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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Friday, January 27, 2006

NOLA's image - it's more than the corruption

Beyond Mardi Gras, incomparable food, awesome music, and several parts of town, what was the New Orleans known for before Katrina? Corruption and racism.

I’m not trying to pick on anybody here. It just is. Contrary to some opinions (like Holocaust deniers), history cannot be re-written – at least not overnight. The happy-go-lucky days of Edwin Edwards are long gone, but the legacy continues into today, as this article shows:

Joseph Impastato conceded he took the two cashier's checks worth $85,000. The whole thing was captured on tape by the FBI, so it would have been difficult to deny.

But it was no kickback, the councilman from St. Tammany Parish said. It was business.

When he cut a deal to receive half the money from a government contract to haul away hurricane debris, Impastato said, he was acting as a private businessman, not a public official.

Federal prosecutors are not buying it — and neither apparently is the Louisiana public. After a federal grand jury indicted Impastato on felony extortion charges last month, making him the first Louisiana politician accused of Hurricane Katrina corruption, citizens condemned him in newspapers and on talk radio and the Internet as an embarrassment to his home state.

When people around America think about New Orleans today, though, what do you suppose comes to mind? Corruption? No doubt - but that's really just icing on the cake. Five months after Katrina blew the stuffing out of the Gulf Coast, I think the view people have of New Orleans is possibly much different – and far worse than it was.

Below is an excerpt from a story in the Nashville Scene, where the author takes a deep look at the misery of the St. Bernard projects. It’s a long article (with some adult language), and at the end of it, my conclusion is that there’s NO WAY the city should be bringing things back “as they were”.

… He isn’t going anywhere. He is at home in the projects, where he knows everybody and everybody knows him. He can find his way around without a car and knows where to go to satisfy his “little vices.”

Stolen goods were dispensed in the projects as if it were a giant flea market. “You could buy any kind of weapon,” the man says. “As much as you wanted of whatever you wanted. Uzis. AK-47s. Car rims. Sound systems. Put your order in. If you didn’t like it, you could return it. Money ran through the projects all day. People thought we were a bunch of poor black folks. But we had money.”

Groups of young men calling themselves Hard Headz and Young Gunnerz terrorized the neighborhood. But they were gangs in name only, he says. “There ain’t no gangs in here. Just killers.”

People who need help badly to get their lives back together are being caught up in this entire image / perception problem, and I have absolutely no idea how the cycle can be stopped.

If you do a google search on the terms “New Orleans” crime evacuees, there are 367,000 hits! Do you suppose this is impacting anything?

Here's another little tidbit that jumped out at me recently, in an article about the highly-publicized Ninth Ward:

"You do the right thing, pay your taxes, and the government's supposed to take care of you," Lewis said. "I'm not going to let them run us away."

I suppose it's possible that I'm over-reading that quote, but it struck me as descriptive of a crippling dependence. How on earth has this come about, in America? And how can it be "fixed" in time to save New Orleans?

People need help - whether it's to rebuild, or restart elsewhere. I'm afraid they're not going to get it.