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Staff Editorials

Kudos for 515 crackdown

    They didn’t have to, but heads of Georgia State Patrol Post 28, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and the Jasper Police Department pulled together to address skyrocketing crashes along the Highway 515 corridor – and they deserve to be applauded for their effort.
     For the entire month of July these agencies doubled down patrols on 515 with a strong focus on speeding and distracted driving, and all three reported the crackdown a success.
    Not only did the number of crashes on 515 decrease proportionally to crashes worked in the entire county, officers and deputies issued about double the usual number of citations during the month and there was not a single fatality.
    Their increased presence raised awareness in the community about the need for extra caution on the four lane, especially at the most dangerous areas -   the intersections of Highway 53, Highway 108 and Camp Road.
    The sheriff’s office even reported that they learned how great the public concern is over speeding, aggressive and distracted driving in the area. The sheriff office also found an ongoing need to use unmarked vehicles to identify distracted drivers.
    If you were one of the more than 375 people ticketed on Highway 515 last month, consider yourself lucky - better a lesson than a crash.
    And while the one month crackdown has ended, drivers beware. As the sheriff’s office figured out during July, citizens want aggressive enforcement on the four-lane and we suspect our local agencies will honor these wishes.
    Just because the crackdown has ended, it doesn’t mean you can go back to flying 75 miles an hour through an intersection.
     It gives us a great deal of comfort knowing our law agencies aren’t static. They are willing to respond to the changing needs of a community to keep the public safe.
    Police scanners are standard equipment in newsrooms and we don’t like listening to call after call responding to a wreck on 515 (we don’t like hearing about wrecks anywhere, but the numbers on 515 are noticeably more). We want to see that number continue to decrease and we know that our law enforcement agencies want that as well.
    As members of the public who use 515 almost everyday, lets all heed the advice of our law officials – slow down, put down that cell phone and pay attention at intersections on Highway 515, because even though we know they are looking out for us, we need to look out for ourselves, too.
    Safe driving from the Progress.

Just how rushed are we?

    Going home from work the other day, I had one of those occasional four-way stop encounters. I got there at approximately the same time as another car. We both stopped, started again then we both stopped quickly a second time, indecisiveness on both parts over who got there first.
    The other driver roared off with quite a bit of flailing arms and obvious exhortations on the futility of life voiced inside his car – though no real obscene gestures.
    I am not above some flailing arms myself when a road situation dictates, though my temper tends to rise mainly when someone is threatening my life with idiotic driving – such as passing anywhere on Cove Road.
    What struck me at the four-way stop was the incredible display of anger resulted from a little miscommunication, costing neither of us more than a few seconds of our day.
    Some people lose their tempers over minor things and the other person may have been having a bad day already. But to put it in perspective, the furor resulted over the loss of less than 10 seconds out of a 24-hour day all because the cosmic forces of the universe put two drivers at a four-way stop at the same exact time – no maliciousness, nor premeditated act, nor anyone out to get anyone.
    And the effects of this coincidence are as ephemeral as you can get. No harm and very little time wasted. The seconds lost to both us combined would only equal:
    • the time it takes to do a good tooth brushing rather than a rush job.
    • slightly longer than it takes Facebook to load on a smart phone.
    • Much less time than it takes to eat three French fries.
    Incidents of road rage and other rages are certainly nothing new and definitely not unique and this wasn’t even a bad case – recall the shooting at RaceTrac last month.   
    Are we really in this much of a rush? A Pew Research Poll found that for a quarter of Americans the answer is yes. Twenty-three percent of all adults in this country indicated  they “always” feel rushed in a recent survey.
    For the always rushed crowd, my suggestion is to eat nothing but protein bars until you get caught up, saving an untold amount of time cooking and washing dishes and if you buy the bars in bulk, you won’t be tempted to berate a high school student for holding you up while they get your burger.
    You might also consider some alternative activities to help you slow down. Any baseball fan will gladly while away the minutes waiting on the pitcher. Is that wasted time or an opportunity to relax? And hunters and fisherman know that on most days, there is little action, but outdoorsmen still find their hobby enjoyable.
    Back to the four-way: in the U.S. at an all-way stops, right of way is determined by who got there first. Simple, but as we all know, sometimes cars pull up at the same time. Then, any astute driver knows right of way goes to the car on the right.
    But, heck, that takes a little too much figuring. I like South Africa’s system better, when cars arrive at the same time, drivers are expected to make eye contact and use hand gestures (preferably nice ones) to determine who goes first, which a lot of people already do here. Arrive at the same time, you or the other guy waves to indicate who should go. Seems not only more efficient but more friendly as well.

Nice guys do finish first, and it starts in kindergarten

    Well, what do you know? According to recent research from the American Journal of Public Health, kids who are nice, well-behaved and polite go on to succeed at a higher rate than their surly little punk counterparts.
    All those stereotypes of ruthless, cold-hearted schemers rising to the top are not that accurate – at least if you look at personality traits of kids who go on to be successful.
    According to an article on the study published in USA Today July 17, kids judged to have good “social competence” go on to achieve healthy, economically viable lifestyles ahead of those  who have problems getting along with other students and teachers.
    The study, which followed 750 kids for 20 years, (until they were 25 years old) found that how the children behaved in the youngest school grades gave one of the best predictors of how they would turn out down the road.
    The social skills that translated in success: cooperation, resolving conflicts, listening to others points of view and the ability to give suggestions without being bossy, according to the USA Today article.   
    These skills, which needless to say many adults still lack, were thought to be just as important as academic grades as an indicator of who would go on to a good job and who would end up behind bars.
    The study found that kids who had the basic social skills were more likely to have graduated from college and be holding full time jobs during the study period.
    Kids that had been judged to have weak social skills were more likely to have substance abuse problems, require public assistance, and to have been arrested and unemployed.
    Parents who have some ill-tempered badger of a child at home can take heart that the researchers found these social skills, just like  math, can be improved at any point to increase the chances with later success.
    There is a certain amount of justice in this study’s findings. The kids that win the behavior award also stand a better chance of winning in life over the bully.
    The study’s findings clearly buck the old saying of nice guys finish last. Maybe, its not really that surprising that overall it’s students who know how to get along with others and have basic manners and discipline that come out on top eventually. Who wants to hire, promote or deal with some pushy jerk?
    If the grown-up bully happens to own a company then they can play the role of Bad Boss but there aren’t any movies about bad entry-level employees getting promoted – except the occasional comedy.
    As the school year rolls out, parents should take note of this study. These discipline, respect, and courtesy traits are clearly areas that need to be handled at home before your kids get to school.
    And this ought to be some inspiration to address discipline problems: You really do need to take your parenting seriously not just to get the school off your back, but to help your kid end up employed at a decent job.
    While some parents  ignore their children’s shortcomings, this study makes clear that sooner or later the child will face the consequences of all the things a thoughtless parent lets slip by.
    Better to be reined in by a mother or father as a youngster than have the courts or a boss do the reprimanding down the road.
    So as school bell rings for this academic year, do your child, his teacher, class, school and society a favor, instill respect and discipline when you parent. Good behavior pays off in the classroom and according to this study, down the road in life.

It’s all Greek to Americans with credit card debt

For national politics, most Americans profess a strong belief in conservative values - tight controls on spending and avoiding deficits at all costs.

In a recent edition, Fortune magazine humorously pointed out, in our personal lives, however, too many Americans operate like Greece, a country making headlines for its near insolvency with excessive spending. When it comes to household spending, the majority of Americans are free-spending liberals.

In fact, Fortune found that if you compared Greek debt, earnings (GDP) and amount of income required to service interest with the average American’s financial condition, the foreign country was in better shape. (Now as a disclaimer, Greek’s debt is held with a phenomenally low 2.6 percent interest rate. And much of the American family debt is in mortgages, which is a productive use of borrowed money.)

But if world bankers were gathered around the dinner table with an American family, when they started looking at credit card statements, austerity programs would quickly come up. As Fortune noted, the nation of Greece has all sorts of negotiating power for bailouts that the rest of us do not. You are not likely to see this headline ever - Jasper Family announces default if bank bailout not extended.

The comparison of family debt to Greece is a clever way to highlight the problem that  too many Americans live beyond their means courtesy of  plastic cards. 

According to Federal Reserve figures, the average American has around $10,470 in credit card debt. However, as the Consolidated Credit website showed, this figure drastically underrepresents the situation as it bases the average on all Americans. If it is refigured using only the 53 percent of Americans  who have credit cards (average 3-4 cards each) then the debt is actually $15,799 per American credit card user.

Online estimates of the average credit card interest rates vary between 12 and 17 percent. Even with the lowest rate, you see a lot of family income going to pay monthly credit card bills and related interest – a use of money as productive as buying scratch off tickets.

Economists have long argued that consumers make better decisions when using cash over credit. With cash you see when your money is running out and bypass non-essential purchases. With a credit card: It’s buy now and worry later about how much of your salary just went for the new shoes or fishing rod.

A German government official recently provoked a backlash by suggesting that if Germans were encouraged to use credit cards, their consumer economy would improve, knowing what retailers have long realized, people buy more with credit cards. Average Germans responded that they like the control of cash and didn’t want anyone pushing them to run up debt.

In America, we use credit cards for 50 percent of our purchases, according to an article in the July 17 edition of USA Today. And this is increasing with the ease of swiping cards most anywhere and online purchases. No one need urge us to whip out the plastic here.

What we need is some urging to stick with cash and to be aware that the ease of using plastic makes us less responsible – in essence we become the liberal spenders noted at the start of this piece.

Finally, back to our average American with his $10,000 plus in credit card debt. Consider this for your budget, if you are that person and pay only the minimum every month, it will take you a little over a decade to pay it off and you would spend slightly more in interest than you did for the goods purchased.

A purchase that takes less than a minute to make could have you paying for years. Just because credit cards are easy and convenient doesn’t mean you should use them whenever something catches your eye. 

Unmasking the mythical Good Ol’ Boys network

By Dan Pool, Editor
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    I try not to be petty living in a small town. But frankly my continued exclusion from one club has long bothered me. I have never been invited to become part of the “Good Ol’ Boys network.”
    Maybe it’s because I work at a newspaper or maybe it’s because I don’t believe they exist. Being asked to join this club would be like receiving an invitation from a band of Sasquatches roaming Burnt Mountain. Both are mythical, though there are oft-cited reports of damage they cause.
    Twice in the past month, I have fielded comments about the activities of the Good Ol’ Boys and their platform on growth.
    In the first case, someone attributed the massive Port Royal Water Park (proposed for Highway 515) as being a project driven by the Good Ol’ Boys. They argued that no one else in the community wants it and so it must be the mysterious “powers-that-be” keeping it alive – though it moves only at a glacial pace - if at all.
    It would have been fun to play along, agreeing that it’s a well known fact that southern Good Ol’ Boys love waterslides more than football and no doubt some hidden mover and shaker has already locked up a lucrative sunscreen concession. But I didn’t.
    I pointed out that the site is actually owned by a real estate division of a major national timber company. And none of the developers with Port Royal have any local ties that we are aware of.
    While nefarious schemes are fun to speculate on, this one is a basic business operation, conducted at a national level with big investors and a corporate property owner.
    In the next reported Good Ol’ Boy siting, someone commented to the Progress that downtown Jasper can’t develop because the Good Ol’ Boys like it just the way it is and run off other businesses – especially new eateries and most especially any establishment that wants to sell alcohol.
    Some variations on this conjecture surface a couple of times a year, that forces unseen are intentionally driving businesses away.  I have heard this conspiracy theory a number of times to explain why businesses thought to be popular here (Chick-fil-A and music venues) don’t come.
    Except for a few curmudgeons, it’s hard to believe that most people wouldn’t welcome something unique, like a microbrewery, locating in the renovated NAPA building on Main Street.
    Shying away from a massive water park is one thing, but the idea that local powers-that-be are somehow figuring out who is seeking to locate here and then stopping them is ludicrous. Certainly nothing has stopped the businesses in the Home Depot and Kroger shopping areas.
    Rather than an unseen hand, it’s a case of the Invisible Hand – as in the economic theory that the invisible hand of the market drives business, proposed in the 1700s by Adam Smith and not related to Good Ol’ Boy conspiracies at all. While Smith was talking in broad terms, his theory explains well what we get and don’t get here – the market (demand) drives the economy.
    The reason there is no Chick-fil-A? No one capable of making that investment has felt the best use of their resources is to locate one here.
    Often people opine that the city needs to get some business to move here, as though it’s a function of government to determine what private entrepreneurs do. It’s not. The city of Jasper can’t very well force someone to open on Main Street, though a little more work at seeing the town is well promoted to potential buyers/renters would surely help.
    Ultimately I am optimistic about the local economy, whether the water park and microbrewery show up or not. We see new businesses opening regularly on a slow and steady pace. While we may not be seeing the high profile businesses that excite everyone, the small business environment here is expanding.
    Of course, if I am wrong and the Good Ol’ Boys network is meeting, I’d still be open to get together with them and drink microbrews, eat Chick-fil-A and visit a water park. You can send my invite to the newspaper.