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Staff Editorials

Georgia jobs should be top priority for legislature

When the legislature convenes next week, the number one focus should be on job creation for Georgia – not the budget. Budget should be a close second.

It is important that Georgia get its spending in line, but at this point, with unemployment remaining intractably high, further drastic budget cuts are not what we need. The state has already cut and cut and laid off, and cuts are to the bone in many areas. Rooting out waste is always welcome, but we still need people working for the DOT, the parks or the State Patrol, and we need Georgians at work.

Something is surely rotten in the Peach State where it comes to jobs. The nation as a whole continues to struggle with unemployment, but in Georgia the problem is dishearteningly acute. Based on recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, Georgia appears to have a solid claim to the very worst employment environment in the nation.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and crunched by the New York Times ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia in three jobs categories: How much employment has grown since each state’s low point in the economic downturn that began in 2009; The change since the pre-2009 peak in each state’s employment figures; The change since November 2010.

Georgia was respectively 51st in job creation since the low point; 47th since the peak and 50th in jobs created since November 2010.

Georgia was the only state to be in the bottom five in all three categories.

What this shows is that even as other states that lived and died by real estate and homebuilding have managed to get something else rolling to soften the blow, Georgia has not.

Georgia, particularly in former-growth areas like Pickens County and North Georgia, had all its eggs in one basket: new homes. Our unemployment rate in this part of the state was 9.6 percent in latest state figures, down from 11 percent a year ago – an improvement hardly worth noting.

According to Labor Department figures, Georgia’s job market was first slammed by the fact homebuilding dried up in Dixie. But unlike Florida and Arizona, who also rode high on home construction that began in the late 1990s, Georgia doesn’t seem to be able to find another path.

Further, Georgia has worked harder at trimming public jobs, which is good for yearly budgets but bad for those looking for work. Local government jobs in our state have been cut back about three percent, according to Labor statistics. Nationwide, the number of jobs in government has been trimmed to 2006 levels.

You can see this clearly in Pickens County, where the schools have been able to hold the line on taxes despite state cutbacks, by eliminating almost 100 positions between 2008 and 2011. The system reduced its employees from 766 in October of 2008 to 673 in September of 2011.

With private industry struggling to pick up the slack, we need a plan to see that when we cut from public payrolls in Georgia there is somewhere else to turn for employment. If state and local governments cut to save taxpayers in one step but add to unemployment rolls in the next, we’re no better off and likely much worse––depending on the skills of those hired/fired and other job particulars.

Early budget figures for the upcoming legislative session, presented by the governor, seek another two percent in cuts following massive cuts last year. We hope the legislature will look at the employment impact of such cuts and find a happy medium that won’t worsen the jobs situation.

We’re not arguing for the state and schools to maintain bloated bureaucracies forever just to keep Georgians off the dole, but we are strongly encouraging the legislature, when it convenes next week, to think jobs first, budget second during this General Assembly.


At least it's not the end of the world

When we gloss back over the past year, it’s easy to get caught up in 2012 end-of-the-world prophecies. From extreme natural disasters to social and political upheaval and economic disparity, it was a tumultuous year around the globe.

Let’s recap.

January – A series of blizzards ravaged the United States.

February – Political revolt led to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepping down as leader of Egypt. This act ended one of the world's most long-standing dictatorships.

March – One of the five largest earthquakes ever recorded happened in Japan. It measured 8.9 on the Richter scale, critically damaging the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, causing the country over $300 billion and claiming 20,000 lives.

April – The United States experienced one of the worst storms in its history. In 48 hours over 200 tornadoes tore through 16 states. Two weeks later the 2011 Super Outbreak occurred, the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded. All totaled, nearly 800 tornados ripped through the United States in April, causing billions in damage.

May – The world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was killed in Pakistan.

August – Our country lost its AAA bond rating, sending shock waves of anxiety across the world. People feared a double-dip recession and a global financial system meltdown. The same month the United States hit its debt ceiling, and the American people lambasted Congress for its failure to act quickly. At the last hour, Congress came through to avoid shutdown but accomplished little to ward off public fears.

September – The Occupy Wall Street movement began in New York, protests aimed at corporate influence, social and economic inequality and corruption. The movement sparked similar demonstrations around the world.

October - Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed in Libya. His death followed months of rebellion.

Good times, right?

Use these events to validate all those end-of-the-world prophecies, and what do we have to look forward to in 2012? Maybe a polar shift that will change the rotation of the planet, causing catastrophic floods and earthquakes? Maybe the comet Elinin slamming into earth? Perhaps the U.S. dollar will fail and the New World Order will come to power. Or as we move into the Age of Aquarius, the human race will endure a long period of suffering followed by a shift in human consciousness.

We aren’t psychics. We can’t say if any of these things will happen. But we’re not buying into the fear. Most of these prophecies are way beyond our control anyway. So we’re approaching 2012 with a positive attitude, darn it, and we wish everyone else would do the same.

Here are some ways to stay upbeat:

Simplify your life – Focus on simple pleasures. Replace expensive activities with things more fulfilling.

Be thankful for what you have – Look around you. See the good things in your life you tend to overlook. Don’t focus on what you don’t have; focus on blessings.

Turn off the news – Nothing brings a funk like a good dose of evening news. Do something else. Consider a new hobby.

Get involved  – National issues seem impenetrable at times. Make a difference locally by volunteering.

As Father Time thumbs over the last page of the 2011 calendar, remember that despite this orb’s abundant craziness, there is as much or more beauty and goodness in the world. The planet’s not gone yet, folks, so let’s celebrate the magnificent opportunity we have to be here now.

Here’s wishing that you and yours create a beautiful 2012 calendar together.

Happy New Year from the Progress!


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

            If you come into the Pickens Progress between now and December 25th, you can tell us “Merry Christmas” and we’ll be glad to hear it.

            You can send us Christmas cards and enjoy the special Christmas services advertised in our newspaper.

            We like Christmas. We aren’t offended by the name. We like the manger display next door on the courthouse lawn.

            But if you feel better with it, you can come into our office and say “Happy Holidays,” or “Seasons Greetings” or even “Bon Hiver” – a French greeting that means “Have a good winter.” We won’t be bothered.

            Or, if you happened in to say “Hello,” “Howdy” or simply smile and utter the phrase “I want to place a full-page, full-color ad” we’d be equally jazzed. Actually, we’d be overjoyed with that last part. Hint, Hint.

            Cordiality during the holidays is a charming plus, regardless of the greeting used. Friendliness not word choice is paramount in our book. We won’t make assumptions about you by the first words out of your mouth. We won’t stereotype you based on your choice of greeting. As we see it, you can be an agnostic who wants to wish Merry Christmas or a front-row Baptist who likes the ring of Happy Holidays.

            And  it’s nobody else’s business.

            Where we take offense is with the efforts by some to assess  morals, political leanings or entire character based solely on how someone offers a  greeting at Christmastime. The Merry Christmas litmus test is little more than a strained attempt to show the devout nature of the one doing the judging. In the battle of conservative political correctness, these folks aren’t afraid to throw the first stone.

            The best example of the holiday greeting test gone wild are concerns expressed by some commentators that the big corporations who do use Merry Christmas may not really mean it.

            It’s frightening to know there are people out there trying to decipher religious views of national retail corporations based on how they welcome customers this season. And when stores do use the preferred phrase, Merry Christmas, these same holier-than-though windbags go to saying it’s not sincere.

            Do people really care if the management of some giant company properly wishes them a Merry Christmas? It’s polite but carries no more significance than when a clerk says “have a nice day” to all 1,000 customers who show up in the drive-thru.

            At times, somewhere (probably in New York or California) there were calculated movements to switch to Happy Holidays and Holiday trees with true forethought, but around here you can be sure no one gives it much thought.

            Or it was at least that way until the new forces of political righteousness hyped things up to make it an issue – “Come on, kids, help us find some Philistines using Happy Holidays this year. Then we can boycott them!”

            As for us at the Progress, give us a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holidays or even a “Have a good ‘un,” and we’ll be happy – even more so if you appear in good Christmas cheer as opposed to a stressed out “don’t-have-the-presents-wrapped” sort of funk.

            But don’t come around trying to make social distinctions based on the first two words of a greeting. Or we might have another two words for you – and they aren’t nearly as nice as Happy Holidays.

To Americans in Service: Merry Christmas!

Cold War Germany before the wall came down. The land remained under long post-World War II occupation, half Soviet, half American. Arrived at his new duty station, young Army Lieutenant Brent Bracewell (now a Georgia National Guard Colonel) entered through the base gate near a swash of German graffiti: "Yankee Go Home!"

The only Southerner in his new unit, Bracewell drew humor from the slogan. "See, they don't even like y'all over here," he quipped to his Northern-born comrades. But it was hard to feel at home in sight of the bold insult just beyond their compound.

Then, Christmas Eve. The work day over, enlisted soldiers headed back to their barracks and the barracks banter sure to pack a charge of mirth this night. Married officers headed toward homes and spouses.

But for an unmarried officer a long way from home there was not much to look forward to, Bracewell related. He decided to check on the gate guards. Whenever he felt glum, it was never hard to find someone a bit worse off, he explained. In lightening such burdens he lightened his own, Bracewell knew.

He found the two gate guards standing watch in the snow, flakes swirling down round their helmets and rifle muzzles. As the three stood talking, a car with foreign license plates jerked to a halt in front. Its driver rushed to the trunk and popped it open. Bracewell touched the elbow of the guard nearest, signaling "Be ready."

But the intruder was no terrorist. A Santa Claus instead, the German kind: "der Weihnachtsman." He brought bags from the trunk, sacks with gifts characteristic to Germany.

“In the shadow of that sign that said 'Yankee Go Home!', he brought three small gifts to us, me and the two gate guards,” Bracewell remembers. “And in his broken English he said, 'Thank you for being in my country and keeping my country free.'”

Know that come Christmas Eve as the clock rounds toward midnight the world over, wakeful watch-keepers of the United States military will mark those minutes far from home.

Some may be minding the helm of a warship at sea. Some monitor communications through the night. Some guard the perimeter of a safe zone, so others can rest. Some may even pilot aircraft through the dark, alone between heaven and earth on that night when once the angels sang.

Keep us mindful, dear God, of their sacrifices on our behalf. Give them your peace at this Christmas season and bless them, we pray, every one.


A totally unscientific look at what Americans really want

Where is the sex? Where are the African bureaucrats needing partners to cash out millions of a dictator’s blood money? Where are the wacky, the exotic and the incomprehensible scam e-mails that used to clog inboxes?

This is no scientific study, but based on a study of the junk mail received in our filter over several days, the wild and lurid has given way to desperate and boring in terms of online scams.

There is still plenty of junk mail clogging Internet servers, but it has morphed in the past year or so to reflect a nation more excited by COBRA health insurance than “meet [ing] hot singles in your area.”

In the earlier days of the Internet, sex/porn was the pitch in roughly 90 percent of all junk e-mail, with the other ten percent being offers to split millions in some type of ill-gotten gains. There were also a few fake dog giveaways where you still had to send money.

Now unscrupulous offers veer toward illegally restoring a credit rating or getting you a credit card despite your poor credit score. No one would write a movie script where the villain’s scheme was that boring.

For those not plumbing the depths of their junk mail filters, these finance schemes have become the standard fare of online hooligans. Offers involving personal finance in our junk mail filter over the past month outpaced offers for the exotic/erotic by more than 100 to 1 (especially if you took out the multiple offers for Viagra that came in isolated batches, offering discounts of between 56 and 89 percent).

Looking at the most recent 100 junk mails, more than 70 were offers for low priced modern essentials – insurance, credit scores, credit cards. Included were the following subject lines:  “less than perfect credit,” “get  VA loan now,” “cash when you need it.”

A few others related to coupons – “Oodles of free coupons”  and “save $75 a week.”

Another category also preyed upon people’s financial/job uncertainty, touting educational help such as “MBA questions,” “find business school programs,” “need help paying for college.”

One of the more frequent offers didn’t fall into any category and struck us as particularly odd. A large number of junk mails in the past month have offered language classes - “Master Languages like the CIA.” It’s hard to see how the senders of these e-mails believe there are hundreds sitting at home bemoaning their inability to decipher Italian just waiting for an online offer.

There probably aren’t many sociology experiments that draw conclusions based on what junk-mailers are sending out and maybe for a good reason.

But you can’t help but notice a change in the baits put out to American Internet users. Reflecting our national mood, the offers now are mundane daily concerns – health insurance, home loans, credit ratings.

If you were to use junk-mail frequency to define the national mood, it’s hard to be optimistic about the economy while realizing that scam artists are working angles focused on cheap insurance.

While little more than a modern annoyance, scam e-mail topics maybe can be read as something like signs of the times. In flush times, scammers probably wouldn’t hassle us much with offers of cheap insurance. You know things need improving when even junk-mail scams paint a grim economic picture.