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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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Huge gap between theory and practice

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FromEditorsDesk TonyI went to high school a few years ago, back when you didn’t have to sign up for special programs just to learn practical skills. 

Our school system offered classes in auto mechanics, skills that would be handy even if you didn’t end up in the field. So it was with those classes and my own sense of adventure that I went to do some long-overdue work on my truck.

In a nutshell, I needed to replace the coil packs, which have taken the place of points in the ignition system. These coils attach directly to the spark plugs, so I changed them out as well.

There was quite a bit of time between my classes and now, so obviously the technology has changed. With this in mind, I availed myself of another new piece of technology that could be helpful: YouTube.

While in high school, we had to rely on repair manuals and instruction. Online videos can take the place of that, so I watched three different videos on this particular type of repair, which were readily available.

So I took a day, assembled all the tools I needed — 8mm socket and wrench, 5/8-inch spark plug socket, six spark plugs gapped to .30, six coil packs (which is another story altogether), and some screwdrivers — and set to.

Watching the videos gave me a sense of calm, since the mechanic(s) made it look so very easy; none of the videos took longer than 12 minutes.

I’m smart enough to know about editing, but nothing prepared me for what came next.

• Coil Pack 1, rear engine driver’s side. Total time: 1  1/2 hours.

You read that right. Come to find out, the video didn’t account for age of parts, dirt, any number of things. In order to remove the coil you had to push a red tab to release the wiring harness, remove the 8mm bolt, remove the coil, remove the spark plug, and reverse the process.

You also had to remove the wiring harness to the fuel pump, the locking lever of which was “conveniently” placed underneath, which chubby fingers have a difficult time finding.

Then, removing the coil harness required moving a locking tab and “gently” removing the harness. Plastic gets brittle when repeatedly heated, so the harness didn’t release easily, and it couldn’t be forced or it would break.

The coil should then require a little wiggling and then pop out, except when it doesn’t and it just moves back and forth. So with the help of channel locks, it finally came out, revealing the spark plug. Since the hole was underneath part of the air intake vents, I had to find the exact combination of extensions so the wrench would fit and remove it. Turning the wrench was fun, too, since a nearby cover had a sharp edge and continually chewed my arm up.

My dad always told me the sign of a job done well was blood, so there’s that.

• Coil Pack 2, middle driver’s side. Total time: 45 minutes.

You knew it had to happen. Those brittle clips did what brittle clip do, and broke. The only upside was I was able to figure out a way to remove them easier, so the rest weren’t so bad. However, it required the use of something else my father taught me: the Words of Power. In a nutshell, dirty words. Naughty words. Words that got Little Ralphie a LifeBuoy mint.

I also needed to remove the hose for the PCV valve, which was really the only part of the project that went like the video.

• Coil Pack 3, front driver’s side, 35-40 minutes. Harness removed easily; coil pack removed too easily, mostly because half of the rubber boot connecting the pack and the spark plug remained on the plug. 

The video didn’t say anything about that. It took about three different sets of needle nose pliers to get that out.

• Coil Packs 4-6, passenger’s side, 45-ish minutes.

After the trial by fire on the other side, the work on this side went relatively smoothly, except for needing a special u-joint extension for the last one, which was conveniently placed underneath the metal heater hoses.

The replacement was a success, and the truck is humming along; there are two lessons as well.

The first is that schools that teach mechanical skills, along with problem-solving techniques, give children and later adults a leg up.

The second, one that’s more important, is that just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean you’re getting the full story. It will make things easier and you will gain greater understand by doing more research. It does remain a good starting point, though.

Tony Farkas is editor of 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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CRT and the whitewashing of Texas history

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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Texas Governor Gregg Abbott recently signed into law a bill prohibiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 public schools. CRT has never been taught in Texas public schools.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has taken up the cause of banning CRT from public colleges and universities in Texas, with the threat of revoking the tenure of any professor teaching it.

According to Academics, CRT is simply looking at the way society has been affected by racism since America’s founding. It posits that racism is and has been pervasive throughout our history and examines how forces in our culture tend to perpetuate it.

The biggest feature of these efforts by Abbott and Patrick appear to be to argue that racism is not and has never been cultural, but individual, a position that in my opinion, can’t be defended.

While I was born in Woodville, I grew up in another S.E. Texas city, and lived there until I was 16. It was a small city when we moved there in the early 1950s but started growing quickly in the 1960s. And, like most of the Southern cities in those days, it was heavily segregated.

There was a black community there, but it was invisible to me. Black people literally lived on the other side of the (railroad) tracks. I rarely encountered a black person, and certainly none lived in the solidly middle-class community we lived in, or moved in the circles we moved in.

My parents were racist, as were most people I knew. They were not militantly racist, as in white sheets and burning crosses. They were “culturally racist,” a pernicious casual racism that generations of folks in the south grew up with. Black people were made fun of, were called disrespectful names, were talked about as less than fully human by most of the white people I knew, and were relegated to separate schools, separate restrooms, separate drinking fountains.

When we moved to Warren in 1966, the schools in the city we left were still segregated. But the Warren school had been integrated for a couple of years.

Warren was a very small town in 1966. A couple of stores and a restaurant were about it for businesses. 

The school system was small. And poor. We weren’t allowed to use the lab for chemistry classes because it was badly stocked. All the grades were on one campus. There were 33 people in my graduating class in 1969. 

With integration, the recently constructed Black school was closed (and ultimately turned into a bus barn), and all the students from there were moved to the 30-year-old at that time campus, a move that seemed to me, even as a teenager, to be backwards.

And, while racism was common outside the school, integration went well with the students. For the most part, everyone got along.

I share my personal experience with racism because most of the folks reading this are probably young enough that they might believe Gregg Abbott and Dan Patrick’s assertion that racism isn’t systemic or pervasive in our society. What these men are trying to do is memory hole centuries of systemic racism, erasing the inconvenient and sordid history of the treatment of other races in our country, by intimidating into silence those tasked with teaching that truth to our youth.

That our state legislature would pass a law clearly aimed at erasing the shared experience in our country of an entire race of people and deny that their experience is not still pervasive is unconscionable. And if you don’t believe it is still pervasive, there's this.


CNN reported Feb. 17 that “A video showing police officers breaking up a fight between a Black teenager and a White teenager at a New Jersey mall has prompted outrage over the police response.”

“New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that the “appearance of what is racially disparate treatment is deeply, deeply disturbing.”’

“The Black teenager begins to get up and is pinned to the ground by one officer and rolled on to his stomach, with his hands behind his back. The other officer pushes the White teenager onto a nearby couch and then assists in handcuffing the Black teenager. Eventually, officers stand the handcuffed Black teenager up.”

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