Jackson County Opinions...

October 17, 2001



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 17, 2001

'Normal' Isn't Normal Anymore
Life really is different after Sept. 11.
America is recovering. People are back out shopping, airplanes are increasing in passenger loads, Major League baseball has enjoyed a successful set of playoffs and football has resumed.
All the appearances suggest normalcy, but there in the background is the terrorist attack, the aftermath of the assaults of Sept. 11 and the ramifications of our out-of-sight war in Afghanistan.
We still watch "Friends" and "Survivor." Football fans are no less interested in the successes of Georgia, Tech and the Falcons. There are weddings, births, social functions. Everything seems normal, but it isn't.
"Normal" will never be normal again. This is not to say America is in despair; far from it. But everything is measured against what life was like before Sept. 11. Virtually no part of life is unchanged or unaffected by this historic event.
The four major considerations are if and when the terrorists will strike again, how the war in Afghanistan will come out, how the economy will be affected by the above and all of the new precautions Americans may have to take as they travel, open their mail and live their daily lives. For that reason, the news is absolutely focused on the ramifications of the Sept. 11 attack. Stories that would have made the front page two months ago (does anyone remember Gary Condit?) in the national press aren't being reported now because of the focus created by a handful of fanatics who we will never come close to understanding.
The terrorist attack colors all of the news coming out of Washington, DC, and all of the financial news. The threat of further attacks dominates the news out of Atlanta, while terrorism by anthrax is the lead story in the national news. What-if stories emanate from every state capitol, every law enforcement agency and every arm of government.
Even the operations of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority are affected because its ability to pay for water projects is based on sales tax collections and sales plummeted Sept. 11.
Yes, "normal" has changed. We are more nationalistic, patriotic and united. Many have now realized that life is more than going to work and making and spending money. People count, whether they're strangers in New York suffering from the Twin Towers assault or family, friends and neighbors. The terrorists hurt us, but early in the game they've made us a stronger and more resolute people.
Our economy will suffer, especially if there are more attacks, but no matter how many people terrorists kill or hurt, America will adjust and ultimately accommodate the terrorists' desire to be with Allah. Our lifestyles may change, the economy may falter, but as the president says, there can be no doubt about the ultimate outcome.
Out of adversity comes growth. None of us know what is coming, when or who will be affected, but we do know the outcome. America will be standing stronger than ever.
Previous generations have suffered much greater calamities in the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World Wars I and II. They wrought greatness; so will this one.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
October 17, 2001

Decline of textiles the end of an era
There's been a slow erosion of traditional textile manufacturing in the nation for the last two decades and Jackson County has felt the impact. All but two traditional Jackson County textile plants have closed, the result of cheap overseas labor, new trade rules and a slowing economy.
Last week, Wilkins Industries announced the closure of its Jefferson plant and the loss of 135 jobs. This week's announcement that Texfi Industries was closing its doors in Jefferson with a loss of 160 jobs was another blow to the town during this economic downturn.
Not too long ago, Jefferson was a typical Southern "mill town" where many local jobs revolved around textile production. With roots going back to the early 1900s, Jefferson Mills had long been a major business and civic leader in the town. The Jefferson City School System was a beneficiary of the mill and in fact, the football stadium and city pool complex were owned and maintained by the mill until the 1980s.
But perhaps more than those outward signs, the mill helped to begin the long transition of Jackson County citizens from agricultural to industrial employment. As subsistence farming waned in the middle of the century, more and more people began working in cotton mills, a natural extension of the county's cotton-growing past. For some men, it was the first job they'd ever had outside farming and for many women, it was the first paying job they'd ever had.
Of course, having such a dominant employer in a small town did create some problems. The diversity of leadership was sometimes stifled and people often found it easier to "let the mill do it" than to get involved in community leadership themselves.
But on the whole, Jefferson gained more than it lost by being a "mill town." Over time, three other large textile firms opened in Jefferson - Belgrade Manufacturing (now Wilkins) in 1959, and SCT (now Buhler Yarns) in 1966. The old image of sweaty "cotton" mills began to change as new innovations, many stemming from Jefferson Mills research, came into the industry. Eventually, even the cotton went away as the mills moved into synthetic yarns.
But by 1990, the heyday of traditional textile firms in Jefferson was ending. When Texfi Industries purchased Jefferson Mills a decade ago, it was something of a loss for the town. Although the mill continued to run, the change from local ownership marked a major turning point.
Now the last vestige of what was Jefferson Mills, once Jefferson's largest employer, is closing.
We are fortunate, of course, to have had other industries locate in Jefferson in the last 10 years. More dispassionate observers might even suggest that this decline of traditional textile plants and the rise of other industries is just the natural order, an economic Darwinism.
Perhaps that is true. But that mill didn't just weave cloth - it was itself a part of our community's social, cultural, economic and political fabric, woven as tightly to Jefferson as the threads it once produced.
When the last machine is shut down and the lights turned off in the Texfi-Southworth-Jefferson Mills plant, so too will the lights fade on a significant part of Jefferson's history.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
October 17, 2001

We're fighting terrorism and culture
As the bombing in Afghanistan continues, a big question remains: What happens next? Will the eventual destruction of the Taliban regime also destroy Osama bin Laden and Islamic terrorism? Will the U.S. continue to pursue terrorists in Iraq and other Middle Eastern states?
These are important issues which could affect the U.S. for decades to come. Much has already been said about this "new kind of war" in which there is no single, discernible enemy. Yet there is a common thread which ties these terrorists together - their actions are rooted in a radical Islamic fundamentalism that is not confined by borders.
That doesn't mean that the U.S. is engaged in a religious war, but religion is certainly one of the factors which motivates this brand of terrorism. Indeed, the social, political and cultural structure in many of these nations is deeply rooted in Islamic law and traditions.
It is that entwining of religion, culture and politics that has been exploited by Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamic leaders. The anti-American fervor these groups have stirred in recent years has led to a series of terrorists attacks, the largest of which took place Sept. 11.
Unfortunately, the destruction of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the capture or death of Osama bin Laden won't be the end of this radical mentality. The seeds of hatred now stirring in the Middle East have been spread all across the region. Even many of our allies in that area of the world are sitting on the fence. Their economic interest lies with the West, but their internal political and cultural interest lies with the masses marching the streets burning American flags.
Forced to choose between those competing interests, most of these Islamic nations will side with those marching in the streets. Some of these countries may be our current allies, but they are not really our friends.
There are those in this nation who blame the U.S. for the upheaval in the Islamic world. If only we would talk to these people and "understand" them, we're told, they wouldn't become terrorists. If only we would share our wealth, we wouldn't see radical Islamic clerics declaring the U.S. to be a great "Satan." If only we would stop supporting Israel, the Islamic world would become our friend.
That is nonsense, of course. The root of terrorism isn't poverty, or our support of Israel - the underlying problem is that the West and the Islamic world look at each other from across a wide social, political and cultural divide. Osama bin Laden is exploiting those differences to foment support for his view of the world, a world in which the West would become subservient to the power of Islamic fundamentalism.
The U.S., and by extension the rest of the Western world, cannot allow that to happen. Whatever the merits of Islam as a religion of personal beliefs, many of its wider political and social ideals run counter to ours. Some Islamic nations treat women as little more than chattel; free speech does not exist; freedom of religion, other than the state-sanctioned Islamic beliefs, is forbidden; democratic governments are rare even in moderate Islamic nations.
In short, the very ideals we in the West embrace are rejected by a large number of those living in the Islamic sphere. That is why this conflict has been referred to as a "clash of civilizations" because it is a conflict over cultural ideology, not just religion.
So even if the U.S. can bring down the Taliban and kill Osama bin Laden, the fundamentalist Islamic movement will continue. Osama bin Laden may be the current "leader" of this movement, but the radical ideology that underpins his Islamic terrorism existed before he rose to such prominence. In fact, his capture or death will likely feed the frenzy, making him a martyr to millions who already believe in his twisted war against the West.
That creates a huge problem for the U.S. as it pursues its "war on terrorism." We can destroy the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and we can, for a time, disrupt and dismantle many of the organized terrorists groups that function under that leadership. But we cannot destroy the deep-seated beliefs of an Islamic culture that breeds and nurses a radical, fundamentalist theology.
Given that reality, the question the U.S. must answer is this: Do we pursue our war on terrorism outside Afghanistan once it has been subdued, or do we wait for the next wave of attacks on our shores that will surely come under the direction of a new leader?
That is a strategic issue which U.S. leaders are no doubt analyzing. The argument for hitting Iraq and other Islamic states which support terrorism is that this radical movement is still relatively weak and disorganized. In fact, the only reason we have a few allies in the Middle East now is that this movement threatens the political power of their current leaders. To some extent, the various factions in the Islamic world are still fighting among themselves. That is to our advantage. The more those factions fight among themselves, the less resources they will have to pursue outside terrorism.
But is inevitable that some day, perhaps in 10-20 years, this radical Islamic movement will consolidate its power over a large part of the Middle East. Various state borders may continue to exist, but another leader will rise who will unite the radical Islamic elements into a Pan-Islamic, anti-American movement.
Can we forestall such an eventuality by widening our military actions now, perhaps crippling the resources and leadership which organizes this radicalism? Or would military actions actually hasten the rise of a Pan-Islamic bloc by forcing moderate regimes to side against the U.S. to appease their own citizens?
That is the difficult issues looming over Washington in the coming weeks. There will be tremendous pressure by many of our allies to stop military actions once Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are gone. Yet, there is also the long-term strategic interest of the U.S. to weaken the terrorists movement by carrying the fight onto other places, gambling that in doing so, we won't foment an uncontrollable backlash.
Let's hope we have wise leaders in Washington to make that decision.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

 


Editorial
The Commerce News
October 17, 2001

Growth, Public Make
Government Expensive

It is with some irony that we note the anger or dismay over the Jackson County Board of Commissioners' six-plus-mill tax increase in the tax rate for a $27 million budget chairman Harold Fletcher called "bare-bones."
Granted, each of us could easily take a pen to that budget and knock out $5 or $7 million, but no two of us would make cuts in the same places. Indeed, there is some justification in Fletcher's description.
Even as the budget hit new heights, many of the perceived needs of the county are unmet. Those who desire animal control will find none; department heads who desperately need more room or additional employees did not get them. The pay for county deputies and prison guards remains scarcely above the poverty level. For all the dire predictions of growth, the 2002 budget falls well short of meeting the many challenges of growth.
The school systems have the special purpose local option sales tax to meet many of their growth-related capital expenses. The county has no such option. The original local option sales tax mandated a tax rollback and its proceeds have long been absorbed into the county budget. The special purpose local option sales tax goes mostly (75 percent) to the expansion of the county water and sewer service and the rest is split among roads, recreation and a fund to build a fire training facility.
Meanwhile, virtually every county department struggles to manage a workload inflated by growth. From maintaining roads to providing police protection to recording property transactions and regulating construction and development, simply providing an adequate level of service is incredibly expensive. In addition, even though people abhor increases in their property tax bills, they still clamor for more and better services.
Nobody comes before the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to suggest eliminating the ambulance service, cutting funds to the fire department or slashing the number of deputies. Nobody asks that the health or mental health departments be eliminated, the tax office and probate judge's staff be trimmed or that the planning department be closed. All of those services ­ and the others ­ are recognized necessities demanded by taxpayers.
In an ideal situation, every county department and every county employee would work at peak efficiency, but that happens neither in the public nor the private sector. While there should be continuous efforts to eradicate waste and improve efficiency, they will never be totally successful.
The bottom line is that government is very expensive and it is getting more expensive because of our growth, demands of citizens and increased regulations passed on by state and federal agencies. Certainly there must be ways to increase efficiency, but short of cutting government services, there is little hope of significantly reducing the total cost.
When the county tax bills come out, before we succumb to anger over the amount, remember that every public service funded by taxes is either required or demanded by the taxpayers. The high cost of operating county government reflects as the desires of the citizens as the decisions of elected officials. Unfortunately, we relegate to them the job of balancing the needs and desires of the citizens with the resources to fund them to our commissioners, after which we complain mightily if services don't meet our expectations or tax bills exceed expectations. The ideas of reducing local government spending and drastically cutting taxes play well on the campaign trail. Making them a reality is a different matter.
That is not to say it can't be done, but taxpayers would be wise to remember that even at its most efficient, government is very expensive and gets more costly every year. It is simple to dismiss increased taxes as wasteful or inefficient spending, but the people making those charges have never had to figure out how finance county operations.


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