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Blakely's Bluntness

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Many in New Orleans these days are wishing there were such a thing as a "shut up pill," because they'd like to prescribe it to Dr. Edward Blakely, the city's plainspoken recovery chief. Last week, in an article in the New York Times, Blakely compared the city's racial divisions to "the Shiites and Sunnis" and referred to entrenched locals as "insular" and "buffoons." (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/us/10orleans.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin) New Orleanians have never liked "outsiders" taking a critical look at us, and Blakely found himself apologizing for his words for the second time in less than two weeks. Earlier, he told Australian media that New Orleans' pre-Katrina population of 460,000 was probably inflated for purposes of getting more federal aid, and he put the current population at nearly 300,000 -- much more than the professional counters at the U.S. Census Bureau currently estimate.

Mayor Ray Nagin has admonished Blakely for both sets of comments, suggesting that he stick to the task of recovery coordination. That may have been bitter pill enough, because when Ray Nagin tells you to choose your words more carefully, you've got to be thinking you woke up in Wonderland.

We'd like to offer a slightly different take on Blakely's bluntness. While he certainly could be more diplomatic in his depictions of local attitudes and idiosyncrasies, Blakely is not far off the mark in substantive terms. Buffoons? What else would you call a town that had not devised a recovery plan a year and a half after Katrina, which stubbornly refused to make tough decisions about redeveloping low-lying areas, but which had re-elected a congressman caught with $90,000 in marked C-notes in his freezer? Frankly, maybe we New Orleanians are the ones who need a prescription -- a "smart pill," if you will. And maybe Blakely is just the dose of reality that we need.

Going forward, Blakely should focus on the task at hand. His blunt manner will wear thin as he assumes the role of tough-minded decision maker. At 68, he should know that actions speak louder than words, particularly here, particularly now.

But, in the mean time, we all need to take our medicine -- the doctor as well as his patients.

Ban Cockfighting Now Louisiana holds the dubious distinction of being the only state in the nation that still allows cockfighting. It's long past time to join the rest of the nation in banning the so-called blood sport. State Sen. Art Lentini, a Republican from Jefferson who has authored anti-cockfighting bills in the past, has introduced Senate Bill 39, which would make it illegal to promote or conduct an organized cockfight, to transport a bird for fighting, or to provide a premise for a cockfight. More important, Lentini's bill calls for an immediate cockfighting ban; several other bills have been touted as cockfighting "bans," but they actually would allow the practice to continue for two or three more years. The Lentini bill is the only acceptable option.

Cockfighting is cruel and barbaric -- hardly the "family" or "cultural" attraction its apologists and promoters profess it to be. Cockfighters breed birds for aggressiveness, dose them with stimulants and blood-clotting drugs, strap razors to their legs and place them in a pit to hack one another to death. That is hardly an integral part of the "cultural experience" of growing up in south Louisiana. In fact, a March 2004 poll by Hill Research Consultants found that 82 percent of Louisiana voters favor a statewide ban on cockfighting, with 71 percent strongly in favor of it. Just 12 percent want cockfighting to remain legal. Since that poll was taken, opponents of cockfighting have mounted several organized statewide efforts to ban the practice, and thus it's likely that cockfighting is even more unpopular now.

The case for an immediate ban has always been compelling, and it is even more so now. Just last week, Congress voted to make it a felony to ship animals across state lines for prizefights, effectively redlining Louisiana as a target for federal criminal investigations into cockfighting and related activities. With Louisiana already under a national microscope in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, passing an immediate ban on cockfighting would send a positive message about our determination to clean up our reputation as a corrupt, backwater state that resists change at all costs.

In addition to national opprobrium, cockfighting in Louisiana attracts various forms of illegal activity -- including gambling and drug abuse. State police recently raided two cockfighting pits that allegedly operated as illegal gambling houses. Troopers made arrests not just for illegal gambling but also for possession of methamphetamines and contributing to the delinquency of minors. "All of Louisiana's cockfighting pits engage in widespread gambling -- that's the raison d'etre for cockfighting," says Humane Society of the United States president and CEO Wayne Pacelle. "Delaying the ban will complicate the efforts of police to enforce the state's gambling ban, and it's just a bad policy decision."

We agree. Every other state that has addressed this issue in recent times banned cockfighting immediately, not over a period of years. Moreover, Louisiana did not phase in its dog fighting prohibition. There is simply no justification for delaying the end of cockfighting in Louisiana. Lawmakers should make passage of Senate Bill 39 a top priority this year -- and voters should pay close attention to any attempts to weaken or derail the measure.

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