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Staff Editorials

400 ppm is just a number but we need to pay attention to it

    Last Thursday the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for a daily average at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station at Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
    This is the first time that CO2, the most important heat-trapping gas, has gone over the 400 ppm level for a 24-hour period average since scientists began keeping records 50 years ago. CO2 levels have previously hit peaks exceeding that amount at the Hawaiian observatory and that level is reached in the Arctic, but this is the first time the daily average has exceeded that threshold, according to news reports of the event.
    It’s important to keep in mind that the 400 ppm reading is just a number. It doesn’t directly mean anything in regard to climate change or possible climate change – if you are one of the people who worries about such stuff. Polar bears aren’t going to start drowning as the arctic ice melts and oceans won’t rise just because the number is now over a level that scientists have longed pegged as a limit we didn’t want cross.        
    Carbon dioxide levels are numbers just like blood pressure is a number or your weight is a number or the amount of cholesterol in your body can be measured and recorded.
    You won’t automatically have a heart attack when you top out at 280 pounds on a scale? Nor are you guaranteed a stroke when your blood pressure hits 175/105.
    Along these lines, cars don’t automatically fall apart at 300,000 miles; nor is coffee at $3 a cup a crime against humanity.
    But numbers have meanings as measurements and the vast majority of scientists are concerned by the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
    If blood pressure/weight numbers are being read to you by a doctor who is also shaking his head and offering advice, are you going ignore it? Or would you scoff as it’s possible the science behind blood pressure and heart disease may contain errors?
    Carbon dioxide levels may continue to rise and no dire effects occur, just like many people live long years wearing XXXL.
    But the general consensus among scientists is that rising levels of carbon dioxide are directly tied to warmer global temperatures which will lead to increasingly unstable weather – such as the January tornado North Georgia had this year, plus longterm effects such as drought. This is not to say that global warming produced the winter tornado, but increasingly unpredictable weather is a consequence often tied to climate change.
 Another sour note regarding crossing the 400 ppm threshold is it clearly shows previous efforts to reduce carbon emissions have failed. Everything from proposed government programs to letting industry take care of the problems has not produced any good news.
    Like a dieter seeing the scale still going up after a month on a new regime, it’s time to take a completely different approach with reducing human-produced carbon dioxide emissions.
   Throw the old cap and trade, new technology playbook out and start at ground zero -- find an approach that is tolerable to the public and to business.
    Or then again, maybe it’s not necessary.
    Maybe the 400 ppm level doesn’t mean anything at all. Maybe the conservative politicians are right and the scientists are wrong. We can always wait and see what happens. Of course by the time you are in the emergency room, it’s a little late to start eating lettuce.

Internet sales tax creates fairness for Main Street

    This week the U.S. Senate is expected to approve the Marketplace Fairness Act, which will force online retailers to charge state sales taxes.
    While the most un-compromising, no-new tax advocates, including North Georgia Congressman Tom Graves, are opposed to this, conservatives with common sense are supportive, realizing this is about leveling the playing field between online retailers and Main Street businesses.
    Graves released a statement saying that “States that want their businesses to be more competitive in the marketplace should engage in a race to the lowest tax rate rather than seek to level the playing field by imposing higher taxes and new burdens on competitors and consumers.”
    In theory, Mr. Graves’ sentiment is great, reduce taxes. But in practice we’d ask how are states supposed to fund schools, roads and prisons? One day we might be able to do away with our own state sales tax, but until then, we advocate for seeing that Main Street businesses are treated fairly.
    From our position at the Progress on Jasper's Main Street we can't see any reason that with its billions in revenue shouldn't pay the same taxes as Jasper Drug Store or Coco's Cottage.
    Originally internet retailers were let out of collecting sales taxes in states where they didn't have a building by a 1992 Supreme Court ruling. The sentiment at the time was this perk to online businesses would foster growth in e-commerce (obviously this worked) and also that internet retailers wouldn’t have to pony up to maintain schools and roadways in places where they don't have any physical presence.
    But a lot has changed since then. Now, it's the businesses with brick and mortar that need a boost. For higher-ticket retail items people are aware you can go to a store, test a $500 item, get advice from a salesman face-to-face, then go home and order it online to save 4 percent by not paying (Georgia) sales tax. It really isn't fair.
    A lot of online businesses offer extremely low prices. In addition to not charging sales tax, they cut costs by not employing our neighbors here in Pickens County, nor do they support social groups, church choir trips, youth sports or give out candy to kids at Halloween. They do lobby in Washington, however, which may explain the warmer feelings regarding them by lawmakers.
    Not only do we encourage our congressional members to support making these online companies pay the sales tax, we also encourage our readers supporting local businesses directly, by considering all the advantages they offer us in Pickens County, Georgia -- even if a cheaper price can be found online.
    Requiring these online businesses to pay sales tax would have an immediate positive impact.
    State funds coming to local school systems and for local paving have dried up. Seeing that the dot-coms pay their share of the sales tax provides a new source of state revenue, which might save a teacher's job and help keep our county property taxes down.
    Differing estimates say that the internet sales tax could generate between $11 billion to $23 billion a year –divided among the states based on their residents’ purchases and tax rate.
    Three arguments are generally lobbed against requiring online businesses to pay:
    • First it's a new tax and people don't want any new tax -- Not true. The sales tax already exists. This just makes sure everyone pays their share.
    • It will be too hard for online businesses to figure out how to charge it. Again, not true. First, businesses that generate less than $1 million a year in online sales are exempt. So it will have no effect on anyone selling a bass boat on Craigslist.
    And if a company can figure out how to sell more than $1 million a year online, it can figure this out.
    • Finally, it's not going to be popular with the people – likely true among online shoppers. But this is a case of supporting communities and fairness.

Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing

By Dan Pool
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    Having had a recent knee surgery, I had a lot of time sitting last week; time to watch copious amounts of Boston Marathon Bombing coverage.  Whereas in normal life people might catch a little here and little there, through my immobility I watched and checked online for updates more-or-less all day.
    Here are some  thoughts gleaned from my days on the couch:
    • Crowds cheering as police cars and ambulances drove home following the arrest must be a highpoint for law enforcement in America. The Boston Police’s poetic tweet was perfect. “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
    • That officers solved the crime within a few days, relying on public help, arresting one suspect and killing a second is impressive.
    • The low point was surely CNN announcing incorrectly that arrests had been made (some other news outlets followed their lead, which might be worse -- both unoriginal and wrong). It was CNN’s big guns on screen, too, Anderson Cooper, John King and Wolf Blitzer. If it were this weekly newspaper that made such a huge mistake, somebody would be looking for work.
    • The fact that the Boston bombing had the whole nation fixated put a lot of pressure for all media (television and online) to keep the flow going, even when nothing new was happening. For the on-the-scene correspondents, it must have seemed like a weeklong reception at your house and needing to make conversation. In hindsight, rather than blathering endlessly with speculation, a good bit of it grossly off-base, it would have been better to hear, “Nothing new here at the bombing site. Investigators continue to work.”
    • An Onion satire headline noted that the internet led to 8.5 million leads being sent to the FBI, naming 8 million different suspects and also including several that were sure the whole bombing was a hoax or had been perpetrated by the government.
    • It needs to be remembered that three people, including an 8-year-old, really did get killed and dozens lost limbs including a newlywed couple  who are now both amputees because of the bombs. You wonder if the younger suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev, who was allegedly a nice guy, had known that the bomb was going to kill a little boy would he have done it?
    • A fear expressed by a timid few is that putting all of a major metro city on lockdown with rolling shows of force created so much infamy for two young men with a couple of home-made bombs that it is sure to inspire copy-cats and not for any jihad but just for fame – “See how much attention I can get.” As one columnist stated never have so few people with such limited resources created so much terror.
    • The uncle who urged the younger killer to turn himself in and beg for forgiveness will remain an inimitable character. Listening to him growl that his nephews brought shame on Chechnyan people was stirring and heartfelt. Whereas their aunt from Toronto was a complete flake – speculating that it was a massive frame-up and telling the media to connect the dots to see who did it, which made no sense.
    • It was startling to see how often the younger brother was portrayed as a normal, sweet-natured kids. One description by a friend, however, shows some seriously different values, saying “he would come out and smoke some weed and drink with us…. He was all American,” as though smoking pot is a clear sign of a loyal patriot.
    • It was creepy but interesting to see how one online publication, Slate, posted a link to the older brother’s Amazon book wish list. It was shocking to see how many books are out there regarding forging documents.
    • There has already been some finger-pointing that the FBI missed an earlier tip on Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Surely in hindsight they would liked to have cuffed him then. But hindsight is always perfect and the fact remains that no credible information popped up then.
    • One terrorism expert said on the radio that there are a lot of people who hold “radicalized” ideas of all kinds, not just Muslim, but also anti-government folks of which only a small percent are “mobilized.” The key is finding the ones who are mobilized because you can’t ever corral all the ones with extreme ideas.
    • One online columnist pointed out that on the same day the Boston Marathon Bombing killed three, 42 people were killed by explosive devices in Iraq, but no one seemed to care about that. American tragedy is different because it’s so unexpected. As the uncle of the two killers said America is an ideal country, which is why this is so shocking even though bombings are happening everyday in many places.

Twitter@ DanPoolProgress

Whether water park or something else, Pickens economy needs a boost

    Admittedly a $130 million project dedicated to waterslides sounds farfetched for rural Pickens County, but, as one member of the local development boards said, if outside investors really want to put up the money we need to hear them out.
    Absolutely we agree. There remains many hurdles from a business side, not to mention sewage for the accompanying 400-room hotel.
    The water park project seems more sensible on the four-lane where the sewage is feasible and the neighbors more tolerant of large operations. We know that people here are pushing the private developers to look at other sites besides the area near Blaine - let’s just hope they can reach a deal.
    But whether it’s water parks or something else, Pickens County needs a boost to our local economy.
    Desperate times in this case shouldn’t call for desperate measures -- as in paving the way for something we don’t want. But our existing industrial/commercial job base is so threadbare that we would strongly encourage the economic development, land planning officials and the three member board of commissioners to put jobs as their top priority. This isn’t about developers getting rich, rising property values or even tax revenue, it’s about people here having work.
    Let’s face it, other than Restaurant Interiors locating at the old H.D. Lee plant, big news in our businesses and industries has been mighty sparse lately – even though existing operations seem to be doing well. We simply need a few new places that will hire.
     We asked several people to recall any truly major groundbreaking/opening in recent years and most everyone came back with a blank look. Walmart, which has been opened for several years, was mentioned and although it’s not new, we’d put the expansions at Piedmont Mountainside as another bright spot in our local economy.
    Unfortunately there are quite a few things that haven’t worked out  -- at least not thus far. There was a lot of optimism that additional businesses would follow Walmart – which hasn’t happened; a lot of hope that with more sewage on the four-lane we’d see some new buildings, but other than QuikTrip and the expanded RaceTrac – nothing in recent years. This is not to take away from existing merchants like the Bargain Barn, Sacketts, Kroger and Home Depot out there, but it’s time they got some company.
    We’ve also had an utter failure with the county-led airport tech park. The project started off so promisingly a decade ago with the idea that high-tech companies would locate here for easy access to an airport capable of landing jets and nearby Highway 515.
    At one point, there were concerns that it might generate too much air traffic. But now, almost a decade later, the property remains a barren plain surrounding the airport. The “Horseshoe,” as a portion of the property was designated on plans, looks more likely to house real beasts of the field than high tech companies.
    The water park is thought to generate at least 300 jobs. Reader, consider that for second. That’s a lot of opportunities. With that many jobs there would be some for unskilled people such as a teenagers as well as some high paying management positions. We would have fewer young people preparing to move following graduation; fewer older people who have no choice but to commute and fewer people without work at all.
    If you don’t think we need this, we have recently reported the schools are serving at least 175 kids in a program that ensures they have food in their homes on weekends.
    While this water park may not work out, let’s keep in mind some other crazy ideas, like a massive outlet mall in Dawsonville or turning hundreds of acres of rural north Georgia mountains into exclusive gates communities, sounded equally dubious when they were first broached.   

75 cents worth of knowledge

    A loose transcript of a recent conversation over the phone:
    A man called to discuss writing a comment to our website on the discussed $130 million water park resort with developers eyeing Talking Rock.
    Caller: I am absolutely opposed to this. I bet they are planning to let the taxpayers pay for it with a big bond.
    Editor: Actually, no on the bond. We reported last week that the developers had once sought a $50 million bond, but that has been dropped completely.
    Caller: Well I bet county is giving them the sewage?
    Editor: No, we reported the sewage is being discussed but the county has definitely not agreed to give it to them.
    Caller: I’m sure all the county officials are trying to get this thing here.
    Editor: From the comments in our last story, it’s safe to say at least one commissioner expressed serious concerns against it.
    Caller: Oh really. How many jobs is this thing supposed to bring?
    Editor: We reported this as well. Would you like to read the story we have already done before commenting?
    Caller: No. I’m not going to pay the 75 cents for it. And your website would charge me a $1 to read the whole thing. I just read the free story.
    Editor: So, all you got was a short press release?
    Caller: Yeah. I’m not going to pay for the news.
    Everybody is aware that there is free news all over the Internet. But as the above demonstrates, you get what you pay for.
    At the Progress we don’t use aggressive sales pitches to push subscriptions. If you are like one of the more than 7,000 homes in the county that sees fit to pay us our 75 cents  (less for a yearly subscription) each week, we truly appreciate it. We work hard to see that you get your money’s worth of information. Facts like the backstory on the water park or the amount of commercial real estate in the county versus private homes. Facts like the state of county finances or news on the courthouse project.
    With the water park we interviewed numerous people from all sides and got the facts as well as views of the economic development people and the commissioner for that district. This information is worth 75 cents - we’re sure of that.
    Another similar incident to the phone call also comes to mind. There were several people who commented they couldn’t understand why the county held the recent vote on Sunday alcohol sales by itself on a ballot and questioned the cost in different online forums.
But Progress readers would have read comments from the commissioner and the election board on the timing and would have seen the price (budgeted at $16,000) in stories, as well as  a separate letter to the editor directly from an election board member explaining the issue further. Progress readers would also have seen projections of increased tax that would be collected with the extra sales made by the stores involved.
    If you are content with just the basics, like there is a water park possibly coming, the free version of news is fine. But if you want to get involved or comment or really understand what’s going on, you are going to need to spend 75 cents (less than the cost of a 20 oz. drink) or you will look half-informed.
    We will continue to provide breaking news and some additional stories online for free. We’ll put stories about events like ArtFest online at no charge. They often come to us for free through press releases and we’re doing our part to promote the community by posting them. But if you want stories that dig into things, that require reporters making calls and asking questions, you shouldn’t expect it for free any more than you expect doctors to give examinations, teachers to lessons or stores to give away free groceries.