Editorial

I am currently a staff writer for Grey Cell, where I provide analysis of foreign relations and conflict zones in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Before writing for Grey Cell, I had a regular column on the now-defunct news website Dark City Times.

The bulk of the articles below were published in The Lumberjack, in its weekly print newspaper and on its website, JackCentral.com. These are from my weekly opinion column that I wrote for The Lumberjack from September 2008 – December 2009, before taking on the position of section editor.

As a columnist and reporter, I have experience writing about politics, local news and feature stories.

Walking with the Diné
By Jonny Eberle
November 19, 2011

Wind whips along U.S. Route 160, a two-lane rural highway that stretches like an obsidian necklace across the sandstone hills and valleys of the Navajo Nation. Sand blows from one dusty shoulder to the other in long trails that twist and wriggle like ethereal snakes. A row of plywood booths is strung out from the road. Brightly painted signs try to entice drivers to pull over. “Art Sale,” one reads. “Native American Arts and Crafts,” reads another.

Susan Gregg, a resident of Tuba City, shares a booth with a friend, where she sells her handmade jewelry. She handpicks every stone and grinds and polishes each one. Such intimate contact with her work has given her almost encyclopedic knowledge about each one. All of her jade comes from Alaska. She finds picture jasper in the hills around Prescott and quartz from geodes on the Reservation. Most of the materials she uses are believed to have special healing powers, she explains. Juniper seeds were worn to funerals to protect mourners from the spirit of the deceased.

“I remember finding stones when I was a child,” Gregg says. “My grandfather let me herd his sheep when I was just a little girl. I would go out and take an old coffee can with me to hold the stones I found.”

Gregg retired from her job at the Social Security Administration in 2001, after which she taught herself to make jewelry from patterns she found online.

“I am one of those people who doesn’t like to be idle. I like to keep busy,” she says. She gets supplemental income from selling her work at the booth, but admits that times are tough, even during the holidays and tourist season.

“It’s a good hobby, but you don’t get rich doing it,” she says.

Gregg isn’t the only one who has noticed a decline in the economy of the Navajo Reservation recently. Entrepreneurs across the Reservation have seen a slump in sales. Some people like Genevieve Gonnie, who runs a food stand out of a trailer in Leupp, Ariz., blame the Nation’s restrictive leasing process for hampering the start of new businesses.

Dolly Lane is the Principal Economic Development Specialist at the Navajo Nation Regional Business Development Office in Tuba City, AZ. Her second story office overlooks a small, nondescript strip mall. Multiple windows in the building have been broken and covered up with sheets of plywood. Shards of glass litter the ground below and glitter in the late afternoon sun.

Lane is one of the people tasked with packaging all of the business leases for the western region of the Navajo Nation. She admits that getting permission is to start a business on the Reservation is hard.

“First, you need to get permission from the people who have grazing rights on the land; who have livestock,” Lane says. “After you get land consent, you need to get a supporting chapter resolution. The Chapter members need to vote to approve it.”

Once business owners get permission from the other land users and from the chapter, then they have to get surveys conducted by the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife before the application is sent to Window Rock, where the lessee must pass a credit check and get approval from the Department of Economic Development. If there are no problems with their application or their credit, the president must then sign off on each and every lease before a business owner can break ground.

Lane estimates that the entire process can take one year if everything goes smoothly. Leases for new business sites last 25 years and usually come with an option to extend it for another 25 years.

“We’re encouraging communities to withdraw land and conduct surveys now to shorten the process,” Lane adds. Pushing lands through the review process could dramatically shorten the time it takes to get approval for a new business site.

Once businesses are approved, owners must still pay rent to the nation, though some businesses can get their first three years of rent waived if they’re building on the site, in an effort to help small businesses recoup their investments.

The combination of a long and complicated application process and the prospect of paying rent to the government is enough to dissuade many entrepreneurs from seeking legal status, preferring to set up temporary sites on the side of the road.

Nash Myers sells roasted, salted pinions and red chile tamales out of a cooler in the back of his red Ford F-150 on the side of Leupp Road. It was too hard on his family for him to be commuting over 100 miles per day and too expensive to pay for gas and maintenance on the truck, so he gave up his job in Flagstaff as a river runner.

“We’re doing pretty good now,” he says. “As long as we have money to pay our bills and put food on the table for our little girl, it’s good.”

Myers believes that the rural nature of the Reservation makes it easier for people to get jobs in border towns and harder for people in remote areas to get work.

“A lot of families only have one vehicle. So, if you have to go in to work one day, your husband or wife has to take the car and get gas and supplies. It’s tough,” Myers says.

Back in Flagstaff, Mandy Metzger believes that the root of the Navajo Nation’s economic problems is a lack of infrastructure. Metzger represents District 4 on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, which includes much of the western half of the Reservation.

“Some of the things we take for granted as pretty basic services are very hard to come by,” Meztger says. “It’s so far behind. Can you imagine communities not even having lights and water? I think if there were good roads and there was broadband; if there was power and light and water, then I think economic development could really flourish.”

“We’ve had a contract with [the Bureau of Indian Affairs] to maintain the roads, but because the BIA hasn’t been funded, they haven’t paid the county and so everything has stopped,” Metzger says, shaking her head as she points out some of the communities in her district on a large map covered with checkered squares designating private land and trust land.

“With winter coming, it’s a pretty critical situation, but we have to wait for Congress to provide the funding to the BIA to pay for the work. We need to have some funding for the tribes so they can actually catch up with the rest of the world.”

Metzger has only been in office for three years and has never known a Reservation economy that wasn’t struggling.

“It’s never been good while I’ve been in office. I’ve never known good times. I don’t know what they’d be like,” she says. However, she is optimistic that the new casino at Twin Arrows will help generate jobs for 600-800 people.

Sharon Doctor is the Assistant Director of Native American Student Services. She isn’t convinced that the casino is a good idea.

“I’m Navajo and from the get-go, I’ve been opposed to the casino. I’m very concerned that people on a subsistence income will spend it on the casino instead of buying the food they need.”

Doctor thinks the Navajo Nation should be trying to bring more businesses to the area, especially the green energy industry.

“My husband and I went to California and we saw those huge wind turbines to generate electricity,” she says as she props up a piece of poster board in the window to block the glare on her computer monitor. “He said, ‘Why can’t our tribe do that?’ We need to attract businesses to the Nation, not the casino.”

Jonathan Yazzie agrees with Doctor. Yazzie, like many Leupp residents, commutes to Flagstaff for work. He works for Developing Innovations in Navajo Education, Inc. (DINE, Inc.), a non-profit corporation that is “trying to get people back to farming,” he says. “We want to educate people about traditional farming methods. We recently spoke to the head chef at the new casino to see if we can get them to use local produce.”

Yazzie believes that the future of the Reservation is agriculture, not an increased emphasis on casinos and tourism. He is worried about the state of the economy, especially with unemployment rates hovering between 40 and 50 percent.

“I don’t believe in casinos,” Yazzie says. “If we’re going to have jobs for people, it’s good. But a casino? It’s a bad thing.”

Back at her booth on the side of Route 160, Susan Gregg doesn’t have an opinion about the casino. Her fledgling business is a more immediate concern.

“It’s not very good right now. The cost of living has gone up,” she says. “People want the quality; they want the silver, but they don’t want to pay the price.”

Leupp’s Famous Onion Rings
By Jonny Eberle
November 10, 2011

You can see Leupp from miles around, where it’s perched on a small plateau overlooking the high desert. Surrounding the town are dozens of small houses, each spread over several acres. Cows look up from grazing on small patches of yellowed wild grass to watch my car speed down the rough, two lane road leading into town.

On Leupp Road — the only named street in the tiny town of 1,605 — across a two-and-a-half foot deep trench filled with rainwater, sits an 18-foot trailer with a flashing LED sign in the window reading “Open.” Behind it, the Leupp Boarding School looms like a fortress and the spire of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pierces the clear blue sky. In comparison, the trailer looks insignificant, but it is the home of an unlikely success story. The smell of hamburgers and deep fried onion rings wafts over the whole area around the trailer, attracting several dogs. One car after another braves the deep puddle to get there. I follow suit, figuring that the locals know best.

Inside, Chris Begay and Genevieve Gonnie are busy preparing a brown bag special for a customer. In between orders, we chat about their business.

“We’ve been doing this for what? Three… Four… Four-and-a-half years?” Begay says, looking to his business partner.

“Yeah, four-and-half years,” Gonnie confirms.

Begay and Gonnie are the co-owners of L.A. Fresh Grill. They started by offering free fry bread to people who filled out credit applications back when they both sold cars. They soon found that they could make more money selling their food than they could on commission and so they set up on the side of the road one day with some fry bread. Three hours later, they sold out. Eight months later, they had enough money to buy their trailer.

They consider themselves fortunate to have done so well for themselves. Some of the other vendors parked around here have been selling the same thing for 20 or 30 years and still drive the same broken down vehicles, Begay says.

L.A. Fresh Grill has become a staple in Leupp. Regular customer Jonathan Yazzie is quick to inform me that the onions rings are “the best.”

“We had a couple older ladies drive all the way from Ship Rock just to come to our food stand,” Begay says with an air of pride. “We’ve sent fry bread to Miami —”

“—And Canada,” his aunt, who often comes to visit, interjects.

When asked about the state of the state of the economy in the area, though, their smiles fade a little. L.A. Fresh Grill has seen a decline in its clientele over the past year.

“It’s the economy,” Gonnie says, shaking her head bitterly.

Still, things are looking up for the pair. They have hopes of opening a permanent cafe, but it’s hard to get around the bureaucratic red tape.

“There’s a lot of favoritism with the Navajo Nation,” Gonnie says. She leans a little closer to the small window. “There are a lot of people who want to start things, but it’s hard to get permission to do it.”

Living in the shadow of September 11th
By Jonny Eberle
September 11, 2011

On September 11, 2001, I was watching TV in my family’s small apartment in Flagstaff. Thousands of miles away, four planes had crashed — two into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and another in a field in rural Pennsylvania. The towers had collapsed and no one knew how many were dead. Ripples of fear paralyzed the nation. Somewhere amid the montage of destruction on the news, I saw a man jump out of a window to his death.

The world would never be the same. It is 10 years later, and on the solemn anniversary of that dark morning, it is clear to see that we have not had a moment of peace since then. Our troops — our friends, our neighbors, our classmates and our family — were sent to fight two fruitless wars that have cost us over $3.7 trillion and 6,000 American lives  Our government’s power increased exponentially. Our country was gripped by a paralyzing fear of everything and everyone of a different race or belief system. We changed a lot in 10 years.

We increased security at airports, at bridges, at ports, and at in government buildings. Sometimes, the security is so obtrusive that you can’t help but wonder if it’s even worth it. What is there left to protect in the post-9/11 world?

In 1775, as revolution was brewing in the American Colonies, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” If you look around, and you will see how completely we have forgotten his wisdom.

The terrorists who planned and carried out the September 11th attacks wanted us to be afraid. They wanted us to give up our liberty. They wanted us to spy on our own citizens and pour our resources into useless retaliation. They wanted to take away everything that made America a great nation. The worst part is they didn’t need to do it themselves. We did it for them.

In the early-1950s, when faced with the blind fear and runaway power wielded by Senator McCarthy, journalist Edward R. Murrow said, “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”

We, too, have a responsibility to our republic. We cannot rewrite the past or bring back the dead, but we can chart a new course for the United States of America. There are two possible futures: One where we allow the vice-grip of fear and the people in power who use fear to rob us of everything that made us great, and one where we stand up and refuse to submit to the tyranny of terror.

Today, we mark the tragic loss of 2,977 American lives and, hopefully, commit ourselves to creating a new America. We should remain vigilant and prepared for a similar attack, but we should not let that serve as an excuse for letting our founding principles slip through our fingers. If we forget who we are and what we used to stand for, then the terrorists have won and we have nothing left to fight for.

When historians look back on 9/11, I don’t know whether they will mark that date as the beginning of America’s decline or its rebirth. We, as a nation, can learn from the mistakes we’ve made since September 11th. We can either choose to bomb our way into financial oblivion, threaten to burn each other’s holy books and restrict freedoms in the name of national security — or we can choose to reassert our identity as a proud, diverse and tolerant Americans.

Original post on The Dark City Times.

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Arizona must raise taxes
By Jonny Eberle
March 31, 2011

It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that Arizona is in serious trouble. The state is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall going into the 2012 fiscal year. The cuts laid out in Governor Jan Brewer’s Executive Budget proposal seek to close that gap by any means necessary — and nothing is safe from the legislative axe.

The budget has already been drastically slashed over the last four years. Hundreds of state jobs have been eliminated and programs vital to the state’s future growth and stability have been downsized. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Department of Commerce, which is responsible for job training, promoting trade, investment, economic diversification and development, has already received cuts totaling 70.4 percent of its budget from 2007-2011 and is facing further reductions.
  • The Department of Administration has been forced to lay-off 34 percent of its employees (272 full-time positions) since 2008.
  • Over the past four years, $24.3 million of the Arizona Lottery’s revenues — money usually appropriated to local governments, homeless shelters, and state parks — was instead rerouted to the state general fund.
  • From 2007-2011, the Department of Health Services saw its budget reduced from $549.2 million to $438.9 million, even though it had a 25 percent increase in its operating costs.
  • Over the past 10 years, the percentage of funding Northern Arizona University has received from the state has decreased from 41 percent of its budget to 25 percent. Despite past draconian cuts to the budgets of the three state universities, the Arizona Legislature is currently poised to take away a further $198 million.
  • However, even though education has seen nothing but reductions over the past four years, the Department of Corrections has received significant budget increases every single year from 2007 to 2011. It is expected to receive $957 million for 2012 — an $8.4 million increase from last year.

All this adds up to a state in financial free fall. Instead of improving the quality of life for Arizonans, our elected officials have made it a less attractive place to live and conduct business. It is important to remember the recession wasn’t their fault. The state government didn’t get us into this mess, but they have made the situation worse. While it does make sense to cut unnecessary expenditures, the state has begun to hack into programs that are important to Arizona in the long run — programs affecting education, public health and social services. Soon, you reach a point where you can’t cut anymore.

The Republicans have made a big fuss about making tough decisions when it comes to balancing the state budget. They have been all too eager to cut funding left and right in the so-called “true spirit of fiscal conservatism.” So far, though, all of their plans have failed to fix the problem.

If our legislators truly wanted to do something, they would realize that Arizona can’t continue to reduce its expenses. Arizona already ranks 49th out of 50 states in education spending per student. Statewide, nearly 15 percent of all Arizonans live below the federal poverty level (a figure surpassing 17 percent in Flagstaff, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). Cutting education and aid programs further is tantamount to sounding a death knell for Arizona’s future.

If we really want to turn around our state’s dire situation, we need to increase our revenue. We must raise taxes. Even a small increase in sales and property taxes could help close the gaping wound in the state’s budget. Raising taxes is not a popular idea, but we must take desperate measures if the state is going to survive and thrive in the coming decade.

As the Arizona Legislature debates the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, they must think long-term. They must be willing to do what is unpopular to get us out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves. We must invest what little money we have wisely and avoid cutting programs vital to the middle and working classes.

We cannot continue to cut funding as if the budget is a bottomless pit of spending. The stakes could not be higher. If we don’t invest in the future, Arizona won’t have one.

Original post on The Dark City Times

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An Independent Response to the State of the Union Address
By Jonny Eberle
January 26, 2011

Last night’s State of the Union Address by President Obama was many things, but it was not a bipartisan lovefest. Despite the prom date-style seating arrangements, it was clear the Democrats and Republicans are still deeply divided on most key issues. For those of us who aren’t fans of either party, it was difficult to know how to feel about the speech. So today, let me give you one registered independent’s perspective on last night’s address.

To start off, this year’s State of the Union was not nearly as exciting as past addresses. Obama’s remarks were significantly toned down from the kind of rhetoric that won him the presidency in 2008. While he resisted the temptation to take shots at his political opponents, he did outline a few ambitious legislative goals for the next year.

“The future is ours to win.”

Not surprisingly, Obama placed a great deal of emphasis on tax breaks and job creation and was even able to illicit a few positive reactions from the Republicans in the room. This continues the president’s continuing backpedaling from the stimulus package and the so-called “job killing healthcare bill.”

While talk of cutting taxes for working families and doubling American exports over the next five years made me feel good inside, I still feel that these measures are short of the economic jump-start this country so desperately needs. Nice words, but they are still vague shadows without any real substance.

Obama then went on to inspire his audience to support a new era of American innovation by recalling the technological revolution sparked by the Space Race. The president referred to his plan as “an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless jobs for our people.” For me, these words hit home. America is at its best when we’re creating and competing. Obama has extended a clear call to action for our country to get in gear and innovate and educate our way out of this economic crisis — a view that some state governors who shall remain unnamed *cough*Brewer*cough* would do well to adopt.

“…Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.”

The next big thing Obama tackled was the deficit. A nation $14 trillion in debt cannot continue to sustain itself and in my view is unacceptable. Obama took a drastic step and proposed a freeze on domestic spending for the next five years. While I highly doubt he can deliver on this promise, it sets a tone in Washington that could make the word “spending” taboo.

How exactly Obama intends to invest in green technology, raise education standards and cut taxes while confiscating the federal government’s checkbook is yet to be seen. I’m skeptical, but the idea is good, even if the specifics are hazy.

“…American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.”

Near the end of his address, President Obama touched on issues beyond our borders, most notably about the coming end of the Iraq War, America’s continued fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reducing nuclear weapons, and supporting liberty in war-torn regions of the world. This portion of the speech was almost a footnote to the economic overtones of the address, which was unfortunate, but Obama can be forgiven for having a little tunnel vision given public outcry over jobs and the shattered housing market.

“Our destiny remains our choice.”

Overall, Obama was trying to inspire our country to reach a kind of greatness that we haven’t attained in a long time. To me, that was the ultimate message — that our country is a place where big ideas can take root and grow to change the world.

The president did not, however, give the kind of concrete solutions that I would’ve liked to hear. As much as I appreciate inspiration, this speech likely will not change the course of our nation.

As Abraham Lincoln (ironically) noted in his Gettysburg Address, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” This address will soon fade from public memory. The lasting impact will be the legislation that is passed into law in the next year, not the rhetoric of one Constitutionally-mandated speech.

In the humble opinion of this voter, actions speak louder than words. President Obama has eloquently set the stage, but I will not be impressed until I see the change I was promised in the 2008 campaign.

Our destiny is our choice and the choice is now in the hands of the lawmakers. Time to deliver.

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Supreme Court ruling is an attack on democracy
By Jonny Eberle
January 22, 2010

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision to lift previous restrictions on corporate election spending. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, ignores all precedent by overturning two previous Supreme Court rulings and pulling the teeth out of the McCain-Feingold Act. In the past, corporations could not fund a political ad naming a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The days when campaigns were free from corporate tyranny are over.

The majority opinion of the court confirms that money is a form of political speech and is therefore protected by the First Amendment.

Of course, people should have the right to donate to political campaigns, but multinational corporations are not people and they should not be afforded the same protections. When we give faceless organizations the same rights as human beings, we are diluting and cheapening the rights of the real people. Corporations are now free to throw their vast resources into the political arena and drown out the voices of voters.

This court decision is infuriating and will surely come back to haunt us. It is an affront to everything the United States stands for and a kick in the groin to the democratic ideals upon which our great nation was founded.

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Royal Inn fire causes room shortage
By Jonny Eberle
January 21, 2010

From Route 66, the Royal Inn looks like any other motel along the historic road. In the office window, one sign announces room vacancies while another reminds patrons the Royal Inn is a drug- and alcohol-free facility. The Royal Inn is unique among Flagstaff motels because its guests are typically homeless. On any given night, 30 people used to stay here, but after a fire broke out in one of the rooms on Christmas Eve, only seven residents remain.

The Royal Inn is currently looking for local residents and organizations to help them refurbish the damaged rooms. In all, 14 people were evacuated, and many are still not able to return. The fire was most likely started by a mattress that had been pushed up against a space heater while the room was being cleaned.

Lynette Bybee runs the Royal Inn with her husband, Kent. She said the motel is struggling to stay open for people with nowhere else to go.

“We’re trying to hang on,” Lynette said. “We had a lot of help from churches after the fire, but we still haven’t started renovations. We have an adopt-a-room program now to help refurbish the rooms.”

The Blue Key Society is currently building a playground at the motel, but Lynette said more volunteers are needed to get the program back up and running.

In 2005, Kent and Lynette Bybee bought the Royal Inn to create a safe and sober environment for people down on their luck in the Flagstaff area. In 2008, the Bybees partnered with Inn Transitions, a non-profit group that provides referral and advocacy services to people who have fallen on hard times. With Inn Transitions, the Bybees are able to provide discounted rooms.

“Just being a motel was not good enough,” Lynette said. “We wanted to help take the stigma out of who is homeless and why.”

The Bybees work very closely with Inn Transitions Board President Kristine Ketel to help guests find permanent work and housing.

“Frequently, by the time we talk to a client, they’re so overwhelmed in the crisis mode that it’s hard to see a way out,” Ketel said.

Jerome Gunderson is a tall, 67-year-old man. He volunteers at the motel doing a little bit of everything — from answering phones, to cooking, to handling the special needs of some of the motel’s guests. He asks for no compensation for his work in appreciation of the support he received from the Bybees when he stayed at the inn.

“I’ve been in the Flagstaff area for a year and a half,”Gunderson said. “For the last year, I have been living in Section 8 housing. Prior to getting Section 8, I was living out of my pick-up in the woods.”

Section 8 is a government housing program for low-income individuals.

Gunderson lived in his truck for four years before finally getting into permanent housing. He credits Lynette with supporting him during that difficult time.

“She literally saved my life,” Gunderson said.

Guests at the motel include families, single men and women, and single parents with children who cannot stay at any of the shelters in town.

The organization helps people apply for food stamps, get duplicate driver’s licenses and birth certificates, provides classes in its lobby, distributes free dinner on Saturday nights, and hosts a faith-based anger management group.

Gunderson said he believes there is a real need for a place like the Royal Inn in Flagstaff, where there are an estimated 1,530 homeless children enrolled in local schools.

“With the other organizations, nothing gets done,” Gunderson said. “Only we will bother with the people society does not want.”

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New Orleans fighting to flourish
By Jonny Eberle
April 9, 2009

Contrary to popular belief, New Orleans is alive. Three-and-a-half years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, the city has rebuilt itself, but there are still years of work to be done.

When I boarded the plane for my spring break trip to New Orleans, I was expecting to find a Third World country in the Deep South rather than a bustling metropolis. My job for the week was to help rebuild damaged houses. While many sections of the city are still uninhabited, much has improved. People whose homes were washed away when the levees breached in August 2005 have started to trickle back to rebuild on the bare foundations left behind by the storm. Local businesses are getting back on their feet. The citizens who call the Big Easy home are beginning to put their lives back together.

When I was preparing to leave for my trip, I heard people comment that New Orleans should be abandoned. Sadly, the local, state and federal governments seem to agree this great city got what it deserved. New Orleans is home to thousands of people, and yet the only relief it sees is from volunteers. The government needs to wake up and do its part to help rebuild so New Orleans can come back better than before Katrina.

I have seen firsthand that New Orleans is rising from the ashes of destruction. AtPreservation Hall, a small jazz club, I saw 88-year-old Dave Bartholomew — the man who wrote Fats Domino’s hit songs — return for the first time since Katrina to lead the band on trumpet. Along the Industrial Canal, I saw a woman have her gutted home rebuilt to accommodate her wheelchair-bound mother-in-law. In Lakeview, where the flood water reached 11 feet, I saw a man put the finishing touches on his historic home before bringing his family home from Nashville.

New homes have been built, and old ones have been refurbished, but the ghosts of the hurricane that changed the course of so many lives are still ever present. Skeletons of houses, some that have yet to be cleared of rotting food and furniture, remain as stark reminders of the disaster. Stories are still told of people trapped on their roofs by floodwaters,and potholes miles from the lake are still filled with oyster shells. 

New Orleans is a vibrant community, full of both Southern hospitality and big-city sophistication. Most of all, the people are thankful for the help they have received.

With rebuilding efforts expected to continue well into the next decade, more must be done. The government has abandoned New Orleans, but we cannot. Pressure needs to be put on lawmakers to appropriate more funds to the cause, and if you have a free week or two, get on a plane and go lend a hand. With help, New Orleans will rise again.

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Short Takes: Obama wins presidential election
By Jonny Eberle
November 6, 2008

Tuesday night, Barack Obama’s campaign strategy paid off. An effective ground game combined with a strong get-out-the-vote operation in the 11th hour of the campaign paid off.

Tuesday evening, as the results started to filter in, it appeared that it would be a long night. Several battleground states remained too close to call, and for some time, I was starting to think that a tie could still be a possibility.

I, along with millions of Americans, was glued to both the news and the Internet as the tally was counted.

Fears of a repeat of 2000 as the polls tightened in the final days were dispelled and the Illinois senator claimed victory.

Now, in the two months before the inauguration, Obama has some healing to do before he assumes office. The United States has been bitterly divided into blue and red states; Republicans and Democrats; rich and poor.

With the elections behind us, we need to unite to face the incredible hardships ahead. We are a country facing war and economic turmoil. Even a cynic like me can hope for the future.

There is a still a long way to go to change this nation, but the foundation has been laid with the election of our 44th president. Obama still has much to prove, and now he has his chance. This is a monumental turning point in the history of America.

The voters have spoken loud and clear.

Now all we have left to ask is who Joe the Plumber voted for.

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New president has tons of work ahead of him
By Jonny Eberle
October 30, 2008

Dear Mr. President-elect,

Have pity on the working man. This country has serious problems and it will be your job to fix them. The man who emerges as the victor of this political pie fight has eight years of failed policy to reverse and a floundering economy to rescue. We are not going to cast our ballots based on your attacks on your opponent, your party association or your catchphrases. We are weighing your positions on the major issues that threaten the safety and prosperity of this nation, and that will decide who the next commander-in-chief will be.

Senators, we are not easily impressed. You have made many promises on the campaign trail. We are going to the polls with these promises in mind and we expect you to deliver. We the people demand immediate action. Eloquent words will not save this country.

This country is bogged down in a two-front war that has stretched our armed forces to their limit. Nearly every day, an American solider is killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. We have had enough American bloodshed. We want the situations in these respective countries to be stabilized and our friends and family members returned home safely.

Secondly, this country needs alternative energy sources now. Americans are no longer asking. You will deliver a clean, renewable, cheap source of energy to start weaning us off of foreign oil during your term in office. Our wallets can’t afford the cost of oil anymore. The love affair is over. Develop solar, wind, geothermal, tide, clean coal and nuclear energy — whatever works. Delays and excuses will not be tolerated.

Finally, our economy is a disaster. Your predecessor stood by and took no action to stop the mortgage lenders from giving loans to people who could not possibly afford to pay them back. Major firms are disappearing left and right and the stock market has taken one of its most severe blows in the past 30 years. We don’t know if your plan can work, but we are willing to try.

Eight years ago, this nation had a surplus and was enjoying one of our greatest booms. It is your responsibility to bring stock prices up, keep the financial sector from drowning in its own incompetence, and salvage the dollar before we are forced to burn greenbacks for warmth. This issue, more than any other, will define your presidency and earn you your rightful place in history. Will that place be next to FDR and Lincoln, or next to Dubya and Nixon?

You have a lot of work ahead of you. The voters are entrusting you with our future. You have four years to show us some progress. If we don’t see it, then you’ll be out of a job. The United States of America demands change. Are you ready to rise to the challenge?

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