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Martin Lewis points Britons to top savings accounts as ‘sliver of hope’ emerges

Martin Lewis points Britons to top savings accounts as 'sliver of hope' emerges

Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, today appeared on ITV’s This Morning and had good news for those who are hoping to grow their cash. While the Bank of England base rate lowering to 0.1 percent in March 2020 knocked many accounts off their perch, there appears to be a slow return to more favourable rates. For those who are looking for the best deals, then, action will be necessary to secure these quickly and help one’s finances.

He continued: “There is a quirk to the Marcus system where you can actually up your interest rate with just a few clicks.

“Marcus pays 0.4 percent, but you can increase it to 0.5 percent by logging in online, clicking view next to your account name, selecting ‘review your savings’ and click ‘renew your bonus’ and your interest rate will increase.

“If you have Marcus savings and you’ve had them for a while, make sure you do that click and you get a little bit extra in interest.”

However, an important point to consider, Martin added, is that many individuals may be able to beat an easy access interest rate.

This is only possible, though, for those who are comfortable with locking away their money for a set period of time.

The Money Saving Expert pointed towards the top one year fixed rate account which is now over one percent, after this kind of account dropped to 0.5 percent in March.

Kent Reliance is currently paying 1.01 percent on its one-year fixed rate account with a minimum deposit of £1,000.

Zopa and Oxbury Bank are offering 1.15 percent for those willing to lock their cash away for a two year period.

And for those who are worried about the security of their cash, these accounts are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

This means should the worst happen, a person’s savings up to a value of £85,000 are kept safe.

Martin concluded: “Savings rates are coming back and I would urge people to check what yours pays now.

“Most people watching this will be paying 0.1 percent or even less. 

“You could potentially increase the amount of interest you are getting by ten times with just a little bit of action.

“Moving savings accounts as long as the money is not locked in is dead easy. Just go in, close the old account and put it in the new one.

“Just take action on your savings.”

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip

Author: Rebekah Evans
Read more here >>> Daily Express :: Finance Feed

Man, 65, suffers horror toilet trip after 5ft python emerges to ‘pinch’ his genitals

Man, 65, suffers horror toilet trip after 5ft python emerges to 'pinch' his genitals

The 65-year-old Austrian shared how he bolted off of the seat after he felt a “pinch”. Turning around, he discovered the 5ft albino python in his toilet bowl.

He was taken to hospital for “minor injuries” and medics also checked for an infection.

The man, from Graz, suffered the bite below the belt at 6am local time on Monday.

After calling the emergency services, a local reptile expert arrived at his apartment and removed the snake.

Officers said the snake owner had been referred to prosecutors for negligent bodily harm. It is unclear if he will be charged

Mr Stangl said he had never been called out to anything like this in 40 years of working with reptiles.

Albino reticulated pythons are the world’s largest snakes, but do not attack humans by nature.

However, they will constrict or bite if they feel threatened or if they mistake something for food.

Author: Dylan Donnelly
Read more here >>> Daily Express :: Weird Feed

Possible Failure Point Emerges in Miami Building Collapse

Possible Failure Point Emerges in Miami Building Collapse

The investigation into what may be the deadliest accidental building collapse in American history has just begun, but experts who have examined video footage of the disaster outside Miami are focusing on a spot in the lowest part of the condominium complex — possibly in or below the underground parking garage — where an initial failure could have set off a structural avalanche.

Called “progressive collapse,” the gradual spread of failures could have occurred for a variety of reasons, including design flaws or the less robust construction allowed under the building codes of four decades ago, when the complex was built. But that progression could not have occurred without some critical first failure, and close inspections of a grainy surveillance video that emerged in the initial hours after the disaster have given the first hints of where that might have been.

“It does appear to start either at or very near the bottom of the structure,” said Donald O. Dusenberry, a consulting engineer who has investigated many structural collapses. “It’s not like there’s a failure high and it pancaked down.”

The early examinations came as rescuers on Sunday spent a fourth day pushing through the enormous heap of debris created when half the 13-story building, Champlain Towers South, fell away early on Thursday. The death toll climbed to nine as additional remains were found, and more than 150 people remained unaccounted for.

While a number of bridges, overpasses and buildings under construction fail each year, the catastrophic collapse of an occupied building — absent a bomb or an earthquake — is rare, and investigators are struggling to understand how it could have come with so little urgent warning.

“It would be like a lightning strike happening,” said Charles W. Burkett, the mayor of Surfside, Fla., where the collapse occurred. “It’s not at all a common occurrence to have a building fall down in America,” he said. “There was something very, very wrong with this situation.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency, was sending scientists and engineers to do a preliminary review, hoping to identify and preserve materials that might help understand the collapse. Officials said they expected a number of local, state and federal agencies also to be involved in the inquiry, though it was not clear which agency would lead the effort.

The search for an explanation comes with a sense of urgency not only for sister buildings near the complex but also for a broad part of South Florida, where a necklace of high-rise condos, many of them decades old, sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, enduring an ever-worsening barrage of hurricane winds, storm surge and sea salt.

Structural engineers were shocked that a building that had stood for decades would abruptly crumble on an otherwise unremarkable summer night.

But three years before the deadly collapse, a consultant found alarming evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage under the building.

While no definitive conclusions could be drawn from the surveillance video, which was shot from a distance and reveals only one perspective of the disaster, some of the engineers reviewing it last week said it seemed to suggest that the failure began at a specific point near the bottom of the structure — perhaps as far down as the parking garage beneath the building, or on the first few floors.

From what can be seen in the video, part of the structure first slumped, seemingly falling vertically in one giant piece, as if the columns had failed beneath the southern edge of the center of the building, not far from the pool. Like a nightmarish avalanche, the failure quickly spread and brought down the entire center of the building. Seconds later, a large section to the east also toppled.

Mr. Dusenberry, whose impressions matched those of several other structural engineers who examined the video, said such a failure “would suggest a foundation-related matter — potentially corrosion or other damage at a lower level.” But he said it was not certain that corrosion was the culprit, and added that “you certainly can’t rule out a design or construction error that has survived for 40 years.”

One other clue that a problem started at the bottom of the building: Immediately before the collapse, one of the residents saw a hole of sorts opening near the pool.

Michael Stratton said his wife, Cassie Stratton, who is missing, was on the phone with him and was looking out through the window of her fourth-floor unit when, she told him, the hole appeared. After that, the call cut off.

Rick De La Guardia, an engineer based in Miami with experience in forensic investigation of building component failures, said that the collapse could have also started higher than the foundation, possibly on the second floor, based on his cursory review of the columns in the floor plans and his review of the video.

Explanations for an initial failure at the bottom of the building could include a problem with the deep, reinforced concrete pilings on which the building sits — perhaps set off by an unknown void or a sinkhole below — which then compromised the lower columns. Or the steel reinforcing the columns in the parking garage or first few floors could have been so corroded that they somehow gave way on their own. Or the building itself could have been poorly designed, built with substandard concrete or steel — or simply with insufficient steel at critical points.

Evan Bentz, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Toronto, said that the best evidence so far had come from the video and some simple reasoning — pointing a finger of suspicion at the supporting columns in the underground parking garage.

“The primary purpose of all the columns in the basement is to hold the structure up in the air,” he said. “Because the structure stopped being held up in the air, the simplest explanation is that the columns in the basement ceased to function.”

The extreme rarity of major building collapses in the United States deepens the mystery, engineers said, especially considering that Champlain Towers South had remained upright for four decades and had no obvious failure before much of it tumbled to the ground.

“It stood for 40 years and it collapsed relatively suddenly,” said Glenn R. Bell, director of Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures, a program in the Structural Engineering Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Why did it collapse at that moment?”

The 2018 report from the consultant, an engineer hired by the condo owners’ association to examine the building, helped set in motion plans for a $ 12 million repair project that had been set to start soon — more than two and a half years after the building managers were warned about the structural damage.

The corrosion of reinforcing steel identified in that report could have been a critical issue if it occurred on or near the supporting columns and was pronounced enough, Mr. Dusenberry said.

“If I were an investigator, I would check this as an issue,” he said.

But other structural engineers said that some level of corrosion was common in old buildings and was unlikely to bring a building down on its own.

A crucial clue is still unknown, Professor Bentz said, and “that would probably be found under the debris where the collapse seemed to start.”

The structural fiber of the building was largely reinforced concrete. That means the floor slabs upon which apartments sat were made of concrete that was poured around horizontal lengths of rebar, or stout steel rods, that provided critical strength when the concrete dried. Likewise, the columns that held up the slabs were created by pouring concrete around vertical stretches of rebar.

The corrosion of the rebar in the slabs, as revealed in the 2018 report, was probably significant only if it occurred in places where the slabs joined with the columns, Mr. Dusenberry said. Corrosion there could have weakened the connection to the columns, potentially leading to a failure, he said.

The same idea holds for the reinforced concrete pilings — deeply buried, vertical supports on which the entire building sat, said David Peraza, a structural engineer at Exponent, an engineering and scientific consulting firm.

A previously reported academic study showed that the entire coastline in the area of the building has been settling, or sinking, at the rate of a couple of millimeters a year. But the deep piles would have provided stability, Mr. Peraza said.

Danger would emerge only if there had been something like a void or a sinkhole that had caused one or several piles to settle downward and left the others unchanged. That could have threatened the structure that sat atop those piles: columns in the underground parking garage.

“Whether there’s something geologically under the building that caused this, that’s definitely something that’s got to be investigated,” Mr. Peraza said.

Another possibility is improperly installed piles, he said.

One last theory under consideration is the possibility that heavy construction next door in 2019 could have damaged the Champlain Towers building. An email released by the city on Sunday revealed that a member of the condo board had gone to the city for help at the time, expressing “concerns regarding the structure of our building.”

Town officials declined to intervene, suggesting that the residents hire someone to monitor any impacts.

Clues to any of those problems will be clear only after the rescue operation ends, recovery begins and engineers dig all the way to the bottom of the debris pile, Mr. Peraza said. He added that investigators should also examine construction documents that describe exactly how the piles were built.

Gregg Schlesinger, a contractor and lawyer in Florida, said that cracks and a kind of crumbling in the concrete known as “spalling,” also identified in the 2018 report, should have been a “red flag” if it seemed serious at the time. If that were the case, he said, engineers should have dug deeper to find out what was causing the deterioration.

“There are questions that are relevant around spalling where the concrete falls off of the structural elements,” Mr. Schlesinger said. “But no real research was done into why this stuff was coming off the wall and what was causing that.”

The weeks ahead will involve a meticulous dig to unearth clues that Mr. Dusenberry likened to an archaeological excavation.

Engineers will record each layer photographically, possibly with drones, before moving on to the next.

Collapsed portions of the building will most likely be taken apart piece by piece and reassembled at another location where experts can assess them. They will also do “petrography” on the concrete — studying it chemically and microscopically to test its strength and quality. They will measure the thickness of the slabs and columns and the positioning of the steel to see if it all matches the design drawings.

Donna DiMaggio Berger, a lawyer who represents the condo association, said that members of the association board — the ones who survived — had been left dumbfounded and hoping for answers. Nothing in the 2018 assessment presented to the board had suggested that the building was at risk of collapse, she said, and the board’s “deliberative” approach to doing necessary repairs had been based on the assumption that there was time to do it right.

“The sense of urgency is directly tied to the wording used and the consequences outlined in the report,” Ms. Berger said. “All boards can do is rely on the advice of the professional advisers that they engaged.”

Patricia Mazzei and Joseph B. Treaster contributed reporting.

Author: James Glanz, Anjali Singhvi and Mike Baker
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories

Vietnam flights: BAN on incoming journeys to Hanoi as new Covid mutation emerges

Vietnam flights: BAN on incoming journeys to Hanoi as new Covid mutation emerges
International flights into Vietnamese capital Hanoi will be banned for a week from Monday, May 31. The measure is to avoid the spread of a variant described as a “combination” of the British and Indian strains.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the existence of an amalgamation of the two variants in the country.

Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh, imposed 15 days of stringent lockdown restrictions, such as a ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people.

WHO observed that, from 32 samples of people who tested positive for the Indian variant in northern Vietnam, four had a Y144 deletion mutation in the spike protein.

The mutation found in the samples is characteristic of the B117 strain, known as the Kent variant.

Dr Kidong Park, WHO’s Vietnam representative, said: “Virus mutations are to be expected.

“WHO Vietnam is working with our national counterparts to monitor this new mutation and support investigation as needed.”

The news comes after Scotland’s deputy first minister warned the Indian variant is at an “uncomfortably high” level in Glasgow.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight last week, John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Covid recovery, unveiled the Government’s plans to curb the spread of the pathogen.

He said: “The cases are at an uncomfortably high level although…we are seeing evidence of those stabilising.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: World Feed

New kids' TV show emerges from the Mister Rogers universe

New kids' TV show emerges from the Mister Rogers universe

PBS Kids is releasing a new puppet-led series called “Donkey Hodie,” inspired from characters in the original Fred Rogers TV show.

NEW YORK — Mister Rogers’ neighborhood is expanding.
In rare welcome news of sprawl, PBS Kids is releasing a new puppet-led series called “Donkey Hodie,” inspired from characters in the original Fred Rogers TV show.
“Every part of it seems to be infused with joy and heart and humor,” says Adam Rudman, who co-created and co-produced the show with his brother, David. “And I think that’s something that Fred Rogers would appreciate.”
The whimsical series for children ages 3-5 starts airing Monday and centers on the adventures of Donkey Hodie, an enthusiastic yellow donkey with a bright magenta mane. She’s the granddaughter of the donkey puppet Rogers created back when TV shows were in black and white.
“This is a show about a little donkey with big dreams. It’s about persistence, it’s about resilience and it’s about frustration and things going wrong,” says Ellen Doherty, chief creative officer of Fred Rogers Productions.
During each 15-minute episode, Donkey Hodie learns lessons, like why following a recipe step-by-step makes sense and the importance of making a plan before tackling a big project.
She’s helped by a colorful gang of friends — Purple Panda, Bob Dog and Duck Duck, each of whom brings something to the table.
If Donkey is the one who comes up with an idea, Panda is the supportive friend, telling her she can do it. Bob Dog is the enthusiastic helper and Duck Duck is the practical pal, asking how they’re going to succeed.
“We really worked hard on the character blend,” says David Rudman, who performs Bob Dog and Donkey’s grandfather and also directs the episodes. “They all bring something interesting and they work really well together.”
The song-filled series is set in land of Someplace Else, named after the place where parents are always asking noisy kids to go. It has a windmill — an original Don Quixote joke by Rogers — but the creators have built a wonky land with rolling hills and no straight lines.
“All the little details — every flower, every bush, every tree — everything on there is made by somebody. It’s made by hand. So nothing is built in a computer,” says David Rudman.
The new series is metaphorically connected by cobblestone path to both the animated “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and the mother ship, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“We are proud that once again we’ll be sharing the ideas and teachings of Fred Rogers with kids and families, just as we did with ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,’” says Linda Simensky, head of content for PBS Kids.
RELATED: Joanne Rogers, widow of Fred ‘Mister Rogers,’ dead at 92
RELATED: PBS says farewell to children’s show ‘Caillou’
Doherty notes there are lots of Easter eggs hidden throughout the new world, including nods to familiar sights on “Mister Rogers” like Trolley, the fish tank and a porch swing.
The creators chose to go with puppets instead of animation because of their expressive nature. “Young children have very big emotions and it just felt like puppets were the best way to express that for this world,” says Doherty.
The project started when the Rudmans, who founded Spiffy Pictures and whose projects include “Nature Cat,” were tapped to breathe new life into minor characters from the “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” They pored over old footage of the show and dug into the history.
“We started to discover these really funny, quirky, obscure characters that a lot of people didn’t know,” says David Rudman. The brothers added new characters and edited old ones.
“We redesigned them. We gave them new personalities in most cases and updated them to fit how the show was going,” says Adam Rudman, who is head writer and while not a performer, can occasionally can be heard as a background voice.
He was recently watching “The Mandalorian,” a spin-off series form the “Star Wars” universe that follows a lone bounty hunter and a mysterious alien child.
“I was watching it and thought, ‘Oh man. They took this second-tier character and they created this show about him’. I was like, ‘Man, I wish we could do that.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh wait, we are doing that. It’s exactly what we’re doing,’” he says, laughing.
The Rudmans worked on the show during the pandemic. They stopped shooting for several months but returned with mask policies and COVID-19 tests. They simplified some scripts and scaled down the crew.
“It was really a blessing in disguise because it really helped make everything really concise and it helped our performers really get to know their characters,” says David Rudman, who voiced his critters through a mask.

Author:
This post originally appeared on CBS8 – Entertainment

Putin outlines national priorities to restart economy & raise living standards as Russia emerges from Covid crisis

Author RT
This post originally appeared on RT Business News

Putin outlines national priorities to restart economy & raise living standards as Russia emerges from Covid crisis

The Russian government took unprecedented measures to support the economy through the coronavirus pandemic, saving five million jobs, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday in his annual address to the Federal Assembly.

According to Putin, the government will continue promoting private investment to support the creation of new jobs. He has instructed the government to develop a program of additional measures to support small and medium-sized businesses. The proposals on “tax incentives, affordable loans, expansion of product sales, including through purchases from large state-owned companies,” should be submitted within a month.

He added that last year’s decision to halve insurance premiums for small and medium-sized enterprises from 30% to 15% is not subject to revision. “To support the creation of new jobs, the government will support and encourage entrepreneurial initiative, stimulate private initiative,” Putin said, adding that the commercial sector’s profits are expected to be at a record high this year, despite all the problems brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
Also on rt.com IMF improves Russia’s economic growth outlook for this year
Keeping inflation in Russia within the established parameters is an “extremely important task,” the president said. “The government and the Central Bank should continue to pursue a responsible financial policy and ensure macroeconomic stability… I proceed from the fact that it will certainly be solved.”

The Russian president added that another major goal for the government is to ensure the growth of real incomes for the population. He urged to focus on “Restoring and guaranteeing its further growth, and achieving tangible changes in the fight against poverty.”
Also on rt.com Putin wants to cut poverty in Russia by half in next decade
Among other things, Putin also talked about the need to remove excessive restrictions in the field of foreign exchange controls for non-resource exporters.

“It is necessary to significantly simplify the conditions for the work of non-resource exporters. We need to remove all excessive restrictions in the field of currency controls for these exporters. This is one of the problems. This procedure should start working from July.” He added that all amendments to the legislation should be adopted as quickly as possible during the spring session.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

Arsenal have £50m transfer fear as discount Martin Odegaard alternative emerges

Arsenal have £50m transfer fear as discount Martin Odegaard alternative emerges

Willian defends Arteta

Arsenal ace Willian has jumped to the defence of Mikel Arteta, insisting the Spanish coach is on the right track at the Gunners.

“I think it has the potential to be a great project, it’s a great club, it’s in the hands of a good manager, it has everything to become one of the best managers in the world,” Willian said to ESPN.

“Arsenal has everything to become a powerhouse again, to fight for titles, to play in the Champions League again, that’s what we players want.

“He always tries to talk to the players individually, even on the pitch, when he finishes training he calls the player, explains what he wants from the player, where the player should be, receive the ball… In other words, he is always trying to help the players to be better.”

South Texas emerges as political hotbed after Democrats underperformed there in 2020

South Texas emerges as political hotbed after Democrats underperformed there in 2020

South Texas is quickly shaping up to be the epicenter of the state’s political universe in 2022, a notable shift after the two major parties spent the last two elections duking it out in the suburbs.

There are ample unknowns, starting with redistricting. But the number of political attractions cropping up in South Texas are becoming numerous, especially after the news Monday that U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela[1], D-Brownsville, would not seek reelection.

Vela’s seat was already one of three in South Texas that national Republicans, emboldened after former President Donald Trump overperformed across the region last year, were targeting for 2022[2]. Democrats will have to defend those seats, whose districts will first be redrawn in a process controlled by GOP state lawmakers — and likely to favor the party in power.

But before the general election, Democrats will also have to navigate a primary for Vela’s open seat — as well as potentially another serious primary challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar[3], D-Laredo. And the stakes could not be higher nationally: Republicans only need to capture about eight seats to win back the House. Control over that chamber could depend in part on how South Texans vote in 2022.

Recent headlines about the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border have only intensified the GOP’s drive to turn South Texas into a new political background. National Republicans have sought to put their new South Texas targets on the defensive over the “Biden border crisis,” while some of the targets have been more vocal than many of their Democratic colleagues about the extent of the problems unfolding in their districts.

Cuellar has suggested[4] Biden needs to visit the border himself, criticized[5] the administration’s messaging around its more human approach to immigration and leaked photos[6] of a Border Patrol tent in Donna as the administration restricted media access to such facilities. Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez[7] sent Biden a letter requesting a meeting to share how the “current situation on the border is precarious and in need of our immediate attention.”

It is not the only area where the South Texas Democrats have split from their party under Biden — and under new national GOP pressure. Cuellar and Gonzalez were among four Texas Democrats in the House who asked Biden in January[8] to rescind his executive order temporarily halting fracking on federal lands.

The foundation for a South Texas-centered election cycle was laid in November, when Biden underperformed across South Texa[9]s in stunning fashion. In 28 counties in South Texas or near the border, he won by a combined 17 percentage points after Hillary Clinton carried them by about double that four years earlier. In the Rio Grande Valley — made up of the four southernmost counties in Texas — Biden won by 15 points after Clinton ran up a 39-point margin there.

The results in some individual counties were even more striking. Zapata County, which sits just north of the Rio Grande Valley along the border, flipped to Trump, who won it by 5 points after Clinton carried it by 33.

“Democrats have a big problem in Texas,” Vela said in a late January interview, shortly after he became vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. “For the first time in generations, or maybe ever, we lost … South Texas counties with significant Hispanic populations. And we are going to have to … wrap our arms around exactly why that happened. It may be a difficult issue to reconcile.”

There have been a number of analyses of what went wrong for Democrats in the region. A state Democratic Party report released last month[10] concluded that Republicans turned out their Latino voters at a higher rate than Democrats did theirs. A December report[11] from Cambio Texas, a progressive group in the Rio Grande Valley, advised Democratic leaders to devise a messaging plan tailored for the area that treats it less like a “progressive region” and more like a “rural conservative county.” And on Wednesday, Nuestro PAC, a national Democratic super PAC that targets Hispanic voters, gave a presentation to reporters that also zeroed in on messaging, saying national Democrats’ approach “does not work in the Valley.”

“We’ve all said Latinos aren’t a monolith, but in the Valley in particular, there’s three major employers,” said the super PAC’s founder, Chuck Rocha. “There’s border security, there’s the local government and there’s oil and gas, and all of those folks don’t line up with the value set that woke brown consultants or woke white consultants in New York or D.C. are selling as a national narrative to these Democrats.”

In the January interview, Vela said he still had to study the trends closer, but sensed that some South Texas voters went with Trump because they were “scared Democrats were gonna take their jobs in the oil and gas industry.” Republicans in Texas raised alarm in October when Biden said in a debate[12] that he would “transition” from the fossil fuel industry that powers much of this state’s economy.

If that continues to be the message that voters hear, Vela said, “we’ll continue to lose those voters, so you have to come up with something different.”

“These guys are out busting their ass, leaving their homes for two or three weeks at a time, working night and day, but they’re making upwards of $ 80,000 a year,” Vela said. “If they don’t do that, they’re back at home looking for a job that’s paying a third. And if you’re telling somebody, ‘We want you to go make $ 30,000 instead of $ 80,000,’ you think they’re gonna vote for you?”

Mayra Flores, the first Republican to declare for Vela’s seat in 2022, said the economy is the No. 1 issue for South Texas. No. 2 is law enforcement, she added, arguing voters were turned off by the movement to “defund the police” that cropped up after George Floyd’s death last summer.

“When you have some of these Democrat congress[people] calling [law enforcement officers] names, it’s, ‘Hey, that’s my son, that’s my husband, that’s my daughter, that’s my wife that you’re attacking,’” Flores said. “When it comes to politics, family comes first. That type of message does not resonate in South Texas.”

The term “defund the police” does not mean the same thing to everyone calling for police reforms — and not all supporters of police budget cuts want law enforcement agencies to lose all of their money and be disbanded.

The three districts Republicans are targeting run from north to south as jagged columns from the Rio Grande up to San Antonio and its surrounding areas. The heavy Democratic vote in each seat tends to cluster in the south, while the more rural stretches trend conservative. From west to east is Cuellar’s Texas’ 28th District, Gonzalez’s 15th District and Vela’s 34th District.

For years, this design helped Democrats easily win reelection in each general election. But now Republicans hope to take advantage of this construct. All three districts overlap in mostly inexpensive television markets where Republican groups can easily experiment and maneuver between races with the same advertising buys in the districts’ shared television and radio markets.

Last fall, Cuellar and Vela won by double digits, while Gonzalez had a surprisingly close call with a 3-percentage-point margin. The opportunity for Republicans is in the presidential numbers: Biden carried each of the districts by fewer than 5 points.

So far, Gonzalez has faced the most heat ahead of 2022. His Republican challenger from last year, Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, is already running again. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Gonzalez a “Frontline” member in early March, indicating that they view him as one of the most endangered Democrats in the House. And on Thursday, the NRCC placed him on their 2022 “Exit List” — Democrats who the committee believes could abandon their reelection campaigns — and launched digital and radio ads against him.

The ads[13] attack Gonzalez over recent reporting[14] that for three years he maintained a six-figure bank account with the state-owned Bank of China, urging voters to call Gonzalez and tell him “America’s money doesn’t belong in China.” When national GOP groups began making an issue out of the bank account last month, his office said the account was “American based” and was closed last year.

The head of the Texas Democratic Party, Gilberto Hinojosa, brushed off the idea that Gonzalez was in trouble. In a statement, Hinojosa said that if Republicans are “foolish enough to expend their resources here in a very different race” than the one last year, “they will get what they deserve.” Hinojosa also suggested the GOP focus on South Texas “will ultimately help retain and gain other seats in tougher regions.”

Cuellar may be the biggest question mark of the GOP’s three targets in South Texas. He is already one of the most moderate Democrats in Congress, a distinction that earned him a high-profile primary challenge last year. He also has cultivated a powerful in-state ally in Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn[15], who expressed coolness Thursday to his party’s push to take out Cuellar.

“Henry Cuellar is my friend and he’s my partner, and it’s one of those rare instances of good bipartisan cooperation that I believe benefit his constituents and my constituents as well,” said Cornyn, who visited Laredo earlier this month to tour the border with Cuellar. “I think he’s certainly well-regarded and I think done a good job, and I think … there are better targets than Congressman Cuellar.”

In Washington, D.C., and Texas, Democrats tend to fall into two camps when looking at South Texas. Some Democrats take the Republican threat incredibly seriously and are urging top-to-bottom engagement.

On the other side of the strategic divide, more confident Democrats argue that the 2020 race was a fluke. In this worldview, GOP South Texas outperformance is rooted in part because Democrats backed off retail politicking amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in part because Trump turned out voters who will not return to the polls when he is not on the ballot.

Either way, it is expected that the House Democratic campaign arm will keep a close eye on the region.

“Republicans’ record of opposing much-needed pandemic relief for working families and small businesses is deeply toxic with South Texas voters,” DCCC spokesperson Chris Hayden said in a statement. “Democrats are committed to meeting voters where they are and aren’t taking any votes for granted this cycle. We know there’s more we can do to effectively communicate our message with voters in communities like South Texas, and we are investing early in the resources needed to reach these voters.”

The DCCC’s Republican counterpart is confident that Biden’s agenda in particular will doom Democrats in South Texas. NRCC spokesperson Torunn Sinclar said in a statement that voters “already see that Biden and House Democrats’ disastrous anti-energy and open borders policies are wreaking havoc across Texas, and that spells big trouble for Texas Democrats in 2022.”

Given the strategic importance, operatives in both parties are eager to game out their strategies to win these seats. But the enthusiasm comes to an abrupt halt at the mere mention of one word: redistricting.

Democrats concede a shared sense of dread as they await a map drawn by the state Legislature. And Republicans have already considered the implications of the Vela retirement in this context as well: A vacant 34th District could give Republicans more freedom with their South Texas redraw.

It is a far more incendiary political move to dramatically redraw the district of an incumbent running for reelection, rather than an open-seat race like the 34th District. This retirement gives them more flexibility to completely dismantle that district.

There are other uncertainties. Operatives in both parties say candidate quality will matter, whether the census will delay the Texas primaries and how much national fundraising will influence these once sleepy races.

“There’s going to be an injection of the unknown that we’ve never seen,” said Moses Mercado, a Washington lobbyist who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley.

He pointed to the locally driven political culture in the Valley, where personalities and family political dynasties have historically carried significant sway with voters. But given the nationalized environment and fundraising networks, these races could become sophisticated and with well-funded television air wars.

At this point, the primary to succeed Vela is expected to be a crowded one. And last year, Cuellar nearly lost his primary to political newcomer Jessica Cisneros. It remains unclear if she will run again, but outside Democratic groups have not ruled out another challenge to Cuellar.

A former longtime Cuellar aide, Colin Strother, discouraged competitive Democratic primaries in South Texas this cycle.

“A lot of our partners, our allies, last cycle spent millions of dollars going after someone that was a safe incumbent, and that was money that could have gone to shore up other races,” Strother said.

“A lot of money was wasted on someone who wasn’t perfect according to some people in the Democratic Party,” he later added.

Democrats also worry about how much Republicans are willing to spend in the region, and if local Democrats, who have long dominated in general election campaigns, are prepared for tough general election fights.

Much remains uncertain, and until the maps are drawn later this year, the future of South Texas politics is theoretical. But Flores, the Republican running for the Vela seat, said there is tangible change in the region.

“People just weren’t any longer ashamed to come out and say, ‘I’m a conservative.’ … Now they say it,” she said. “They’re no longer afraid to stand up for their values.”

References

  1. ^ Filemon Vela (www.texastribune.org)
  2. ^ targeting for 2022 (www.texastribune.org)
  3. ^ Henry Cuellar (www.texastribune.org)
  4. ^ suggested (nypost.com)
  5. ^ criticized (www.newsweek.com)
  6. ^ leaked photos (www.axios.com)
  7. ^ Vicente Gonzalez (www.texastribune.org)
  8. ^ asked Biden in January (www.texastribune.org)
  9. ^ underperformed across South Texa (www.texastribune.org)
  10. ^ released last month (www.texastribune.org)
  11. ^ December report (026d2c61-287c-4ad3-aaaa-269eb34c3c1d.filesusr.com)
  12. ^ said in a debate (www.texastribune.org)
  13. ^ ads (www.youtube.com)
  14. ^ recent reporting (foxsanantonio.com)
  15. ^ John Cornyn (www.texastribune.org)

Abby Livingston and Patrick Svitek

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho’s unhappiness with Daniel Levy emerges before Aston Villa

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho’s unhappiness with Daniel Levy emerges before Aston Villa

Speaking last summer, Trippier opened up on his move away from Tottenham and admitted he was hurt at being forced to leave the club behind.

He told the Beautiful Game podcast: “I had mixed emotions throughout the season. Injuries played a massive part (on my form). I told them I needed surgery.

“I could have been less selfish, playing-wise. But I couldn’t help it that I was getting picked most of the games.

“I was playing some of them at 60 or 70 per cent. Maybe I should have taken a step back, but we had City in the Champions League, Ajax…you want to play in these games.

“In March, April, I heard – through people I trust – they tried to offload me, offering me to clubs. So you’re getting mixed messages. If I play I’ll give my best, but that’s why I pulled the manager in pre-season and asked if I’m part of his plans.

Big energy emerges as winner from Texas winter storm

Big energy emerges as winner from Texas winter storm

As smaller companies are hit hard following grid failures in the storm, people look to big energy firms such as Vistra, NRG, Exelon and Calpine to provide a more stable source of energy.

This is likely to lead to bigger energy companies across the state acquiring smaller, local companies that people no longer trust to supply their power. 

The four major Texan companies, together, own around half of the total capacity of the grid, with the remaining share relatively fragmented. One company, Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc., has already filed for bankruptcy and several look to follow soon due to defaulted power payments. 

According to CNBC, Texas energy companies have failed to pay the $ 345 million required in damages from last month’s storm. In total, electricity providers are thought to have dodged $ 2.46 billion in power and service charges according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). ERCOT has threatened to name the firms in question if they do not meet payments in the future. 
Also on rt.com ‘We turned essential services into a casino,’ energy market expert tells Max Keiser after Texas power-grid failure
While the market valuations of the four biggest firms have decreased following the storm, the potential for reform and investment in infrastructure could quickly help them to bounce back. Following the crisis, people are turning to bigger, more reputable firms as the safest bet for winterproof energy provision, meaning the face energy providers across the state could change dramatically. 

In addition, thanks to the long-standing tradition of self-regulation in Texas, as with several other US states, while the political impact of the storm has been significant, bigger local oil and gas firms have been largely left to recover without consequence for their poor management of the situation. 

Following the disaster, several board members as well as the CEO resigned from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The chair of the Public Utility Commission, which oversees the grid operator, also resigned.

During the worst days of the disaster around half of the total grid power went offline, with the weather halting the production and distribution of gas, coal, wind and nuclear power. 

Mauricio Gutierrez, CEO of NRG Energy Inc. believes“The entire energy sector failed Texas,” stating “We must do better.” This follows widespread criticism over the lack of ‘winterization’ of Texan energy infrastructure. 
Also on rt.com Texas power grid operator axes its CEO after deadly blackout caused by winter storm
Despite resignations across some regulators, many have not been held accountable for these failures to date. No one was asked to resign from the Texas Railroad Commission, the Texan regulator for natural gas production and transportation, with leaders emerging seemingly unscathed from the crisis. 

Many believe that several companies and regulators have not been held accountable due to their political might, maintaining close connections with Governor Greg Abbott, who has received $ 26.9 million from the oil and gas industry in political donations over the last two decades. 

While Texas requires major investments in its energy infrastructure if it hopes to weather the next storm or heatwave, those companies that can see it through stand to make a substantial profit. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

RT