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Staff Editorials

Charles Schultz's sad little Christmas tree

    charliebrownchristmas

     In the days before DVDs and Netflix, some of us can remember anxiously waiting on Saturday evenings leading up to the holidays for the Charlie Brown TV specials at Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  After the premiere of A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, our understanding of Christmas may forever be intertwined with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy. 

 

Raising the minimum wage small step in the right direction

    The debate over the federal minimum wage has come to the surface lately with several national news items including a strike by fast food workers across the nation, news that workers at large retailers and chain restaurants were being offered advice from their employers on making ends meet and food-drives to help the employed poor, as well as calls from President Obama and others to raise the wage.
    The proposals call for hiking the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage to somewhere between $9 and $10.10 from the politicians to as high as $15 a hour from the organizers of the nationwide one-day strike.
    Raising the minimum wage a buck or two would certainly help the lowest paid and, despite some misconceptions, not hurt job chances or raise prices significantly on store shelves.
    Data from the states that have raised their minimum wage over the federal level, plus many cities and counties, show scant evidence that higher minimum wages cause jobs to dry up. In fact Georgia, allows companies to pay employees as low as $5.15 in some situations while neighboring Florida requires a minimum of $7.79 per hour, yet the employment pictures appears about the same.
    This makes sense if you think of how businesses operate with enough employees to get the job done but few superfluous positions. American businesses rarely carry un-needed employees. When they have a need they hire; When they don’t, they cut back. Another buck or two per hour won’t affect this according to empirical evidence.
    Politifact.com found 3.6 million Americans or 2.6 percentage of all those employed make at or below the minimum wage. It’s thought that a small rise in their pay would reduce the poverty level numbers among poor families.
    So giving them a permanent hike is a sound, but not monumental, decision. One economist estimated that even if they went to full $15 per hour and fast food restaurants wanted to pass the cost along to customers it would cause the price of a $3 menu item to only go to $3.60 – not a devastating jump.
    The need to raise the wage is often tied to statistics showing how hard it is to run a household on such low pay, along with the growing economic divide between rich, who are faring well in the current economic environment, while lower-paid positions have seen flat or shrinking pay for many consecutive years.
    These arguments are where the minimum wage debate derails.
    A better approach is not seeking ways to help heads of households toiling at minimum wage but asking why so many adults can’t find anything but minimum wage jobs?
    This goes to the heart of the national economic problem – why aren’t there enough decent-paying jobs to go around? Instead of just giving them a few more bucks, what’s needed is a path to move up to better jobs where the concerns are over benefits not what’s the lowest amount that you can legally be paid.
    Entry-level jobs with minimum wage are fine for high school and college students or for anyone wanting temporary cash but they are never going to be a middle-class career path.
    For an answer as to why so many people are stuck there, we must look at case by case situations. Some may lack the skills needed to get a better job; others may have seen positions outsourced or automated; while others may be in areas where industries have collapsed leaving few job choices. These problems will take much more effort and creative thinking to address.
    In the long run, better jobs and more of them are needed, but that remains a distant goal, so in the meantime hiking the pay of those stuck at the minimum wage is a regrettably appropriate choice.

The ABCs of Thanksgiving

    A is for aunts, lots of them, all telling us how we should have cooked those green beans just a wee bit longer.
    B is for all the bread we’re going to consume on Thanksgiving even though we are constantly told in order to be thin we need to stay away from the stuff. That cornbread dressing is calling our name.
    C is for cars that carry all those relatives to our homes to gather for the holidays. And then, blessedly, carry them back home.
    D is for Dressing. The true centerpiece of a Thanksgiving feast. Turkey? HAH. The bird is just there for looks and leftover sandwiches days later.
    E is for everything, as in “I can’t believe I ate everything on my plate.”
    F is for family because although lots of things change in life, family is forever. We are thankful for those who have leading roles in our lives and would unconditionally do anything for us – because they sort of have to; it’s a requirement.
    G is for grandma’s recipes with lots of butter and fatback and all the stuff we know we shouldn’t eat but can’t help ourselves.
    H is for house, as in the one that we’ll be cleaning on for ages after everyone leaves.
    I is for “I really am thankful.” Think about it: living in this area, this country, we have a lot that we might take for granted. But don’t. Express your gratitude this year.
    J is for jokes, as in the same ones we hear over and over each year at family gatherings. Corny, goofy, embarrassing? Yes, but family gatherings wouldn’t be the same without them.
    K is for kiss that diet good-bye, at least until January 1.
    L is for the Lions and Packers game we’ll be watching. Not quite like watching the Dawgs, but with  Matthew Stafford in Detroit  it’s still pretty good. If you aren’t a UGA fan,  you can cheer against the Cowboys in one of two other games. Gathering around the TV on a Thanksgiving afternoon, munching on leftovers -- as good as it gets.
    M is for memories – as in memories that everyone loves to share as we gather together.
    N is for now – As in sit down and eat now, everyone  at the same time - a rarity in modern America.
    O is for opening the refrigerator door, for the 100th time.
    P is for potatoes, as in mashed, smashed AND sweet, all on the same plate.
    Q is for all those unending questions from that five-year-old nephew who begins every conversation with “Why?”
    R is for running away - which we would like to do by the end of the day- and reading, give thanks for our favorite books.
    S is for stretchy pants.
    T is for Thank You to our Progress readers and advertisers.
    U is for covertly passing  those last couple of pieces of casserole to the dog under the table to make room for more dessert.
    V is for vacuum cleaners that go a long way to clean up all the dressing and green beans that will likely be spilled by the end of the day.
     W is for “Whoa”, the word we wish we’d uttered before the third slice of pie.
    X is for the mark you put through the day on the calendar once Thanksgiving is over.
    Y is for “You’re inviting Who?”
    Z is for ZZZZZ. As in a turkey induced nap.    
    But most of all, we’re just thankful we aren’t a turkey.

Bundle up and go this winter

    Jack Frost has already been nipping at our noses this week but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bite back and get outside for a walk, jog or just poking around in the yard.
    It may be hard to leave the warm comforts of home for a jaunt outside but that’s exactly what we should do for both our mental and physical health.
    Make “bundle up and go” your winter mantra.
    Especially for those who spend most of our time indoors and in offices, getting some outdoor time will do wonders for your mood – not to mention your waistline. [For those of you who work outdoors, be satisfied that this doesn’t apply to you.]
    But for many of us, our time outdoors when winter hits drops to a quick dash from the car to the office and this isn’t good. The benefits to your mood of braving the elements trumps the momentary discomfort and possibility of later sniffles any time.
    When we head outside and breathe in fresh air – regardless of how cold – and on sunny days gather up some vitamin D into our systems - it’s like taking a happy pill. No Zoloft required. We may want to stay buried under those covers or curled up on the couch next to a fire because we think it will make us happy and relaxed but in reality the cold stimulates our parasympathetic system – aka our “relax and renew” system. These endorphins can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that keep us happy and feeling good.
    People who exercise outdoors, especially in cold, brisk weather, have more energy than those who exercise inside on treadmills or ellipticals. Nothing wakes us up like a brisk walk on a cool morning.
    The saying “like a breath of fresh air” to describe something invigorating is both appropriate and literally true.
    Grandma may have said going outside in chilly weather can make us “catch” a cold but, according to doctors, that simply isn’t true. Sorry Grandma, going outside is one of the best things you can do to prevent catching a cold. Viruses or bacteria are more often spread in the winter because of close contact from everyone being indoors.
    One of the great things about living in Georgia is that it’s rarely too hot, cold, windy or rainy to keep you from getting outside. There are exceptions, but bear in mind this Friday and Saturday during our Christmas parades in Jasper and Ball Ground that fans go outside and watch football games in Chicago, Green Bay and Pittsburgh in ridiculous weather. Surely we can handle the 40s and some drizzle.
    It’s all a matter of being prepared for the weather. A good winter coat and hat makes all the difference. Consider it an investment in time – more time outside.
    According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the biggest mistakes you can make while exercising in cold weather is to dress too warmly. In The Christmas Story, the mom bundles Ralphie’s little brother up before sending him off to walk to school. With laborious dedication, he tries to keep up with his older brother but finds himself unable to walk because he’s so bundled up. He ends up lying in the snow as he’s so over-dressed he can’t get up when he falls.
    With the way the season is starting, there will be days that are only fit for sitting indoors, but there won’t be many if you are committed to bundling up and going for at least a few minutes. Foul weather can discourage even the most motivated among us.    
    Don’t let this winter keep you stuck inside.

Long-term solitary confinement: inhumane and ineffective

    After 41 years living in a 9x6 foot cell (imagine the size of a parking space) for 22-23 hours a day, Herman Wallace was released this past October from a Louisiana prison.
    Three days later Wallace died of liver cancer.
    Wallace was one of three men known as the “Angola 3” who were sentenced to solitary confinement after being convicted of killing a prison guard in 1972. One of the three, Robert King, was exonerated and released in 2001 after spending 29 years in solitary. The third remains in solitary to this day.
    While there are variations by state, solitary confinement is an extreme form of isolation - inmates are cut off from human contact as a punitive measure. Before the 1980s solitary confinement was rarely used in the states but has since become common, justified by an increase in prison gangs and as a way to control violence.
    While in solitary, inmates receive their meals through slots in solid metal doors. There is often little to no daylight. Human contact is limited to prison guards dropping off meals and the sound of inmates in adjoining segregation cells going insane (described by an ABC News investigative reporter who spent “the two worst days of [his] life” in solitary confinement).
    Here’s an account from Thomas Silverstein, a prisoner who has been in solitary since 1983.
    “I was completely isolated from the outside world and had no way to occupy my time. I was not allowed to have any social visits, telephone privileges, or reading materials...I was not allowed to have a television, radio, or tape player. I could speak to no one…
    Due to the unchanging bright artificial lights and not having a wristwatch or clock, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. There was no air conditioning or heating. During the summer, the heat was unbearable…the bright, artificial lights remained on in the cell constantly, increasing my disorientation and making it difficult to sleep…those lights buzzed incessantly. The buzzing noise was maddening.”
    Read any writings from prisoners subjected to long-term solitary and you may have a hard time sleeping as well. The letters describe descents into madness – and after decades of subjection to conditions of extreme isolation many inmates can’t find their way back.
    In the New Yorker piece “Hellhole: Is Solitary Confinement Torture,” Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz who was granted permission to study 100 randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax prison observed that “after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners ‘begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,’ he said.”
     In a statement tied to Angola 3 man Herman Wallace’s death, the United Nations human rights official Juan E. Méndez said “the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law,” – and we agree.
    Our increasing use of indefinite and extreme isolation of prisoners (with 25,000 inmates in the U.S. currently being held in solitary confinement and another estimated 50,000-80,000 in other forms of segregation) is inhumane and is an embarrassment to the American judicial system.
      Study after study shows that solitary confinement doesn’t kill anger and violent tendencies, it enflames them. Solitary also increases the chances that a prisoner will commit another crime when released – and beyond the gross ethical problems we have with the barbaric practice, construction and maintenance of supermax prisons are a siphon on American taxpayers. A prisoner inside a supermax facility costs an average of 50 percent more a day than at a regular prison.
    We aren’t excusing criminals’ actions and we believe there should be appropriate consequences. We also agree that prison officials need a tool to control the inmate population - but long-term mental torture isn’t it.