- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

May 10

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on free speech:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

That nursery rhyme chant reminded kids of a certain generation that words, while they may be hurtful at times, aren’t as harmful as violent acts, and we are able to choose how we react to them.

If only today’s adults throughout the world believed that as well.

Today’s debate over free expression has too often crossed the line from a mere exchange of ideas and words, however harsh and angry they may be at times, into real violence.

Such was the case in January when Islamic extremists attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper in France, killing 12 people. And again last weekend, when two U.S.-based Islamic State sympathizers opened fire at an event in Texas, wounding a security guard before another police officer shot and killed them both.

The event, arranged in support of Charlie Hebdo, included a contest in which participants would draw their own cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, along with numerous speeches on the topic. It was arranged by Pamela Geller, an activist who has been outspoken in her criticism of Muslim extremism, some say to an unhealthy level.

In the week since, many chided Geller and her supporters for inciting the violence with their event. A recent New York Times editorial called Geller’s event “hate speech.” Though the Gray Lady’s editorial board didn’t justify the resulting attack, it stated that such events “can serve only to exacerbate tensions and to give extremists more fuel.”

Here again, we must draw the line between speech that one can freely make or what someone should do with the privilege. The first is protected by our Constitution and allows discourse that may be considered unpleasant or offensive, be it pornography, political rhetoric or what some may deem “hate speech,” a subjective term for which there can be no agreed-upon definition. Yet either it’s all free or none of it is.

And again, we remind what the First Amendment does not promise. It merely confirms that free expression won’t encounter interference from the government. It doesn’t protect anyone from being offended. How we respond is a choice, one that marks the difference between the civilized world and barbarism.

Geller had every right to hold her event, and The New York Times, Garry Trudeau and others are free to slam her and anything that was said there. Protecting all speech includes what some believe shouldn’t be said, in this case cartoons that showed the prophet of Islam in an unflattering light.

Yet the Texas rally would have rated little of the nation’s attention on its own merits had two young men not decided to take it several steps further and drive hundreds of miles with violence in mind.

After all, it’s only speech, words, drawings, ideas. None of these, though potentially hurtful to feelings, is harmful on its own. Those who don’t like cartoons or commentary that may disparage one’s faith are free to look away, change the channel, turn off the radio or put down the newspaper. They’re just words and words are cheap - which often is another way to say “free.”

But one can’t ignore a bullet. Violence doesn’t qualify as free expression. And it’s why, even amid a discussion between “can” and “should,” any attempt to accuse Geller and her followers of stirring up trouble points fingers in the wrong direction.

The battle that rages across most of the Middle East pits moderates who choose to live in the real, modern world against extremists who resist anything but strict adherence to their religious dogma. This small, isolated band of savages who call themselves Islamic State, Taliban or al-Qaida can’t separate the power of words from the force of the sword. So they choose sticks and stones to express themselves.

The nation’s Founding Fathers identified free expression in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights as a basic building block of liberty. They recognized even then - centuries before the Internet, bloggers, talk radio, cable news, Twitter and Facebook - that an open exchange of ideas, even when pointed and spirited, is a healthy part of a civilized society.

Now, however, many believe this flow of ideas should come with restraints, that punches should be pulled to avoid inciting violent brutes. This merely adds credence to their depravity by acknowledging it as a legitimate point of view.

If the dog next door is barking at you, you still shouldn’t be afraid to go out into your yard; let the dog’s owner control his beast. Reacting out of fear to such intimidation only begs for more of it. Bullies will keep bullying until someone stands up to them and says, “enough.”

The New York Times and others are free to criticize Geller and her supporters for what they “should” say, because the free press “can,” as we do here. But what she and others is free to express is protected by the First Amendment, and cannot and should not be silenced by critics, intimidation or bullets.




May 11

Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on Volvo snub being a disappointment:

It’s disappointing that Volvo won’t be building its first U.S. factory in Georgia, just west of Savannah in Bryan County.

Instead, the auto manufactory announced Monday that it plans to build its $500 million plant near Charleston, South Carolina.

Leaders for both states had been slugging it out in recent months to curry favor with the Swedish-based, but Chinese-owned company. It wasn’t immediately clear why South Carolina prevailed, although the The Post and Courier of Charleston reported Monday that leaders in the Palmetto State promised a $204 million incentive package. That includes $120 million in state bonds, $30 million in state grants and $54 million in incentives from the state-owned utility Santee Cooper that serves the area where the plant would be built.

So South Carolina’s win came with a price. Georgia reportedly offered a sweet incentive package, too, including giant tracts of land with ready access to the port, highways and rail lines. Georgia’s proposal, in fact, was described by insiders as possibly the largest single pack of sweeteners this state has ever offered. Yet for some reason, it wasn’t enough.

Frankly, it hurts to lose. But that’s a good thing. It shows that Georgia is committed to bringing better jobs and opportunities to people who live here.

But the pain should be short-lived.

Gov. Nathan Deal and state Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr must analyze why Georgia lost out. Then they must learn from the experience. Other opportunities will be coming down the pike. Georgia must be ready for them.

There’s no question that Volvo - with up to 4,000 good-paying jobs and the potential to spin off thousands more in supplier roles - was a huge prize. And to compete for a huge price, state and local leaders must be prepared to pony up. The skill is in knowing how much to offer before reaching a point of diminishing returns. It makes no sense to give up more for something than what it’s worth. In such cases, losing could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

And financial incentives aren’t always enough. There are other key intangibles, including logistics and quality of the labor force.

Volvo executives chose Berkeley County, South Carolina, to produce new Volvo vehicles under a new platform for sale in the U.S. and for export. The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, also reported the site could become a beachhead for Volvo’s parent company, Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding, to produce and import cars. Volvo was previously was owned by Ford. It currently has two plants in Europe and two in China.

Volvo officials told the Charleston newspaper that the decision to pick Berkeley County was the result of its easy access to the Port of Charleston, infrastructure, a well-trained labor force, attractive investment environment and experience in high-tech manufacturing. “We were impressed with the friendliness, work ethic and passion of the people of the Charleston area,” added Lex Kerssemakers, president and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America.

Savannah takes a back seat to no city - and certainly not Charleston - when it comes to friendliness and passion. And there are no aircraft jobs more high-tech than those at Savannah’s Gulfstream plant, and the state port in Brunswick is second to none in the Southeast in shipping vehicles.

So why did Georgia fall short in this case? What can be done so it doesn’t finish out of the money the next time?

Gov. Deal sounded a lot like a football coach whose team lost the Super Bowl. “We have a long list of economic development prospects, and we’re going to concentrate on those,” he said. “We’re not going to stop, we’re not going to slow down, and we’re not going to be deterred.”

That’s the right attitude. Here’s one thing to know about the Super Bowl: They play it every year.




May 13

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Tom Brady and deflategate:

The quarterback nicknamed “Tom Terrific” is “Tom Tarnished.”

A 243-page investigative report by the NFL found that the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady was at least aware that two team employees broke league rules by underinflating footballs for him during last year’s playoffs.

On Monday, the NFL suspended Brady for four games; fined the Patriots $1 million; and took away the team’s first-round draft pick in 2016 and its fourth-round pick in 2017.

The NFL said Brady’s suspension was for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL” and for “failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation.”

Throughout this entire incident, the player with one of the surest sets of hands in professional football committed two crucial fumbles - in the way he handled the allegations with his league superiors and how he handled them with the public.

Not only did he most likely cheat for a long time, but he lied about it; refused to cooperate to the fullest with the investigation; and acted like a smirking, conquering hero in his recent appearance at Salem State University. Sportscaster Jim Gray asked him perfectly sensible questions about “Deflate-gate” in front of an audience packed with Patriots fans. Brady blankly dismissed the questions.

This is the NFL team coached by Bill Belichick, who was fined $500,000 after a Patriots video assistant was caught in 2007 filming another team’s defensive signals. The Pats were fined an additional $250,000.

“For the second time in eight years, New England is being punished in the name of ‘the integrity of the game,’” wrote Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. “Blindly loyal fans can continue to bay at the moon, but unless the Patriots secede from the NFL, this doesn’t go away for Brady and the team.”

Those who truly profess to love sports should expect its participants to follow the rules. Respect for Tom Brady nationwide has taken a bone-crushing sack, for a serious loss.

Brady once had a chance to be regarded as the best quarterback ever. Not anymore.



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