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Staff Editorials

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.

 

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.

 

Preventing child abuse starts with adults taking action

If you’ve been by the Pickens County Courthouse in the last month, you may have noticed a patch of the lawn covered with tiny, brightly-colored pinwheels.

While nice to look at, these whimsical little additions have a haunting purpose. Earlier this month, Pickens Family Partners set out the toys as part of the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign to raise awareness for Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is now winding to a close.

The pinwheel has become a national symbol of child abuse. Here in Pickens, pinwheels act as a visual reminder of the 534 reports of child abuse or neglect made last year to the Pickens Department of Family and Children’s Services.

In Georgia it is estimated that over 40 children are victims of confirmed abuse and neglect each day, with the most recent statistics available showing 60 children losing their lives to abuse or neglect in one year.

According to the Georgia Department of Human Resources, more than 37,000 cases of child abuse occurred in Georgia in 2006. Half of those children were below the tender and impressionable age of seven.

Children in the foster care system suffer, too. In 2007 it was estimated that 85 percent of the 22,000 children in foster care in Georgia were victims of severe neglect.

What makes these statistics all the more heartbreaking is they don’t include cases that go unreported.

Now authorities are telling us abuse and neglect numbers are on the increase as families struggle financially during present hard times.

People have lost their jobs; homes are being foreclosed; some mothers and fathers have turned to drug abuse.

All such issues fuel the problem. Stress is taken out on kids when parents feel pushed past the breaking point.

The thought of children being horribly mistreated is nauseating. Best to remember that child abuse can be prevented.

The solution to the problem is multi-faceted, beginning almost always with brave adults willing to make the first move.

Here are the first lines of defense:

•If you are a spouse, and your partner is abusing your son or daughter, take action. Don’t rationalize it away, pretend it’s not happening or make excuses for inaction.

•If you are a parent and realize that you are the problem or are reaching a breaking point, find counseling. Seek it for your sake and your family’s.

•If you are a neighbor, and you suspect abuse or neglect, make the call.

•Make a donation or volunteer with an organization that works to educate families about child abuse.

Non-profits such as Pickens Family Partners are doing just that, working to educate parents and keep children safe. But it finally takes responsible parents and adults willing to make decisions in the best interest of children for child abuse to be curtailed.

Educate yourself about the signs of child abuse and be on the lookout.  If we make ourselves aware of the warning signs and commit to intervening if necessary, we could make a world of difference in a child’s life.

You can call Pickens Family Partners at 770-737-6484 to learn more about the family programs they offer or to volunteer. They are located at 88 Clinic Road, Tate, Ga. 30177. Their hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Last week’s storms prove weather warnings save lives

While damage here was nowhere near the magnitude of other southern cities like Tuscaloosa and Ringgold, dozens of families in Pickens became victims of last Wednesday’s furious storms.

Some homes were completely demolished, their belongings exploded across the landscape, but miraculously no one was harmed.

Not only do we feel this brutal storm has altered the consciousness of residents in the south who now seem to be taking more seriously the importance of preparation and precaution, we feel that weather forecasting made a strong case for itself.

From the beginning of the week we heard the constant warnings on television and radio broadcasts. Meteorologists issued the direst of warnings, dubbing the system a “mega storm” and painting huge swaths of the country red with severe weather systems they said would sweep across 40 percent of the nation.

Their forecasts were so horrific, in fact, it was almost difficult to know what to do with them. Were they blowing things out of proportion? Early in the week it was easy to dismiss, but as the days rolled on the predictions intensified.

From official reports and first hand experiences we know that people here heeded those warnings, fleeing to friends and families homes that were safer than their own. Those cavaliers who typically ride severe weather out on their patio because they like to “see what’s coming,” ran instead to their basements and their bathtubs for shelter.

We’ve heard stories of 15 or more huddling into storm shelters or friends’ basements, and families putting on their motorcycle helmets or blockading themselves with mattresses and pillows.

These actions  saved lives. Pickens County Fire Chief Bob Howard has estimated that had residents here not evacuated their homes, a minimum of 12 fatalities would have occurred.

Not too long ago this kind of preparation was not possible. Weather forecasting technology has come so far in such a short period of time, making the 24-hour lead time we had here in Pickens a reality.

We’ve come a long way since the Italian-born Evangelista Torricelli invented the barometer in 1643, or the first satellite images of Earth were taken in 1960 when the polar-orbiting satellite TIROS 1 was launched.

Over the past 40 years satellite sensor technology has made huge strides and Doppler radar technology has advanced, allowing forecasts to be more accurate and reliable.

The ability to disseminate these forecasts has also become much easier. We no longer rely on tornado sirens or buzzing National Weather Service warnings issued on television or radio broadcasts.

Now we have cell phones, weather apps and smart phones. These services save lives by providing us with connectivity when the power goes out, and we’re glad they’re here.

Here in Pickens County we also have the Code Red weather alert system, which has received lots of positive feedback.

Those registered for this service will receive a call to either their cell phone or home phone, or both, in the event the National Weather Service issues weather warnings.

You can visit the Pickens County government website at www.pickenscountyga.gov and scroll down. In the left-hand column you will see a link to the Code Red site. There you simply enter your telephone number and location information and you’ll start receiving the calls.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from last week’s storms we are hearing residents here talking about installing storm shelters of their own, purchasing weather radios or making evacuation plans for the future. These are all smart moves.

We’re thankful that we live in a time when we have so many ways to be prepared, and we were inspired to see people in Pickens get over being “the cool guy” and actually take last week’s weather forecasts seriously.

Because we did, our community was able to weather this storm without the loss of life.

Like one tornado victim told us last week, “You can replace things, but you can’t replace people.”

 

T-SPLOST - Good, bad, or just ugly?

Earlier this month the 15 counties that make up the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) released their “unconstrained” wish list of road projects to be paid for with a one-cent transportation sales tax being pushed by the Georgia DOT.

That means the 15 counties and nearly 50 cities included in the region were asked to submit any project, no matter the cost, to the state road department.

This T-SPLOST, made possible by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (HB 277), is an unprecedented attempt by the state to make up for a lack of transportation funding. All counties and cities in Georgia were divided into 12 regions based on regional commission boundaries for this legislation.

In 2012 Georgia voters in each region will be asked if they support the penny sales tax to improve various projects in their area.

One ugly problem we foresee for Pickens is that the wish list for our region totaled approximately $2.6 billion, more than double what projections say the 10-year SPLOST will collect in those 15 counties. This discrepancy means the pie-in-the-sky “unconstrained” list is headed for the chopping block, and at this point we are uncertain how Pickens will fare as the list is whittled down.

In June of this year, the GDOT will measure the projects lists against their established goals and will then give the unconstrained list to the regional commissions’ executive committees. Taking public input into consideration, in August of this year the executive committees will vote on a constrained list that will match the projected SPLOST revenues for the 10-year collection period.

Based on the goals outlined by GDOT it seems likely that as negotiations ensue it will be the projects that involve two or more counties that will foster more support in each region, and this may prove to be a pothole for Pickens.

Some of GDOT’s outlined goals for the projects include “provid[ing] border to border interregional connectivity,” and “support[ing] local connectivity to statewide transportation network,” according to www.it3.ga.gov, a government site where you can find more information about the transportation legislation.

Take, for example, widening Ga. 140 from U.S. 27 in Armuchee to I-75 in Adairsville, which is on the wish lists of Bartow, Chattooga and Floyd counties.

Where do these heavy hitting projects leave the small county of Pickens, which has submitted a wish list of projects that does not directly affect other counties? The most ambitious projects submitted here include four-laning Hwy 53 from Hwy 515 into Jasper ($55 million) and an east to west bypass from Philadelphia Road to the Tate/Marble Hill area ($38 million), both of which would be greatly beneficial to us, but not directly to neighboring counties.

If the SPLOST does pass in this region, money collected from the penny tax will be sent to the NWGRC and then redirected to the 15 counties they represent. How is Pickens going to stand up to larger counties like Bartow, Paulding, Whitfield and Floyd as this money is distributed? We also worry that if Pickens doesn’t do well in negotiations, we could end up putting more in the bucket than we get in return.

As Pickens County Commissioner Robert Jones said in an interview, wouldn’t it be simpler and more logical to have money collected in each county stay in that county?

There is no question that our regional commission will have a difficult task buffing the list into something voters in the 15-county region will support. As a caveat, we think GDOT is going to have its job cut out for them to convince voters in Pickens, where there is already a SPLOST, LOST and E-SPLOST in effect, that a regional transportation SPLOST is necessary.

It would be nice to have funding to update our road system here, but we certainly warn caution and plan to keep a watchful eye as the T-SPLOST journey continues.