Thursday, January 12, 2006

Myths of Katrina

My column in yesterday's Shreveport Times (no link available) addressed many myths persisting in the months since Katrina & Rita. Full text copied below:

Debunking the Myths of Katrina Several myths have surfaced in the months since Katrina and her aftermath devastated New Orleans and much of southeast Louisiana. It’s time to start debunking them before they become so deeply ingrained they start to be seen as truth. Myth Number 1: Katrina was the only major hurricane to hit Louisiana during the 2005 hurricane season. Not true. By some estimates Rita displaced 10,000 Louisiana businesses, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in crop damage and destroyed a lifetime’s worth of memories for thousands in southwest Louisiana. The region is still reeling from her impact. Myth Number 2: Katrina was an unavoidable natural disaster. Not true. It was the disorganization and ineptitude of elected officials that ensured a strong storm led to an entirely avoidable man-made tragedy costing both lives and property. Myth Number 3: Louisiana’s recovery is inevitable. Not true. The fragile state of Louisiana’s public policy environment and its place in the basement of too many national rankings well before the 2005 hurricane season makes it highly questionable whether the state can recover without a radical change in the way it does business. Myth Number 4: It’s okay for Louisiana to speak with multiple voices in Washington. Not true. The benefits of unified talking points are not overrated. With increasing frequency observers in Washington are expressing concern about the state’s inability to present a single plan for recovery. The question repeatedly posed is, “Who’s in charge?” Myth Number 5: Louisiana’s national reputation for corruption and incompetence is outdated and unfair. Not true. Saying things are different than they used to be doesn’t make it true. When capitol renovations, goat shows and lawn mower races make Louisiana national news, it’s not yet a new day in post-hurricane Louisiana. Myth Number 6: Louisiana isn’t getting its fair share from the federal government in post-disaster relief. Not true. Just because Washington hasn’t honored the state’s outrageous request for $250 billion doesn’t mean the state is getting short shrift in federal aid. Myth Number 7: Ethics laws are unnecessary impediments to the functioning of government. Not true. Substantive ethics laws would make the state look serious about rehabilitating its poor national reputation particularly in the post-Katrina era. When elected officials and their relatives are making millions from recovery-related projects in Louisiana something isn’t right. Myth Number 8: Louisiana’s past holds the key to its future. Not true. There is no reason to believe, based on past performance, that the answers to Louisiana’s current crisis are hidden in the personalities and politics of the past. The perverse mythologies running rampant in Louisiana promise only continued disappointment as long as they’re allowed to persist. And the sooner these myths are displaced by fresh thinking, decisive leadership and meaningful changes to entrenched political practices the better off the state will be.