Friday, April 30, 2010

Jazzfest 2010-NOLA

My daily update on Jazzfest this year will be on The Voice rather than here. However, videos and such that don't make the cut on the news site will featured here. So, here's three of them!

#1 is a video of one of many youthful (i.e., under 18 yrs old) bands that play for free all along Bourbon Street and the rest of the French Quarter. In this case, its a brass band.

#2 is what happens at JazzFest when one is under the influence of too many mild altering products, be it beer or other stuff. The band Government Mule was the inspiration.

And #3? A crowd of German tourists who come to JazzFest each year on "holiday". The Swedish flag is inexplicable, but their version of Oh Susannah...a hoot! The bar was Dominic's on Carondolet.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Next?

And so Bike Week is over and after working almost every day at the Shrine food sale booth at Vertigo's, I found myself tired of beer, BBQ, Italian sausage, motorcycles, and even scantily clad women. In fact, I took no pictures of any women the last day, so those who despise the objectification of the fairer sex can take some solace.

The blog has taken a huge backseat and the daily visits reflect the results. I now have three jobs I juggle. It doesn't even come close to the money I made as a banker, and I am far more busy, but its a good stress rather than a bad one. My mortgage business would be lucrative for the second quarter if all the stuff I have originated might actually close. We are in the process of changing that business, so have been busy with the prep, including my umpteenth drug test and criminal background check. I have given more "samples" for drug tests in the past three years than I can count.

Most of my political stuff ends up on The Voice, but I am trying to find a way to balance the blog with the news site without depriving the money making side (The Voice) of content. And, I am trying to find a "voice" for the blog--now that I report on politics I have tempered the type of writing that my followers (where I was mostly preaching to the choir) liked.

Because I have been so busy..humor and satire, the other "draw" for this blog has taken a back seat.

What else? Selling ads for the Voice is a ton of work. I hope the community supports us by buying ads (the Voice is a quality product in my opinion) and readers show appreciation for a free, daily news source with video and other stuff the dead-tree press can't do by patronizing our advertisers and telling the businesses they patronize "Hey--I read the Voice and you should advertise there".

I have one more Econ class to take in the summer session at ECU--another graduate level course. And, I have two Pol Sci classes slated for Fall 2010 at COA and three for Spring, including my first Econ class I hope. So, busy is and will remain the word of the day.

Keep checking in. Sooner or later I'll get my blog mojo back in gear and figure out how to do split my time between the Voice and here. And thanks for keeping up!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

OBX Bike Week-Part 3

OK--the boring pix should be on The Voice, along with I hope-- some cool video from the burnout pit competition at Vertigo.

So, here's what I do best--bikes and girls...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

OBX Bike Week-Part 2--Support Good Causes

Two good causes for visitors at OBX Bike Week to help with. On Saturday morning, April 24 the Manteo Masonic Lodge on Hwy 64/264 (the main drag in Manteo) is having a pancake breakfast to raise money for our two charities; the Masonic Home for Children in Oxford, NC, and the Whitestone (Eastern Star/Masonic) Eldercare/Retirement Center in Greensboro, NC.
$5 gets you pancakes, sausage, fruit and juice. All proceeds go to the charity. Bikers welcomed, encouraged and begged to come. Hooter's is competing with us this year with their own pancake breakfast, so it may be a tough year. Take the old way through Manteo if you are on your way to Vertigo's rather than taking the new bridge. Times are 7-10AM.

EVERY day, the Dare County Shrine Club's Beach Bum unit is cooking up BBQ (we smoke the butts ourselves over a slow cooker--this ain't store bought BBQ), eastern NC style; grilled chicken breasts and Italian sausage subs. All sandwiches $4; proceeds to the Unit which in turn raises money and provides PR for the Shrine Children's Hospitals--we operate over 20 of these facilities for both burn and birth defect victims and no patients pay a penny--even if they have insurance. The Shriner tent is at the Vertigo stop on the Bike Week tour in Manns Harbor.

Help out and have some fgu

Sunday, April 18, 2010

OBX Bike Week 2010--Part 1

Views from Vertigo's Tattoo today (Manns Harbor, NC)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My First Tea Party

I've never been to a tea party. Of any kind. Until yesterday. We covered a gathering of the Outer Banks Tea Party for The Voice. The article and some raw video is available here. But I wanted to elaborate on this forum about my observations of the Tea Party, OBX style.

Unlike other media that cover events like this in other markets, we have some advantages with our local media. We live in a small "town", so its easy to know people who attend various events. In my case, as a banker and one who is involved in a number of social and civic venues, I know many of these people very closely.

So, while I wasn't a bit surprised that folks commenting on my article in the Voice had classified the participants as "radical Republicans". That's what happens when you follow the national media, left or right leading with its typical axe to grind. I don't have an axe to grind, and I am as comfortable finding fault with the right as I am with the left--or even the center.

So believe me when I say the OBX version of the Tea Party was not a convention of radicals. Or even Republicans. In fact, based on my own experience at attending GOP events in Dare County, I recognized few, if any of the old party guard in attendance. And, if one held a gun to my head, I would have to say that people I know for a fact were registered Democrats outnumbered the ones I could identify absolutely as Dare GOP members.

Not only was the gathered crowd not radical, the highly educated were well represented. I spotted two former Navy officers, both of who held ranks just below that of flag officer. Several attorneys, one county official with a vast science background, bankers with business degrees, engineers, and several physicians including some in difficult specialties. If you want to classify these folks as uneducated, redneck sheep following the crowd you would be deluding yourself and others.

The crowd was also very well represented by the local business community. Again, as a banker I know these folks. Many are college educated, and among those who aren't, they represent hard working business folks who possess the equivalent of an MBA in practical experience. Any many, if not all of them, are successful. Contractors, computer specialists, insurance and real estate sales people. In fact, even though I've known some of these folks for close to two decades, I had never once heard them utter a political opinion. Nor had I ever seen them at election rallies, candidate forums, or political party gatherings.

And then there was the retirees. A lot of them. Of the ones I knew I again discovered the same pattern. Mostly former corporate people or retired government employees. A few men sported VFW hats and I am certainly not one to place those people on the fringes of the political spectrum.

Not one person I saw was wearing camos or militia garb. No one carried a pistol on their belt. No skinheads, Nazi's, or racist signs. One person's sign did refer to Obama as a fascist, and the word was misspelled "faciast" on the sign. I dislike the current vogue of throwing about that word to describe people on the right and left with which we disagree, as I feel it diminishes the true meaning of the word and its realities as practiced by the Nazi Party in Germany before and during World War II.

In short, I believe both parties should heed this movement. I know Republicans will climb on board in order to gain these votes. If they do, they would do best to heed the libertarian arguments while casting aside the more social-conservative elements of their base. The Tea Party is all about economic freedom, less taxation, and fewer restrictions on personal choice and lifestyle. Confusing this movement with the religious right would be the wrong thing to do. And, if Republicans continue to spend as they did under both Bush presidencies, I don't expect their love affair with the Tea Party will last too long.

The Tea Party itself will have to grapple with its big tent. Sooner or late, the same split between libertarians and social-moral conservatives will emerge, just as it did in the GOP. Until then, this group will wield considerable power. But once power at the polls is achieved, expect the same split between laissez-faire capitalists, religious conservatives, and pure libertarians to emerge. Ron Paul and Pat Robertson have more to disagree upon than to share in the political realm.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Outer Banks Taco Bar (O.B.T.B.)

I've already mentioned one taco/burrito eatery at the south end of the beach in Nags Head. Viva is at MP 10.5 in South Beach Plaza and is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked dining options in town. It bothers me to see sparse crowds missing Mexican food that makes Taco Bell look like the pretender to Tex-Mex it is.

Enter another option further north, at M.P. 4.5--The Outer Banks Taco Bar. It sits in a small strip center on the east side of Highway 158. Owned by Eric Drexler and Gabe Stabley, the location opened last October but shut down quickly over the winter. After some remodeling, it is back in business. I must confess I was unaware its existence until one morning, grabbing some coffee at Morning View, I spied the letters OBTB and the word taco on a shirt worn by the owner (I swear the large "OBTB" letters and the word taco was the only reason I my eyes were distracted from the coffee menu). I googled it on my handy Droid phone and found the website and Facebook page.

This taco bar is what I would expect for the Outer Banks, which is a huge compliment. Don't get me wrong---I love a nice restaurant and make the rounds to all of them here. But the real sense and feel of a beach restaurant or bar is only achieved by sparsely appointed places with inexpensive food, a few tables, a bar with plenty of draft beer choices--a place where you would feel completely comfortable in a bathing suit and a tee-shirt. OBTB fits the bill to a tee and reminds me of the cool places in Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks back in the 70's. No pretense, just good eats and place to get a cold brew.

The menu is chock-full of good Hispanic fare. Cactus as a veggie. A one pound burrito. Small ($2.00 per) soft corn tortilla tacos with for real southern-style pulled pork (slow cooked with a dry rub), real hunks of char grilled steak thick enough to tell they were medium rare; chicken, charred veggies, ground beef and even fish. I ordered one pork and one charred beef with a huge side of chips and salsa and a Coke--came to under $6 and had I not been pressed for time I would have added a third taco. The full menu is on the web site.

Eric told me for the summer they plan to have special nights featuring cuisine from various Hispanic countries such as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and others. Can't wait.

The condiment bar is full and includes regular salsa, verde, chipolte and fixins'. My only suggestion would be for the condiment bar to be a tad larger and all the sauces and fixin's labeled.

But, the true test is whether I will be back and the answer is an emphatic "yes". Give it (and Viva) a shot this summer on your vacation.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some Real (Old) OBX History

Can't improve on this story, so simply click on over to Ray Midgett's Eye On Dare site for this article on what is possibly the oldest shipwreck ever located in NC, a British warship that sank off Corolla in 1698.

There is a second, newer post you can access by going to the blog's homepage which shows the keel and bottom ribbing in full view before it was moved to a safer location.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Guam Will Capsize

This Georgia congressman, who replaced another Georgia congresswoman who thought George Bush knew of the 9/11 attacks in advance. Here, Rep. Johnson opines to a US Navy admiral that stationing 8,000 U.S. Marines on Guam may cause the island to tip over, among other ecological disasters. Later, his spokesperson characterized it as a subtle, metaphorical joke. You make the call.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A New Mortgage Dawn ( or 2005 Once Again)

When we awoke this glorious Outer Banks day, the mortgage world had changed, In fact, it took a step backwards, which is not necessarily a negative.

It is a shame that so many things affecting our daily lives are massively complicated; so much so that most of us have no idea how their inner-workings impact each of us and our ability to earn a living. As I have mentioned in prior posts, banks and mortgage lenders do not-- indeed-- cannot raise enough liquidity to fund thirty-year mortgage loans and hold them in their internal portfolios for any significant length of time. If they did, they soon would soon run out of loanable funds. Banks need to constantly replenish their stash of loan funds.

Our free market system found a solution for this dilemma--a vehicle called Mortgage Backed Securities. Simply stated, banks would hold mortgage loans to the point in time when they needed to replenish their liquidity so they were able to extend more loans. Thus, they would bundle these loans into a "package" and sell them in the "market" to institutional investors (pension funds, mutual fund managers, large banks, foreign governments) willing to take some risk (as opposed to so-called "zero risk" investments such as US Treasury bonds) in order to receive a return somewhere higher than a US bond while lacking the downside risk of the stock market.

These MBS's, in our recent past, were supposed to be composed of mortgage loans that were uniform--i.e., the loans in the bundle all went through uniform documentation and the various borrowers had similar credit scores, debt to income ratios, and objective appraisals. Rating houses such as Standard & Poor's or Moody's were supposed to audit the loans comprising these MBS bundles, and issue reliable risk ratings such that institutional purchasers of these securities were afforded some confidence in their investment.

Somewhere along the road to the Great Recession, the rating agencies failed to recognize the weakness of the individual loans comprising these MBS's, and purchasers of these instruments took a bath--not only in the United States--but the entire global market-as borrowers defaulted in unprecedented numbers.

Remember as kids when we all thought boys and girls transmitted 'cooties" to one another? Buyers of MBS's now feel the same way--mortgage loans are cootie-infested and the old maxim of "once burned, twice shy" pervades the industry. No one will buy mortgage loan securities anymore, even if the underwriting standards have become so ridiculously stringent (and they have) that it would become virtually impossible for default-probable mortgage loan to find its way into a bundled security. Trust me, the standards on credit scores, the massive documentation to verify employment and assets, even verifying income and job status has become a game where the broker or originator must prove the borrower is not a crook intent on misrepresenting their financial situation.

So, private investors, which formerly purchased the bulk of mortgage loans extended by banks, mortgage lenders, and brokers--disappeared. As part of the stimulus packages of 2009, the Federal Reserve began to supply funds to purchase mortgage loans to the two largest (and currently, the only major purchasers) mortgage purchasers-- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This influx of massive government funds drove down the interest rate and yield on these securities, which kept mortgage loan rates artificially low. As recently as last week, a 30-year mortgage priced at 4.875% yielded enough return to make both the lender, the borrowers and the broker happy with the rate. One day after the expiration of government intervention, the rate has risen to somewhere between 5.125% and 5.25%.

The Fed market intervention has taken place since spring 2009. However, on March 31, the Federal Reserve ceased purchasing ten-year Treasury bonds (the standard index used to determine mortgage loan rates) and turned over to the private sector the responsibility of creating a secondary market for purchasing bundled mortgage loans. That is good news for free market advocates and libertarians.

The bad news? Institutional investors, unlike the Federal Reserve, actually care about the risk inherent in purchasing mortgage securities. And these private investors are not convinced that newly made mortgage loans will avoid default. As a result, they are demanding higher yields on those ten-year Treasuries (likewise, they don't put as much faith in the safety of T-bills given the nation's massive and growing debt-a double-whammy to risk assessment). And, mortgage rates have begun climb--from the 4.875% previously cited (in March) to 5.125 and even 5.25% in April. Simple economics--the higher the perceived risk of an investment, the higher return demanded by the investor. If the government, with its huge debt load now must sell its T-bills to investors other than the Fed, the rate on ten-year notes will rise, and the mortgage security market issues will follow suit as their instruments are perceived to carry even more risk than Uncle Sam's promise to repay his debt.

Although I personally doubt the most pessimistic prognostications from the talking heads at CNBC, Fox Business News and Bloomberg, some experts predict a 200-300 basis point increase in mortgage rates (100 basis points equals 1% in interest rates)--so it's conceivable to imagine thirty-year rates rising as high as 8.25% by December n2010.

In any event, as of today, we have reverted to a mortgage market where rates and yields will be determined by institutional investors rather than being propped up (or more accurately, tamped down) by the Fed. Given the link nationally, and especially locally to real estate sales and economic health, we are either on the cusp of yet another downturn in home sales and purchases, or we shall see a resurgence of private-sector competition in the acquisition of loan portfolios and securities. If the former takes place, the Outer Banks is in for a tough two or three years.

On the other hand, if the private sector becomes comfortable with the quality of mortgage loans (and they should given the now-below market appraised values, the full vetting of income, assets, and documents required to submit loans to investors, as well as record low home prices), we might not only be witness to a resurgence of "conforming" primary residence lending, but also a return to second home, condominium, and pure investment home loans, including the elusive "jumbo investment home"--a category that comprises 40% or more of our housing stock.

For the sake of all my friends in real estate sales, construction, subcontracting, building supplies, as well as the insurers, lawyers and others who facilitate mortgage lending, I sincerely hope the private sector puts behind them the bad experiences of the past four years and enters into a new, yet saner, approach to mortgage lending and home loan products which are notably absent from our current market.