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Staff Editorials

Old-fashioned business sense is best route for development

As anyone who has driven through  Tate knows, the  heart of the area’s marble mining heritage looks good again.

Not only good, but vibrant. Business is being conducted on the renovated street with Armor Plumbing, Mimi’s Eats & Treats, 53 Market, and (soon to be) Bell Pharmacy in action in a strip that was booming in the early to mid-1900s, but has suffered decline in recent decades.

There is both form and function in Tate: the buildings look attractive and they do attract customers.

What may not be apparent but deserves a rousing ovation is the Tate resurgence was done the good, old-fashioned way, through private enterprise.

In an article in the November 15th edition of this paper, the owners/builders Scott and Tina O’Conner told how they had previously renovated other buildings (including the former NAPA building in Jasper) and had driven through Tate daily when it was mostly vacant and falling into dilapidation. 

When the couple initially tried to buy the buildings, the price was too high, and the buildings sat there with for sale signs  for years. The entire area was listed on eBay once with no takers. When the bank lowered the price, the developers moved and work got underway.

There is an important aspect noticeably absent in this timeline. At no point did the couple apply for a bunch of government grants or appeal to the economic development council or seek special perks from the government.

They thought it was a sound investment and they acted.

These buildings are opened and productive because small business owners viewed them as an opportunity to create viable rental spaces - and the current tenants looked at the site and believed they could profit by locating there.

It is striking to contrast the results of these capitalists putting their own assets to work and the still-empty depot building in Tate. That building is nicely restored thanks to more than $1 million in federal grants and it sits empty several years after the renovation because no one has any skin in the game.

No bureaucrat is looking over their books and pondering how to recoup the substantial investment poured into the structure. Some people in local groups and local government may be proud that the building was saved. But saved for what? If only to sit empty, the end certainly doesn’t justify the tax dollars.

This is a perfect example of how you can’t dictate economics or small town commerce from a government office or from a vocal segment of the public. We would all like to have shops/restaurants/services that we want, but it’s not government responsibility to meddle in business. Nor should we expect someone to invest their money to open bicycle shops or book shops just because a few people really think we should have one – as local business history has shown (both the book store and bike store on Main Street Jasper were short-lived).  

There are always calls at public hearings for our politicians to do something to bring more or specific businesses here.

Tate is the refutation of this notion. When the time and price and people involved are right, commerce flows. There might (very rarely) be a time for some government-supplied carrots. For example if a company with high wages and plans to hire quite a few people seeks to come into an empty building, then, yeah, open and upfront perks from the public coffers might be extended.

But, in general, a level playing field is all any government should be expected to offer for prospective businesses. That and staying out of the way so private business can do what it does best make locations thrive. Kudos to the small business owners who have breathed live back into the historic Tate area and further congratulations for doing it the old-fashioned American way.

 

Things to be Thankful for

Far be it for a newspaper editorial writer to put on rose-colored glasses and declare all is well. But when you survey the landscape across Pickens County, any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that we’re mostly doing things right. Sure, the county has too many kids living below the poverty line and a few too many adults self-medicating with meth or opioids - We’re not immune from the societal ills that plague modern America.

But if you start a pro’s and con’s list, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. Right off the bat, consider that you are generally safe and secure in our small town environment. Stranger-on-stranger violent crime is practically non-existent in our newspaper in the past year.

When our police officers can spend a good bit of time handling geese problems at the park and take time to respond to calls about bears turning over garbage cans, you know we have crime more under control than most places.

You might also take note that we still have plenty of rural roads. Even though Main Street traffic is occasionally frustrating, it’s nothing compared to what happens in every metro county.

You might also peer out the window. Chances are you will see trees, maybe a mountain view, maybe a stream. Pickens’ mountains are not the grandest, nor our streams the biggest, but we certainly have more scenic beauty than a lot of places.

On top of all these basics here are a few things specific to the year thus far that deserve a nod.

• Football, more precisely the Dragons’ greatest season ever. There’s nothing that brings a town together like a great football season. So, many thanks to the 2018 PHS football team for an amazing year. Now that football season has wound down, fans can get out and support our PHS Dragons and Dragonettes basketball teams whose seasons are underway.

 

• And talking football,  the Dawgs are in the hunt again this year. Though a different sport, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recall that the Braves were a pleasant surprise all season. 

 

• Be thankful you have better things to do than spend time looking at a little screen seeing what other people are doing.

 

• Resources – whether its housing with Habitat for Humanity, food from CARES, funds or goods from the Thrift Store, books from the FERST Foundation or medical care from the Good Sam clinic, we’d wager than Pickens has more resources available per capita than anywhere in the world.  People must ultimately solve their own problems but here you’ll find plenty of people stretching out a hand to assist.

 

• We are thankful for the people who showed up at this year’s Veteran’s Day service despite the torrential downpour and really cold weather. On a day when county offices and banks were closed and many were taking advantage of an extra day to sleep in and rest, we are grateful so many people came to show their respect for what our local veterans have done for us. Standing in the rain that day, we were reminded that thousands upon thousands of veterans of our armed services have served our country in rain-soaked, cold trenches and thousands more are keeping our nation safe this holiday. 

 

• Laughter. Without laughter the world would be a sad place so thanks to groups like our very own Tater Patch Players for hosting improv nights and shows throughout the year that make us laugh - and sometimes cry. 

 

• Employment - Drive around any place in Jasper and check out our classifieds. There is plenty of work for those who want it. And not just low-paying work. There are very good jobs in our little county.

 

• The new Golden Age of Television - whether streaming through our TV screens or old school broadcast, there is plenty to watch.

 

• Holidays - Any reason to celebrate is something we should be thankful for and November and December are chock full of  time to be spent with family which is always a blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving from our staff

 

Classrooms are no place for cell phones

Over the last week we’ve heard several school teachers describe the horrifying impact of cell phones on students in the classroom. These teachers used unsettling phrases like “epidemic” as they describe a drastic change they’ve seen with their students over the last few years. They trace the change back almost entirely to our kids’ cell phone, social media and technology use. These teachers we know, and others around the country, are literally begging parents to help them get a grip on a scourge that is destroying our kids’ minds and undermining their education. 

One teacher gave an alarming example – she told us creative writing was once the easy, fun lesson in class but that students these days have a hard time coming up with original ideas. During one creative writing assignment half the class couldn’t think of anything to write about.

“It’s like they don’t know how to imagine anymore,” she said. This teacher went on to describe the mood in the classroom when she asks kids to put their phones away. She said they get fidgety, “like drug addicts.” 

Other teachers talked about how much phones distract students in class (One teacher said she could “walk in juggling hamsters with her hair on fire” and students wouldn’t bat an eye), how they make kids mentally and physically lazy, how students don’t participate in events at the same levels they once were, and how phones and social media ramp up drama and cyberbullying in school. 

The argument that smart phones are a “tool for learning” is a dangerous one. In fact, cell phone use in school does the exact opposite - it puts students’ learning at risk and exposes them to more cyberbullying. Kids aren’t using their phones to find out which country sank the Lusitania – they’re Googling memes, taking selfies and sending each other photos.

It might surprise people that Silicon Valley parents  in the tech industry are exceedingly cautious about their kids’ use of phones/screens. Many ban them completely. In a New York Times article “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley,” a former Facebook executive assistant said, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

The article goes on to quote former Wired editor describing screens for kids as, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine,” being “closer to crack cocaine.” 

Other tech giants like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs also spoke publicly about severely limiting or prohibiting their kids’ screen and phone times – and study after study backs up their decisions. A 2016 London School of Economics study “found that schools which ban the use of phones experienced a substantial improvement in student test scores,” according to a Huffington Post article. 

Incidentally, many of these Silicon Valley parents - and parents of kids in the world’s top performing schools – keep technology out of the classroom all together, or strictly limit it.  

France recently banned cell phones in schools through eighth grade to boost concentration and reduce cyberbullying. NPR visited one school to see the results – the principal reported a radical “night and day” change. He said kids are friendlier, more polite, and interact more, and that administrators and students don’t have to deal with ramifications of harmful pictures circulating on social networks. 

We’ve heard there are moves to integrate more Chromebooks and move away from phones in class in some grade levels, but we think the local school system should ban cell phones from all classrooms and require they be kept in lockers during school hours. The system’s current policy that gives teachers the choice of whether or not kids use phones is, on the surface, reasonable – but it puts educators in the tough position of beating back the constant pressure from students.  

We can prepare our kids for the digital age without doing collateral damage to their minds. Parents and administrators should heed teachers’ cries for help and help keep phones out of class and  limit them outside class. Our kids and their futures – our collective futures - are at stake.     

 

Yelling fire on a crowded internet

On 60 Minutes Sunday, there was a segment about the biggest tech companies, Facebook, Google and Amazon, collecting everyone’s data. As those interviewed explained with products like the Android phone from Google, the only way to use it is to agree in the very long user’s agreement that the company can store and use your data.

There is literally no other way to use the phones/ software or social media other than agreeing in legal jargon that you don’t mind what the company does in exchange.

The segment revealed that Facebook not only tracks data of its users, but, in at least some cases, kept all their messages, even those users thought were deleted. Some readers are probably getting nervous now when they realize that every single message ever sent on a Facebook app may be retrievable.

Maybe most frightening, the Amazon Alexa devices can keep listening to conversations which aren’t directed at it according to the Sunday night news show.

Shocking, because it is so obviously true, was a comment made by Jeffrey Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy. When asked did any of those corporate actions violate a law, his reply was, “There are no rules on the internet.”

Let that sink in. If you want to use an Alexa device, cell phone, or Facebook whatever information the company wants to collect and store in a data file about you is fair game. At this point, as far as most of us know, all the companies do with that information is target market the various ads and deals you receive based on your online profile. 

But the implications going forward are disturbing.

In a much closer-to-home scenario, our local schools (at least some parents and students) have been thrown into a degree of chaos over panics that developed online with fears that violence might unfold at a campus.

In the first recent incident, local people on social media picked up a threat that was real, without noticing it was aimed at the  Pickens, South Carolina high school, where a student was ultimately arrested. There was never a risk for Georgia, but enough people failed to notice the “S.C.” that school officials felt the need to  calm parents’ nerves by using their all-call phone system.

In the other incident, word of two teenagers verbally arguing last week got blown out of proportion, according to school officials. In the superintendent’s timeline, the flashpoint  was reached when a parent asked online if anyone knew about someone bringing a gun to school the next day, and that became widely circulated on social media.

We’d argue this is the modern equivalent of someone yelling fire in a crowded theater if they got the whiff of a cigarette. Our yelling fire analogy comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1919. If it is falsely yelled to cause panic, it’s illegal, but, not so clear are the repercussions if it’s yelled in earnest mistake or if it’s posted as a legitimate question.

Those who spread and blew out of proportion two kids arguing into a situation  requiring a six-person team of sheriff officers and school officials spending hours sorting it out last Thursday, assumedly didn’t yell it falsely. 

But as dearly departed Stan Lee, (creator of Spiderman) noted, “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” And when you have the ability to yell/post fire or gun (even if it’s a question about a gun at school) you also have the responsibility to see that a panic doesn’t ensue. The better way to handle school security concerns, as the superintendent states this week, is by privately reporting a potential threat to the school administrator, sheriff, central office or 911.

As much trouble as the posts caused, there are no rules that prevent someone from posing questions about guns in school on social media even if they totally made it up. As we are all learning:  There are no rules on the internet.

 

Can we keep ignoring the costs of major storms?

Just imagine you’re a passenger in a car and your spouse says, “don’t want to be a chicken little, but there could be something wrong with the brakes. Probably not, a bunch of mechanics told me there was a problem, but those guys might have just wanted to sell me something and a few other mechanics doubted the first mechanics, so who knows? Besides, it’s a long ways before we come to a stop sign.”

Switch this analogy to climate change. The majority of scientists believe it is occurring and is the result of what us humans are doing. Maybe they are wrong; maybe it’s a hoax; maybe the planet will correct itself or it’s a natural cycle; maybe there’s nothing we can do short of shutting down the whole economy to stave off the effects and we might as well get used to it.

But, just like with the brakes, considering the worst case scenarios - flooded coastal cities, disruptions with weather patterns and food systems, displaced people - shouldn’t we consider some basic maintenance? The old ounce of prevention idea.  People eat rigid diets, take blood pressure medicine and walk, not because they fear a heart attack that week, but because they take “one day” into account.

No one can directly tie the latest hurricane to climate change. But it’s long been thought that warmer oceans mean more and bigger storms. A Science Magazine article on sciencemag.org stated that hurricanes are directly tied to the surface temperature of the oceans and the warming Atlantic “will likely lead to even higher numbers of major hurricanes.” 

One of the key arguments against taking any action to address climate change is the cost. The federal government has rolled back fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and decreased regulations on industry, all in the name of economic growth. The economy is doing well.

But Hurricane Michael inflicted a heavy financial toll. According to Ga. Public Policy Foundation columnist Jeffrey H. Dorfman, “As of this writing, I estimate Georgia cotton growers suffered $550 million in losses. Worse, Georgia pecan growers suffered $560 million in lost crop, damaged and destroyed trees, and lost future income while waiting for replanted orchards to mature. Georgia vegetable farmers also suffered heavy losses, perhaps over $400 million. Topping even that, Georgia timber owners may have lost $1 billion, with 250,000 acres completely lost and 750,000 acres with varying levels of damage. Add in “smaller” losses, such as almost 100 chicken houses and 2 million chickens destroyed, plus damage to peanuts, soybeans, container nurseries and greenhouses, and the total losses in Georgia’s agricultural industry will almost surely exceed $2 billion.”

Agriculture is big business in Georgia. When you count related jobs like processing plants, paper and wood manufacturing, about one in 10 Georgians’ livelihoods is tied to our crops.

Aside from the crop losses in Georgia, the insurance claims for homes and businesses were estimated at another $1.5 billion (and rising) in damages.

In Dorfman’s column he noted this was an “unprecedented” storm. Maybe it was the worst, but certainly was not unprecedented. In fact, south Georgia suffered through Hurricane Irma in September 2017 when it was thought to have destroyed 30 percent of certain crops. And in 2016 Hurricane Matthew churned through in October causing somewhere around $90 million in damage in Georgia.

Rather than question how expensive addressing climate change might be, let’s compare it to the cost of doing nothing. 

There is no fiscal sense in continuing to ask for federal assistance to rebuild and replant in hurricane areas if we are doing nothing to reduce the risk of more and larger storms. It’s not about an environmental agenda, it’s about protecting our assets like crops and condos on the coast.

It may be that climate change turns out to be just a bunch of hot air, but with these kind of costs rolling up every year, it’s time to say “just in case, let’s take a look.”