Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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June 8

The Newnan Times-Herald on Georgia's role in cybersecurity in light of election-hack leak:

A portion of the international news spotlight fell on Georgia this week and the case of a young national-security contractor who leaked a top-secret report to a little-known news outlet having to do with Russian hackers and the last election. This is noteworthy for us for several reasons.

First, it is an ignominious way for the world to recognize Georgia's growing role in cybersecurity. Fort Gordon near Augusta is the new home of the U.S. Army's Cyber Command and a branch facility of the National Security Agency that contracted with the company employing the alleged leaker.

The state is establishing a cybersecurity research center at Georgia Tech, near the headquarters of some of the private sector's most successful digital-security firms and the country's major hub of financial transaction processing. Stories from here like this one are likely to become less infrequent.

The Peach State is at the center of this story because it is now at the center of cybersecurity.

Ironically, it was human action, not a breach in cybersecurity, that led to the leak of the memo. And in the memo, the NSA recounts how it believes Russian hackers sought to exploit other human weaknesses to get deeper into local election systems.

There is another reason Georgians have an interest in this story, besides the fact that it happened in our backyard. That is because our state makes the most use of electronic voting.

After our neighbor Florida became red faced over the saga of hanging chads during the vote count for the 2000 presidential election, Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox convinced the legislature to fund the $54 million statewide implementation of electronic voting, the first in the nation to do so. As predicted, it did result in dramatically quicker election returns, to the appreciation of journalists and politicos who can now get to bed sooner on election nights.

However, ever since, Georgia's system has been the regular subject of warnings from critics alleging inherent vulnerability to hacking. But since the machines are never connected to the internet, any concerted effort to tilt the vote count would take the cooperation of hundreds of local election officials.

The leaked NSA report, according to the published accounts, showed that the hackers targeted a Florida company. It doesn't manufacture voting machines but rather the application that makes voter rolls available online to local poll workers in seven states, but not Georgia. The hackers sent "spear phishing" emails to users of those databases trying to fool them into revealing passwords, and NSA thinks at least one fell for it.

In the end, the vote count wasn't questioned in any of those seven states after November's election.

So, while Georgians are chagrined over being the site of the leak, we can breathe a little easier knowing our votes were not compromised. The challenge for leaders at all levels is to ensure that their workers and contractors maintain system integrity by not inadvertently divulging passwords or by intentional disclosure.

Online: http://times-herald.com/

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June 10

The Augusta Chronicle on using inmate labor for demolition:

What's wrong with putting prisoners to work?

Augusta commissioners might have been too hasty last month when they rejected a proposal to use inmate labor in the demolition of abandoned homes in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood. Commissioner Sammie Sias' motion lost in a 4-4-2 vote.

Inmate labor programs have been successful throughout the country. They benefit prisoners vocationally. They benefit local governments economically, through saving money. Inmates do everything from picking up trash to underwater welding.

In 1999, at the National Symposium on the Economics of Inmate Labor Force Participation, several economists enumerated the benefits of putting prisoners to work. It helps the economy because it increases the output of goods and services. The better-behaved prisoners on work details would have a much smaller chance of being repeat offenders, which benefits society.

Also, the economists found that inmate labor "would have little or no discernible effect" on U.S. civilian labor.

One of the concerns that defeated Sias' motion was that using inmate labor for demolition would take jobs away from private companies. That point is fair and legitimate.

But that concern doesn't seem to be applied evenly. We're not aware of landscaping companies complaining about the inmate labor that mows grass or trims hedges on public property. Do painting contractors fuss about prisoners doing touch-up work with a brush or roller? Applying the "taking jobs away" argument to the extreme could effectively — and unfairly — include every aspect of inmate labor.

Building demolition is highly skilled, very exacting work. You don't just knock a structure down. It takes a precise method to do the job correctly and safely. That being said, there could be room for a special synergy to allow both contractors and inmates to participate.

That touches on another objection: the liability issue. How much responsibility would the city assume for the safety of inmates at a work site?

Good question. Who currently assumes responsibility for an inmate who's hit by a car while picking up litter along a city street? Who's responsible for a prisoner who injures his foot with a weed-eater while edging at a local park?

Putting inmates on demolition crews doesn't necessarily mean putting them in harm's way. Trained contractors, for example, can safely pull down a wall. Inmates then can haul the rubble away.

Besides, if a job requires an inmate to assume a skilled degree of risk, then why not just train him vocationally to deal with that risk?

Richmond County inmates already work with the Department of Transportation, the parks department, the roads and bridges department, animal control and the county landfill. Interested and eligible prisoners receive training in landscaping, culinary arts, barbering, laundry services and construction. Adding demolition training wouldn't be such a huge leap.

Here's an extreme training example: In California, prisoners fight wildfires. For years, low-level offenders in "conservation camps" have performed work from clearing brush to actually pitching in on fire lines. Prisoners learn useful skills, and the practice saves the state, by one estimate, $80 million a year.

But back to the safety issue: In an inmate labor program, safety would have to be paramount. Augusta can learn from other cities' mistakes.

Take Pine Bluff, Ark. In 2015 that city began an ambitious, well-intentioned program to fight urban blight. Prisoners and parolees would get training and experience, and Pine Bluff would be rid of hundreds of eyesore houses. But the program was shut down in the spring of 2016 amid a flurry of health and safety violations — such as exposing workers to asbestos and toxic dust — that put prisoners at risk.

We wouldn't ask a local inmate to walk into a wall of flame or inhale asbestos. But we wouldn't have a problem asking a prisoner to make Augusta look better. They're already doing it with landscaping and litter pickup. Why not at least try inmate labor for demolition? If for some reason it doesn't work, the city can stop.

Inmates selected for this activity would have to be the lightest of offenders. Also — and this is key — participation in this new level of inmate labor would have to be completely voluntary.

And perhaps the best part? Hard work is good for the soul.

Online: http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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June 13

The Valdosta Daily Times on celebrating Juneteenth:

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious areas are and henceforth shall be free.

A political move by Lincoln, the proclamation did not end slavery immediately or in all states, but it served as a rallying cry for Union troops and for blacks to fight on the side of the Union to win their freedom.

The Civil War did not officially end until June 2, 1865, and word of the Emancipation Proclamation did not reach the last stronghold of slavery, in Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865, more than two and a half years after it was issued.

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."

So began General Order Number 3, as read by Major Gen. Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865.

It was on this date that Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free — two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which became official Jan. 1, 1863.

The annual celebration of the events of June 19, 1865, is most commonly known as Juneteenth. It's the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.

Tuesday, June 13, Valdosta recognizes Juneteenth with a 25th annual celebration banquet.

Southside Library Boosters hosts the Juneteenth community awareness day, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, June 17, on the grounds of the Historic Lowndes County Courthouse, Downtown Valdosta.

"Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride-filled day," according to www.juneteenth.com. "It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African-American experience. It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities and nationalities — as nothing is more comforting than the hand of a friend.

"On Juneteenth we come together, young and old, to listen, to learn and to refresh the drive to achieve. It is a day where we all take one step closer together to better utilize the energy wasted on racism. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all."

Juneteenth has become a day of freedom — a day marking the liberation from American slavery, and now a day marking the liberation from racism and prejudice.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/