m screwed. The [food and gratuity] charges get reversed, so I’m out my DoorDash money, the tip, and possibly face my account being suspended. It’s bullshit, basically.” On the flip side, Adam admits to playing that game himself. “I was sometimes that customer saying I didn’t get my food, just because I felt it was a little too expensive after [eating it].” While Jasmine didn’t own-up to anything similar, she testified to seeing fellow drivers doing each other dirty by stealing orders. “I’ve definitely seen it done, but I wouldn’t do it because if I go to pick up an order and it’s gone, I don’t get paid. Then, it’s a whole process that isn’t worth going through, really: statements, pictures you’re supposed to take, and after all that they [the services] might pay you half. It happens a lot. People pick up their own orders and one or two sitting next to it.” According to both ex-Dashers, this can happen when restaurants don’t do their due diligence monitoring who’s coming and going with all those food orders. Citing some big corporate chains like Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Tropical Smoothie Café, and Wingstop as culpable in such instances, A & J elaborated. “They just set out the orders and that’s it,” Jasmine explained. “Other places keep orders behind the counter. They have our names and check. Sometimes, people lose their money and their food in all that mess. That’s the risk nowadays. It’s all about what you can prove. Drivers need to take their pictures for sure. I’ve seen drivers take pictures of their food then still steal other people’s. It’s pretty rough, really.” Adam agreed. And then some. “Anything can happen to your food. I was hungry sometimes, and what I was delivering smelled good. I did get my account suspended eventually for that kind of thing, though.” Unfortunately, even delivery system checks and fail-safes built into the apps aren’t foolproof. “We had an emergency button with options,” Adam said. “‘Can’t deliver.’ ‘Order not ready.’ ‘Restaurant closed.’ ‘Restaurant too busy.’ Or even just, ‘I don’t want order anymore.’ Even if I’ve already grabbed the food, I can hit one of those buttons at any time prior to clicking and confirming receipt. If you’ve driven for these services, you learn the loopholes. Restaurant employees just press ‘order is done’ and set stuff on a shelf. I can just pick up whatever I want at that point and walk out with it. As long as I look confident like I know what I’m doing, I can just ‘Dash’ with whatever.” So, who ultimately pays for all that? Neither driver knows for sure, of course. Yet if this kind of loss to theft by both drivers and consumers happens to the degree Adam and Jasmine estimate (“30% of the time” and “once or twice a shift,” respectively) these problems would appear epidemic, and certainly help to explain all the news feeds we read these days of retailers citing large-scale losses to theft, which, personally, I’d previously assumed was attributable to old-school, in-store shoplifting. But product and profits lost somewhere over the course of conducting third-party delivery service business just might be amounting to at least as big a siphon on food industry revenue streams. Does this, perhaps, explain at least partly why prices at sit-down and fast-food restaurants have risen so high since the demand for meal delivery services exploded some four years ago? “These are huge companies hiring all kinds of independent contractors,” Adam summed up some key points to consider. “The problems begin and end with businesses that are lacking in confirming orders are prepared and picked up correctly, and customers and drivers working a system that’s easy to beat. The companies don’t seem to care, so they must still be making plenty of money.” “I’d do it again,” Jasmine tossed in her last two cents on the subject. “I was making $600-$700 working twenty hours a week.” Hmmm. Earning $30-35 an hour doing deliveries on your own schedule, in a corner of food commerce that doesn’t require waiting on tables or working as a line cook for about half that. Maybe I’m finally starting to see what happened to some of the restaurant industry workforce that disappeared when the pandemic struck. DoorDash and its fellows, though flawed in their own ways, had something worthwhile to offer as an employment option. Better pay. Flexible hours. And a smorgasbord of food freebies drivers learned how to feast on illicitly, along with their ever-growing throng of sometimes conscienceless consumers. What a racket. And from the top to the middlemen and even some bottom feeders not above getting their grub on as cheats, most everyone might be in on it. Honest John Kudos to Cadieux Café co-owner John Rutherford, who recently responded to our mid-March review of his establishment. In specific, he reached out to address my impression of Cadieux’s Belgian Beer Stew which, to me, fell a little flat for want of more meat, potatoes, and such. “Thank you for your review and coverage of the Cadieux Café!” John emailed us enthusiastically. “We have addressed the portion size of the stew! Thanks for pointing it out.” And thank you, John, for sending a message that sends another I wish more restaurant goers and operators would get. My food writer’s role serves both a consumer advocacy and customer feedback purpose. What’s offered through my observations are opinions informed by 40-plus years of professional experience working in and writing about food and beverage businesses. Everyone’s welcome to take or leave them for whatever they think they’re worth. Still, let’s get this much straight: I’m not some TikTok flash-in-the-pan talking shit purely for likes from followers. Frankly, anyone who considers themselves a “critic” in this highly subjective arena of taste has too high and mighty a self-perception. I’m just someone with a restaurateur’s background offering considerations and coverage to the restaurants I write about. Every butt-hurt owner, chef, and manager who takes personally whatever any restaurant reviewer might take some issue with should think twice before firing off conspiracy theory emails to editors, along with threats to pull their advertising dollars where applicable. Those kinds of reactions to objective opining are equally pathetic, predictable, and about as old as Gutenberg’s printing press. Unless I get the facts wrong, getting a retraction from me is highly unlikely. Instead, more reviewees might do well to respond like Mr. Rutherford chose to. He read what we said, looked into the matter himself, decided to act as he did, and then let us in on his decision. Now he gets even more coverage, after getting back to us in a correspondence free of ass-chapped accusations and innuendo. Nicely done, sir.

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An Ontario man spent the last months of his life in an ill-fitting wheelchair. Years later, his mother is still demanding oversight

The last nine months of David O’Brien’s life were spent in discomfort and pain as he waited for modifications to a wheelchair that did not comfortably fit him, his mother says. David had Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare genetic disorder, and relied on a power chair since the age of 13. He died in September 2018 after going into cardiac arrest. “David would literally give you the shirt off his back,” his mother, Kitchener, Ont. resident Laurie O’Brien told CTV News Toronto, recounting a time her son returned home half-clothed after giving his shirt to a stranger in need. Download our app to get local alerts on your device Get the latest local updates right to your inbox In March 2018, David’s occupational therapist made a number of recommendations for modifications to David’s wheelchair. The current model no longer fit his needs, his medical records show. In the months prior he had reported growing back pain and had once fallen out completely, citing a broken seat. The needed parts were set to be delivered and installed by Motion LP, the company awarded the sole-source contract to distribute publicly funded mobility equipment in Ontario. However, David was twice provided with ill-fitting replacement parts, records show. While the third modification was requested, it was never installed, according to O’Brien. She said the company, which oversees funding and distribution of the Ontario Assistive Devices Program (ADP) also cancelled two appointments to modify the wheelchair to David’s needs in the weeks before her son’s death, prolonging his discomfort. He never got the needed modifications. “They didn’t come back to finish what they should have,” his mother said. When reached for comment, Motion extended its “sincerest condolences” to David’s family and friends, but did not respond to specific questions about reasons for the cancelled appointments or delays. “We strive to ensure an excellent standard of care and we are focused on continually improving our service standards,” CEO Sue Gilpin said in a statement to CTV News Toronto. The company is committed to providing the “best possible client experience” and welcomes all discussions with stakeholders to better understand their needs, she said. The level of customer service experienced in her late son’s final months sparked a need in O’Brien to better understand what exactly Ontario’s sole high-tech mobility equipment supplier owed to her son in his last year of life – and to the Ontarians who rely on the program today. Six years later, she feels no closer to answers. David O’Brien in his wheelchair. (Courtesy of Laurie O’Brien) When the bereaved mother first contacted Motion to air her complaints, she wasn’t satisfied. In corresponding with the company about her family’s experience, it first acknowledged it hadn’t been able to provide suitable parts for David, but in a letter sent about six months later, the CEO said, to their knowledge, it had. Further frustrated, O’Brien turned to her locally elected officials and dug deeper for answers. She submitted a freedom of information request to the ministry to obtain the province’s contract with Motion. Through that request, O’Brien obtained a copy of the contract from 2016. In that document, there is nothing that specifies how long Motion must complete service repairs. A section on reporting those times was redacted. A copy separately obtained by CTV News Toronto was the same. “A vital service has no oversight. These people, disabled people, are dependent upon these idiots, pardon me, these people for their livelihood and their literal lives in some cases,” O’Brien said. In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health, which oversees the ADP, said it had addressed O’Brien’s concerns with Motion, and provided information to both parties on the review of accountability measures already in place. When reached for comment, Motion did not provide current average length of time it takes to complete repairs, but said, in 2022 and 2023, the average wait for an initial service appointment was just over four days. After meeting with O’Brien earlier this year, MPP for Kitchener-Centre, Aislinn Clancy implored the Ministry of Health to audit Motion’s Kitchener branch in an advocacy letter sent from her office. “No one should have to wait years to receive a reasonable and compassionate response from the institutions we rely on to keep us and our loved ones safe,” Clancy said in an emailed statement. David (left) at five years old with his mother, Laurie O’Brien (right). (Courtesy of Laurie O’Brien) In the letter, addressed to Health Minister Sylvia Jones, Clancy encourages the Health Minister to review the guidelines that companies contracted through the ADP operate under to ensure safety. She also notes that the O’Brien’s are not the only ones to have come forward with their grievances about the vendor in her riding. Jeff Preston, an associate professor of disability studies at King’s College in London, Ont., is also seeking greater transparency around the agreement between the provincial government and Motion. A client of the ADP himself and long-time advocate, Preston spent years waiting for a replacement wheelchair back when the program was overseen by Shoppers Home Healthcare. Years later, around 2018, Motion announced it would end its emergency service line in London, sparking him into action. “It was my understanding at the time that part of the agreement between the government and sole source contractor was that they [the vendor] would ensure repair assistance is available, including an emergency line,” he told CTV News. To confirm, Preston, like O’Brien, also obtained a copy of the contract through a freedom of information request, but it provided little clarity. “I received the contract but the part that discusses [service calls] was redacted and it was deemed to be confidential information,” he said. The service line was cut and instead, Motion offered extended hours on certain days to its London clients Motion’s CEO tells CTV News Toronto it does, however, provide live call answering to handle after-hours requests, which are responded to “upon the start of the next business day.” Urgent requests are given priority, Gilpin noted. While Preston said his experience with Motion in the years since has been primarily positive, he noted service levels often vary from branch to branch. At the core of the issue, the professor said, is a sole-source contract model “designed to tether disabled people into one specific company.” When businesses are not forced to compete against one another, they can fall into complacency, he added. “I think it behooves the government not to stifle this industry in the way they are,” he said. “What happens when that company starts to make changes that are not necessarily the benefit of the user?” O’Brien echoed Preston’s concerns surrounding sole-source contracts and said she too wants to see a change in the model. “There needs to be an oversight body, not associated with the government, to keep on top of the program,” she said. Throughout the years, her unwavering conviction has been fueled by a belief that David would have wanted her to keep going. “He always wanted to fight for what was right and would not want us to give up, and it’s very funny—it’s strange that sometimes when I feel at my lowest, it’s almost like he gives me another way, another path.” With files from CTV News Toronto’s Abby O’Brien

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Adam welcomes budget commitment to health and social care

“SUBSTANTIAL support” for the north-east’s health and social care services is contained in the Scottish budget, a local MSP has stated. Banffshire and Buchan Coast SNP MSP Karen Adam MSP has said that the Scottish Government is determined to act within its limited powers to mitigate the damage of Westminster austerity. The Scottish Budget saw £19.5 billion allocated to the health and social care portfolio in 2024-25. This uplift exceeds Barnett Consequentials for health – which are less than they were for 2023-24 and represents a real-terms increase in funding of 4.3 per cent, or £550 million. Meanwhile, she said the Westminster budget saw further tax cuts at the expense of public services, no additional capital funding and baked-in cuts which are reminiscent of austerity. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has subsequently warned that the NHS is facing the biggest real-terms cuts since the 1970s as spending plans imply a real-terms cut to net public sector investment of £18 billion between 2024–25 and 2028–29. Ms Adam said: “The SNP Scottish budget set out to support people and our local health and social care services amid very challenging economic circumstances. “In stark contrast, the latest Tory budget was a betrayal of Scotland’s NHS, with the Chancellor prioritising tax cuts and doing nothing to address the pressures facing frontline services. “With the limited powers it has, the SNP Scottish Government is determined to protect health services, social care providers and those providing that care in our community; providing a real- terms increase in funding which takes the total to over £19 billion for the year ahead. “This extra investment in local services makes the Tory and Liberal Democrat political decision to close Minor Injury Units in Peterhead and Fraserburgh unnecessary. It’s a decision based on ideology rather than need. “While the SNP protect local services with an above inflation investment in our health service, the Tories vote to reduce our vital local services.” Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

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Seatrium bags $260m worth of repair, upgrade and conversion deals

The contracts, worth an aggregate of S$350 million ($259m), include work on various types of vessels such as FSRUs, FPS, LNG carriers, and cruise ships as well as some offshore and naval work. All the work under the contracts is set to be completed by the end of 2025. The company won deals to convert three LNG carriers into FSRUs for Karpowership, with an option for a fourth project. The conversion work involves installing a regasification skid as well as other supporting systems such as cargo, utility, spread-mooring, offloading, electrical, and automation systems. The work will begin in the second quarter of 2024. Seatrium also secured a contract with Modec for the maintenance and upgrade of Woodside Energy’s Pyrenees Venture FPSO. Modec is acting as the operator of the FPSO. Scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2024, the vessel is expected to be re-deployed back into production off the coast of Western Australia, Australia. In another project, Seatrium will be performing major remediation work for Chevron in Thailand, also scheduled to commence in 2Q 2024. Furthermore, the Singapore firm will conduct major repairs on the Hakuryu 5 semi-submersible drilling rig, a series of LNGC dry dockings for Hyundai LNG Shipping, and some naval work. The last contracts in this large haul of deals are for retrofitting ten cruise vessels from Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Of the ten, six will be from Carnival while the remaining four will be from Royal Caribbean.

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