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Politics and the art of misdirection

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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I’ve always been fond of the word obfuscation, largely because I watch it unfold almost on a daily basis.

Illusionists use a version of this to perform their feats, and it seems it’s an ability taken quite to heart by our leaders.

Events, drama and issues bounce around the press, social media and watercooler conversations about trivialities which probably covers for serious issues that we the public don’t need to be aware of.

So, for instance, while you saw post after post after news story about the dress code being changed in the Senate for perpetual teenager John Fetterman, the House is debating on sending more and more of our tax dollars to the Ukraine by piggybacking on measures to provide relief to U.S. citizens suffering after natural disasters.

Even that event is misleading, to my mind, since there hasn’t been a proper federal budget passed since 2006. Now there is talk of a shutdown — again — so be prepared for more drama about people going without paychecks and seniors not getting Social Security checks, all of which will distract from the fact that pretty much the No. 1 job our legislators are supposed to do, which is fund the government.

Another for instance in my mind is the way-over-the-top “debate” over gender, which dominates pretty much every news and information source. The more things the government does that bear scrutiny, the more over-the-top things become.

While to many it may seem legitimate and serious, I have to wonder what is going unnoticed, say, like the fact that the legitimately issued leases for exploration and drilling in Alaska were unilaterally cancelled, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is mostly depleted and new drilling leases will not be issued.

Similarly, the UAW is striking because of the government’s insistence on switching to electric vehicles, leaving the country dependent on other countries for oil that run cars and lithium that go into the batteries that run EVs.

There’s so much more that is going on behind the scenes, but we hear about the mannequin Vice President now in charge of a new commission on gun control, apparently since she did such a standup job being in charge of an effort regarding immigration and border issues. We’re not hearing about why, even though we’re told otherwise, that the economy is in the toilet, that resources and items are becoming harder to find, that electrical grids are becoming notoriously unreliable.

That last one is especially puzzling. I’ve lived through power outages before, most if not all of which were caused by serious weather events. I feel, however, that there have been more power outages in my neck of the woods just this summer than there have been in the last 40 years.

One of the keys to control in a governmental sense is control of information. A recent article I’ve read said that for the last few decades, the information given to college students has been framed in such a way that students have become disillusioned with the country; and the government is spoon-feeding its constituency drivel to keep attention focused elsewhere while it manufactures crises to keep things destabilized.

At a recent talk, a local congressman said that in order to be informed, you should gather information from any and all sources you can find, and the truth will be somewhere in the middle. I would amend that sentiment by saying you’ll have to make up your own mind, and decide whether your source can be trusted.

Tony Farkas is publisher of the San Jacinto News-Times and the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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Seize the moment: At 50-year mark, celebrate and strengthen the Public Information Act

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Kelley Column MugBy Kelley Shannon
Executive Director, Freedom of Information
Foundation of Texas

With trust in government waning, a Texas law can help keep a closer watch on public officials. Even citizens who continue to have faith in government can use this law to stay better informed.

How is taxpayer money spent? What’s happening behind the scenes as government decisions are made?

The Texas Public Information Act produces answers to these crucial questions. The act has been here for us for 50 years and is essential in protecting our right to know.

Like a well-built old house, the landmark law is constantly in need of upkeep, yet it withstands the test of time. It can expose the truth.

At the half-century mark, let’s seize the moment to strengthen the Public Information Act to ensure it works for future generations. The nonprofit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas will explore this idea at its state conference Sept. 28 in Austin. Discussions will feature transparency advocates, state lawmakers, journalists and everyday Texans from East Texas to Uvalde who have fought for more openness, sometimes in matters of life and death.

The Public Information Act was at issue in a court victory in June to force the release of Texas Department of Public Safety records related to a 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The law was also the subject of legislation enacted Sept. 1 to close a loophole some police departments used to hide information when someone dies in law enforcement custody.

Other new legislation to keep the law up to date defines “business day” in the act to prevent government offices from wrongly shutting their doors to information requestors, as many did for months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally known as the Open Records Act when it was enacted in 1973, the Public Information Act is steeped in our state’s history. It came about in a tumultuous time after the Sharpstown scandal in state government. Attorney Bill Aleshire, then a legislative aide for a sponsor of the Open Records Act, recalls helping to write the bill using model legislation from the nonprofit group Common Cause and the best open records ideas from other states.

The Texas law became one of the strongest in the nation. It presumes state and local government records are open – giving citizens a great deal of power in asking for documents, emails, videos and other items – unless a specific exception prevents releasing the information. In most cases, government agencies must ask permission from the Texas Attorney General’s Office to withhold records. The office is supposed to be an unbiased arbiter, with staffers acting as umpires, of sorts, in thousands of rulings every year.

The importance of the agency’s Open Government Division was highlighted in the recent Texas Senate impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was accused of abusing his

power over the public information law. He was acquitted of that charge and all other impeachment counts.

Along with impartial decisions from the attorney general’s office, the Public Information Act needs updated, effective enforcement measures to hold individual government agencies accountable if they are not following the law.

Ideas on how to boost enforcement are plentiful, ranging from imposing financial penalties on misbehaving governments to increasing public officials’ training requirements to ensuring information requestors can recover attorneys’ fees if they must sue to obtain public records.

With the right tools, we can safeguard the intent of the law, which states in its preamble that the people insist on remaining informed.

“The people,” it says, “in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”

Kelley Shannon is executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, an Austin-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to protecting the public’s right to know and speak out about government.

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Impeach! a new battle cry

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas

Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, has been acquitted of all charges brought against him in an effort to impeach the elected official.

This has been an ongoing spectacle since before the end of May, when the charges were recommended at the end of this year’s legislative session.

Regardless of whether Ken Paxton committed any offenses, the impeachment process served as the latest spectacle in the bread-and-circuses government that the state and country now enjoys.

I say that because this is the first impeachment of a Texas elected official in more than 100 years and was rushed through and handled so badly that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to change the impeachment process.

I’m not convinced that the problem lies in the process; my feeling is that the problem is the degradation of politics in general. No longer is there anything remotely like discussion, debate, or common sense. Once a side picks a position, then any and everything will be done to force opponents to comply, up to and including impeachment. The courts and political processes have now become clubs.

That sentiment was the driving force behind the impeachment efforts against former President Trump. It didn’t matter whether the charges were backed by credible evidence (they weren’t). It only mattered that the president wasn’t “on the side of the angels” and needed to be brought down.

After the first one failed to cow the president, the House doubled down on a second article of impeachment. Nancy Pelosi even alluded to the fact that they knew it wouldn’t fly but did it anyway so Trump would be the only president in the history of history to have been impeached twice.

Since then, the cry to impeach has been bandied around about every person in every level of government that doesn’t fall into line.

Don’t like how Dr. Anthony Fauci handled the COVID crisis? Impeach.

Don’t like how Merrick Garland is handling the DOJ? Impeach.

Don’t like the newly elected Supreme Court Justice? Impeach.

School superintendent making fun of librarian leads to bomb threats? Impeach.

Don’t like the brand of cookies you bought from the Girl Scouts? Impeach.

You get the idea. However, by calling for impeachment continuously over anything belittles the call when there actually is malfeasance, or high crimes and misdemeanors, which leaves the voting public numb and uninterested (which I’m sure is by design).

Even the latest inquiries into President Biden are being met with shoulder shrugs and apathy.

The impeachment process itself is pretty much the only means the people have to remove bad actors from office, and that really is by design. Most, if not all, states, have laws protecting elected officials from facing criminal or civil prosecution when performing official duties, regardless of the outcome of bad decisions. Also, not every state has recall elections, and those that do have ridiculous requirements that the effort is abandoned.

For instance, former President Nixon, facing impeachment only in connection with the Watergate scandal, resigned office and that was it. The actual actors, such as G. Gordon Liddy, were not elected and consequently were convicted of crimes.

Shield laws need to be rethought, and investigations need to be done without any interference, in order for proper consequences to be meted out. Only then will impeachments and electoral malfeasance be treated with the seriousness they deserve.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard and the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Throw some money at it: A novel idea

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Chris Metitations

By Chris Edwards
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A guy you might’ve heard of, name of Nelson Mandela, once said that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

In rural East Texas, quality educators and administrators are frequently pinned against hard places and rocks as to how to best educate the next generation of Texans, a coming demographic that will be our next tide of doctors, community leaders, parents, farmers and taxpayers of various vocations.

On the “taxpayers” note, our state currently ranks 42nd in the nation on the per-student funding metric; trailing the national average by $4,000. If you thought that throwing some money at our education system was the answer, guess again.

Throughout the last legislative session, House and Senate Republicans screamed out about school vouchers and Gov. Greg Abbott made them a central plank in his vision for Texas. Simply put, vouchers hurt public schools by diverting taxpayer money away from public school funding toward private schools.

The vouchers issue is a topic I’ve meant to tackle here for some time now, however, many other commentators have weighed in on it; many of whom have actual skin in the education game.

Recently I overheard a couple of conversations on the subject of school vouchers – in both cases, where those speaking were adamantly in favor of them – but couching their support in the old and tired “Crips vs. Bloods,” er, I mean Democrats vs. Republicans language and taking our current state rep. Trent Ashby to ask for voting “against” party lines on vouchers.

First off, anyone in a rural area trying to nestle the topic of implementing a school voucher system within the culture warring context, or within a partisan framing mechanism, needs to realize: 1.) both major parties are obnoxious and 2.) there is more to life, SO much more, than political party affiliation.

Both Ashby and Sen. Robert Nichols are solid, conservative voices for our region, which is one reason I’m glad they represent us in Austin, and a big part of that is that they are both dedicated supporters of public education.

Abbott has stated that every family should have a choice when it comes to where to enroll their children, and he has vowed to call yet another special session, likely in October, so that the lege can take up his vouchers proposal after bi-partisan efforts killed a voucher bill during the regular session in the House.

If public schools are failing, then why isn’t the state legislature attempting to fix the problem? Alongside the funding issue, we have a teacher shortage, a dwindling education system and many of our children falling through the cracks.

A recent statewide poll revealed that 73% of respondents put school safety, teacher pay, curriculum content and public school financing as top priorities, and only eight percent of those polled viewed vouchers as a priority.

Funding for public schools is tied, in-part, to attendance, and diverting public school funds to voucher programs would decrease that funding. Vouchers had been a topic brought up in past legislative sessions, but this year, with all the nonsense afoot about gay characters in library books and supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools, proponents of voucher systems thought their efforts would result in victory.

Those bogeymen, which are buoyed by big money scare campaigns, are nonsense. Texas educators are too busy being forced to teach the STAAR test to worry about things like indoctrination, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish to roast some other time.

Our state had a historic budget surplus. Thirty-two point seven billion smackaroos, to be exact. I’m not frowning on tax cuts, but about half of it went toward that, pay raises for state employees, border security and other allocations. None of it went toward our public education system, though.

So why not throw some money at our public schools and see what happens? We don’t know at present because it hasn’t been done.

Using taxpayer money to fund private schools at the expense of public schools is shameful and does not belong in Texas. My grandfather used to refer to children as “our future,” and he was right. Investing in our future will bode well for us all.

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Stopping the train may be harder than it looks

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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More and more anymore, phrases like “threat to our democracy” and “destruction of our democracy” are cropping up in the national discussion, be it in debate or social media or conversations with friends of opposing political beliefs.

It should go without saying that we’re not a democracy, but a republic, in which we elect others to represent us to our government. But democracy or republic, it’s my thought that ship already has sailed, and we’re just now waking up to that.

For instance, many school board in the country have embraced the fallacy that children are able to not only determine their gender but can demand that people address them with proper pronouns, and, with the blessing of elected board members, the parents don’t have to be informed.

Parents who confront these boards are either arrested or removed from board meetings, and many districts, including districts in Texas, have enacted policies allowing the removal of people that are deemed disruptive or threatening.

It’s been posited, and now proven, that the federal government has either through intimidation or cooperation censored dissenting viewpoints that have been posted on social media platforms. Additionally, people who have only said things during the Jan. 6 temper tantrum are facing investigation.

The convictions of people in what is being described as an insurrection (by a completely coopted media) have come in with extremely high sentences, seemingly the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment, since the rioters during the summer of discontent have yet to be charged or even investigated.

District attorneys in many states have decided not to prosecute minor crimes, police departments don’t respond or don’t investigate minor crimes, and California is trying to make it a crime for shopkeepers to defend against shoplifting.

Since our leaders have determined that we’re in a climate crisis, and that the U.S. is the only country that can fix it, oil drilling permits, which were issued by the government, were stopped by executive fiat. Also, any shipment of natural gas (in its liquefied form) by rail has been ended until the government can decide if it’s safe.

The latest example comes from my former state of residence, New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order banning the carrying of guns in public, either openly or concealed, following a shooting death of an 11-year-old boy, citing a “health emergency.”

In signing the order, she said that constitutionally guaranteed rights, as well as her oath to protect the Constitution, are “not absolute.”

It’s not the first time things like that have been said. Biden flouted rights during the COVID crisis (and is warming up that concerto again); President Obama has said that if Congress doesn’t do what he wants, he has a phone and a pen. Republicans, too, have followed that path, since that execrable Patriot Act continues to rear its ugly head, put in place under the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9-11.

The actual threat to a democracy or a republic is unilaterally dismissing law; when a leader decides that rights no longer apply; that sworn oaths are only words and not binding; that a single person’s belief is more important than the will of the constituency. These are the things the Founding Fathers fought a war against.

What we have is a republic in name only, and to cover up that fact, monsters are created that require extraordinary powers be gifted to a few. If you hear the phrase “destroy our democracy,” think about when that actually happened.

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