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Other Voices: What Texas editors are saying

By Houston Chronicle
April 20, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.


Necessary rural lifelines, Houston Chronicle

One little radio station in a small Texas town can make a big difference. And our lawmakers in Washington need to know that.

On a Saturday afternoon six years ago this month, an electrical spark flashed inside an abandoned rock shop alongside Highway 90 about a mile and a half outside Marfa. The flames that engulfed the small building might have stopped there if not for the high winds whipping through the dusty West Texas landscape. That small building blaze triggered the greatest grassland fire in our state's history, a fast-moving inferno that rampaged across West Texas and burned more than 300,000 acres during the course of 28 hellish days.

As the sky turned orange and black that weekend, as propane tanks exploded and flames cut off routes of escape, the only radio station broadcasting in Marfa aired evacuation orders and advised people which way to flee as they literally ran for their lives.

Today, if you ask the good folks who live in Big Bend country about that disaster, somebody's bound to tell you a story about listening to the dramatic coverage on Marfa Public Radio. Joe Nick Patoski, a KRTS volunteer host better known for his books about Texas music and sports, has no doubt some people in West Texas would be dead today if it weren't for what he calls "the little station that could."

"So it chaps me to no end when I hear people say that this isn't necessary," Patoski says.

About a third of the money that keeps that life-saving little radio station running on its shoestring budget comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose $445 million annual appropriation the Trump Administration wants to eliminate. That's about one-hundredth of 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget, but this idea isn't about money as much as it's about politics. Public broadcasting has long been a political piñata for conservative lawmakers, who've bashed it as a bastion of liberal bias and an inappropriate use of taxpayer money. ...

Unfortunately, a lot of smaller public stations serving remote stretches of America's back roads would probably vanish from the airwaves. A study conducted for CPB five years ago concluded 54 public television stations and 76 public radio stations would probably shut down without federal funds. Most of those stations transmit in rural areas, and some of those radio outlets serve isolated communities with no other radio or TV stations — public or commercial — where people can tune-in for local emergency news and weather broadcasts. ...

We taxpayers give CPB a piddling amount of money, a little more than a dime a month from each of us. It's well worth it, and we should all let our lawmakers know it. ... The Corporation for Public Broadcasting needs to stay in the federal budget, if only to make sure little stations like Marfa Public Radio stay on the air for emergencies in isolated towns across America.

Protecting our rights, Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Thanks, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, for stepping up to protect Americans' rights at the border — the U.S. side of it, where individual civil rights shouldn't stop.

Recently Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, signed on as a sponsor of the Protecting Data at the Border Act, a title that may sound nerdy and right up Farenthold's alley because of his computer technology background. The first part is a wrong assumption. It's not nerdy at all. The second part is correct. This bill fits Farenthold the tech geek (a label he wouldn't find offensive) like Rick Perry's suits fit.

But it's Farenthold's tea party principles that make him an ideal advocate for a bill that would prevent searches of cellphones and other digital devices without probable cause and a search warrant except in emergencies. This is when liberty seems less of a quirky tea party obsession and more like everybody's best business. This is common ground for U.S. citizens of all political persuasions. ...

A search of cellphones and other digital devices isn't like inspecting a driver's license or passport. Cellphones store vast private, personal information such as credit cards, Social Security numbers, passwords and PINs to bank accounts, photos, videos, emails and text messages. They also can be used to track where their owners have been.

Border security officials should have probable cause to invade a person's privacy like that. But they can do it on a whim. ...

At times we have criticized Farenthold for wasting time on tangential partisan issues. This issue is nonpartisan, bipartisan-supported and not at all tangential. ...

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