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Staff Editorials

Tackling federal spending like jumping on Godzilla

With a new administration in Washington charging hard on all manner of issues, there is, once again, a vocal commitment by lawmakers for slashing  budgets and eliminating debt.

This is often a rallying cry of those who want to drain the swamp with the idea that MOST federal spending is funding weird programs no one wants and  anyone with common sense and basic math skills could roll up their sleeves and get us back into the black.

Unfortunately, the characterization is not the real world. It needs to be done, but don’t expect the cuts to come easily. The simple fact is you can’t cut spending without getting rid of  things some people want. We’re not going to put this house back in order by cutting a few arts grants, foreign aid and eliminating EPA staff.

Speaking from a pure dollars and cents perspective, wrestling a budget of $3,854,000,000,000 under control would be like jumping on Godzilla’s back (just look at the number of zeroes).

By far, the majority of federal spending goes to three areas: Social Security, Medicare and the military. In 2015, federal spending was $3.8 trillion; of this,

Social Security required $888 billion (24 percent of the total spending); Health took another $938 billion (25 percent of the total spending) with $546 billion of that going to Medicare, which provides health coverage to around 55 million Americans over the age of 65. The other health spending funded three programs -  Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and $28 billion in marketplace subsidies for the Affordable Care Act.

Defense had a budget of $609.3 billion (16 percent of the total spending). [These figures are from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and closely resemble, but are not exactly the same, as those presented on PolitiFact. Online research of federal spending is fraught with inconsistent figures due to the manner items are categorized and with different accounting for discretionary versus mandatory spending.]

Interest paid on the federal debt was 6 percent of the total spending at $229.2 billion in 2015. Often you hear budget hawks cry that our servicing of the debt is destroying the country and, while 6 percent would be nice to spend elsewhere, it’s not exactly snuffing the life out of the country. The fact that the national debt continues to grow is the real concern. 

In 2015 two areas of allocated federal spending totaled four percent each: Veterans Benefits and Food and Agriculture. No other category in the federal budget was more than three percent of the total spending that year.

It’s important to realize how the budget breaks down: Social Security, Medicare and the military (areas that most people don’t want to see cut) amount to about two-thirds of all federal spending.

If those three areas are politically off the table, we are then asking congressional lawmakers to look at one-third of the budget to make the cuts we seek, a much more daunting challenge. But these smaller programs still spend billions every year – even microscopic cuts add up tremendously.

When it comes to balancing the federal budget, it’s going to take more than chopping away at areas that aren’t popular. The EPA has a budget that totals about one percent of total spending; foreign aid which comes under the State Department and International Affairs’ two percent and food stamps fall under Food and Agriculture grouped with a lot of other items, still only totaling four percent.

Confusingly, there are widely varying amounts cited for “welfare” expenditures. This discrepancy depends on what programs are grouped under “welfare.” Some figures will include Medicaid spending on non-elderly. Also included occasionally are items like Headstart funding and Title 1 grants, which do benefit poor families, but are hardly the cash handouts people think of when they hear welfare.

We certainly encourage budget cutting at the federal  level. No one is going to defend waste or squandered tax dollars. But we also encourage people to look at the details and be realistic that the challenge is nowhere as simple as it’s often portrayed.

 

Stand up against domestic violence

While the Pickens Sheriff’s office and Jasper Police have been on our front page recently for cracking burglary cases and getting potential pedophiles off the street - and generally doing an excellent job of keeping us safe - the issue  they deal with constantly is something that affects so many of our friends and neighbors on a daily basis.

Hands down, domestic abuse is the number one problem that local law enforcement deals with day in and day out, according to sheriff officials. One in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

Domestic violence, relationship abuse, sexual harassment and the whole range of issues we label as gender violence have long been seen as women’s issues. But in reality, these are men’s issues. For too long domestic abuse has been seen as women’s issues that some good men help out with. But we don’t accept that. These are men’s issues first and foremost.

Many who work in the domestic and sexual violence field know that victim-blaming is pervasive, blaming the person to whom something was done rather than the person who did it. Too often, a woman is hurt by her partner and we say things like: Why do they go out with these men? Why are they attracted to them? Why do they keep going back? 

In his Ted talk about domestic violence, Jackson Katz, co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, said the whole idea of victim blaming is based in our unconscious. “Our whole cognitive structure is set up to ask questions about women and women’s choices and what they’re doing, thinking, wearing.”

But, he points out, asking questions about women who are abused is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence.”

Katz says we need to ask a different set of questions - questions about men. • Why do men beat women? 

• Why does domestic abuse remain a big problem in the U.S. and all over the world? 

• Why do so many men physically, emotionally and verbally abuse the people they claim to love? 

• What’s going on in our religious hierarchies, the sports culture, the family structure, and economics that contribute to this type of man? Katz suggests it isn’t about individual perpetrators but our society as a whole.  

Once we move away from victim-blaming and shaming and move on to the question of how we can change the socialization of boys and the definitions of manhood that lead to violence is when we can start to truly affect change. 

According to the NCADV, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner. 

In 2013 in Georgia, 29,779 victims were served by Georgia domestic violence services and Georgia ranks 9th in the nation for the rate at which women are killed by men.

Stopping this problem needs to come from non-abusive men. At the very core of society is our interpersonal relationships and when men who know better  remain silent in the face of abusive comments at their game nights or wing nights they are being complicit in saying it’s ok. It is not ok.

When you’re hanging out with your buddies and someone says something degrading about women, interrupt and let them know it’s not funny and won’t be supported. Create a peer culture where it’s unacceptable. We should strive for a society where men and boys who act out in sexist ways will lose status as a result of their behavior.  

Katz reminds us of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: “In the end what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” 

We need men who will not be silent.

 

Trump presidency results will speak for themselves

We would like to respectfully ask all people using  bombastic arguments, making junk up, and generally being disrespectful to people who think differently on social media and in person to please give it a rest -- at least for a little while.

Let’s just chill out and watch what happens with our new president. Enjoy some post-season football. Yes, you do have freedom of speech to protest or gloat, to celebrate or bemoan, and we fully support that. However, this constant back and forth is not conducive for a democracy especially when  the effects of Donald Trump’s policies aren’t known by anyone at this point because they haven’t happened.

Mr. Trump was elected and with that he gets a chance to institute his platform. Policy changes are certainly fair game for criticism, but continual rants on the election, either condemning or supporting, are a waste of time at this point.

As a country, we are being torn apart over trivial matters like whether or not Obama or Trump drew more people to their inauguration, as though it’s a middle school birthday party. The size of the inauguration has no bearing on the shape of the country.

Where all the vitriol is the most out-of-hand is  social media – safe on your phone/computer it’s truth and facts be damned, say what you want and as nastily as possible. You can easily scroll your friends’ posts and find someone who is deeply insulted and others who are highly insulting and it’s beginning to show that these posts are having real-world consequences, ending friendships and working relationships.

Diehard SEC football fans know there is a limit to what you can say to fans in other colors leaving a game. Heck, you gotta play them again next year. Whether you win or lose or had a few too many at the tailgate, there is a threshold that sportsmanship dictates. 

Surely we can reach that level with our comments on the election. Or maybe not. Perhaps that is why numerous warnings say to avoid discussion of politics and religion, never sports and television.

Regardless, the Trump presidency hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet,  and whether you view this as the first step to making America great again or a diabolical plot, give it some time. You may be surprised.

Yes, those who wanted an outsider in the White House were victorious. And yes, many people from numerous groups are very upset. End of story. No further arguing will change this stalemate of opinion. Nobody is going to convince anyone they voted the wrong way – except, appropriately enough, Donald Trump himself.

For people on both sides, let’s give Mr. Trump and his administration time to do what he was elected to do -- shake things up and bring about changes. Ultimately, it will not be a secret if he does a good job or not, and it won’t depend on your Facebook post for everyone to know if America is great again or not.

If, at the end of his term, we are satisfied with our healthcare, seen new jobs open up, feel safer abroad and at home, then let loose with some “I told you so’s” and a few “Well, I was wrong’s.” If on the other hand, we are no better off, then we can vote for someone else. That is why we have elections every four years.

Actor Tom Hanks expressed this wait and see approach very well last week, “I hope the president-elect does such a great job that I vote for his re-election in four years.”

We do too.

It’s in the paper

 

By Dan Pool

Editor

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I was recently talking with a friend who runs a local organization. He had missed a good business opportunity and was pretty disappointed he “didn’t hear about it.”

He would have gone, should have gone and knew he’d let a unique chance to benefit him financially slip by.

We had run a decent sized advertisement for the event the week it occurred, but only one week. There was little advance notice it was coming. A lot of people did attend; clearly the ad drew a respectable crowd.

My friend said, he “didn’t hear about it” and that is one of the main reasons I encourage everyone to read our newspaper. Allow us this one week to pitch our product, we assure you this editorial spot won’t become a forum for self-promotion.

With newspapers getting a bad rap nationally in the current political environment and more people saying they just look online for news, we want to point out there is information presented in our pages each week that you won’t find anywhere else and that will benefit you as a resident of Pickens County. Certainly there is nowhere else you will find it all grouped together and available for the price of a soft drink.

Even for people thoroughly unconcerned about news; perhaps they have recently moved here, don’t know anyone and don’t want to get involved, we still guarantee there is something you can use in our pages.

Aside from the stories our reporters dig up to give you added insight each week on taxes, government, crimes and generally interesting neighbors who call Pickens home, we provide a clearinghouse of local events, offers and opportunities.

For example, in the last edition alone and not counting the front page or breaking news, we had stories and ads letting people know:

• When Congressman Tom Graves will have staff in Pickens to help constituents;

• When Wayside Animal Clinic offers pet dental cleanings and special deals on spays and neuters;

• When the local theater is presenting a Shakespeare play;

• The days and times the local AARP offers free tax preparation help;

• When the library is hosting a technology help session;

• That Angel Babies is offering a buy-one-get-one-free for children’s winter coats; 

• Numerous groups each week list support meetings for everything from losing weight to alcoholism. Many other non-profit groups ask for volunteers each week;

• Public notices each week let you know about property up for rezoning and other government action. You can also find in our legal notices about businesses openings and, unfortunately, properties in foreclosure.

• You can find an estate auction ad featuring heavy equipment and shop equipment.

• You can find out about a square dancing group that meets regularly.

• On our sports page you would see information about a baseball program forming that your kids or grandkids may be interested in.

• If you are needy, our pages last week would let you know that Talking Rock Baptist Church offers free food.

• Another church is offering a Valentine Sweet Treat with a guest speaker and childcare.

• Our want ads in the back show that someone is selling a tractor and someone is offering a unique sewing machine, plus someone lost a blind cat and there are a slew of jobs open here.

These bits of information above are the bread and butter of all community newspapers – letting you know what is going on. And if none of those appealed to you, there was a lot more and they change  every week.

Even if it’s not the big story, if it’s about your street or your neighbor, you’ll want to see it and with more than 110 years in operation, you can trust the Progress. No fake news here, keeping it real for more than a century.

I would like to ask you to point out to any non-Progress reading friends that they will miss out if they wait to “hear about something.” The knowledge you can only find in our pages is well worth the 75 cents we charge every week.

 

Too much too soon: Teens, sex and cyber bullying

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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     While I was home sick one day last week I got around to watching a documentary I’ve had in my queue since it was released in September - “Audrie & Daisy,” a Netflix original about teen sex abuse, social media and cyber bullying. As the opening credits rolled I realized this wasn’t the best film to perk up my spirits, but I kept watching anyway.
    The documentary follows the two stories of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, teen girls from different parts of the country who were sexually assaulted and harassed online and in person by classmates. Explicit photos of the girls taken while they were drunk to the point of unconsciousness circulated in their respective schools. Nasty comments were posted on social media, especially for Daisy after charges were filed against her assaulters. This public shaming - which is done just as much by girls as boys – led Audrie, 15, to take her life and sent Daisy, 14 at the time, into a spiral of depressive, self-destructive behavior. She tried to kill herself several times.
    The sheriff of Daisy’s small town in Missouri made the situation worse; he defended the guys who abused her –– older teens, one of which was a star football player and the grandson of a former state representative. Like a lot of victim-shamers he talks about women as attention seekers; how these boys, the “alleged” rapists, were trying to move on with their lives, implying Daisy wasn’t by dragging out a court case. The charges were dropped, but after public outcry that included the group Anonymous, the case was reopened and the main suspect sentenced to two years probation - a slap on the wrist.
     The film makes it all too clear that this kind of sexual abuse and bullying doesn’t only happen in college, but to kids in high school and even middle school, and can be tragically exacerbated by social media. A friend of Audrie, the girl who killed herself, talks about boys asking the most “developed” girls to text them naked pics in middle school.
    I understand that sexuality starts to blossom during teen years, which is natural, but our girls are way too sexualized way too soon. They’re almost groomed for it. After I finished “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary about the legal teen amateur porn industry popped up as a suggestion and I watched it, too. Apparently there’s an overwhelming demand; the word “teen” is the most popular word search on porn sites.
    Nancy Jo Sales points out in a Time article Social Media and the Secret Life of Teens: “Accompanying the boom in selfie culture is a rise in competitive spirit, as well as a disturbing trend of sexualization. Likes, hearts, swipes — validation is only a tap away. And one of the easiest ways to get that validation is by looking hot. Sex sells, whether you’re 13 or 35.”
    In a different article she says she spoke to girls who said, “’Social media is destroying our lives, but we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.’”
     We’ve all got friends who say things on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that they’d never say to anyone’s face, which makes those forums frightening when it comes to our hormone-driven teens. Bullies are emboldened because they can hide behind their computer; they can be anonymous; explicit images can go viral; and there can be serious legal consequences if things go wrong.
     By the end of the afternoon I was left speechless, with a punched-in-the-gut feeling thinking about my kids – an eight-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy – and the challenges ahead. I have a newfound resolve to talk to my daughter about how to respect herself, and just as important a resolve to talk to my son about how to be a respectable man. Just like Daisy’s brother had written above his workout station, “Monsters aren’t born, they’re made.” 
    Social media isn’t going away, and as “Audrie & Daisy” shows it can be a vehicle for positive change, connection and healing – but in the words of musician Tori Amos who wrote a song for the documentary, we need to teach our kids emotional intelligence along with tech skills so they can “protect themselves and not hurt each other, and to realize how they’re hurting each other.”