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August 2020
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Staff Editorials

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. 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.


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?


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.


Mistakes happen

By Dan Pool


Last week, in our final proof of the front page, we spotted one spot where we had “Black the Blue” instead of Back the Blue. That is a simple typo to make, a misplaced “l,” but also the kind of gaffe that keeps editors nervous.

I worry that in this overly-sensitive, ready-for-a-fight atmosphere, would readers who spotted the extra “l,” think, “Someone missed that in their proofreading,” or  would they think “that newspaper did that as an intentional insult to the police. I need to organize a protest.”?

This is what keeps me up at night - the mobs, on both the right and left, scanning every public utterance to see if there is anything they can find to whip themselves into a frenzy showing how committed to whichever political side they adhere to.

A couple examples from newspapers give reason for anyone who works in any kind of publishing to be on guard. 

First, in Nashville, their newspaper, which had a more than century-long history of public service and of supporting civil rights, ran a paid ad featuring images of President Donald Trump indicating that Muslims wanted to detonate a bomb in Nashville and launch a third world war.

The public outcry that followed led the newspaper to donate proceeds from the ad to an Islamic group along with a substantial advertising credit and cost their ad manager his job. Yet, there are still efforts to make the newspaper show even more contrition. There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed even with paid ads and claiming there was a threat of a bomb being set off is well over it. But what bothers me is that this newspaper had a stellar record of promoting inclusive tolerance and one poorly reviewed ad has critics yelling for its closure.

In Philadelphia, a 20-year veteran journalist resigned to quiet a firestorm brewing over his headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” in response to damage during protests.

No mercy shown.

I spotted on our Progress social media where following our coverage of the Back the Blue event, someone queried whether we had covered the Black Lives Matter similarly. Luckily one of our readers immediately replied that yes we did. I can only imagine where they could have gone otherwise.

Those are examples from newspapers, but they could easily come from anyone who speaks in public, creates a new sign, or any business owner/manager who makes a social media post blunder.

As a community newspaper we are always open to hear from our readers, even when they are angry. I believe that when we have an irate reader, it first shows that people are reading closely each week, and second that they care what we write. So, thank you to all who have taken time to call and comment on our work, both good and bad.

We don’t expect our readers to agree with everything we publish. Heck, we publish contrasting views often. But please keep your vitriol in proper relation to whatever we did to offend you. If you really want to cancel your subscription because of one letter or column, that is certainly your choice (and a few people have done it) but we hope you’ll accept that we are open to all the different views in the community.

It’s the  people anxiously looking for one minor slip by anyone, anywhere that causes my indigestion - those who believe that everyone should be fully judged on one comment, statement or act.

People who are looking for someone to lambast in order to show how righteously dedicated they are to some cause or party – find a villain to fight against in order to rally the troops.

I hope that for most thinking people if you spot something like a “Black the Blue,” go ahead and read the rest of our coverage and gauge the overall context. If you think we missed the mark, by all means let us know with a call or e-mail.

But don’t forget that typos happen or a rushed headline that seemed clever at the time, you regret once you see it print -- just like a poorly chosen joke at a party. This hyper-vigilant atmosphere where everyone is looking for something to get mad about is no fun for anyone. If you want to challenge someone’s stance that’s fine, but keep in mind, it might just be a bad keystroke. 

No one should have a lifetime of solid work discredited by a single utterance or mistake.


Time for parents to step up and get kids ready to learn

Let’s replay a scenario some parents may be familiar with after four months of children at home. It’s 5:30 a.m. Parent is getting up for work and hears the shower. It’s their 9th grade son. Parent’s first thought: “How wonderful! Early bird gets the worm!”  

Then said parent realizes the son is showering before he goes to bed after a long night of video games and social media.  

With school just a few weeks away, many of us parents are facing the grim reality that our middle school children are keeping the same hours as college frat boys. 

For months on end (already double the time of a traditional two-month summer),  kids have devolved into “extreme unstructured behavior,” according to a sleep expert who spoke with the AJC.                          

       While some students stayed on the ball during digital learning in spring, many teachers reported students’ wonky sleeping patterns became increasingly apparent as the weeks rolled on. Students would stay up into the wee hours on social media, playing video games, or watching television. They’d roll out of bed minutes before the online class and attend bleary-eyed and unengaged, or not show up at all.

And that was before summer vacation even started. 

“What happened with coronavirus is every day became a weekend,” said Donn Posner, an adjunct Stanford University professor, “and everybody was allowed to sleep in their own preferred phase.” 

That “preferred phase” for teens is later, with the pandemic “exacerbating[ing that tendency by removing the guardrails on their lives.” While pre- and elementary school-aged children have had their schedules impacted with later bed times, too, experts at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital say children in middle and high school are “particularly susceptible to this problem.” 

Interestingly, many people, including Posner, don’t agree with early school start times because it goes against older kids’ “natural rhythms” and makes them perform more poorly. Bobbi Hopkins, M.D., medical director of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Sleep Center, said many kids have been getting closer to the recommended amount of sleep during the pandemic. 

Still, reality will come knocking August 3. Fact is schools start early and kids need to be alert. Kids enrolled in the Pickens Virtual Academy are going to be held to much more structure this year, too.  

       It’s easy to wag a shameful finger and say parents should have been more on top of things, but it’s been an unprecedented year, adults have been stressed and – understandably - more lenient than usual. It may have been fun to stay up all night and get up barely in time for lunch, but for learning to commence this year, it’s time for the party to end.  And it’s a recognized duty of all parents to have their children (from kindergarten to a high school senior) ready to learn when the bell rings.    

       Outside of getting kids to bed at a decent hour by shutting off devices - or doing whatever works - we need to step up and foster good education and physical habits. The pandemic has likely created gaps in learning and lazy behavior that educators will try to mitigate when school starts, but starting right this second, parents can get children prepared. 

If COVID cases spike again and kids are all back home, it will be necessary for the parents to carry through on educational plans and this discipline will be needed. While it’s easy to blame the times and do nothing, ultimately that fails the children.  

  Let’s set our kids - and teachers - up for success by implementing positive behaviors now and keeping them up, no matter what happens in the fall. Too much more downtime on Fortnight and TikTok and our kids brains and bodies will go to mush.


On wearing masks and time for government spending cuts

Wear a mask -- by choice 

We had an excellent idea from a Bent Tree reader last week suggesting this editorial. The gentleman called to say he had recently been in two Jasper restaurants and, while he didn’t want to single them out, he was bothered by the lack of any COVID prevention measures among staff and fellow patrons.

With so many changes, it is unclear what the rules are now. But it appears under the latest state orders that those restaurant employees who interact with the public should have a mask or face shield.

The caller said he didn’t want to complain. What he wanted is to go out to eat and feel safe. For business reasons, local establishments should want to do everything they can to make retirees feel safe -- better chance those in the higher risk group keep coming in.

Based on the latest news, fears of going out among the unmasked aren’t unfounded. According to the state health department, COVID cases are again rising quickly in Georgia. On June 30th, Georgia reported 79,417 confirmed cases of COVID, with 2,784 confirmed deaths. Pickens continues to be a lucky oasis with only 92 confirmed cases in this county and five deaths. Most all other nearby counties, except Fannin and Union, have seen higher caseloads.

The latest figures show that younger people are now regularly testing positive. If you are in this younger category and feel invincible to some stupid virus, you should still take precautions as a positive test for you could  mean time out of work or even a closed small business. Our county recreation department had to temporarily close facilities, as they had too many positive tests to field enough people to operate – even though  most of the employees were not feeling bad. 

Governor Brian Kemp saw that Georgia was among the first states to relax COVID rules, and the people here need to show that his faith was not misguided and force him into taking new measures.

If avoiding any worse problems, which could include additional deaths, closures or returning statewide restrictions (possibly even missing college or pro football season, dare we say it) is as simple as wearing a cheap mask in public, then by all means do so.

It’s not about taking your rights away, it’s about doing a small thing that may help others you come into contact with.


For local government: time to plan your cuts now


According to reports from the Gold Dome in Atlanta, the state economy wasn’t as badly devastated as first feared by COVID-19. But it most surely did have some impact and could worsen as federal money dwindles. The legislature implemented 10 percent budget cuts in many places. This wasn’t as severe as first feared; 14 percent cuts across the board were initially projected.

We strongly encourage local governments and schools to follow suit with pre-emptive cuts. We encourage planners to be aggressive early. They can always scale back cuts later. To wait until the final 2020 numbers are in before taking action is head-in-sand denialism. 

As an example, the city of Dawsonville announced in May they would trim $1 million from their current $7 million budget, citing the projected loss of revenue. Assuming that our neighbor with their sprawling outlet malls is more reliant on sales tax than us, we may not need a 14 percent pruning here. Following the state with their 10 percent cut sounds like good government to us.

What we would find inexcusable is for any elected official or government department head to enter the next budget cycle without concrete plans on how they can slash 10 percent and be ready to do so.