Sunday, August 31, 2008

Coming Back, Part 1 ...

From a story by Bill Reed of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

NEW ORLEANS -- When Carol Stauder started giving Hurricane Katrina tours, she couldn't get through them without crying. Seeing the devastation caused by the flooding four months earlier -- friends' homes destroyed and neighborhood after neighborhood abandoned -- was too painful.

Almost three years later, most of those homes are still broken and deserted, but what saddens Stauder even more are the empty lots sprinkled among them. The houses have been razed, the debris removed, and all that's left are rectangular patches of grass or weeds.

"They're not coming back," Stauder says somberly of the families who have left for good.
The 63-year-old guide wants her city and its neighborhoods back. And she wants the 10.1 million tourists who visited the year before Katrina to return, too, because they're as much a part of the city's festive scene as the cool jazz and Cajun cuisine.

The truth is that tourism in the Big Easy -- its No. 1 industry -- is bouncing back, big time. This year's Mardi Gras Carnival season drew about 850,000 revelers, approaching the 1.1 million who partied months before Katrina. The 39th Jazz & Heritage Festival "went marvelously well," in spite of torrential rains, organizer Quint Davis says, as about 400,000 people flocked to see the Neville Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Buffett and 570 bands perform.

When the seven-day festival wrapped up at 7 each night, all those people needed food, entertainment and lodging. About 130 restaurants have opened since Katrina, joining such icons as Antoine's, Brennan's and Arnaud's, to restore the city as a culinary destination.

Davis says he counts at least 103 clubs in the French Quarter and in clusters around the city, showing that the musicians are back. It was front-page news when favorite son Aaron Neville decided to return, and on a rainy Friday night, I couldn't get a ticket to see jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis -- father of Wynton and Branford -- play at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street.

And hotels are up to 33,498 rooms -- 87.6 percent of the pre-Katrina number.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

If I Were President, Part 3 …

Vote for me based on the following plank in my platform:

Domestic Affairs

We covered an important component of our domestic program when we earlier discussed energy policy. Let’s now discuss other domestic issues.

“It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra in Bill Clinton’s first and successful run for the presidency. I think James Carville was the one who coined the phrase.

It’s that time again. I will meet with specialists on tax policy and develop a consensus of what is an appropriate and fair tax program. My sense is that the new system should bring in more revenues than the current tangle of regulations, many of them favoring special interest groups, many favoring groups that no longer need the favor (farmers, oil companies). I have probably now lost the farm belt and oil patch votes.

Still, the new code must not be anti-business in any way. The U.S. got to be the dominant economy in the world by encouraging investment and allowing handsome rewards to the successful. Perhaps more of these rewards can be taxed in some way, but that is for the experts to discuss.

Then there’s that pesky foreclosure problem. Current congressional proposals for addressing the problem are strictly election-year politics, ways to strengthen the images of incumbents, particularly those in seriously contested races. These proposals reward irresponsible lenders and irresponsible borrowers.

And we need to do something about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their profits go to shareholders while losses are picked up by the Feds (meaning us). This is almost un-American! Let the investors take their lumps in a down market like the rest of us have to.

Why do government supports, subsidies, and other goodies go exclusively to the rich? I am not suggesting re-distribution of wealth, simply fair play and common sense.

That’s where I stand. Are we in good hands?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

North to Alaska ...

We are on an Alaskan cruise.

Frommer shares his view of Alaska (slightly edited):

(Nothing compares to) when you see a chunk of ice the size of a building fall from a glacier and send up a huge splash and a wave surging outward, or when you feel a wave lift your sea kayak from the fall of a breaching humpback whale.

Or when you hike to stand on top of a mountain, and from there see more mountaintops, layered off as far as the horizon, in unnamed, seemingly infinite multiplicity.

Or you may come across another mountain range, the sun still hanging high in what should be night, and storm systems arranged across the landscape before you.

Or standing on an Arctic Ocean beach, as you look around at the sea of empty tundra behind you, the sea of green water before you, and your own place on what seems to be the edge of the world.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If I Were President, Part 2 …

Vote for me, based on the following plank in my platform:

Foreign Affairs

For more then a half-century the U.S. has been the greatest power, military and economic, in the world. This has made the U.S. the source of a great deal of largesse, from sending aid and sending troops, for various reasons, to many of the world’s trouble sites.

It is time that we recognize that times have changed. Why should a nation trillions of dollars in debt and running deficits in the hundreds of billions be expected to take on obligations outside our country? It will be tough many of Americans, but we have a short term financial problem, and have to tighten our budget.

Foreign aid has been given to many countries for various reasons, some good some bad. The types of aid include everything from AIDS vaccines to Africa (good) to propping up the militaries of several countries, including Egypt and Israel (bad).

It is time to stop all forms of foreign aid. We can have a staged withdrawal, perhaps 25% a year for my four years in office. Then each case can be treated on its own merits, if we even care to return to cash giveaways to other countries.

Even while we remain the world’s only remaining superpower, wars have changed from conflicts between countries to “retail” wars of counterinsurgency. Nuclear weapons are proliferating; countries that are on the verge of having nuclear capability include even members of the “axis of evil.”

My proposal is that, for my first term, all military intervention is suspended. This requires a rapid withdrawal of troops for Iraq, and allows for strengthening our force in Afghanistan. Exceptional situations may cause us to deviate from this policy, but only after careful consideration by the President and Congress.

In addition we are calling in all our military from South Korea and other countries that are manned for the former type of wars, and from NATO activities. We may need to keep some troops in Germany to maintain some European presence.

Is this too nationalistic? I suppose, but the world is better off with the financial stability of the United States, and we need a breather.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Family Emergency …

There has been a slight change in plans. On Sunday we received word that my mother had suffered a heart attack. That kind of news is always disturbing, but in the case of my 90-year-old Mom, age really exacerbates the problem.

My brother called us in Cincinnati at about 7am, and the report was that there were several doctors standing around Mom, and that at one point she had stopped breathing. This really rattled us, and we were in a fog as we made plane reservations, rescheduled several appointments, and began to pack. A later report that she had stabilized was reassuring.

We arrived in New Orleans Monday, just in time for afternoon visiting hours, and went straight to the hospital. The biggest hold up was Dollar Rent-a-Car --- be sure not to ever use them. But I digress.

On our arrival we were very pleasantly surprised to see Mom sitting up, fully conscious. She had just had her breathing tube removed and had a lot of things to say to us that had been bottled up with the tube in.

Mostly she was glad to see her three sons and their wives all together and having a good time. One curious thing about her is that whenever she entertained, her pleasure was not in the event, but in seeing other people enjoying themselves.

Alan and I get along beautifully, but we both have a problem with Gary. Suffice it to say that he had made some questionable moves relating to my mother’s finances, and continues to take advantage of her in various ways.

Food is now an issue. She has always criticized any food cooked by anyone other than herself, and, well you know about hospital food.

As I write this, Mom is recovering very nicely, and has moved from ICU to a regular room. She will be doing cardiac rehab, but otherwise is near full recovery. She was a hardy 90, but I expect she might come out of this a bit frail. I will keep you posted.


jbv's Competitive Edge