Jackson County Opinions...

JUNE 16, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 16, 2004

Ireland: An Economy Based On Guinness
One of the first things we noticed driving in Ireland (other than that the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car) is that Ireland was in the middle of an election campaign. Nearly every utility pole contained a 2 by 3 poster with a four-color picture of a candidate.
Often the signs covered up more important information, like the sign pointing to our next destination, a particularly troublesome circumstance in a country whose highway system seems designed to keep you from getting anywhere.
We even ran into one of the candidates, but the camera hanging around my neck and the Jackson EMC hat probably tipped him off that we were not likely voters, so he did not speak to us. But we’d come to Ireland to be tourists, so the last thing we wanted to do was discuss Irish politics.
I didn’t know the issues anyway, but I’d have guessed that taxes and Ireland’s entry into the European Union could have given him subject for discourse. Both came up in a discussion with a recreational fisherman on the edge of the Bay of Tralee, who insisted that every Guinness sold is taxed one Euro (about $1.25), which amounts to a tax of 27-33 percent, leading to but one conclusion: the economy of Ireland is based on the consumption of Guinness.
Dublin, Ireland’s capital and largest city, has one pub for every 450 residents. Some of the villages we went through appeared to have a much lower ratio (with which Commerce would have 11 bars), which equals a lot of Irish stout and tons of money for the government.
Not much of that take is spent on roads. Anyone who has returned from driving around Ireland finds himself less prone to criticism of the Department of Transportation. Indeed, the Jackson County Road Department has hundreds of miles of roads much nicer than Ireland’s best national highways. As I alluded to above, Ireland does not waste a penny on directional signs; the official policy seems to be to keep travelers confused, and I wonder if all those fabled failed Irish revolutions can be attributed to rebel armies never quite finding the battlefield.
All of these things actually contribute to the charm of the country. Since it takes all day to find and drive to the nearest town, rural folk shop in the villages. That keeps the villages intact. I saw villages half the population of Commerce with downtowns half the size of Athens. The narrow roads keep speeds down and drivers learn that courtesy is essential to survival. Two things we did not see during eight days in Ireland: road rage or a traffic accident.
Nor did we see a big-box store. No Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Best Buy or Sears. Every little town had scores of Mom & Pop stores - just like Commerce in the 1950s. No wonder Americans love Ireland – it’s like going back in time. In fact, contemporary Irish musicians sing old country music hits from Hank Williams, Buck Owens, etc.
The scenery is as startlingly beautiful as advertised and the people, if not appreciative of our president, are nonetheless universally friendly. Ancient history abounds, photo ops are at every turn, and Happy Hour starts at 10 a.m.

The Commerce News
June 16, 2004

Lots Of Fun In Store This Week In Commerce
Commerce will be a busy place this week, thanks to the annual City Lights Festival. Activities start Thursday and go through Saturday offering a little something for everyone.
Country music fans strike it rich. The City Lights Concert Friday night at Commerce High School is a low-cost ($10-$25) concert featuring past, present and future stars of this uniquely American art form. Those with a few more bucks to spend can get closer to the stars at Thursday night’s dinner at the Commerce Civic Center, although at last report there were few tickets left. Golfers had the opportunity to go to the links for a good cause Thursday afternoon, accompanied by “celebrities” from sports and entertainment.
While there will be music at the festival downtown Saturday, the wider appeal will be the booths selling arts and crafts, clothing, used books, food and other merchandise. Runners can participate in the Star Chase 5K race, car enthusiasts can view dozens of restored vintage vehicles, and politicians will likely take advantage of the gathering to pitch their candidacies to potential voters. Children can show off their dogs in a children’s dog show Saturday morning.
A lot of work goes into the festival, from the free appearances of the entertainers to the hours spent by the committee organizing the event and the hundreds of volunteers who serve food, sell ads in the program, attend to the details of the golf tournament, dinner, car show and downtown festival, to the volunteers who park cars Friday night or serve food and clean up Thursday night.
Hopefully, area citizens will take advantage of this three-day event by attending one or more of the activities. All of the proceeds will eventually be used to build the Bill Anderson Performing Arts Center on the campus of the new Commerce Middle School. It’s a good event for a worthy cause, something that unites Commerce for a few days with the ultimate goal of providing a major facility for our children.
See you there.

3rd Grades Strong Test Scores Are Reassuring
The strong showing by Commerce Elementary School third-grade students on the CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test) came as a relief to school staff and parents, since this year’s results were to play a large role in whether students advanced to the fourth grade. Only three students did not pass and all of those have some learning disabilities.
Earlier predictions suggested that as many as a third of Georgia’s third graders might fail the test and be subject to not advancing. Fortunately, failure rates were much lower.
There is good reason to question a gateway test in measuring a student’s ability, but if the state insists on such tests, schools need to get the results back a lot sooner. The students were tested in April, but remediation efforts were to be offered after school got out – in May locally. However, the results of the test were not available until the first week of June. Had any significant amount of local students failed, getting them into remedial classes over the summer would have been very difficult.
The high local scores made that a moot point for the Commerce system this year, but if the statewide testing system is not streamlined quickly, it will create huge problems with a grade that doesn’t test so well. There are bound to be a larger number of failures from time to time and we owe it to those students and their parents to have a system in place so the students can get quick remediation and stay up with their classmates for the following school year.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 16, 2004

Ronald Reagan: The American Icon
The week of mourning for former president Ronald Reagan is over, but the impact he had on America will live for generations to come.
The pomp and pageantry of his state funeral was reminiscent of that in 1963 following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, two events that perhaps bookend a pivotal era in American history.
Indeed, although from different ideological bases, both Reagan and Kennedy were popular leaders from their force of personality.
But it was Reagan whose eight years in office changed the American ideological landscape. His folksy style, often derided as “simplistic” by critics, appealed to a large number of Americans who were looking for someone to bring large issues into a clearer focus.
Perhaps more than any other president of the late 20th century, Reagan’s style of leadership was to remain aloof of the details, delegate, and lead by voicing the overall objectives and goals of America. While many presidents get lost in the details of government, Reagan never allowed himself to do that. His focus was on the end of the journey, not the road taken to get there.
Perhaps no where was that more obvious than in his role in helping to destabalize and bring down the Soviet Union. On a trip to the Soviet Union in 1985, I noticed the impact of the “Reagan Doctrine” everywhere we went. For example, at a Soviet childrens’ play, the “bad” character was an American-looking cowboy speaking in broken English, a not-so-subtle slap at what had become the Soviet view of President Reagan as a reckless American cowboy.
In many ways, Reagan was the Soviet’s worst nightmare. He truly scared Soviet leaders, who feared that he might actually attack them with nuclear bombs. His “evil empire” comments were so foreign to the language of international diplomacy that the Soviets were unsure just what to make of Reagan. They never understood that with Ronald Reagan, what they saw is what they got — he was not good at playing games or holding hidden agendas.
In the end, it was his proposal to build a Star Wars shield against a Soviet attack on America that was the last straw — Soviet leaders knew that they could not win that kind of arms race, and from that realization flowed the eventual downfall of the Soviet empire.
Historians will argue for decades to come about Reagan’s role in that downfall. Indeed, by 1985, the Soviet Union was in economic disarray. The main economy was black market and the growth in electronic communications and the pervasive influence of Western culture had already eroded the underpinnings of the Soviet regime. Sooner or later, it was bound to crumble from internal inertia and the weight of Soviet corruption.
But it was Reagan’s pressure that tilted events toward the “sooner” rather than later. Without that pressure, the breakup of the Soviet Union might have been a much more bloody event.
Domestically, Reagan’s appeal helped to change the course of the Republican Party. Especially here in the South, his appeal brought over millions of Democrats to the Republican side of the aisle and forever changed this region’s voting pattern. It was his influence that eroded the Democratic hold on the South and set the stage for what we now know was the start of a Republican takeover in this region.
Perhaps it was Reagan’s optimistic style that made him so popular with Americans. No matter what the foe, he always believed in the strength of the American system and in what he considered the innate goodness of most Americans. The cup was always half-full to Reagan, never half-empty.
In the history books to come, President Reagan will be remembered for the things he did, the policies he projected and the results that came from those policies.
But to those of our generation, those fortunate enough to have lived through his time as president, Ronald Reagan will be remembered for who he was as a man as much as for the historical legacy of his office. He was never corrupted by the lure of power or the trappings of his office. Indeed, he appeared to Americans as a “guy next door” or grand fatherly figure, the kind of man who was honest, decent and brave.
Ronald Reagan projected to us as a nation the best attributes with which we see ourselves. He challenged us to live up to our political and cultural heritage as residents of that “shining city on a hill.”
For that, he will be remembered as an American Icon for decades to come.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
June 16
, 2004

Taxpayer funds being used to help Fletcher campaign?
It’s long been a truism that incumbents have certain advantages in an election year. They can use their office to do favors for people. They can use their position to intimidate opposition. And they can use their office to stage high-profile “events” to get their name and photo circulated for free in the media.
But we’ve come to question if incumbent county commission chairman Harold Fletcher has crossed a line in his current campaign by appropriating taxpayer funds from the county in an effort to bolster his own personal political campaign.
Last week, the county government ran a full page advertisement with color in this newspaper and our sister newspaper, The Commerce News, that appears to us to be little more than a campaign ad for Chairman Fletcher.
In the ad, the county, or Mr. Fletcher, attempted to offset recent news stories about two roads that the county had failed to build by a June 1 deadline for the Toyota/MACI plant. The ad quoted the chairman and misleadingly suggested that the delay on the roads was because of Toyota delays.
What was really striking, however, was the bottom part of the ad which highlighted a number of other projects the county has undertaken during the Fletcher Administration. That was striking because that section looked very similar to a recent Fletcher campaign ad which highlighted the same projects. Look at the side-by-side comparison photos on this page to judge for yourself.
In addition to that ad, which cost taxpayers $1,400, the county government has been running a series of ads promoting the new courthouse. What’s obvious about many of those ads is that they have the same slogan that has been used by Chairman Fletcher in his campaign advertising, “Getting It Done.” Again, look at the side-by-side comparisons on this page to judge for yourself if taxpayer funds are being used to subtly promote the Fletcher campaign.
Finally, we question the intent of an upcoming July 4th event slated to take place at the new courthouse. Although the cities of Jefferson and Braselton and the local business community are sponsoring a number of July 4th family events, including fireworks, Chairman Fletcher found it necessary to do his own festival/fireworks show at the new courthouse. If not for politics, then why?
We don’t know exactly what the county’s event will cost. Estimates that we’ve heard have from $35,000-$65,000 in tax dollars for the county to stage this “festival.” An expensive band has reportedly been hired, in addition to the cost of fireworks and other expenses.
It appears to us that the timing of this event, just 16 days before the Primary Elections, is little more than a taxpayer-funded campaign rally for chairman Fletcher. He is even advertising that event as a place for people to meet with him to discuss his political campaign.
Is this event how we want our tax money to be spent?
We know that in questioning the county’s use of tax funds for these ads, we are hurting our own pocketbook. Indeed, this newspaper makes money off these taxpayer-funded BOC ads.
But it has become increasingly clear to us that those ads are tainted with strong political overtones that have become unmistakable in intent — that is, to promote the campaign of Chairman Fletcher. We believe that these ads, and the July 4th event, are nothing more than political propaganda being paid for with tax dollars.
But you can decide for yourself. Look at the comparisons on this page and see if you think the county is spending your money for legitimate communication needs, or if these are just political ads being paid for by taxpayer dollars.

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