Sunday, June 25, 2006

How we will spend our summer vacation …

We are on our way to Innsbruck, Austria for the annual UNO summer school there. We will be there for about seven weeks. Susan is the academic director and I will be teaching two courses. My courses are Entrepreneurship, which I have taught many times, and Personal Finance, which I have taught once before.

Innsbruck is Idyllic. Here is how a travel web site describes it:

“Innsbruck’s popularity has surged since it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976; it now attracts more North American visitors than any other European ski destination. Claiming the best mountain runs in the Tyrol region, Innsbruck makes an ideal base for visiting smaller Alpine towns. In warmer months, stroll along Maria-Theresien-Strasse in the medieval Old Town, hike past those famous mountain runs, or waltz to the strains of an outdoor concert in the Hofgarten public park.”

Meanwhile, back home, the New York Times ran an article about the New Orleans recovery entitled: “A Legacy of the Storm: Depression and Suicide” (By Susan Saulny, June 21, 2006). Here is a brief excerpt:

New Orleans “is a city where thousands of people are living amid ruins that stretch for miles on end, where the vibrancy of life can be found only along the slivers of land next to the Mississippi. Garbage is piled up, the crime rate has soared, and as of Tuesday the National Guard and the state police were back in the city, patrolling streets that the Police Department has admitted it cannot handle on its own. The reminders of death are everywhere, and the emotional toll is now becoming clear.”

We were rendered essentially homeless by Hurricane Katrina, currently staying with my mother for an indefinite period. This period is useful while we wait to see “how things go.” This is the phrase used by many area residents; my guess is that it means seeing what happens this hurricane season.

Still, it is not about how many hurricanes hit, or how many times we have to evacuate. It is just waiting until about September 30, then measuring a collective reaction. Only then can we make decisions about staying, about whether or not to rebuild, and about where to live. Or, we may just leave the area, retire our hurricane supplies, and live someplace inland. Unfortunately, any other place will seem bland by comparison.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Great Day in the Morning…

Does it seem to you that there has been a streak of good news for the New Orleans area lately? Sure, a lot of it is tentative, and some of it represents simply the possibility of some good news down the line, but the sense of a recovery under way is beginning to take hold.

Now don’t get me wrong; the daily hardships are still around. We endure crushing traffic jams, stores that we need are closed or so understaffed that service takes excruciatingly long. The hurricane season just begun casts an overlay of fear over the area.

We are hosting a visitor from Michigan this week, on his first trip to N.O. Sure we showed him the destruction, and then we thought we would offset the gloom with a visit to Jackson Square. New Orleans’ “showroom” was effectively closed; one lonely Tarot card reader was braving the drizzly weather.

So where’s the good news? Certainly the billions of dollars released to Louisiana by the Feds this week will spark a lot of positive activity going forward. The billions for our flood protection system likewise create a sense of optimism about our safety.

Other developments are raising my spirits. Here you may think I have taken leave of my senses, but I am seeing some positive signs that our state may be taking its stewardship of these funds very seriously. We certainly have to do a better job than FEMA did.

The legislature has passed some good government bills, particularly relating to the political structure of the City of New Orleans. Enactment of these measures requires that they be approved by the voters, however, and there are signs that those at the trough won’t go willingly.

The Feds are doing their share with an intensive investigation of our U.S. representative, “Dollar Bill” Jefferson. His keeping alive the national perception of Louisiana’s tolerance for political corruption will soon be over.

Let me know what you see as signs of recovery, good or bad …


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Our corruption watch stays busy ...

From our corruption watch department:

“Ethics lose out again” reports James Gill in an editorial in the Times-Picayune:

“Ethics reared its head in the state Capitol again last week, and got it shot off.

Dead for the session is a bill that would have stopped public officials and their nearest and dearest from getting rich on government contracts in the aftermath of a disaster.”

The T-P also reports on New Orleans’finest in “NOPD accuses cops of robbing women:”

“Incident took place in massage parlor

An eight-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department has been arrested and booked with armed robbery and malfeasance in office in connection with the "shakedown" of five Asian women working at a downtown massage parlor, Police Superintendent Warren Riley said Saturday.

An arrest warrant was issued for a second officer allegedly involved in the same robbery.

Officer Joshua Burns, 28, resigned from the department after he was arrested late Friday on charges stemming from a Thursday armed robbery that police said involved Burns, officer Quincy Shelling and at least one other person. Police did not identify the massage parlor or say how much money was taken in the robbery."

At the Federal level we also have a bit of an image problem, as reported by the Associated Press, headed

“Democratic Leaders Intend to Strip Jefferson of Committee Post:”

"Democratic leaders resolved to strip embattled Representative William Jefferson from his committee assignment Thursday after the Louisiana lawmaker rebuffed repeated calls to step aside pending completion of a federal bribery investigation.

Jefferson insists he will not go quietly. His spokeswoman, Melanie Roussell, says she can guarantee he will not voluntarily step aside.

The congressman has not been indicted and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. He is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, with authority over taxes, Medicare, trade, Social Security and more.”


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Residents Demand to Move Home ...

From an article subtitled "New Orleans Projects Closed by Hurricane Are Still Not Reopened," written by Janet McConnaughey of Associated Press, and appearing in the Washington Post.

NEW ORLEANS, June 3 -- About 100 people gathered in the median across from a fenced-in public housing project Saturday to demand a return home for people who lived there and in other housing projects around New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina.

"I want to come home. Simply that," said Armand W. Alfred, 76, his soft voice turning almost plaintive. "I belong in there. I still have some valuables there. And that's where my bed is. The last bed I owned is in that apartment."

Alfred said he was evacuated to Washington, D.C., in the week after Hurricane Katrina struck nine months ago, but returned at the end of February for his sister-in-law's funeral.

Since then, he said: "I'm going from house to house, from friend to friend. Sleeping on floors. I have no address."

Water reached about halfway up the one-story buildings across the street from the project, but the high concrete foundations of the two-story brick complex kept water from reaching that level inside, people said. They said the first story could be gutted and decontaminated so people could live on the second floor.

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) said New Orleans had nearly 8,000 public housing residents before the storm, but fewer than 1,000 have been able to return.

"Everybody who had to leave this town . . . ought to have the right to return," he said during the rally. "The rich, the poor and in-between. And the folks who have the least, we ought to do the most to make sure we make it easier for them to come back and rebuild their lives."

Cynthia Wiggins, manager of another complex, said the Department of Housing and Urban Development has had more than enough time to put together a plan. She said more demonstrations will be held until the public housing complexes are reopened.

Alfred was among 10 to 20 demonstrators who had lived in the complex before the storm. Most of the people who were in a tent city set up in the median were from elsewhere in the city or out of town, there to support project residents.

"I don't think the idea is to live here, but to have a presence here as long as it takes for the fence to come down," said Marty Roland of the United Front for Affordable Housing, which helped to organize the demonstration.

Capt. John Bryson, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman, said he would be talking with the police chief and city attorney about how long the tents and shelters could remain. The median of a four-lane highway is not a safe place to stay, he said.

"It's very peaceful. And we respect anyone's right to demonstrate. And we will assist them and make sure they are safe. Safety is the issue here," he said.


jbv's Competitive Edge