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Time to change a few old saws

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FromEditorsDesk TonyMy wife and I were having a conversation last weekend about budgets and the rising cost of just about everything, which is normal, but this time, my 16-year-old daughter was in the room as we were watching the same television program.

We came to the elephant in everyone’s living room, which is gas prices, which of course gets our dander up. It got my daughter’s up, too, but at us.

She went where all liberals, Democrats and denizens of the internet — America’s No. 1 source of “information” — go, which was to blame Putin for the price hikes.

I know, I covered most of this last week, but I had to dredge up that same information for my daughter, while at the same time trying to determine who or what was responsible for her ignorance.

She has a TikTok account — surprise! — and to anyone of that age group, that’s the be all, end all of anything.

Once we enlightened her on the wider scheme of things, such as energy independence, pipeline and drilling permits, shale oil deposits, etc., she became very quiet, and it is my fervent hope that was the seed that will grow into a new process of information gathering.

But right now, though, that’s going to be tough, since kids today are adamant that some drag queen shuffling to some new-age hip hop spouting political has all the right stuff. That’s never going to happen, though, since our vaunted leaders have been tapping into that market for quite some time.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago the White House and the Biden Administration had an invitation-only conversation with TikTok influencers (which is a thing now, apparently) to discuss this highly sensitive national policy matter.

In actuality, the Biden Band played the standard tune of “It’s Not Our Fault” and gave these people their reasons for Putin being the problem, and of course, these influencers commenced to influencing their assembled masses, who now have even less idea about the way the world works.

I find the idea of using internet personalities to sell the lie almost diabolically clever, but ultimately sad. That the administration chose to take the path of least resistance, instead of working with people with facts and figures and reasoned arguments, as well as not trying any avenue to ameliorate the situation for the Americans, but giving us a shrug, is lazy and an abdication of the responsibilities of the office.

It’s a shame, really, that the dumbing down of America continues unabated, and the outrage that is now directed at Putin and any other macguffin should be directed squarely at Washington, D.C., and the kind of people, like Biden and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer (who are telling people that the way to cure the deficit is to spend more money).

It boggles the mind that our leaders would not only claim that other countries are responsible for our travails, but then try to get oil from other countries that are just as sketchy, and then give it all to people with little skin in the game and no reason to look harder to pass on to an already uneducated masses.

It shows yet again that our leaders have little interest in what is best — or what is wanted — by the constituents of this government.

So here’s my thinking. There’s an old saying, and I’m paraphrasing here because that there are conflicting reports about its source, that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

I’m thinking it should be changed to there are lies, damned lies, statistics and TikTok.

Or say, a la Albert Einstein, “The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with joy are goodness, beauty, and the internet.”

I’ll go with Friedrich Nietzsche, who said “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

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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Are parents that stupid?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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A story ran in the March 24 issue of the Tyler County Booster about a CISD board meeting where all members voted to sign a pledge sent by State Representative Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) stating that “they will not knowingly partner with, purchase from, or associate in any way with a vendor who has supplied pornographic materials to schools, nor allow pornographic materials to remain on campus.”

Patterson specifically referenced a graphic novel titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

Superintendent Eldon Franco commented that this should be “a parental issue”, and to his knowledge, “we don’t have anything of this sort” in the school’s library. He also said, “I wouldn’t want my children reading it”.

My first question to Mr. Franco would be, have you read it? If not, how do you know if it is appropriate for your children to read? My second would be, how do you define pornography, or obscene? And my third would be, why would you sign a pledge to potentially remove books from a school library if you haven’t read them and can’t even define objectively what is pornographic or obscene?

I’m not picking on Superintendent Franco. School boards are in a tough position these days, they have become a central fixture of the current culture wars in America. School boards shouldn’t be a target of political or religious agendas.

After reading the Booster article, I downloaded the Kindle edition of the book. It didn’t take long. It is 231 pages, but is a graphic novel, so it’s a quick read. I assume all the board members did the same, before signing the pledge. Just to get an idea of the kind of content Mr. Patterson was asking them to ban.

The book, in my opinion, is appropriate for teenagers. Younger children would likely have no interest in it, if for no other reason than plowing through 231 pages of something that made no sense to them.

“But, there are graphic drawings depicting sexual acts and body parts.” Yes, there are, but they are maybe 10 percent of the book. And there is certainly nothing pornographic or indecent (whatever that means culturally) in the drawings, any more than the famous paintings and sculptures that fill museums and are viewed by public school children during field trips every year.

The thing that causes me to ask the question in the title of this column is, if a parent is so fearful of their child being exposed to pornography in the school library, why do they give their children smart phones? At least with the library, the kid would have to take the book to a librarian and check it out. With a smart phone, they are three clicks away from the most violent, disgusting pornography the parent probably can’t imagine.

“Well, I’ve got parental controls set blocking all of that,” you say. I can (but won’t) tell you how to get around that in as few as four clicks, and your kid probably already knows how to do that. You cannot shield your teenager from pornography and indecency, especially if you think Gender Queer: A Memoir is pornographic or indecent.

I was exposed to pornography at age 11. Some older teens had some little booklets that had photos of adults having sex that they were sharing with us younger kids. It was forbidden fruit, so clearly it was something we were interested in. Now, this was in 1961, and teens didn’t generally have access to porn films. But there were no age restrictions then on buying Playboy magazine or any of the other soft-porn magazines.

Turns out being exposed to porn at age 11 is pretty much the norm, even today. One in 10 kids have been exposed to it by age 10. The average age for exposure to porn is 11 years. 10 percent of 7th graders are worried they are addicted to porn.

If you are over 40 years old, and were exposed to porn as a teen, but not as an adult, the pornography today is not what you remember. It’s not just sex. It is violent, degrading, dangerous sex. Kids who watch this stuff grow up with a distorted view of what real-life relationships are about. This is the pornography you should be concerned about. And odds are, your kids are being exposed to it.

The truth is that politicians sending school boards these kinds of pledges really don’t care about pornography, or indecency. They don’t care about Gay or Trans or LGBTQ. They care about ginning up wedge issues and fanning the flames of culture wars to get re-elected. It’s slight of hand, redirection. Don’t be stupid and fall for it. 

It doesn’t end with taking away the rights of these groups. They are also targeting women’s rights, reproductive rights, and rights of people of color. Lately some politicians have been arguing that people have no right to use birth control.

I don’t care if you want or don’t want your kids to read a book about sexuality. It’s your kid. Just understand that they are going to learn about all of this, despite your best efforts, and are likely to be far more accepting of it as adults than you are. Which is as it should be. The way other people live does not diminish me in any way. Leave people alone. Focus on the important stuff.

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Let’s talk transparency

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Sydney MurphySydney MurphyBy Sydney Murphy
Polk County Judge

The Polk County Commissioners Court strives to be transparent in all business decisions we make. Commissioners Court meets in open meetings every second and fourth Tuesday (unless rescheduled due to conflicts with holidays or Association Conferences). Commissioners Court agendas are typically posted at least four days in advance of a meeting and are purposefully explicit so that the public knows specifically which items will be discussed. Our agendas are posted to the county website and Facebook pages and the public is welcome to attend and may address the Court during the public comment portion of the meeting. At this time, any member of the public can speak to the Court for up to 3 minutes about any item of county business, whether it is on the agenda or not. The Court can listen, but cannot respond unless the item addressed is included on the agenda.

Since July 2018, because we know that the majority of the population cannot regularly attend our meetings, all Commissioners Court meetings have been streamed live on our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7RSenHb7QBTPuqSuMzU5ZA. A link to each video is shared on the County’s website and Facebook page following the meeting and we encourage the public to follow these pages to stay abreast of county business. Every elected official is responsible for sharing pertinent information from their offices. However, we strongly encourage them and support their efforts to make documents and services more widely available online.

I encourage everyone to visit our website at www.co.polk.tx.us and browse all of the information available, as there is a trove of valuable tools and resources available from various county and district offices. Last year, we asked elected officials and department heads to provide information about their office, including their roles and responsibilities, and so far have posted several “Spotlight on Polk County” articles, which help to educate the public about the services each office provides.

A click on the county budget link, www.co.polk.tx.us/page/polk.budgets, will take you to all county budgets adopted since August 2006. The Government Finance Officers Association has presented a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award to Polk County each year since our first submission to the award program of our annual budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 1999. In order to receive this award, a governmental unit must publish a document that meets program criteria as a policy document, as an operations guide, as a financial plan and as a communications device.

Polk County also annually receives the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for our Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports. This award program was established to encourage and assist state and local governments to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that evidence the spirit of transparency and full disclosure and then to recognize individual governments that succeed in achieving that goal.

Texas County Progress magazine featured the Polk County budget and budget process in 2016 and again in 2021 as a document that stands out for our communication of the budget and what it actually means (out of 254 Texas counties). Find the 2021 article at https://countyprogress.com/vital-communication-tool/. The members of Commissioners Court are extremely aware of their fiduciary responsibilities to Polk County taxpayers and make every effort to provide clear and understandable information.

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Jim Powers eats raw infants

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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According to the latest polling from the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, millions of Americans believe that our country’s government, financial and media sectors are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global child sex trafficking operation. 

Many of them also believe that these Satan-worshipping pedophiles running everything in the U.S. traffic children to torture them and then drink their blood for the Adrenochrome.

This is total nonsense, of course. 

Adrenochrome is an easily available compound made from oxidated adrenaline. It’s been studied since the 1950’s but seems to have slipped into the popular consciousness when Hunter S. Thompson was offered it in the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” from his book of the same name.  “That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer,” the lawyer said. “You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.” If ingested, it often results in schizophrenia, and is very dangerous.

Why do I know this trivia about the Adrenochrome conspiracy theory, which is a variation on the Blood libel antisemitic canard? Because it was used as an effort to libel me in the late 1990’s.

When America Online (AOL) first began in the mid 1990’s, it was a self-contained community with “rooms” for all kinds of things and organizations. I was a moderator on the American Civil Liberties Union “Free Speech” area. (Full disclosure, I have been a member of the ACLU for decades) It contained anything goes, no holds barred, chat rooms. Moderators were there to remove spammers and trolls, not to monitor speech.

One day a chatter decided she did not like something I posted in a religion chatroom and started posting a series (ultimately hundreds) of bazaar accusations about me, all titled “Jim Powers eats raw infants.” Which I found extremely amusing since I’m vegan and never cared much for raw infants even when I ate meat. So, I didn’t think much about it. Until she decided to take her nonsense into the real world.

She located me IRL, got a list of my clients from my website, and began to send them letters with this same kind of nonsense as the Adrenochrome conspiracy stuff. A lot of letters (pencil and paper letters). Now, the clients listed on my website I had mostly worked with for years, so they thought it amusing, but her intent was clearly to destroy my business. Subsequently, I tracked her down to a trailer in rural North Carolina, a single mother of three who clearly had a screw loose, so suing her for libel would have gotten me nowhere, and I let it go.

The current Adrenochrome conspiracy is a libel that has real world impact. And that is the point, I guess. To believe this nonsense, and spread it around, is immoral. It is also dangerous. Convincing people that there are Satanists around every corner, kidnapping children, torturing them and drinking their blood creates an IRL danger to you and me. Who wouldn’t feel justified in killing someone they are convinced is part of an evil plot to harvest children for their blood? Spreading this kind of nonsense around is going to get someone killed.

‘There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.’ “1984”, George Orwell

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At the root of democracy: Free flow of information

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By Kelley Shannon
Executive Director,
Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

As Ukrainians fight and die for democracy, Russia is arresting its own citizens who are protesting the war and threatening prison for journalists who report the truth.

The attempt to crush a democratic government and stop the flow of information comes as American news organizations and transparency advocates observe Sunshine Week from March 13-19, a time for highlighting government openness and a free press.

Certainly, let’s commemorate the freedom of information we enjoy – and constantly strive to improve – in the United States. But it’s imperative to contrast it with what’s happening around the world and understand how devastating it is when a government allows only its own tightly controlled version of events to trickle out.

Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin’s government changed its domestic media laws to make it a crime to distribute what it deemed to be “false news” about the war. Doing so could mean up to 15 years behind bars. Many news organizations pulled journalists out of the country or shut their operations; the government also cut off access to major social media sites, the Neiman Journalism Lab reported in its thorough rundown on the severe restrictions.

The censorship amounts to an “information dark age,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which called on journalists everywhere to stand in opposition.

Thwarting free speech isn’t only happening in Russia. We simply need to think back to the Olympics a few weeks ago to remember the spotlight on China’s crackdowns on dissent and free expression and its control of internet content. And, of course, there are other examples.

It’s astounding – and a lesson for us all.

Blocking information is a favorite weapon of authoritarian regimes. Information is essential for democracy to flourish. The ability to examine public records and tune in to independent news sources enables us to speak out and hold our leaders accountable.

In our state, we are fortunate that the Texas Public Information Act, originally known as the Open Records Act, was established in the early 1970s to ensure citizens have the right to watch over government. It gives us the ability to obtain public documents and largely forces state and local officials who want to withhold information to argue to the attorney general’s office – an umpire, of sorts – as to why information should be kept secret. The law presumes all records are open unless a specific exemption in law states otherwise.

In short, the Texas law is intended to give an advantage to the individual information requestor, not the government, unlike some states’ information laws.

Public officials are only the custodians of our public records. They do not get to tell us what information we have a right to view. Texans want to see basic police reports, documents relating to a local school district’s property purchase and a state university’s athletics consulting contract. That’s just a small sampling of how our state’s Public Information Act is used.

The law is not perfect. There has been incremental weakening of it over the years, but open government supporters work every legislative session with lawmakers of both political parties to strengthen the act. We should fight with all our might to protect it.

In the end, in a democracy, the people get to judge their leaders and decide whether they will remain in office or get voted out. The free flow of information is the people’s path to questioning authority. That, ultimately, is real power.

Kelley Shannon is executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, based in Austin. For more information go to www.foift.org.

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