Ah, year’s end, time for a little ritual to Janus, the two-faced Roman God who looks both forwards and backwards. This week we’re looking backwards at how we fared with what we wanted in 2017 - as published in this space a year ago. Next week’s we’ll look ahead.
• Give us a sign – We sought curb appeal on Highway 515 showing that Jasper is here and welcomes visitors. Nope. Looks the same as it did at the start of the year. Surely, we can muster a sign at the Highways 515/53 intersection and some landscaping. Both Ellijay and Blue Ridge have made the four-lane through their burgs attractive and do well with tourism.
• Don’t Facebook, be happy – Social media hasn’t collapsed under the avalanche of lies, nasty comments and inane pet/food photos, but we can still hope. Even the Facebook company blog recently acknowledged that too much time glaring at their feed is detrimental to your mental health.
• Tax cuts for the county – Both the county and schools cut taxes slightly and now the GOP has delivered some tax relief for all Americans. We’ll take small victories where we find them. NOTE: before you start e-mailing, we understand some people may have seen their properties re-assessed and higher tax bills. But in general taxes were cut.
• Fewer legend deaths – The deaths of Tom Petty, Glen Campbell and Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) plus Hugh Hefner made news but 2017 didn’t hit as hard on the celebrity death notices as prior years – unless you count those who sexual misconduct figuratively killed.
• Fill the Buildings – Small change. A new pizza restaurant coming to the old SideBar/Crust building). Otherwise empty large buildings and vacant commercial properties still abound, though the former NAPA building downtown does look very nice.
• Rain – Pretty solid improvement with rainfall. Though no one here gets to claim credit, we were happy to go a year without serious drought issues.
• Marble Festival ReBoot – We’d consider this a full success. The Chamber of Commerce put new events and life into the October festival. Let’s get behind them to see it grow and improve again this year.
• Trump to Succeed – Last year we noted that regardless of how you voted, everyone should want the man in the White House to succeed. Didn’t happen. At this point, we judge the nation to be slightly less great than when his term started. Let’s hope for a better sophomore year.
Some notable wish lists items
from earlier years:
• Go Dawgs. For Kirby Smart to fire up the Dawgs. Didn’t make it in 2016 but we’ll take it a year later.
• Boys and Girls Club built and funded and open (2016 list). A big yes and continuing to meet needs.
• Revival of the arts in Jasper – Keep on dreaming.
• More focus on ways to capitalize on Pickens as a great bedroom community. No progress that we can tell. In fact we’re not sure there is any focus on any marketing angle of this county.
• Development around Walmart (2015 request) – Added the Murphy gas station, but certainly isn’t crowded out there or anywhere on the four-lane, though there is a whole new (empty) area near the Highway 108 intersection.
• Take off at the airport tech park (2014 list) – We wanted it first three years ago and it hasn’t happened. However, there are signs of life with the re-formed airport authority. Chances look good that we’ll finally see potential get airborne out there in 2018.
• Beat the national averages on SAT – In 2017, on the revived 1600 scale Pickens scored a 1092 average while the state average was 1050 and the national average was 1060 so mission accomplished. Way to go Dragons.
We wish all our readers a happy and prosperous New Year.
Christmas arrives in a few short days and by then we will have survived all the rushing around and preparing for the big day. With all the hustle and bustle to get ready for Christmas, it’s nice to notice the collective quiet throughout our town on Christmas morning. No more running around, buying gifts and groceries, just that once-a-year calm that only comes on the morning of Jesus’ birth when practically everyone is at home relishing in the best gifts of all - loved ones, the gift of family, and Christmas’ namesake, Jesus Christ.
Wise Men brought gifts to the newborn Savior and we still offer gifts today. But as Christmas approaches this year, perhaps the best thing we could give each other is our time. As long-time Progress contributor Ann Parks said in her Happy Ramblers post this week: “Have a wonderful Christmas with as many friends and family as possible and remember what Christmas really is about.”
Giving someone our time and our company is the most wonderful gift, this time of year and all year long. This Christmas, we should make a point to tell those we love why they matter to us. Reminding friends and family of the conversations that have meant so much to our lives, the memories we’ve shared, the laughter, and even the tears we’ve had through the years, are true treasures.
This Christmas, we should tell those we love how special they are. From the parents who took care of us as children, made us laugh, kissed and hugged us and showed us how to take on the world, to that favorite friend or spouse whose daily comments and gestures support us as adults, there’s no better time than this Christmas to tell those around us just how much they enrich our lives. A spoken kind word can fill someone’s heart and mean so much more than a gift bought without much thought.
So as we gather around the table to celebrate the Savior’s birth with family and friends, make time for a thoughtful word to the person sitting next to you - the aunts and uncles we may see only once or twice a year or the mothers and fathers we see daily. Enjoy this time with those we love and this year - and all the ones going forward - we can remember that the quiet of Christmas morning surrounded by those special people is really what we long for in the first place.
Gifts will always be a part of America’s Christmas celebrations but we would be wise to know that a gift doesn’t always come wrapped in a box with festive bows. Our best holiday memories are centered around faith, family and traditions. If we really think about it, very few childhood memories actually include the gifts we’ve received but rather celebrations with family and friends. We remember less the Christmas we received that diamond bracelet and more that Christmas that aunt Sue almost set the kitchen on fire when she burned the cookies. It’s not so much about the gifts and more about the experiences and the memories of those experiences.
We remember the challenges of trying to get the children to sleep on Christmas Eve, rather than the gifts Santa left under the tree. As time goes by and we collect more and more Christmases, it’s the memories of being with family and friends more than the gifts – no matter how big or expensive. When we recall Christmases past, we usually find that the simplest things give offer the greatest happiness.
Nowadays, we often feel cheated by Christmas. So rushed, so busy, that we can’t relax and enjoy the season. Next week when we sit down with our families why not talk of the memories of Christmases past because it’s the memories of those that will sustain us, not the gifts.
Christmas is the better for being a simple place with loved ones.
By Angela Reinhardt
I don’t watch the Today Show, but before Matt Lauer was fired over sexual harassment allegations the image I had of him was that of a genial, boyish, All-American-type I enjoyed seeing cover the Olympics.
At first all we had was the vague “sexual assault” claim, then details emerged – in one incident he pulled down his pants and showed his genitals to a woman, then berated her for not engaging. All allegations of course, but when I found a video of Lauer looking down his co-host’s shirt telling her, “Pretty sweater. Keep bending over like that. I like that view,” I was convinced the guy is a jerk - not at all who I’d imagined.
Many people are calling the rapid-fire toppling of high-powered men a sexual revolution and a sea of change in our nation’s history. I’ve personally tried to take the allegations a case at a time, while being hopeful positive changes can come from it. Just last week, for example, a rape charge against a man was thrown out in local courts. I also recall covering a story about a local professor after he was exonerated from sexual assault charges a few years ago - false allegations have and will be made. But the truth is sexual harassment and assault are real, and we can use this historic moment to keep the momentum going by talking to our kids and implementing and enforcing protocols in the workplace.
The only problem is sex is complicated and emotionally charged, and solutions aren’t clear cut for men or women.
Matt Lauer’s termination came up with some male friends last week, one of whom said his acts and those of comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to getting nude and performing certain acts in front of two non-consenting women, were so outrageous he didn’t see how they could be true.
I relayed a few of the experiences I’ve had to put things into perspective for my male friend. When I worked at a golf club in another county, a man I’d never met offered me several hundred dollars to flash him on the back nine. It was completely unprovoked. I hadn’t been flirting and wasn’t wearing skimpy clothing. I’ve also had a man forcibly put my hand on his genitals. When I refused to engage him, he told me I was uptight, and made a few explicit comments trying to guilt me into sex.
The #MeToo movement shows that most women have experiences of their own.
My son overheard me talking about the wave of allegations and asked what was happening. I told him, “Men with very powerful positions are getting in trouble because they abused and touched women when they didn’t want to be touched.” He said that was awful and shook his head, then after a second said, “Well, all those girl pop singers who sing about wanting to be touched, I guess they don’t mean it.”
My son is in middle school and doesn’t know anything, or much of anything other than vague concepts, about sex or intimacy. In his prepubescent 11-year-old brain I could see how he would make that connection, and his observation is valid and touches on this idea that women who tease and flirt are asking for it. My friend, and other men, have wondered what led to those instances like Lauer and Louis C.K., where men felt it was okay to pull out their privates. Was everyone drunk? Did the woman initiate flirting? But there’s a difference between flirting and genuine abuse, and men should know what’s what, and when to stop.
Like the LA Times’ Cathy Young, I’m concerned about the sterilization of healthy flirting and courtship in the workplace, and men who fear that “careers may be destroyed over minor misconduct and ambiguous transgressions.” I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a “sterile society,” as one NY Times reporter questioned if that’s not where we’re headed. For the time being, I’m going to talk to my kids in hopes of changing the future landscape to one that’s not devoid of sex (where’s the fun in that?), to one where there is “nuance,’ as Ms. Young writes, where we distinguish between healthy flirting, “abuse, minor bad behavior, and innocent miscommunication.”
Some people don’t want to stop working. They retire, piddle around a few months, get bored, then get a job to keep them occupied. But other people – most people we’d argue – don’t want to work after 65, into their 70s and even 80s.
But the way Americans are saving for retirement, which is dismally poor by recent studies, people who don’t want to work may have to. With the holiday shopping season in high gear, money is on the brain. It’s a good time to remember that buying gifts and splurging at times can be fun - but without saving and planning now, the forecast for your golden years could be grim.
ClarkHoward.com reports that 94 percent of seniors polled said the advice they would like to give to younger people is to start saving earlier, save more during their career, find small ways to save that add up, and maximize work retirement programs – advice we should all take before it’s too late. Proponents for the local Seniors for Change movement, the group that wants to increase senior tax exemptions in Pickens County, argue that seniors on fixed incomes can’t afford to pay their property taxes, which is true in many cases (although not only seniors on fixed incomes would benefit from the additional exemptions).
Here are a few stats:
•One out of every three Americans has zero dollars saved for retirement, ZERO, which means they would rely totally on Social Security payouts. A GoBankingRates Retirement Rates survey found that of those who do save, 55 percent have less than $10,000.
•The average monthly retirement benefit is $1,371, or $16,452 per year. The overall maximum monthly Social Security benefit (which Money.com reports only six percent of people qualify) of those retiring at 65 in 2017 is $2,687, or $32,000 for the year.
•People are living longer. According to the Social Security Administration, "About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95. That means if you retire at 65, you might need money to live on for 25 years or more.
What are we wasting our money on?
Somewhere along the line, the American attitude about what’s required to live a decent life shifted. Older generations made things last and worked decades to build up to a new house or car. These days people want the big, fully-furnished house and expensive car right after they get married (with the average wedding now costing over $25,000), among other luxuries.
Here are just a few of the items we waste money on, in addition to things like lottery tickets, entertainment, clothes and other retail shopping, alcohol, and cigarettes:
•Eating out and food waste: For giggles (or sobs) check out your bank statement one month and add up how much you spend on restaurants. Let’s say you spend $10 a day on lunch/dinner and $3 a day on a coffee/snack at the gas station. Over the course of a year that’s $4,745 for one person (The max contribution to a 401k is $5,500 if you’re under 50). This amount doesn’t even include what’s wasted throwing out food that could be eaten the next day as leftovers – which in America is estimated to be almost half.
•Vehicles: The average cost of a new vehicles are on the rise, with the average now at $34,000 according to Kelly Blue Book. A NY Times report found that new cars are typically too expensive for the typical family, but they still buy them. The average term for a new-car loan is now 68 months, with some loans stretching as long as seven years.
We’re not advocating for super couponing or never splurging on entertainment or vacations – but with all our spending and dismal savings it’s in our best interest to put away now so we won’t be crying later.
To the chagrin of public radio listeners, not-for-profit broadcasting stations hold their torturous pledge drives every year - and every year staff members are forced to dig down deep and find creative ways to come at it from a fresh angle to get you to donate.
These drives are similar to our shop local editorials, which we feel compelled to pull out this time of year to encourage people to keep their holiday dollars in town – but how to get the same old not-very-exciting-but-extremely-important topic to catch peoples’ attention? We don’t have This American Life’s Ira Glass cold-calling a longtime listener to ask why she hasn’t supported the station; we don’t have Alec Baldwin to offer on-air personalities as gifts for new pledge levels for “people who make as much money as I do” - but we do have some facts that are striking and relevant for this shopping season.
First, we’re going to pick on Amazon, the online retail giant where Business Insider reported 43 percent of all online sales were made in 2016.
•Amazon Prime is super convenient, but consider this – according to a study by Institute for Local Self Reliance, for every $10 million sold through Amazon it employs just 19 people. In contrast, independent retailers create 47 jobs for every $10 million spent.
•The study also points out that Amazon also doesn’t have distribution centers in most communities, which means it doesn’t pay property taxes. Local brick-and-mortar shops do, so they support the local community by paying taxes that support schools and governments. The more spent through Amazon means less property tax money comes from business, which means more will have to be shouldered by homeowners.
•Amazon also isn’t involved in local communities like our small businesses are – they don’t donate to local charities or sports teams.
•If you buy in a locally-owned store, you get to talk to a real person who will likely give you good customer service.
There are plenty of other reasons to shop local this holiday season, outside of curtailing the power of the online monolith.
•According to the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, local business generates 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than big box retail.
•Of every $100 spent at an independent retailer, $68 remains in the local economy. For big box retailers, just $48 stays in the local economy.
•We want our community to be unique, don’t we? If we don’t support local businesses that give our communities character the country will turn into a homogenous blob where every city looks the same.
•While we most definitely support our independent shops over the mega retailers, it’s better to shop at big box stores in your community than shopping online. That sales tax money stays in town.
•Again, sales tax money collected in our communities stay in our communities. Case-in-point, the school system’s finance officer has been thrilled with higher-than-average local SPLOST collections, up nearly $50,000 from monthly collections earlier this year. She attributes it to cars being purchased at local dealerships. That $50,000 is going directly to support our school system. Other governments are enjoying increased collections as well. More sales tax money to support our government means less of a burden on property owners.
•Gifts you buy from independent shops are so much more interesting than big box stores. Many local retailers have items that are made locally.
Creative ways to shop local:
•Gift cards are always nice to receive, but consider giving gifts cards from independent restaurants and shops instead of the big guys.
•The Jasper Farmers Market has two more indoor markets on December 9th and December 23rd. This is a great place for locally made crafts. These are held at the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce.
•Antique stores are often overlooked for holiday shopping, but are treasure troves for unique gifts.
This holiday we’re going to try keep our dollars local so our community can thrive. We hope you will too.