Rhonda Fanning

Producer, The Texas Standard

Rhonda  joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?”  She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio. 

Speaker John Boehner/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making his first visit to the U.S. since he won a landslide reelection victory in May. The centerpiece of his U.S. tour is a visit to Houston on Sunday. 

The event is billed as "Howdy, Modi!" and the 50,000 tickets were snapped up within minutes of their release.

Sony Music Archives

From Texas Standard:

The American South has long been the backdrop for stories about country music. But a new series by a team led by veteran documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, reexamines many old narratives about the roots and role of country music in American culture. The series, "Country Music," spans 16 hours and eight episodes, and debuts Sunday night on public television.

Julie Dunfey is the producer, and Dayton Duncan is a producer and writer for the series. Duncan says it puts great emphasis on Texans and artists with Texas roots, including Bob Wills, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Johnny Rodriguez and Flaco Jiménez. 

Tim Patterson/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

As Texans gear up for the 2020 elections, some hopeful candidates are struggling to get on the ballot. As a result, the Libertarian and Green Parties and others have sued the Texas secretary of state's office, alleging election laws in Texas discriminate against third-party and independent candidates.

Mark Jones is a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, and says candidates who want to get on the ballot for the governor’s race, for example, but who haven’t won enough votes in past elections, have to get signatures from the public.

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From Texas Standard:

The job market surged in Texas after the 2008 financial crisis. But the trend wasn’t spread evenly across the state. The “Texas miracle” seemed to only bless bigger cities like Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Young professionals didn’t exactly flock to smaller towns and more rural parts of the state. 

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

From Texas Standard:

On Tuesday, a new Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy went into effect, banning any religious adviser from being in the execution chamber with an inmate. The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court, last week, postponed the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the Texas Seven group.

The court said his execution had to wait until Texas decided on its policy about the presence of spiritual advisers during executions. The state had originally denied Murphy’s request to have a Buddhist priest, which Murphy appealed because Texas had allowed advisers from other faiths to be in the execution chamber. In his opinion, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that Texas needed to find a way to accommodate all faiths so as not to discriminate, or allow no advisers at all. TDCJ decided on the latter.

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

At 4:30 a.m. El Paso time Thursday, Beto O'Rourke confirmed, in a video with his wife at his side, that he's tossing his hat into the ring, so to speak, and running for president. O'Rourke is one of 15 Democrats who've announced their candidacy so far. 

Richard Pineda is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. Pineda says though O'Rourke will be up against another Texan in the primaries, Julián Castro, O'Rourke is "head and shoulders above" him because of the support he generated during his 2018 Senate race.

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From Texas Standard:

In a tweet Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation in Venezuela is "deteriorating," and announced plans to remove all diplomatic staff from the country, amid a six-day nationwide power outage, ongoing violence and food shortages. The U.S. also recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's president, though Nicolás Maduro still occupies the presidential palace. But it's unclear what the consequences will be with U.S. diplomats out of Caracas.

Secretary Pompeo, who's in Houston Tuesday for the CERAWeek energy conference, told Texas Standard he's ordering diplomats to leave for their safety. As a diplomat himself, he also says much of his focus is on finding ways to enhance America's security at home, including promoting U.S. oil and gas production. He says so-called energy independence gives the U.S. greater security and more leverage to negotiate with other countries.

Despite growing energy independence, the U.S. has relied for years on Venezuelan oil exports. But Pompeo says right now, the U.S. mainly wants to ensure the well-being of the Venezeulan people.

Mark/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The term "socialism" seems to be an early front-runner for the top buzzword of the 2020 election season. Democrats and Republicans have been using the word a lot lately, but what does it really mean?

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, President Donald Trump told the crowd, "Democrat lawmakers are now embracing socialism. They want to replace individual rights with total government domination."

But Jennifer Mercieca, associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University specializing in political rhetoric, says the way Trump characterizes socialism is different than its technical definition.

Pexels

From Texas Standard:

In the United States, over 10 million children live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It's the lowest child poverty rate in decades, but researchers and public policy experts are determined to bring down that number even further.

In a recently published report called "A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty" from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, its co-authors suggest policy changes that they claim could cut child poverty in half in just 10 years.

Cynthia Osborne contributed to the report. She's associate dean and director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Osborne says the irony of child poverty is that it's expensive.

Jon Shapley/KUT

From Texas Standard:

The Texas Senate Committee on Finance held a public hearing Monday to discuss a bill that would give a $5,000 pay raise to full-time teachers across the state. But before it passed in the committee, there was pushback from a group of school professionals who testified the bill’s definition of “full-time teacher” wasn’t adequate.

 

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT, and Flickr/House GOP (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Two Texas lawmakers are at the forefront of a renewed battle over President Donald Trump's tax returns.

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From Texas Standard:

The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News uncovered hundreds of Southern Baptist Convention, or SBC, church leaders and volunteers who faced sexual misconduct allegations in a recent investigation, “Abuse of Faith.” Reporters found that church leaders often knew about the abuse and did little, if anything, to stop it.

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From Texas Standard:

A state district judge in San Antonio ruled Monday that relatives of the victims of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs can sue Academy Sports, the Katy-based sporting goods chain that sold the shooter the rifle he used in the 2017 attack.

Timothy Lytton, professor at Georgia State University College of Law, says this could have implications nationwide because the judge ruled that Academy broke a federal law.

The shooter used a Colorado ID to buy the weapon at a San Antonio Academy store.

Flickr/HASA HQ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

We have talked about the influence Texas lost when senior members of the U.S. House retired or lost re-election bids. But what about the freshman members who replaced them? On what committees did they land, and does a freshman committee assignment have any influence on that lawmaker's trajectory in politics? And while we're at it, what will the elevation of two non-freshman Texans, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Will Hurd, mean for the state?

Paul Fabrizio, professor of political science at McMurry University in Abilene, says Colin Allred, a Democratic freshman from Dallas, scored seats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Julia Reihs/KUT

From Texas Standard:

With the president demanding $5 billion for his border wall and House Democrats refusing to budge, there's no end in sight to the political impasse that has led to the partial government shutdown.

Travelers may be noticing long waits in security lines at airports in Dallas, Houston and other parts of the U.S. as large numbers TSA screeners call in sick with the so-called blue flu, as they're forced to work without pay.

But this might be a moment of opportunity for those TSA workers, so says Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed – On (Not) Getting By in America." She lays out the case in a New York Times opinion piece she co-wrote with Gary Stevenson.

Suburban Tourist/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

On March 29, the United Kingdom is set to pull out of the European Union – a decision made by the British people in a 2016 referendum. The end of March is coming up fast, and what's the plan for the pullout? There isn't one. Lawmakers bickering in the shadow of Big Ben have, for a second time, rejected a so-called "Brexit" strategy, and leaving the EU with no plan could cause major economic and other problems for Britain and its trading partners and allies.

Harold Clarke, professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, at the University of Texas at Dallas, and adjunct professor in the Department of Government, at the University of Essex in England, says a messy Brexit could also be destabilizing for the U.S. and Texas.

Bill Zeeble/KERA News

From Texas Standard:

Nine Texas freshmen were sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives last week. It was a celebration for all, especially Democrats who took back control of the House, and who elected Nancy Pelosi as speaker. But all this took place amid the partial government shutdown and President Donald Trump's fight with Democrats to fund his border wall. It's a fraught time for these newly-elected members of Congress to come to Washington, including for Dallas Democrat Colin Allred.

Allred defeated a longtime Republican to claim his seat, and says the shutdown isn't what he envisioned for the beginning of his term.

Julia Reihs/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Our attention turns once again to the Texas side of the Rio Grande where President Donald Trump has doubled down on his plan build a wall along the border with Mexico. Over the weekend, Trump said he may declare a national emergency to secure the funding for the wall after White House officials and top legislative aids failed to reach a compromise about it, and also failed to end the partial government shutdown.

While politicians hash out immigration policy in Washington, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling deals with the day-to-day impact of immigration in the Rio Grande Valley – one of Texas' busiest border-crossing regions. Darling says he sees several hundred asylum seekers per day come to respite centers in the area. And while media have focused on the Central American migrant caravans moving through Mexico, he says they've missed what's actually happening at the border.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

From Texas Standard:

Top lawmakers are gathering at the White House again Friday to try to find a way to end the partial government shutdown. This comes one day after Democrats, who now have a majority in the House of Representatives, passed a package to reopen parts of the government until September, and passed a measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. The effort also allowed more time for negotiations on border security.

While the measures likely won't pass in the Republican-led Senate, seven Republicans in the House sided with Democrats to pass the bills; Texas Rep. Will Hurd was one of them. His 23rd Congressional District stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, encompassing much of the state's border with Mexico.

Hurd says he voted with Democrats because he feels it's important to keep agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, open.

Mali Mish/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Where do tornadoes come from? It's not a riddle or a trick question, although the answer may seem obvious: the sky, right? Evidently, that's not the case.

Bob Jagendorf/Flickr

From Texas Standard:

It's something you don't hear often in the news: President Donald Trump is endorsing a measure that has the support of Democrats and Republicans in Congress. This rare occasion for bipartisanship represents what some consider the biggest overhaul to the nation's criminal justice system in recent memory.

Shaila Dewaun is national criminal justice editor for The New York Times. She says the bill would help people leaving prison with reentry into the outside world, including providing money for education and treatment programs.

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From Texas Standard:

The Texas foster care system is violating the constitutional rights of children, and Texas must improve its investigations of child abuse allegations – that is the essence of a new ruling by a federal appeals court panel. The decision affirms a lower court finding that used similar language in 2015, ordering Texas officials to reform the foster care system. But the ruling also stated that the original order demanding changes went too far. 

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The day after Jamal Khashoggi was reported missing in Istanbul, the global editor of The Washington Post received what appears to be Khashoggi's final piece for the paper for which he was a columnist. The editor at the Post held off publishing it in hopes she could talk with Khashoggi and they could edit it together.

From Texas Standard:

Labor Day once marked the traditional start of election season. That's hard to believe now with 24-hour news cycles, and more and more people tuned in to social media. These days, Labor Day signals the final sprint for those running for office to reach voters before they head to the polls in November. So, with campaigns already well underway, how are the midterms shaping up in Texas?

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From Texas Standard.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old political newcomer, socialist and former campaign organizer for Bernie Sanders, beat her primary opponent in a primary race in New York. Her victory over Joe Crowley, the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House, came as a shock to some.

From Texas Standard.

While it appears that border agents are no longer applying a zero tolerance policy, it’s been a different scene on the other side of the state.

Shannon Najmabadi is the higher education reporter at the Texas Tribune. She has been reporting from a privately-operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility 75 miles outside Houston where adult men are being detained.

Julia Reihs/KUT

From Texas Standard.

The nation is grappling with disturbing news of children separated from their parents at the border as a consequence of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that calls for prosecution of border crossers. In Congress, multiple bills have been filed in response. A proposal by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz calls for doubling the number of immigration judges.

Pixabay

From Texas Standard.

As many reacted with shock this week to the deaths of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, we also learned from the Centers for Disease Control that suicide rates have risen in nearly every state between 1999 and 2016, the latest year for which complete data is available. Though Texas remains below the national rate, suicides have been rising here, too. The state experiences 12.9 suicides per 100,000 Texans. Across the nation, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides in 2016. The CDC says these trends cannot be linked to any specific medical diagnosis. 

Photo by James Tourtellotte/U.S. Customs and Border Protection

From Texas Standard.

Under federal law, anyone who reaches a U.S. port of entry may make a claim for asylum. But now it appears U.S. Customs and Border Protection has adopted a new tactic to keep out immigrants – telling agents to stop would-be asylum seekers before they reach a border checkpoint.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News.

From Texas Standard.

Tech transformations can have such a dramatic effect on the course of your day that it’s hard to remember your life before the latest gadget. When was the last time you used a paper map when your phone died or lost service? Though he admits his own sense of direction is lacking, Bill Kilday, in his new book, Never Lost Again, tells the story of how a small Texas tech startup named Keyhole eventually became Google Maps as we know it.

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