The devastation that followed Katrina throughout the Gulf Coast region defies the imagination. The area that initially qualified for major disaster relief was the size of the United Kingdom, covering 93,000 square miles. The storm surge that hit the Mississippi coast was 27 feet high, scouring entire blocks right down to the foundation. And levee breeches flooded 80 percent of New Orleans.
One year later, much of that devastation remains. Large parts of New Orleans are uninhabited. Only one-third of the city's hospitals and less than half of its schools are reopened. And nearly 60 percent of homes and businesses lack electricity.
Worse, the Federal response has been criminally slow. Despite four emergency spending bills passed by Congress to provide more than $110 billion in aid, federal agencies have spent only $44 billion, less than half.
Bush has even conceded that the recovery effort has been plagued with "bureaucratic hurdles." Who is responsible for that? How far have we descended when our president can blithely acknowledge his own administration's incompetence without any repercussions?
Had we not been tied up in a horribly destructive, ineptly managed, and painfully expensive war, we could apply considerable resources and manpower needed to restore the Gulf Coast.
If Bush were not pathologically addicted to providing tax cuts to the wealthy, we would have an even greater ability to fund the considerable work that needs to be done.
And were this administration even remotely dedicated to providing competent governance, we would see much greater progress, not just in repairing the damage from the past, but also in preparing for the future.
The levee system in New Orleans still can't do its job of protecting hundreds of thousands of people. The structures are inadequate and the designs are outdated. The past year should have seen a one of the major engineering undertakings of our time, with new technologies and massive infrastructure installed and erected throughout the region. Instead, today, many parts of the levees are vulnerable even to weaker storms than Katrina.
Other parts of the world, like Amsterdam, have state of the art flood-protection systems that could serve as models. It comes at some cost, yes, but it's not as expensive as Iraq, and it's not as expensive as those tax cuts.
The unending - and truly criminal - negligence practiced by this administration has left our country incapable of dealing with the present set of catastrophes, let alone any that could strike in the future.
One year ago, a small group of us began promoting "Make Levees, Not War" shirts and mugs, with all the profits going to Katrina Relief or peace organizations. The success has been overwhelming, we have so far given a total of nearly $5,000 to groups like The New Orleans/Baton Rouge Foundation, Direct Relief International, The American Friends Service Committee, and The People's Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition.
Orders are still coming in and we are still wholeheartedly dedicated to getting the message out. After all, as we prepare to go to mid-term elections, it's a message that still has powerful relevance. Do you want to vote for the party that has led us down a path of global instability or do you want to vote for a more responsible model for leadership?
"Make Levees, Not War" is a message about the kind of leadership we need now.
So, on the first anniversary of one of the most devastating tragedies to ever hit The United States - not just a tragedy of nature, but a tragedy of leadership - we are once again calling on everyone to get the word out. Tell the world what your priorities are now. "Make Levees, Not War"