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Staff Editorials

Longing for the days of Cronkite: It’s understanding, not just hearing

Where is our day’s version of Uncle Walter? Remember the days when television news came on for just one hour each night? When Walter Cronkite would tell us, “And that’s the way it is,” followed by the date of the broadcast? 

Remember, too, when we sat around the breakfast table with our local, state or national newspaper reading for a while before taking on the rest of the day? (Luckily, here in Pickens you can still get your weekly newspaper delivered right to your mailbox).

Now, the constant, never-ending stream of news from 24-hour networks and the internet, and those notifications on our phones are impacting our lives like never before -  and not in a positive way. 

In fact, the media saturation era we live in today affects our mood, socialization and empathy. And faced with so much information, we aren’t absorbing anything we read or hear before something else steals our attention. We don’t think critically anymore - or for any extended period.

Every day we are bombarded by information, regardless of whether we search for it; when sensational news (note: we didn’t say important news) breaks nationally you would have to hide to avoid it. 

And this bombardment is taking a mental toll on all of us. It is literally too much. 

Of course, it’s not just “the news” anymore. It’s some braying jackass spinning it in whatever direction his or her political views lean. 

What has gotten lost in the shuffle is our own critical thinking ability.

The Pew Research Center last month reported that “Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less engaged and less knowledgeable.”

The report said “those who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims.” The governor had to warn last week that drinking bleach products is hazardous and will not cure coronavirus, refuting claims made online and elsewhere. Note: this story is a repeat of an April story with the same misinformation again making the rounds.

Newspaper readers absorb information better and are better informed.

About one-in-five U.S. adults say they get their political news primarily through social media. (In a survey conducted between October 2019 and June 2020). That survey found that U.S. adults who rely on social media for political news tend to be “less likely than other news consumers to closely follow major news stories, such as the coronavirus outbreak and the 2020 presidential election.” In addition, they also tend to be “less knowledgeable about those topics.”

U.S. adults who rely most on social media for news tend to be younger and with less education, the  research think tank found. In addition, the Pew study found that even as Americans who primarily turn to social media for political news are less aware and knowledgeable about a wide range of events and issues, they are “more likely than other Americans to have heard about a number of false or unproven claims.”  

Those people considered to have “high political knowledge,” according to Pew, are those who get their political and election news via a news website and print.

Four-in-10 individuals who turn mainly to news websites and apps (45 percent) and print (41 percent) for news fall into the “high political knowledge category,” the same is true of just 17 percent of those who turn most to social media.

We don’t need more blathering online. We need thinkers who take time to find trusted sources and actually read the articles first before commenting. 

Georgia courts guilty of COVID cowardice

On August 11th, the Chief Justice of the Ga. Supreme Court again said they were too afraid of COVID issues to allow any jury trials or grand jury work. They also imposed other restrictions that local courts must abide by.

In his fifth order extending the statewide judicial emergency, Chief Justice Harold Melton noted the hardship this is imposing on all Georgians, writing “this broad prohibition cannot last too much longer, even if the pandemic continues, because the judicial system, and the criminal justice system in particular, must have some capacity to resolve cases by indictment and trial.”

He continued that there is a Judicial COVID-19 Task Force looking at how they could proceed safely even in areas where the levels of COVID-19 are high, including the use of remote grand jury proceedings and jury selection remotely. 

One wonders what they have been doing since March if they are still looking at it?

The high court’s order specifically noted that jury selection would be impractical with social distancing guidelines. Grand juries already impaneled can continue meeting for “time sensitive” matters. New grand juries won’t be called.

The order from our state’s highest court, recognizes “the substantial backlog of pending cases” and make provisions with various deadlines, including waiting periods with adoptions and divorces.

The order calls attention to the courts’ particular burden of seeing that the Constitutional rights of defendants, including open court rooms and the right to confront your accusers, plus victims’ rights and the public’s right to access proceedings are all afforded while meeting public safety guidelines.

It’s true that the courts do face this burden and you almost could feel sorry for them....Almost.

But before we continue to accept their continued “emergency,” let’s recall that every school across the state, including hundreds of thousands of students and thousands of teachers, created plans to handle it.

Let’s consider grocery stores have figured out how to keep food on the shelves. 

Let’s recall that family businesses, with none of the resources of our state court system, are figuring out how to open dining rooms, offer curbside service and ways to bring their product to you.

One big difference with those who have been innovative and our courts is the employees at family businesses won’t continue getting paid unless they get their doors open.

Not so with the courts. You can be  sure that members of the state’s high court are not sitting around discussing how to stretch their relief money for another month. 

Maybe that would have encouraged our state judicial officials to think outside the box, or to simply tell everyone to wear a mask, wash their hands and go for it. 

To be fair to our local judges, this is an order handed down from the top. And as a reminder, unlike federal supreme court justices, Georgia justices are elected. 

This lack of effort to get courts rolling is a big deal. Among those awaiting days before juries or a grand jury decision are the innocent and the victims and parties to civil suits, and others with plain, routine business who are getting pushed aside. Only the guilty are benefiting by the lack of a properly-functioning court system

The chief justice noted in his order the backlog this closure is creating. Even simple future cases may suffer ridiculous delays if this state of in-action is allowed to persist. 

So let’s hope our court officials will show the same courage now expected of our kindergartners and get back to work.

 

Recent drownings remind us of necessity of water safety

Last weekend was particularly tragic on Georgia waters. According to news from across the state, between Friday and Sunday:

• A Rockmart middle schooler was killed in a boating accident.

• A 15-year-old drowned in the Chattahoochee River in Cobb County.

• A 17-year-old drowned at Lake Lanier.

• A four-year-old drowned at Buford Dam on Lake Lanier.

• An adult male drowned off Little Tybee Island

• A three-year-old drowned at a family pool in Macon.

Statistics kept by the National Safety Council show an annual average of 3,400 people drown in the United States – about 10 per day.

Interestingly, this figure hasn’t fluctuated much over the past couple of decades – maybe we get more safety conscious and that holds the rate down as the population grows. 

Outside of birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death for the youngest children. Up until your mid-twenties, it is the leading cause of preventable death.

As the recent spate of deaths in Georgia shows, young children are often among those killed in water, but male teenagers are almost equally at risk.

Teenshealth.com cuts right to the point, that male teenagers and alcohol are a deadly combination that figure into many of the drownings. The website stated that half of male teenager drownings are alcohol related.

Prior to the last two deaths at Lanier, those who had drowned there this month had mostly been adult males. 11 Alive quoted the DNR as identifying the four earlier drowning victims on Lanier as being aged 59, 45 and 28 , before the 17-year-old and four-year-old last weekend. So it’s not just teens and kids.

11Alive in their report, said the DNR has reported 46 drownings statewide in 2020. Last year from January 1 to July 31, the state reported 38 drownings. 

Death by drowning is certainly nothing new. The oldest histories show people dying in waters and disciples in the Bible worried about their boat capsizing.

Nor have the precautions changed much from what frontier women told their kids, “be careful around that creek.”

The Red Cross encourages the common sense approach of learning to swim with professional lessons and then stay within your comfort zone.

Boiled down, the precautions from government and children’s health groups all include some combination of the following:

Never, ever leave kids unattended around any water. If you have a pool nearby it’s your duty to make sure it is secure against curious toddlers and adventurous teens.

Get Skilled – take swimming lessons; make your kids take swimming lessons. Even if they don’t like the water or want to go to the pool, at least ensure your children can doggy-paddle back to the side if they end up in a pool or lake some day.

Know your limits – be aware that rivers and lakes (where most of the recent drownings occurred) can be much more dangerous with currents, wakes from boats and swimmers can find themselves further from shore and in deeper water quickly without realizing it.

If you aren’t a good swimmer stick to pools with lifeguards.

Life jackets – Don’t be embarrassed to put on a quality life jacket. There are some great ones for the young swimmers that are like shirts that won’t come off and keep their heads up. Be aware that a pool float is a toy not a life-saving device.

Don’t drink and boat or swim.

Drowning and water safety are pretty common topics, maybe even boring to talk about. But think that five Georgia families since Friday have lost members (four under the age of 18), then recognize this is nothing to ignore. 

It only takes a couple of minutes to go from a fun day at the lake to a life-altering tragedy. Nothing fancy required, please use those common sense tips.

 

Time clocks would hold public officials accountable

For the past couple of weeks controversy has swirled around the elected tax commissioner Darrin Satterfield. 

The accusations (contained in a 500-page report that has not been released) may or may not need further study/action as Satterfield resigned last week, cutting his four-year term a few months short.

There is a larger issue we urge the county government to address immediately. Our reporting on this political rift found that, amazingly and frustratingly, there is no system to document how often an elected official is absent from work.

As absenteeism appeared to be a factor in the problems cited, we sought the records of Satterfield’s time off.

How many days was the tax commissioner really gone in the past year? As far as we can tell, no one knows.

The county attorney explained that the duly elected constitutional officers run their office and handle their own personnel. So, it would be up to them to record their time off.

Many a private businessman have built up an enterprise, left it in the hands of managers, and off to play golf in Florida they go. Not exactly how you want to be remembered, but that’s certainly a business plan many envy.

It’s different when you choose to take your paycheck from the taxpayers. If you are elected as a civil servant, you should expect to be more open about how you operate and when and where you go during business hours.

Not only do we believe that these elected officials should be asked to keep track of their absences, we believe they need to be published once a year.

We don’t need a fancy or complicated sheet of paper or spreadsheet program  to document when salaried county employees miss work. The personnel office could officially report that in the past year Public Official A was out of the office X number of days for training/conferences and Y number of days for sickness or personal reasons.

And based on a couple of previous cases, we’d suggest that absences for conferences or training be recorded as well. Gathering with other people in your profession is a great way to hear new ideas, but if abused it’s a great way to get mini-vacations at taxpayer expense and avoid the daily grind of going to work.

And to be clear, we are not suggesting that the board of commissioners or anyone has the power to act upon the absences of other elected officials. That’s a dangerously slippery slope. 

It would be up to the voters to take this information and decide whether the absences were excessive, but at least people will know exactly how many times someone they voted for missed work.

And you can be sure if an official knew that their 20 personal days or 18 different conferences were going to be made public every year, it would cut back on days out of the office.

At a bare minimum elected officials must be in their offices and available to the public. As a famous film director once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”

 

Never trust anyone who asks for money

We are going to save some of you a good bit of time. This week’s editorial idea in one sentence: DO NOT EVER GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFO OR A GREEN DOT CARD NUMBER TO ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW.

If you are practicing the rule above, feel free to skip to our other stories this week.

For those of you wondering if the rule applies if the caller knows your name and birthday, if they say they are a court/law enforcement officer, if they claim to be helping your grandson who really is on vacation, keep reading. Yes, the rule always applies. DO NOT EVER GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFO OR A GREEN DOT CARD NUMBER TO ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW.

You may ask, what if the person on the phone seems to have a lot of facts about me  – such as birthday, recent travel, spouse’s name and occupation?

Yes, it still applies. DO NOT EVER GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFO OR A GREEN DOT CARD NUMBER TO ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW.

In previous stories both our sheriff and Jasper police chief have warned in the strongest language possible that scams are perpetrated by people calling on the phone seeking financial information often. And more and more we see this by text as well.

Never do legitimate agencies, courts, cops, doctors, or the IRS call demanding money to avoid fines or jail. 

One of the more recent scams is people calling/e-mailing elderly people saying a relative is in trouble and needs immediate help. Trouble could range from a wreck while on vacation or a court situation.

Thanks to social media, it’s not hard to find people on vacation, then find grandparents who like their photos and figure out a way to contact them. 

We’ve written editorials like this before. We quoted our Jasper Police Chief several years ago advising that if you were sending Green Dot (a pre-paid credit card that is virtually untraceable and unrecoverable) money overseas to someone who randomly called you, you can be pretty sure you are being ripped off.

We are again offering this caution as it’s needed and not just for elderly people who are the most common targets. It happens to savvy cyber-currency users as well.

Last week national news was made after the Twitter accounts of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Kanye West, Bill Gates and others were hacked. A message was posted saying if you send them Bitcoin, they’d send you back double.

The message posted on all the accounts made it appear these celebrities wanted to give back to the world but only if you acted in a short span of time.

Law enforcement judged the message to be “amateurish but effective,” according to a New York Times account. It worked to the tune of $118,000 in three hours. 

This scam follows a pretty standard huckster formula, “you give me something first and then I will return it with more.”

This type of crime happens by phone pretty often with someone telling callers they have won a large prize, but to claim it a certain fee in advance is needed.

There is a similar plot that we reported fooling some local folks several years back, involving a ridiculous job – make big bucks to sit home but you have to first pay various fees to get hired.

This summer a bold fraud was perpetrated at the Hinton Dollar General when someone called claiming to be investigating the store and talked an employee in to taking all the store money, buying pre-paid credit cards and turning over the serial numbers to him.

Recall the words of the police chief: if you are sending/giving the serial number on a pre-paid card, you are being ripped off – even if the caller claims to be an FBI agent.

So one more time DO NOT EVER GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFO OR A GREEN DOT CARD NUMBER TO ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW.