It used to be that a middle class family could pay their mortgage each month, pay the electric and water bills, go out to eat and for some entertainment (you know - before movies cost $45 for a family of four). Maybe even a vacation or two each year.
Those days, however, seem to be gone for many who consider themselves middle class.
The middle class is defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year but those households are shrinking at a quick pace. Recent research showed that 40 percent of American families live off $40,000 or less a year. Comparatively, a U.S. household with four people living off $23,850 or less is considered poor.
Since December, the world has witnessed two high-profile cases of freedom of speech being played out. First, with The Interview, to a befuddling wince-inducing whimper and, second with the Charlie Hebdo attack, to a violent conclusion.
Make no mistake, freedom of speech must be defended in all instances. And not just for poorly-made movies and scathingly offensive cartoons; and not just for journalists. Freedom of speech is for all the public. The right to criticize government as well as institutions and even churches/religions is fundamental to righting wrongs, furthering democracies and is the underpinning of all other freedoms. If something can’t be expressed openly, then it can’t be protected, corrected, changed or stopped.
Most Americans would be offended by the cartoons that the French newspaper regularly featured. In a particularly French tradition, the people at Charlie Hebdo set out to shock with work that left nothing private or sacred.
Satire can be defended as humor with a purpose. By making readers look from a different perspective, a work that is at first glance only humorous or may lead the reader/viewer to a deeper understanding or expose an underlying hypocrisy. Satire dates back to ancient Greece and certainly has a place in modern discourse. Polls show that for political news, Americans under 30 rely on the Daily Show (a “fake” news show”) at about the same rate as network news. The news from host Jon Stewart is real, just with an angle that skewers the subjects.
There is value is satire and occasionally poking a thumb in the eye of the powerful is useful. But, and here’s the “but” that must follow, Muslims weren’t reading Charlie Hebdo. And North Koreans weren’t watching The Interview.
The cartoons were so shocking that rather than engaging any Muslim who might be open to critical thinking, they were immediately repulsed and enraged by the depictions of the prophet Mohammed –much like many of us would be had we seen the cartoons from the same publication depicting Jesus.
The Interview for those who have forgotten the gist of the story was the comedy movie where two talk show hosts were recruited to kill North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un. Threats of violence were made against any theaters that showed the movie and the computers of Sony Entertainment were hacked. The U.S. government has tied the hackers back to North Korea.
Theaters at first caved in to these demands, but then the movie (likely to the chagrin of those who saw it) was released at some locations and online.
It would have been much easier to champion the directors and studio had the movie been a documentary on conditions in the failed state of North Korea. But the plot is banal. Instead of making shrewd political satire, the movie just makes fun of North Korean people. According to a New York Times article, North Koreans who have watched smuggled copies, found the movie degrading to all their country.
It’s as hard to defend a movie that heaped ridicule on the most oppressed people on the planet as it is to defend some of Charlie Hebdo’s content.
If North Korea had responded by producing a picture (perhaps called Return of the North Korean) that portrayed The Interview actors Seth Rogen and James Franco as evil incompetents then showed their characters being killed in a degrading manner, it would be fair to group both films together for a double feature.
While neither Charlie Hebdo nor The Interview are products many of us would choose to champion, not defending their creators’ freedom to speak lessens the protection that any of us may choose to exercise one day.
Eroding freedoms are a slippery slope and when you allow others to be deprived of anti-religious cartoons today, you find yourself silenced on development issues or taxes or school conditions here in Pickens County in the future.
One final note: Jon Stewart from the Daily Show criticized France for arresting a virulent anti-Semite performer who voiced support for the attacks. Stewart posited that wouldn’t it have been better if his shows were cancelled -- for lack of attendance?
For 2015, we’d like to re-visit a few of our “things we’d like to see in 2014” which ran in this space last year.
It’s good that we didn’t call these things predictions – because our soothsaying would rank dismally; these were the things we’d hoped for.
• Development around the Walmart – Yes, after years of sitting empty, a forthcoming Hibbet’s Sports/Dollar Tree commercial area is coming along quickly. Hopefully that will open the floodgate.
• “A few unique shops of Main Street to go with the two new restaurants.” Unfortunately, one restaurant, Lola’s, left the county after a few months, the other never got very far with their plans to move downtown. Retailer Daisy’s did move from a backstreet to Main Street and a new sandwich shop appears to be underway in the Mark Whitfield Street area. But to be blunt, Jasper’s Main Street regrettably went in the wrong direction in 2014. People were truly optimistic when it looked like both restaurants were coming, maybe that energy will resurface in 2015.
• Take off of the airport tech park. No progress is visible out there in the tech park area and frankly we’ve spent enough ink bemoaning the lack of anything other than red mud there.
• Completion and heavy use of the city’s Hood Road park walking path. The park is definitely complete, but usage is unknown.
• Another movie shoot. None, though film continues to be a growing segment of the state’s economy. Even if we don’t get Clint Eastwood again, maybe Justin Timberlake will return to shoot something.
• A strong sports season for the Dawgs, Braves, Tech, Hawks, Falcons and Dragons. The Dragons definitely broke new ground. Let’s hope key offensive threat Shannon Brooks keeps the ball moving at the collegiate level and our home team finds someone to fill those impressive shoes. For our colleges and pros, 2014 was yet again depressing. No serious contenders among the hometown pack and 2015 doesn’t hold much promise – except for the Hawks who are sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference.
• Some normal weather – definitely not in 2014. We had a headline here “The Fast and the Flurrious – Part 2.” The state had a Snowpocalyse and an Ice Jam; enough said on that one.
When you look at our list from 2014 like a teacher grading a test, it’s somewhat stark in the lack of progress. No matter how you spin it, the airport tech park, Main Street business expansion, hopes of more movie shoots, championship sports teams were mostly flops and the winter weather was more dramatic than normal.
You can explain it, rationalize it, justify it however you want, but we simply didn’t “Get ‘er done” in 2014.
On to 2015, a few new things to add to the list.
• A small tax cut from the county. They raised it this year about 6 percent with a lot of explaining and hand wringing. Show us you were serious about getting things under control with a similar 6 percent cut in the next budget.
• Beat the national average on SAT scores – PHS students routinely beat the state average but we encourage the system to set their target on the national average. In 2013 Pickens high schoolers had an average of 1475, well above the state average of 1452, but still below the 1497 national average.
• A recent report from Pickens Family Connections showed that Pickens County doesn’t do well with the number of child abuse and child neglect cases we see here. In fact Pickens ranked 138th in the state out of 156 counties in child neglect cases when adjusted for population.
In child abuse we were 113 out of 156. It was noted that these rankings are high due to a low population of children, which is both an explanation and a cause for hope. With a low number to start with, we’d challenge the county’s courts/ schools/social programs to do whatever is necessary to drop us back to the middle of the state of rankings.
By Angela Reinhardt
In the weeks leading up to the New Year, the subject of football came up at my house. I (a person embarrassingly uninformed about the sport) told my husband if I had to pick a team it would definitely be Alabama – my illogical decision based on nothing more than my dad’s birthplace (Mobile) and my late
The lesson of the water park – “The $140 million tourist attraction is coming and it’s gonna be great for the economy.” “No it’s not coming.” “It’ll totally change our whole way of life.” “It’ll cost the taxpayers millions.”
The lesson of the water park was one of not jumping to conclusions. It seemed many people had opinions on it before they had facts. One rumor we heard was our hotels were already full of construction workers, while another was that it failed environmental tests. Neither was true. At this point about the most accurate description is the developers say they are still working on it, but it’s obviously not moving very quickly.
The lesson of the JeepFest/New Year’s Eve celebration downtown – These events stand in stark rebuttal to those who complain that local people will not support events here. These two new events show plainly, folks will come out to an event if it entices them. JeepFest with its unique mix of offroad fun and Jeep watching drew more people to the bonfire last year than we have ever seen at any event here. Last year’s New Year’s Eve drew well over 1,000 people -- in spite of freezing temps. It may be hard to find something that catches the public’s interest, but these events show it’s not impossible.
The lesson of the Dragons - Is there any great lesson that we got from having the best PHS football season in decades in 2014? Probably not, but it sure was fun to see the home team roll up yardage and wins. It builds community pride and let’s hope 2015 continues the winning ways.
The lesson of Snow Jam -- In 2014 we all learned we should have at the very least a half a tank of gas in our cars during the winter months. This little gem of knowledge was learned after last winter's massive ice storm turned Atlanta into a slick parking lot. Snow Jam, as it was affectionately called, stranded thousands of drivers for hours on frozen roads in and around Atlanta - and even a few of us up here in the mountains. We also learned it can’t hurt to stash some water and chocolate bars in the glove compartment. Of course, we all already know to have plenty of bread and milk at home.
The lesson of big news in small towns - Just last week the New York Times published an article about the Helen tourist who was killed by a Jasper resident after he accidentally fired a shot that first went through his own hand. The incident has kicked up national discussions about gun rights, with a focus on expanded carrying rights legislation passed by the Georgia Assembly (and sponsored by Pickens’ own representative Rick Jasperse). Small towns like Jasper may seem to be perpetually under-the-radar, but make no mistake they can be thrust into the limelight just like middle-sized cities and metropolises (whether they want the attention or not).
The lesson of the volunteers - If you hang around non-profits or volunteers for a while you’ll probably hear the phrase, “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” We go to a lot of meetings and cover a lot of events for non-profits. While all those events are all different, many of the same faces pop up again and again. There are plenty of people who volunteer when they can (and we and everyone else are grateful) but for some people volunteering is something you’re just supposed to do and they do it all they time - even if they don’t really have the time.
The lesson of the goofy idea - Who would have thought that throwing a bucket of ice water on your head and challenging others to do the same would become such a philanthropic blockbuster. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral across Facebook and Twitter for several months at the end of the summer raised more than $115 million dollars for the ALS Association. With that money, the ALS Association has approved substantial funding to support six programs and initiatives to expedite the search for treatments and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The lesson of the child. This year the Progress staff met three-year old Sammy Simmons who was born with cleft hands and feet, along with a list of medical issues that would excuse any bad attitude she might have had. But Sammy wasn’t grumpy or hopeless at all. She was bright-eyed and happy when we met her, and after her story was published in this paper letters arrived from readers who knew her and who said being happy is how she is all the time. Despite their naiveté, children teach grown-ups life lessons everyday.