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Long, Hot Summer?
Hurricanes, political failures and crime are the three biggest threats to New Orleans and the city administration, says UNO criminologist Peter Scharf. "People are already leaving because of crime," Scharf says, "And it's a drag on the reconstruction. Crime affects tourism and corporate decisions on whether to stay in the city." Noting a rising tide of shootings and homicides, Scharf also says his "theory-driven guess" is that the worst violence is still to come. "Everyone's criminal justice system is better than ours so the criminals will come home where it's safe," he says. Scharf also predicts that widespread gun availability and new illegal drug market dynamics, including competition from Hispanic and Vietnamese drug gangs, will fuel more violence. Also, more storm-traumatized youths in displaced families will be returning home now that schools have ended in other cities. And they will be returning to devastated neighborhoods without recreation facilities, family support systems, and churches that traditionally can check criminal misconduct. Despite federal and local law enforcement's assertions to the contrary, the professor says: "There is an absence of consensual planning for crime." His advice to city decision-makers: "Schools are a better investment than jail cells." -- Johnson


"Postcard" from the Edge
Mayor Ray Nagin drew fire for saying he would send a postcard to discouraged business people who move out of the city. Ironically, one of the thousands of displaced black New Orleanians who helped re-elect Nagin says he's probably not moving back home because he feels "unwelcome" by New Orleans police. "I'm a young black man with long dreadlocks," says Alfred Taylor Sr. , 31, a father of two young children now living in Birmingham, Ala. "When the police here approach you, they degrade you. In Birmingham, the police don't talk down to you; they are respectable." Asked to respond, Nagin said: "There's no doubt that we probably need some enhanced training, some courtesy training [and] some professional training with our police officers and we will do that." Police Chief Warren Riley, whom Nagin appointed as the city's top cop Nov. 27, says he has set a high standard for professionalism on the force. "Either you are a professional or you are not," Riley says. Taylor was among a number of outspoken Nagin supporters who boarded a bus in Birmingham at 3 a.m. on the morning of the May 20 election to vote at a University of New Orleans polling site. -- Johnson


The Storm Continues
Dr. Ivor van Heerden, the deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, has put his reputation on the line with his new book, The Storm: What Went Wrong During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist. Van Heerden's book slams the federal government for shoddy work on New Orleans' levee system and contends the catastrophe could have been avoided. The professor's premise is shared by many, but apparently is not appreciated by all. He says there has been significant fallout from his supervisors at LSU, because they are concerned his criticism of the federal government could adversely affect the flagship university's efforts to get additional federal contracts and assistance. In an interview with The New York Times, van Heerden recalled a meeting with two vice chancellors: "They would prefer that I not talk to the press because it could hurt LSU's chances of getting federal funding in the future." He also told The Times that he was fearful of losing his job. -- Alford


Dodging a Tax Bullet

When last year's hurricanes left their mark on south Louisiana, more than 200,000 people lost their jobs and had to turn to the state's unemployment compensation program. The need was so overwhelming that Gov. Kathleen Blanco issued an executive order calling for all claims to be rewarded regardless of eligibility. The payments were linked to a "social cause" and not "against a specific employer." Current law calls for a special fund to be established to recoup the losses from businesses in the program, and the tally for Katrina and Rita is hovering around $700 million, according to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which sponsored legislation to exempt businesses from paying what the group considers a tax. Senate Bill 217 by Sen. Ben Nevers, a Bogalusa Democrat, has been approved by both chambers and now awaits Blanco's signature. If the proposed change does not happen, LABI told its membership in a recent mailer, "business owners would have had a nasty surprise next year when they paid their 2007 social charge tax." -- Alford


Budget Brouhaha
The state's $21.7 billion budget is voluminous, to say the least. Hundreds of pages in length and with millions of numbers, just holding a hard copy can be tiresome. But those who take the time to pore over it will find the document chock full of surprises. There's a $15,000 line item to relocate an "oil monument" from the Shreveport Fairgrounds to the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum. Then there's another $250,000 for the Capitol High School Alumni Association for renovations and repairs to a community center. House Bill 1, which is the instrument that carries the state's spending plan, was approved by the House last week and is now undergoing debate in the Senate. -- Alford


Updated "Katrina Index"

Congress this week returns from the Memorial Day recess to resume debate on an emergency spending package that includes $4.2 billion for Louisiana and $3.7 billion in levee repairs. A new report on post-Katrina reconstruction by The Brookings Institution, a respected think tank (www.brookings.edu), should give federal lawmakers food for thought. The institute's "Katrina Index" is scheduled for release Wednesday (June 7). The last report cited demand for utility service had "substantially" increased (a good sign), and more public schools, restaurants and other businesses were reopening. However the Institute also noted a 35 percent unemployment rate among Louisiana workers still displaced by the storm. -- Johnson


Industrial Jobs Plummet
The most recent Louisiana Manufacturers Register, an industrial guide published annually, doesn't bode well for the post-Katrina marketplace. The state lost 11,632 industrial jobs over the past 12 months. About 25 new manufacturers were added to the rolls during the same period, but that good news was overshadowed by the 411 that went out of business. "The state lost about 7 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the immediate aftermath of Katrina," says Tom Dubin, president of the group that publishes the register. "Since then, however, we find that industrial employment has remained fairly steady as businesses seek raw materials, machinery and supplies for the rebuilding effort." The publication now shows that Louisiana ranks third in the southwest in the number of manufacturers. The top industrial cities remain Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport, which account for 20 percent of Louisiana's manufacturers. -- Alford

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