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Staff Editorials

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.

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. 

Why the Savannah port project is important to North Georgia

    Ninety-nine percent of the time when someone comments on government, it’s negative. So it’s good to take note when something works - and with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project we need to celebrate.
    Two times in recent months we have heard North Georgia government leaders (Rep. David Ralston, Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Gainesville) talk about how this project isn’t just important on our coast, but  crucial to businesses in our mountains.
    At first it may seem a minor project, the harbor is only being dredged down another five feet – from 42 to 47 feet deep. But the impact is massive to economies across the Peach state.    When complete, the extra depth will allow supertankers that use the Panama Canal to be loaded and unloaded in Georgia -- rather than some other port in another area.
    The deepening of the port and all the related shipping that goes with it is being called the largest economic development and job creation initiative in the state and across the southeastern region in recent history.
    Congressman Tom Graves (14th District) said, “This project is vital to our state and the country in many ways, but in simple terms, it means we’ll have new jobs and opportunities for a lot of Georgia families. Those supertankers will arrive at the harbor full of goods, and Georgia businesses will make sure they leave full. I applaud the Georgia delegation for working together to secure this victory for our constituents.”
    The project - with $662 million in federal funds and $231 million in state dollars committed to it - packs a massive wallop. Consider some of the figures put out by local leaders and by the Georgia Ports Authority regarding the project that has lingered for 14 years:
    • It will bring in $174 million in net annal benefits across the nation.
    • It will create 11,554 new jobs.
    • Georgia’s ports already support 352,000 jobs spread across the state - including virtually all companies that ship products.
    • More than 20,000 companies in the country rely on the Georgia ports for shipping.
    • One out of 12 Georgians work at a company that ships something or receives something coming through this port.
    • More than $2.5 billion in state taxes are derived from the port.
    • Every dollar spent on this project returns $5.50 in economic return.

    In addition to those figures, another number to consider is 16. All 14 Georgia lawmakers in the house and both senators voted for the project and praised it– evidence that full cooperation gets things done.
    This is something that was needed and makes sense financially and otherwise. It’s a tangible project everyone can understand: make the port deeper so bigger ships can dock here.
    It’s also important to note that unlike so much that goes wrong in Washington, the deepening project did not end up strangled by our ongoing feuds with neighboring states over drinking water – something that early on appeared to spell trouble.
    In the end Doug Collins (9th District Congressman) celebrated keeping these issues separate. “This legislation gives Northeast Georgia the freedom to plan for the future of our beautiful lakes as we see fit, and it gets Georgia farm produce out into the markets more efficiently,” he said. “ [It’s] a win for Georgia, it’s a win for American competitiveness, and it’s a win for the Constitution.”
    Even though it’s only five feet of muck from the bottom of our port, the impact on the state’s economy is huge and this five feet of muck shows what could happen if government works together and sticks to the issue in front of it.

Progress readers’ coat donations leave a woman in tears

By Dan Pool, editor
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    The readers of this newspaper who donated to the Holy Spirit Ranch Winter coat drive left a woman in tears Friday – the good kind of tears.
     Virginia Betts of Holy Spirit Ranch literally cried when she saw the overflowing drop-off box of coats, warm clothes and blankets at our Main Street office.
    Virginia and her husband Joe Betts - founder and minister of Holy Spirit Ranch - hugged every member of the staff, thanking us for the coats. Even as they repeatedly hugged our editor, photo editor, office manager, publisher and anyone else who wandered close to the commotion in our front office, we reminded them it wasn’t the Progress that gave the coats, it was the readers of this newspaper.
    All we did was put a decorated cardboard box in our lobby and publicize the need - it was the readers who filled it. While the announced deadline passed Friday, another large pile of coats showed up Monday – bringing the total to more than 70, with substantial piles of blankets and hats and scarves as well. A fair number of the coats were brand new, still bearing tags from stores.
    When Betts told me about the need for warm winter coats for his ministry, which serves local people, homeless people in Atlanta and Native Americans in South Dakota, I was pretty sure the community would open their closets for him.
    I was confident that we could help Betts round up the needed coats as I have worked at this newspaper for a long time and know that when people need things, the people in Pickens County are generous. I hear repeatedly from places like Good Sam, The Thrift Store and CARES (the Food Pantry) that there is an unusually benevolent streak in these Appalachian foothills.
    And, once again, the people of Pickens County delivered. The box didn’t fill up quite as quickly as I had initially predicted. We did increase the size of the coat drive announcement in the paper last week to be sure the box would be overflowing and, in the end, there was a supply we were proud of.
    Mr. Betts exclaimed several times, “Look what the Lord has provided.” Yes, He surely did, and if you are one of the people who gave be proud of your part in it. Mr. Betts is now one more person who will sing the praises of how generous people here are. On Main Street Friday while loading his station wagon, Betts gushed about how he had lived all over this country and there is no better community than right here. A letter from Betts appears on page 14A.
    As cold as this winter is shaping up to be,  the coats will fill an urgent need. “When you give someone a coat and they are cold, it means more than you can imagine,” Betts said.
    If you didn’t get a chance to give during this effort, don’t despair, Thanksgiving and Christmas are both ripe with needs from with many organizations seeking help for good causes.
    You can be sure we’ll keep publicizing needs and we can be sure you’ll keep filling boxes. Thanks for making this such a generous place to live.

    [Editor’s Note: due to several late calls, we’ll keep the Holy Spirit drop off box until November 22.]

Energy drinks and soda aren’t “nutrition assistance”

    A few weeks ago we ran a feature about photographer Al Clayton, a Pickens County resident whose pictures of poverty in the Deep South were instrumental in the passage of the Food Stamp Act of 1964. The photos are heart wrenching – filthy children stand next to barren, moldy refrigerators; toothless mothers are surrounded by mouths they can’t feed.
    About 30 years before the Food Stamp Act was passed, the Food Stamp Program was implemented as a way to use surplus food (usually produce or other dietary staples such as grain) from America’s farmers to help feed the nation’s poor. 
    Fast forward to present day. The 47 million people currently using food stamps – an $80-billion-a-year federal program now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [S.N.A.P.] – can ironically spend their allotted money (all of it if they want) on things that can hardly be considered “nutrition,” or on luxury items many working Americans can’t afford.
    Case in point - a reporter with bought $100 worth of Halloween candy one week with food stamps to test the system. S.N.A.P. recipients can also buy soda, energy drinks and bakery cakes (one Progress employee knows a couple that bought their wedding cake using S.N.A.P.).        

The only items off the table are alcohol, tobacco and “hot items” at in-store delis. Some states even allow EBT cards (what you use to make food stamp purchases) to be used at fast-food restaurants.
    S.N.A.P., which makes up the lion’s share of the Farm Bill budget and awards participants an average of $133 a month per person or  $289 per household, needs to be reformed.     We’re not questioning its necessity because food stamps truly are a safety net for America’s poor. We are grateful the program is here to help people in need – but it should not contribute to national health problems like obesity and diabetes that are more common among the poor, or allow recipients to spend taxpayer money on Monster energy drinks or five packages of Ding Dongs.
    If there are no rules once you’re approved for S.N.A.P., what’s the motivation to come off?
     Critics argue that telling people what they can and can’t eat is being paternalistic - but people on food stamps already have some (if only a few) limitations on what they can buy, and programs like WIC are very limiting. There should be no difference.
    And if you are spending our taxpayer money then we do have a right to dictate the terms including what you buy.
    S.N.A.P. - which claims to feed America’s hungry with healthy food options - actually offers next to no data to support their claim. In a Washington Times piece a reporter investigates what’s being spent with food stamps (veggies vs. chips or grape soda vs. milk) and how much is being spent at each retail store – what they found was that the government keeps this information very close to the hip.
    “Americans spend $80 billion each year financing food stamps for the poor,” the article says, “but the country has no idea where or how the money is spent.” Argus Leader, a South Dakota newspaper, went so far as to sue the USDA for the information.
    Why the secrecy? Because with any government-funded program the lobbying that goes on behind the scenes plays a huge role in public policy. Mega corporations like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co. and industry trade leaders like the American Beverage Association, National Association of Convenience Store Operators and other junk food giants spend millions  to keep S.N.A.P purchases unrestricted because they are such huge beneficiaries. 
    An investigative reporter with Eat Drink Politics found that while most details about S.N.A.P money stay secret, “In two years,” she finds, “Walmart received about half of the $1 billion in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma.”
    Maintaining a blinders-on approach to what S.N.A.P. beneficiaries are allowed to buy - coupled with a total absence of transparency from the federal government about what is being bought - makes the program suspicious and ineffective.
    We support S.N.A.P., but it needs a major overhaul including increased transparency and common-sense limitations on what can be bought.