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Staff Editorials

No way new courthouse doesn’t meet needs -- just look at it

    There is a video on Youtube that is entertaining in a headshaking way – it’s a collection of traffic clips that show what happens when different size rental/delivery trucks drive through underpasses that are too low.
    In most cases the clips show a clearly marked sign indicating the bridge or tunnel height before showing the roofs getting ripped off.
    From the video (click here to view) it doesn’t appear that anyone is injured, but a great deal of automotive carnage is shown because drivers either didn’t notice the signage of the low underpass or simply couldn’t do the math --12-foot-high truck plus 11.5-foot-high concrete bridge equals one big mess.
    This video came to mind last week when reading in the Grand Jury Presentment saying how the almost ready to officially open courthouse (with a price expected somewhere around $13 million) is judged too small for future growth. According to the grand jury presentments, “Another concern of the department heads is the potential impact of future growth that may require expanded services and personnel with the accompanying need for additional work areas. Most departments are now at a maximum capacity with very little accommodation for expansion if needed.”
    Seeing that statement brought the same feeling the owners of those trucks must have felt if they saw the video of their vehicle having its top sheered off -- a sickening, “you have got to be kidding me” reaction.
    The parking was also judged utterly frustrating and unacceptable in the Grand Jury Presentments, but most everyone has offered that opinion since the project began. To borrow a phrase Sole Commissioner Rob Jones favors, the parking “is what it is.”
    There are only two possible explanations for why this courthouse could possibly be judged too cramped (1.) It was truly built too small or (2.) Some judicial  employees didn’t get everything they wanted and are grousing.
    We know that not all department heads felt this way. At least one said the building space was more than adequate for future growth and overall the building has plenty of empty areas, which could be reconfigured if some department area needs more room.
    Another reason we’ll argue that the building is more than adequate: Look at it. That mammoth structure dominating Main Street is impressive; it’s grand; there is nothing cramped, small or limited about it. Maybe a few offices/courtrooms inside are smaller than preferred, but the idea that overall it’s not big enough to meet future needs can’t be right.
    Jasper Mayor John Weaver (who spent a considerable amount of time there for a recent civil suit) made an off-hand comment that the view and space in the second-floor bathroom was better than his office. Weaver, who normally butts heads on all things county, confided to our editor that he was quite impressed with the facility after a weeklong case there.
    Furthermore, we’d point out the idea that everything has to be built supersize is outdated. A predicted growth wave through the late 80s and 90s was tossed out to justify anything government or school administrators wanted at the time. No longer is that the case. It might be the case again some day, but there is no reason to believe that north Georgia will see a massive population spike anytime soon.
    One other simple comparison: The new courthouse is much, much bigger than the old leaky courthouse and, despite squalid conditions there, the courts did function. If they could work there, they surely can work in the new modern facility.
    Perhaps these department heads who feel hemmed in should randomly call 10 business owners and see how much facility expansion they have written checks for in the past decade. When the owners are the ones writing checks make-do, not re-do, is the answer.
    The new courthouse is nearly complete, it looks very nice and it’s been brought in apparently on-budget and more or less on-time. We say nice job Commissioner Jones and crew.   
    Case closed.   

On JeepFest, county airport and City of Jasper civil suit

    The three stories on the front of this newspaper are mostly unrelated – a wildly successful Jeep event, a stalled airport project and the city paying out a big settlement for erosion at a piece of property that once was prime for commercial development.
    But there is an overriding theme there with the one thing that worked and two that didn’t (at least not yet): Events/festival/tourism can produce a lot of economic bang without the long-term infrastructure commitments required for commercial development.
    JeepFest showed the impact of big events – the town was packed with shoppers and dinners,  JeepFest organizers sold out of t-shirts and raised a heck of a lot of money to put back into the community. And it should be noted, everyone had a good time then went home.
    It’s the last phrase that we want to direct your attention to. Unlike the city of Jasper’s problem, no one involved in JeepFest is going to get sued because of erosion issues on steep slopes that may pop up years from now. City crews won’t ever be called in to try and stave off development problems on JeepFest trails.
    Of course, the long-range benefits of a thriving aviation business park in terms of permanent jobs, property taxes and regular monthly sales tax would dwarf even the largest festival. But for the short-term, we’d encourage the commissioners, mayors and economic development folks of this county to roll with what’s working, and for now that’s tourist-style events.
    This newspaper has long editorialized that Pickens County leaders need to put more emphasis on attracting events and regular attractions to promote economic development. We have used the example previously of a small town in Kansas that created a world-class soccer complex and now keeps their hotels booked solid year-round and restaurants hopping with groups coming to the camps, clinics and tournaments.
    With recreation sports, a state-tournament in most any sport will fill a town. Developing attractions, facilities and events that give people something to do will bridge the shortcomings we have with our lack of state parks, public lands, and accessible rivers and lakes.
    We never expected it would be our sheriff that showed so well what we can do in this community with our available resources. But, it was Sheriff Donnie Craig who started three years ago with a small Jeep ride that expanded into something wildly popular this year and has the potential to keep on growing.
    One person attending JeepFest said the town needs more things like this. “Heck, I’d even support a hempfest if it would pack the town with people and energy like this,” the enthused spectator said.
    We might not go as far as hemp, but the point is well-taken -- thinking outside the box is needed with events and festivals.
     Pickens County, unfortunately, doesn’t have an ace-in-the-hole in natural attractions to make coming up with future events easy. There is no public lake, mountain area or accessible river, to start with. But you can be sure the Kansas town didn’t have much except for flat space, which as they saw it made a great spot for soccer.
    The challenge lies in determining what else would be successful in terms of festival/events. Jeeps seem obvious in hindsight, but it was Craig’s action (and a whole of lot of volunteer help) that brought it about.     As the old saying goes, “Vision isn’t seeing what doesn’t exist. It’s seeing what is there but unseen by others.” And our sheriff surely demonstrated he has this with JeepFest.
    In the longrun, we hope that the airport will live up to its potential and we are hopeful that one day we will see a new wave of commercial growth here.
    But, for the present, let’s encourage our commissioners, mayors and economic development people to think off-the-main-road.

Abductions, school shootings and other things that probably won’t happen

By Angela Reinhardt, staff writer
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    About a month ago my family attended a birthday party at one of those ultra-safe, ultra-modern (I’d argue ultra-boring) playgrounds where wood chips, recycled rubber padding and molded-plastic equipment should, in theory, keep parents’ minds at ease.    
    Still, the scene my husband and I encountered as we pulled into our parking space was indicative of what I witness almost daily as the parent of two elementary-school-age children --- skittish mothers and fathers rapidly administering hand sanitizer and not only watching their children play, but actually playing on the tot-sized equipment with them. (I’ll admit it made me chuckle thinking about moms and dads getting lodged in tubes designed for kids age 1-5).
    This park experience resurfaced for me last week when parents called for an increased police presence at Georgia schools, including Pickens, following two unrelated incidents in Dekalb and Cherokee counties where armed men were arrested on school property.
    Of course I was relieved that students left those campuses unharmed, but that was the end of it. I didn’t go home and tuck my children in extra tight that evening, or call their school the next day to make sure the front door was locked, or spearhead a committee that would inspect all birthday cupcakes for signs of suspicious paraphernalia because my children were in no more danger than they were the day before.
    Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it for a lot of today’s parents, who have all but turned into writhing balls of anxiety and paranoia when it comes to their kids. It’s good to be protective when there is a realistic threat, but parenting has gotten to the point that we are practically paralyzed over the perceived danger of “creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape,” as Lenore Skenazy, author of my new favorite laissez-faire parenting blog “Free-Range Kids,” puts it.
    We are worried to the point that we have stopped treating our children like the smart and capable people they are, and are instead operating on the notion that they are helpless masses who can’t do anything for themselves without the hovering, ever-watchful eye of an adult. This attitude robs children of self-confidence and independence while encouraging a dependency that leads to kids who don’t get their driver’s license until 19 and who don’t move out until 30.
    Last week I spoke with my dad about this editorial and he, like so many in his generation, reminisced about his own be-back-before-dark childhood. Dad and his friends would disappear for hours on end, playing in the woods or riding bikes in the streets with no supervision (and no cell phones to call home.)
    Try letting your child loose for too long now, or let them cross the road alone at too early and age or ride their bike to practice unsupervised. Chances are someone will call DFCS to report your negligent parenting.
    In all fairness, our irrational and ungrounded paranoia isn’t really parents’ fault. Abduction stories and school shootings get a grossly sensationalized and disproportionate amount of airplay because they produce good ratings. In effect, the media has taken rare events like these and made them seem much more common than they are. Over time this phenomenon has resulted in what Skenazy’s calls the “Worst-First Scenario,” in which parents make plans as though the worst possible outcome is going to happen.
    But the worst-case, the rouge school shooter or a black-clad abductor, hardly ever happens. Just look at the statistics. Since 1993, 184 children have died in school shootings, while 115 have been abducted each year by a stranger. (According to the U.S. Department of Justice nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year, but nearly all of those are the result of a family issue or miscommunication.)
    Those numbers are dwarfed by the 6,683 children age 0-19 that died in automobile accidents in 2007, or the 1,665 that committed suicide that same year, threats most parents don’t pay much attention to.
    I am by no means an expert, but after seven years at motherhood I know this: You don’t have to worry to be a good parent. Teach them to take care of themselves without you and you and your child will be better off because of it.

U.S. should stay on sidelines in Syrian civil war

    The phrase if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it is nowhere more evident than with the current proposal for a limited military strike in Syria.
    We, more or less, tried this in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years and also in places like Somalia, the Balkans and, if you go back far enough, Vietnam and Korea.
    The problem with Syria (just as in Afghanistan and Iraq) is that you can’t “sort of” go to war, which is a good definition of “limited, narrow” military use our secretary of state is asking the American people and congress to support.
    In Syria, the president, secretary of state and a growing number of congressional leaders want to send a few missiles to hit government targets to essentially punish the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons.
    Ga. Senator Johnny Isakson put it this way, ‘If we fail to take strong action against Syria for this horrendous attack, then we are sending a signal to Syria as well as to Iran and North Korea that they are accountable to no one.”
    What the dictator/president Assad did was criminal, reprehensible and cowardly. He unleashed internationally condemned toxins that killed an estimated 1,500 civilians including 426 children in one attack on a subdivision.
    Proof is pretty clear that this was not the first time the ruling group in Syria had used chemical weapons against their own people and there is no reason to believe that it will be the last. Assad’s father was also a dictator in that country who didn’t hesitate to apply force against dissenters.
    While the crime may be evident, the path forward is fraught with peril. To begin with, Syria is another of those middle-eastern counties with arbitrarily set borders that pulled multiple different ethnic groups together – many of whom have not gotten along since the beginning of time. Power struggles among many rebel groups of different religions and different ethnic backgrounds and a government don’t ever end well. 
    According to statements made, the administration recognizes the futility of full-scale involvement and doesn’t want to completely run Assad from power, but hopes to chide the dictator into behaving somewhat better.
    While sympathetic to the suffering of Syrian civilians, we’d argue this is a case where U.S. force may do more harm than good.
    Among the problems/challenges and reasons it won’t turn out well.
    • History has shown that limited engagements don’t remain limited. Remember the idea that our soldiers would be hailed as liberators in Iraq and back home quickly?
    • Some of the rebels in Syria are linked to Al-Qaeda. U.S. officials have expressed concern that any weapons given to the rebels may one day be used in a jihad directly against us.     Even the most optimistic “hawk” on Syria acknowledges that there is not a reliable rebel option out there should Assad be forced out of power.
    • What Kerry has expressed hope for, at best, is to force peace talks – as though that has ever worked in middle east (it seems like the Israelis and Palestinians hold peace talks every week and they aren’t getting any closer to achieving anything).
    This is too vague a mission or reason to commit military force. With that as an objective, you can bet there will be no clear timetable for drawing back down our forces.
    • There is a whole set of complex alliances out there involving the rest of the middle eastern nations -- Iran, and Saudi Arabia are already involved and Israel is ready to get into it. In addition, Russia has pledged to firmly back Assad.
    • If we strike Syria to help the rebels, they may strike back directly at us. Chemical weapons and terrorism would seem to go hand-in-hand.
    It is horrible to see reports of the brutality of the civil war in Syria and no end is in sight to the violence and killing. But our opinion is this is one to sit out.   

FDA caution a benefit to health despite critics FDA caution a benefit to health despite critics who bemoan delays

    So you open up a bottle of a prescription drug your doctor prescribed to make you better. But as you’re about to pop that pill you hear yourself saying, “You should not take this drug if you are not able to stand up for 30 minutes. Call your doctor immediately if you feel dizzy, have new or worsening heart burn, severe headache, difficulty swallowing, have diarrhea, shortness of breath, or develop chest pain.”
    Oh, and don’t operate machinery either.
    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is tasked with protecting the public health by assuring the safety and security of human drugs, biological products, medical devices, and our nation’s food supply. Their website also states they are responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines more effective, safer, and more affordable by helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to maintain and improve their health.
    In FDA speak that’s Uncle Sam telling us to be careful and exercise caution, just as warning labels on prescriptions remind us of a long list of potential hazards. But is Uncle Sam going too far and not letting new medicines that could have potential lifesaving effects for millions get past the hurdles of FDA approval?
    Some people believe the FDA imposes increasingly onerous trials on new drugs to insulate themselves from critics if something eventually goes wrong with the drug. These laborious trials, they say, prevent some promising therapies from being developed.
    But precaution is their job and we feel they are doing it well, protecting us from potential deadly effects if the drugs weren’t made to go through intense scrutiny before being mass marketed.
    It’s easy to have our heartstrings pulled when we hear of a child – or anyone – facing a terrible and painful disease for which there is currently no cure. It makes it worse when we hear there are  drugs currently being developed to help, yet aren’t approved by the FDA. However, any drug that is powerful enough to make a difference in patients’ lives is also powerful enough to do something that we don’t want it to do and didn’t expect it to do.         This is particularly important for medications that treat chronic problems. You don’t want to damage your liver while treating longstanding problems with your joints.
   There should be an agency out there – hence the FDA – looking out for us. After all, no amount of  gut-feelings nor internet searching can produce effective do-it-yourself research into new drugs.
       We need the caution of the organization and approvals for new drugs in the U.S. come faster than in Europe or Canada. According to Forbes, 77 percent of drugs are approved in the U.S. the first time around and review times here are shorter than in Europe.
    So the FDA is saying yes to new drugs at a rapid clip and studies into the drugs are needed to ensure our safety. It may take time, often just 6 months or less, but it is much-needed time to perform rigorous reviews and weigh the benefits and potential hazards of something new. We consider it a good thing for the FDA to temper enthusiastic companies with billions of dollars riding on its product against the health of the American people.
    While we always want everyone to be as healthy and pain-free as possible, rather than thinking of the FDA as a big speed bump in marketing new drugs, think of the organization as the people who make it their business to realize there are lives at stake on both ends of the drug-approval process.