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Staff Editorials

Ga. parks shouldn't be forgotten by families or legislators

Several people have recently been heard to comment that because of either time or finances, summer vacations for their clans are on the calendar.

We’d encourage you to consider a summer getaway using one of Georgia’s state parks. Both inexpensive and close to home, our state parks and other outdoor recreation areas offer a wide variety of activities and places to relax.

From nearby Amicalola Falls, which makes a great day trip, to the beach at Vogel not far north, to areas on lakes Lanier and Allatoona, it’s possible to have a great weekend for less than $200 – inexpensive tent, gas and food included.

While a trip to the beach may be nice, that weekend spent with your family hiking, exploring, and wading in creeks may ultimately do more for your mental state. With a growing percentage of daily lives consumed in front of some form of technology, the opportunity to “get back to nature,” so to speak, is dwindling.

Research and personal experience show that spending time in the great outdoors, even if the exposure is just a paved walking path, increases our attention spans and creative thinking abilities while lowering stress and burning a few calories.

In Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, the author coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe his belief that many of the social problems affecting children today stem from too much time online and too little time outside.

It would seem that with families watching budgets more closely than ever, now is the perfect time for the state to promote park options. But the idea of a “staycation” seems as forgotten as last year’s Jersey Shore plot lines. Tourism is continually touted as a great economic development booster, yet the state is failing to follow through by promoting local resources that might entice people to stay and see Georgia this summer.

Rather than sprucing up and promoting Georgia parks, the legislature has put its budget-cutting sights squarely on these natural assets. In the latest legislative session, allocations to these close-to-home summer getaways shrank considerably (as much as 40 percent in one estimate), forcing some parks to close some features on some days and to cut back services in most all venues.

A member of our editorial staff found one federal park campground near LaFayette (The Pocket) inexplicably closed earlier this summer. The same budget woes hindering parks on the state level are hitting federal parks, too, it seems.

The volunteer group Friends of Georgia State Parks has published a long list of needs they seek to supply in the face of what they call a $100 million maintenance backlog at parks and historic sites in Georgia. Items they are trying to cover for the state aren’t frivolous extras but essentials like repairing handrails and maintaining trails.

Well aware of the public cry to cut taxes, we can’t blame lawmakers for cutting back on parks, but we wonder if a more prudent approach might be trying to run parks like businesses to see if there is a way to make them self-sustaining or at least much closer to break-even.

Resorts like Disney can keep raising prices, but for the good of everyone, there needs to be a low-cost option that allows anybody to get out and enjoy the woods. Back to the days of President Teddy Roosevelt, this country has seen the good of providing public wild spaces. Roosevelt said parks furnish “essential democracy” by preserving wilderness and scenery for all citizens.

In 2011, with stuff like social online media occupying more and more of our lives, it’s increasingly important for our state to maintain the natural attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities that we, the taxpayers, have already bought.

And as for us taxpayers, 2011 is a great time to explore what Georgia parks already have to offer.

Is college worth it?

Of the approximately 242 students who graduated from Pickens High School two weeks ago, administrators say around 60 percent will go on to some form of higher education. The question recently posed in a national poll by a nonpartisan group is, “Is college worth it?” In our view, the answer is a resounding, “Yes”.

The Pew Research Center’s national survey conducted this spring found the majority of Americans believe college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. Yet they agree it is a great way to teach work-related skills and knowledge, at the same time helping students grow personally and intellectually. Costs for college continue to rise. More and more kids graduate with mountains of school-related debt. But we still believe the benefits of college far outweigh its costs.

Locally, according to PHS administrators, 40 percent of this year’s seniors plan to study at a four-year college while another 20 percent plan to learn at a two-year or technical college. Those percentages have held static the past several years, administrators say. By those numbers, some 141 students from Pickens County go forward into some form of higher education each year.

Still, in the recently released poll, the majority of Americans say the higher education system in this country fails to provide students with a good value for the money they and their families spend. That said, an overwhelming majority of college graduates (86 percent of them to be precise) say college was a good investment for them personally. Seventy-four percent of those people who graduated with a four-year degree say their college education was “very useful” in helping them grow intellectually. Sixty-nine percent say it was very useful in helping them grow and mature as a person, and 55 percent say it was very useful in helping them prepare for a job or career.

Aside from learning to live on their own, preparing for a future career, and growing intellectually, college graduates have more earning power than their non-post-secondary educated peers. And that’s a good way to pay off the debt incurred from tuition. According to a report issued in 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median gap in annual earning between a high school and college graduate is $19,550, varying somewhat, depending on the type of degree and field of study.

Despite 94 percent of all parents surveyed saying they expect their child to attend college, most young adults in this country still do not attend a four-year college. And it all comes down to money. Two-thirds of adults ages 18-34 who are not in school and do not have a bachelor’s degree say a major reason for not continuing their education is the need to support a family. Over half say they prefer to work and make money. Just under half say they can’t afford tuition.

To this we say, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Numerous moving accounts record the story of the poor kid from the inner city or rural area overcoming all obstacles to get that degree, often times performing better academically than the kid with all advantages, simply because they wanted it more and earned it the old-fashioned way. Such people inspire us, make us recognize we can overcome circumstances to achieve better things in our lives. Be that person, Pickens High graduate. Be what you want to be. College can help you get there.

Remember to look at the big picture not short-term wants.

 

Time to end the war in Afghanistan

Since President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, America has spent an estimated $4 billion on the war in Afghanistan.

According to a count from Operation Enduring Freedom, at least six American troops have died in the past two and a half weeks.

The Afghan war has become the longest in U.S. history, and our patience has officially run out.

Like more than 60 percent of the country, we want the war to stop now, not in a few years. We want our troops to come home before the end of 2011, not in 2013 or 2014.

Americans should be outraged at the lives and dollars spent on what appears to have been a shameless bait-and-switch by our leaders. We should be outraged our government has misused authority given it by lawmakers in 2001 for a war originally pitched as a pursuit of those responsible for 9/11.

Instead, our national government has waged war on countries like Iraq (never considered a haven for al-Qaida) and has held a vague don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with Pakistan. We’re officially allies, but it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see Pakistan’s ties to terrorist groups.

Since our war on terror began in November 2001, its impact on national resources has been devastating. We have spent billions of dollars. We have lost nearly 1,600 American lives in Afghanistan. Those numbers don’t even take into account the war in Iraq.

Recently our government was nearly shut down over congressional budget squabbles, yet we spend an estimated $2 billion weekly in Afghanistan on infrastructure projects. Shouldn’t we be outraged?

Americans need to ask ourselves, what have we really gained? Bin Laden is dead, so justice has been served. But terrorism has not ended.

We think Congressman Ron Paul said it well at the first Republican presidential debate on May 5, hosted by Fox News.

Congressman Paul was asked, if he had been running things as president and troops were already out of Afghanistan, wouldn’t that mean Osama bin Laden would be alive today?

His response: “Absolutely not. (Osama bin Laden) wasn’t caught in Afghanistan. Nation-building in Afghanistan and telling those people how to live and getting involved in running their country hardly had anything to do with finding the information where he was being held in a country that we give billions of dollars of foreign aid to, at the same time we are bombing that country.”

“So it’s the policy that is at fault,” he continued. “Not having the troops in Afghanistan wouldn’t have hurt. We went to Afghanistan to get him, and he hasn’t been there. Now that he’s killed, boy, it is a wonderful time for this country now to reassess it, get the troops out of Afghanistan and end that war that hasn’t helped us and hasn’t helped anybody in the Middle East.”

As pressure mounts from the American public to withdraw from Afghanistan, Obama has regurgitated the policy that mandates the start of  troop removal by July of this year. At this point, however, no one in his administration seems to know how many troops will come home in that first wave.

In a recent interview with Katie Couric, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he feels it is too early to tell if bin Laden’s death will accelerate troop withdrawal.

But with bin Laden dead, America’s continued presence in the region, including Iraq, will do nothing but reinforce the belief that the last 10 years were more about nation-building and oil acquisition than protecting Americans from terrorists.

We hope the government has the decency to bring our men and women home now, alive, so we can get on with what is most needed at present: an invigorated focus on domestic issues and a whole lot of restoration.

 

Editorial -- Swimming lessons, common sense saves lives at pools and lakes

Over the weekend, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a Bibb County firefighter-in-training drowned while trying to aid three children who appeared to be having trouble swimming.

Two of the children, ages five and seven, were sons of Michael Jones, the drowned man. The third was an 8-year-old girl. All the children were hauled to shore in good shape. As of Monday morning, it was unknown why Jones, presumably a healthy 24-year-old with some experience in dramatic situations due to his training, went under in Lake Tobesofkee and never re-surfaced.

Jones was credited as doing what any good parent or fireman would do. It is a tragic story and, unfortunately, not uncommon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with an average of ten people drowning every day. Latest figures from the CDC website show that in 2007, some 3,443 people lost their lives in drowning accidents with another 496 drowned in boat-related accidents (there are two different categories).

Facts behind the statistics are more unsettling. Most who drown are children, with (for whatever reason), 80 percent of drowning victims being male.

“A swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child age 4 and under,” according to the?Orange County California Fire Authority.

Childhood obesity trend not trimming down

Most trends come and go. Remember the flat and long hair of the 70s replaced by the big hair of the 80s? What about bell-bottoms and leg warmers, usurped by the presently trendy and seriously cool skinny jeans? Silly Bandz? The Rachel hairdo?

Unfortunately, the distinctly American trend of childhood obesity is not going away.

For three decades, we’ve been getting bigger and bigger as childhood obesity rates have alarmingly tripled.

Today, according to numbers published by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity, nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. If nothing is done, the Task Force says a full one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

The inevitable question is “Why?” The obvious answer includes a lot of social and economic reasons. On the most basic level, the answer is: Our kids eat too much and exercise too little.

Portion sizes are out of whack, and we’ve become a society moved away from eating whole foods from our own gardens to eat quick meals of cholesterol-laden, processed foods grown halfway around the world and processed beyond recognition.

Make sense? If so, it would reason that exercising more and eating less could reverse the trend. So why don’t we just do that?

Public campaigns  – from Mrs. Obama’s to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s new  fitness initiative – have (thus far) made little impact on our collective weights.

On Monday, Deal announced his SHAPE program to target childhood obesity in schools. The pilot programs in White, Hall, Gwinnett, Bibb and Lowndes counties will hopefully expand statewide if successful.                         Deal’s program measures strength, flexibility and endurance of students in P.E. classes and places kids in the “healthy fitness zone” or “needs improvement.” Next, data management programs help kids and parents chart improvement.

This program, developed by the father of the aerobic fitness movement, Dr. Ken Cooper, doesn’t reward specific athletic skills such as basketball or softball adeptness, nor does it promote a particular body image. It determines fitness. Program test results have shown slim children who are not physically fit and heavier kids who are.

As great as this program sounds, a couple of hours a week in gym class won’t knock off  the extra weight. Kids need direction from their families and encouragement not only to be active but also to make healthy eating choices every day. Yes, it’s hard to walk past grocery store aisles filled with  Yogos and Cap’n Crunch, loaded with sugar and oh so yummy. But the long-term effects of eating like this consistently can be devastating to our health and the health of our children.

If the obesity trend continues, we could be the first generation whose children have a shorter life expectancy than our own.

Americans eat 31 percent more calories today than we did 40 years ago and 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.

Realistically what can we do? Obama’s Task Force recommends the following: Keep fresh fruit in a bowl within your child’s reach to grab as a quick snack; Take a walk with your family after dinner; Plan a menu for the week and get your children involved in planning and cooking; Turn off the TV during meals and share some family time.

In 2007 the National Football League began a program called Play 60, a national youth fitness campaign to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. As parents, we can remind our kids to “Play 60” each day.

For kids: Try new fruits and veggies, drink lots of water –– You’ll be amazed at what you find you like. Doing jumping jacks to break up TV time and getting outside are other good ideas. One fitness expert advised that parents need not make their kids exercise, just get them outdoors, and the “play” will burn plenty of calories –– even if kids don’t realize they are exercising.

While adults may diet for a variety of image, health, or beauty reasons. For your kids, the inspiration is not to fit into tight fitting pants, but to avoid things like diabetes, heart disease and a lifetime of preventable health disadvantages.