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Staff Editorials

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.

Confederate flag or no flag, remember Pickens’ history of tolerance

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    Racial relations have dominated headlines the last year: Ferguson; the Baltimore riots; the Walter Scott shooting and others, culminating with the massacre of nine black worshipers in South Carolina.
    This most recent and most tragic of the incidents again thrusts race into the forefront of our conversations, but the story brought along the Confederate Flag - a symbol some align with  heritage and others with hate.
    I was born and raised in Georgia, but I’ve seen the Stars and Bars more in the last week than I have in my entire life. This includes the one my dad - who was neither a racist nor especially proud of his southern heritage - hung for years over our sofa for the sole purpose of filling vacant wall space.
     Fourth of July was the first day I noticed overt displays of the Confederate Flag in town. The next day my husband and I watched Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and I was reminded of an important and relevant piece of Pickens County history, a tolerant one we should remember if racial issues between blacks and whites continue to dominate national conversations. 
    King delivers those immortal lines about equality to over 250,000 people at the National Mall, beneath the gaze of the Lincoln Monument. As we watched I remembered the statue was constructed from marble mined in Pickens quarries. Then I remembered stories about Pickens’ unusual racial tolerance throughout history and thought how fitting it was the marble came from a place known for acceptance.
    Unlike the armchair Civil War historians that have popped up over the last month I don’t claim to be an expert on the finer points of Confederate Flag history, but I do have access to Progress archives. In 2011 we ran a series about black residents in Pickens from the Civil War forward. Through her extensive research and interviews, Dr. Kathleen Thompson discovered a generally positive relationship between blacks and whites here.         [The series is available on pickensprogress.com, under the news heading.]
    In her intro she writes: “In the last 16 months of research, I have come to realize that the history of race relations in Pickens County is one of tolerance and cooperation.  An unwillingness to resort to violence here in Pickens was often in contrast to the hatred and hostility of other communities. This heritage is truly worth understanding with pride.”
    Even though I wasn’t raised in Pickens, this county’s history does make me proud.
    Dr. Thompson goes on to write about Pickens' non-violent integration in schools, and then on to a piece of history I didn’t know about as I watched the King speech - the fact that black and whites both worked at the Georgia Marble Company in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Colonel Sam Tate bought Georgia Marble in 1905 and by the 1930s had built it up to over 1,000 employees, 15 percent of whom were black. He recruited black workers from other areas in Georgia and provided housing and rations. Black refugees from Forsyth fled to Pickens for higher wages and better living conditions. It's thought Col. Tate's care of and concern for the black community here influenced everyone else.
    Reading this I realized not only did the Lincoln Monument marble come from a county known for being racially tolerant, the very hands that mined the marble were those of black and whites working side by side.
    A few weeks ago I was at my grandmother’s in Savannah and coverage of the church shooting was on CNN. I was talking to my aunt, not paying attention.
    “Why do they have to keep on with this?” grandma asked.
    “Keep on with what?” I said.
    “All this with the blacks and the whites.”
    Grandma, who has Alzheimer’s and can’t remember much about five minutes ago, still loves to talk about her childhood. She told me about being a girl in the cotton fields in south Georgia.
    “I was there picking cotton and tobacco right along with them, and I played with them,” she told me. “Color didn’t matter because we were all poor. We all worked our tails off.”
     We need more people like my grandmother, who to this day loves everyone and values decency in people over color.  Other than government buildings - where they should obviously be removed - I don’t care who flies the Confederate Flag, but I do know we don’t need more division in this country.
    I hope at the end of the day, whether the flag is flying high in a truck bed or folded and tucked away neatly in the attic, we can remember this county's stunning racial history and continue tolerance well into the future.

Let Freedom Ring

By Christie Pool
Staff writer
     Last year around the Fourth of July our family travelled to Boston where we visited the storied Faneuil Hall, a marketplace and meeting place since 1743. It was the site of inspirational speeches by Samuel Adams and other patriots who encouraged our independence from Great Britain. It was from here, following some of these speeches and debates, that Bostonians, on December 16, 1773, ran out of the hall, down to the waterfront and destroyed a whole lot of tea. Today we refer to this as “The Boston Tea Party” and recognize it as one of the polarizing events that eventually led to our war for independence against Britain.
    It was a wonderful experience to sit in the hall’s upstairs meeting room and participate in a “mock debate” of issues of that time. Perhaps what struck me most listening to the debates was the style in which people used to argue. They did so with dignity and in a decorous, respectful manner. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, they would occasionally tar and feather someone whose views  didn’t sit well with the crowd.
    That type of debate – thoughtful and respectful - seems so foreign in today’s world where we are able to spout off hate-filled remarks in an instant through social media.
    They may have hated each other’s opinions then - many of those folks feeling the outcome of war with England would send them and their families into bitter, long-lasting hardships  - but they were respectful to each other and used the forum of debate to challenge each other’s theories rather than allowing them to slide into pointless name calling.
    To say now that America was right to revolt is obvious. But back then, the arguments presented by both sides – the patriots and the loyalists – carried the same fire as the hot topics of today. To pick one side against the other could put your neck on the line and get you labeled a rebel, an agitator or a dangerous person. But they did it. They took a stand and we are the better for it today. The patriots knew that if they weren’t successful, they would be hung.
    So as we celebrate our independence this Fourth of July, let us strive to be the prodigies of our forefathers and use our minds and tongues in thoughtful debate of our own topics today.
    Let’s continue to be a country of opinionated, thinking people who are always prodding fellow citizens to greater achievements. But let’s do it with respect in our hearts and minds and tongues.
    We have more venues than ever to voice our opinions and, thankfully, more people are speaking out and being heard. And that’s a good thing. In the pre-internet era, we had to write an opinion column in a newspaper or send a letter to the editor to have our opinions published. Today, anyone can create a website, post a comment on a social networking site – all to a much larger audience. Freedom of speech and our opinions matter and it’s a wonderful thing when people are heard. But let’s remember that while politics should be debated vigorously and often, it’s part of who we are as Americans to use our freedoms respectfully and meaningfully.
    Some loudmouthed browbeater online insulting people (even politicians) is not the same thing as a debate. A debate focuses on the ideas, not the personalities.
    Our forefathers succeeded in their endeavors while respecting one another and today we reap the fruits of their success. The freedom they granted us on the Fourth of July, 1776 is ours to celebrate. Pride and patriotism in our country should always be remembered and regarded.
    As we raise our flags and enjoy this Saturday’s parades and cookouts, watermelons and apple pies, carnivals and fireworks, let’s celebrate our freedoms and what it means to simply be an American. The Fourth of July is a proud reminder that we, as a nation, have the individual privilege to be whatever we choose to be.
    The ideas of freedom and equality and things that came with the Constitution – freedom of the press, freedom  of religion – that’s what we celebrate, a freedom afforded all of us, not just those who speak the loudest.

Ban the bags: Let’s be like Hawaii

    Hooray for Hawaii.
    There are many reasons it would be great to be more like Hawaii. The state’s beautiful beaches, surf and sand, shockingly blue water, and distinctive mountains are just a few enticements. But now we have another motivation for wanting to emulate the state - last week Hawaii became the first state to ban stores from handing plastic bags to customers at checkout. (California passed a law last year that was set to go into effect this July but a petition delayed it until a November 2016 referendum).
    We applaud Hawaii’s move as a great first step toward reducing the one trillion plastic bags used every year worldwide. In our own home state, Tybee Island officials this spring held a first reading of an ordinance that would have banned single-use plastic bags citywide. While that proposal was ultimately delayed to hammer out logistics, we see this as a step in the right direction.
    Plastic bags may be convenient – they are light and inexpensive compared to paper bags – but their environmental impact is ghastly. Groups who push for laws to limit their use say they are wasteful, harm wildlife and linger as litter for centuries. While there are several large cities who require stores to charge fees for plastic bags (Washington, D.C., Dallas and Boulder); others have banned the disposable bags altogether (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Austin).
    Unfortunately, this spring here in Georgia the Senate passed a bill that outlaws local bans on plastic bags. It prevents cities from regulating “auxiliary containers” at all, which include bags, takeout containers and throwaway cups. Lawmakers said the bill is intended to help businesses who are “sensitive to the costs and regulation of auxiliary containers.” But we believe American business men and women are the most innovative folks around and will find other, less impactful ways to get their goods in the hands of buyers.
    Old plastic bags find their way to lots of places – piled up underneath our kitchen sinks for one – but most wind up in landfills and our oceans. Americans alone throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil per year to manufacture, according to the Wall Street Journal.
    It’s hard to imagine grocery and retail store clerks not handing us our recently-purchased items in the pliable brown plastic containers, but that plastic works its way into tributaries, lakes and oceans where it ultimately breaks down into smaller pieces and is consumed by marine animals. Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it and single plastic bag can take up to 500 years or more to degrade. According to data from the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanups, plastic bags are consistently in the top 10 pieces of trash found on beaches around the world.
    That’s just disturbing.
    Our grandparents wouldn’t have relied on plastics the way we do today. And they wouldn’t have thrown things out the way we do today. Reducing our reliance on plastic bags is a great first step but, unfortunately, they are but one byproduct of our litter-producing culture. Plastic water bottles are another modern creation our grandparents would likely have scoffed at.
    So now, let’s join Hawaii in our own small way and do our part to reduce plastics in our ecosystem. We encourage everyone to use canvas bags when shopping. Stuff them in your car and haul them out whenever you head into a store. By doing this one small thing you can save a sea turtle or a bird from mistaking your used plastic bag as food and reduce the two million plastic bags being used every minute around the world.

Hwy. 515 dangers must be addressed

    It seems like every week we have photos in the paper of horrible vehicle carnage from Highway 515. Even while writing this, there are reports of a fatal collision there. This makes the second fatal collision on the four-lane in Pickens County this month.
    Last week we asked the local state patrol Post Commander Tim Nichols to check the accident rate numbers. What he found left him “honestly, shocked.”
    The  accidents on the four-lane hadn’t just increased, they have skyrocketed, up 53 percent this year over the same January to mid-June period last year.
    In 2014, from January 1 to June 12, the GSP made reports on 275 Pickens County crashes with 47 of those on the four-lane.
    At the time of Nichols’ report, GSP officers had filed reports on 313 crashes with 72 of those on the four-lane. But the Hwy. 515 numbers don’t include wrecks that occur in the intersections of the four-lane, a factor which surely raises the number considerably.
    Looking at the wrecks this year, they are a result of a variety of conditions: vehicles entering the road; turning in front of others; crossing the road; one tractor trailer hitting another; a car hitting a motorcycle; a commercial truck rear-ending a vehicle and pushing it into another vehicle.
    Nichols said the wrecks generally go back to two traffic violations: following too close and drivers not paying attention. In most of the wrecks we have reported on at least one driver, if not both parties, were from out of the area – motorists using the four-lane to get somewhere, rather than local folks running errands.
    Cruising around Highway 515, it may seem odd there are so many wrecks there. The road is very well constructed. The wide lanes, mostly long sight-distances and big dividing median should keep drivers separated.
    But, the first and worst danger is the speed. Traffic flies on those long, straight stretches of concrete. A minor driving mistake when everyone is going 65 mph (or more) results in not so minor damage. And keep in mind 55 mph is actually the speed limit on much of that route through this area. Let’s face it, we all speed there. And The GSP post commander specifically cited the number of people using their phones as another added hazard on the roads.
    When you see two fatalities and a trauma ward full of injuries on the same road in half a year there is a big problem. And  looking at Progress photos of past wrecks, it’s hard to believe the fatalities aren’t higher and the injuries aren’t worse.
    Something needs to be done.
    State agencies are publicizing an increasing problem of fatalities on Georgia roads. In May they launched the “Drive Alert, Arrive Alive” campaign. According to their information there has been a 25-percent increase in fatal wrecks in Georgia over the previous year. More than 450 fatalities have already occurred on Georgia roads this year. Prior to this year, the number of fatalities has decreased most years since 2006. More traffic enforcement and seat belt use are credited with saving lives.
    This problem needs to be addressed at all levels. First with all us who drive a car. Some accidents are unavoidable – someone in your blind spot or misjudging the speed of an approaching vehicle. Other causes are very preventable: texting, speeding, driving while intoxicated.
    We would further ask that all local law enforcement agencies, Jasper police, sheriff and state patrol give more attention to Highway 515/575. While it may already seem like policing is heavy there, obviously it is not, We’d much rather see a speed trap than a death trap.
    Finally, we’d ask the county commissioners, Jasper mayor, DOT and Governor’s Office Highway Safety to see if there are any changes that might improve safety.
    The number of wrecks, the injuries, the damage and fatalities on that four-lane are not acceptable. Highway 515 cuts through the middle of this county. There is no way to avoid it. If you go anywhere, you must either travel on it or cross it.
    Having this big of a risk every time we leave home can’t be ignored. It’s time for action.