Horns Up: Texas Environmental Groups to fight Exxon over Clean Air Act 

In a federal trial set to begin Monday, environmentalist groups will face off in court against Irving-based oil giant Exxon over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Though the alleged misconduct took place only in the Baytown area of Houston, the implications of the court decision for environmental conservation are state-wide. If Exxon is found guilty, it faces a possible penalty of up to $634 million, the environmental groups estimate. Such a fine would do wonders in discouraging any would-be-polluters from skimping on regulations. Horns up to the groups who decided to directly challenge Exxon for failing to meet the standards of their community and country. 

Horns Down: Sochi Olympics fail to impress

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have begun with a less-than-stellar start, with reports of unfinished construction throughout the host city and last-minute efforts to prepare for the games. Unfortunately, the opening ceremony didn’t go any more smoothly. The elaborate and detailed mix of flying children and floating landscapes fell short of the entertaining narrative of London in 2012 and of the well-timed execution of Beijing in 2010. The display was further devastated by the malfunctioning of one of the five giant, lighted electronic snowflakes meant to expand into the Olympic rings. For an event and a city the world is watching, more solid planning and preparation was obviously necessary. True, it’s in the spirit of the Olympics to judge things you’re in no way qualified to judge. But we still wish the Sochi Olympics had more to offer in the way of awe-inspiring moments and less in the way of internationally-viewed blunders. 

Photo Credit: Marshall Nolen | Daily Texan Staff

Austin ranks highly both in the amount of time citizens volunteer at nonprofits and in the amount of money donated, something local nonprofit I Live Here, I Give Here is attempting to capitalize on with the event Amplify Austin.

“It’s about raising the level of personal philanthropy across Texas. We decided last year to use this tool of online giving,” said Patsy Woods Martin, founder and executive director of I Live Here, I Give Here. “Mainly because [Austin’s] average age is 32, and we’re used to being online.” 

Martin said I Live Here, I Give Here also helped the nonprofits better their online presence by increasing their social media practices and developing options for online donations.

The event began with a kickoff party at the Long Center for Performing Arts, where local musicians and food trucks functioned to involve the community.

“This giving day model is in line with other giving day models in larger metropolitan areas,” said Blaire Kniffin, the assistant director of nonprofit relations of I Live Here, I Give Here. “A study came out in 2007 that put Austin at 48 out of 52 in metropolitan areas in the amount that we give. We as an organization have tapped into that.”

The donation window opened at 7 p.m. on Monday and will last through Tuesday night. Donations will mainly be accepted online and will be distributed to more than 300 local nonprofits, including Susan G. Komen and Special Olympics. Amplify Austin hopes to raise $1 million.

I Live Here, I Give Here partnered with the University Federal Credit Union, which contributed $100,000 in addition to $60,000 of existing donations.

“[Austin] is still small, so I think Amplify Austin just fits into the whole Austin vibe, keeping things local and giving back,” marketing director Corinne Watts said. “Because we’re locally owned ourselves, it seemed like a good fit for us to be involved.”

Jason Miller, the program director for the Special Olympics’ Central Texas chapter, said funds from Amplify Austin will help host events for the 19 sports they feature each year, ranging from basketball to figure skating. 

Miller said the Special Olympics can transform participants by helping them learn social skills. One athlete, when first joining the program, barely spoke. But after participating in several events, he improved his people skills and now works as a global ambassador for the program.

“After a basketball game, one of the guys once came up to me and said ‘Special Olympics is like a burrito: It’s all the good stuff rolled into one,’” Miller said. “That’s a real quote. I can’t make that stuff up.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 as: Locals amplify Austin donations

Scoop Tossing



Max Rinehart, manager of the airport location, throws an ice cream scoop up in the air at Amy’s Ice Creams’ 8th Annual Trick Olympics Tuesday evening. Rinehart won one of the scoop tossing competitions.

Sanya Richards-Ross leads the way in the womenÂ’s 400-meter preliminary at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Former Longhorn runner and five-time NCAA Champion Sanya Richards-Ross is attempting to qualify for her third Olympics and redeem herself from what she considers a subpar performance in the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

“I wanted to win for my country, my sponsors and myself,” said Richards-Ross. “I got so caught up in everything around the Olympic Games and what it would mean for my career to be an Olympic champion ... I made the emotions and circumstances get the better of me.”
Those emotions and circumstances still resulted in a bronze medal in the 400-meter race for Richards-Ross. Currently trying to qualify for both the 200- and 400-meter races, Sanya said she believes she is more mentally prepared to deal with the pressures of participating in the Olympics.

“I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s something that I’ve actually had to work on, and I have learned through life experiences more how to deal with it,” Richards-Ross said.

Despite winning gold with Team USA in the 4x400-meter relay in Beijing, Richards-Ross didn’t win the race that mattered to her the most.

“I felt like it was a real missed opportunity. I won every single race that season and won every single race after that,” Richards-Ross said. “I was a little bitter about it and sour about it, but starting maybe in 2009, when I started competing again, it became pure motivation.”

That motivation drove her to win both the IAAF World Athlete of the Year and the Jesse Owens Award in 2009. Earning 11 All-American honors during her time at the University of Texas from 2003-04, Richards-Ross remains one of the best runners in the world.

She also credits her training to her ability to remain focused and deal with the various pressures in preparation for the 2012 games.

“I’m lucky, because I train in Waco, so there’s not much to do there but eat, sleep and train,” Richards-Ross said. “It’s a quiet place. There’s nobody there but myself, my coaches.”

Richards-Ross and her coaches have had to intensify training to help her reach her goal of making both the 200- and 400-meter teams.

“I’ve been training really, really hard. I know the speed is there, I know my endurance is there, so it’s just putting those two together in the 200,” Richards-Ross said. “I mean, it’s a no-brainer for me. The 400 comes first, so it’s really just icing on the cake for me.”

A protester dressed up as Rupert Murdoch poses for photographs as he demonstrate outside the Leveson inquiry at the High Court in London on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

LONDON — News Corp. executive James Murdoch’s behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign spilled out into the public domain Tuesday, casting a harsh light on the British government’s Olympics czar.

Murdoch was speaking before the media ethics inquiry set up in the wake of the country’s phone hacking scandal, which has shaken the U.K.’s establishment with revelations of journalistic misdeeds, police corruption, and corporate malpractice.

Some of Murdoch’s testimony revisited his own role in the scandal, but far more explosive were revelations about how senior British ministers went out of their way to smooth the path for one of his biggest-ever business deals.

Particularly damning was correspondence showing how Olympics czar Jeremy Hunt secretly backed Murdoch’s multibillion dollar bid for full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. As the minister charged with deciding whether to refer the takeover deal to Britain’s competition authority, Hunt was meant to have been neutral.

“I am approaching the decision with total impartiality and following strict due process,” Hunt told lawmakers in January 2011. But a cache of text messages and emails published by Leveson’s inquiry Tuesday suggested that Hunt was fighting on Murdoch’s side the whole time.

“He said we would get there at the end, and he shared our objectives,” was how an email from News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel described Hunt’s attitude.

Other emails appeared to capture Hunt’s office providing Murdoch with sensitive intelligence on his political opponents and offering advice on how best to present his bid. At one point Adam Smith, Hunt’s special adviser, sends a text message to Michel boasting that “I [have] been causing a lot of chaos and moaning from people here on your behalf.”

One message even quoted Hunt’s statement a day before it was due to be delivered to the House of Commons — a breach of parliamentary protocol which Michel described as “absolutely illegal.”

Later Tuesday, Hunt issued a statement saying that some of the evidence “reported meetings and conversations that simply didn’t happen.” He said he has asked to move forward his appearance at the Leveson inquiry so he can present his side of the story.

“I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness,” Hunt said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, inquiry lawyer Robert Jay repeatedly needled Murdoch on the propriety of these back-channel communications.

“Do you think it’s appropriate, Mr. Murdoch, that here you are getting confidential information as to what’s going on at a high level of government?” Jay asked.

Murdoch hesitated before giving an awkward laugh.

“What I was concerned with here was the substance of what was being communicated, not the channel by which it was communicated,” he said.

Murdoch was eventually forced to drop the proposed deal following the eruption of Britain’s phone hacking scandal in July, but the emails could be still be damaging.

As secretary for culture, Olympics, media and sport, Hunt is the most senior government official dedicated to the 2012 Games. If it were proven that he had given Murdoch special favors, his lead role on the games — where a level playing field is guaranteed for all — might be in jeopardy.

Prime Minister David Cameron expressed confidence in the 45-year-old minister, but within minutes of Murdoch’s testimony, opposition politicians were calling on Hunt to step down.

“All politicians, including Labour, became too close to the Murdochs, but this is in a completely different league,” Labour leader Ed Miliband told journalists. “We have Jeremy Hunt engaging in detailed discussions with a party, News Corporation, that is bidding to take over BSkyB and he is supposed to be the impartial judge.”

The nature of the Murdoch family’s links with senior politicians is one of the key questions raised by the phone hacking scandal. Critics of News Corp. argue that Conservative Party politicians — including Hunt — waved through the BSkyB deal in return for favorable press coverage. Murdoch, showing little emotion, repeatedly denied the charge Tuesday.

“I would never have made that kind of a crass calculation. It just wouldn’t occur to me,” he said.

Murdoch’s testimony gave a feel for his company’s considerable clout, detailing 20-odd dinners, lunches, breakfasts and other meetings with Cameron and other leaders — including former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Earlier in the hearing Murdoch was forced to defend his record at the head of his father’s scandal-plagued British newspaper arm, saying that subordinates prevented him from making a clean sweep at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

Murdoch repeated allegations that the tabloid’s then-editor Colin Myler and the company’s former in-house lawyer, Tom Crone, misled him about the scale of illegal behavior at the newspaper.

Leveson asked Murdoch: “Can you think of a reason why Mr. Myler or Mr. Crone should keep this information from you? Was your relationship with them such that they may think: ‘Well we needn’t bother him with that’ or ‘We better keep it from it because he’ll ask to cut out the cancer’?”

“That must be it,” Murdoch said. “I would say: ‘Cut out the cancer,’ and there was some desire to not do that.”

Murdoch’s father Rupert, News Corp.’s executive chairman, is scheduled to testify before Leveson on Wednesday morning.

Media analyst Paul Connew predicted more pain for British politicians. “James Murdoch’s appearance is only the warm up act,” he said.

Printed on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 as: Murdoch inquiry affects top UK officials

LONDON — Dozens of officials in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime will be blocked from attending the London Olympics, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed yesterday as he pledged to make the event “the greatest show on Earth.”

Cameron said those subject to international travel bans and asset freezes would not be able to attend the sporting spectacle, which takes place from July 27-Aug. 12.

“I don’t think we should punish the athletes for the sins of the regime, so Syria will be taking part in the games and that is right,” Cameron told reporters as he held talks with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who was in town for the IOC’s final inspection visit before the games.

“But let’s be absolutely clear, Britain has led efforts within the European Union and elsewhere to institute asset bans, travel freezes and punishing sanctions against this despicable regime. Anyone covered by one of those travel bans will not be welcome in London,” Cameron said.

A total of 41 organizations and 127 people linked to the Syrian regime have had EU sanctions imposed upon them, including Assad’s British-born wife, Asma. Diplomats have conceded they could not prevent her from entering Britain, but insist they do not expect her to try to travel to the U.K. Britain’s Home Office, which is responsible for border control, will need to decide whether to grant a visa to attend the Olympics to Syrian Olympic Committee president Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa, a close Assad aide who is not currently covered by sanctions.

The ministry can deny entry if it feels an individual’s presence in Britain would not be “conducive to the public good.”

Published on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as: Britain welcomes Syrians not subject to travel bans to Olympics.