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|Sinking Moral Leadership||
Ray Nagin said at a news conference last week, "Now is the time for some bold leadership, some decisive leadership." Apparently, the same leader who left 206 buses underwater and thousands of people stranded at the Superdome has suddenly found new leadership skills. His answer to Katrina? Build even further below sea level!
An examination of the facts reveals major cracks in Nagin's vision of the future for the famous "city of sin."
First, the whole issue of gambling has, for the past couple of decades, divided the people of Louisiana. Many people object to it on moral grounds. Others correctly point out that the high-paying management jobs go to outsiders, while the low-paying menial jobs go to the locals. Regardless of the reasons, gambling is a divisive issue in a city and state sorely fragmented after the hurricanes.
Second, the casinos that existed in the city prior to the floods struggled financially. Harrah's filed for bankruptcy not once, but twice, and then succeeded only because the state bailed it out with a large tax cut, undermining the original argument for allowing it to exist. The public school system, ever the excuse for expanding the gaming industry, was among the worst in the nation by anyone's standard. New Orleans rolled the dice on gambling once already and failed to beat the odds.
Third, the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the gambling industry all have a long history of corruption. In an area riddled with crime, addiction, poverty, broken families and other human blights, building the economy on higher moral ground would seem to make more sense than taking the low road.
Fourth, casinos and the accompanying hotels, restaurants and other businesses are expensive. To rebuild such costly ventures below sea level again flies in the face of common sense. Putting them on floating barges doesn't remedy anything either -- just ask Mississippi.
Since the storms, I have repeatedly heard how vital the city of New Orleans is to our economy. But never has seedy entertainment been held up as the most crucial factor. In fact, some believe that New Orleans' blossoming convention business would be even bigger if it weren't for the unseemly side of the city. Sure, some people like to go to Bourbon Street to get drunk, watch sex shows and "party," but is that really the epitome of the American Dream? It is disturbing enough to think that our tax dollars are going to help restore witchcraft shops, bars and transsexual strip clubs; but now we're going to push gambling as the savior industry!
Mayor Nagin's leadership may be bold; but it's divisive, socially and economically flawed -- and morally bankrupt. Reconstructing an important American metropolis requires better thinking.
In reality, the essential industries in New Orleans are related to oil and gas, and the port connection between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Given the energy crisis we're facing, it would seem obvious that the key to a brighter future lies in rebuilding the city around those two centers of commerce. The land below sea level should be used for the most expendable purposes, not the most expensive. And a leader with strong character should realize that people are not expendable, which means that government housing should not be located in dangerous, flood-prone areas. Even Jesse Jackson has advised against rebuilding the poverty-plagued Ninth Ward. (In a bizarre side note, Jackson criticized the Bush administration for wanting to "change the character" of Louisiana politics. But isn't that what is needed most?)
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, the founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND) and radio talk show host, wrote, "New Orleans, to the extent it is to be rebuilt, should be remade into a dependency-free, morally strong city where corruption is opposed and success is applauded."
Nature wiped the city of New Orleans clean. We would be smart to rebuild on a stronger foundation -- not just structurally and economically, but morally as well.
About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, an international humanitarian aid ministry; host of the television program, Life Today; and author of The Absolutes.
Media Contact: Randy Robison, randy.robison at loi.org
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