Week after MoPac nightmare, has morning commute improved?

It was the morning commute heard around the world (or at least around Austin).

Last Monday, construction-related lane closures on MoPac Boulevard – coupled with a rollover crash on Interstate 35 – made for a “MoPacalypse” that spilled into alternate routes and tripled commute times for many. We heard your pain. On Tuesday, the travel times were shorter – but still twice as long as on an average day.

The traffic nightmare got the newsroom thinking: Could there be an alternate route that’s significantly faster (or even a little faster – we’re not greedy) than taking MoPac from South to Central Austin in the morning? On Thursday, transportation reporter Ben Wear, managing editor John Bridges and investigative editor Robert Eckhart set off from the Circle C area at 8:22 a.m., each taking a different route to the UT campus.

Ben’s route: MoPac to Windsor

Robert’s route: MoPac, Texas 71, I-35 and Dean Keeton Street

John’s route: MoPac, Texas 71, South First Street-Lavaca Street-Guadalupe Street

The results: “Everything we thought about this commute turned out to be wrong.” Traffic seemed no worse than usual, and all three arrived at their destination within a minute of each other. (Read more about the Great Race in the full story on MyStatesman.com.)

MoPac drivers, have you seen an improvement on your morning commutes? Or have you already moved on to Plan B? Let us know in the comments.

 

5 things to know Friday, Feb. 26: U.S. to launch cyberwar against IS

FILE - This June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., where the US Cyber Command is located. U.S. officials tell The Associated Press that the military has launched a newly aggressive campaign of cyberattacks against Islamic State militants. It’s a targeted effort to erode the group’s abilities to use social media and the Internet to recruit fighters and inspire followers. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with commanders at Fort Meade, Maryland, last month, prodding them to ramp up the anti-Islamic State fight on the cyber front. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
This June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., where the US Cyber Command is located. U.S. officials tell The Associated Press that the military has launched a newly aggressive campaign of cyberattacks against Islamic State militants. It’s a targeted effort to erode the group’s abilities to use social media and the Internet to recruit fighters and inspire followers. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with commanders at Fort Meade, Maryland, last month, prodding them to ramp up the anti-Islamic State fight on the cyber front. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Here’s what you need to know to start your weekend off informed:

1. U.S. launches cyberwar against Islamic State.

The U.S. military is targeting the Islamic State’s ability to recruit new followers through social media with a new, aggressive cyberattack against the group, the Associated Press reports. Defense Secretary Ash Carter asked commanders last month to bolster the cyber defense against the Islamic State. Attacks include blockades that attempt to prevent the group from distributing propaganda and recruiting messages on social media platforms, like Twitter. Some are concerned the attacks could thwart efforts to gather intelligence on the group, while others are worried the attack will interfere with civilian networks and use. “The Internet shouldn’t be used for that purpose,” Carter said.

2. 3 killed, 14 wounded in Kansas shooting.

A gunman with an “assault-style” weapon opened fire while driving through Hesston, Kansas before shooting and killing 3 people inside the Excel Industries lawn mower product factory he worked at, the Associated Press reported. In total 14 people, 10 critically, were wounded by the gunman. After the gunman began shooting at police, he was fatally shot by an officer. Police refused to identify the suspect and wouldn’t specify his motive but said there were “some things that triggered this individual.”

 

3. Marco Rubio steps up in Thursday’s debate.

After repeated attacks against GOP front-runner Donald Trump by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in Thursday night’s Republican debate, Rubio reiterated his aggressive stance on the business mogal, calling him a “con artist” during several television appearances Friday morning, the Associate Press reports. Trump said the attacks are coming because Rubio and Cruz are “desperate” and “losing by massive amounts.” Prior this debate, both Rubio and Cruz were hesitant to directly attack Trump.

4. Michael Turner expected to plead guilty in Colton Turner case.

Michael Turner, who led police to the burial site of 2-year-old Colton Turner, is expected to plead guilty Friday in the 2014 death of the boy, the American-Statesman’s Jazmine Ulloa reports. Turner will plead guilty to both injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence. Police have said Turner helped his girlfriend Meagan Work bury Colton in a field. Work, who is charged with two counts of injury to a child, is awaiting trial. Prior his death Child Protective Services investigated reports that Colton was abused and neglected.

5. Charlie Strong will not testify in divorce case.

UT football coach Charlie Strong will no longer have to give a deposition in a Louisville couple’s divorce settlement, the American-Statesman’s Ryan Autullo reports. Jonathan and Tracey Blue have reportedly resolved their issues ahead of Friday’s expected rule on Jonathan’s motion to depose Strong. “Late last night, Jonathan and Tracy Blue signed a Marital Settlement Agreement, resolving all issues between them,” Jonathan’s lawyer said in an email.

Follow the Republican presidential debate live

And then there were five.

Days before Super Tuesday, when 12 states including Texas vote in primaries, the five remaining Republican candidates for president square off in Houston on Thursday night. They are: New York business mogul Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

The debate will be broadcast on CNN at 7:30 p.m. It will be moderated by Wolf Blitzer. Also asking questions will be Telemundo News anchor Maria Celeste Arras, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

5 things to know Thursday, Feb. 25: Possible Supreme Court choice

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval participates in the opening session of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval participates in the opening session of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Here’s what you need to know to stay informed this Thursday:

1. Possible Supreme Court appointee would act as test for Senate GOP.

Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has been named a possible choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy according to two people familiar with the process, the Associated press reports. Nevada’s first Hispanic governor, Sandoval would give President Barack Obama the opportunity to challenge the GOP caucus’ unified stance that the next president should appoint Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement. Senate Democrats are expected to again demand that Republicans consider Obama’s nominee Thursday at noon. However, because he is a supporter of abortion rights, Senate Republicans are likely to take issue with Sandoval.

2. Officer who killed man who shot at police helicopter won’t be indicted.

Austin SWAT sniper Luke Serrato will not be indicted for shooting and killing 27-year-old Sawyer Flache, who shot at a police helicopter in February 2015, The American-Statesman’s Philip Jankowski reported Wednesday. Video released Wednesday shows Flache shooting at an Austin police helicopter multiple times, while it circled above his house for nearly an hour. Serrato fatally shot Flache from a nearby ditch. A neighbor spoke with Flache for around 15 minutes between bouts of shooting at the helicopter, at which time he denied having heard shots.

3. Tim Cook says he will make his case directly to Obama.

During his first interview since he announced Apple would refuse to adhere to a court order demanding the company override security features on an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, CEO Tim Cook told ABC news that giving into the FBI would be “bad for America.” He also said he would attempt to make his case directly to President Barack Obama. “Some things are hard and some things are right, and some things are both. This is one of those things,” Cook said. Cook compared the software the FBI is asking be created to “cancer.” The company will file its legal response to the order by Friday, the Associated Press reported.

4. Appeals court dismisses Rick Perry criminal case.

The legal troubles that have followed Rick Perry for 18 months were brought to an end Wednesday when an appeals court dismissed the remaining criminal charge against him, The American-Statesman’s Chuck Lindell reports. Perry was originally indicted in 2014 for felony charges related to his attempt to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign following her drunken driving arrest. “I’ve always known that the actions that I took were not only lawful and legal, they were right,” Perry said. Perry celebrated with a trip to Sandy’s.

5. Austin blood center to follow stricter donor rules because of Zika virus.

To protect the blood supply from the transmission of the Zika virus, the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas has announced it will begin installing stricter screening criteria for donors, which go beyond federal recommendations, says American-Statesman reporter Mary Ann Roser. The FDA has recommended refusing donation from anyone who has had sex with someone who has visited a Zika-threatened country within the past three months, as well as anyone who has traveled to one of those countries themselves within the past four weeks. There are 14 known cases of Zika in the United States that were transmitted through sexual contact with someone who visited one of the affected countries.

Rick Perry celebrates with ice cream at Sandy’s … again

Time, as it turns out, is both a flat circle and a cone.

Former Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Wednesday February 24, 2016, after the state's top criminal court threw out the remaining charge against him. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Former Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Wednesday February 24, 2016, after the state’s top criminal court threw out the remaining charge against him. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The state’s Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday threw out the remaining criminal charge against former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, signaling the end of 18 months of legal trouble. Perry was indicted in 2014 on two felony charges related to his 2013 effort to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after her drunken driving arrest.

The former governor’s indictment spurred at least viral moments: a well-coiffed mugshot seen ’round the world and a defiantly casual trip to Austin sweet spot Sandy’s after booking.

Pre-custard, Perry also gave campaign-like speeches before and after his booking into Travis County Jail.

Flash forward to 2016. In addition to the legal victory, Perry on Wednesday made a case for considering social media a form of poetry, returning to the Barton Springs Road burger joint for a follow-up photo-opp.

The photo’s caption reads, “Epic legal victory falls on the 180th anniversary of Col. Travis’s Victory or Death letter: ‘I shall never surrender or retreat.'” Please note the carefully curated composition of the photo, with the former governor’s apparent swirl flanked on either side by vanilla and chocolate treats. The lens flare, too, is Photoshop-filter caliber.

Watch Perry discuss the dismissal of his criminal case below.

Who’s under the Chinese New Year dragon?

The Summit Lion-Dragon Dance team is comprised of kindergarten through college student who have practiced this age-old dance form in Austin for over 12 years.

IMG_2134
On Feb. 21st, 2016, Alan Nguyen, member of the Summitt Lion-Dragon Dance team, performed at the Chinese New Year celebration in the Chinatown Center in North Austin. The team has been performing this traditional dance in Austin for over 12 years. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani / American-Statesman

 

Firecrackers lit up the Chinatown center in North Lamar on Sunday as throngs of people rang in the Year of the Monkey.

The crowd was lead by the Summitt Lion-Dragon Dance team, comprised of kindergarten through college students who have practiced this age-old dance form in Austin for over 12 years. Students lined the inside of giant dragons and lions, jumping around, dancing, and climbing onto each others shoulders for the finale of each act. In many Asian cultures, the dragon represents good luck, while the lion represents an evil mythical creature.

Crowds pop fire crackers to scare away the  lion and symbolically cleanse the new year of all evil. “A lot of the students are moving away from their own cultures because they’re more Americanized,” said dance instructor Linda Cao. “The purpose of this group is in part to expose a little bit of Chinese and Vietnamese culture to these kids.”

GIF-before-after

At the Chinatown center, owners lined up in front of their stores to receive the dance group, ready with red envelopes filled with money which they fed into the mouths of the dragons and lions. The performance lasted for over three hours.

“It gets really hot,” admitted group member Arthur Cates. “It feels like you have three blankets on top of you.”

But like so many of his teammates, Cates feels that the group keeps him tethered to his culture and has become like a second family.

“It might not be fun during the time, but afterwards when you’re bonding with the whole team, it’s really worth it,” Cates said.

Texas State’s latest viral hit is a scantily-clad ‘Donald Tramp’

Donald Trump easily won the South Carolina GOP primary Saturday, beating U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida by more than 10 percent.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (2nd L) gives a thumbs up to photographers during a rally against the Iran nuclear deal on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. Thousands of people gathered for the rally, organized by the Tea Party Patriots, which featured conservative pundits and politicians. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (2nd L) gives a thumbs up to photographers during a rally against the Iran nuclear deal on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. Thousands of people gathered for the rally, organized by the Tea Party Patriots, which featured conservative pundits and politicians. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Perhaps more interesting than his primary win, however, is how The Donald’s personality is being received at Texas State University in San Marcos, according to The San Antonio Express-News.

Video recently surfaced of a Texas State student dressed in short shorts, a blazer and a toupee. He calls himself “Donald Tramp” and his dream is to “Make Short Shorts Great Again.”

In the Feb. 10 video shared by Facebook user BOY CHAD, student Kristoffer Ian Celera can be seen dancing seductively and yelling “Vote for me, Donald Tramp!” before standing up and starting a striptease.

According to Celera’s Facebook profile, he is studying computer science at Texas State and “likes” several political organizations on the site, like “Students For Rand” and “Young Americans For Liberty.”

“A photo of Celera in the Trump costume he wears in the video can be seen on his profile, originally posted on Oct. 29.

Comments on the original photo include “I love you Kris. That is an AMAZING costume!” and  “that jacket is BARELY long enough o__o.”

Twitter users’ comments were mostly positive.

https://twitter.com/kbrooketsu/status/697546427572944896

If you’ve been keeping up with Texas State in the last few weeks, you’ll know this isn’t the first time its students have made national headlines. The day before Celera’s Tramp Dance, a female student laid on a table in her underwear covered in nothing but Chick-fil-A foods. She previously sat topless on the library steps about a year ago. And there’s also the student who decided to use a Barbie Jeep to drive around campus after her license was suspended following a DWI.

What a time to be alive. Maybe Trump can get Celera to help him out on the campaign trail.

 

Austin’s Uno the beagle ejected from Westminster at Madison Square Garden

The loud bark that won America’s heart 8 years ago is also the same bark that caused an Austin beagle to be kicked out of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show Monday night, Fox Sports reports.

Uno was at the Texas Capitol Wednesday, July 23, 2008 to meet Gov. Rick Perry. Following the closed door meeting, Uno was escorted out onto the south lawn by David Frei, Westminster director of communications, and was quickly surrounded by admirers who wanted to give him a pat. (American-Statesman file photo)
Uno was at the Texas Capitol Wednesday, July 23, 2008 to meet Gov. Rick Perry. Following the closed door meeting, Uno was escorted out onto the south lawn by David Frei, Westminster director of communications, and was quickly surrounded by admirers who wanted to give him a pat. (American-Statesman file photo)

Uno the beagle was the first of his breed to win Best in Show at Westminster in 2008 and is still widely considered to be one of the show’s most popular pooches, according to the Associated Press. He beat out six other top dogs on his way to Best In Show all those years ago and was the first beagle to win the hound category since 1939. Which is why what happened Monday night all the more ridiculous.

The beloved beagle was back in New York to appear on the show’s telecast and made it all the way inside, where he began barking — “the howl heard around the world,” as his handler Tristan Huebner once said.

Once Uno started barking, Westminster officials found and ejected him from Madison Square Garden, because he was an “undocumented dog,” according to Fox Sports.

Apparently Uno got no special favors as a former champion. Westminster President Sean McCarthy said Uno was ejected as “any undocumented dog would’ve been.” Harsh.

That shouldn’t get the dog down, though. Uno is now 11 and has ventured into the movie business, according to AP. He was in New York to stop by MSG, sure, but he was also in town to film promotional material for “The Secret Life of Pets,” an upcoming animated movie with voice talent from famous comedians like Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart.

And he’ll always have the fond memories of coming back to his hometown to see Governor Rick Perry.

Live coverage of Pope Francis’ Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border

Pope Francis’ will conclude his visit to the Mexican city of Juárez with a massive ceremony at the edge of the border with Texas. An estimated half a million people are expected to attend to the Mass, which will also be broadcast live at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Sun Bowl stadium. The Mass is scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. Central Time.

Members of the media record the airport arrival of Pope Francis to Juarez, Mexico, from the media center on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Members of the media record the airport arrival of Pope Francis to Juarez, Mexico, from the media center on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Follow Statesman reporters Nicole Chavez and Marlon Sorto, who are in Juárez covering the pope’s historic visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.