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Let’s take better care of our natural resources

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From The Editors Desk Emily WootenWhat a good time we had last weekend at Tempe Creek Vineyard and Farms participating in the Earth Day fundraiser to benefit Polk County Recycling & Beautification (PCRB). It was a perfectly beautiful day spent visiting with friends old and new and enjoying live music, wine and charcuterie. Over 100 people attended and $11,000 was raised.

PCRB is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization formed by community members for the benefit of the community. It has partnered with Polk County to provide a reliable recycling service for the residents of East Texas, sustained by grants, donations and the sale of recyclable materials. Its goal is to clean up and beautify Polk County through recycling, education and community engagement in litter clean-up activities.

The recycling center can accept #1-#7 plastics, flattened corrugated cardboard, aluminum cans and tin cans. Materials should be relatively clean which will make them more valuable to buyers, helping PCRB to support the program for years to come. Materials should also be presorted as much as possible. To learn more about PCRB and the recycling center, or to become a volunteer or make a donation, visit the website at pcrbtexas.org.

In the 18 months that the recycling center has been open, over 140,000 pounds of materials have been diverted from the Polk County Landfill. That blows my mind. I find it amazing. A few people CAN make a difference. But that’s just it. Only a very small percentage of local residents use the recycling center. Think about it. Imagine just how much more stuff could be diverted from the landfill if more people took advantage of the recycling center.

We only have one Earth, with limited resources. The more we consume and the more trash that we create that ends up in landfills, the closer we are to running out of resources, negatively impacting people all over the globe. In this country, the average person produces roughly 2,000 pounds of trash per year. Trash that ends up in our landfills creates pollution in our air and water supply. Trash that is thrown on the side of the road eventually breaks down and finds its way into our water supply. There is a finite amount of land and water on this Earth and I feel strongly that we owe it to future generations to step up and take better care of our resources.

I think about Choates Creek that runs right through downtown Livingston and the many stories I’ve heard about it over the years. It is named for Moses L. Choate, Livingston’s founder. A native of Livingston, Tenn., Choate started a settlement called Springfield on his land grant in 1835 and wanted it to be the county seat when Polk County was organized out of Liberty County in 1846. He offered to give the new county one hundred acres of land if Springfield was selected as the county seat and the name of the town be changed to Livingston, for his former home in Tennessee. This was a very generous offer made by Choate, but the legislature required that an election be held to determine the location of the county seat for the newly organized Polk County. Following an election in June 1846, Springfield was decided upon and the name was changed to Livingston.

In her book “The History of Polk County,” Emma R. Haynes wrote, “By 1845 a number of people had bought land from Choate and settled on the creek and named the creek Choates Creek. When Sam Smith built his home on the bank of Coates Creek in the town of Livingston, he had to clear away the switch cane to build his house.”

Elsewhere in the book, Haynes lovingly wrote, “Choates, the last creek from Livingston is a pretty one. Wild azaleas and yellow jessamines bloom in the spring, and white violets bloom several times during the spring and summer. The clear cool spring water and pleasant shade trees invite one to come and spread a picnic lunch.”

What a beautiful image that is.

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Don’t mess with Texas’ anti-SLAPP law

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By Will Creeley
Guest columnist

When it comes to criticizing the powerful or politically connected, the First Amendment protects the little guy. No matter who you are or how much money you have in the bank, you have the right to speak your mind. Because the Founders knew all too well the danger of granting the government the power to decide who can and cannot speak, the First Amendment was designed to shield speakers from government retribution.

But these days, the government isn’t the only Goliath, and direct censorship isn’t the only way to silence dissent. Over time, the rich and powerful learned a new way to shut up their detractors: forcing them to fight off flimsy lawsuits. By burying critics in a blizzard of costly litigation, would-be censors were able to increase the financial stakes of speaking out — even when the claims filed weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

These strategic lawsuits against public participation — SLAPPs, for short — threaten our national commitment to freedom of expression and an informed citizenry. What good are First Amendment rights if exercising them means having to shell out for a lawyer to defend against a meritless lawsuit?

So in 2011, former Governor Rick Perry signed “anti-SLAPP” legislation, the Texas Citizen Participation Act, into law. It allows Texans named in lawsuits to secure quick dismissals from state courts if the claim against them is based on their exercise of First Amendment rights, while still allowing plaintiffs who can demonstrate they have meritorious claims to proceed.

Put simply, the TCPA allows a speaker threatened by a bogus suit to ask the court for a quick reality check: Are the claims against me legitimate, or is the plaintiff just trying to shut me up? If it’s the latter, the court can save defendants a lot of time and money with a speedy dismissal, preserving their ability to speak their minds without fear of going broke.

Texas should be proud to be a national leader in protecting the rights of its residents to stand up and speak out. Other states nationwide have looked to the TCPA in passing their own anti-SLAPP laws. But a proposed amendment to the TCPA now making its way through the state legislature, SB 896, would seriously undermine the law’s vital protections.

The TCPA arms innocent Texans with the means to fight back by filing an anti-SLAPP motion before spending a fortune on legal fees in pre-trial filings and discovery. Because protecting free speech is so important, if a court rejects a defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion, the TCPA allows for an immediate appeal — and while it’s being heard, the proceedings are stayed. That pause in the action spares defendants from having to fight off a potentially meritless lawsuit in two courts at the same time.

But SB 896 would change that, denying defendants a stay when the court deems their anti-SLAPP motion untimely, frivolous, or subject to an exemption. That tweak might sound reasonable at first blush. But determining whether an anti-SLAPP is untimely, frivolous, or exempt involves tough questions of law — questions that trial courts regularly answer incorrectly.

Deciding whether an anti-SLAPP motion is “frivolous” or exempted by statute is no cakewalk for judges. It involves close questions in an evolving area of the law. And even what one might assume to be the most straightforward grounds for denial — timeliness — has proven tricky. In every Texas Supreme Court ruling on timeliness, the lower court’s determination was reversed.

Add it up, and there’s a real chance a trial court’s anti-SLAPP denial won’t stand up after review.

Requiring a speaker to argue these questions on appeal while simultaneously proceeding with discovery in trial court means they’re wasting time and racking up billable hours on two fronts, fighting what might well prove to be a nonsense lawsuit. Even if the speaker wins on appeal, they’ve still lost time and treasure they shouldn’t have, just for exercising their First Amendment rights. That’s exactly the result the TCPA was meant to prevent.

This isn’t an obscure legal threat. If passed, SB 896’s amendment to the TCPA would have real-world consequences for everyday Texans across the political spectrum who dare to criticize the powerful or wealthy. And no matter what news outlet you rely on, journalists are prime targets for lawsuits filed by powerful interests wishing they’d write about something else. In today’s balkanized political climate, small, independent outfits on the right and the left are particularly vulnerable.

The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to participate in public debates, not just those with money or power. The TCPA bulletproofs the exercise of that right against bad-faith litigation from would-be censors. Because it would gut the TCPA — a powerful protection for all Texans — lawmakers should resoundingly reject SB 896.

Will Creeley is the legal director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. It’s about SB 896 and the problems it will pose for all Texas citizens if passed. The bill is set for a hearing Wednesday.

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Conversations with the Devil

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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I carry in my pocket a medallion with a skull and the words Memento Mori engraved on it. The words are a Latin phrase that translates to “Remember you must die.” I carry it to remind myself that the reality of being human should determine what I do and say and think. Following that creed isn’t easy for any of us because, in fact, we are only human. After we are dead, nothing survives us except the good or bad we did in the world.

The biggest obstacle to living in a way that will benefit not only ourselves, but other human beings is that we are at crossed purposes in our minds.

The Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud developed a psychoanalytic theory that the human psyche was divided into three parts, the Id (our instincts), the Ego (the part of us that deals with reality) and the Superego (our moral aspirations). You’ve probably seen this illustrated in cartoons as a person with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, constantly urging the person caught in the middle to do good or bad things.

Most of us by the time we get into early adulthood encounter that voice in our heads that is filled with negativity. Regardless of the good we want to accomplish in our lives, that voice keeps telling us we are not good enough, we will fail, people will laugh at us and call us losers if we try to achieve our goals. That voice will always be there because it is our own. Everyone has it.

Most people, as they get older, and kicked around by life a little, learn to not listen to that voice. It has nothing good to offer. It is filled with negativity, with anger, with envy. Other people, unfortunately, decide to embrace it, to turn over their lives to it, and pay the price in missed opportunities and broken relationships. Far more dangerous for the rest of us are those who try to find validation for their embrace of that voice by projecting it into the world.

Because we can only infer what other people think and believe, it is easy to believe that those who think, believe and act differently than we do are simply obstinately wrong, and it our responsibility to set them straight, even if we must do it by force of will, or law or government. So, we seek out others who have also embraced the darkest side of themselves for validation and feel justified to do whatever is necessary to force our darkness on those not part of our clique.

There exist very smart (and foolish), powerful, influential people who have embraced the darkness that lives in all of us, and they are using their power and influence to draw millions to themselves, and to impose their will on others. And they will have their reward. Their success plays out daily in our politics and in our social institutions.

We are at an inflection point in history. We have a choice. We can embrace our better angels and work toward human progress, or we can yield to those who have decided to bring humanity down to their depravity. We can embrace love for humanity or hate. But love will never arise from hate.

So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye
There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy
There's only you and me and we just disagree” (Dave Mason)

Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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Bits and bites about this and that

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Sometimes the ridiculous comes in waves so large that you just can’t pick just one thing to focus on.

It’s times like these that I’m glad I live in a part of the country that still has most of its sanity and still believes in good.

Here’s a few of the weirdnesses that I’ve run across this week, and they are listed in no particular order.

•After Elon Musk purchased Twitter, aside from cleaning house of employees and cleaning timelines of said employees’ belief systems, he decided to monetize a portion of Twitter — the Blue Check of Perpetual Verification — and charge for people to have the sparkly blue badge near their name.

Alyssa Milano, who starred in an 80s sitcom and has long passed her sell-by date, is upset about that, saying that her free speech rights are being violated, or something.

Twitter is free to use, but not free to run. If Elon chooses to do this, that’s his prerogative. If that’s upsetting, then move on. But making a press tour and career out of whinging is not a pretty sight.

•Hunter Biden, after all this time, may actually face some criminal charges for his “business” dealings. While that in an of itself is interesting, since the government and numerous law enforcement agencies had a laptop full of information, what’s even more interesting is that the media has now found out there’s some meat on that bone.

Sad thing about being last to the party is that the good stuff has passed you by, and you look foolish for being late.

•For the longest time, green energy has been touted as the next evolution in energy production, but really hasn’t gotten much traction. Solar has limitations, and wind is not as productive as it should be and is more expensive than it should be.

Energy Mullah John Kerry, who flits from hither to yon in a private, non-solar or -wind powered jet, tells us that green energy is being discriminated against, so in order to give it a chance, we’ll just raise the prices of fossil fuels. That’ll make it more competitive.

As an aside, Kerry is not an elected official (but plays one on TV).

•Anheuser-Busch, the company behind the Budweiser product line, found out that if ignoring the customer base, as well as try to force a “woke” agenda by putting a TikTok-famous “trans” person on its cans and as its spokesthing, business falls off.

Like, a lot.

A director of marketing for the firm, who claims she was brought in to create a new message, lasted maybe two weeks after this debacle and is now MIA.

•The icing on the crazy cake, at least for this week, is the federal government fighting against non-inclusive practices in safety testing.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, have risen up to carry this banner and fight against gender inequity, and are proposing that there be more — I can’t even believe this is a thing — female crash test dummies.

Apparently, this will assist designers in creating vehicles that will be safer for women drivers. However, there’s no word on whether there also will be trans crash test dummies, which is weird since gender is a social construct or whatever.

I would ask if there’s more, but I don’t think I want the answer.

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Bravery, grit define the Texas spirit

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby
Representing District 9

The Battle of San Jacinto was a defining moment in Texas history and a shining example of the unbreakable spirit and fierce pride that defines our great state. On April 21, 1836, a small but determined army of Texans, led by the legendary General Sam Houston, stood up against overwhelming odds and fought with every fiber of their being to defend their freedom and independence. With bravery and grit that has come to define the Texan spirit, they launched a surprise attack on the much larger Mexican army camped at San Jacinto and emerged victorious in just 18 minutes. It was a stunning triumph that secured Texas’ place in history and cemented its status as a sovereign nation. Today, we still draw inspiration from the Texans who fought and died at San Jacinto, and we proudly carry on their legacy of courage and determination. As Texans, we can take pride in our storied history and our unshakeable spirit, and we will always stand strong in defense of our state and our way of life.

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

This past week, the Texas House heard House Bill 2639, a bill that would bring Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) into the University of Texas System. As you may know, this proposal has been in the works for quite some time. The SFA Board of Regents voted to join the UT System in November of last year, pending legislative approval. Once this bill is signed into law, oversight, and control of the university will transfer to the UT System Board of Regents. As a joint author of this bill, I am proud to be a part of a proposal that will enhance the quality of education and research opportunities for students and faculty throughout our region and the entire state. SFA has long been a pillar of the community, and this change will only strengthen its role as a center for education and innovation.

Additionally, I was proud to present and pass House Bill 1772 on the House floor this last week. House Bill 1772 establishes enhanced documentation and notice requirements related to the sale or purchase of timber to provide added protections against fraudulent activity. The bill also creates stronger criminal offenses for failing to provide certain documentation or knowingly falsifying information related to the purchase of timber. This bill is a top priority for the Texas Forestry Association and I was honored to carry this legislation to protect such an important industry in our region and state.

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 3 at the San Augustine County Courthouse from 9-11 a.m., 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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