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What am I doing here?

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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Various news accounts over the last few weeks got me feeling the lyrics to the song “Creep” by the band Radiohead.

“But I’m a creep

I’m a weirdo

What the hell am I doing here?

I don’t belong here”

The news stories that made me think maybe I’m the weirdo included the accounts of adults legally marrying 12-year old’s, hundreds of children working at fast food franchises, and a Republican push to raise the voting age to 25. How, in any kind of sane world, can you hold the simultaneous beliefs that 12-year old’s are mature enough to marry, 16 year old’s to work at fast food restaurants, and yet 18 year old’s are not mature enough to vote?

Yes, I understand that Republican’s want to change the voting age because college students vote primarily for Democrats, and their solution is to just make it illegal for college students to vote, but in what kind of society does such buffoonery get serious consideration by lawmakers? Yeah, I clearly don’t fit in here anymore.

I was watching a news segment the other day where a Trump supporter was being interviewed at one of his rallies and was asked about Joe Biden running for president again. She explained that Joe Biden had been dead for some time, and that the person we see walking around and talking to the press as Biden was the actor Jim Carrey wearing a mask and doing pratfalls on airplane steps.

We seem to have a lot of broken people somehow functioning in society today. I have a hard time understanding how you hold down a job, raise children, pay the mortgage, and hold beliefs completely divorced from reality.

There is a popular book by Daniel Goleman called “Emotional Intelligence” that a lot more people apparently need to read. The argument the author makes is that to be successful in life, you need seven traits, the first of which is self-awareness, an understanding of the things that make you who you are. Your ability to accurately understand your personality, actions, beliefs, emotions, and thoughts. 

I’m pretty sure that hallucinating that the President of the United States is being played by a comic actor wearing a mask isn’t consistent with self-awareness.

Goleman goes on to advance six other traits that are essential to success, including empathy, a focus on the present, having strong interpersonal skills, being self-motivated, being receptive to new ideas and suggestions, and exercising integrity – conducting yourself with a great deal of morality.

To meet the challenges we face in the near future will require high levels of emotional intelligence. Seeing the nonsense supposedly intelligent people keep coming up with does not make me optimistic that the outcomes will be good. 

But maybe I’m just a weirdo.

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Whatever happened to exceptionalism?

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas

Most likely many of you watched the anachronistic games being played out last weekend with the coronation of King Charles III.

All the pomp and heraldry went along with installing a man to a monarchy that has been nothing more than magisterial cosplay for decades, even though there’s a sizeable chunk of change given to the royals every year.

While the pageantry probably was epic, it’s a reminder of why the United States exists, in that the founding fathers and the pilgrims moved away from to establish a country that eventually became one of the world’s great superpowers.

Over the years, the allure of America captured many imaginations, even those of the immigrants escaping war, famine or other oppression. The American Dream not only became something immigrants reached for, but something we as Americans strived for, and told anyone who would listen about the greatness of this country.

Opportunities for success were — and are — available to any and everyone. All that’s required is hard work and dedication, and a hands-off approach from the government, and to coin a phrase, the world was your oyster.

Somewhere along the way, the dream was replaced.

Individual rights, along with property rights, were revered as part of the dream. We could be anything we wanted, own anything we wanted — all we had to do was knuckle down. That has for the most part become societal, meaning groups as a whole are expecting to be catered to.

The blame for that lies in us, but only in that we’ve allowed the country to become a pale representation of exceptionalism, and the ladder of success has been replaced with mediocrity fueled by envy.

Rich people, who have benefited from the American Dream, are being cast as villains for succeeding at the very thing that helped make this country what it is. Poor and unfortunate people are being cast as victims, and demand to be made whole.

And because of that, at the urging of our elected officials looking to “do something” about problems, the government has become sort of the light at the end of the tunnel for everything from health care to poverty to banking. Because of that meddling, these officials have set themselves up as an elite class, and any “solution” to problems will be borne on the backs of regular people while furthering the power aims of government.

The rich, which are now demons, are now expected to foot the bill for everything that is even remotely viewed as a problem; the government, which are now heroes, look as if they actually care about the little person.

The government perpetuates this through fomenting division, through race, income and even education.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to new heights, and even less wrong with achieving that. Nothing frees a society like self-determination.

Tony Farkas is editor 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..

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Cinco de Mayo celebrates defeat of French forces

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My Five CentsThis week we celebrate Cinco de Mayo! On May 5, 1862, Mexican general Ignacio Zaragoza defeated French expeditionary forces at Puebla, Mexico.

Here are five things happening around your state:

Ankle monitor bill heads to the governor

This week, a bill that would increase penalties for tampering with, disabling or removing an ankle monitor overwhelmingly passed the House. The Senate passed the measure unanimously in late March. Senate Bill 1004, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman and sponsored by

Rep. Abel Herrero, would enhance the penalty for knowingly removing or disabling an ankle monitor to a felony. Currently, the penalty is an administrative violation, not a criminal offense. The bill was prompted by the October 2022 shooting at a hospital in the Dallas area which killed a nurse and a social worker. The alleged perpetrator was a parolee with an ankle monitor who had permission to be at the hospital for the birth of his child. He had cut off his monitor previously. Now the bill heads to Gov. Abbott’s desk for final approval before it becomes law.

Right to farm passes the Senate

This week, the Senate passed House Joint Resolution 126, a constitutional amendment that would protect the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture and

wildlife management. HJR 126 was authored by Rep. DeWayne Burns and sponsored by Sen. Charles Perry. As the state grows increasingly more urban, farmers and ranchers within municipal boundaries are subjected to municipal ordinances that can inhibit their operations and production. Cities sometimes use public nuisance ordinances to prohibit agricultural activities. It is important that our state enshrine the right to farm in our state constitution.

Bill allowing flexibility for transfer students passes Senate

The Senate passed Senate Bill 418 by Sen. Angela Paxton this week. The bill updates statutes governing students who want to transfer from one district or campus to another. The legislation permits students to transfer to any public school that has capacity available and prohibits public school districts from charging these students tuition. The bill sets out parameters for a school district that receives more applications than seats available and requires districts to publicly post the number of available seats they have. The bill also provides protections for school districts for students who violate code of conduct rules, are placed in disciplinary alternative education programs, or are required or permitted to be expelled. Allowing for flexibility in the public school system for students to attend the campus or district of their choice helps ensure we are meeting the needs of our Texas public school students.

Texas Parks and
Wildlife celebrates centennial

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year and the Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine staff devoted an entire issue to the occasion. The special edition magazine has 100 pages honoring 100 years of parks. There are recommendations for the best parks for fishing, hiking, kayaking, or seeing wildlife. It also highlights the six new parks that will open over the next 12 to 15 years. New parks include Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, Dan A. Hughes Unit of the Devils River State Natural Area, Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area, Powderhorn State Park, Chinati Mountains State Natural Area, and Davis Hill State Natural Area.

End of session
deadlines, calendar

Now that we are in May, there are some end of session deadlines that are quickly approaching. These deadlines mark the final day that certain bills can be considered by either chamber to realistically have time to pass. They are as follows:

•May 8 - Last day for House committee to report House bills and House joint resolutions

•May 9 (by 10 p.m.) - Deadline for the House to distribute its last House daily calendar with House bills and House joint resolutions

•May 10 (by 9 a.m.) - Deadline for the House to distribute its last House local and consent calendar with consent House bills

•May 12 - Last day for the House to consider consent House bills on the local and consent calendar on second and third reading and all third reading House bills and House joint resolutions

•May 20 - Last day for House committee to report Senate bills and joint resolutions

•May 24 - Last day for House to consider local and consent Senate bills and all third reading Senate bills and last day for Senate to consider all bills and joint resolutions on second and third reading

•May 29 - Legislature adjourns sine die.

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

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State rep recognizes, thanks teachers

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby
Representing District 9

As we kick off the month of May, I want to take a moment to recognize and thank the teachers in our communities during Teacher Appreciation Week. Our teachers play a crucial role in shaping the minds of the next generation and have always been a pillar of support for our students. Teachers often go above and beyond the call of duty, spending countless hours preparing lesson plans, grading papers and providing extra help to struggling students. Your hard work and dedication does not go unnoticed and we are grateful for all you do to ensure the success of our children and our future. Thank you!

With that, here’s an update from your State Capitol…

As the author of HB 2308, I am pleased to report that the bill has passed both chambers and will soon be sent to the governor for his signature. HB 2308 updates the Texas Right-to-Farm Act by ensuring the protection of agricultural operations against nuisance actions and other legal challenges without legitimate cause. These updates are particularly important as Texas agriculture is already struggling to keep up with production demands due to recent population growth and droughts. This bill guarantees that these operations will not face unnecessary and harmful legal actions and will continue to provide for the state’s growing needs. As a private landowner and rural Texan, I was honored to play a role in helping to protect agricultural operations in rural areas from unwarranted nuisance restrictions and other legal challenges. HB 2308 not only strengthens protections for agriculture operations, but also reaffirms our commitment to the farmers and ranchers who play a critical role in delivering the food and fiber to our growing population.

At this stage of the legislative session, I want to explain how the remaining month will play out. As mentioned in my previous writings, proposed legislation goes through four rounds of voting: a vote in the House Committee, a vote on the House Floor, a Senate Committee vote, and a Senate Floor vote before it reaches the governor’s desk for his stamp of approval. When the session reaches its 60th day, proposed legislation is constitutionally permitted to transfer from one chamber to another for deliberation. However, when the session reaches its 122nd day, which happens to be on May 11 of this year, the House is restricted to voting only on Senate bills and is no longer permitted to vote on House bills. Consequently, any House bills that have yet to be voted on by May 11 will effectively be dead. Although this process was implemented to promote better collaboration between the two chambers, legislators must now work fast and efficiently to meet the May 29 deadline, which marks the conclusion of the 140-day legislative session.

The mobile office is on the road again and our district director will look forward to seeing you on the following dates, in the following locations: May 10 at the Polk County Commissioner’s Courtroom in Livingston from 9-11 a.m. or at the Tyler County Courthouse in Woodville from 1:30-3:30 p.m., May 17 at the Houston County Courthouse Annex in Crockett from 9-11 a.m. or at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at 936-634-2762 and our Capitol office at 512-463-0508. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my official Facebook page, where I will post regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and share information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

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Capitalism in the age of AI

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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If you’ve followed my columns for any time, my position on the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) should be clear to you. I believe strong AI, or general AI if you prefer, is an existential threat to humanity. One often mentioned threat is that AI becomes much more intelligent than we are, but its goals are not aligned with those of humanity.

I often hear the argument that my view of the future is inherently jaundiced, that every time I look at a flower, I don’t see its present beauty, but its inevitable wilting and decay. Instead of looking at the incredible good that AI offers for human kind, I see only the negative. There’s some truth in that accusation, but where AI is concerned, it isn’t completely accurate.

With an intelligence that will someday soon far exceed our own, AI holds the hope of finding cures for diseases that have so far eluded our best efforts to defeat. These super intelligences will also be able to tackle climate change, make distribution chains more efficient, be helpful at resolving conflicts between countries and make our work much more efficient, causing huge increases in efficiency. So, where’s the existential threat come in? Or capitalism, for that matter?

While all these good things should accrue to the good of all of humanity, they will not, because these Ais are being developed by corporations like Microsoft, Google, Meta and Elon Musk, inside of a political and economic system that has already moved almost all of the world’s financial wealth into the hands of a small percentage of the population. These companies have proven that their bottom line is more important than the good of mankind. To trust that they will have a sudden interest in the advancement of humanity is at best naïve.

AI will make possible tremendous gains in productivity, with fewer people needed to do any job. Eventually, AI will replace anyone who sits at a desk. Even the CEO of the company you work for will likely be replaced by an AI (there exist companies now with AI CEOs). Beyond that, even physical labor will be replaced by humanoid robots with AI brains (they are in advanced development now). And then, what of the people?

Capitalism is an economic system. It’s not a system created by God. It’s not foundational. It is, however, one where wealth moves inevitably in one direction.

Over the long term, unless reined in by government regulation and control, it results in exactly the situation we are in now, with most of the wealth of the economy shifted to the top. And those few controls that existed back in the 20th Century have gradually been relaxed through lobbyists for corporations throwing unlimited amounts of money at the government that should be restraining them. In just one example, the top tax rate on the richest in the country has decreased from 90 percent to, effectively for many of the wealthiest and corporations, zero.

Capitalism doesn’t work when the marginal cost of labor for a company approaches zero. And these companies are not spending billions of dollars on AI to benefit mankind, but to benefit their bottom line.

I wish I could turn off my skepticism, but our current economic and political environment doesn’t inspire confidence. If there is a solution, it depends on our recognition that humanity is more important than profit, that technological advances should lift everyone, not just a wealthy few. There are ways to guarantee a future for humans, such as establishing a Universal Basic Income for all, but we need a government interested in doing so, which we don’t currently have.

There really is no option, here. Capitalism will dissapear as an economic system as a direct result of AI. You can't have capital without labor, and AI will ultimately eliminate labor. Rather than an economic system, we will then have a humanitarian disaster. 

We desperately need to stop investing our efforts into making the wrong pronoun illegal, fighting over completely trivial things, when a real existential threat awaits us.

And God only knows
God makes his plan
The information's unavailable
To the mortal man
We're workin' our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we're gliding down the highway
When in fact we're slip slidin' away       
Paul Simon

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