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Staff Editorials

Have politics really gone this low

    On Friday, the Jack Kingston For Senate campaign held a meet and greet at Rocco’s pub. And like most political events in Pickens County, it was almost exclusively attended by campaign staff, other politicians and a handful of loyal party members - except there was this one creepy looking guy who hovered around with a video camera.
    As the Progress attendees were chatting with Kingston on compelling topics of national significance such as where he had lunch that day, the video guy moved in closer to catch every word of this. When asked who he was, Kingston, an affable congressman from the Savannah area, answered for him.
    The guy was a “tracker,” someone who is paid by political rivals to follow him around and record every thing he says in hopes that he shoots himself in the foot, figuratively.
    The congressman and the tracker then had a quick exchange that revealed the tracker is paid by a liberal PAC (political action committee). The tracker replied that Kingston should know all about trackers because the PACs that support him also use them.
    Kingston then challenged the tracker over how much he is paid, to which the tracker said the people paying him didn’t want him to give out that information.
    To which the Progress editor said that must be the most boring job in the world.
It really must be a horrible way to earn a living, recording nothing but small talk all day in hopes that some candidate will lose focus and say something like he enjoyed the barbecue in Ellijay.
    The comment would then re-surface later that day on partisan websites stating that Kingston no longer supports south Georgia barbecue.
    According to a column on trackers in the New York Times, Kingston may be annoyed by someone constantly sticking a camera in his face, but he should also be flattered: someone out there views him worthy to watch. The NY Times columnist Gail Collins joked, “I’ll bet there are borderline candidates out there who hire someone to pose as a tracker just so people will think they’re being taken seriously.”
    Collins also noted that in the old days, politicians refused to give stump speeches if they thought any reporters were on-hand as it was unseemly to have someone write down what you said in impromptu meetings.
    This recording of every comment isn’t really fair, nor is it a good way to judge a person’s character or intelligence. Think how many times during a day you say something that doesn’t come out right or, frankly, did come out as you were thinking it, but wished you hadn’t verbalized it?
    President Obama is known among Washington press corps for being particularly guarded, pausing before saying anything and speaking in full paragraphs so his comments are hard to pull out of context.
    Having an ample supply of witty retorts that don’t offend any group is a great skill, but it has more to do with stand-up routines than balancing a budget or passing legislation. President Lyndon Johnson was known to let fly a blue streak in front of the press on many subjects, but his foul language was never reported. And listeners were shocked to hear the cussing in the Oval Office when Nixon decided to have a recording system installed.
    But were voters (and the country as a whole) any worse off not knowing that four-letter words abounded in government conversations?
    On the other hand, reporters in the press pool intentionally ignored JFK’s womanizing. Today, the thought that such behavior went un-reported is also unsettling.
    Something is clearly wrong with the way candidates campaign and voters respond. This is the one time that voters have all the access they want to government. Rarely, however, do we see political events attended by any members of the public at large. We noted at several campaign events in the last cycle that not a single person not affiliated with a campaign, the local party, or local officials were present.
    So the idea that the public is out there chomping at the bit for unfiltered information from/on candidates is regrettably, not accurate.
    There needs to be  a change in both how campaigns operate and how voters find out who to vote for, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t start with a guy with a video camera.

No, we're not used to the cold



By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    We don’t know how to handle the cold here in Pickens County - and why should we? We’re southerners.
    I realize not everyone reading this is from the south, but like many of you I’ve always called Georgia home.
    Now I’m 31 and could count on my fingers and toes the times we’ve had snow in metro Atlanta. Still, some non-southerners get self righteous and call us wimps when we cancel school and rush to the grocery store after forecasters predict snow - or worse, the dreaded “wintry mix.”
    These folks need to remember that for southerners “cold” is the low 30s, and even then we only expect it for a few days - a week tops. Our idea of a winter wardrobe is a jacket (most of us own one “big,” poorly insulated one), skimpy (but cute) gloves, hiking boots and a few layers of long-sleeved shirts we scrounged together from our fall wardrobe. This paltry collection is what we use to get  through that day or two of freezing temps before we get back to normal weather.
      Cars and trucks are another excellent example of how poorly equipped we are for winter. Many southerners don’t own special winter accoutrements like ice scrapers, which means on mornings our windshields are frozen we default to the best available alternative - usually an expendable plastic card in our wallet. I use my blood donor card. I also have no idea where to get snow chains for tires, but if I did (and I imagine most southerners would agree) I would never actually buy them.
     Go and dish us out an “arctic blast” like the one we weathered a few weeks ago and it’s mayhem. Our pipes bust. School is cancelled. No one wants to go to work and our conversations rarely divert from grumbling about the weather.
    That same week I interviewed a nice man from Minnesota who built a snowmaking machine for his daughter. I was wearing two layers of clothing, my scarf and my cotton pea coat. When I got to his house I realized my gloves were back at the office. After five minutes of note-taking my hands were throbbing and I was ready to get in the van - but before I left I made the mistake of walking too close to the snow maker and the hair on the right side of my head froze (which was actually kind of cool).
    “You’re not prepared for this kind of weather, are you?” the man asked me with a sheepish little grin.  
    Well, no, I’m not. I lost my big coat two winters ago and I don’t own one stitch of clothing made from wool, shearling or alpaca hair - but the next day I adapted. I wore two layers under my jeans, three pairs of socks, three shirts, a leather jacket and my husband’s puffy Member’s Only coat, and I was borderline comfortable.
    That morning, as a fun little experiment, I took a cup of water and threw it on our truck. In less than three seconds it froze, but the really crazy thing was I could HEAR it freeze. For northerners this is normal; for me and other southerners it’s something that could only happen in the Twilight Zone or on the ice planet Rura Penthe – not here on Earth.
    But let’s not forget people like Mike, a friend who moved here after living in central Florida for 30 years. My husband and I had dinner with Mike last weekend and I giggled listening to his 10-minute tirade about north Georgia winters, which he likened to “moving to hell,” and “living in a freezer.”
    I told him it could be worse. At least we have four seasons.
    “Yeah, it could be worse,” he said. “I could be frozen solid on the front porch, dead. That would be worse.”  
    The truth is, being intolerable to certain types of weather is ubiquitous. People in the north have a hard time with our heat, and people from farther south think north Georgia in winter is torture. 
    It’s not that we southerners couldn’t adapt to harsh wintery weather if we had to, we just don’t have the opportunity - and quite frankly a lot of us don’t want it.    

The Odyssey for flu shots And what it says about healthcare

By Dan Pool, editor
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    Before the New Year’s holiday, I heard of several people with the flu. My immediate thought was “oh &*$%, we haven’t gotten our flu shots.”
    Normally my family gets flu shots as a regular part of winter – the number of press releases we run from the health districts prompts me to insist on the whole family getting shots.
    Our Progress insurance, through Aetna, has a program where we can get free flu shots at CVS. My wife got her shot for free and was on her way in a matter of minutes last week.
    I showed up an hour later, seeing the same very nice pharmacy assistant but my insurance card wouldn’t go through for the free shot. To the local store’s credit, they were much more patient than I would have been with the people they were on the phone with trying to find out why I wasn’t being allowed the free shot. The local pharmacist said the excuses from whoever was on the other end of the phone included my personal information was not correct in one instance and that I wasn’t even on the plan at all in another.
    I went ahead and paid for the shot, around $18. Considering health-karma, I figured if I walked out, I’d have full-blown H1N1 by the time I got home – (and I know it takes two weeks for the shot to build up your immunity). But, you don’t anger the health gods when it comes to flu shots.
    Of my kids, one daughter went to another pharmacy who would give the shots to 13-year-olds without prescriptions, (but not 12-year-olds) -- as long as we paid for it. We got a prescription sent over to CVS and the 12-year-old got her shot there, also for free.
    While this is one isolated case involving one family, it shows well the dysfunction in the healthcare/insurance industry. Critics often talk about the complexities and peculiarities of medical treatment in this country as a chief flaw. If fast food restaurants can ensure identical dining experiences at thousands of locations, why is healthcare drastically different when comes to what’s provided for what price?
    Except for payroll and newsprint, insurance is our biggest expense at the Progress. We spend a fortune on it and the price keeps rising. To handle the rising costs, every year the Progress drops down to a little worse insurance package. Obamacare doesn’t really figure into this either good or bad at this point. Maybe the price rose a little more than normal in the latest proposals, but really we see the same rising dollar amounts every year. On the good side, when the private insurance finally gets more than we can afford, the “marketplace” will provide a safety net for us.
    If there was an advertiser who spent as much with this newspaper as we spend for insurance and I found out they had an issue over a $20 want ad, I would drive to their house to straighten things out. But with healthcare, consumers are always over the barrel. There is no negotiating power because it’s something you have to have and few options for small companies.
    On a larger scale, the inefficiency with giving something preventative, like flu shots, is intolerable. Everyone benefits when flu shots are given, both financially and for health reasons.
    Consider that only around 40 percent of the U.S. population gets a flu vaccine. The vaccines are only good for one year. Whatever is not used is discarded.
    The private companies re-formulate their vaccines to match the current strains of virus each year working through the CDC. There is a lot of research that goes down the drain every year with unused flu shots.
    Influenza is the most troublesome, vaccine-preventable disease in America. On an average year, 200,000 people will be hospitalized due to flu related issues; 36,000 will die. Numerous studies have shown that while not guaranteed to keep you well, the yearly influenza vaccination is very effective at reducing the likelihood of you getting the flu.
    The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimated that direct costs of treating influenza run $1 to $3 billion each year. And the indirect costs of missed work and disruptions to business range somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion per year based on several online articles.
    The country as a whole and the insurance companies would be better off if they just gave flu shots to everyone who wanted them –sure the vaccine producers would have to be paid, but obviously there is more money going down the drain every time a shot is not given.
    Higher number of doses administered would greatly lower the per-dose costs; the country would save substantially on medical costs by lowering the number of flu cases and businesses would operate better with fewer absences – not to mention the great benefit to those suffering from the flu.
    But this is not likely to happen. And that is just one example of how our healthcare system needs an overhaul.   

News at the speed of light

By Dan Pool, editor
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    The internet caused the first big change in the way papers like the Progress address news coverage. For breaking news, you will find it on our website, which means we operate more like a daily paper in some situations.
    The second big change, still underway, is a  growing portion of the population who get instant updates on their cell phones. To borrow a phrase from columnist Thomas Friedman, it was when we went from “connected to hyperconnected.” As I told a journalism class at Reinhardt College last year, this means our deadline is always five minutes from now.
    Saturday we had a picture of the old Bargain Barn fire on our Facebook page before the first drop of water was sprayed. We took great care to make sure the caption left no room for doubt that it was the old as opposed to the current operation of one of our county’s largest retailers. We try to think about things like that to avoid a potential widespread miscommunication. In some cases we’ll be a little vague, “trailer fire in the Refuge /South Woods area,” but so far we haven’t been wrong. If we report through any of our print, online, social media that something is happening, you can be confident the gist of it is right.   


Things we’d like to see in 2014


    •At least one business to open  in the outparcel section near Walmart. It’s been flat and barren long enough. A few days ago one of our employees thought they saw Sam Elliott riding bareback out there as two lonely tumbleweeds drifted across his path.

    •More support of local art and a more cohesive art scene. Right now Pickens’ art community is like an archipelago – a string of islands clustered together but not strongly intertwined with each other or with the community. We’d like to see stronger working relationships among art galleries, art non-profits and individual artists, and more support of local visual and performance arts by the public to keep these groups strong and viable.

    •A satirical take on Pickens County similar to The Colbert Report, The Onion or The Daily Show. Sample headline, “Pickens woman says ‘Well, bless your heart,’ a record-breaking 50 times in one day.”

    •A few unique shops on Main Street. With two new restaurants opening in downtown Jasper in early 2014, we’d like to see a couple of quirky, independent shops open up too. The restaurants will bring more foot traffic to support businesses in downtown.

    • Take off at the airport tech park. For at least a decade, there has been a belief that if we built it, businesses would come seeking sites near a runway. While there has been some success with the individual hangars, as far as we know, nothing has located here because of our airport.
    • Completion and heavy use of the city’s Hood Road park walking trails. We applaud the idea of connecting various points around Jasper to a large wooded parcel owned by the city with trails suitable for foot traffic or golf carts. It looks like the wooded trails are nearly complete. Now all we need is a public excited to get out and enjoy them.

    • Spaying and neutering. And lots of it. There are way too many dogs and cats and puppies and kittens at our animal shelter. So many that go in never come out and there’s only one real solution to this devastating problem – spaying and neutering. Between 3 and 4 million adoptable animals are euthanized in animal shelters each year and these high numbers are the result of unplanned litters that could have been prevented.

    • Another movie shoot. It doesn’t have to be Clint Eastwood; heck, the movie he made here wasn’t any Fistful of Dollars by a long stretch. But the movie production right in town livened things up for a few days.

• The 13 in 2013 was all too apropos for our Georgia sports teams – Dawgs, Tech, Falcons, Braves and Hawks ranged from miserable to unlucky. None produced anything worth celebrating. Somebody make a serious run in the post-season this year, please.

• Some normal weather. No floods, no freak winter tornadoes, no unusually heavy snowfalls or droughts or heat waves.