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House committee focused on defense, veterans’ affairs

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Trent AshbyWith the General Election behind us, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude the citizens of Angelina, Houston, Polk, San Augustine, Trinity and Tyler counties for entrusting me with the honor of serving as your State Representative. It is truly the honor of a lifetime -- one that I do not take lightly -- to serve as your voice in Austin, and you have my commitment that I will strive every day to promote and protect the interests of our region and the values we hold dear.

With that, we’ll dive back into our examination of House interim charges

House Interim Charge: Defense & Veterans Affairs

As we honor and celebrate the service of the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces, I thought it only appropriate to focus on the Committee of House Defense Affairs for this week’s column.

The House Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs has nine members and has purview over matters involving defense, emergency preparedness, veterans’ services, and military preparedness as it relates to the defense of the state and nation. The Committee also oversees a number of state agencies, including the Texas Military Department, the Texas Veterans Commission, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

This interim, the House Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs has been tasked with monitoring the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction, as well as reviewing relevant legislation passed in the most recent legislative session to ensure the language and measures are working as intended. The Committee will also monitor the activities of the Texas State Guard and the Texas National Guard, who are currently stationed at the Texas-Mexico border for Operation Lone Star to increase operational efficiency.

Importantly, the Committee has been charged with studying the programs and funding connected to services that improve mental health outcomes for servicemen and women who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Additionally, the Committee will evaluate the needs of veterans and their families as they return to civilian life and make recommendations on how to improve the transition through opportunities in employment, education, housing, and counseling services.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my deepest gratitude to the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to protect and preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. While Veterans Day may be behind us, I hope you’ll find time in the near future to honor our servicemembers by expressing your gratitude and by lifting them up in prayer.

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. 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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Billionaires should not exist

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Billionaires should not exist.

Yes, I know. I must be un-American and hate our capitalist economic system to suggest such a thing. If a person has the genius and business acumen to accumulate a billion dollars, he/she is obviously a national treasure and should be exalted among men. Or not.

There are approximately 720 billionaires in the U.S., about a quarter of the 2,700 that exist across the world. They have more wealth than the bottom 165 million people in the U.S. You will likely recognize the names of the richest of them. Elon Musk who runs Tesla and SpaceX, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, Bill Gates who founded Microsoft and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway are among those numbers.

Elon Musk has recently been making news with his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion dollars. The messy story of what followed that offer is instructive in defending my assertion that billionaires should not exist.

Back in April of this year, Elon Musk made an offer to buy Twitter at $54.20 per share, which was 38 percent above what the stock closed at on April 1. You might think Musk was willing to pay more than the company was worth because of his astute powers of seeing a diamond in the rough that he could make a fortune from. Apparently not.

Very shortly, Musk started publicly trashing the company, complained that the company had misrepresented facts, and then decided that he was not going to buy the company after all. The problem was that he had entered, undoubtedly without due diligence, into a binding contract to buy the company, that would have left him owing Twitter $1 billion if he backed out. Despite his best efforts he could not get out of the contract, and indeed, a few weeks ago bought the company and took it private

Now, even though Musk is the richest man in the world, with a net worth over $200 billion (which swings wildly with the vagaries of his Tesla stock), he doesn’t have $44 billion in cash sitting around, so he had to borrow a big chuck of it (he convinced some billionaire friends to invest also).

The interest on those loans is approximately $1 billion a year. Twitter’s entire income was $738 million last year. Not profit, entire income. O.K., maybe Musk is a genius and knows something we don’t. But it gets worse. Financial experts who have looked closely at the company say that the actual real value of the company is closer to $9 to $11 billion, not anywhere close to what he paid for it. But it gets worse.

Musk decided immediately, within days of taking over, that the company didn’t need the 7,500 employees it had. He alleged they were dead weight, collecting a paycheck for doing nothing. So, he fired half of them, without making any effort to find out what they did. Turns out, most were from essential teams to keep Twitter running and complying to various legal requirements. Last week he issued an ultimatum. Employees had to agree that they work many more hours under draconian conditions, or they would be fired with three months salary.

Many took him up on the offer and quit. All the twitter offices were closed to all employees over the weekend because they didn’t have the staff to determine who still worked for the company. He had fired them. He could be now trying to run a company with 25 percent of its employees left. You don’t need a business degree to understand that isn’t going to work.

Musk doesn’t appear to have a clue what he is doing. Is he deliberately trying to burn $44 billion dollars by destroying a company that he hates or is he just incompetent? Only time will tell. The most likely explanation, though, is that it is hubris that has led to this result.

Musk was born in South Africa, and Musk’s early financial history gets a little murky from there, with rumors that his father was wealthy and funded his rise that do not really pan out. But there are some facts that seem relevant here.

Musk did not start Tesla, his electric car company, he bought it. He is not an engineer and did not design the cars. He runs the company. His venture to develop and sell self-driving electric vehicles has a long and rocky road, helped along by government subsidies. Tesla is a public company and is worth a lot of money. It’s facing significant headwinds now that mainstream car makers have entered the electric vehicle market, with cheaper, more reliable electric vehicles. The stock price of the company has fallen significantly, and stockholders are expressing concern that he is spending too much time with Twitter and too little running Tesla.

His SpaceX company produces rockets and space vehicles. His goal is to land on Mars and colonize it.

Bill Gates founded Microsoft, which most folks these days know because of Microsoft Windows operating system that most of their computers runs on. He is worth around a $100 billion dollars. While Gates is a software programmer, that is not how he made his fortune.

In the mid 1980s, when IBM launched The IBM PC, they needed an operating system for it. The 25-year-old Gates had just started Microsoft, and IBM asked him if he could provide an operating system for it. He didn’t have one, but he knew someone who did. He bought a program from a small software company called Q-DOS for $75,000, renamed it MS-DOS, and licensed it to IBM. The the rest is history. Gates genius was not as a programmer, but for licensing the software to IBM rather than selling it outright to them.

Every IBM PC was sold with a copy of MS-DOS. Every PC ultimately sold had a copy of MS-DOS, and later Microsoft Windows, installed on it. And Microsoft received a licensing fee for everyone of them. Over the years, that represents billions of PCs sold. The single decision to license rather than sell software outright made Microsoft, and Gates, rich.

Gates went on to eventually start a charitable foundation with an initial contribution of $40 billion dollars, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gate’s interest in the projects the foundation funds are wide ranging and have done tremendous good around the world. But Gates has also used the outsized influence his billionaire status has given him to meddle in areas where a licenser of operating systems has no expertise, with terrible results.

Most of the failed educational experiments over the last few decades have been those pushed by Gates. His ideas have frustrated school districts, teachers and lowered overall testing results of students. If you hate Common Core, that’s one of Gate’s big ideas. What made it possible for the founder of a software company to influence decades of education in the U.S.? Money. Not expertise. Not direct experience in the classroom. Not a degree in education.

We in the U.S. tend to see financially successful people as smarter and more talented than the rest of us. We assume that those who have accumulated billions of dollars operate at an intellectual level the rest of us just don’t have. Which is bad enough. But the real problem is that these billionaires also come to believe their ideas in every area are superior. That they have a special genius that applies to just about everything. Unfortunately, too often, many of their plans for society are just hubris induced crackpot ideas.

Now if you or I have crackpot ideas, it is unlikely we can have much influence. Who’s going to pay much attention to us? But if you have a billion dollars to throw at an issue like education, you can change the course of society. You can alter, as Bill Gates did, the educational system of an entire country. Or the political system. Or the social order through social media companies.

This is not just theory. Bill Gates did it with education. Elon Musk, if he destroys Twitter, or somehow salvages it and turns it into a right-wing hangout (which he appears to favor), will control the destiny of a social media platform that has been important (and a plague) for social commentary for years.

Billionaires should not exist. No one person should have the economic power to change the social, political, or economic structure of an entire society. They aren’t any smarter or more talented or better than the rest of us. Their hubris often makes them dangerous. But there exist 720 people in the U.S. that hold that kind of power. Maybe we should look at that.

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You turned up, now stay focused

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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The election has come and gone, the ballots for the most part counted, and lo and behold, democracy still is intact, and there’s not pitched battles in the streets.

In this area, the voter turnout was on par with presidential elections. Statistics show that on average, turnout in presidential elections hovers around 50 percent; in midterms, such as what we just went through, typically it’s about 40 percent.

In our area, though, here are the numbers, courtesy of the Texas Secretary of State’s Office: Houston County, 53.48 percent; Polk County, 39.93; San Jacinto County, 48.14; Trinity County, 45.35; and Tyler County, 50.1. (Ahem, Polk folk, we need to see some improvement here. Come to the office.)

A cynical person such as I would credit big numbers with big issues, particularly the rotten state of our economy, head-scratching foreign policy, and party and personal division throughout the country on par with tribal hatred.

I prefer to believe that the populace is rising up and taking notice of the sorry state of affairs we’re in, and if that’s the case, to quote Initech Divisional Director Bill Lumbergh, that would be great.

It would be par for the course to sit back and watch the mayhem continue, but I would say nay nay, and exhort you to take your involvement to the next level. It’s one thing to put someone in a position, it’s quite another to, as an old boss of mine used to say, inspect what you expect.

It’s not a stretch to say that your elected official, whether you voted for them or not, works for you. The constituency puts that person in place; the office and salaries are funded by tax dollars, and that is pretty much the definition of an employer/employee dynamic.

What that means is that now that whoever is in office, they weren’t granted carte blanche with an unlimited credit card and no oversight.

The new or re-elected representatives, judges, commissioners, etc., need oversight, so come Jan. 1, or 21, whichever is the start of the new regime, become involved.

Every elected official has a way to be contacted, and in most cases multiple ways. If you feel your political person is straying from the path, remind them. Use phones, email, snail mail, semaphore, smoke signals or telegraphs.

Subscribe to any and all email lists from your politicians so you can keep up with the day-to-day shenanigans. All Polk County Publishing newspapers print contact numbers of elected officials for convenience.

If the political entity is local, then attend meetings. Go to the school boards, the city councils, the county commissioner’s courts and become familiar with the issues and the processes.

Attend as many town hall meetings as you can, because you’ll get useful information. Join a political party, and help provide everyone with information. If you’re feeling saucy, run for office yourself and learn how the sausage is made.

Fixing voter apathy is one thing, but fixing issues with politicians that tend toward megalomania is quite a different critter altogether. But as long as we stay vigilant, and continue our involvement in our own destiny, we’ll be a much better country for it.


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SOS to Apple: Fix this

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Peter FuntBy Peter Funt

A sheriff’s deputy roared into our driveway the other morning, rang the bell, and asked my wife if she knew my whereabouts.

Alarmed at first, then puzzled, Amy answered honestly: “He’s gone over to the Apple Store to see if they can fix his iPhone.”

Across town, I was telling a friendly clerk named Sheila how I had been walking our dog when the phone in my pants pocket made an odd sound. Finding that the screen was frozen, I tried to power it off. This action somehow triggered an SOS call to 911. Soon I heard a police dispatcher offering help, but she was unable to hear me. I tried repeatedly to shut-off the phone and each time another 911 call was triggered.

Sheila didn’t seem surprised. She said such an occurrence—a “glitch” is what she called it—happens frequently. Indeed, the deputy was telling Amy the same thing: Increased use of smartphones and watches is causing a rash of accidental emergency calls and distracting officers from legitimate missions.

Of the many mixed blessings that technology has bestowed upon us, this is a doozy. Yes, many people have been rescued by their smart devices—as commercial reenactments for Apple watches so dramatically illustrate. Yet, as I poked around local news sites I found that numerous municipalities have been struggling with time consuming false alarms.

Two summers ago, the state police in Maine noticed what Lt. Brian Harris termed “quite an uptick” in accidental emergency calls. He mentioned a local golfer who placed his phone in his cart’s cup holder as he bounced around the course, unaware that the movement was initiating calls to 911.

In Grand Traverse County, Michigan, police get about 120 emergency calls a day and about every fourth one is a misdial.

In Canada, the E-Comm emergency service says accidental calls are flooding its lines. In a news release, E-Comm said operators often hear singing in the background or cheering at sporting events during 911 calls. Still, the operators must do whatever is needed to confirm it is not an actual emergency.

There has been publicity recently about problems with the iPhone 14 Pro’s car-crash detection system. A significant number of false reports come from amusement parks, where roller coasters and other high-speed rides are fooling the devices into thinking the owner has been in a crash. The Arkansas State Fair put out a warning last month about false iPhone messaging. In Sevier County, Tennessee, dispatchers reported a 150 percent increase in bogus 911 calls, most of them from the Dollywood amusement park.

But as my experience (with an iPhone 12) confirms, the problem goes beyond crash detection. With some Apple products, simply holding the side button for several seconds can trigger an SOS. Depending on the information stored on the device, this can result in emergency messages being sent to not only police but to your personal contacts as well.

A check of Apple message boards shows that complaints go back several years. Typical was the 2019 post from “TH55” who reported making three accidental calls to 911 and wrote, “Emergency SOS is literally the stupidest feature Apple has ever implemented.”

Apple’s website provides instructions on how to end emergency calls that are triggered by mistake. “If you start an emergency call by accident, tap the End Call button, then tap Yes to confirm that you want to stop the call,” it explains. But Apple says continuing to hold the buttons down will automatically prompt an SOS call.

With police and rescue personnel stretched thin in many parts of the country, it’s unacceptable for hundreds of false alarms to be triggered needlessly. As my experience showed, simply walking with an iPhone in your pocket can lead to the dispatching of police, while the phone’s owner is unable to communicate or correct the error.

It turns out that just last month Apple issued the first beta version of its iOS 16.2 software. It doesn’t correct the problem, but it does include a new option for users to notify Apple whenever they accidentally report an emergency.

I suppose that’s a start. But it would be better to implement an actual fix that preserves the life-saving aspects of smartphone technology without sending so many police officers on wild SOS chases.

Copyright 2022 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Peter Funt’s new memoir, “Self-Amused,” is now available at CandidCamera.com.

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Crypto policy should be decided by Congress

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Cyrpto Policy

By Peter Roff

We’re all going to have to adapt to the way the Internet has changed global commerce and banking eventually. We can hold out a while longer by continuing to insist on paper billing and writing checks and using cash instead of debit cards or smartphones to make transactions.

Sooner or later though, the companies we do business with are going to force us into the 21st century.

As this is happening in other parts of the industrialized world, the United States is stuck in neutral. Money is still a store of value and a medium of exchange but while Americans still use $10 and $20, the rest of the world (especially China) is on the fast track to zeroes and ones.

Cryptocurrency – “crypto” for short – is the future of global finance.

To the extent most people know anything about it, they see crypto as something that exists only in cyberspace. It’s for geeks to worry about, not normal people. That’s wrong. It’s a private mechanism for exchange that is fungible and can be used to purchase anything from legal goods to items considered extremely illicit, so long as the buyer and seller can come to terms.

Sometimes that means trading crypto, which goes by many names besides Bitcoin, for real money. Yet for centuries people have used things besides paper and coins like rare gems, precious metals, and other commodities when engaged in transactions. Crypto falls into that category, too.

The reason America is so far behind the rest of the economically developed world is the absence of clear guidelines from the government. The uncertainty that’s created has left the U.S. industry at the mercy of regulators who can’t make up their minds about what crypto is and what rules should apply.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, led by Chairman Gary Gensler, is taking a punitive approach. It wants to force companies in the cryptocurrency business to submit to an as-yet undisclosed, improvised set of rules, ostensibly for the protection of investors. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which also wants jurisdiction over crypto, believes a light regulatory touch is required so the American crypto baby survives through its infancy.

The SEC’s approach is the wrong one, the consequences of which are illustrated by a case now being heard in the courts brought by the SEC against Ripple, a software company that uses the digital token XRP to expedite international money transfers.

The agency alleges that Ripple has been selling unregistered securities for distribution. It argues that XRP is a security based on the Howey Test, an 80-year-old legal doctrine that uses a four-pronged test to determine what constitutes an investment contract.

To drive its point home, the SEC made the charges retroactive to transactions going back seven years. That’s a signal to the rest of the industry to get in line or face the consequences. In its suit, the agency is essentially arguing it is not accountable for its failure to issue reliable guidance over nearly a decade. That’s not supposed to matter. Even worse, the lawsuit caused the value of XRP to crash for hundreds of thousands of people who were using it – many of whom never heard of Ripple.

Abrupt changes in regulation and the law can, as they have in this case, wreak havoc on the markets. Businesses are supposed to be able to look to the law to know what to do and depend on it to function consistently. Ripple and other holders of XRP are now being punished economically because the SEC changed its position on how the token should be treated.

If that kind of action is going to be taken, it should be done through legislation. The United States Supreme Court has been clear on that of late. Regulatory agencies don’t get to expand their work into new areas just because the person in charge, Chairman Gensler, thinks it would be a good, even logical move.

He doesn’t get to decide. The courts shouldn’t, either. It’s up to Congress to tell the SEC what to do here.

The outcome of this case could have far-reaching consequences for the entire fin-tech industry. If Gensler and the other Democrats on the SEC can reach so far beyond the bounds of their directive when it comes to crypto, what is stopping them from going after any industry they want?

Copyright 2022 Peter Roff distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Peter Roff is a media fellow at the Trans-Atlantic Leadership Network, a former columnist for U.S. News and World Report, and senior political writer for United Press International. Contact Roff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow him on Twitter @TheRoffDraft.

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