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Staff Editorials

News at the speed of light

By Dan Pool, editor
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    The internet caused the first big change in the way papers like the Progress address news coverage. For breaking news, you will find it on our website, which means we operate more like a daily paper in some situations.
    The second big change, still underway, is a  growing portion of the population who get instant updates on their cell phones. To borrow a phrase from columnist Thomas Friedman, it was when we went from “connected to hyperconnected.” As I told a journalism class at Reinhardt College last year, this means our deadline is always five minutes from now.
    Saturday we had a picture of the old Bargain Barn fire on our Facebook page before the first drop of water was sprayed. We took great care to make sure the caption left no room for doubt that it was the old as opposed to the current operation of one of our county’s largest retailers. We try to think about things like that to avoid a potential widespread miscommunication. In some cases we’ll be a little vague, “trailer fire in the Refuge /South Woods area,” but so far we haven’t been wrong. If we report through any of our print, online, social media that something is happening, you can be confident the gist of it is right.   


The Odyssey for flu shots And what it says about healthcare

By Dan Pool, editor
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    Before the New Year’s holiday, I heard of several people with the flu. My immediate thought was “oh &*$%, we haven’t gotten our flu shots.”
    Normally my family gets flu shots as a regular part of winter – the number of press releases we run from the health districts prompts me to insist on the whole family getting shots.
    Our Progress insurance, through Aetna, has a program where we can get free flu shots at CVS. My wife got her shot for free and was on her way in a matter of minutes last week.
    I showed up an hour later, seeing the same very nice pharmacy assistant but my insurance card wouldn’t go through for the free shot. To the local store’s credit, they were much more patient than I would have been with the people they were on the phone with trying to find out why I wasn’t being allowed the free shot. The local pharmacist said the excuses from whoever was on the other end of the phone included my personal information was not correct in one instance and that I wasn’t even on the plan at all in another.
    I went ahead and paid for the shot, around $18. Considering health-karma, I figured if I walked out, I’d have full-blown H1N1 by the time I got home – (and I know it takes two weeks for the shot to build up your immunity). But, you don’t anger the health gods when it comes to flu shots.
    Of my kids, one daughter went to another pharmacy who would give the shots to 13-year-olds without prescriptions, (but not 12-year-olds) -- as long as we paid for it. We got a prescription sent over to CVS and the 12-year-old got her shot there, also for free.
    While this is one isolated case involving one family, it shows well the dysfunction in the healthcare/insurance industry. Critics often talk about the complexities and peculiarities of medical treatment in this country as a chief flaw. If fast food restaurants can ensure identical dining experiences at thousands of locations, why is healthcare drastically different when comes to what’s provided for what price?
    Except for payroll and newsprint, insurance is our biggest expense at the Progress. We spend a fortune on it and the price keeps rising. To handle the rising costs, every year the Progress drops down to a little worse insurance package. Obamacare doesn’t really figure into this either good or bad at this point. Maybe the price rose a little more than normal in the latest proposals, but really we see the same rising dollar amounts every year. On the good side, when the private insurance finally gets more than we can afford, the “marketplace” will provide a safety net for us.
    If there was an advertiser who spent as much with this newspaper as we spend for insurance and I found out they had an issue over a $20 want ad, I would drive to their house to straighten things out. But with healthcare, consumers are always over the barrel. There is no negotiating power because it’s something you have to have and few options for small companies.
    On a larger scale, the inefficiency with giving something preventative, like flu shots, is intolerable. Everyone benefits when flu shots are given, both financially and for health reasons.
    Consider that only around 40 percent of the U.S. population gets a flu vaccine. The vaccines are only good for one year. Whatever is not used is discarded.
    The private companies re-formulate their vaccines to match the current strains of virus each year working through the CDC. There is a lot of research that goes down the drain every year with unused flu shots.
    Influenza is the most troublesome, vaccine-preventable disease in America. On an average year, 200,000 people will be hospitalized due to flu related issues; 36,000 will die. Numerous studies have shown that while not guaranteed to keep you well, the yearly influenza vaccination is very effective at reducing the likelihood of you getting the flu.
    The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimated that direct costs of treating influenza run $1 to $3 billion each year. And the indirect costs of missed work and disruptions to business range somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion per year based on several online articles.
    The country as a whole and the insurance companies would be better off if they just gave flu shots to everyone who wanted them –sure the vaccine producers would have to be paid, but obviously there is more money going down the drain every time a shot is not given.
    Higher number of doses administered would greatly lower the per-dose costs; the country would save substantially on medical costs by lowering the number of flu cases and businesses would operate better with fewer absences – not to mention the great benefit to those suffering from the flu.
    But this is not likely to happen. And that is just one example of how our healthcare system needs an overhaul.   

Charles Schultz's sad little Christmas tree


     In the days before DVDs and Netflix, some of us can remember anxiously waiting on Saturday evenings leading up to the holidays for the Charlie Brown TV specials at Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  After the premiere of A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, our understanding of Christmas may forever be intertwined with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy. 


Things we’d like to see in 2014


    •At least one business to open  in the outparcel section near Walmart. It’s been flat and barren long enough. A few days ago one of our employees thought they saw Sam Elliott riding bareback out there as two lonely tumbleweeds drifted across his path.

    •More support of local art and a more cohesive art scene. Right now Pickens’ art community is like an archipelago – a string of islands clustered together but not strongly intertwined with each other or with the community. We’d like to see stronger working relationships among art galleries, art non-profits and individual artists, and more support of local visual and performance arts by the public to keep these groups strong and viable.

    •A satirical take on Pickens County similar to The Colbert Report, The Onion or The Daily Show. Sample headline, “Pickens woman says ‘Well, bless your heart,’ a record-breaking 50 times in one day.”

    •A few unique shops on Main Street. With two new restaurants opening in downtown Jasper in early 2014, we’d like to see a couple of quirky, independent shops open up too. The restaurants will bring more foot traffic to support businesses in downtown.

    • Take off at the airport tech park. For at least a decade, there has been a belief that if we built it, businesses would come seeking sites near a runway. While there has been some success with the individual hangars, as far as we know, nothing has located here because of our airport.
    • Completion and heavy use of the city’s Hood Road park walking trails. We applaud the idea of connecting various points around Jasper to a large wooded parcel owned by the city with trails suitable for foot traffic or golf carts. It looks like the wooded trails are nearly complete. Now all we need is a public excited to get out and enjoy them.

    • Spaying and neutering. And lots of it. There are way too many dogs and cats and puppies and kittens at our animal shelter. So many that go in never come out and there’s only one real solution to this devastating problem – spaying and neutering. Between 3 and 4 million adoptable animals are euthanized in animal shelters each year and these high numbers are the result of unplanned litters that could have been prevented.

    • Another movie shoot. It doesn’t have to be Clint Eastwood; heck, the movie he made here wasn’t any Fistful of Dollars by a long stretch. But the movie production right in town livened things up for a few days.

• The 13 in 2013 was all too apropos for our Georgia sports teams – Dawgs, Tech, Falcons, Braves and Hawks ranged from miserable to unlucky. None produced anything worth celebrating. Somebody make a serious run in the post-season this year, please.

• Some normal weather. No floods, no freak winter tornadoes, no unusually heavy snowfalls or droughts or heat waves.

Raising the minimum wage small step in the right direction

    The debate over the federal minimum wage has come to the surface lately with several national news items including a strike by fast food workers across the nation, news that workers at large retailers and chain restaurants were being offered advice from their employers on making ends meet and food-drives to help the employed poor, as well as calls from President Obama and others to raise the wage.
    The proposals call for hiking the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage to somewhere between $9 and $10.10 from the politicians to as high as $15 a hour from the organizers of the nationwide one-day strike.
    Raising the minimum wage a buck or two would certainly help the lowest paid and, despite some misconceptions, not hurt job chances or raise prices significantly on store shelves.
    Data from the states that have raised their minimum wage over the federal level, plus many cities and counties, show scant evidence that higher minimum wages cause jobs to dry up. In fact Georgia, allows companies to pay employees as low as $5.15 in some situations while neighboring Florida requires a minimum of $7.79 per hour, yet the employment pictures appears about the same.
    This makes sense if you think of how businesses operate with enough employees to get the job done but few superfluous positions. American businesses rarely carry un-needed employees. When they have a need they hire; When they don’t, they cut back. Another buck or two per hour won’t affect this according to empirical evidence. found 3.6 million Americans or 2.6 percentage of all those employed make at or below the minimum wage. It’s thought that a small rise in their pay would reduce the poverty level numbers among poor families.
    So giving them a permanent hike is a sound, but not monumental, decision. One economist estimated that even if they went to full $15 per hour and fast food restaurants wanted to pass the cost along to customers it would cause the price of a $3 menu item to only go to $3.60 – not a devastating jump.
    The need to raise the wage is often tied to statistics showing how hard it is to run a household on such low pay, along with the growing economic divide between rich, who are faring well in the current economic environment, while lower-paid positions have seen flat or shrinking pay for many consecutive years.
    These arguments are where the minimum wage debate derails.
    A better approach is not seeking ways to help heads of households toiling at minimum wage but asking why so many adults can’t find anything but minimum wage jobs?
    This goes to the heart of the national economic problem – why aren’t there enough decent-paying jobs to go around? Instead of just giving them a few more bucks, what’s needed is a path to move up to better jobs where the concerns are over benefits not what’s the lowest amount that you can legally be paid.
    Entry-level jobs with minimum wage are fine for high school and college students or for anyone wanting temporary cash but they are never going to be a middle-class career path.
    For an answer as to why so many people are stuck there, we must look at case by case situations. Some may lack the skills needed to get a better job; others may have seen positions outsourced or automated; while others may be in areas where industries have collapsed leaving few job choices. These problems will take much more effort and creative thinking to address.
    In the long run, better jobs and more of them are needed, but that remains a distant goal, so in the meantime hiking the pay of those stuck at the minimum wage is a regrettably appropriate choice.