Jackson County Opinions...

 March 1, 2000

The Jackson Herald
March 1, 2000

Support bond vote
To say that the student population in Jackson County is growing would be an understatement. Because of the growth coming to the county, classrooms are getting full at a pace we've never seen before.
The only solution to that problem, of course, is to build more classrooms. But how that is done, where that is done and when that is done are all vitally important issues. All too often public officials tend to look for patchwork solutions to long-term problems. The outcome is usually not in the public's short-term or long-term interest.
But Jefferson City School System leaders have not taken that narrow approach to resolving their student overcrowding problem. Rather, school leaders have carefully weighed a number of options and arrived at what we believe is the best solution for both the students and the taxpayers who foot the bill for new schools.
Next Tuesday, Jefferson voters will get the chance to cast their ballots on that proposed solution in a bond financing referendum. A simple "Yes" or "No" vote will determine the proposed $9.01 million bond package.
We believe a "Yes" vote is needed on this important issue.
At the heart of Jefferson's plans is a new middle school to be built across the road from the current elementary school. Jefferson's middle grades have long operated in the shadow of Jefferson High School, an appendage that really didn't fit with the upper grades, yet couldn't operate independently because of a lack of facilities. An independent middle school facility resolves that problem.
In addition, when the existing middle school building is vacated, the school system will have a lot of flexibility to respond to other growth pressures. Current plans are for the system's fifth graders to occupy that building as a special "academy" that prepares those students for the transition to middle school. Such a move would allow for additional growth in the elementary school in grades K-4.
On the other hand, if the high school suddenly sees a jump in students, the current middle school facility could be used to house that overflow.
Finally, the land the system plans to purchase for the middle school will be large enough to someday also contain a new upper-grades elementary school as the population grows. The existing elementary school would then become a K-2 primary facility.
In short, the plans are comprehensive and would allow the system to double its student population.
The bond issue has some other items included as well, such as a $1.3 million upgrade of the system's athletic facilities and some other repairs and renovations.
Of course, the bonds will have to be paid for and, again, a lot of thought appears to have gone into that as well. Most of the payments will be made from the education sales tax and a smaller part from additional property taxes. While we don't like property taxes as a means of financing government, Jefferson is in a unique position in that regard since a majority of its property taxes, some 65 percent, come from commercial and industrial property and only 25 percent from residential.
In addition to the facilities planning, Jefferson leaders have also recently adopted a policy that would allow them to limit out-of-district students as these growth pressures increase. For a lot of reasons, the school can't simply slam the door to out-of-district students - to do that would cost the system a major part of its state funding. But at least the new policy allows for some limitations as the student population grows.
Jefferson leaders have given a lot of thought to all these issues, and we believe the bond referendum deserves voter support next Tuesday.


The Commerce News
March 1, 2000

U.S. Once Again At The Mercy Of OPEC
The bad news is that a gallon of regular gasoline averages $1.41 as of last week in America. The worse news is that we can expect a 25-cent increase in mid-spring, and $2 per gallon is not out of the question.
We have no one to blame but ourselves. We had our warning, but as a nation, chose to ignore it.
Back in the early 1980s, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) came into being, and for a short time controlled the price of crude oil through production quotas. Remember the $1.40 per gallon cost, the lines at gas stations, and an actual gas shortage? Interest rates hit 20 percent, and America was in recession. President Jimmy Carter declared "the moral equivalent of war," in an effort to reduce the American dependency on imported oil. And it worked. Oil imports fell to record levels, Detroit (and Japan) responded with more efficient vehicles, and OPEC found it could no longer get its members to maintain production limits. The economy improved.
Fast-forward to 2000. The favored American vehicle is the sports utility vehicle (SUV), which gets 20 or less miles per gallon. America once again imports the vast majority of its oil. OPEC has regained some control over production, the cost of crude oil is the highest in years and gasoline prices (including diesel and fuel oil) are soaring.
America should have learned its lesson about dependency upon foreign oil and reckless waste of gasoline efficiency. In the early 1980s, there was talk of cars that would get 50 miles per gallon. A typical SUV built in 1999 gets perhaps 20.
Maybe drivers won't quibble about $2 per gallon, but there could come a point when the price of gasoline derails the current economic boom. Already, there is talk of a possible summer gas shortage. After all the talk of Y2K, one shouldn't necessarily believe such dire predictions, but you don't have to be Allen Greenspan to see what a gas shortage could do to the local economy, which is so dependent upon traffic on Interstate 85.
In reality, $2 per gallon represents a reasonable inflationary jump from the 34-35 cents a gallon Americans paid for gas in 1980, but American pressure and a lack of unity among OPEC members kept prices for crude oil artificially low. Even now, American efforts to drive the price down have led Saudi Arabia to promise to produce more oil to help lower prices. This gas crisis too may simply go away over the summer.
But as long as America depends upon imported oil for its economic well-being, it will be susceptible to price manipulation by foreign countries. There's a lesson there, one we failed to learn during the great oil crisis of the 1980s. Maybe 20 years later we'll figure it out.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 1, 2000

Photo ID a Big Brother move
I've long been wary of efforts to stem free speech in political races. Due to concerns over the amount of money being spent in political campaigns, just about every level of government has begun to regulate both political donations and political advertising.
Those regulations have led to a slew of rules that candidates must follow. For example, every political ad must show who paid for the space. Fund-raising and donation record keeping is a nightmare for many local candidates who have neither the times nor resources to comply with all the reporting rules.
Now some in the Georgia legislature want to take these Big Brother efforts a step further by requiring newspapers, television stations and others who accept paid political advertising to get and keep photo IDs of the people who place the advertising (HB 1361). In effect, some in the General Assembly want your local newspaper to act as a policeman of your political speech.
It's a nutty idea and one not likely to be followed very much even if it does become law. While there are differences in free political speech and commercial political speech, government should not act to stifle political communication, paid or not.
If you want to stand on the streetcorner and shout that Al Gore is an alien, you should be free to do that without having to tell a policeman who you are.
If you want to buy a billboard and say that George Bush is a political airhead, you ought to be able to do that without having to give anyone a mug shot of yourself.
And if you want to buy a newspaper ad to say that a candidate for the county commission is an uneducated, lazy slob, you should be free to do that without having this newspaper demand your driver's license.
As a matter of practice, I put both my name and photo on this column each week so that readers will know who is responsible for the words that are written in this space. And we require letters to the editor to be signed and a phone number given so we can make sure writers don't borrow someone else's name.
But we don't have to do any of that. In fact, we don't put a name on the editorials that appear on the other side of this page since that is an institutional voice that reflects more than just the individual writer's opinion.
Perhaps most political ads should show who is responsible for that commercial speech, although political ads that discuss issues rather than a particular candidate should be exempt from such regulations. But there is a great difference in requiring the payee's name on a candidate ad and making those of us in the media the policeman for checking IDs of all political advertising.
Newspapers aren't speech cops. The Georgia legislature shouldn't make us one.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 1, 2000

'Millionaire' Pageant Was Good Marketing
I'm tired of all the criticism of Fox TV's broadcasting of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Frankly, I think the person who dreamed up the concept should be held in the same high esteem as the inventor of the Pet Rock.
Marketing to the masses is what drives the American economy. We've known for years that viewers are attracted to weddings like moths to light, whether it's the wedding of Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales or that of Luke and Laura from General Hospital. With the success of the classy and challenging Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (Me, Me), Fox's creative minds made the logical next step.
I actually caught a glimpse of the show while exercising my remote control, but I was looking for the more intellectual fare on the Outdoor Channel about panning for gold. Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? looked too much like the Miss America Pageant to me.
Still, considering that the idea behind a television show is to make money for the network and the producers, it was a great idea. It's what they call "reality TV," although I am somewhat uncertain about what "reality" means in this instance. Anyway, if that's what sells, what right do we have to complain, as long as the remote works?
To appreciate TV's market, you have to stay home from work on a weekday and see what's on, particularly the commercials. Advertisers don't try to sell cars, clothes and subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal during daytime TV. They sell access to bankruptcy and personal injury attorneys, experts on workman's compensation claims, phone service and credit cards for which no credit check is necessary, debt consolidation loans, divorce lawyers, bail bonding services and weight loss products.
Recent research has shown that people who watch daytime TV also watch TV at night. Not all of us like highbrow shows like Murder She Wrote and Friends. Statistically, it's the masses who drive the economy, so programming is geared to their interests, which include professional wrestling, When Animals Attack, COPS, America's Funniest Suicide Attempts, and all the shows about police chases. If you've ever wondered why the American economy has been on a record pace, consider that the boom began at about the same time that "reality TV" came into its own. It's not a blight on the intellect; it's creative marketing to stimulate the economy. Remember, the basic rule of the American economy is that it's immoral to allow a fool to hold onto his money.
If Americans did not squander their money with gleeful materialism, 25 percent of us would be out of work and unable to afford necessities like milk, bread, Budweiser and gourmet coffee. The economy depends upon people eating high-fat foods at McDonald's, buying $140 sneakers, cell phones and pagers, consuming two cappuccinos a day, and keeping a $3,000 average balance on VISA.
I'm trying to market my own sure-hit TV special, a combination of a beauty pageant and professional wrestling. It's called Who Wants To Put A Choke Hold On Miss Congeniality? It'll be good family entertainment and good for the economy. Coming to FOX TV in the near future.

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