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Staff Editorials

"A gun raffle? Sell us a ticket" and "Flat Earthers can take a hike"

    A gun raffle? Sell us a ticket


   Last week some media in Atlanta lacking any better firearm related story in the metro area chose to feature a raffle by our PHS wrestling team booster club which had a Glock handgun as the main prize.
    Needless to say this produced a serious surge in ticket sales, even though the big city media approached this story as a case of look what the gun nuts up in the mountains are doing.
    We didn’t do a story on it, mainly because we don’t see any big deal or problem with it– it’s not like they were giving away a free trip to a strip club or a bag of weed.
     A Glock handgun is a completely legal and very desirable prize to many people here and the ticket itself states that the winner must meet age and other requirements.
    Any fears that the school was going to turn over a loaded handgun to a student on school grounds is ludicrous. In the sake of clarity, it should further be noted that booster clubs are all independent and the decision was solely that of the club, not the district as a whole.
    The choice of this prize shows the organizers of the raffle likely got a deal on the pistol and have a good knowledge of their market.         They are certainly not alone in choosing guns to raffle off. From the yearly Ducks Unlimited to the local GOP to Veterans groups, firearms are pretty standard fare for prizes.
    And as far as we are aware, none of these guns has ever been put to misuse.
    There may be firearm violence issues in America, but they sure don’t come from gun
raffles to benefit youth sports.


Flat Earthers can take a hike


    Some times you just wonder if all intelligence has gone out the window. In what became a very public debate last week B.o.B., a famous rapper, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson got into a spat over whether the earth is round or flat.
    B.o.B. first argued for the flat position with his direct observation – looks flat to me is essentially what he said   
    Dr. Tyson rebutted from a scientific background, explaining the optics that make the horizon look flat and how we are very small beings on a very large curved object and thus don’t see the curvature.
    The rapper then applied a classic move put forth by debaters with losing positions, lack of evidence, or people who simply don’t want their views questioned by anyone with facts – it’s a conspiracy against me. When pressed by science, B.o.B. alerted his 2.3 million online followers that he was going up against the “greatest liars” in history, to explain why his arguments were being challenged.
    There are always nuts out there, flat-earth believers, or whatever other conspiracy theory of the day is trending online.
    But what is truly disappointing and frightening is how many people voiced support for the rapper over the scientist in this debate and how effectively they were able to circle the wagons behind the idea that they were unmasking a great conspiracy and injustice.         Maybe some of the supporters were being sarcastic or enjoying the silliness of arguing that the world is flat. It would certainly be comforting to think they were joking rather than actually jumping on a flat earth bandwagon. But one worries that too many of the people simply believed what they were told by someone they recognized as  the more famous person in the debate.
    The saying from a commercial, “it must be true I saw it on the internet,” gets a fair amount of play in sarcastic circles. Exercise caution when deciphering outrageous claims online.
    Tyson himself explained his decision to join the fray as this, “There's a growing anti-intellectual strain in this country. It may be the beginning of the end of our informed democracy."


At least see if Obamacare would benefit your family


    Since it was signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare, has been constantly assailed.
    There are real objections to the program, but politics clearly drove some of the backlash.
    Ultimately, time will tell the economic impact of the ACA, described as the biggest change in American healthcare since in 1965. Maybe we will come to see that it has merit or maybe we will see fit to repeal it. The fact that it is the subject of little discussion in the ongoing presidential campaign could signal a growing acceptance.
    In any event, the furor over the plan to expand insurance to millions of Americans has been a disservice to those who could actually benefit from it: The working poor, whom we strongly urge to investigate the opportunity now offered for healthcare.
    You can argue politics all day long but if you have a pre-existing condition or have never been able to afford proper healthcare for your family, the ACA has opened a new door.
    Hearing constantly how big forces were hard at work to repeal it or that it is filled glitches or because it came from a president who is widely disliked may have kept many from taking a look at what it really does for them.
    Even if you share 100 anti-Obama Facebook posts every day, you may find the ACA to your family’s financial and medical advantage.
    There are a couple of ways people can learn more and there is a deadline of January 31st to join during Open Enrollment for this year.
    First you can go straight to and see for yourself.
    Second, there will be a “certified navigator” at the library January 28th to help you.
    Finally, the well respected Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Clinic in Jasper has an employee, Myrna Denson, with the title “assister” and that is what she does. Good Sam does this at no cost to help them better provide healthcare to the community.
    According to the people at Good Sam, there are tangible benefits of having this insurance if you were formerly uninsured.
    While they are sticking to their mission statement of not turning anyone away, Good Sam leaders stress that when it comes to major medical issues (heart attack, cancer, surgery) there is a limit to what they can provide. That’s where the insurance comes in.
    Certified Navigator Vincent Spann, who will be at the library Thursday, described it more bluntly, “If you and your family are in a horrible car wreck and everyone is injured, you will need this [if you don’t already have insurance].” He went on to state that bankruptcies are often tied to unexpected medical bills.
    There are numerous plan options, exemptions for income, tax credits, different deductibles and different monthly bills. Without a person’s particulars, it’s hard to give a cost. Spann found a hypothetical plan during a Progress interview that would cost $50 a month to handle major medical catastrophes. There is also access to some free benefits for pregnant women and newborns.
    Good Sam emphasizes there are some great low-cost ways to insure children.
    Good Sam’s Denson said she has seen many families who didn’t realize this coverage is available.
    Spann said he finds people who don’t want insurance, who want to “risk it,” as the biggest reason more people aren’t signing up.
    We suspect in addition to risking it, there are people who have gotten by without insurance for years by avoiding checkups, relying on free clinics and emergency rooms that will send bills to people who have no intention to pay them. But with new penalties for not getting coverage, it makes sense to look at your options.
     As we began by saying, this isn’t an endorsement of Obamacare, but it is an encouragement for readers to find out if it’s right for them.
    See ad on this page for information on the library sign up or contact Good Sam (706) 253-4673.

On politicians versus public servants

By Dan Pool
    About two weeks ago a member of the Progress staff had an impromptu discussion at a convenience store. The reader suggested we needed a front page story every week about how “the government is %&*$ing us.”
    We receive some variation of this editorial request often – especially if you count the e-mail and social media messages.
    Anti-government rhetoric is at level not seen since some fellows dressed up as Indians and threw a load of tea in the ocean. You hear “revolution” used in political forums frequently.
    Yet, when you asked how “government is %&*$ing us,” you rarely get an exact answer.
    There are bunch of issues that have people stirred up -- immigrants, fears of firearm restrictions and a genuine hatred of the president.
    Much of the animosity goes deeper than differences of opinion, with a belief that  politicians in Washington, Atlanta and Pickens County are intentionally seeking to harm us. Locally this growing distrust could be spotted last week on social media. When the county commissioners decided to drop efforts to create a “special event ordinance,” several online comments didn’t commend them for being receptive to public opinion but speculated they were trying to sneak it into creation by another route.
    On the national and state level, it’s often hard to pinpoint what effect the government actually has on your daily life. When you go about your business this week is there something you must do differently or can’t do because of the government?
    Taxes have always been there and aren’t as high now as they have been at some points in our history; Obamacare has hit some individuals in their wallets but also helped some people get insurance who had never had it. While there is a lot of rhetoric about taking our guns, there are no efforts proposed in Georgia.
    One wonders if the government gets a lion’s share of the blame for the economy. Rightly or wrongly they are faulted for low pay and lack of job growth. Studies show that over the past decade, the very rich became super rich, while the lower and middle class stayed the same, which surely builds frustration. But it’s hard to pin this growing inequality on the government. And the idea that someone different in the White House would change this is farfetched.
    The government may also get faulted for nuts who go on killing sprees. Or take the heat from parents upset with their child’s school experience.
    I thought of the many anti-government comments last Thursday when I spent the morning at a joint meeting of newspaper folks and state legislators representing northwest Georgia. It included State Rep. Rick Jasperse, who represents Pickens County, and State Senator Charlie Bethel, who represents the western part of this county in his district, plus their fellow legislators who cover the northern corner of our state.
    I didn’t feel like anyone in the room was out to %&*$ us. Obviously in a room full of reporters, no one announced their agenda is to steal a bunch of money, get some free trips and find their cousin a cushy job.
    In fact I was impressed by the depth of the topics the state legislature will tackle this year.
    Just a few of the issues the northwest Georgia cadre has in their sights:
    • Legislation to make it harder for pills mills to dish out painkillers and other narcotics.
    • Looking at ways to help lower-income grandparents raise their grandkids when the parents are unable to. This may also benefit taxpayers by reducing dependence on foster care.
    • Looking at how to best fund the schools.
    • And to show these legislators are not afraid to buck the establishment, one had on his agenda looking at law enforcement’s ability to seize money and possessions.
    Consider also at the county, school board and state level, most of these people work part time for little pay (many of the local elected officials make about $50 per meeting and meet only once a month, yet take calls any time).
    Keep in mind there are politicians and then there are public servants. Make sure you can tell them apart.

We need to talk about the rights to party

    After the commissioners suddenly cut short efforts to create a special events ordinance last week, three things became pretty clear.

1.The idea of requiring gatherings of as few as 50 people to pay $100 and register was far too draconian a suggestion.
2.The aborted effort was a disservice to the county as no clear procedures are in place.
3.When the going got heated, our elected three-person board of commissioners ran for cover, instead of leading.

    The county’s land development officer mis-stepped by tossing out the idea that parties of as few as 50 people might need a permit.
    But, he didn’t err that badly as it was plainly pointed out this was the first idea to get the ball rolling, not something intended as a final draft.
    There were at least two more meetings scheduled to take input on the proposal.
    The attendee threshold could have been raised to 200 or 500 or 1,000 or changed entirely to just apply to events that charge people. Only governing events that have a commercial component would have appeased many of the critics worrying about whether their get-togethers would fall under the watch of government.
    But just because the public firmly rejected the idea of regulating 50-person gatherings, doesn’t mean we don’t need a special events ordinance.
    The commissioners ran scared at a time they should have been leaders.
    The planning director’s original rationale for the ordinance was sound - public safety personnel and the public in general need advance notice when a large event is on the horizon.
    What the issue devolved into is a vague state where it is unclear if, or when, any regulations govern large public gatherings. It was noted special events might be best handled on a case-by-case basis. That idea sounds good but is too arbitrary; case-by-case based on what? The whims of the commissioners?
    Planning commission chair Bill Cagle responded to several questions at their stalled hearing by saying that common sense and what is “reasonable” would come into play with special events.
    He noted that it was common sense that live bands would disturb people if they were still rocking after 10 p.m. And for people in rural areas over 30 years of age that is very reasonable, but ask a group of 20 year olds attending a wedding what time they think the party should stop and we suspect that 10 p.m. would be a little early.
    At the commissioners meeting and planning commission, the county attempted to pass off their current disturbing-the-peace codes as sufficient for all purposes.
    Wrong codes and wrong answer. Of the 18 points covered in the disorderly conduct statues, only one seems applicable to a general event. The other 17 address crimes like public fighting, misleading 911 operators and using vulgar language. The one that does apply addresses noise. But the county doesn’t have a genuine noise ordinance so it’s tough to say when or how it would be applied.
    The code says that creating loud noises which disturb or interfere with the peace and tranquility of the public is a violation.
    Would a single blast of fireworks violate this? Would a church singing at a sunrise service? The description is so broad that children on a playground might constitute a violation.
    One member of the public hit the nail on the head when he asked during the planning commission meeting how these codes that mainly address “hooligans” are going to apply to a big wedding?
    They don’t. They were never intended to. That is why the land development officer had been studying event ordinances in surrounding counties and the city of Blue Ridge.
    That process, unfortunately, was squelched. Recently at a dinner, two of the commissioners said they had heard all they wanted to about this subject. They may not want to hear about it any more but our prediction is that this party hasn’t reached its cut off time yet.

Things we’d like to see in 2016

•Tourism efforts put on the backburner by county and city officials and business groups.  Enough with the water park and tourist destination dreams. Let’s concentrate on what we already are - a great bedroom community for the metro area - and look for ways to capitalize on this.

•For Kirby Smart to fire up the DAWGS and have us poised for a serious run at the national championship bowls next year. Enough good-but-not-good-enough out of Athens; we want to be a contender.

•A cool restaurant, ideally a brew-pub, in the restored NAPA building on the corner of Main Street and Highway 53. The building makes a great anchor for downtown. Now we need a tenant that is truly a draw for the whole street.

•The Boys & Girls Club building completely funded and built by their goal of this spring. The fundraising team has raised over $2 million for the project and is less than $200,000 away from a fully-paid-off facility that will give our kids and teens a safe place to spend time. If you haven’t yet, please donate.

•A revival of the arts. We were sad to see Sharptop Arts Association close their doors, just as we were sad to see many other galleries and arts events (i.e. the Jasper ArtFest) that have come and gone. We would like to see new groups or new faces step up – like the successful Ed B’s Studio 54 in downtown - and make arts-related events happen here because they make a community richer and more vibrant.

•More support for veterans. We’d like to see more programs that help our vets transition back into civilian life so they can find work and live out a happy life at home with their families. We’d also like to see more funding for programs that help veterans struggling with drug addiction, PTSD, homelessness, job insecurity or disabilities from combat. We applaud all the programs out there already, like the well-received Veterans Court in this judicial circuit and programs offered through Highland Rivers, but we think more can be done in our country for those who served. 

•At least one good snow before spring.
•New sports heroes and idols to cheer. Everybody loves a hero and southern boy Cam Newton has been great to cheer for this past year as he nearly led his Carolina Panthers to a perfect season (thanks Falcons) but we need more sports role models for us and our kids. It’s fun to get behind sports figures, especially when they espouse the values we’d all like to emulate.

•While not original, we would like a more courteous tone in politics. We realize that partisan ruthlessness and low intellectual tone are chronic features of politics because they work - up to a point. But so does decency.

•More adoptions at the local shelter - and less animals there in the first place. Spay and neuter people. Spay and neuter.

•Jon Stewart’s yearlong retirement ‘joke’ end and him announce a new show. Comedy makes everything better.

•And maybe, just maybe, Blue Bell will come back with expansion plans after a safe return to shelves following the listeria scare that took the smooth, creamy, sugary stuff from us.