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Staff Editorials

Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing

By Dan Pool
editor
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    Having had a recent knee surgery, I had a lot of time sitting last week; time to watch copious amounts of Boston Marathon Bombing coverage.  Whereas in normal life people might catch a little here and little there, through my immobility I watched and checked online for updates more-or-less all day.
    Here are some  thoughts gleaned from my days on the couch:
    • Crowds cheering as police cars and ambulances drove home following the arrest must be a highpoint for law enforcement in America. The Boston Police’s poetic tweet was perfect. “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
    • That officers solved the crime within a few days, relying on public help, arresting one suspect and killing a second is impressive.
    • The low point was surely CNN announcing incorrectly that arrests had been made (some other news outlets followed their lead, which might be worse -- both unoriginal and wrong). It was CNN’s big guns on screen, too, Anderson Cooper, John King and Wolf Blitzer. If it were this weekly newspaper that made such a huge mistake, somebody would be looking for work.
    • The fact that the Boston bombing had the whole nation fixated put a lot of pressure for all media (television and online) to keep the flow going, even when nothing new was happening. For the on-the-scene correspondents, it must have seemed like a weeklong reception at your house and needing to make conversation. In hindsight, rather than blathering endlessly with speculation, a good bit of it grossly off-base, it would have been better to hear, “Nothing new here at the bombing site. Investigators continue to work.”
    • An Onion satire headline noted that the internet led to 8.5 million leads being sent to the FBI, naming 8 million different suspects and also including several that were sure the whole bombing was a hoax or had been perpetrated by the government.
    • It needs to be remembered that three people, including an 8-year-old, really did get killed and dozens lost limbs including a newlywed couple  who are now both amputees because of the bombs. You wonder if the younger suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev, who was allegedly a nice guy, had known that the bomb was going to kill a little boy would he have done it?
    • A fear expressed by a timid few is that putting all of a major metro city on lockdown with rolling shows of force created so much infamy for two young men with a couple of home-made bombs that it is sure to inspire copy-cats and not for any jihad but just for fame – “See how much attention I can get.” As one columnist stated never have so few people with such limited resources created so much terror.
    • The uncle who urged the younger killer to turn himself in and beg for forgiveness will remain an inimitable character. Listening to him growl that his nephews brought shame on Chechnyan people was stirring and heartfelt. Whereas their aunt from Toronto was a complete flake – speculating that it was a massive frame-up and telling the media to connect the dots to see who did it, which made no sense.
    • It was startling to see how often the younger brother was portrayed as a normal, sweet-natured kids. One description by a friend, however, shows some seriously different values, saying “he would come out and smoke some weed and drink with us…. He was all American,” as though smoking pot is a clear sign of a loyal patriot.
    • It was creepy but interesting to see how one online publication, Slate, posted a link to the older brother’s Amazon book wish list. It was shocking to see how many books are out there regarding forging documents.
    • There has already been some finger-pointing that the FBI missed an earlier tip on Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Surely in hindsight they would liked to have cuffed him then. But hindsight is always perfect and the fact remains that no credible information popped up then.
    • One terrorism expert said on the radio that there are a lot of people who hold “radicalized” ideas of all kinds, not just Muslim, but also anti-government folks of which only a small percent are “mobilized.” The key is finding the ones who are mobilized because you can’t ever corral all the ones with extreme ideas.
    • One online columnist pointed out that on the same day the Boston Marathon Bombing killed three, 42 people were killed by explosive devices in Iraq, but no one seemed to care about that. American tragedy is different because it’s so unexpected. As the uncle of the two killers said America is an ideal country, which is why this is so shocking even though bombings are happening everyday in many places.

Twitter@ DanPoolProgress

75 cents worth of knowledge

    A loose transcript of a recent conversation over the phone:
    A man called to discuss writing a comment to our website on the discussed $130 million water park resort with developers eyeing Talking Rock.
    Caller: I am absolutely opposed to this. I bet they are planning to let the taxpayers pay for it with a big bond.
    Editor: Actually, no on the bond. We reported last week that the developers had once sought a $50 million bond, but that has been dropped completely.
    Caller: Well I bet county is giving them the sewage?
    Editor: No, we reported the sewage is being discussed but the county has definitely not agreed to give it to them.
    Caller: I’m sure all the county officials are trying to get this thing here.
    Editor: From the comments in our last story, it’s safe to say at least one commissioner expressed serious concerns against it.
    Caller: Oh really. How many jobs is this thing supposed to bring?
    Editor: We reported this as well. Would you like to read the story we have already done before commenting?
    Caller: No. I’m not going to pay the 75 cents for it. And your website would charge me a $1 to read the whole thing. I just read the free story.
    Editor: So, all you got was a short press release?
    Caller: Yeah. I’m not going to pay for the news.
    
    Everybody is aware that there is free news all over the Internet. But as the above demonstrates, you get what you pay for.
    At the Progress we don’t use aggressive sales pitches to push subscriptions. If you are like one of the more than 7,000 homes in the county that sees fit to pay us our 75 cents  (less for a yearly subscription) each week, we truly appreciate it. We work hard to see that you get your money’s worth of information. Facts like the backstory on the water park or the amount of commercial real estate in the county versus private homes. Facts like the state of county finances or news on the courthouse project.
    With the water park we interviewed numerous people from all sides and got the facts as well as views of the economic development people and the commissioner for that district. This information is worth 75 cents - we’re sure of that.
    Another similar incident to the phone call also comes to mind. There were several people who commented they couldn’t understand why the county held the recent vote on Sunday alcohol sales by itself on a ballot and questioned the cost in different online forums.
But Progress readers would have read comments from the commissioner and the election board on the timing and would have seen the price (budgeted at $16,000) in stories, as well as  a separate letter to the editor directly from an election board member explaining the issue further. Progress readers would also have seen projections of increased tax that would be collected with the extra sales made by the stores involved.
    If you are content with just the basics, like there is a water park possibly coming, the free version of news is fine. But if you want to get involved or comment or really understand what’s going on, you are going to need to spend 75 cents (less than the cost of a 20 oz. drink) or you will look half-informed.
    We will continue to provide breaking news and some additional stories online for free. We’ll put stories about events like ArtFest online at no charge. They often come to us for free through press releases and we’re doing our part to promote the community by posting them. But if you want stories that dig into things, that require reporters making calls and asking questions, you shouldn’t expect it for free any more than you expect doctors to give examinations, teachers to lessons or stores to give away free groceries.

Less debt, fewer homes, fewer cars equals shaky economic foundations

    A recent Pew Research report found that after record high debt-to-income ratios during the booming economy of the early 2000s, young adults have taken a big chunk out of their debt compared to their older counterparts following the Great Recession. But the reasons behind the great debt reduction may be the lack of solid economic foundations among millennials.
    After the recession, young adults - those 35 or younger -  now own fewer houses, fewer cars and carry less credit card debt than they did during the boom years. Sounds great, but unfortunately it may have less to do with their economic success and responsibility and more to do with economic struggle.        According to Pew research, the median debt of households headed by someone younger than 35 fell by 29 percent from 2007 to 2010. Also, the share of younger households holding debt of any kind fell to 78 percent, the lowest level since the government starting keeping records in 1983.
    Less debt always sounds good until we look at the reasons behind it - more younger people are prevented from qualifying for loans to buy cars and homes because they don’t have the resources to pay them back. Before the Great Recession young adults were catered to by banks offering ‘no-money down’ loans with 100 percent financing on homes and cars. These loans seemed great to millennials who had seen their parents and grandparents drop as much as 20 percent down for loans with interest rates in the double digits.         
    Today’s weak job market and tighter lending standards at banks have made it harder to get mortgages - more like the old days. Millennials lucky enough to have a job may be making less than they expected  or worried their job won’t last, and if they don’t have a job they can’t get a car loan or buy a house. So the news that young adults have less debt may initially sound great but if we look deeper it shows how far they have to go to get their slice of the “American Dream.”
    The concept of saving for things they want may seem foreign to some in the younger generation who grew up in boom times where things were readily bought and given by doting parents. But it’s a concept that may come home to roost as they go out on their own and establish their own families and homes and the debt that inevitably comes along with it.
    The median mortgage balance went from $150,000 in 2007 to $128,000 in 2010, perhaps a sign that the younger generation is reeling in their spending.
    Many millennials are delaying marriage and forming households later, which reduces their home buying and mortgage debt. But the shrinking debts don’t necessarily mean younger adults are in better financial shape than they used to be - they still owe more relative to their income than older people.     
   Debt reduction among young adults during bad economic times has been driven mainly by the shrinking share who own homes and cars, but it also reflects a significant decline in the share who are carrying credit card debt, from 48 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2010.
    Student debt was the only major type of debt to increase among young households during the recession, according to the Pew study. In 2007, 34 percent of young households had outstanding student loans. That figure rose to 40 percent by 2010.
    Younger households have pared their credit card balances and in 2010 only 39 percent of them carried a balance, down from 48 percent in 2007 and 50 percent in 2001. And the amount they owe is lessening as well, down from $2,500 in 2001 to $2,100 in 2007.
    So our younger generation may have less debt - and it’s never a bad thing to not be beholden to others for credit - but if we read between the lines we see it’s because they are facing challenges many of us haven’t faced in years - the threat of declining access to good, steady jobs with a hopeful financial future.

 

30-minute meals and other lies we’re told

    Cooking guru Rachael Ray got busy moms everywhere excited when she began showcasing quick and healthy meals on her Food Network cooking show 30 Minute Meals.
    While the food looks good, we’d like to alert the show Mythbusters to this one.
    Prepping and cooking a meal for hungry families from start to finish in 30 minutes simply isn’t possible.
    There. We’ve said it.
    Sure, Rachael Ray and Sandra Dee may sell cookbooks and garner large television audiences for proclaiming quick solutions to the never-ending “What’s for dinner tonight?” question. But by the time we wash the veggies, boil the water, sear the meat, sautee the aforementioned veggies and meat, season it, prep a side dish, lay out the plates, and, if we’re lucky, procure a tasty dessert, there’s no chance we’re out of the kitchen in less than an hour… and that doesn’t include the clean-up.
    Unless you’re Super Woman or can cook in fast-forward like Rachel Ray, 30-minute meal preparation is not possible. It’s more feasible if you have prep work completed by an unseen assistant or before you start the timer, but for a solo at-home cook, forget it. Attempts to beat the 30-minute test are futile, resulting in frazzled hair and a messy kitchen.
    Toss the 30-minute-meal on the scrapheap of myth. And we’d also like to personally refute the following: If we step on a crack we won’t break our mother’s back; touching a toad won’t give us warts, and we didn’t really need to wait an hour after eating to go swimming (even if the fare included birthday cake and popsicles).
    We can always hold out hope that one day a Ferrari will show up in our driveway after wishing while throwing many a penny into Jasper’s duck pond or that “the pounds will simply melt away” after buying any of a thousand products.
    We’re also chalking up to myth the 16th century English dramatist John Heywood’s suggestion that the best way to recover from a hangover was to have the “hair of the dog that bit you” -- A fable likely spun-off from the misguided notion that you could cure a dog bite by plucking a hair from the dog and holding it to the wound.
   We hear lots of sayings as we grow up, mostly designed to keep us safe. And, maybe eating that apple every day will keep the doctors away - our mothers have certainly told us that one enough times over the years.                 Sometimes scientists back up the sayings, discovering that along with boosting our immune system, eating six apples a day prevents breast cancer in primates. Maybe our moms know a thing or two about what’s good for us after all but it must be noted that one Granny Smith versus half-a-dozen every day is world apart.
    The only saying we’re willing to bet on is the one that reminds us that if things seem too good to be true, they probably are.
    So, Rachael Ray, we love the idea behind your 30-minute philosophy, but until you come into our kitchens and prep and cook a meal in 30 minutes or less, we’re tossing your cookbook out along with our egg timers. And we’re going to keep our aprons at the ready, knowing they will be as much a part of our day as business suits and heels.
    Knock on wood.

 

A financial refresher for Rob Jones

   A couple of weeks ago when the chamber’s Leadership Pickens class toured the county offices, Commissioner Rob Jones was asked by one class member if the new chief financial officer had straightened things out. Jones told the group during a public session that there was nothing to straighten out and that they shouldn’t believe everything they read in the paper.
    We’d like to respond by reprinting  headlines from the past seven months.
February  28, 2013 -  10-year review of county finances sought

January 10, 2013, Commissioners vow to slash county budget by $1 million

January 3, 2013 County CFO resignation still up in the air

December 27  County finance officer resigns ... Maybe

December 13, County budget shows slight increase

December 6, 2012 Auditor: Former CFO sloppy, but nothing illegal
    From the story - The transitional audit recently released shows the former CFO  ran sloppy books and had poor communication with county officials, but that no illegal activity took place during her employment.
    
November 22, 2012 Former CFO had county months behind paying bills
    
September 13, 2012 Commissioner agrees to cut tax hike half
    This story reported that following public outrage at  a proposed 9-percent property tax increase, the commissioner decided to cut it back to 4.5 percent, still an additional $328,347 increase over 2012 collections.

September 13, 2012 County finance officer resigns

September 13, 2012 An Open Letter to Taxpayers of Pickens County from Robert Jones
    This issue  also included an open letter from Mr. Jones, which acknowledged the problems cited above.
   Following what was hailed as an unprecedented meeting of all elected officials, Mr. Jones’ letter stated, “correspondence generated by my office does not accurately describe your elected officials’ expenditures.”
   It also stated, “a correction will be forthcoming from my office in the near future after certain personnel changes are finalized.”
 Furthermore it said, “County spending will  change next year. You have asked for it to be decreased and it will be decreased.”
    
September 6, 2012 - Anger over proposed 9 percent tax increase grows -- Final chance for cuts not encouraging, says Jones

August 30, 2012 Tax hike too much,  citizens tell commissioner

    And finally back to where it all began last summer when in Mr. Jones’ telling a single legal settlement where the county had to pay back taxes it knew were subject to dispute touched off the whole chain of events.

August 23, 2012, Commissioner blames tax hike on Young Life settlement

    The Progress is optimistic that with the current CFO and three-member board of commissioners that county finances are on the right track, but to deny there was ever a mess or that it was somehow created through our reporting is more than we could abide. We stand by all our original stories, keeping the citizens and taxpayers informed.