There are several things I considered writing this week’s column about. I decided not to choose and just write about them all…
Like many of you, I watched in amazement as lines to get gasoline at service station backed up into the roadways. The panic-buying was brought on by a six-day shutdown of the 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline after their system was hacked in a malware attack. Any supply crunch was exacerbated by the hoarding of fuel as some sought to fill up in case shortages resulted, which makes it harder for truck drivers to fill up their rigs to, you guess it, deliver more fuel to stations. I’m reminded of the quote from the 1997 movie “Men in Black” where Tommy Lee Jones’s K says, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it…”
While the hackers meant to extort a ransom, what they’ll end up doing (I hope) is spur massive action toward lowering the vulnerability of our nation’s supply chain by encouraging public investment in improving our infrastructure. While I am dropping famous quotes, I recall Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor would reportedly write in his diary, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
There’s simply no such thing as a stable economy as long as someone can attack a hospital, a city or a person and hold their information ransom. Last weekend, I watched 1979’s “The China Syndrome” for the first time. I’d always presumed it was an anti-nuclear energy film and in a way it is, but it’s mostly a cautionary tale about how greed/laziness/arrogance coupled with corporate negligence can potentially lead to violation of safety standards that can result in catastrophic danger. Makes me wonder what systems we presume are safe may be teetering on the verge of deadliness. I guess we’ll find out when the next big bridge collapses.
Of course, maintaining sophisticated systems requires investing money in people and resisting the tendency for other money to influence policymakers to water down regulations and standards.
Although Fort Payne has no nuclear power plant, we do have existing structures and systems that need attention. Things like a police station that badly needs renovation to make it safer and more secure, to the tune of at least $3 million. We have a sharp curve in the road where multiple accidents have happened that will take more millions. We have a railroad track running along the length of the city like a spinal cord, potentially blocking multiple crossings where homes, schools and businesses may need to quickly access our hospital and ambulance service. An overpass will cost us, you guessed it, millions. Our aging sports complex needs updated and expanded so our city can raise revenue by hosting athletic tournaments and offer tangible quality of life aspects that make the community more appealing to live here, thus potentially increasing our tax base. And on top of all that and more, we have city employees expecting yearly 3% pay increases to help them afford increasing goods and services (costing about half a million). Taxpayers aren’t in a mood to pony up more cash and there’s only so much money cities can borrow without burdening those who’ll follow.
I don’t envy our mayor and city council. Not right now. Like a spouse dreading the conversation with their significant other about cutting back and putting off things they want to buy, some tough decisions have to be made. The trick is doing so while causing the least disruption to public safety and not kicking things on further down the road.
It’s been great receiving invitations to various graduations. I remember what an exciting time that was, the anticipation of planning to move away and start my freshman orientation, then the sense of accomplishment when the work was done and that first job right out of school became priority #1. Luckily, finding a job doesn’t seem to be a problem right now. I’m excited for everyone eagerly preparing to walk across that stage while proud family and friends cheer them on. As I write this, we are putting the finishing touches on our annual high school graduation edition, scheduled to be in Wednesday’s paper. Can you believe it is that time already? It felt like 2020 dragged on endlessly, yet 2021 is flying by so fast!
— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.