Sweet Home Politics

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018   |   Español

Author Archives: Dave Folk

  1. Highway to Hell: How America is Prone to a Crippling Terrorist Attack

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    Last week, I sat nestled in my apartment reading about our Magic City trapped in the clutches of a winter nightmare (two inches of snow) when I had a revelation: picking up beer on the way home from work would have been so clutch. After that first revelation, I had a more important one: our country is waiting to be left crippled like a 70-year-old NFL veteran.

    If there is one thing that Birmingham’s shutdown should tell you it is how vulnerable our infrastructure is, and how much we rely on said infrastructure. Across the South, major interstates were brought to a standstill as abandoned cars littered the lanes. Tractor trailers carrying goods and supplies were stuck on the roadways for hours as the traffic backed up on itself. Essential emergency services were hampered from doing their job as navigating roadways turned into a slalom intersecting oncoming lanes.

    It made me realize how much damage could be done to our economy, and our car-based way of life if something happened to our precious asphalt.

    Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

    A little less than a year ago something happened in San Jose that piqued the interest of national security experts around the country. This is remarkable because this is the only time San Jose has piqued the interest of anybody.

    Somebody, or somebodies broke in to a power station to wreak havoc. They cut lines underground and disabled more than a dozen transformers with rounds from a rifle. The ensuing power outage was not felt by many as it was in the middle of the night, also it’s San Jose so who really cares that much anyways. Yet it took nearly a month for the repairs to be made. How in the heck does this relate to a snow storm in Alabama a year later?

    Doomsday with No Milk

    What the attack on a power station in California shows is just how easy it would be to knock out power and create a mass outage. What the snowstorm in Alabama shows is just how quickly a major metropolitan area could fall to chaos when its lifelines are cut off. Now put the two together with a dash of terrorism and we arrive at a scary though.

    Imagine: a terrorist group simultaneously detonates a few explosive devices on highway overpasses and major train corridors. At the same time, the group infiltrates a number of power stations and knocks out electricity for the region. This is not some glamour attack where cameras capture the bloody devastation in a public place — rather, it targets areas that are taken for granted as afterthoughts security-wise. What follows would be chaos.

    Power outages would spread as the power companies struggle to meet demands and reroute the flow. Traffic would snarl as a major highway or two would be rendered useless, the backed-up traffic would effectively lengthen emergency service response time. The effects of an attack would compound on themselves. The goods that are delivered via truck and rail would be stuck and soon local businesses would suffer. It’s astounding how the things we need the most are protected the least.

    A scenario like that would need repairs that would take at least a month as evidenced by the San Jose incident. Since we are talking about Alabama, we can be assured that any roadway repairs would take upwards of a century.

    Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure

    One can only hope that a scenario described above would be thwarted, or that the effects would fall short of the worst case. That being said, it is vitally important that we invest more in our infrastructure for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, we need to be able to rely on what drives our country — literally and figuratively. Our society is dependent on traveling via car and is built on electricity, an attack on those things would do far more damage than a coward’s shoe-filled explosive.

    Most importantly, investment in shoring up the electrical grid and the roadways will only make our economy and country better. Finding better ways to travel, and more reliable deliveries of power can only help. An investment in them would do good, not evil.

    My snow filled revelation should not be a serious threat, but it is time for our government to get serious about improving our antiquated roadways and electrical grids.

  2. Not A Conspiracy Theory, But The Government Caused Snowpocalypsemageddon 2014

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    Two inches shouldn’t cripple anything, Justin Bieber’s girlfriends can attest to that. Yet this Tuesday the South was brought to it’s knees by a measly two inches of snow. It’s not as though Birmingham was caught with more white powder than a drug mule at customs. No, Birmingham and much of the South were crippled by a storm that wouldn’t bat the eyes of the softest northern plow truck driver. Southern Snowmageddon is absolutely categorically inexcusable with all caps and an exclamation point. State and local governments failed you, and you failed your fellow citizens.

    How We got Here, and By Here I Mean Stranded on Hwy 280

    By Monday weather prognosticators were warning of a winter weather event in southern Alabama. Weather professionals thought Montgomery and the place where the cow college resides would be the northern extent of the accumulation.

    As the forecast evolved, everyone from the National Weather Service in Birmingham to suspender-clad meteorologists were dismissing computer models that predicted a more serious event for the major southern metropolitan areas. I tried linking to the @NWSBirmingham tweet where they publicly dismissed the possibility of snow in Birmingham on Monday night, but they deleted that. So, here’s a video of a panda playing in the snow.

    I’ll fleece — so many winter puns — over the next part where everyone went about their business, were caught off-guard by the snow, got on the untreated interstates, and sat there for 12 hours.

    The Blame Game

    Even though weather systems now have names, people still want someone real to take their anger out on. James Spann hustled to place the blame on himself. While meteorologists should have taken the emerging models, what they called “outliers,” more seriously; they can’t be blamed for the disaster that happened.

    At its core, government serves two functions: defense of the general population and the provision of essential needs. Upkeep of infrastructure falls under the latter part, and is precisely what Alabama botched so badly. The state and the City of Birmingham failed in every sense of the word at providing its citizens with a safe means of travel. Their utter lack of foresight allowed for a minor snow storm to cripple a major metropolitan area, and to hamper interstate travel.

    Alabama is solely to blame for the deaths, solely to blame for the accidents, solely to blame for the emotional distress and solely to blame for the lost productivity of area businesses. Government failed you because it failed to prepare for the storm. While rare, snow does happen in Alabama and the government should be prepared for every scenario that has the possibility to kill its citizens.

    The North, Not Just for Winning Civil Wars Anymore

    There are three elements to a Northern state’s success at weathering the winter. Firstly, municipalities pretreat all road surfaces with brine and salt before the storm arrives. This pretreatment buys them time to react to the storm as it develops and keeps the roads clear for the beginning of the storm. Had Alabama done this the first cars that made it onto the roadways from work or school would not have become bogged down like they did. Traffic would have been congested, but not impassable.

    Northern states and cities combine pretreatment with the ongoing removal of snow and continued salting to fight the elements as they arrive. This would have allowed traffic to move-along steadily rather than back up on to itself. People would have complained about how much they hate Hwy 280, but their lives never would have been threatened by it.

    Finally, drivers in the North have experience in snowy conditions. Alabamians are not good in ice or snow, in fact they are horrendous. It’s not your fault, but you made the situation grievously worse. If you have no experience driving in the snow, and have a car ill-fitted for winter travel than you should probably keep your ass out of the drivers seat. This is something that unfortunately won’t change; however, the first two parts must.

    You see, this storm’s implications were entirely preventable. This isn’t a fraternity beach party, so stop trucking in sand and go buy some salt. Pretreated roads can stop more than an inch of snow from sticking to the surface and would have made yesterday an inconvenience, not a disaster.

    While we are at it why not go ahead and get some plows to be attached to state trucks. A plow truck is not a stealth fighter, it doesn’t cost a million a piece. It is literally a piece of metal that attaches to the trucks you already have. I really can’t spell it out any dumber for you bureaucrats. If you are worried about use, take solace that they can be used to mow down zombies when the inevitable occurs. Some will argue that there is no need to invest in snow removal protocol in Alabama, those same idiots should tell that to the thousands who were trapped on highways or in nearby shelters overnight.

    Simply put; the government failed to check its cholesterol and ended up with a heart-attack. It’s time for the state to act like a functioning civil unit because Alabama can not afford to look dumbfounded the next time.

  3. Don’t Send Your Stupid Kid to College (and Other Lessons We Should Have Learned)

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    Little Timmy didn’t win the genetic lottery. He’s duller than the indie film your local hipster favorites. Timmy isn’t a late bloomer intellectually, he’s an idiot. Don’t send him to college, don’t waste your money.

    “Higher education can’t be a luxury — it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford,” President Obama misguidedly told the nation in his 2012 State of the Union address. Everyone knows the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and make no mistake; putting every little Timmy in a college classroom is hell.

    The harsh reality is that college isn’t for everyone. Despite what President Obama would have you believe, our country is not better off when every kid who graduates high school attends college. It will ruin the economy, dilute the value of a college degree and slow down the students who really belong there. Simply put, the dream of a diploma on every wall is bad for idiots and geniuses alike.

    Economic Ruin through Cap and Gown

    Stupid kids don’t belong in college anymore than Lena Dunham belongs naked in public.

    At some point the bastions of higher education figured they could make some serious dough by convincing everyone that they needed a college education. Brainwash everyone into believing they need your product, and all you have to do is wait for the profits. School teachers and politicians were happy to assist them in this noble endeavor, and before you knew, it kids truly believed that they were a failure unless they had coeds and keggers in their future.

    So everyone went off to school. From 1967-2009 the percentage of 18-24 year olds who attended college nearly doubled.

    Those same kids who weren’t that smart but believed that they had to get a degree did exactly what everyone imagined they would do, they failed. Almost half of all kids who go to college now don’t get their degree in six years, according to Dr. Richard Vedder. The number of kids who are going for a bachelors doubled, and almost half of them aren’t getting a degree out of it. They are getting something though — not the clap; well, maybe the clap. They’re getting massive amounts of student debt.

    Of course they aren’t the only ones. Colleges and university’s have continually jacked the price of tuition up. It’s not enough that their market has doubled I suppose. In 2003 only a quarter of 25 year olds had debt from student loans, that number now stands at 43%. The average debt per student that those 25% held in 2003 was half of what it is today. Astounding numbers.

    More kids are going to college, are not getting anything tangible out of college, are leaving college with debt, and leaving with more debt than at any time in U.S. history.

    How does this affect you, the highly intelligent debt-free reader of this site? Well, those kids who racked up good-times and no degree are going to kill the economy and send your well-massaged 401(k) into the toilet with the buttery nipple shot they shouldn’t have taken. Student loan debt now accounts for $1 trillion, and over 10% of that hasn’t received a payment on it in 90 days. That debt won’t be going away anytime soon because bankruptcy does not apply to student loan debt.

    Now little Timmy can’t put his money to work in the economy because he didn’t get a degree, and has to use his meager wages to pay off all his debt. Rather than entering the workforce out of high school and buying a new car at 25, little Timmy is living with his parents who are also debt riddled because of him.

    Keep the Diploma, I’ll Take Another Beer

    Possibly the worst part in the mass migration of stupid people to colleges is how much they have diluted the value of a higher education. Before our parents pissed away the economy whilst quoting Gordon Gekko, a college degree actually meant something. Your completion of a bachelors meant that you had the critical thinking skills to get ahead in the workplace. It was the pathway to a better life.

    Now a bachelors degree is the new GED or Beats by Dre — too many dumb people have them. The supply of college graduates skyrocketed over the last few decades; naturally, the demand for them would go down. Even the smart kid who belonged in college now struggles to find a job because of the glut of undergraduate degrees on the market. Their only choice is to go back to school for a masters and stay in the academia track. The system feeds itself.

    Stop sending the dumb ones to college. Send them to a vocational track, or at least put them in an associate program first. They will get a head start in the workplace so that if they must go to college they may just have the financial backing to do it. Better yet, they will have the disposable income to help the economy by making purchases rather than by sending checks off to the bloodthirsty lenders who weren’t able to determine a smart investment in the first place.

    I’m not saying that poor people shouldn’t go to college. We should increase funding to programs that help economically disadvantaged students have a fighting chance at a better life. What I’m saying is that Obama’s idea of an “economic imperative” is as dumb as the kids he’s trying to put in college.

  4. Forever Young

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    By 30 you could have voted in four presidential elections. By 30 you could have served you country in the military for a dozen years. By 30 you could have raised a 14 year old child. By 30 you might not be able to get a beer in a Montgomery bar.

    Not to be outdone by his genius compatriots in Birmingham, Montgomery City Councilman David Burkette wants to up the entrance age for establishments serving alcohol to 30 years old. He even thinks it is a good idea.

    To be clear, Councilman Burkette isn’t someone who thinks 30 is a mystical number that fulfills some destiny that the voices in his head told him about. Although that may make more sense than the actual reason.

    What is the best age to kill someone, anyhow?

    Montgomery, Ala., has many problems, people shooting each other in bars and restaurants happens to be one of them. Councilman Burkette hopes that raising the age of entrance for bars to 30 will curtail those tragedies. Apparently when you turn 30 you lose all homicidal instincts — being 24, this means I have a full six years of rage-filled murdering left in me.

    His thought process is that young people are more likely to kill each other. Thus, by preventing young people from hanging out together at places that serve alcohol, less young people will kill one another.

    Statistically speaking, young people do commit homicide at a disproportionate rate. People under the age of 35 committed 76.6%of all murders from 1980 to 2008, despite only representing 52% of the population according to the U.S. Justice Department.

    Herein lies the trouble with Councilman Burkette’s proposal: correlation and causation. Being under the age of 30 does not cause you murder to people. There may be a correlation between youth and the chances you will shoot someone, but youthful status does not in and of itself cause you to commit a violent act.

    Men account for almost 90% of all homicides. So banning men from all bars would be a more effective measure, by extension of his logic.

    Raising the bar for stupidity

    Bad business for Montgomery’s bars is all that Councilman Burkette’s fantasy would deliver. It’s no secret that younger people are more likely to go to bars. They even drink more once there than their older counterparts. I guess once you pop out a kid you have to do time-consuming things like raise it, which cuts severely into the amount of time you can get annihilated drunk.

    The proposal’s biggest effect would be a sharp decline in the patronage of bars. Which means less money for businesses, less jobs for the area, and possibly an increase in violence as money migrates to areas that don’t have idiotic ordinances.

    Would this proposal cut the rate of violent acts at bars? Absolutely. Any time you remove a large portion of customers from an establishment the chances of violence, along with the chances of profits, should go down. Those same kids shooting each other at the bar today can now shoot each other where they are drinking tomorrow. In fact, they may even be more likely to do so now that they aren’t in a public setting.

    Our politicians spend too much time addressing the symptoms of problems, and not enough time finding the solutions to the actual problem. Rather than drive businesses away with legislation that is unkind to business owners, our elected officials should be encouraging owners to keep nonviolent establishments.

    Or, post a higher police presence outside bars where trouble has occurred in the past. Patrons will be far less likely to go get a gun when they have to make eye-contact with an officer of the law on the way out.

    Perhaps even offer a tax credit or another incentive for bars to keep more bouncers on staff. Security roaming the crowd would be able to snuff out minor troubles before they become tragedies.

    Really, just do anything other than raising the minimum age of entry. What do I know, I’m only 24. By 30 I just might be able to come up with a common sense solution.

  5. Failure with a Side of Ineptitude

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    It’s Saturday night and after one-too-many adult sodas, I am aimlessly stumbling out the door of a bar. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a restaurant on wheels and a friendly cashier. Could this be a dream? Well, if the Birmingham City Council continues to get its way it just might be.

    On Dec. 17, the City Council delivered a potential death blow to the burgeoning Birmingham food truck community in the form of an ordinance so stupid only they could pass it. The ordinance included steep fees, a restriction on advertising methods and as much protection as possible to existing restaurants. We can walk through the particularly asinine portions of the ordinance later, but first it’s important to know just what exactly City Council is working so hard to destroy.

    Economic Growth on Four Wheels

    The Magic City doesn’t move quickly. You need only peek to the North, and see the dormant smokestacks to be reminded of this each time progress rears its head. They stand just off in the distance as ever present reminders of the work Birmingham must do to escape its past.

    Though things were looking up before the politicians started meddling. For once, Birmingham was a hot city. National media had taken notice of the city’s up-and-coming status, and the hype was building. Anecdotally, recent college graduates saw Birmingham as a young city, one that could be a stepping stone for them to move up to Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans and the like.

    At the forefront of Birmingham’s breakout was the celebration of the city’s food scene. Frank Stitt, Chris Hastings and Chris Dupont were being heralded by finely tuned palates across the nation, and bringing the spotlight on to the good side of Birmingham’s culture. Before we knew it The Travel Channel, Forbes and others had laid their praises out for the Magic City.

    It quickly became clear that Birmingham’s residents were willing to pay premium prices for quality food. Restaurateur’s took notice, and like any good business person, they searched for innovative ways to capture the market. Soon enough food trucks were carving out a niche in the Magic City.

    Unsurprisingly, the food truck craze had caught on elsewhere in the country before establishing itself here. The Food Network had “The Great American Food Truck Race,” the Travel Channel featured food trucks on their food shows, and what once seemed like a forgotten medium of eating had now proven itself as competition to quality restaurants around the country.

    The beauty of the food truck as a viable business choice is twofold. Firstly, food trucks have a much lower startup price tag than their brick and mortar cousins. For as little as $50,000 an aspiring business owner can get his dream rolling — so many puns.

    Most importantly, though, is the food truck’s ability to pick up shop and move. Mobility plays a big factor with the owner able to take his product to where the demand is. Set up outside a bar district during late night? Done. Partner up with a street festival or out-door concert with high foot traffic? As easy as turning the key.

    It had gotten to the point in Birmingham where people with disposable income and a hankering for something new — MILLENIALS — would travel exclusively to eat from one of the half-dozen trucks. Just this past fall I went to a food truck meet-up at Railroad Park and was astounded by the hour-or-so wait at any of the assembled businesses. A pleasant sight for anyone rooting for Birmingham to succeed.

    Wait, did I just say success? Time for the City Council to come in and try to blow it apart.

    Hey, That’s a Nice Thing You’ve Got. I Want to Kill It.

    And so, the bumbling fool that is the Birmingham City Council busted down the door like Cousin Eddie in “Christmas Vacation.” Shitter’s full indeed, Cousin Eddie. Following conversations and meetings that stretched for more than a year, the City Council passed restrictive and downright oppressive legislation that pandered to the city’s brick-and-mortar restaurant owners.

    For starters the city has established “food zones,” taking away the ability for food trucks to relocate to where the demand is. Next, the City Council decided to get in on a piece of the pie, and slapped hefty fees for the privilege of operating within the city.

    How hefty? There’s a one time fee of $250 to “establish food zones.” Which, according to Google Translate Bureaucracy Edition means: there’s a one-time fee of $250 for straight-up profit to the city.

    Then there is the annual $300 fee to operate anywhere within the city. Well, not anywhere. Anywhere except for the “Premier Zone,” which runs a food truck operator $500 per year.

    Let’s not forget the $150 application fee, which Google Translate Bureaucracy Edition tells me more precisely means: $150 fee for the privilege of an unnamed city employee sticking your paperwork at the bottom of their pile and forgetting about it for a month.

    All together the governmental fees will set you back $1,000. I guess when the City can’t screw you with building permits fees they have to get creative.

    You’ve paid your $1,000, have the food, the truck and the chef; let’s roll. “Hold it right there,” the City says, with a monocle on, probably. “You can’t just go ANYwhere at ANYtime.”

    Nope, you and your truck better not get within 150 feet of any existing restaurant. Some sort of festival going on? Better not be within 500 feet of that. Oh, and remember those “food zones”? Yeah, if the city needs to take them over for any sort of permitted outdoor event you are S.O.L, because according to the new ordinance the City can take those back and doesn’t have to provide you with alternate arrangements.

    It can’t be all that bad, just park your food truck up near a bar district and wait until they let out, right? Nope, you can only operate until 2 a.m., despite the bars typically being open until 3 a.m. on Friday nights.

    While all of that seems awful, probably my favorite part of this governmental overstep is the part where the City limits the ways that food trucks can attract customers. No lights, noisemakers or sound amplifying equipment because the City deems them to be distractions to passing motorists.

    That section was where I really knew the established restaurants had bent the food trucks over their brick-and-mortar knees. I can’t even count the number of restaurants in this town that have music playing outside, that have lights to attract customers. Distraction? Please, the Firehouse Subs in Five Points has a minimum wage lackey to twirl a sign around all day at one of the busiest intersections.

    Clearly this ordinance was intended to cut out the legs (tires?) from the food truck movement. They had become competition to the brick-and-mortar businesses, and those owners complained and eventually got their way.

    Wrapped Up Like a Burrito

    Once again the City Council has shown its ineptitude in fostering new businesses in Birmingham. If anything, restaurant owners should be happy for food trucks to come in to the city. Their presence increases foot traffic to the area, and therefore increases chances someone might come back to go to their restaurant. Those business owners could be taking advantage of the chance to market themselves, rather than trying to piss on someone else’s parade.

    After all, it’s not like some rogue food truck is going to drive through the front door of Cafe DuPont screaming “Vietnamese Fish Taco’s for everyone!”