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Staff Editorials

Government shutdown is hijacking of America

    Last week some members of the Progress staff were on vacation, camping at Vogel State Park. While there they rode over to Brasstown Bald as the middle schoolers among the group had learned about it being the highest point in Georgia.
    But rather than a geography lesson, the kids got a lesson in politics. Vogel is a state park and was open and crowded, while Brasstown is operated by the United States Forest Service and was padlocked at the front gate.
    It is enraging that petulant government leaders in Washington have led us to a point where our natural attractions are locked – “Sorry kids, some people feel it is really important to defund ObamaCare, so they have locked up all the parks.”
    Carter’s Lake has closed campsites, and boat ramps were closed for nearly a week – as if the childish attitudes of people in Washington should mean we can’t go fishing in Georgia.
    Another member of the Progress staff was similarly affected by the shutdown as a planned trip to the West Coast with a highlight tour of  Alcatraz became a trip without a highlight - the historical prison is shuttered.
    In the greater scope of things, ruined vacations are small issues in terms of the government shutdown.
    Some of the more serious consequences were 800,000 federal employee paychecks. Services related to everything - from pregnant women nutrition through the WIC program to the yearly flu shots from the CDC - are at risk.
    The worse case scenarios have a global financial meltdown if the federal debt ceiling isn’t raised later this week. Even though the debt ceiling is a different topic, it is lumped in with the previous sequester and current shutdown. But the real issue isn’t parks or federal services, the real issue is ObamaCare - otherwise known as the Affordable Care ACT (ACA).
    Some conservatives have made it plain that they want (at the least) portions of the ACA defunded/repealed in exchange for them doing jobs they were elected to do – operate the nation.
    Congressman Doug Collins expressed on his website, “Until we can bolster enough votes to repeal ObamaCare in its entirety, the House of Representatives must do what it can to defund smaller portions of this destructive bill.”
    Pickens’ other congressman has been similarly steadfast in maintaining that the shutdown is necessary because ObamaCare is vastly not to his liking. On ABC’s This Week, Congressman Tom Graves would never clearly answer the question about how far he was willing to push it with the shutdown for a chance to repeal ObamaCare, but it was plain he wasn’t going to give in any time soon.
    Graves kept referring to the American family facing “horrible impacts” from ObamaCare as though that justified delays and defunding other parts of government that have nothing to do with healthcare.
    Not all of the GOP are as committed to the cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-face plan. Paul Ryan,  a popular Republican leader and vice presidential nominee last go round, published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, offering many common sense measures involving general budgets and short terms fixes but did not tie his plan to the repeal of the ACA.
    It should be noted that the Affordable Care Act was duly passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President – exactly the way students learn that government enacts laws. The Affordable Care Act was then sent to the Supreme Court and they upheld it.
    Like it or not, the ACA has been passed, signed, ratified and is taking effect. Around 2.8 million Americans went on the federal government websites to find out about enrolling in the plans the first week they were available – obviously there are plenty of people out there who want at least an opportunity to see if it will work.
    If ObamaCare is the flop some predict, it will be obvious soon enough, but to declare it a disaster before it even starts and then take it out on other departments is a shirking of the duty we entrusted in the people we elected.

It’s a bonding thing: Cheering for the home team has surprising benefits

    Getting behind the Dragons – or the Falcons or the Dawgs (but definitely not the Yellow Jackets) may be beneficial to your health.
    Whether your favorite sports team is the local high school football or softball teams or the NFL, NBA, or MLB, cheering for a team sport is all about coming together in the name of good times as part of a community. And that’s a good thing. Bonding over sport - the highs and lows of the game - strengthens ties and gives us a sense of family. When we identify with a local team we instantly build connections to those around us - and that is great for our overall wellbeing.
    According to a Gallup poll, 64 percent of us Americans are pro football fans, 54 percent love college football, 41 percent call ourselves fans of college basketball while 38 percent are fans of professional basketball. And it’s not just men. As of 2010, women make up 44 percent of the NFL fan base. And the number of people who enjoy those “other” fall sports are growing too.
    The bonding we do with friends and others we may meet while sitting in the stands cheering can bring us together and make us more than strangers that happen to live in the same area. Rooting for – or against – a certain team provides us with some common ground that otherwise may be hard to find in daily life. While some of us may have more interest in the sporting event itself and what is happening between the yard markers, baselines or on the basketball court, a family or group of friends can just as well enjoy the conversation, the laughs, the highs and the lows of the competition.
    Research shows us that maintaining a strong social network, especially with healthy pals, improves our chance of living longer by 50 percent - and who wouldn’t want that? Sharing good times with friends - like at a sporting event - can even reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease and help us cope with stress. So even if the team we’re pulling for loses, at least we have our friends or neighbors in the stands to cheer us up and help forget about it over some laughs. Being a sports fan can benefit us both emotionally and psychologically and studies show fans that identify with a local team have higher self-esteem and are less lonely.
    Like the beer commercial that says “It’s only superstitious if it doesn’t work” while showing men lined up in a row on a couch with color-coordinated  socks while another group rubs each others’ heads just before their team attempts a field goal, it’s the commonality of a sporting event that’s just plain fun. And even non-sports fans can enjoy the comradery that comes along with cheering on a team, especially a local team with kids giving it their all in support of their school.
    Beyond the bonding aspects, watching sports can motivate us to keep up with our own workouts and maybe burn an extra calorie or two on the treadmill after we watch that local cross country runner sprint across the finish line for a personal best. Even if we can’t run 26 miles after watching the New York marathon, we might just be inspired to hit the pavement and churn out an extra 3-miler that week. 
    If you’re looking for some spectating opportunities this weekend, check out the Dragons on their home football field at PHS Friday night or our local cross country runners as they host the biggest running event of the season at Roper Park Saturday morning and see what a fun and exciting time you can have cheering them on.
    Get out there and jump up and down in the stands or on the sidelines, do some fist pumps, throw your arms in the air after an amazing play or performance. And remember - it’s good for you.

“I Forgot My Phone” - Our cultural addiction to smartphones

    A parody of life was recently posted on YouTube showing just how much technology has changed how we socialize.
    And it’s not a pretty picture.
    The video, I Forgot My Phone written by and starring Charlene deGuzman, shows in a very in-your-face kind of way something most of us already know – that there has been a complete takeover of our hands by smartphones. We are nothing short of obsessed. (Look for this editorial at for link to video.)
    Apparently we can’t live without cell phones, and iPhones in particular. The most recent release, the iPhone 5S, sold 9 million  devices within the first few days of its launch.
    91 percent of American adults own a cell phone and many use it for much more than phone calls.
    According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project: 81 percent of us use our phones for texting, 60 percent of us access the internet on our phones, 52 percent send or receive emails on our phones, 50 percent download apps and 49 percent get directions, recommendations for restaurants or other location-based information, while another 48 percent of us listen to music on our phones.
    And apparently we do these things all the time - even in inappropriate places and times. What’s worse? We don’t realize how “bad” it’s gotten.
    We take pictures and videos, chat, text and search the web even in the middle of living our lives. Charlene deGuzman’s video laments what has happened to our social lives, thanks to phones. The videographer shows us, through a two-minute video, just how often we use technology at the expense of forging real, human connections. In the video, she shows two friends celebrating over glasses of champagne, the toast interrupted for the inevitable photo op. At a birthday celebration, while friends sing happy birthday, everyone, including the birthday boy, have phones in hand videoing the moment instead of enjoying it.
    In the short flick, deGuzman goes bowling with a bevy of friends only to realize they are too busy on cell phones to notice her rolling a strike. And cuddling with her boyfriend? You guessed it, he’s got cell phone in hand checking out the latest game score or celebrity tweets.
    The video, apart from its straight-up humor, is also flat-out depressing.
    Have we really become a culture of people alone with our smartphones, even when we’re surrounded by living, breathing humans?
    Our phones have become an essential utility that we frequently check – while out to dinner with friends or in a movie theatre - much to the displeasure of those around us. [Note: one editor here said exceptions must be made when you are so, so close to finishing the next level on Candy Crush Saga.]
    We keep our phones close at all times and many of us would have trouble functioning without them.
    A staggering 67 percent of cell owners, according to Pew research, find ourselves checking our phones for messages, alerts, or calls – even when we don’t notice our phones ringing or vibrating.
    A smaller, yet significant, number of us, approximately 44 percent, sleep with our cell phones next to our beds because we don’t want to miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.
    We want to be connected. We want to feel indispensable. But does this connectivity, giving people access to us at all times, make our lives better or are we ultimately losing out on the authentic moments of life while trying to capture them in our phones?

Even online, Think before you share

    When news broke last week of a possible sexual assault against a student at Pickens County Middle School, it spread through our community like wildfire. Facebook posts from people claiming knowledge of the event – and its horrible impact on the student – were everywhere.
    Social media like Facebook can be helpful in getting information out quickly to a large audience and it can be a place of support for friends and family, but it also has the potential to do far more harm than good. Social media can be extremely hurtful when used without ample consideration of the consequences of what is posted.
    And it also provides the fastest way to spread inaccurate information to the greatest number of people with the least restraint.
    In many situations, online posts - even well-intentioned ones - can create distractions to people already dealing with a tragedy.
    Last week just moments after we posted Superintendent Perry’s letter about a possible assault at the school, there were comments – which we deleted – that gave specific information about the sex of the victim and the physical injuries. These comments came too close for comfort in identifying the child and presented very personal aspects of  the assault. No one has the right to post to thousands of followers on a Facebook page what the child went through as a result of the assault and the ensuing medical trauma.
    Remember, we live in a small town and even narrowing down the victim’s gender and age goes a long way towards letting people know who was hurt by this outrageous act.         Authorities were extremely careful not to release the fact that the student was a special education student at PCMS because there is such a small pool of students, compared to the larger school population, who would fit that description. Ultimately the victim’s father provided that information in a television interview with the Atlanta media. Parents may have that right to divulge such information to the world about their child, but no one else does.
    True community journalists, the school system and the authorities working this case are held to higher standards regarding what statements are issued. Anyone with a keyboard, unfortunately, can say whatever they think without facing any scrutiny in the real world.
    Anyone with an internet connection can spout off any thing, any time, but keep in mind, “with much power comes great responsibility.”
    Law enforcement and school officials went to great lengths to prevent the identity of the victim from becoming public, not only to adhere to the law but also because they were trying to do the right thing in this small community.
    False rumors can spread quickly and complicate an investigation, requiring police to take extra time to set the record straight. Their jobs are further complicated when interviewing potential witnesses and they have to decipher whether the witness knows something firsthand or only because they read it at Facebook.
    In addition to disseminating unintentional information about victims of crime, Facebook postings can also lead to straight up false information. While not just online, the Saturday rumor that an arrest had been made had no basis and was not accurate at all.
    Remember, just because you think you “know” something to be a fact, doesn’t mean it really is. And if you do know a bona fide fact, please think before you share it.

No way new courthouse doesn’t meet needs -- just look at it

    There is a video on Youtube that is entertaining in a headshaking way – it’s a collection of traffic clips that show what happens when different size rental/delivery trucks drive through underpasses that are too low.
    In most cases the clips show a clearly marked sign indicating the bridge or tunnel height before showing the roofs getting ripped off.
    From the video (click here to view) it doesn’t appear that anyone is injured, but a great deal of automotive carnage is shown because drivers either didn’t notice the signage of the low underpass or simply couldn’t do the math --12-foot-high truck plus 11.5-foot-high concrete bridge equals one big mess.
    This video came to mind last week when reading in the Grand Jury Presentment saying how the almost ready to officially open courthouse (with a price expected somewhere around $13 million) is judged too small for future growth. According to the grand jury presentments, “Another concern of the department heads is the potential impact of future growth that may require expanded services and personnel with the accompanying need for additional work areas. Most departments are now at a maximum capacity with very little accommodation for expansion if needed.”
    Seeing that statement brought the same feeling the owners of those trucks must have felt if they saw the video of their vehicle having its top sheered off -- a sickening, “you have got to be kidding me” reaction.
    The parking was also judged utterly frustrating and unacceptable in the Grand Jury Presentments, but most everyone has offered that opinion since the project began. To borrow a phrase Sole Commissioner Rob Jones favors, the parking “is what it is.”
    There are only two possible explanations for why this courthouse could possibly be judged too cramped (1.) It was truly built too small or (2.) Some judicial  employees didn’t get everything they wanted and are grousing.
    We know that not all department heads felt this way. At least one said the building space was more than adequate for future growth and overall the building has plenty of empty areas, which could be reconfigured if some department area needs more room.
    Another reason we’ll argue that the building is more than adequate: Look at it. That mammoth structure dominating Main Street is impressive; it’s grand; there is nothing cramped, small or limited about it. Maybe a few offices/courtrooms inside are smaller than preferred, but the idea that overall it’s not big enough to meet future needs can’t be right.
    Jasper Mayor John Weaver (who spent a considerable amount of time there for a recent civil suit) made an off-hand comment that the view and space in the second-floor bathroom was better than his office. Weaver, who normally butts heads on all things county, confided to our editor that he was quite impressed with the facility after a weeklong case there.
    Furthermore, we’d point out the idea that everything has to be built supersize is outdated. A predicted growth wave through the late 80s and 90s was tossed out to justify anything government or school administrators wanted at the time. No longer is that the case. It might be the case again some day, but there is no reason to believe that north Georgia will see a massive population spike anytime soon.
    One other simple comparison: The new courthouse is much, much bigger than the old leaky courthouse and, despite squalid conditions there, the courts did function. If they could work there, they surely can work in the new modern facility.
    Perhaps these department heads who feel hemmed in should randomly call 10 business owners and see how much facility expansion they have written checks for in the past decade. When the owners are the ones writing checks make-do, not re-do, is the answer.
    The new courthouse is nearly complete, it looks very nice and it’s been brought in apparently on-budget and more or less on-time. We say nice job Commissioner Jones and crew.   
    Case closed.