Friday, January 26, 2007

Why Atlanta Can Ultimately Succeed

As a long time Atlanta native, I visited the zoo as a child, as did my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Our family has seen the zoo evolve from an small offering to a medium sized zoo that rapidly became obsolete in the 70’s to restoration in the 80’s to a national level zoo. That it costs around $50 for 2 adults and one child to visit is an affront to my sensibilities, given that comparable zoos, like St.. Louis are even free. The zoo announced today they may wish to leave Grant Park. Why not use the money to build up a mediocre zoo, increase accessiblity, and reduce ticket prices? This mentality and lack of good sense is par for the course in our city.

Two other obvious locations have been discussed. Lakewood is a relatively dangerous area. Just ask anyone who has a steel cage around their AC unit next their house down there, or had their copper piping removed while on vacation. I have personally talked with officers on roadblocks to pick up would-be Johns and prostitutes at Cleveland Avenue one exit south. This is a regular and ongoing operation.

The other is Ft. Mac – with Bush’s increasing the troops, primarily in the Army, we may just see Mac being reopened. After all if was 2nd CenCom behind Cheyenne Mtn and the Pentagon. They have a lot invested in that facility. However, this might be a good spot, as it is easy to find off Lakewood Freeway, easy to secure, and does have at least one direct rail stop and another nearby. But this does not address the real matter of the 100's of millions it will take to relocate when the city desparately needs to fund basic services like Police cars, pensions, and firemen's salaries

The simple solution would be to maximize the space they have, propose an attractive garage facility along Boulevard that sinks into the slope so that the road elevation can only see the roof of the garage. Then on the roof, have tennis courts, inline hockey, pavilions, roller skating, or any number of fun offerings. Then open up the other lot to more handicap spots.

Given that the City of Atlanta is still not doing very well economically despite the past 3 years of operating in the black is a function of the city choosing to blow money on things it really could have reallocated more wisely elsewhere.

The area has a long history of political animosity and brinksmanship among the 15-20 municipalities. We also have a way of stopping in the race to pick up the Golden Apple, much like our namesake Atlanta did when she lost that fabled race. Shortsighted, reactionary, quick and dirty planning characterizes the majority of the decisions made at many levels of Atlanta area society. This is why Atlanta is footing the entire multibillion$ bill for the sewer repairs, which tripled our property taxes in 2003. Our ex-mayor was convicted of criminal fraud, but we could not muster a jury to deliver more than a slap on the wrist to him.

It is why the other counties will not let MARTA in. It is why we are top 5 in pollution and drive times, but continue to build 1950’s style subdivisions in East Bumble amplifying sprawl. It is why we are going to spend $billions on 27 lane I-75 expansion, farm it out for private management (Drexel Burham Lambert), but we cant even get a train to run from Atlanta to Athens to make the trip safer and cheaper for our children. God only knows how many kids have died on GA316 since the $4million rail feasibility study was funded for the Athens rail line in 1994. Give me $4m and in 6 months we would have a bar car, wifi on the other cars, and GT and UGA students designed stops along the way. "I never leave Atlanta without being amazed at the monumental screwups I see from the air," said [former Georgia governor Roy] Barnes (AB '69, JD '72). "If we neglect and allow nature to just take its course, we will become a state of strip malls and mistakes."

It is why there is only ONE interstate off ramp to visit Atlantic Station, which at that time was the nations largest development ($2.2B). The other approaches all require driving through a residential neighrborhood, literally. To drive to IKEA, the worlds largest at 360,000sf, you MUST go through a neighborhood. It is why Atlantic Station has NO STATION, though it is 200 yards from Amtrak, a joke of a station, and 250 yards from the MARTA rail line. Bankhead in the ‘hood has a multimillion dollar station with its own rail spur. Atlantic Station has a bus lane. Brilliant. IT is why MARTA never has serviced the Braves Stadium or the zoo, but it sure serviced Grady Homes. It is why I-20 was rammed through several otherwise vibrant neighborhoods, dividing them, and eventually destroying their values, while there was a viable corridor that runs along Dealk Avenue that could have linked Decatur, Atlanta, Avondale, Lithonia. and Stone Mountain. It is why you can’t even get out to Stone Mountain on the train. There are tracks, they are not in use, and still NO train.

We had trolleys until the late 40’s that ran from Union Point to Decatur, Downtown to Marietta Square. Today, gridlock, waste, frustration, and expense. No trolleys. No alternative means for anyone to get anywhere. Gridlock and hassle.

It is why we demolished the Atlanta Fulton County Statium where the Beatles played, and Hank Aaron hit his famous home runs. We could have had a world class level soccer team based in the stadium. At the center and cross roads of the entire city, it nothing more than a heat generating waste of a field with no other economic value than some parking fees. It is why the Georgia Dome is slated for demo in 2015 and we are going to enjoy a brand new one in 2016. It is why Mayor Franklin referred to the Beltline as the 100 year project, while Salt Lake City and Denver have discussed, master planned, and BUILT there own rail systems in the time we have been talking about doing it. It is why we have interstate billboards asking citizens to report Airport Corruption. It is why if you get a ticket by APD, you have only a hearing date, no time of hearing, nor location. Due process requires all three items be present. It is why Underground Atlanta is losing $7.5m/year, but GSU is spending $1B on new construction on student housing, and never even considered overahauling Underground as a residential area for students. All the bars are out of business there for the most part, and with World of Coke relocating to Centennial Park, there will be little reason for people to run the gauntlet of the street panhandlers to visit Underground. It is why the Zoo and the old and new Braves stadium are not serviced by MARTA rail, meanwhile in 1975, MARTA demo’s a huge chunk of the then viable Underground Mall, leading to its demist 3 years later.

It is why APS has the highest drop out rate in the region. It is why the test lower. I went to Northside High, and in those days it was pretty good (1985). Why did the city let it fall into the hands or cronies with their hands in the till? Good question.

So if the Zoo is going to move, and if it wants to move, no amount of comments on a blog are going to affect their decision much less determine whether the enormous expense would be better allocated on reinforcing there current position so they can increase access through lowered ticket prices and better educational experiences which it does lack except for the most basic informational signage.

My opinion is that Atlanta, despite all of this, still manages to overcome through strength of character, tenacity, and perseverance. We have good climate, clean water, abundant land, good roads, good hospitals, strong banks, and a vibrant business community. We have everything a city needs to grow like Kudzu! The only hinderance is our personal attitudes and the character of those we put in office. We really must take this city back into good management. Mrs. Franklin has done as good a job as could be hoped for, given the devastation she inherited from the Campbell administration. Let’s build on this capital, and in the next 15 years carefully decide how we build the world’s next great world-class city. We will need transit. We will need MUCH better schools. We will need cooperative mindset and unified development codes and standards. We will need third party independent audits of government processes and controls. We will need more referendums. In short, we need everyone who lives here to put aside their pettiness, find something to work on, and get moving.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Reindeer Stuck in the Mud Santa was all dressed up and no place to snow.

A few years ago, I visited Rovaniemi Finland and Pyhatunturi, Europe's northernmost ski resort. It was summer. The aspens quaked, the sun did an odd route through the sky, and the weather was beautiful. We stayed in a log cabin, and had a grand time with the Italians in the next cabin.

Fast forward... to December 2006. I just came across an article about British tourists, who go there with their kids to do the authentic Santa Claus thing. Apparently, Santa Claus' legend emanates from near this town.

No snow. Not a flake. Some mud. Some slush. That is all the White Christmas, little Johnny and Jane Britain is going to enjoy in Finland this year. This.. in a place where the airport officials freely givespecial cold weather garments for tourists arriving ill-prepared to take on the brutal cold. You get a free suit at the airport. It is THAT cold..normally.

It's getting hot in here people!

Break out the shorts, hotdogs, and sun tan oil.. we were going skiing.

I had the idea to get a bunch of people I had just met during my Europe trip together, rent a chalet in the alps somewhere, and enjoy one of those epic ski adventures in Europe where the resorts are literally around 100 times larger than the ones here at home..

So I log in and start checking the snow stats... I thought my little snow checker app was malfunctioning.. 22cm here.. 33cm there.. seriously poor numbers...

It is so bad that below 1500 meters altitude, German and Austrian banks are no longer extending business loans to ski resorts. (BBC UK)

In Utah, when you get such a warm fall, usually it bodes well for January. Well all that common sense is obsolete. It has just blown in and kept on coming.. great for tourists.. bad news for the patrolers out there blowing the avalanches before you wake up in the AM.

Wengen, home of James Bond movies, world class ski events, and typcial swizz style skiing, has.. 5.8" inches total. Count 'em.. 5.8 inches. The summits at Kleine Scheidegg or Männlichen
both boast a whopping 50cm.. about 2 feet. Whoo hoo. *a-hem*.

Les Arcs.. known for high altitude skiing is just pitiful as well. at 2000m they have about 1.5 feet... TOTAL. They have a good historical chart of the snowfall month by month, year by year..
That should send you to bed with a globally warm fuzzy.

In any case, if you are a masochist.. just have fun with this Snow Reporter site hosted by Salomon.. one stop shopping for the global skier.

Meanwhile, I am going to mow the grass on the ski slopes.. just to say I could do it in January.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Heads in the sand. US versus the world in Global Warming

This is a quick one. I thought something was different when I was traveling. Folks in Europe take Global Warming and human causality as read.

We at home in the US are truly the march of the fevered and clueless., trucking around in our monster SUV's, taking up to $25,000 first year tax credits for vehicles OVER 6000 lbs GVW, during a war on oil and terrorism... and no one here seems to think they are unpatriotic for driving a gas guzzler. In fact, last year, the GAS GUZZLER TAX was repealed! (See my other blog entry..)

So.. here we are with our heads in the middle eastern sand... just waiting for the inevitable boot to connect with our proud rear-ends that are pointed sky ward.

Don't believe me, then believe the International Herald Tribune and Novartis.

Jes' the facts ma'am.

Question: When are we going to stand up and tell the emperor that he is naked and has no new clothes? Oh, I guess that would take some self-confidence and guts, something that boardrooms and local governments across the nation seem to be quite short on.

The funniest example of this is when people say I do not disagree with you but".. well if you do not disagree with me.. then say but, what the H are you doing? ;-) Just grow a sack and say what you feel and believe in!

We are fighting a war against terrorism. The power base of the terrorists is derived by money made from oil. Yet, we are actively finding "new and innovative ways" to increase oil consumption, find new fields to mine, and then wonder why the world thinks we are insane?

Ha ha. We are insane. EOF.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happy New Year?

Well the new year is here. Two years until the US federal elections. (follow the donor money here) Significantly dim economic news. Worries of Global warming, Greenland's ice disappearing, chicken flu, and whatever else the news and media establishments can cook up to make folks more stressed out.

Slowing wages - one of our largest ongoing problems..

How our failing currency could snap back and hit the rest of the world..

And here is the mild mannered view of our Fed Reserve Chairman..

A great article about two opposite economic views of the illegal immigrants in the US.

And most Americans view themselves as secure because of the inflated values of their homes. However, once they figure out they can't sell the homes.. and the ARMs are coming due.. all that largess will quickly realign itself into a much grimmer picture.

And.. to top it off.. new home growth is slowing..

If you don't believe the links to the media, just go to the source data here.

Looks like it time to store some nuts, put on some midnight oil, roll up our sleeves and fix these problems..

Friday, January 05, 2007

Federal Government Drug Screens Welfare Recipients

Yes, actually I can easily imagine a big brother government handing out urine cups.

This posting was written in response to the following mailblast I recevied from a relative. Since the letter emanates from the CDC, then circulated all over the CDC, and then was forwarded to the non-government employee pulic, I can only presume CDC employees support this initative only to increase CDC budget demands thereby perpetuating their own version of welfare via a jobs program. Oops, the gloves came off. ;-)

From: Wes Ulrich
Sent: Wednesday, January 03, 2007 8:30 PM
To: Lou Ulrich; Steve Gosa; Gerald Honeycut; joe howard; DAVID HUFF; Chuck Barnwell; Aaron Blackwell; bonnie Bruce; Corey Cunningham; Fleming David; Jason Driggers; Garner, Jennifer (CDC/CCHP/NCBDDD); JEFF DUVALL
Subject: Just a thought

I have a job. I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the Government distributes my tax money as they see fit.

This person fails to see that if the government was not doing that, he would not have his job to pay taxes on to begin with!

In order to hold my job I have to take a random urine drug test. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people that don't have to pass a urine drug test to get welfare or other public assistance.
If I have to pass a urine drug test to keep my job, shouldn't one have to pass a urine drug test to get public assistance? Please understand I do not have a problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do have a problem with helping people sit on their butt and do nothing.
Can you imagine the money the government would save if the people had to pass a urine drug test to get a public assistance or welfare check?

From a legal perspective, an employer's drug testing policy is based upon an "at will" model. In the absence of public lobbying or legislation to put a halt to drug screening, the existence of screening procedures is simply a voluntary requirement for work at a given company. Your decision to work for that company is VOLUNTARY, so your decision to undergo testing is also voluntary. The logic being that you could have possibly found a job where they do not screen. The reality is that MOST employers screen, so you really will not be able to find a job where they will not screen.

Personally, I view any form of proactive screening as an invasion of privacy. In Germany, for example, all of your personal data is sealed from any company, including marketers, credit cards, and the unsavory underworld of spammers. An "Opt-In" model, the public is protected by its own government against mining one's personal data and history. You are not even allowed to send mail to someone who has not requested to be contacted. Germans must feel that billboards and TV ads are sufficient to generate the promotional interest. Huge consequences exist for violators, including for the government itself.

Here, the public has been mostly silent, docile, and accepting of this practice which is essentially an "Opt-Out" model. The default status being you can be called, contacted, and spammed unless you proactively contact every possible source of data about you and inform them directly. For your convenience I have attached a legal letter for this purpose that almost always generates a call from the vendors who receive it. They also abide by it, which is the important bit. Logically, it follows that drug screening is also legally viewed as acceptable in the US. The basis for its legality stems from the idea that no one is forcing either party to enter into an agreement with one another.

It is quite another thing to allow the government to presume guilt and therefore enact screening protocols that can in effect to entrap all manner of other citizens in the very same net. If the ACLU would work on this sort of issue instead of dabbling in religious squabbles, I might actually respect them!

Habitual drug users have very good and affordable resources at their disposal to counter screening efforts. The drug abusers are pro's at skiving the tests. The tests are just a humiliating way for an employer to send a message to otherwise good employees. The unstated message being "Stay in step, obey the rules, we are watching you, and we can even check your fluids when we want to." How dehumanizing is that? Statistic research results do not support the argument that drug testing actually is effective in identifying habitual drug users and thereby preventing their hire. Testing is done so that if a company is sued related to the actions of an employee, they can demonstrate diligence to prevent such occurrences. At the end of the day, the tort lawyers do run the country.

The larger issue is just what does welfare really provide? Welfare in our country is a joke. I have been to the unemployment office. The placement services are weak at best. You get a fraction of your pay, and that for only a couple of months. An average middle manager who has been laid off takes, on average, 14 months to find another similar position.

There are those who can game the system and make some amount of money from graft, but one has to wonder why they bother. For if they are smart enough to do that, why not make more money gaming a more lucrative system? I guess there are more clever people than actually intelligent people.

When compared to other first world countries, our welfare system is about as bare bones, ruthless, and unforgiving as you can get. When traveling in Japan, and Europe, I heard Americans characterized as callous and irresponsible for allowing the deep poverty we all know exists here to persist. As a social experiment, I challenge anyone of you to try to live on the welfare equivalent income for two months. The mere thought seems impossible, so you get my point. It is not as if this is some gravy train to the good life.

France is a good example of what benefits our European counterparts enjoy. As a woman, you get 6 MONTHS paid leave for maternity. Try that in the US, and you would be fired by the third or fourth week. And we wonder why our kids show up at school with guns. French families get quality day care that EVERYONE uses, not just the so-called poor. You get access to a ton of classes for child rearing.

It is just a different culture than ours with very different societal values. They got bombed into oblivion during WWII. They have different way of dealing with things after that experience. For example on Dec 17th, 2006, a few tent manufacturers and the French government got together and provided tents to every single sans abri (homeless) person. Now when you walk down the Seine, you see North Face style tents all in a neat and tidy trashless row, zipped up tight against the elements of a European winter.

In Europe if you do want to work, you have a bus and train system that is reliable and runs on time. I challenge anyone one of you to work a job outside of 9-5 M-F and try to ride the bus to work. You would be fired in a week or two. If the employer found out that you ride the bus as your transportation to work, you would never have been hired.

How much with maintenance, gas, taxes, insurance, and maintenance does a car cost? If you are earning the average salary in Atlanta, which happens to be a whopping $28k/yr according to the ARC, that is a HUGE chunk of your income. Atlanta, by the way, is the lowest average income earning city of the 15 peer cities in the US. I wonder why so many people come to work here? I guess they neglected a bit of homework in selecting this city. By contrast, the Northeast US major cities and ALL of europe, you have public transportation that is actually a viable option for commuting. Then factor in at least $400-$900 for childcare for a 2-4yr child, all of a sudden you are on welfare or working for your credit card company.

This is a roundabout way of giving a full response to the idea that our government should be handing out piss cups to qualify welfare recipients. If the government can't even prevent people who can not find a job from gaming the welfare systems, then how can anyone expect them to be able to accurately manage drug screening of millions of welfare recipients. And the hidden danger is to regular people - maybe they will start screening for other things, marriage licenses, voting access, gun ownership, cell phone use, or whatever other issue du jour that can conjure up a political sporting event.

Freedom is neither free nor is it safe.

Ben Franklin - Those who desire security at price of freedom deserve neither. (loosely quoted)