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Christmas Kid - Drayvehn Briggs

Name: Drayvehn Briggs

Age: 4

Parents: Chris Briggs and Rhiannon Houser

What do you think it is like to be one of Santa’s elves?: It would be fun.

For Christmas, I’m giving my Mom and/or Dad: I’m giving them presents!

What is your favorite family Christmas tradition?: Opening presents.


Cyber Monday: What to know before you shop

Black Friday sales have dragged on for days. Now it’s Cyber Monday’s turn, which means Americans are logging onto their computers and, increasingly, their smartphones to spend billions more.

U.S. consumers are expected to shell out a record $9.4 billion on Cyber Monday, a 19% increase from last year, according to Adobe Analytics. That’s in line with buying habits seen in November, when Americans spent $68.2 billion online, or 17% more than 2018, data show. More than one-third of those purchases were made on smartphones, and that proportion is expected to be even higher on Cyber Monday.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to shop.

  • Nabbing the best deals may still mean going to the store — to pick up your order. It’s no secret that shipping is costly and cumbersome for retailers. As a result, more brands are offering incentives for shoppers who buy online and pick up in stores. The Children’s Place, for example, is offering 5% off to customers who retrieve their orders, while Walmart offers pickup discounts — typically 1 to 2% — on items including car seats, laptops and TVs.
  • Buy that TV. If you’re on the hunt for a new TV, now might be the time to bite. Televisions will be marked down an average of 19% on Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Analytics.
  • Look for last-minute “golden hour” deals. The final moments of Black Friday — starting at 10 p.m. Eastern time — and to be the most profitable hours of the year for retailers, according to Adobe Analytics.

Businesses rake in about 30% of Cyber Monday sales between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when most Americans are home from work and taking one last swing through the sales before bed. Conversion rates — or the percentage of shoppers who actually buy something after visiting a retail site — tend to double during this period, according to Adobe.

Retailers view this “golden hour” as their last chance to clinch any pending Cyber Monday sales, so analysts say it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your inbox for last-minute deals.

Relax. Missed a promotion? Don’t panic. Chances are, analysts say, you’ll see it again. Holiday shopping is turning into a weeks-long marathon, and retailers know that the majority of consumers — 64% of them, according to Adobe — won’t finish buying until well after Cyber Monday.


Sidelined for Months, Judiciary Panel Will Reclaim Impeachment Drive It Once Led

This spring, as President Donald Trump defiantly rejected congressional attempts to investigate his conduct and policies, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asked his Democratic colleagues on his famously voluble panel a loaded question: When all is said and done, given the facts before us, are we heading toward impeaching this president?

The answer came back mixed, said people familiar with the private discussion in an office building across from the Capitol, with many of the panel’s progressive firebrands saying impeachment was inevitable, while some of its more senior members held back, wary of embracing a process likely to unleash forces well beyond their control.

Half a year later, after several twists and turns and the near death of the prospect of impeaching Trump in the House, the answer to Nadler’s question has become clear, even as the divisions that were evident on that spring day remain.

After being unceremoniously sidelined for two months while the Intelligence Committee assembled a case that the president pressured Ukraine to help him in the 2020 election, the judiciary panel is poised to retake the national stage this week to swiftly draft and debate articles of impeachment and almost certainly vote to make Trump only the third president in history to be impeached.

“News of the Judiciary Committee’s demise has been greatly exaggerated,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a top Democratic leader and member of the panel.

The panel, the arbiter of presidential impeachment proceedings past, will be thrust once again into the center of the maelstrom its Democratic members have been contemplating for months, to lead what is likely to be a raucous and messy process of formally charging the president with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have conspicuously avoided locking in a timeline for the inquiry, but privately they are said to be aiming for a full House vote on impeachment articles before the Christmas recess, barring unexpected developments. That would leave the Judiciary Committee with as little as two weeks to do its work.

The first milestone will come in the form of a written report from the Intelligence Committee, which is to be made available to members on Monday in advance of its approval on Tuesday. The handoff of the report, which will most likely form much of the basis for articles of impeachment against Trump, will be a stylistic and substantive turning point for the inquiry that will almost certainly inflame a debate that has already roiled Congress and divided the country.

Large, disorderly and stacked with some of Congress’ most outspoken progressives and conservatives, the Judiciary Committee is the polar opposite of the small and staid intelligence panel, where rules drafted to facilitate the handling of government secrets allowed Democrats to tightly control every aspect of the impeachment inquiry. The judiciary rules, instead, are fundamentally democratic, designed to provide wide latitude for divisive debates over the nation’s most pressing policy issues, many of them cultural hot-buttons that fuel each party’s activist base. Barring some momentous new evidence, not a single lawmaker on either side is expected to budge.

And while the Intelligence Committee conducted much of its investigative work behind closed doors, the judiciary panel will work entirely in the public glare. House rules dictate that the panel will give Trump and his lawyers a role in the proceedings for the first time, allowing them to cross-examine witnesses, suggest others for testimony and possibly present the president’s defense case at a hearing all its own.

The stakes are high. For party leaders, who have warily eyed recent national polling that shows public opinion essentially unmoved by weeks of fact-finding laying out how Trump twisted the foreign policy process to meet his own domestic political interests, the debate offers perhaps a final chance to move independent voters behind them before putting Trump on trial in the Senate.

Democrats, led by Nadler, intend to try to rein in their more fiery progressives and infuse the proceedings with gravitas, mindful of their role in history. But the freewheeling nature of the panel, with its hyperpartisan members, does not easily lend itself to that task. And their handling of the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign, earned Nadler and his committee a reputation for being unable to fully control its own proceedings.Republicans instead want to mire Democrats in a sloppy fight, making the hearings into such a confusing mishmash of competing information that even Republicans troubled by Trump’s actions see no upside in breaking with him. They plan to take advantage of early impeachment advocacy by Nadler and Democrats on the panel to portray the Ukraine matter as simply another attempt by Trump’s critics to take him down.

“Any article to come out of this? There is no world in which a Republican, especially on the Judiciary Committee, will accept this,” Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the panel’s top Republican, said in an interview. “We have seen this sideshow up close all year.”

Joining Collins on Republicans’ side of the dais are some of the most ardent culture warriors and defenders of Trump: Louie Gohmert of Texas, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who led the president’s defense in the Intelligence Committee. They have already shown a flair for the dramatic, organizing conservative lawmakers to storm the Intelligence Committee’s secure chambers in a stunt to stall the proceedings, which they called a “kangaroo court.”

Collins, a Georgia lawyer with an auctioneer’s cadence and a lawyer’s knack for tripping up committee business with time-consuming parliamentary tactics, is ready to make the proceedings as painful as possible for Democrats. He warned that if Nadler intends to jam articles of impeachment through the committee, he will go down in history as “a giant rubber stamp” for Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the Intelligence Committee chairman.

It will be up to Nadler, a loquacious progressive from Manhattan’s Upper West Side who is now one of the House’s leaders, to maintain order and inject gravity and fairness into the proceedings. Democrats have spent weeks speculating that his relationship with Pelosi had been badly strained by his earlier push for impeachment, which she publicly opposed, believing the process was too divisive and unlikely, in any event, to result in the president’s removal. Both sides deny it, but privately lawmakers around him conceded they were wary of comparisons to Schiff, who oversaw hearings in the Intelligence Committee with an iron fist and tight lips.

Republicans have been quick to weaponize Nadler’s patience in the past, taking advantage of his reticence to simply gavel them into silence. Nadler, in consultation with Pelosi and his members, will now have to decide how to handle requests from Republicans and the president’s lawyers, weighing a desire to demonstrate fairness against a determination to maintain forward momentum, shutting down any dilatory tactics.

“We will bend over backward to be fair,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “Let’s see if he stands straight instead of standing corrupt. Let’s put the onus on the president to for once perhaps behave.”

The clash will begin Wednesday, when the committee summons legal experts to help inform its debate over whether Trump’s conduct warrants impeachment.

The panel is also expected to convene another session in the coming days for Schiff or his staff members to formally present the Intelligence Committee’s findings for consideration, a spectacle akin to the presentation of evidence by Ken Starr, the independent counsel, during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Articles of impeachment themselves will be drafted in private, but debated, edited and amended out in the open — a process that could take two to three days of public work.

Privately, Democrats believe they could end up with three to four articles of impeachment: one or two focused on the president’s alleged abuse of power related to Ukraine, another chronicling his obstruction of congressional requests for witnesses and documents, and potentially an article focused on findings by Mueller charging Trump with obstructing justice when he tried to thwart the Russia investigation.

That last potential charge is the subject of a lively private debate among Democrats about how broad of a case to make against the president. At least one senior member of the committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said in an interview that she remained unconvinced that Mueller’s case united House Democrats in the same way the Ukraine affair has.

“As you will recall, I did not step forward urging movement for impeachment based on the Mueller report,” said Lofgren, who worked for the committee during impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon and served on it during Clinton’s. “What we have got before us, which has been explored factually by the Intelligence Committee, is clear and serious.”

Nadler and other members of the Judiciary Committee spent months this summer aggressively pushing within their caucus for impeachment based on Mueller’s findings, making only limited headway amid historic White House stonewalling and drawing public criticism for seeming to fumble a case many Democrats once thought would be an ironclad shot at impeaching Trump. That was the state of play in September when they were thrust to the side by Pelosi after an anonymous whistleblower complaint related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine found its way to the Intelligence Committee.

Democrats on the judiciary panel have spent the interim preparing out of public view to close whatever case the caucus can agree on. A small army of staff lawyers has spent weeks exhaustively researching House rules and precedents from the Clinton and Nixon impeachments to help Nadler navigate the coming hearings. And like millions of other Americans, they have had their televisions tuned to the intelligence hearings and the evidence that will soon be in their hands.

“The judiciary committee has been very closely watching the testimony,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.


How a Divided Left Is Losing the Battle on Abortion

ATLANTA — The pin was small, and rusted on the back. Sharon Wood had packed it away in 1973 as a relic of a battle fought and won: the image of a black coat hanger, slashed out by a red line.

Then this spring, her home state, Georgia, joined a cascade of states outlawing abortion at the earliest stages of pregnancy. Wood did what she never imagined she would need to do again. She dug it out and pinned it on.

“Don’t ask me how it all happened,” Wood, 70, a retired social worker northeast of Atlanta, said. “I know so many people who said they woke up when Trump was elected. Well, they shouldn’t have been asleep.”

For years, abortion rights supporters like Wood believed the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling had delivered their ultimate goal, the right to reproductive choice. Now they are grappling with a new reality: Nationwide access to abortion is more vulnerable than it has been in decades.

In a six-month period this year, states across the South and Midwest passed 58 abortion restrictions. Alabama banned the procedure almost entirely. Lawmakers in Ohio introduced a similar bill shortly before Thanksgiving. And in March, the Supreme Court will hear its first major abortion case since President Donald Trump added two conservative justices and shifted the court to the right; how it rules could reshape the constitutional principles governing abortion rights.

For opponents of abortion, this moment of ascendancy was years in the making. Set back on their heels when President Barack Obama took office, they focused on delivering state legislatures and gerrymandered districts into Republican control. They passed abortion restrictions in red states and pushed for conservative judges to protect them.

And then Trump won the White House. Ending legal abortion appeared within their reach.

Interviews with more than 50 reproductive rights leaders, clinic directors, political strategists and activists over the last three months reveal a fragmented movement on the left facing long-standing divisions — cultural, financial and political. Many said that abortion rights advocates and leading reproductive rights groups had made several crucial miscalculations that have put them on the defensive.

Local activists in states like Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota and Missouri where abortion was under siege said national leaders lost touch with the ways that access to abortion was eroding in Republican strongholds.

Discord at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest and most influential abortion provider, exacerbated the problem. In July the group’s new president, Dr. Leana Wen, was forced out in a messy departure highlighting deep internal division over her management style and how much emphasis to place on the political fight for abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood’s acting head, Alexis McGill Johnson, said that Trump’s election, new abortion restrictions and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court provided a wake-up call to many national leaders that forced them to confront the entrenched challenges of class dividing their movement.

“A lot of us are awakening to the fact that if you are wealthy, if you live in the New York ZIP code or California ZIP code or Illinois ZIP code, your ability to access reproductive health care is not in jeopardy in the same way that it is in other states,” McGill Johnson said.

The right is pouncing on this moment of tumult, threatening to wield abortion politics to its favor in the 2020 presidential race. A leading anti-abortion political group, the Susan B. Anthony List, has more than doubled its campaign budget, from $18 million in 2016 to $41 million this cycle. Its goal is to reach 4 million voters, up from 1.2 million in 2016. The group said surveys it has conducted in swing states like Arizona and North Carolina show that portraying Democrats as supporters of infanticide — an allegation the left said is patently false — can win neutral voters to their side.

Amid the high political maneuvering, there are fundamental internal divisions that the abortion rights movement has not resolved, especially between Planned Parenthood and the independent clinics that perform most abortion procedures.

This summer, for instance, after Alabama passed its near-total abortion ban, celebrities and liberal donors opened their checkbooks en masse to support Planned Parenthood. The founder of Tumblr gave $1 million. Pop star Ariana Grande held a benefit concert.

At the same time, Gloria Gray, who heads the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, said she couldn’t afford to give her staff raises or pay for a $20,000 fence to keep the daily protesters off the property. Her crowdfunding effort produced about $4,000.

Gray’s clinic performed about 3,300 abortions last year, more than half of all the procedures in Alabama. Planned Parenthood’s two clinics performed none.

Independent clinics like Gray’s — unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood — perform about 60% of the country’s abortion procedures, according to groups that track the data. Those clinics have essentially no lobbying or political power.

Few state activists want to question Planned Parenthood or its strategy publicly, especially when they are allies in court and some receive financial support from the national organization. Planned Parenthood affiliates, with counsel like the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued to block restrictions this year in eight states, offering legal muscle many independent clinics cannot provide for themselves.

Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that independent clinics “absolutely” needed to be better funded but that ultimately protecting the clinics depended on bigger changes.

“I don’t think they will be able to continue to operate at all if you don’t shift the culture and politics,” she said.

Others worry that Planned Parenthood and other national groups have overly prioritized politics and power instead of patients and providers.

But Pamela Merritt, who co-founded a reproductive rights group called Reproaction in 2015, believes “the movement needs independent providers that provide most abortions to be loud and out front.”

Fragmentation in the movement has persisted. In Alabama, that was evident in the growing popularity of the Yellowhammer Fund, a nonprofit started in 2017 that covers medical, travel and other costs for low-income abortion patients. After Alabama’s ban was enacted, prominent national groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, as well Democratic presidential candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders, rushed to support the group.The Yellowhammer Fund raised $4 million in 10 weeks, and its director, Amanda Reyes, said about $500,000 was budgeted to cover abortion procedures. Gray and the two other independent clinic directors in the state had hoped more resources would be directed to meet their needs. But Reyes has put forth a different vision.

Yellowhammer is planning to support other aspects of reproductive rights, like doula care, Reyes said.

The efforts are a sign that the left knows it needs new strategies but also of the wide disagreement over what they should be.

In recent years, Planned Parenthood has become one of the biggest sources of volunteer power for Democratic campaigns. In 2018, the group’s political arm gave more than $1.1 million to Democrats and $5,735 to Republicans, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Democratic Party has rejected the message that drove its politics since President Bill Clinton’s administration — that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” — and embraced abortion rights with few stipulations. Every leading Democratic presidential candidate has fallen in line.

But Americans’ views on abortion have remained relatively consistent since 1975. A majority of Americans believe the procedure should be legal — but only in certain cases, according to Gallup’s long-running tracking poll.

Some abortion rights supporters worry that establishing abortion rights as a Democratic litmus test is too inflexible for Americans conflicted over abortion. They fear that it could hurt the party in rural areas and the more moderate, suburban districts that may hold the key to regaining the White House, and where many of the remaining vulnerable abortion clinics are.

Appealing to the middle prioritizes the views of white moderates at the expense of the health care needs of women of color, Merritt of Reproaction said.

“You have to change the structures,” she said.


Local
Longview-area Christmas tree farms welcome customers

Operators of the area’s two Christmas tree farms say a large selection awaits East Texans seeking the perfect holiday focal point for their homes.

Danville Farms in Kilgore and Merket Christmas Tree Farm in Beckville, which both offer an experience beyond trees, opened to customers this past week.

Kathy Adams, daughter of Danville Farms founders James and Mary Robinson, was working at the farm’s shop Friday and said trees and other items were being sold at “a good, brisk pace” by 9:30 a.m., noting the parking lot was already mostly full.

“(The day after Thanksgiving) is typically a big day,” she said.

Mary Robinson, who was sitting nearby making wreaths for customers, said shoppers at Danville Farms have a better chance this year of picking up a Virginia pine or Fraser fir.

“A lady called this morning and said ‘Now, I’m assuming, since yesterday was Thanksgiving, you still have some trees left?’ Because last year, we sold out really fast,” Robinson said.

Adams agreed, noting the farm has about 300 more trees for sale compared with last year.

“Maybe we’ll sell out in six days instead of five this year!” she said with a laugh.

In addition to trees, customers also can find accessories, including handmade wreaths, floor protectors, Christmas ornaments, T-shirts, food to extend the life of the tree and even watering funnels to keep a tree hydrated without bending over.

“We try to have everything available that you need for your tree,” Adams said. “We try to educate people if they’ve never bought a real tree before. We walk them through the things that they need. Trees that aren’t the prettiest get turned into wreaths. We try to use as much of it as we can.”

Adams said Danville Farms, at 2000 Danville Road, is a family operation, with her parents growing the trees and her in-laws running the Snack Shack, where customers can pick up a warm drink or a snack.

“Some people want to come and spend several hours. You know, a lot of people come from bigger cities and they just love the farm experience,” she said. “They’ll make a day of it, drive over and they can even have a hot dog for lunch. We’ve got a little playground. People take their Christmas card pictures out here. It’s a fun family experience.”

Danville Farms was established in 1982 and began selling trees in 1986, Adams said.

“I guess I was maybe 15 the first year that we opened the farm. I have a 16-year-old now. So, over the years, we’re now on the third generation of helping out here,” she said. “We just love that our kids are learning a work ethic and the value of a dollar and customer service.

“This is Christmas to us.”

Merket Christmas Tree Farm, off FM 1794 in Beckville, is in its 30th year of selling trees.

“We started the farm in 1985 and began selling trees four years later in 1989,” farm owner Jackie Merket said Wednesday.

“We have fantastic trees this year. We have about 350 Fraser firs shipped in from North Carolina because they won’t grow here in Texas, and we have Virginia pine and Leyland cypress that we grow here on the farm,” Merket said. “The Frasers brought in this year are fantastic.”

The trees come in sizes from about 3 feet to up to 14 feet tall and above. One tree at the farm set to be purchased by a local university is more than 25 feet tall, Merket said.

The trees start at $30 and increase in price depending on size and type.

“The Fraser firs are little bit more expensive because they have to be shipped in,” he said. “I also do the flocking on site, or we have a selection of trees already flocked for purchase.”

Customers can decide if they want to cut down their own tree or pick one out and have the farm’s crew cut it down.

Tree stands are available on site, along with fertilizer that is supposed to extend the life of the tree, although Merket said sometimes just keeping the tree stand full with plenty of water is just as good for the tree.

“Every time you hear about fires at Christmas time, it’s always the real trees that you get warned about, but the plastic, artificial trees actually burn faster,” he said. “Also, real Christmas tree farms are a renewable energy source because for every tree we cut and sell, we go and plant three or four more in its place.”

While customers wait for their trees to be shaken, cut and compressed, they can visit the Merket Farm’s store on site or visit Santa Claus for a photo and candy cane.

Merket said Santa will be on site every Saturday while the farm is open.

Inside the store, customers can buy gifts for friends or family members or take a treat home for themselves in Merket’s own handmade jellies, candies and snacks.

Merket also grows peaches, mayhaws, muscadines and more.

“Everything but the blueberries are grown here,” he said. “We have plum and blackberry jelly, too. We try to keep a variety. We also have jars of fresh honey and snack cakes. The mayhaw cake is my own recipe.”

Proceeds from the sales benefit the Panola County Cancer Coalition.

And while parents shop, children can visit the baby goats at the petting zoo.