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Our Founding Fathers made history in declaring independence

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My Five CentsBy Sen. Robert Nichols
Senate District 3

Next week, the nation will celebrate Independence Day. The Fourth of July commemorates the ratification of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, establishing the United States of America. Our Founding Fathers made history in declaring our independence from Britain 247 years ago and establishing this great nation. Happy Fourth of July!

Here are five things happening around your state:

Texas ranks number one for Best Business Climate

In yet another survey, Texas is named number one – this time for Best Business Climate.

Business Facilities magazine’s 19th annual ranking report focused on over 60 factors that site selection teams use during corporate relocations or expansion projects. Last year, Texas attracted more than 1,000 projects, more than double the second-highest state, according to the magazine. Texas was rewarded for the amount of capital investment in the state, job creation, diversity of industries, infrastructure, and its business-friendly regulatory and tax climate.

Governor calls first, second special sessions on property tax relief

As the last day of the 88th regular session came to a close, Governor Abbott called the first called special session of the 88th Legislature. Property tax relief and border security were the only two items on the special session call, therefore the only things the legislature could address. However, the House and the Senate could not come to an agreement on either issue. On the last day of the first special session, the governor called the legislature back into a second special session. The second called special session of the 88th Legislature will have a singular focus – property tax relief. Currently there is disagreement over whether to put the entirety of the almost $18 billion toward lowering school district property tax rates or to allocate part of that relief to increasing the homestead exemption to $100,000. Increasing the homestead exemption would create an ongoing benefit for homeowners, while compressing school district taxes would have to include continuing increasing funding from the state for school districts to maintain the benefit.

TEA meets federal special education requirements, ending federal oversight

This month, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter announcing that the Texas Education Agency has fulfilled all the needed requirements to comply with federal special education law. The Department’s Special Education Program’s office will remove special conditions it had placed on TEA. The federal oversight began in 2018 when the education department informed the state it was out of compliance with special education standards, specifically when evaluating students for special education services. Over the past several years, TEA and the education department have worked to ensure students needing special education services were identified and given access to those services.

Texas to receive $3.3 billion in federal broadband funding

This week, the federal government announced over $40 billion for broadband expansion will be distributed nationwide. Texas will receive $3.3 billion of that funding, more than any other state, and more than $1 billion more than the next largest share of funding. The funds are aimed at providing high-speed internet access to the nearly 2.8 million households without access in Texas. According to the Texas Broadband Development Office, 85% of Texans who lack high-speed internet live in rural communities. Broadband access is a necessity in an increasingly digital landscape. Health care, education and business are all routinely conducted online or supplemented online. Without access to high-speed internet, rural Texans are left behind in an increasing digital divide. Continued investment in the expansion of internet availability statewide is necessary to ensure rural areas receive access to broadband.

Grand opening of improved Rusk State Hospital

This month, I was thrilled to attend the grand opening of the new $200 million patient complex and administration building at Rusk State Hospital. I have worked on this project with other members of the legislature and the lt. governor since 2015. The Rusk State Hospital improvement project opened the door for the improvement of all the state’s state hospitals, which is ongoing. The state has committed $3.2 billion since 2017 for the replacement, renovation, or expansion of state hospitals in Austin, Kerrville, Rusk, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. The new Rusk State Hospital includes a 100-bed non-maximum-security unit and an expanded 100-bed maximum-security unit. It also has single-person rooms, natural light, outdoor spaces, and a variety of therapeutic, recreational, and social experiences for patients to prepare for life outside the hospital. Mental health care is essential for many Texans, and it is imperative that the state continues to support and expand access to services statewide.

Sen. Robert Nichols represents Senate District 9, which includes Polk County, in the Texas Legislature.

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Like sands through the hourglass … so are the songs of summer

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From The Editors Desk Emily WootenListening to music as we floated in a swimming pool on a recent hot summer day, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” started playing. We were all shushed so that Daughter could enjoy the song without distraction, as she lip-synced along. I smiled. I could appreciate the moment. Long a fan of Fleetwood Mac myself and having had the opportunity to see them live in Houston in 1990, I could remember when the song originally came out in 1975. My friend Julie and I listened to it repeatedly that summer while hanging out at her family’s lake house in Indian Hills, having been introduced to it by her older sister Sally. Written by Stevie Nicks and featured on the band’s self-titled album, it topped numerous charts, including Billboard’s Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary’s Top 10. In 2021, it was listed at No. 163 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” I found it interesting that a 48-year-old song meant as much to my daughter as it did to me so long ago. But songs have a way of doing that – especially the summer songs of our youth when we have nary a care in the world and nothing but time. Floating in the cool, relaxing water, I closed my eyes and began thinking of summers past and the music that I equate with summertime.

Regardless of how old I may be or how much time has passed, whenever I hear “Baker Street,” the 1978 release by Gerry Rafftery, I’m immediately transported back to a certain summer when my friend Jennifer and I rode our bicycles all over Memorial Point. It was the same summer that she taught me how to seine fish with a net. Another 1978 release, “Dog & Butterfly” by Heart, reminds me of summertime trips to Astroworld with my friends Jennifer and Stephanie and playing skee-ball in the arcade.

Later that same summer, we were all caught up in the whirlwind of “Grease,” the movie starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. It has an especially fun song, “Summer Nights,” the duet sung by the two stars. The dueling verses backed up by the supporting characters as well as the doobie doobie doo, shoo bop bop choruses make this a perennial summertime favorite.

Other summertime selections that I’ve always enjoyed include the 1966 Lovin’ Spoonful hit, “Summer in the City,” and the 1970 Mungo Jerry hit, “In the Summertime.” Another good summer song that I consider a classic is “Summer Breeze,” released by Seals & Crofts in 1972. “Summer breeze makes me feel fine … Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind.” How can you not like that lyric?

One of my favorite summer songs is “The Boys of Summer,” the 1984 hit written and performed by Don Henley, someone that I consider close to being a musical genius. The song is a metaphor for lost youth and the passage of time. If I close my eyes while listening to it, I’m transported right back to the beach and can feel the wind in my hair and the sea salt on my lips and skin. “Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac … A little voice inside my head said, ‘Don’t look back, you can never look back.’”

“Summer of ‘69,” by Bryan Adams, also released in 1984, is a good summer song. It, too, evokes a retrospective feeling – reminiscing and imagining what might have been. “Oh, when I look back now, That summer seemed to last forever, And if I had the choice … Yeah, I’d always wanna be there, Those were the best days of my life.”

Two summer songs that are both upbeat, catchy and fun are “Under the Boardwalk,” the 1964 hit by The Drifters, and “Sea of Love,” a 1984 hit by The Honeydrippers. I’ve always loved both of these summer songs. “Sea of Love” usually stops me in my tracks and gives me little butterflies in my stomach, similar to the feeling you get when you’re falling in love. I think it’s the combination of Robert Plant’s vocals sounding like melted butter, along with the old-school orchestration which, to me, is reminiscent of big band music from the 40s and old movies from the 50s.

Another song I equate with summertime is “Good Times,” the 1979 disco hit by Chic, one of the most sampled tunes in music history. I still find it fun today, with its infectious bassline. And any wedding DJ worth his salt should have this one on his playlist. As soon as the first two bars are played, the guests will be flocking to the dance floor to get their groove on. “These are the good times.”

While I’ve barely scratched the surface regarding my favorite songs of summer, there are two more that I must mention. One is “Lovely Day,” released by Bill Withers in 1977. What a perfectly joyful song. “Then I look at you, And the world’s alright with me. Just one look at you, And I know it’s gonna be …  A lovely day.”

The other is Justin Timberlake’s 2016 hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling” that served as the theme song for the movie “Trolls.” I never saw that movie and I don’t usually listen to Top-40 stations. Therefore, the upbeat fun song had gone completely under my radar until I discovered it in 2021. That summer we went on a little weekend getaway to the Hill Country with our friends Julie and Louis and their daughters. On the way, I shared with Hubby and Daughter that I’d discovered a new song that I loved and that it was going to be my summer anthem. Everyone got quite the kick out of my “new” summer anthem actually being five years old.

I hope this little jaunt prompts you to take a trip down memory lane, thinking of your own songs of summer. There are so many from which to choose. In the immortal words of Fleetwood Mac, “You can go your own way … Go your own way.”

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Time to clap back against megalomania

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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As everyone knows, raising children takes a boatload of patience, a planetload of love and compassion and a universe full of the need for protection.

If we were in a society where the family was the only outside influence, then the first two needs would be enough.

But we’re not, which is where the third need — protection — becomes so vitally important. After all, these new humans don’t come assembled right out of the box; it takes patience and love to create the perfect being (and it helps make sure no parts are left out).

Myself, I’ve always told my children that everything has rules, and for the most part, if you follow them you’ll be OK.

Sometimes, though, that’s not enough, especially if the rule is either ridiculous or done to force a particular way of thinking on a child.

The biggest for-instance that I see lately is the Alphabet folks that have ramped up their invasion into the national psyche simply because June was designated by someone as Alphabet Pride Month. Trans children shows, the Dodgers pride award fiasco, Bud Light, etc., that I neither want my children to learn about yet nor to be slathered all over every bit of media as if inundation of all senses will make me care.

See, there’s two things there: no matter what, we don’t have to care or accept it, and we sure don’t have to allow our children to be exposed to the more horrible aspects of what has been touted as a valid lifestyle.

Additionally, if the rules that are created, either through executive fiat, departmental regulation or law that do not coincide with my obligation to protect my child, then it is my duty — and frankly my pleasure — to step in.

There have been many examples across the globe of the overreach of societal elements — schools, public libraries, sporting events and the like — where powers and self-appointed powers that be decided we all will embrace the current zeitgeist, conform to the latest craze, or accept the latest group of people that have decided they are marginalized.

When you think about it, all of these events are not necessarily about acceptance or even raising awareness, but are about approval, and about taking the malleable youth of our society and forcing that acceptance on them. 

It’s not just about the gay and trans movements, either, although those are the latest and greatest examples. This kind of indoctrination has also cropped up in nutrition, appearance, race and even politics, where the words of Neil Peart ring out, “conform or be cast out.”

History is replete with examples of society coming together and doing very amazing things for the common good. It is just as replete with examples of society determining behavior and beliefs, which have been one of the most destructive forces in the universe.

When you protect your children, there must be lessons in following the rules. Equally, there must be lessons of when not to.

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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Confront your monster

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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I’m not often surprised by the depravity of human beings, but it seems all too frequently another story comes along that makes me shake my head in frustration.

A Michigan school decided to violate their own policy and cut a 7-year-old child’s hair without the knowledge of her parent. The result was a $1 million dollar lawsuit against the school district, a librarian and a teacher’s assistant. The suit, which was settled out of court, alleged that the girl’s (who is bi-racial) constitutional rights were violated, racial discrimination, ethnic intimidation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery.

It seems a classmate on a school bus took scissors and hacked off much of her hair one on side of her head off. Her father complained to the school’s principal, and then took her to a salon where her hair was styled with an asymmetrical cut that made the different lengths less apparent. A couple of days later she returned home from school with the hair on the other side cut. A teacher had decided they didn’t like the look, apparently, and cut her hair.

It is baffling that a teacher would do such a thing. But it’s not the legal or even ethical issues with cutting a 7-year old’s hair without parental approval and in violation of your own policy that I want to focus on. That was resolved when the school settled with the father rather than go to trial in a lawsuit. Let’s consider that the staff involved in this were monsters.

Seems strong language, right? Consider that this little girl was singled out among her friends by people that were relative strangers to her, and without considering the agency or feelings of the child, cut her hair because they didn’t like the style.

She said she didn’t understand why they were doing it but didn’t think it was right. They treated her at best as less valuable than themselves, and at worse like a pet dog that the groomer had hacked up, with a complete lack of compassion or empathy. I can’t imagine people like that working with children every day is a good thing.

The unexamined life is a terrible waste. For many of us, though, circumstances in our life eventually force us to confront who we really are. And when we confront ourselves, we confront a monster. And it’s a monster that will cause us infinite misery if we don’t keep it on a short leash.

When I was 21, as a too young pastor, I frequently needed to provide spiritual help and comfort to people at the worst times of their lives. Most of the time I knew intellectually the words to say and the actions to take to provide some comfort. Until a church member lost an adult child to suicide. I failed spectacularly and tragically because I had never confronted my monster. My intellect alone was not up to the task.

By nature, I’m not a very emotional person. I am not naturally very empathetic or compassionate. I knew at age 21 what those things looked like in others, and could mimic them, but it was superficial. I could fake it until I confronted a situation where I needed the real thing. It was then that I finally had to confront my character flaw. It wasn’t easy. But I truly wanted to help people, so I could not run away.

So, instead of emotionally distancing myself from these situations, I leaned into them, consciously experiencing the feelings of people in pain. I thought about how they must feel, what that loss would feel like to me if it were a parent or a friend. And over time, and the loss of people close to me, I learned to allow myself to feel empathy and compassion. My nature is still the same. I can still slip backwards if I’m not conscious of how I am reacting. But I’ve learned to keep my monster on a short lease. Because it’s face is pretty ugly.

It seems to me that our society, probably because of social media, has instead of encouraging us to hold tight control of our monster, unleased those monsters completely on the world.

Social media seems to pull out the worst from us, probably because that computer or phone screen gives us the illusion that it looks out on the real world, when it is just a mirror reflecting ourselves. Our compassion and empathy, for others and ourselves, have been taken from us by algorithms that need our rage and anger to keep us glued to our screens.

We cannot survive as a society if we are willing to cut a 7-year-old child’s hair simply because we don’t like it. We can’t be a cohesive society if we do not have compassion and empathy for other human beings. We cannot be human beings unless we have compassion and empathy for ourselves. We are being manipulated for political and economic motives to hate each other, rather than work together for common good.

In the end, we are all just flawed human beings struggling to find our way through life.

Jim Powers writes an opinion column. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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If It Bleeds It Leads, negativity and social media

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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There’s an old print newspaper adage that goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” It points to a dangerous trait of humans, to be more attracted to negative stories than positive stories. It suggests that if want to sell newspapers, then make sure the news story above the fold on page one is a murder, or fatal car accident, or disaster of some kind.

In our contemporary digital landscape, this adage has taken on a new, much more insidious form. Once confined to the realms of print newspapers and television, it has infiltrated the world of social media. Our predilection for negativity, scandal, and outrage in our feeds is not only a reflection of our built-in psychological biases but is made worse by algorithms and engagement-driven platforms. When we scroll through these endless streams of information, we better pause and consider the impact of this phenomenon on our mental health, society, and the fabric of our communities.

Why are we attracted so strongly to the negative? Historically, human beings have been evolutionarily attuned to potential threats for survival. The negativity bias, a left over from our evolutionary experience, makes us hyper-aware of adverse stimuli. In social media, this translates into a magnetic attraction to posts filled with controversy, conflict, or negativity.

Social media platforms, understanding this predisposition, employ algorithms designed to maximize engagement. These algorithms are not neutral; they are inherently biased towards content that elicits strong emotional reactions. As a result, the most polarizing and sensational posts often gain prominence, creating an echo chamber that distorts reality and fuels divisiveness.

This relentless deluge of negative content has pernicious effects on individual and societal well-being. On an individual level, exposure to a constant stream of others' perfectly curated lives coupled with negativity can lead to anxiety, depression, and something we call “doomscrolling,” where we compulsively consume negative online content to the point it impacts our mental health.

This stuff is kryptonite to society. The polarization promoted by social media threatens the foundations of civil discourse. When we are entrenched in echo chambers that amplify their viewpoints and demonize the “other side,” the space for reasoned debate and mutual understanding dwindles. Worse, the overshadowing of nuanced or positive stories by sensational content interferes with our ability to remain informed about critical issues that require our immediate attention and action.

It is essential that we as users of social media exercise discernment and agency in the way we consume media. We must recognize the power we wield in shaping our online environments. By consciously diversifying the content we engage with, seeking out positive stories, and critically examining the information presented to us, we can counter the myopic tendencies of social media algorithms.

It is crucial that we advocate for greater transparency and accountability from social media companies. The algorithms that dictate what we see should not be black boxes but must be subject to scrutiny and regulation to ensure they do not unduly favor sensationalism over substance.

Education is equally essential. Media literacy should be a cornerstone of modern education, equipping individuals with the tools to critically evaluate information, understand the motives behind content creation, and engage responsibly in the digital space.

The thing we cannot do and remain a free democracy is to check out. A lot of folks have become so frustrated with trying to sort the truth from the lies that they have simply stopped paying attention.

Many people I talk to have stopped watching the news or reading newspapers. As tempting as that can be, it doesn’t change things. You may, indeed, live in bliss until the day someone kicks in your door and orders you to show your papers. Disengagement is simply not an option.

Let’s make “If it bleeds, it leads” a relic of history. Through mindful consumption, holding media outlets and social media companies accountable for their actions, and through educational initiatives, we can reclaim control over our feeds and promote a digital landscape that is conducive to personal well-being and a thriving, informed society.

Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication.

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