The Texas Legislature gaveled in just a few short weeks ago. And, while lawmakers typically wait until the waning weeks of the session to get anything done, we're answering some of your questions about what goes on under the granite dome for our TXDecides project.

The war against ISIS is entering a tough new phase, as Iraqi fighters with growing U.S. assistance push into western Mosul, warns the senior American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend.

"ISIS is a brutal, brutal enemy," said Townsend, speaking in Erbil as Iraq's security forces were about to attack Mosul's airport with help from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

President Trump has promised to build a wall along the 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A third of the border already has a barrier, thanks to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed by then-president George W. Bush. That initiative ran into issues with landowners near the Rio Grande. If the wall goes forward as Trump promises, more lawsuits may be coming.

In America, there is a rare echelon of pop stars so big they only need one name: Madonna, Cher, Prince. In Italy, that name is Zucchero.

This week United Nations officials declared that a famine in South Sudan is growing — fueled by a deadly combination of drought and conflict. They estimate that nearly 4 million people are already struggling to get enough food. And officials expect the famine will spread to more areas in the coming months affecting an additional 1 million people.

Meanwhile the threat of famine is looming over three other countries: Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, putting a total of 1.4 million children at risk of death this year.

At a joint news conference in Mexico City on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the tension between the U.S. and Mexico. After talks with his Mexican counterpart, Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, Tillerson said that "in a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries, from time to time, will have differences."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made his way to the Duma, the lower house of parliament, on the eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day. The Feb. 23 national holiday was once known as Soviet Army and Navy Day, and Shoigu, dressed in the uniform of a general, came to boast about the Russian military's latest achievements.

"We tested 162 types of contemporary and modernized weapons in Syria, which showed a high level of effectiveness," Shoigu said. Only 10 weapons systems performed below expectations, he added.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Murders are on the rise in the United States.

The national murder rate jumped dramatically in 2015, and early indications are that it rose again in 2016, though official numbers aren't available yet.

Amid deep strains in the U.S. relationship with Mexico, a country that's been a favorite target of President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security chief John Kelly took part in talks in Mexico City on Thursday that were aimed at smoothing out tensions.

"That's going to be a tough trip," the president said Thursday morning at the White House. Some of the key issues between the two countries: immigration, border security, trade and U.S. aid to Mexico.

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