"Make Levees, Not War" was one of many Katrina-related t-shirts that were still in abundance when I last visited my beloved New Orleans in mid-August.
Now hurricane season is upon us, and we are still making war, but the levees aren't even close to ready for another storm of Katrina's magnitude.
Driving past miles and miles of abandoned homes, the scene of devastation looked virtually unchanged since my first post-Katrina trip in November, when we marched across the Gretna bridge that had been notoriously blocked to New Orleanians fleeing Katrina.
What happened to the promises? Where did all the billions go?
Pardon my cynicism, but has it occurred to anyone that Bush's "mismanagement" of the Katrina aftermath actually accomplished longstanding political goals while benefiting his political allies? Before you think I've lost my mind, or have become too cynical for words, hear me out.
The Bush administration's neglect of the levee system (including drastically cutting the levee rebuilding budget every year since 2001 -- but for which there might never have been such a disaster), and their helter-skelter awarding of massive (and massively mismanaged) no-bid contracts to political friends, gave the Bush administration a "three-fer."
It let them:
(1) give billions upon billions of tax dollars to their conservative corporate allies (and Republican donors) like Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater, without adequate oversight to prevent waste and fraud;
(2) use those same billions of dollars of expenditures as an excuse to demand dramatic cuts to the budget for federal human needs programs, which they'd been looking to get rid of anyway; and as a bonus, or lagniappe as we say in New Orleans,
(3) give the Republican party the likelihood of another governorship, another U.S. Senate seat, and perhaps another House seat -- by making it virtually impossible for most of the African-American residents to return to the area, thereby locking in the demographic shift in the traditionally-Democratic New Orleans population.
I know "eptitude" isn't a word, but you can't really call it ineptitude when it gets you what you want, right?
The war profiteers have also become disaster profiteers, and Gulf Coast residents are preyed upon daily.
Contractors are raking in billions, and pocketing a fortune. The reported difference between the actual price for doing a job and the amount billed to taxpayers was as high as 1700 percent, according to The Washington Post. While in-state businesses in need of work (but without the right political connections) have received a paltry 13 percent of the lucrative rebuilding contracts.
And guess which contractors are at the top -- pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, while the work on the ground is done shoddily or not at all -- you got it, the same politically-connected ones who engaged in questionable practices on jobs they were hired to do in Iraq.
After a year of complaints that numerous insurance companies were refusing to pay valid claims, there are now reports of insider allegations that State Farm hid evidence of covered wind damage in order to decline claims, saying instead that the damage was caused primarily by water, a non-covered risk.
Residents who desperately want to return are prevented by limited housing and spiraling prices. Even the public housing projects, which were essentially undamaged, have been boarded up and the prior residents prohibited from returning to their apartments, because city leaders want to tear the buildings down. Maybe so they can build that "Trump Tower" the city leaders have been touting.
For those of us who promised a year ago that we would not forget New Orleans, and that we would not let others forget -- it's time to renew that promise. We cannot let the disaster profiteers and their government sponsors destroy the legacy of a diverse people and a beautiful culture.
Together we can and must demand the rebuilding of ALL of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, until we can again laissez les bons temps rouler.
Post Script: Apologies to those who were expecting an analysis of U.S. House races in this column, as promised in my last column on Senate challengers. I couldn't let the Katrina anniversary pass without comment, so stay tuned for the House commentary in the next Below the Belt.
(c) 2006, National Organization for Women