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Jewish World Review
Nov. 21, 2007
/ 11 Kislev
Not quite so big, but still easy
NEW ORLEANS. Taking the temperature of the water in New Orleans is everybody's idea of fun. Well, why not? "The City that Care Forgot," as it once nonsensically called itself, has learned that a lot of people care a lot, even if care doesn't. Or something like that.
Eating well continues to be the national pastime, and the wealth of wide-bodies bumping bottoms-against-bottoms on the sidewalks and in the narrow streets and alleys of the French Quarter testifies to the triumph of gluttony. A vegetarian platter in the Big Easy is typically a delicate decoration of shredded carrots, a slice or two of beets, a little parsley and a round of tomato garnished with six oysters, a half-dozen barbecued shrimp, a handful of soft-shell crabs and a slab of medium-rare beef.
The improvement in the appearance of New Orleans, on the other hand, is dramatic, even over a period of mere weeks. The federal government has appropriated appropriated, not spent almost exactly the sum of taxpayer money to make New Orleans and the Gulf Coast whole after Katrina as it spent $153 billion, adjusted for inflation to rebuild Europe after World War II. It's not clear what has actually been spent, or how to loosen the tap, but high hopes rest in the new governor-elect, Bobby Jindal, a Republican.
The reconstruction is often in the places that visitors see, and improving times nevertheless barely camouflages the residual anger that New Orleans was mistreated in the wake of the storm. The exodus of half the city's population, mostly poor blacks who vote only for Democrats, suggests that Louisiana without the New Orleans ballot boxes the Democratic pols regarded as ATMs, dispensing votes, won't ever again be so reliably Democratic. In local elections over the weekend, New Orleans elected its first majority-white City Council in 22 years. White candidates won even in districts that were, before Katrina, heavily majority black. This should terrify Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, up for re-election next year, most of all.
The Republicans are identified indelibly as the face of FEMA, the source of everything that's rotten and smells like it. But complaining about the politicians isn't as fashionable as it was. The spirit that brought New Orleans back from Hurricane Camille, the killer 'cane of three decades ago, with almost no federal help is once more at work. Anne Milling, a banker's wife, organized a group called "Women of the Storm" to lobby everyone they can identify for anything they think might help, and they set their sights early on bringing one of next fall's presidential debates to New Orleans. This seemed an obvious choice both parties could let the good times roll. Both parties even once talked of holding their national nominating conventions here, and the decision about the presidential debates may be made as early as this week. It's not likely to be New Orleans. Some Republicans regard New Orleans as radioactive, even if no longer soaked, and fear further identification with all the things that went wrong in the early going after Katrina.
Most of the blue tarps and FEMA trailers are gone. Destruction and debris still litter many neighborhoods, and dozens of Southern Baptist volunteers from churches from Arkansas to Florida returned yesterday to begin preparations for Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds of struggling residents of the 9th Ward, still orphans of the storm. But this time, dinner will be more of a celebration than a survival ritual, and before Thursday's dinner is served, the visitors will even patch and paint a rescued church or two.
But the Big Easy has not got the old-time religion. The French Quarter is as loud and brassy as ever, and one of the most popular new hotels is Harrah's, a luxurious hotel attached to a casino on the Mississippi, where the good times roll day and night. Brennan's, which made breakfast famous, is open again, fashionable ladies in heels and jewels lunch once more at Galatoire's, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar is back, and luxury hotels continue to open in the Central Business District. The Roosevelt, the city's most historic hotel, went through several ownerships before it was finally abandoned and boarded up after Katrina, won't be demolished after all. Its new owners, the Waldorf-Astoria group, have undertaken to restore it to its original grandeur, including its original name. The party's not over.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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