Thursday, November 10, 2005

It's not about NOLA

Lots of buzz about today's WaPo article titled Burdens of Past Limit New Orleans's Future. It's an important article and not just because it discusses New Orleans. It's a front page story in the Washington Post. Doesn't get much higher profile than that. The headline means little. This is more than a story about New Orleans. It's about Louisiana. First item: LA as money pit:

"Always broke. Worst school system in the state. Highest crime rate in the nation. Shrinking population. All the corporations have moved out," said Bernie Pinsonat, a political analyst in Baton Rouge. "Any poll I do, the rest of Louisiana thinks, 'New Orleans is a deep, dark hole, and no matter how much money we send, it doesn't seem to get better.' "
Don't hate Pinsonat for speaking the truth. If Louisianans feel that way, why should the rest of the country feel any different? Next item: Pervasive corruption:
In a recent Louisiana State University poll of 419 business executives, corruption was ranked among the worst aspects of doing business in Louisiana. Investors and managers elsewhere are reluctant to come "because they don't want to pay the corruption tax," said Rafael C. Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. "We've seen every type of corruption imaginable," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, whose office indicted 44 public officials in the past fiscal year alone. He pointed to skimming, bribery and shakedowns across a spectrum of government employment: judges, police, teachers, administrators and traffic court workers.
Business leaders surveyed nationwide identified public corruption as a significant problem impeding business in Louisiana. The inept local and state response to crisis in recent months has done little to improve that impression. Last item: Corruption not a thing of the past:
Two judges in Jefferson Parish, the largest New Orleans suburb, face bribery charges. About 50 law officers and employees have been convicted in the past five years of crimes including payroll fraud, drug dealing and extortion. And more than 20 Orleans Parish school employees were recently charged with fraud and extortion. One special-ed teacher pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort money from a student in exchange for a passing grade. In August, FBI agents raided the Washington and New Orleans homes of eight-term Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), suspecting he had illegally pocketed an investor's money. They reportedly found a large amount of cash in a freezer. The same month, a grand jury charged Glenn Haydel, uncle of former mayor Marc Morial, with skimming $550,000 in city money. In a development that offers little comfort for funders of the post-Katrina rebuilding project, three Louisiana emergency-preparedness officials are awaiting trial on charges that they tried to block federal auditors from uncovering the alleged misuse of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. FEMA is demanding that the state repay $30 million, alleging that the money was mishandled.
No wonder Louisiana's complaints about not having the money to repay FEMA are being laughed out of D.C. The recent bond commission vote didn't help much either. And who could forget the requested $250 billion handout? Louisiana's media may neglect to put the state's past and present in its proper context, but no need to worry. The Washington Post is taking care of it for them. And now everybody in the United States can see the big picture. Whatever post-hurricane sympathy existed for Louisiana has already been hopelessly squandered. Tacit message in today's Post? Time for Louisiana to stop playing the victim and start taking some responsibility.