Lie. Cheat. Steal.

I don”t know how Mardi Gras will end up shaking out for New Orleans this year – hopefully it”ll hit the reduced expectations and show tourism to be viable down there again – but the season ending at the six-month mark after Katrina makes it a good time to think about the city moving from “recovery” to “restoration”.

There”s a big distinction in my mind between those two concepts. Recovery gets the city back on its feet. Restoration is about truly bringing New Orleans back to its former glory. And in a city with such a rich and unique culture, a true restoration is critical. Nobody wants a shiny, bland, new New Orleans. We want old New Orleans back. The problem is that replacing the old New Orleans with a new New Orleans is the easier, cheaper route. Scrape away the flooded neighborhoods; build new homes and apartments outside of the flood plain and just chase away the part of the population that doesn”t fit the new model. With the federal government paying the tab and calling the shots, that could be the future New Orleans faces.

If the city is to avoid this fate and win true restoration, it needs a solid strategy and an unwavering focus on self-interest. I”d like to suggest an approach I call “Lie. Cheat. Steal.”:

Lie – Propaganda is the city”s best friend right now. The world needs to know Mardi Gras was great, Jazz Fest will be bigger and better than ever, hotels and restaurants are open and all the tourists are coming back now. The world also needs to know the levee failures were 100% the fault of the Corps of Engineers, the city and state are doing a great job and it”s the federal government that”s responsible for all those destroyed neighborhoods still looking like they do.

Cheat – Got a guy whose sister is your U.S. Senator? Make him the mayor. Got a guy who was your U.S. Senator for 18 years, has tons of connections in Washington and is generally regarded as a uniting force by both Democrats and Republicans? Make him your governor. Louisiana can”t afford to have an adversarial relationship with Washington, so stack the deck with these powerful insiders you have sitting around. Hell, you might even want to get your ex-governor out of prison and see what kind of cash he can raise from his Las Vegas and South Korean friends.

Steal – Louisiana doesn”t have the resources to restore New Orleans. And it”s really not the role of the federal government to cover all the city”s losses and put billions more into new flood protection systems, tax incentives and other cash infusions. But so what? This isn”t the time to worry about fiscal responsibility, fairness or precedents about federal relief spending. New Orleans should fight for every dollar it deserves and every undeserved dollar it can get. I”ll bitch about federal spending when Los Angeles falls into the ocean.

Personally, I”m putting my principles aside for the sake of New Orleans. I can”t defend this strategy on any grounds other than my selfish interest in New Orleans” future.

The fact is that Louisiana is a backwards, corrupt state that has squandered just about all of its opportunities in the past. Because of that, it really doesn”t deserve the faith of the federal government and probably won”t get much sympathy from the American public. And that makes “Lie. Cheat. Steal.” that much more important.

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