Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Greetings from New Orleans

As Timbuk 3 would sing...Life is Hard.

It is a tragedy down here in many, many ways, with very little to report on the positive side.

I'm working away on restoring a house near Tulane University that was flood and hurricane damaged. Getting anything down here is hit or miss. Spent two hours the other day trying to find finish nails. The look of weariness is ubiquitous on people's faces. Long lines, lack of help, especially trained help just adds to the aggravation.

There is a vacuum of leadership down here. No one really knows what is happening or what is going to happen, which obviously hinders anyone deciding what they are going to do with their particular house, job, business, etc.

I was listening to the radio yesterday and they had a guy from FEMA on. He was talking about the great response from America, the goodwill of the American People and all the organizations that have come down to help. He named a bunch of them off: Catholic Charities, Goodwill, Salvation Army, the Mormons, etc. The radio announcer asked him a simple follow up question: "so do you have a number people could call to get help from these people?" The FEMA guy said, "uhhh, no we don't have a number for people to call but we can get help to you". It then became obvious that the guy was just a talking head who really was just there to talk about the great stuff that FEMA was doing, when they really had no backup or reality to what they were saying.

People down here are angry. They feel lied to by their government, the army corp of engineers, and they don't know where to turn. Two people who I've met over the last couple months who initially talked about staying and rebuilding, and wanting to be a part of it all, bringing this great city back, have now told me they are selling their houses and just playing things by ear, and maybe moving on. These are intelligent, professional people with ties to the city.

One of the City Councilors was bagged by the Feds for insisting on a $100,000 kickback from one of the contractors. The rest of the country should be very wary of giving money here, the corruption is still a part of life down here.

I've met many contractors who came here to try and help, or even locals trying to get work with FEMA but were rebuffed. There are many people here with serious equipment, just sitting around not working. It is crazy. They aren't working on any of the breaches right now, it is as quiet as the forward thinking of the Boston City Council!

Much of the renovation work is being done by hispanics, particularly mexicans. I met a contractor from Dallas who is here with heavy equipment which he couldn't get anyone to hire him with. So he brought in a bunch of "wetbacks" and "pistoleros" and they are doing gut out work and roofing work for him. I see it all over. There are local and outside white contractors going around and bidding the work, and then a group of hispanics comes in and does it.

As was written in investment biker: capitalism will always find a way. People have a need (in this case house gutting and renovation work) and a capitalist will step in to fill the void. Especially when government is not doing the job.

I sent in my application to the State of LA licensing Board after having my assistant speak to them at length about how to get a reciprocal license. My application and the $700 check has been sitting at the Baton Rouge post office for two weeks with no one signing for it.

I met with the chief electrical inspector on monday to see about bringing in some out of state licensed electricians to help with the rebuilding. He said they are not allowing any temporary lifting of licensing requirements, so all work has to be done with local electricians. (If they don't change that it will take them 25 years to get the work done)

So, we have people from around the country who want to come and help out, but the government is putting roadblocks up to keep this from happening.

This place needs an independent czar to take the federal money and spend it prudently. Maybe a Giuliani type. Tough decisions need to be made, because every day N.O. gets further behind, and people will decide to move on or more precisely not return.

There is dry ground 5 miles from the city where people are living and working as normal. There are traffic jams every night because everyone leaves town. It is quite off-putting at night, living in our mobile home. There isn't a sound to be heard, and I am right in the heart of the city. No one lives there, it is about 10 blocks to a place with electricity and other people. It is like being in the middle of the woods, except you are in the middle of the neighborhood. You could plunder whole blocks and no one would know. There are still abandoned cars around....

On the positive side, the heart of new orleans is good...french quarter, garden district, CBD, but because of lack of people it is hard to run a business, and catch 22, without customers, i.e. people you can't open a business.

I'm happy to be doing my part down here, but it is tough and frustrating, and I feel for the locals. Not sure how you can help up there, we really need direction from the leaders.

regards, and hope you have a safe thanksgiving,

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