Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Sound of Music

I'm off to hear the Sound of Music - that is, I leave for Austria tomorrow morning to visit my daughter and her family. I'm hoping to write a little travel log here about my trip.

It's my third trip to Vienna, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll get to see my daughter Halane, her almost perfect husband Scott, and my two adorable granddaughters, Maple & Adele. Plus, Vienna is a magnificent city with so much to do and see.

So come along with me on my trip by checking this blog. It takes a long time to get there, then I have to sleep off the jet lag, so it might be a while before the first post. But I'll be here as soon as I can!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

To RV or Not To RV

Tonight was another act of the continuing RV drama. The protagonist is former Mayor Butch Brown, a regular in Natchez dramas. Seems he wants to build an "high end" RV park on Canal Street between two hotels. Opposed to him are most of the people who live in the downtown area, especially those who live on South Union Street. Currently, RV parks are not allowed in Natchez.

In Act I, it looked like our leading man was getting his way, since the Planning Commission voted to allow RV parks in districts zoned as B-2 and sent this recommendation to the Board of Aldermen.

In Act II, they started to play volleyball, since the Board sent it right back to the Planning Commission - for further study.

In Act III, scene 1, the Planning Commission met in a study session that they call a Workshop. This scene lasted two hours, and they came up with a question. Does Natchez want any RV parks, and if so, where?

In Act III, scene 2, which took place tonight, the Planning Commission met for a public hearing to answer their question. The public was there with their petitions and their speeches against the RV park on Canal Street. No one from the public addressed the question, so the Commission discussed it themselves. Their conclusion? They couldn't answer the question without having a definition of RV park. So Act III, scene 2 will have to be continued next month.

Personally, I think the answer is easy. Do we want RV parks? Of course. This is a huge market, and we would be stupid to continue to totally prohibit them. (If you want to know how huge, check out this.) RVers are either retired or on vacation and have disposable income - otherwise they couldn't afford to put gas in those things. Natchez needs these people to come spend their money here.

Where do we put them? In either B2 or B4 - it really doesn't matter, because they fit in logically with uses allowed in both. The key is that they be allowed only as Special Exception Uses. Our zoning code allows certain uses by right and others by special exception only. The latter category is for uses that might impact the surrounding neighborhood or the city. Public hearings are required before the Planning Commission and the Board of Alderman, and special conditions may be imposed. That means we can decide on a case by case basis whether we want a particular RV park.

If RV parks were allowed as special exceptions in B-2 zones, then Butch Brown would have to first go through extensive hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Aldermen. All of his plans would have to be approved, and either body would have the right to impose any conditions they wanted. Based on the organized effort I saw tonight, Butch would have about the same chance as a snowball in hell.

It's important that the zoning issue of RV parks be dealt with separately and independently from Butch's proposal. Don't kill all RV parks just because we don't want one on Canal Street. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama's Historic Win: One Natchezian's View

As I said in this article, I spent election night at a party. Without a doubt, the most excited person there was Mary Jane. Recently, she sent around an email to family and friends. I found it very moving and asked if I could post it here. Here is the version she sent, which I publish here proudly.

November 4, 2008 , election night, was a historic night for me. I realized I had lived to see what I thought would not happen in my lifetime. Upon hearing my candidate, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States, all I could do was cheer, cry and repeat, “I can’t believe it.” Calls of joy came pouring in from my family, my brother in Seoul, Korea’s Embassy, my son at the Barcelona’s Consulate’s party where he appeared on TV, from my son at a Democratic Party of Expatriates in Madrid, from my son celebrating with thousands on the streets of Seattle waving the American flag and cheering, from Northern Virginia, Wisconsin, and Louisiana!! My faith that society could change for the better was suddenly restored. My lost faith replaced with the faith that good can prevail.

You see, I was born here in Mississippi at the start of World War II, and I lived to know that my Dad was different. For one thing he voted for Harry Truman, when most Southerners refused to do so because Truman integrated the army. My Dad led the family in the daily prayer and discussion of the social gospel. Christianity without social action was meaningless, he said. In my first election I received some ugly descriptions, because I proudly voted for LBJ when most of my race would not, as he had signed the voting rights amendment. I had registered to vote at the Adams County Court House by only signing my name, while at the same time a man of color was being asked to interpret a complex clause of the Constitution. I knew that our Southern way of life did not treat Blacks as equals. On my wedding day Blacks tried to use Duncan Park for the first time and were met with Klansman with chains, baseball bats, swing blades, and guns. It marred that day, and I knew I had to help change the place where I was born. I could never pretend I did not know what was going on. I did not want to be living blindly.

Just thinking differently had its isolation. It was rare to find friends to openly talk to. Most were newcomers, FBI workers and their families, civil right lawyers, and COFO workers. There were other like minded Whites, Francis Trosclair, Father Morrisy, and of course, my hero Marge Baroni, my spiritual mentor. Marge was a convert to Catholicism along with my dad Tom Reed. She was highly intelligent with an open mind, heart, and home. It was at her home I met Dorothy Day, Lena Gitter, and many national people who made their way to her frequently bombed home. Old friends tolerated me, and just didn’t talk politics. This silence, or denial, was deadly. When the town was about to explode in violence, no elected officials were taking action. With Marge, I sent letters to all the MISS-LOU Black and White churches to invite Women Concerned about Natchez to come together. One hundred fifty persons came. Twenty-five were White, but they were people of strong conviction and prominence in the community - Grace McNeil, Anna Rose Metcalfe, and Gladys Smith to name only a few. I wish we had a sign in sheet just to remember who all came. Just coming to the meeting at night at St. Mary ‘s Cathedral in the midst of a town about to go up in smoke was scary. Inside the meeting, signs adorned the walls of St Theresa’s Hall with a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who in a time of crisis do nothing.” Our meeting the next month was cancelled because several new explosions took place. The National Guard rolled into to town with armed soldiers and tanks to keep order. The Mayor’s new grocery store on North Pine was bombed, his home was bombed, and several buildings on St Catherine Street were blown up. Marches continued asking for the simplest of actions, courtesy titles for grown ups, and Blacks on the police force. More arrests. Jails were overfilled and so bus loads of arrested Blacks were taken to prison at Parchman,

The fear that prevailed in the town is almost impossible for people to believe today. With more threats, I moved my children out of the front of the house. Attending a workshop at the NAACP headquarters was frightening. I volunteered to teach in the all Black public Sadie V. Thompson just to help overcome the distance between the races.

Encouraging Blacks to overcome their fear and, for the first time in their lives, to register to vote was difficult. The roots of their fear were old and deep. Unwritten in any Natchez Democrat stories, things were happening to keep the status quo. People were beaten in the middle of the night, killed and thrown off bridges. Some were picked up at night, stripped naked, and left to die in the woods. Others were threatened with bombs and cross burnings in the middle of the night. A Ferriday man was locked in his place of work and burned to death. Many were killed. Churches, cars, stores, and homes were bombed. Terrorism was alive and well in Natchez, Mississippi. As far as I know there are no recorded records of all these events, but there needs to be.

I saw fifty or so Klansman in full dress in their white hoods riding their horses around a giant burning cross at Liberty Ball Field. Their ugly deeds were whispered about in the White world, but caused fear, deep fear in the hearts of the Black world and in the world of Whites who stepped out of line. A riot occurred to allow one Black man to enter Ole Miss. From the pulpits it was usually silence. Any White minister who dared to challenge the Southern way of life was forced to leave town or suffered other consequences. Terrorism was tearing the heart and soul out of this town and all of Mississippi. Much that happened I don’t know, despite trying to know. Mississippi was the Closed Society, to quote James Silver, who was forced to leave Ole Miss for saying so in his book published in 1962

Just before this current election of November 4, 2008, I was told I should not vote for Obama because “under his rule the terrorist from ‘over there’ would be on our streets here in the US - just like Baghdad ” Well, my friends, they have been on our streets. A bloody war 150 years ago was not enough to stop the mistreatment of one race by another. The reign of terror from that war through the Civil Rights movement was not enough. But those laws did change some of the people. The fact is our country has elected the first Black U.S. President. Best of all they voted not because of his race, but for his character, knowledge, his record, and his temperament. Martin Luther King’s dream is coming true.

I think, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we as members of the United States can celebrate that our country has changed. My family can all testify that the whole world is looking at us differently and with greater respect. The Declaration of Independence is no longer full of the shadow of hypocrisy. We are now a true model for the world! I can’t believe we made this much change in my life time!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Really Good Useful News

I read an article in this morning's New York Times that really makes me happy. This news means that Christmas mornings will be much merrier.

There was a recent invention that caused many normally calm people to utter four letter words in front of their children - and even sent thousands to the emergency rooms. What was it? It was called "clamshell" packaging and was greeted with glee by manufacturers and retailers. This brilliant invention protected items from shoplighting, while displaying them for buyers to see. Unfortunately, this packaging made it "almost impossible for mere mortals to open without power tools", according to the NYT article. This packaging frustrated us so extensively that there's a phrase describing it: "wrap rage". I can relate.

Fortunately for all of us, Jeffrey Bezos, founder of Amazon, is the father of four young children. He said:
“I shouldn’t have to start each Christmas morning with a needle nose pliers and wire cutters. But that is what I do, I arm myself, and it still takes me 10 minutes to open each package.”
Bezos is leading the charge to rid the world of these evil packages, and he has the power to accomplish this goal. He eventually hopes to sell all Amazon products (of which there are at least a gazillion) in "environmentally benign, consumer-friendly packaging". He already has many companies on board, like Microsoft, Mattell, Fisher Price.

Other companies are following suit. For example, Sony has a "death of the clamshell" project where it is testing several prototypes in Walmart and other stores. Other companies are less creative. TracPhone recently sent a gift of box cutters to employees of Radio Shack to use to open their packages for customers.

To reward Jeff Brazos for making the planet a better place, please buy at least one Christmas present from Amazon. (The rest of your presents are, of course, to be purchased locally to help our economy.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Will the South Rise Again?

There is no doubt that the South's political influence has just diminished significantly. The South used to be the center of the political universe, starting in 1970's with Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy. Since then, the only Presidents Democrats were able to elect were from the South.

But Obama proved that the Presidency can be won without the South. He did take three Southern states, but he didn't need them - and he didn't use "the Southern strategy". There's an interesting article is the New York Times about this whole issue, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture of the South.

I've been thinking about how Mississippi will fare in all this. We have the lowest federal tax burden of any other state. We are a state that claims to hate the federal government and paying federal taxes, and yet we benefit more than any other state. Mississippi gets back more than twice as much federal tax money as we pay. The state with the highest tax burden, Connecticut, pays almost twice as much as it receives. In fact, as a region, the South has the lowest tax burden, and the Northeast has the highest. But does Mississippi ever say thank you to those Northeastern states for supporting us? Not that I've ever heard - and certainly not with our votes. Do we vote for those "tax and spend liberals"? Of course not - we vote for those who want to cut our benefits. Go figure!

One thing is for sure, our Governor's influence in Washington is seriously reduced - and that may diminish the federal funds coming our way. On the positive side, we do still have some things going for us. Thankfully, we now have three Democratic Congressman. Unfortunately, the one lone Republican represents Natchez. We have two Republican Senators, one of which may be able to help us. Roger Wicker will be a waste, because he is a knee jerk, partisan Republican, who will spend his time in DC spinning his wheels. However, Thad Cochran is a totally different type of Senator.

Senator Cochran is a Republican because that party best represents his values. However, he is really nonpartisan when it comes to what is best for Mississippi. In fact, I think he may be a better Senator when the Democrats are in the majority. When the Republicans were in control of the Senate and he was a Committee Chair, he was a part of leadership and had to go along with the Party. But now, he'll be able to do what he really wants to. He is very well thought of by his colleagues and has a history of working well with Senators from across the aisle.

President Elect Obama has promised to rid Washington of the partisan bitterness and pledged to work with both parties to solve the extremely serious problems the nation faces. If he lives up to this promise - and it won't be easy in a city that thrives on fighting - then I bet he'll find Senator Cochran a good Senator to work with.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What the Election Tells Us About the South: Part II

One major finding from the election is the racial divide that still exists in the South. Two thirds of white voters in the South voted for McCain, whereas in the rest of the country white voters just barely preferred McCain. We like to think we've overcome racism, but obviously we haven't.

We saw some ugly results of this is Mississippi. According to the Daily Mississippian, the Ole Miss campus was disrupted by racial incidents on election night. The Clarion Ledger details other incidents of racial incidents, as does WAPT.

Contrast this with the results of a USA Today/Gallup poll showing national optimism about racial relations, with two thirds thinking problems will be worked out - the highest since the poll was started in 1963.

I was so proud of Ole Miss at the first Presidential debate, as it tried to show the country how far it had come since 1963 when James Meredith was the first black to attend. Now it has to contend with these racial incidents on election night, which probably negated all its efforts.

Racism and bigotry are related to low socioeconomic and education levels - both of which are prevelant in the South. Mississippi has the lowest median family income and the lowest education level in the country . If we are ever to climb out of our poverty, we have to overcome this bigotry. No industries will come to a state with our racial history until we show we've overcome it. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What the Election Tells Us About the South

During this election, there was a crack in the Confederacy. Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia voted for Obama. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee went for McCain. Why did this happen and what does it mean?

Obama won those states because his campaign targeted them. They picked those three states and Georgia (where he came close) for two reasons: They had large black populations, and they had large white populations who had moved there from Democratic states. We can see why Mississippi wasn't targeted - we have a large black population but not many white Democrats move here. I wondered why people don't move here.

People in other states have a negative opinion of the South. Obviously, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia have done something to overcome that opinion. What do they have that Mississippi doesn't? I decided to go to the US Census web site to see what I could find.

These states are definitely growing. Since 1990, Florida's population has increased 41%, Georgia's 47%, North Carolina's by 37%, and Virginia's by 25%. And Mississippi has grown by only 13%. Why?

There was one interesting finding - a difference in the major industries. The main reason people move to another state is work. We were much lower in professional, scientific, management, and information industries - so we are not attracting these types of employees. Financial industries were also lower, but we might be grateful for that right now. We were higher in manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. These are not industries that will bring people from out of state. One highlight was that we were higher in arts, entertainment, and recreation. Unfortunately, probably one reason this industry is high is due to our dependence on casinos. However, arts, entertainment, and recreation are areas where Mississippi has a good reputation, and we should probably put more of our resources into attracting these industries.

To be continued. . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night 2008 at the Party

Of course, I have no idea what has happened nationally, so I start asking questions as soon as I arrive. I was told two great pieces of news. First, Elizabeth Dole lost in North Carolina. I was so happy to hear that, after that awful smear campaign she ran against her opponent at the end of the campaign. But Kay Hagan came back fighting and that's what it takes against those Republican attacks.

The next piece of good news I received was that Pennsylvania went for Obama. I've been studying the electoral map, and I knew there was no way McCain could win after losing PA, so I was thrilled. There were a few people at the party who agreed with me, but most refused to believe it. You have to understand that Democrats have come agonizingly close too often - and they refuse to hear good news.

I immediately set myself up with my laptop, where I could finally get an internet connection. I was supplementing the TV information with little nuggets of information available only over the internet. Like I was able to zero in on a map of any state and see how the counties were going. This was how we discovered that Adams County went big time for Obama! We were so proud! (Of course, this did not include the absentee ballots, which may be counted by Christmas - see previous article.) We also looked at the maps of other states - and at the Senate races.

When Ohio went for Obama, these Democrats were starting to get excited - they were starting to believe that maybe - just maybe - they were really going to win. There was some dead time here for a while, and people were getting nervous. Finally, Virginia went for Obama, and he was declared the winner. The place went crazy! People were screaming, hugging, crying, laughing. There was this air of disbelief. "We really did win this time, didn't we?" was repeated over and over.

I'm disappointed that Mississippi is still living in the dark ages and voted for Republicans. I was so hoping we could change our image with the rest of the country. Until regular, average Mississippi voters realize that Republicans do nothing for them, we'll continue to be the last in everything. How sad.

But on a positive note, thank goodness that the eight years of George Bush, undoubtedly the worse President our country has ever had, are finally almost over, and we won't have to suffer four more years of Republican rule. We will soon have a Democratic President who can repair our image in the world and start the herculean task of repairing the damage done to this country. Finally, there is hope.

My daughter, who is living in Europe with her family, may have something special to be grateful for. If McCain had won, I would have had to move in with her.


Election Night 2008 at the Polling Place

I got to the Courthouse around 6 pm – an hour before closing. No one was voting! There have been a few voters coming in – but certainly no mad rush. There 185 (!!) absentee ballots in this precinct and over 500 have voted so far. Barring a mad rush at the end, there will be over 700 voters. There are 968 registered voters – and we don’t register by party in Mississippi.

I have no internet connection here, so there’s not much to do. The security guard has a TV, so I check in with her every so often, but she’s not paying close attention. She said Vermont had gone for Obama and Kentucky for McCain.

I’m feeling upbeat and calm about the national elections. I feel sure Obama/Biden will win easily – and we won’t be up all night waiting – or in the courts the next day. Statewide is different. I’m really hoping that Democrat Ronnie Musgrove can beat the Republican Roger Wicker, but I doubt it will happen.

My biggest concern is for the Supreme Court. Oliver Diaz is the incumbent. He’s a Democrat, although judges run in nonpartisan races. The Republican opponent is named “Bubba” Pearce. Can you imagine a Supreme Court Judge called Bubba? Big money – mostly from out of state – has poured into this race – and it has not been pretty. I have received more mail on this race than any other – almost all anti Diaz. I also got tons of anti Musgrove mail. I received no negative mail from Musgrove or Diaz – just positive – and always mentioning the rest of the Democratic candidates.

I’ve also received dozens of robo calls. Somehow the Republicans must think I’m one of them – or else their targeting is bad. The robo calls were not negative. This week I quit getting Republican calls – did they run out of money – or did they finally figure out I was a waste of time. But the calls for Musgrove and Diaz increased big time. Now the Democrats must think I’m black, because all the callers who identified themselves were prominent black politicians or lawyers – except Bill Clinton who called for Musgrove. My last call of the day was from Obama asking me to vote for Musgrove. Of course, I told him I would be happy to!

Of course, most of these calls were a waste of time, because a few weeks ago, I voted absentee – a privilege afforded those of us over 65. I also received a call from a real live pollster.

The voter turnout was 75% - amazing! Of the 968 registered voters, 535 voted today, plus the 185 absentee ballots.

The results for this precinct are interesting. McCain got 73% of the vote - not really surprising. However, Wicker got only 66% and Pearce only 58%. I think this looks good because Musgrove cut into the Republican vote - and Diaz even more so.

I must tell you about the absentee vote counting. The poll workers all knew what they were supposed to do - look at each absentee ballot, accept or reject it, stamp the voter as having voted absentee, and write their name in the book. However, they had no idea HOW to do it. After much discussion, this is what they came up with. One person carefully looked at each ballot to determine if it was acceptable. If she didn't know for sure, she asked for help from the election commissioners. Then she read out the name - and she was having trouble reading the writing and pronoucing the name. The rest of the poll workers had their voter lists divided up by alphabet - just like during the day. They did nothing while the first woman examined the ballot. Then they looked up the name after she read it and stamped it. Then the ballot went to another worker who wrote it in the book.

When I finally left, they had barely made a dent in the pile. It was all I could do to control myself from going over there and organizing a more efficient system. However, it was at least being done diligently and honestly.

The ballots won't be opened and actually counted until tomorrow or the next day.

Now I'm off to a victory (hopefully) party.

Election Night 2008 in Lil Ole Natchez

Well, after two long years, this election is finally here - and in a few hours, we'll know the results.

My polling place is the Courthouse right downtown. It's a Republican district. I went down early this morning, and the first thing I noticed was no signs and no people working the poll. That's very unusual - I was shocked. There is no place to put up signs, so we've always had people standing there with signs. I have no idea what this means - if anything.

I was there until 9 am, and there was no waiting and no lines, although there was a steady stream of voters. I checked several times during the day, and the number of voters did seem encouraging. At least there were no problems - other than one intellectually challenged poll worker who had trouble hearing and with the alphabet. But a supervisor was helping her, so it wasn't too bad.

It's 5:30 and I'm on my way to the poll to stay until it closes, when I'll get the votes and call them in. I'll take my laptop and may be able to write while I'm there.

To be continued. . .