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There are some battles worth the fight

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas

A phrase has crept into the American patois that fully encapsulates the desire to fight to the bitter end over principle.

If someone asks you “Is that the hill you want to die on,” it’s meant to check your resolve and your belief in your convictions.

It probably came from some war film, like “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Hamburger Hill,” “The Boys in Company C” or some such, but it’s a turn of a phrase that really packs a punch.

With that in mind, I’m going to wade into a fight that I have heretofore stayed mostly silent on, but one that needs the clarity of common sense, nonetheless. So here goes.

“Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.

Before there’s any pitchfork sharpening or torch preparation, read me out on this.

The traditional Christmas movie has events that occur during the Christmas season, seemingly brought on by the festivities, and the strength of belief helps people get through whatever the plot might be.

Even some of the best “traditional” Christmas movies have plots that are pretty dark, so a yuletide attack on Nakatomi Plaza shouldn’t be any less confusing. Take “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for instance. A man, overwrought by the cavalcade of catastrophe that has befallen his life, wishes he was never born. An angel, of all beings, grants that wish, and George Bailey gets to see what his absence has wrought.

Another favorite, with many many many iterations, is “A Christmas Carol,” the Dickensian melodrama that has a lifelong jerk undertake a redemption journey. This one is full of ghosts, and poverty, and class warfare, oppression, illness and death.

Here are a few others: “White Christmas” deals with saving a beloved man’s livelihood from economic disaster; “Bells of St. Mary’s” deals with the struggle to save a church and Catholic school; “The Bishop’s Wife” deals with obsession and marital strife; and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is pretty rough even in its title. “Elf” has child abandonment, “Miracle on 34th Street” has a child with problems dealing with a single parent, and “Home Alone” is like “Die Hard” for children.

There’s even quite a bit of Christmas swag that is out now for “Die Hard,” including an Advent calendar that has Hans Gruber taking his fateful fall.

All of these movies have roughly the same structure, all of them end well, and Christmas is the seasonal feel-good champion. That structure includes the holiday being the reason for events, not events being cobbled onto the season, like “Cobra.”

Another movie that needs the consideration of common sense, or at least some discussion, is “Lethal Weapon.” I agree the connection is a little more tenuous here than with “Die Hard,” but it still has its roots in the holiday, has holiday-connected events that go sour, and end with redemption, reconciliation and warm fuzzies.

In structure, emotion and end game, I find that “Die Hard” indeed is a Christmas movie. May it forever

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard and 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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Meetings with superintendents

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My Five Cents1. Nichols completes meetings with district superintendents

I spent the past several weeks travelling around the district meeting with school district leaders to discuss issues relating to education ahead of the next legislative session. My biennial superintendent tour takes me to most counties in the district to meet with most of the almost 100 superintendents in Senate District 3. Superintendents were encouraged to attend the meetings and bring whomever they wished to join the discussion. While each district is unique, there were common issues across districts that were discussed in most of the meetings. Some of those issues include school funding, school safety measures, issues with truancy and discipline, teacher shortages, and mental health supports for students. Superintendents also mentioned their concern over the growing push for a school voucher system. Education is the most important issue that the Legislature works on, and it’s imperative to get input from our school leaders on the education agenda. I would like to thank all of the superintendents and other staff who attended and participated in these meetings. You all do incredible work every day and we appreciate you!

2. Stephen F. Austin State University receives responses from four university systems on affiliation

This month, the SFA Board of Regents published responses from four university systems interested in potential affiliation between SFA and one of the systems. Texas A&M University System, Texas State University System, Texas Tech University System, and The University of Texas System all have made contact with the Board of Regents expressing a desire to have SFA join their systems. As part of the ongoing discussions, each of the four systems submitted responses to a list of questions developed by representative campus groups. These groups then evaluated each system’s response and submitted a report reflecting their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each system. The Board of Regents Subcommittee tasked with evaluating affiliation is also reviewing the responses. The Board of Regents will hear presentations of these reports at a board meeting at the end of the month and anticipate making a decision about affiliation before the end of the fall semester. If you would like to read the responses from each system, they are available at https://www.sfasu.edu/about-sfa/board-of-regents/university-system.

3. Three East Texas schools receive school safety grant

Diboll ISD, Westwood ISD, and White Oak ISD have all received a total of over $920,000 to improve school safety measures. The funding stems from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this year. The law allocated $100 million to the Department of Justice grant program for school districts to invest in security programs and technology. The aid in the bill goes toward investments in children and family mental health services, protections for victims of domestic violence, funding for school-based mental health and supportive services, and telehealth investments meant to increase access to mental and behavioral health services. The bill also allocated an additional $200 million to help schools with training for students and faculty and other violence-prevention efforts.

4. T.L.L. Temple Foundation awards $2 million grant to Texas Association of Community Colleges

The Texas Association of Community Colleges’ Texas Success Center is the beneficiary of The T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s $200 million grant to help align education to workforce needs in East Texas. The grant will be distributed over five years and will enable TACC to strengthen, scale, and expand guided pathways into a regional talent pipeline for postsecondary degrees and credentials in high demand, high wage career fields. This grant funding will increase alignment between industry needs and educational opportunities, as well as access to educational opportunities for rural East Texans.

5. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announces new executive director

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently named David Yoskowitz as the new Executive Director. He previously served as the senior executive director and Endowed Chair for Socioeconomics at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Yoskowitz spent much of his career as a leader at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but his research also took him to other places in North and Central America, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, and Mexico. He earned a Ph.D. in Economics and an M.A. in Economics from Texas Tech University and a B.S. in Economics and Finance from Bentley College.

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Committee focused on human services

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Trent Ashbyby Trent Ashby

With Thanksgiving Holiday coming to a close, we’re reminded of the importance of gratitude. Gathering around the table with friends and family serves as a perfect opportunity for us to recenter our lives in the present and acknowledge the countless blessings God has given us. With December fast approaching, I hope we all strive to carry over the gratitude and love we shared over Thanksgiving as we enter the Christmas season.

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

House Interim Charge: Human Services

The House Committee on Human Services is comprised of nine members and has jurisdiction over some of the most critical issues facing our growing population, such as access to healthcare in underserved areas, promoting safe and healthy families, reforming state programs that deal with mental and intellectual disabilities, and protecting children and vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Additionally, the Committee has legislative oversight of the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council.

Throughout the interim, the Committee on Human Services will oversee the implementation of

legislative efforts to support the Healthy Texas initiative. Last legislative session, the Texas House passed several healthcare-related bills designed to lower healthcare costs, expand access to care, and improve the overall health and well-being of Texans. The Committee will also monitor HB 3041, which established the Family Preservation Services Pilot Program as an alternative for children at imminent risk of entering foster care.

Another area of focus for the Committee will be to evaluate the condition of our foster care system.

More specifically, members have been charged with examining the placement process of foster children, increasing the recruitment of foster families, identifying methods to strengthen and support Child Protective Services, and prioritizing family preservation. The Committee will also study the relationship between our foster care system and the juvenile justice system and make recommendations to the Department of Family and Protective Services on how to mitigate the frequency of children entering the criminal justice system from foster care.

The Committee will also examine our system of long-term care, which includes a variety of services that assist our fellow Texans living with a disability or chronic illness. Members have been asked to study workforce challenges, patient safety at senior living facilities, and the overall quality of our long-term care system.

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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MAGA (where the ‘g’ stands for ‘grateful’)

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Chris MetitationsBy Chris Edwards
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A few years ago I caught sight of something in the parking lot of the local retail temple known as Walmart that stuck with me.

It was a slogan, rendered in red, white and blue lettering, on a white background. “Make America Grateful Again” is what it said.

The phrase was an obvious callback to the campaign slogan/mantra of the cat who was in the White House at the time, and the font used, as well as the presence of the lightning skull logo, let me know that it was a bit of merchandise from that most jammin’ and unique of American roots/psychedelia/rock bands the Grateful Dead. I’m a fan of the Dead; I mean who couldn’t love Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, right? This sticker, though, transcended my fairweather-Deadhead self.

Later on, in a show of serendipity, I ran into the owner of said bumper sticker (I knew this, or assumed it, because he had a shirt stating the same statement, rendered in the same font with the same skull motif) and made his acquaintance. Even had that chance meeting not occurred, the bumper sticker would still have left an impact.

I love stickers, and to me, they are right up there with newspaper advertising as an effective, and occasionally thought-provoking, medium by which to convey a message.

I come from a DIY background of promoting music gigs and found that getting stickers printed up for shows was always an essential part of a band or artist’s promotional toolbox. I can’t count the number of bands/artists and venues I’ve gotten curious about (and later checked out) because I saw a logo or name printed upon a sticker.

Last Thursday was the officially sanctioned, solitary day that all good taxpaying Americans are required to sit down, break bread and wax faux-emotively about what all they’re thankful for, golly gee, but here’s the problem with that: limiting the celebration of gratitude to one holiday that, let’s face it, is just a mandate by the cranberry and turkey lobbies, is disingenuous at best.

Yet here we are. So many of us seem to only mouth words of gratitude at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, only to return to wallowing in woe-is-me pronouncements as soon as the last piece of pumpkin pie is gobbled down.

Several years ago, a leading scientist, Robert Emmons, wrote that being grateful is good for our bodies as well as our minds. Emmons has studied the effects of gratitude on the physical health of humans for more than a decade and posited that a host of benefits were possible with those who practice gratitude, such as stronger immune systems, fewer aches and pains and lower blood pressure.

In the mental health column, Emmons reported findings of higher levels of positivity, optimism and happiness.

Celebrate the present, for it’s all we know that we have for sure and hail the good around you.

Let’s be grateful for one another and this time that we are afforded. Make America Grateful Again, indeed.

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We’ve come a long way in the wrong direction

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I occasionally tell a joke that my wife thinks that what’s hers is hers and what’s mine is hers, mostly to tease her that I believe that whatever we have we share together. That joke can be made to fit broader subjects, but one it most definitely doesn’t cover is government, and that is at any level. Instead, our representatives feel that the money in the coffers is for their own better-informed uses. Our leaders seem to have forgotten several things, but most importantly that it’s not their money, because government produces nothing. Take, for instance, the federal folks. Their profligate spending on everything from bizarre research about drunk fish to bridges to nowhere and wars in Eastern Europe is the stuff of legend. The salaries for the bureaucracy, including the legislators themselves, are out of control. Even when a federal judge denies an executive order allowing the forgiveness of student loans, our president has decided to extend a moratorium on payments. This government decided to dole out funds without any legal mandate, then has decided to change the rules in midstream, and all with money that doesn’t belong to them. Even at the state level, when lawsuits have to be filed against the feds, all use tax money that doesn’t belong to them.  This exists at the local level, as counties, in receipt of tax funds in the form of ARPA (America Rescue Plan Act) funds and Texas Capital Credits. Eligible organizations come to County Commissioners Court with request, and the county decides. Unless it doesn’t. An organization was denied ARPA fund because one court decided that the money was better used by the county itself. This organization had applied for funds in June, but the court, after months of delay, decided only to ignore the request and state it had already decided what to do with the funds.

Another organization, looking for funds to help serve underprivileged children with bicycles and food was outright denied funds, while other organizations, one of which did not even request funds, were granted the use of money.  The court initially wanted to deny all requests, saying there were so many that all requests should be presented and then the county would decide which ones to fund — as if it were their money. This stance only came after the first two were doled out, with the explanation that if one entity should get it, so should the other. In each case, the organizations fit the requirements attached to the funds, but the county leaders felt differently, wanting the money to fund other things after the matter was studied and debated and a new definition of fair could be cobbled together. This is similar to one of the impetuses of the American Revolution; taxation without representation. While the commissioners are elected to make such decisions, those decisions seem to benefit the county, not the residents. That’s the kind of thinking that led to the Stamp Act. Seems the monarchy in the 18th century was levying taxes willy-nilly, with the excuse of helping to defray the expenses of whatever (housing military and “protection”), and that the colonists should just shut it and pay. Because, of course, they knew better. Especially in these times, taxpayers know better what they need, and what they expect from government, and that should be the deciding factor, not some arbitrary definition of fairness that excludes people.

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