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Broadband future is bright

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By Kelty Garbee, Ph.D.

We stand at a pivotal moment for our state, especially our rural residents and underserved communities. That’s not just big Texas talk and swagger, it’s backed up by significant leaps forward in policymaking and funding that should drive a more connected Texas.

We know our challenges. According to a report by the Texas Governor’s Broadband Development Council, more than 819,000 Texans do not have access to broadband at home. And, while some communities may have reliable access to high-speed Internet, a gap in adoption of technology persists due to affordability, inconsistent service, or a lack of skills and devices to get connected.

Broadband remains a critical need for underserved urban and rural communities. Now, for the first time, the policy and budgetary stars are aligning to spring Texas forward at lightspeed. Just one year ago, Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed broadband an emergency item allowing broadband bills to move swiftly through the legislative process.

This month, the state’s broadband office, created through House Bill 5, embarks on a Broadband Listening Tour across our state. Comptroller Glenn Hegar will tour 12 communities to get Texans’ insights about internet access and collect public input to help drive the state’s first broadband plan. For those unable to attend, a public survey available on the Comptroller’s website provides additional opportunities for input.

HB 5 set in motion a response that begins to address the long-running challenges facing high-speed Internet connectivity and adoption in Texas. Then came funding from the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $1.2 trillion package dedicates $65 billion to broadband expansion. The Lone Star State could receive more than a billion of those dollars. That’s in addition to $500 million Texas lawmakers allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal coronavirus relief package passed last spring.

Funding will go toward physical infrastructure in rural and other underserved communities. In some areas, subsidies will help Texans secure broadband access for their homes and businesses. An estimated 29% of Texans meet the income eligibility criteria established by the federal government to access grants to help pay for high-speed internet service.

We must be smart and deliberate, yet expeditious in our approach to dispersing these funds. We should fund a statewide broadband demand study to ensure that we are planning and building for the future. A study like this would increase opportunities for local communities to draw down federal funds to support broadband investment, deployment, and access. This is especially vital to rural communities where coverage ranges from non-existent to inconsistent at best.

Broadband in rural Texas isn’t simply a Field of Dreams, where “if you build it, they will come.” We must continue working together to ensure infrastructure, affordability, and adoption of broadband across our entire state. A connected Texas — one that brings the power of high-speed internet to rural and underserved communities — is a way to ignite a bold, brash entrepreneurial spirit that’s quintessentially Texan and will drive our state forward.

The Broadband Listening Tour and survey give Texans a chance to weigh in on our future. Make your voice heard, and let’s connect Texas.

Dr. Kelty Garbee is Executive Director of Texas Rural Funders, a philanthropic coalition that works with rural communities to develop and implement solutions to their unique needs. Online at texasruralfunders.org

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The price of morality

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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These days we use the words moral and ethical interchangeably, meaning a system to determine whether an action is right or wrong.

Many think about morality as a religious construct, and ethics as playing out in the secular arena, such as in business or community. Morality as personal, or defined by God, and absolute. Ethics as communal, changing over time with the evolution in thinking of a community or society.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian best known for his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” He was openly anti-Nazi during WWII, an extremely dangerous position to advocate at that time in Germany.

Bonhoeffer believed that Christians should not hide away from society in their churches, but act within it. That acting against evil, regardless of the cost to the Christian, is the very definition of faith.

Bonhoeffer wrote “The Cost of Discipleship” in a Nazi prison camp, where he died in 1945 because of his unwillingness to compromise his morality to save his life.

This country’s failure to intervene militarily in Ukraine to stop the unprovoked invasion, destruction, and loss of life there is immoral. To allow this evil to continue when we have the power to stop it is immoral. And because we refuse to act in fear of the consequences, it is cowardly. We may cause Russia economic pain because of the actions we have taken, but Ukraine will still have been destroyed and innocent people slaughtered.

Our leaders justify this military inaction by pointing out that Russia has 6,000 nuclear weapons and that attacking the Russian military directly would likely lead to WWIII. They are correct in the risk they point out. But having succeeded in scaring the only other superpower in the world into inaction, why would Putin stop with Ukraine?

Like Bonhoeffer, we are at an inflection point. So far, the concept of the U.S. as a shining city on a hill in defense of freedom and democracy is taking a pretty bad beating.

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High court hears challenge to abortion law

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State Capital HighlightsThe Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on the question of whether state regulators can be sued by abortion providers hoping to block enforcement of the state’s restrictive abortion law, known as Senate Bill 8.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that abortion providers bringing the suit argued that “state agencies regulating doctors, nurses, pharmacists and the health care system have an enforcement role that makes them an appropriate target of their own lawsuit against SB8.”

Solicitor General Judd Stone II argued for the state that the law was written to say only private citizens can enforce SB8 by filing civil suits against abortion providers who violate the ban on abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy.

 “The goal here is just to figure out the ordinary English meaning of this statute,” Stone argued. “There simply is no ordinary English interpretation that entertains any possibility of public enforcement (by state agencies or regulators),” the Statesman reported.

Abortion providers have filed a number of lawsuits in federal courts, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to keep the law from taking effect last September as appeals are heard. The case heard in state court last week also will likely end up before the nation’s highest court.

hosting broadband
listening tours

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar began touring a dozen Texas communities this month to get insight from Texans about internet access and to receive input as the state develops its first comprehensive broadband internet plan.

The events are free but require registration in advance. The first forum was held March 1 at Prairie View A&M University, with others planned in Victoria, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Amarillo, Beaumont, Waco, Tyler, Abilene, El Paso, Edinburgh and San Angelo. 

Further information and a link to an online survey for those who can’t attend can be found here: comptroller.texas.gov/programs/broadband/communities/tour

Abbott orders
enhanced protection against cyberattacks

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered two state agencies to “use every available resource” to safeguard the state’s infrastructure as the potential for Russian cyberattacks increases. Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Department of Information Resources and the Texas Department of Public Safety to that effect last week.  He ordered DIR and DPS to:

• Enhance Texas’ cyber security through the use of best industry practices and other key measures.

• Ensure Texas can quickly detect a potential cyber intrusion through the use of software services, such as antivirus and endpoint detection and response technologies.

• Prepare for an intrusion by utilizing a cyber incident response team.

• Maximize the state’s resilience to a destructive cyber incident.

• Track and report any attacks from Russian sources so the public is fully aware of their tactics.

“Protecting the state of Texas from cyber threats during this time of Russian aggression is paramount,” Abbott wrote.

Arrest made in timber fraud case

Law enforcement investigators with the Texas A&M Forest Service arrested a Magnolia man last week on two counts of timber theft. Philip Eugene McKenzie Jr., 60, was charged.

“Mr. McKenzie had timber harvest agreements with two Walker County landowners and failed to pay them for the timber that was harvested from their property,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Criminal Investigator Josh Mizrany. In addition, McKenzie has a pending charge for unauthorized timber harvest in Montgomery County. 

Timber theft includes harvesting timber without the landowner’s knowledge or consent, to entering into a formal agreement and not paying landowners the full purchase price and even stealing timber from logging companies. 

Landowners who suspect timber theft or suspicious timber sale agreements should call the forest service timber theft hotline at 1-800-364-3470.

Nominations sought for TEA student
hero award

The Texas Education Agency is seeking nominations for public school students in all grades who provide an outstanding volunteer service benefitting their fellow students,  schools, or their communities. One student  from each of the 15 State Board of Education districts will be recognized and will receive a plaque and medal from SBOE. 

Nominations may be submitted by anyone. The deadline to nominate an outstanding student is 5 p.m. March 31. The form can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/mubxb7af.

COVID-19 cases
continue dropping statewide

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to drop steeply as the omicron variant fades, with 36,814 reported in the past week by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That is less than 10% of the number reported at the variant’s peak in mid-January. A total of 1,127 deaths were reported in the past week, also a sharp decrease. Hospitalizations are also down, with 3,949 reported as of Sunday by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The number of Texans who have been fully vaccinated is slowly inching up, with 17.22 million now fully vaccinated, according to DSHS, with 6.26 million Texans also getting a booster dose.

 Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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The world becomes less bright again

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FromEditorsDesk TonyNeil Adams was one of the first law enforcement officers I met when I started covering news in San Jacinto County.

We attended a meeting of the Coldspring City Council, where he spoke to the council on a minor matter as a way to introduce himself, and I was doing what I always do.

After the meeting, he came up to me, we introduced ourselves and traded business cards, we chatted for a bit, then parted ways. I found him to be a very amicable and interesting man, and kind, like most of the law enforcement officers I’ve ever met.

I’ve been around law enforcement and police officers pretty much all of my life. My father, and later my youngest brother, both were career police officers. I started in the business covering police and courts, and I’ve always had the utmost respect for anyone that would go into that line of work.

Neil’s death last week was such a tragedy, and all that comes to mind is that society does not have that same respect. I would say that it has been taught, not as an outright lesson, but in the growth of anti-police sentiment.

DeeDee Adams, Neil’s wife, was quoted in news accounts saying the very same thing. 

She told people that her husband always said that you can either be a sheep or a sheep dog, and “I want everybody to pray for all the sheep dogs out there that are protecting everybody that gets a bad rap, and they just want to protect.” 

DeeDee said all police officers have answered the calls of their hearts, to protect people and communities, and everybody has turned their back on them.

I admit that when I was younger, I wasn’t really aware of the dangers that law enforcement officials faced, even while my father went out and faced it. I was aware, though, of the prevailing sentiment of fear that ran through people. No one I ever spoke with disagreed that when a police vehicle was behind their car, they felt nervous and wondered what they might be doing wrong.

Over the course of time, it has become outright disrespect and even hate that has been hurled at officers who are attempting to keep peace and enforce laws that these self-same people demand exist.

Even city governments began to fall prey to the idea that police were the bad guys in every altercation and started cutting funding and personnel in favor of social workers and kumbaya.

Imagine going to work each and every day, hoping to do some good, only to be reviled — both for doing the job and not doing the job. Arrest someone for breaking a law and suffer anything from tirades and verbal abuse to physical attacks. Don’t arrest someone, or don’t arrive immediately when called, and suffer anything from tirades and verbal abuse to physical attacks.

This is not what a well-behaved society looks like, and it’s heartbreaking.

I don’t have an answer. All I have is questions.

Neil’s death leaves a hole, one that is entirely too close to home.

To him and his family, all my respect and prayers.

Tony Farkas is editor of 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..

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Dark Night of the Soul

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been waging an unprovoked war in Ukraine, announced Sunday that he had put his nuclear deterrence forces into high alert. He has offered several justifications for his war of aggression, all of which are lies. It seems clear that he miscalculated the courage of the Ukraine people, and the pushback from countries around the world to his actions. Authoritarian strongmen like Putin do not like to look bad when their errors become obvious. We are in an extremely dangerous moment in history.

We spend our lives assembling our experiences into an image of who we are and what we believe in. Over time we become fully invested in that “self.” Everything we think and do is guided by self-image, and we imagine this “self” to persist, to be a constant. But such thinking is an illusion. I am not the same person I was when I was five, or 10, or 20, or 50 years ago. I don’t look the same, I don’t think the same, I don’t hold the same values.

 We often use that illusion of persistence as solid ground to explain away things that happen in our life that are inconsistent with our character or beliefs. But for many of us, something eventually happens that we can no longer explain away. Something that blows up the meaning our life had before. The mirror we had been staring at for decades cracks, and the whole framework of our lives seems meaningless.

This experience is often labeled the Dark Night of The Soul. Just about any tragic experience can trigger it, as can a sudden and dramatic change in our understanding of reality. It’s an experience people who seek enlightenment through meditation often experience when they manage to silence the constant droning of the noises in their heads and realize that “they” seem to be only a constant stream of noise arising from their unconscious mind. It is scary, and some don’t find their way back. You can also see it in some who suffer from major depression.

What does this have to do with Vladimir Putin? Well, he has taken a few opportunities to remind the world over the last couple of weeks of his nuclear arsenal. And as an authoritarian leader who finds himself more and more cornered by the reaction of the world to his aggression, he is very dangerous. His ambition seems to be to leave as his legacy the taking back all the old Soviet Union countries, regardless of the outcome. 

In a conventional war there are no second-place winners. In a nuclear war, there are no winners at all. The cold war mantra was MAD – Mutually assured destruction.

We have developed a complacency in this country, a belief that the U.S. has some special dispensation from God that makes us special and makes us safe. This is a dangerous delusion.

And many people in this country seem to have decided that a leader in the image of Vladimir Putin, an authoritarian strongman that takes nothin’ off nobody, is what the U.S. needs. That, too, is a dangerous delusion. Putin is not a good guy; he is a brutal dictator that cares nothing about his people and wages war to enrich he and his cronies.

These indirect threats from the Russian dictator to use nuclear weapons should be a dark night of the soul experience for those who have become complacent about how dangerous this moment is. Only an evil person would even contemplate the use of such weapons, knowing the millions, perhaps billions of people who would suffer and die as a result.

It is time for all of us to understand that the political brinkmanship that our country is mired in must stop. 

We won the cold war against the USSR for two reasons…we involved them in an arms race that eventually bankrupted them, and we were united as a people in our unflagging commitment to democracy, to our belief that democracy was worth defending and advancing in the world. Sadly, that isn’t the case anymore. It’s time to wake up.

“We live in a house of mirrors 
and think we are looking out the windows.”   ~ Fritz Perls

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