By Tom Reifer, Department Of Sociology, University Of San Diego (1)

*This essay draws on work-in-progress for the forthcoming work, by Gar Alperovitz and Tom Reifer, War & the American System.

The dawn of the second millennium brought both change and continuity in terms of war and the American system. Well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration was pursuing an increasingly aggressive foreign and military policy. In this context, as Mary Kaldor notes

it can be argued that the cuts of the early 1990s are equivalent to the reductions that can be expected in the normal post-1945 US military procurement cycle….During the downturns, military R&D is always sustained, designing and developing the systems to be procured in the next upturn. As new systems reach the more expensive development and procurement phases, this has always coincided with renewed preoccupations with threats of various kinds.(2)

Such a focus on new threats was apparent long before September 11, 2001. The attacks of that day and the real threat from Al Qaeda presented neoconservative hawks with a perfect opportunity to implement ambitious plans for high U.S. military spending and aggressive overseas policies outlined long before, including pulling out of international treaties and moving forward with plans for the militarization of space.
Recently, the Air Force has been pressing the Bush administration to formally embrace an aggressive strategy for space. Here, the Air Force is essentially following the trajectory set by the recommendations of the 2001 Rumsfeld commission which urged that the military give the President the option to deploy weapons in space, and the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which banned such space-based weapons. This trajectory, however, is not simply a Republican Party program, but is widely embraced by the Democratic Party and elite circles more generally as well, including in the Clinton era. Pentagon space warfare, like the late 19th, early 20th century navy or later programs of the Air Force, serves both as a form of public subsidy of private profit, though funding high technology industry, as well as a way to build the military forces to protect increased U.S. investments, for control of worldwide resources and to manage related geopolitical alliances overseas. U.S. technology, from aerospace, electronics, to computers and telecommunications, is largely an offshoot of this Pentagon system of industrial planning, a state-corporate capitalism which serves to incubate high-technology industry until it can be privatized by being turned over to for profit corporations. Thus, a major function of the first Gulf War in 1991 was to protect the Pentagon budget by showing the relevance of the military in the aftermath of superpower confrontation. Revealed here was the extent to which the Cold War was largely a pretense for the Northern domination of the global South and the larger U.S. war against the Third World. (3)
Many of these connections are explicitly recognized by the Pentagon. In the words of U.S. Space Command’s own Vision For 2020 under President Clinton, “U.S. Space Command-dominating the space dimensions of U.S. military operations to protect U.S. interests and investments…During the early portion of the 21st century…space forces will emerge to protect military and commercial national interests and investments in the space medium due to their increasing importance.” (4) Such plans continue today in the Bush administration.

A new Air Force strategy, Global Strike, calls for a military space plane carrying precision-guided weapons armed with a half-ton of munitions. General Lord told Congress last month that Global Strike would be “an incredible capability” to destroy command centers or missile bases “anywhere in the world.”
Pentagon documents say the weapon, called the common aero vehicle, could strike from halfway around the world in 45 minutes…
Another Air Force space program, nicknamed Rods From God, aims to hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium or uranium from the edge of space to destroy targets on the ground, striking at speeds of about 7,200 miles an hour with the force of a small nuclear weapon.
A third program would bounce laser beams off mirrors hung from space satellites or huge high-altitude blimps, redirecting the lethal rays down to targets around the world. A fourth seeks to turn radio waves into weapons whose powers could range “from tap on the shoulder to toast,” in the words of an Air Force plan. (5)

The current trajectory of neoliberal militarization at home and abroad is the refocusing of the U.S. government on the “war on terror,” including a substantial reorganization of the Federal Government, replete with a new Department of Homeland Security.
Yet in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and growing insurgency there, ultimately it was the rains of Hurricane Katrina and floods that followed that exposed the deeper fault lines of race, class and gender running right through the heart of U.S. society. Years of neglect of the nation’s human capital and physical infrastructure – after recurrent decades of tax cuts for the wealthy and deficit-financed militarization funded by offshore borrowing, most recently for the Iraq war – were also dramatically exposed in the failure of the government planning for and response to Hurricane Katrina. The disaster in the Gulf States of the U.S. was a massive one, and some 90,000 square miles are now covered under a federal disaster declaration, an area roughly the size of Great Britain.
The embrace of multiple wars in the 21st century, against the so-called Axis of Evil, notably Iraq, and Al Qaeda, led to enormous rises in US military-related spending, now totaling well over $500 billion annually, when one includes not only the formal military budget, but money for ongoing operations and the Homeland Security Department, under which a host of agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are now housed. (6)
The economic stimulus of federal spending, notably increases in the military budget, are believed by many experts to have clearly minimized the period of economic recession in the early years of the 21st century, though with less of an effect than during past bouts of military Keynesianism.(7) In the second quarter of 2003, from April to June, the war with Iraq and related U.S. military actions led to the biggest increase in military spending – some 44.1% – since Fall 1951, the time of the enormous leap in military spending ushering in the Korean War boom. Military spending accounted for a full 1.69 percent of the rise in G.D.P. in the second quarter of 2003, or some 70% of the total increase.(8) In the first quarter of 2004, the economy grew at a 4.2%, with military spending again making up a significant portion of the rise, accounting for up to $17.4 billion of the G.D.P. increase of $108.5 billion in the first quarter, after adjusting for inflation. (9)
As one commentator recently noted

The military is now the de facto welfare state. The armed forces and the Department of Veterans Affairs are the two largest health care providers in the United States. The military is also a major bankroller of higher education through the G.I. Bill. (10)

Nevertheless, today, as during the new Cold War (beginning in the late Carter years), the trillions of dollars for the new militarism, financed regressively through offshore borrowing and from the wealthy awash in tax cuts, has mortgaged public investment, in the words of Mike Davis, “the fiscal equivalent of several New Deals” – for generations.(11) According to one recent estimate, while Vietnam cost U.S. taxpayers some $600 billion (in current dollars), the costs for the Iraq war could be over $700 billion, assuming the U.S. stays there for ten more years; another estimate, looking at operation in Afghanistan, Iraq and America’s presence in the Middle East calculates even higher costs:

…if American military presence in the region lasts another five years, the total outlay for the war could stretch to more than $1.3 trillion, or $11,300 for every household in the United States.(12)

And as during late 1970s and 1980s, America’s debt-financed militarization has been accompanied by continuing declines in federal aid to the cities and disaster protection, this at a time when millions of whites were moving from America’s largest metropolitan centers to suburbs, while millions of Latinos, Asians and Blacks were moving into increasingly impoverished, abandoned and decaying metropolises.(13)
Metropolitan New Orleans is something of a statistical anomaly here, being the only large metropolitan region of the country where African-American out-migration has occurred in each decade since 1965, according to the Brookings Institution. (14)Nevertheless, the city of New Orleans still had an overwhelmingly black majority population, all the more so with the substantial white-flight from the metropolitan region. Thus, like other large cities, the overlay of race and class concentrated in space – an American apartheid – meant that federal cutbacks to urban areas would hit these groups the hardest. (15)
Estimates by Demetrios Caraley and others indicate that cutbacks in federal aid of some 64% cost cities an average amount of $26 billion annually from 1980-1990 (in constant 1990 dollars); during part of this same period, from 1979 to 1985, deficit-financed military spending rose from some $150 to $300 billion annually, financed by the most regressive possible means, though tax-cuts for the rich and overseas borrowing.(16)

Spent on cities and human resources, these immense sums would have remade urban America into the Land of Oz instead of the urban wasteland it has become.
The social burden of servicing this deficit may be measured by comparison to the annual combined budgets of America’s fifty largest cities. In 1980 the interest payments on the federal debt were twice as large as the aggregate big-city budgets; today they are six times larger. Alternately, the $300 billion 1990 deficit was simply equal to the annual interest costs on a federal debt soaring toward $5 trillion. (17)

While the speculative boom of the 1990s led to fantasies of permanent economic nirvana among the well-to-do, the bursting of the bubble – except in the housing market, still waiting to pop – it was thought, would bring fiscal reality to bear among sentient beings. Not so for the Bush administration, content to continue on a relentless path of ever higher military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, seeking what commentators called a “Gucci and guns budget,” the President and Republican Congress’s answer to the Johnson administration’s program of Guns and Butter.(18) Yet it was on the battlefields of Indochina that the hopes of the Great Society were ultimately buried, as the Presidential war presented Congress with spending request after spending request for his war. Today, another round of bills for Presidential war is again leading to drastic devaluations of citizenship in the U.S., most especially among urban constituencies of color. Once again, the true costs of the war and the bombs, as Martin Luther King, Jr., argued in the case of Vietnam, are exploding in the ghettoes of America, or you could say in the fallen levees of the Gulf States, being felt both in the widespread flooding of the region as well as dramatically with massive federal cuts in health, education, human services and disaster preparedness at home, especially to the nation’s metropolitan areas. (19)
With the overlap of race and class, the burden of America’s late 20th century wars fell most heavily on Latinos, Blacks and Asians in urban areas, as federal monies to cities dropped to a mere trickle. New Orleans is roughly two-thirds to three-quarters African-American and out of a total poverty rate of roughly 28% (relative to 9% in the U.S. as a whole), some 84% of those living in poverty are Black; 35% of Blacks were in poverty in the city in 2000, compared to just 11% of whites, with some 50,000 households without cars, 35% of Black households and only 11% of whites.(20) In the New Orleans Metropolitan region, almost 15% of persons lived in poverty and over a quarter of the children; only seven other U.S. cities had higher incidences of poverty, with New Orleans ranking 64th in median household income among the country’s 70 largest cities. (21)
As far as “acts of god” or “nature” are concerned, many scientists believe the intensity of hurricanes are increasing due to global warming, a condition of course related to human induced climate change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, not helped of course, by the U.S. refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a widely adhered to international treaty on global warming. (22) And then of course there is the devaluing of citizenship in America’s urban areas, as money flowed away from these areas and instead went into lily-white suburbs and edge cities. And in New Orleans, as is widely known, “money flows away from water,” as wealthier citizens take the higher ground and leave the poor to fend for themselves in the face of approaching hurricanes. The results of Hurricane Katrina were part of the end result of this process of the political and social enfranchisement of white suburban-citizens, in inverse proportion to the disenfranchisement of poor urban constituencies of color, replete with the federal neglect of much-needed protection against hurricanes, dangers made more intense by development and ever-increasing coastal populations encroaching on and steadily eroding wetlands. (23) Yet money for tax cuts for the rich, highway projects, military spending and wars abroad – benefits from which accrued largely to suburbs and edge cities – continued unabated.
Moreover, as Mike Davis said, this was arguably the one of the most predicted and foreseen disasters, perhaps in the history of the world. (24) The path of damage was modeled extensively on computers before the event and surveys were taken, indicating that a sizeable portion of the poor, those without cars, the disabled and elderly, would not be able to evacuate on their own. FEMA considered a hurricane hitting New Orleans one of the three most likely disasters to affect the U.S., and modeled this in a five day exercise called Hurricane Pam in July 2004, with over 250 officials from 50 state, federal, local and volunteer agencies. Much of the destruction and loss of life was foreseen, as was the need to evacuate anywhere from hundreds of thousands to over a million people. And in reality, with Hurricane Ivan, as with Hurricane Katrina, while middle and upper income whites and persons of color were able to leave the city and surrounding suburbs, the largely poor black population, as well as the rest of the poor, the disabled and elderly – in the tens of thousands and perhaps more – were trapped. FEMA spokesman David Plassey, when asked after the Hurricane Pam exercise how many people might die in such a storm, said “We would see casualties not seen in the United States in the last century”; John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services at the American Red Cross, said that between 25,000 to 100,000 persons would die. The Report on Hurricane Pam estimated there would be 61,000 fatalities. (25)
And after the Asian tsunami, “New Orleans was the No. 1 disaster we were talking about,” recalled Eric L. Tolbert, then a top FEMA official. “We were obsessed with New Orleans because of the risk. (26) Nevertheless, tens of thousands of evacuees crammed into the Superdome and convention center, many of whom were bereft of food and water for some three to four days. Reporters and others noted that local, state and federal officials were often nowhere to be found. Even on day five, sufficient help had not arrived. The majority black city, as important culturally for African Americans and the U.S. as Harlem, with over a fifth of the population living in poverty, mostly black, was left to bear the brunt of the hurricane on its own, with funding for flood prevention continuously cut before the storm, as more and more resources were diverted to the war in Iraq. In the end, some 80% of the city was under water, and substantial portions of the rest of the Gulf States. Over a thousand persons died as the city of New Orleans and substantial portions of the Gulf States were flooded. The costs of inaction were tragic in both human suffering and loss of life. Hurricane Rita then added to the misery, leading to widespread flooding of the city of New Orleans again in late September.
In addition to these life and death disparities of race, class and power along the suburban-edge city urban divide, there is the stagnation or decline in U.S. household incomes as a whole, with attendant poverty and social ills. While the economy grew by 3.8% in 2004, median household income was flat at $44,389, while some 1.1 million additional persons fell into poverty, thus increasing the ranks of the official poor to some 37 million. Meanwhile another 800,000 workers lost their health insurance, bringing the total to some 45.8 million, a figure that would be greatly exacerbated without the Veteran’s welfare state, along with Medicaid and Medicare. Yet Congress is getting ready to cut some $35 billion to social programs in the coming five years, including for Medicaid, which gives the poor access to health care. At the same time, the top 20% of income groups increased their share of the national income to 50.1% of the total, though only the top 5% experienced income gains, while income stagnated or fell for the other 95% of households. Despite these trends, Congress stood ready to repeal the estate tax affecting the richest families in America, while simultaneously looking to make deep cuts in student loans, Medicaid, and other social programs for the poor, the working class and middle income groups. (27) In fact, real wages have been stagnating for the majority since the late 1970s, following the dismantling of the Bretton Woods systems of fixed exchange rates and the related ability of governments to control capital flows in the early 1970s. This was part of a more general elite counterattack on what the Trilateral Commission called the “crisis of democracy,” referring to the rising activism of the 1950s and 1960s, akin to Wilson’s Red Scare or McCarthyism during the Truman years. These years saw the rise of the civil rights, anti-war, feminist and Black and Chicano power movements, to name but a few, part of the increased concern with the interconnected issues of peace and social justice, especially inequalities of race, class and gender. Wilson’s Red Scare, Truman’s McCarthyism and the response to the “crisis of democracy” were all part of more general attacks by the state-corporate community in response the threat of expanding democratic activism during these periods. The Bush administration represents the culmination of this larger structural process of the mobilization of state-corporate elites against the threat of democratic activism and the possibilities for real democracy in the 1960s and beyond. (28)
Coming back to the present, the mobilization of the Iraq issue which forced a vote in Congress on the war before the 2002 mid-term Congressional elections was also a way to divert attention away from the class war at home, as evidenced in widening inequality replete with rising military spending and concomitant cuts to health, education and human services. Once again, National Security ideology proved crucial in the bitter class war not only against the Third World, but against the domestic population at home. And today, while the nation’s attention and fiscal resources turned towards the war in Iraq and terrorism, domestic disaster preparedness for events other than terrorism suffered, much as the new Cold War took resources and attention away from the nation’s increasingly impoverished cities and decaying infrastructure, as noted above.
Senior regional officials in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had long warned of the dangers of a Hurricane on the Gulf Coast, particularly the vulnerable city of New Orleans, sitting largely below sea level and sinking, along with the levees. Congress did authorize money for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project or SELA, in the 1990s, aimed at shoring up levees and constructing pumping stations; yet after 2003, money tapered off, despite the fact that some $250 million in outstanding projects were left to be done. “As early as 2004, the New Orleans Times-Picayune began to report that local officials and Army Corps of Engineers representatives attributed the funding cuts to the rising costs of the war in Iraq.
Facing record deficits, the Bush administration cut costs – and cut corners – by including in its 2005 budget only about a sixth of the flood-prevention funds requested by the Louisiana congressional delegation. (29) Essentially, as costs for the Iraq war grew, money for hurricane and flood control efforts declined. Moreover, some 30% of the National Guard and roughly half of their equipment are in Iraq, including a sizeable number from the Gulf States, from one-third of those in the Louisiana National Guard and even great numbers from Mississippi. Many of those in the National Guard have full time jobs as firefighters, police officers and medical personnel and so would ordinarily function as first responders during crises such as Hurricane Katrina. The Governmental Accountability Office noted in July 2005 that fully one-third of the units of the National Guard were low on essential equipment, as this had gone to units getting ready to go to Iraq in upcoming months, thereby taking them away from the Army’s forces capable of dealing with homeland security and disaster relief.(30) Moreover, when the Army Corps of Engineers requested some $105 million for hurricane preparation and flood relief programs, the Bush administration shaved that money to some $40 million, though President Bush and Congress did agree on passage of a $284.2 billion “pork-filled highway bill with 6,000 pet projects, including a $231 million bridge for a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.” (31)
Among those concerned with the budget cuts for SELA and New Orleans was Alfred C. Naomi, senior project manager for the Army Core of Engineers, frustrated as an intense hurricane season was predicted at the same time as $71 million was cut from the New Orleans district budget, to prepare for exactly these type of storms: “”A breach under these conditions was ultimately not surprising,” Naomi said…Since 2001, the Louisiana congressional delegation had pushed for far more money for storm protection than the Bush administration has accepted. Now, Mr. Naomi said, all the quibbling over the storm budget, or even over full Category 5 protection, which would cost several billion dollars, seemed tragically absurd.
“It would take $2.5 billion to build a Category 5 protection system, and we’re talking about tens of billions of losses, all those lost productivity, and so many lives and injuries and personal trauma you’ll never get over,” Mr. Naomi said.” (32)As the Wall Street Journal noted: “Despite decades of repeated warnings about a breach of levees or failure of drainage systems that protect New Orleans from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, local and federal officials now concede there weren’t sufficient preparations for a catastrophe of this scale.” (33)Mainstream news organization in the U.S. and abroad openly commented that they had seen better disaster relief in the Third World.(34)
In the Gulf States of the U.S., tens of thousands of citizens were abandoned, unable to evacuate, and left for days and days without food, water, protection, or medical attention by local, state and federal officials, who seemed unaware or uncaring of their plight, with President Bush not even cutting his vacation short until days after Hurricane Katrina struck. The Pentagon, occupied in Iraq, with critical equipment and National Guard units away, was initially nowhere to be found, even though according to a 1993 Government Accounting Office Report, for disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the “DOD is the only organization capable of providing, transporting, and distributing sufficient quantities of items needed”. (35) As many observed, the pictures of the suffering, stranded and abandoned seemed more reminiscent to many of scenes from Bangladesh, Haiti or Baghdad (after the U.S. invasion) in the Third World than of the United States of America. In a turning of the tables, scores of countries now turned around to give aid to the U.S., including some of the poorest countries on the planet.
The U.S. Federal Government response was widely criticized, as were the actions of local and state officials. Singled out for criticism in particular was the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, with no disaster management experience but importantly, a friend of Joe M. Allbaugh, manager of Bush’s 2000 Presidential campaign and his first director of FEMA. FEMA became a dumping ground for Bush’s cronies, despite the President’s rhetoric about securing the homeland. Hurricane Katrina had touched down on Monday, August 29. On September 2, Bush’s hailed Brown’s work by saying, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” even though Brown was to admit on the fourth day of the flooding of New Orleans that “the federal Government did not ever know about the convention center people until today,” something also revealed in an extraordinary National Public radio interview with Homeland Security Director, Michael Chertoff, in which it appears he first heard of the plight of these tremendous numbers of suffering people.(36) Days after the Hurricane touched down though, on August 31, Chertoff said: “We are extremely pleased with the response.”(37) Eventually the incompetence and embarrassment was too much even for the administration and at least Brown was relieved of overseeing the post-storm relief effort, a job which was then given to Admiral Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard.(38) Soon thereafter, Brown resigned.
Still there was good news for some in the aftermath of the destruction, much as with the bungled occupation of Iraq. Many of the same players that profited from the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq stood to benefit immensely from reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Katrina, notably Vice President Cheney’s old firm Halliburton, its subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR), and the Shaw Group, a firm making some $3 billion annually, which announced it had gotten two contacts of up to $100 million each in early September 2005, one from FEMA and the other from the Army Corps of Engineers; in this they were helped along by the former FEMA director Mr. Allbaugh, now a highly-paid consultant for private corporate firms such as these. Other firms getting lucrative work include Bechtel and the Fluor Corporation, each of them receiving contracts for $100 million. Danielle Brian, head of the Project on Government Oversight, “said Katrina, like Iraq before it, would bring the greedy and the self-interested out of the woodwork.
“This is very painful,” Ms. Brian said. “You are likely to see the equivalent of war profiteering-disaster profiteering.”(39) Indeed, President Bush was quick to suspend the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates prevailing wages for federally funded contracts, for the work of the reconstruction of the region, though wages in the area are already low, often under $10 an hour. When it comes to workers wages, it seems the costs are too high; when it comes to corporate contracts, however, it appears no profits are too high. Already, many of the questionable practices used in the reconstruction of Iraq are now being implemented in this largest effort at reconstruction in the history of the U.S. – which could total several hundred billion dollars – including non-competitive contracts and cost-plus provisions that guarantee profit regardless of the amount a firm spends.(40) Somehow, when it comes to money for the nation’s cities, its poor, or disaster preparedness, costs must be cut, while tax cuts are given to the rich; for corporate America, its war profiteers and military-corporate vultures of disaster-reconstruction capitalism, however, it seems that money from taxpayers is no object.
After decades of underinvestment in the nation’s cities, including human capital and physical infrastructure, Hurricane Katrina exposed many of the problems of U.S. society once thought solved, with widening inequality, poor jobs and a faltering system of health, education and human services. Yet the wars of the late 20th and 21st century – from the new Cold War to the Gulf Wars – their capital intensive nature, their legions of corporate mercenary soldiers, their financing from offshore borrowing and from tax cuts for the wealthy, instead are serving to increase poverty in the Global South, both at home and abroad. (41)
The task now is to seize upon this exposure of the shame of America revealed in its vulnerable poor, impoverished persons of color and poor whites, to take up the clarion call for peace with social justice once again. What is needed to begin with is the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq and the using of the resources gained for true democratic reconstruction at home and abroad, including in Iraq, in ways that benefit the people, not market hungry military-corporate profiteers. As the daily death toll mounts the time for mobilization is now. (42) And in a hopeful sign, already Katrina is eroding support among the American public for the Iraq War. (43)
What is needed, as during the New Deal, when massive public works helped to lift some of the poorest of the nation’s citizens out of poverty – notably second-generation immigrants on the white side of the color line and their parents, some 40 million in all – is a broad commitment to democratic reconstruction and renewal at home and abroad. Yet this time, a bolder strategy of reform would need to include persons of color, notably African-Americans and the burgeoning population of Latinas and Latinos. And now is also the time to make the connections between the war at home and abroad, between the struggle for peace, civil rights, and social justice, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. before he was assassinated. For the disaster of America’s wars in the Persian Gulf are intimately related with the disaster in the Gulf States of the U.S. Thus the largest U.S. anti-war coalition, United for Peace and Justice, put out a statement on the aftermath of Katrina entitled: “After Katrina, Fund Full Recovery on Gulf Coast, Not War on Iraq.” (44)
The period of Reconstruction after the Civil War was a time of great hope, especially for African Americans. With the defeat of Reconstruction in the late 19th century, as with the turning back of the much hoped for second Reconstuction in the late 1960s and beyond, and with it the demise of the civil rights movement and the black freedom struggle, the clock was turned back on African Americans and the struggle against poverty and for social justice in the other America. (45) President Bush announced that the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast would be among the largest such efforts in world history. Yet Bush continues to press for making his tax cuts for the wealthiest permanent, a move that would cost some $1.5 trillion over the next decade. This, along with other news coming out about the planned reconstruction, including the possible suspension of environmental laws, and of Bush’s chief political advisor Karl Rove’s prominent place as the official in charge of plans to rebuild the region, indicate how far Bush’s plan is from the vision of the New Deal.(46) Jesse Jackson spoke of a “Hurricane for the poor and a windfall for the rich.”
There is, however, another path. Now, as part of the broader movement for global peace and justice, perhaps the African American freedom struggle could be taken up once again, to renew “America’s unfinished revolution” of Reconstruction, so as to benefit not only the descendants of slavery but all residents of the U.S. and the rest of the world as well. Such an alternative democratic vision is one consonant with the call to action and solidarity of the World Social Forum meetings. The time for peace and social justice is now. For these are the challenges of our times.

1. Thanks to Gar Alperovitz, Noam Chomsky, Tom Dobrzeniecki, Elaine Elliot, Judith Liu, Rafik Mohamed and my colleagues and students at the University of San Diego (USD) for assistance with this piece. I also benefited from the public forum with Mike Davis and others, “Disasters in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Activist San Diego, September 12, 2005, San Diego, California. The final content is my responsibility alone though.
2. Mary Kaldor, “Beyond Militarism, Arms Races and Arms Control,” Social Science Research Council, 2002. pp. 6-7.
3. See Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, New York: Verso, 1991. See also William S. Borden, The Pacific Alliance: United States Foreign Economic Policy and Japanese Trade Recovery, 1947-1955, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.
4. United States Space Command, Vision for 2020, February 1997 ( See also Ann Markusen & Joel Yudken, Dismantling the Cold War Economy. New York: Basic Books, 1992; Frank Kofsky, Harry Truman & the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to Deceive the Nation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993; Kenneth Flamm, Targeting the Computer: Government Support and International Competition, Washington D.C.: Brookings, 1987; Kenneth Flamm, Creating the Computer: Government, Industry, and High Technology, Washington D.C.: Brookings, 1988; John L. Boies, Buying for Armageddon, Rutgers University Press, 1994; Christopher Layne & Robert S. Metzger, “Reforming Post-cold War US Arms Sales Policy: the Crucial Link between Exports and the Defence Industrial Base”, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 18, No. 4, December 1995, pp. 1-32; Strategic Command, StratCom, Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence, 1995 (
5. Air Force Seeks Approval for Space Weapons Programs,” Tim Weiner, New York Times, May 18, 2005. In another recent development, the Pentagon is working on its own more advanced internet, the Global Information Grid (GIG), that aims to give “a God’s-eye-view” of future battlefields; estimated to costs hundreds of billions of dollars, a new consortium formed in September 2004 to work on the project “includes an A-list of military contractors and technology power-houses: Boeing; Cisco Systems; Factiva, a joint venture of Dow Jones and Reuters; General Dynamics; Hewlett-Packard; Honeywell; I.B.M.; Lockheed Martin; Microsoft; Northrup Grumman; Oracle; Raytheon; and Sun Microsystems” (New York Times, “Pentagon Envisioning a Costly Internet for War,” Tim Weiner, Saturday, November 13, 2004, pp. A1, B2). See also New York Times, “An Officer & a Gentleman: In Corporate Jobs, Old Generals Find a Hero’s Welcome,” Leslie Wayne, Saturday, June 19, 2005, Section 3, pp. 1, 11.
6. James Dao, “Bush Sees Big Rise in Military Budget for Next 5 Years; Up to $451 Billion By ’07; Proposed Buildup Would Rival Reagan’s—Sharp Increase in Money for Supplies,” New York Times, pp. A1, A9.
7. Louis Uchitelle, “Sharp Rise in Federal Spending May Have Helped Ease Recession,” New York Times, March 23, 2002, pp. A1, B4. John D. McKinnon and Anne Marie Squeo, “Shaky Economic Times Limit Bang of New Defense Spending,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2003, pp. A1, 12.
8. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2003 (Advance),” Louis Uchitelle, “Faster 2nd-Quarter Growth Fuels Optimism,” New York Times, Friday, August 1, 2003, pp. C1, 10. Jon E. Hilsenrath, “GDP Data Spark Hopes Recovery Is Strengthening: Economy Grew at 2.4% Pace in the Second Quarter: Military Spending Surges,” Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2003, pp. A1, 6.
9. Paraphrasing Louis Uchitelle, “U.S. Economy Grows 4.2%; War Spending Provides Push,” New York Times, April 30, 2004, pp. C1, 3. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Gross Domestic Product: First Quarter 2004 (Advance),”
10. Dalton Conley, “Turning the Tax Tables to Help the Poor,” New York Times, November 15, 2004, p. A23.
11. On the new Cold War, see Noam Chomsky, Towards A New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There, New York: Pantheon, 1982.
12. New York Times, “The Trillion-Dollar War,” Linda Bilmes, Saturday, August 20, 2005, p. A27. The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War and the Case for Bringing the Troops Home, A Study by the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus. By Phyllis Bennis and Eric Leaver and the IPS Iraq Task Force, August 31, 2005., p. i.
13. Mike Davis, Dead Cities, p. 253.
14. See The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program: Katrina: Issues and Aftermath. The other large city in which black out-migration occurred in every decade since 1965 is Pittsburgh (see William H. Frey, The New Great Migration: Black Americans Return to the South, 1965-2000, May 2004), especially pp. 5, 13.
15. On white flight, see New York Times, “What Happens to a Race Deferred,” Jason DeParle, Sunday, September 4, 2005, Section 4, pp. 1,4, and Douglas S. Massey & Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation & the Making of the Underclass, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. For a visual representation and statistics on this system of residential segregation and related elevation levels, showing how upper-income whites occupy the high ground, giving their more protection against the floods, while many Blacks live in lower-lying areas, see The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. See also U.S. Census Bureau, Racial & Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000, Issued August 2002 (
16. Demetrios Caraley, “Washington Abandons the City,” Political Science Quarterly, 107 no. 1 (1992), pp. 8-11, cited in Mike Davis, Dead Cities, p. 247. See also Demetrios Caraley, “Dismantling the Federal Safety Net: Fictions Versus Realities,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 111, No 2, Summer, 1995, pp. 225-258.
17. Mike Davis, Dead Cities, Ch. 13, p. 259, 253, and pp. 239-273.
18. It should be noted, though, that the freezing of domestic spending goes back to President Carter and the Democratic Congress of 1978 during the period of the mobilization of the have coalition against the have-nots, part of the rise of the broader New Right culminating in Reaganism. “1978 was the first year of Reaganomics. A congress two-thirds controlled by Democrats endorsed the legislative agenda of the Business Roundtable by freezing social spending, deregulating the transport and phone industries, and supporting Carter’s move towards higher interest rates.” Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, New York: Verso, 1986, p. 137. Welding together Reagan’s New Right coalition was military Keynesianism and the financial overaccumulation its regressive financing allowed for. The vast expansion of money capital was fueled here by the doubling of the military budget, deregulation and tax cuts, and the regressive financing of the U.S. deficit, especially from the issuance and rollover of some $13.5 trillion in marketable securities by the Federal Government from 1981 to 1990, ushering in the hegemony of Wall Street, the global capital markets, hedge funds, the IMF and World Bank, and the related Washington Consensus, the effects of which were soon seen in recurrent financial crises, from Asia to Latin America. See Roy Smith, Comeback, Cambridge, MA: 1993, p. 87. See also Jagdish Bhagwati, “The Capital Myth: The Difference Between Trade in Widgets & Dollars,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1998, pp. 7-12. See also Gordon De Brouwer, Hedge Funds in Emerging Markets, Cambridge University Press, 2001. See also Financial Stability Forum Working Group on Highly Leveraged Institutions, Washington, D.C., March 2000. Available at FSF website: See also E. Ray Canterbery, Wall Street Capitalism: The Theory of the Bondholding Class, Singapore: World Scientific Publications, 2000. See also Robin Broad, Unequal Alliance: The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund & the Philippines, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. See also Robert Wade & Frank Veneroso, “The Asian Crisis: The High Debt Model Versus the Wall Street-Treasury-IMF Complex,” New Left Review, March/April 1998, Number 228, pp. 3-24, and Robert Wade and Frank Veneroso, “The Gathering World Slump and the Battle Over Capital Controls,” New Left Review, Number 231, September/October 1998, pp. 13-42.
19. Frances Fox Piven, The War at Home: The Domestic Consequences of Bush’s Militarism (New York: New Press, 2004).
20. Mike Davis, Dead Cities, Chapter 13, pp. 239-273. See also Los Angeles Times, “Images of Evacuees Spark a Racial Debate,” Thomas Alex Tizon, Saturday, September 3, 2005, p. A11. New York Times, “What Happens to a Race Deferred,” Jason DeParle, Sunday, September 4, 2005, Section 4, pp. 1,4. New York Times, “A Delicate Balance is Undone in a Flash, and a Battered City Waits,” Peter Applebome, Christopher Drew, Jere Longman and Andrew C. Revkin, pp. A19, 22-23. The census of 2000 indicated the African-American population was 67.3%. A recent Wall Street Journal piece, “New Architecture: As Gulf Prepares to Rebuild, Tensions Mount Over Control,” Jackie Calmes, Ann Carns & Jeff D. Opdyke, Thursday, September 15, 2005, A1, 10, estimates the population as “more than 75% African-American.”
21. Wall Street Journal, “New Architecture: As Gulf Prepares to Rebuild, Tensions Mount Over Control,” Jackie Calmes, Ann Carns & Jeff D. Opdyke, Thursday, September 15, 2005, A1, 10.
22. New York Times, “The Storm Next Time,” Nicholas D. Kristof, Sunday, September 11, 2005, p. A15. See also the references cited there: Kerry Emaneul, “Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones Over the Past 30 Years,” Nature, Volume 436/4, August 2005, pp. 686-688 ( . See also Kerry Emaneul, Divine Wind: A History & Science of Hurricanes (Oxford University Press, 2005). Pielke, Jr., R.A., C. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver & R. Pasch, in press, 2005, December, “Hurricanes & Global Warming, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (; Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, Rasmus Benestad, Gavin Schmidt, and William Connolley, “Hurricanes & Global Warming – Is There a Connection? 2, September 2005. See also Arjun Makhijani & Kevin R. Gurney, Mending the Ozone Hole: Science, Technology, & Policy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995). Many scientists also believe that the frequency of hurricanes is increasing, as part of alternating cyclical upswings and downswings that occur roughly every thirty years or more, with the current increase part of the beginning of a new perhaps multi-decade long cycle. On the political economy of so-called natural disasters, see Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles & the Imagination of Disaster, New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998. See also Ted Steinberg, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America, Oxford University Press, 2003.
23. See also W.G. Peacock, B.H. Morrow, and H. Gladwin, eds., Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender, & the Sociology of Disaster, Miami: Florida International University, International Hurricane Center, London, New York: Routledge, 1997. From the 1950s to the present, engineers have destroyed some 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of the canals “through the marsh for petroleum exploration and ship traffic. These new ditches sliced the wetlands into a giant jigsaw puzzle, increasing erosion and allowing lethal doses of salt water to infiltrate brackish and freshwater marshes.” According to Bob Morton, with the U.S. Geological Survey, the loss of the wetlands occurred most rapidly during the peak oil and gas producing times of the 1970s and early 1980s, leading him to conclude “that the removal of millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and tens of millions of barrels of saline formation water lying with the petroleum deposits caused a drop in subsurface pressure—a theory known as regional depressurization. That led nearby underground faults to slip and the land above them to slump. “When you stick a straw in a soda and suck on it, everything goes down,” Morton explains. That’s very simplified, but you get the idea”” (National Geographic, “Gone with the Water,” Joel K. Bourne, October, 2004 ( See also the important study by the H. Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, Human Links to Coastal Disasters, 2002, and their related publications which can be accessed via their website at
24. Mike Davis, Public Forum, “Disasters in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Activist San Diego, September 12, 2005, San Diego, California. Mike Davis, “After the Deluge: Poor, Black and Left Behind; Before Killer Katrina, There Was Ivan the Terrible,” ( is an eloquent indictment of the failure of both Democrats and Republicans to evacuate the black poor in the face of Hurricane Ivan, a prophetic enough piece, in light of our recent experience with Hurricane Katrina. In short, Hurricane Katrina was eminently predictable, and the consequences predicted by experts, despite the lack of action, a fact often revealed in the aftermath of catastrophes. There was no shortage of documentaries and popular and scientific articles predicting the disaster. See the video, “New Orleans & the Delta: Disappearing Delta Overview” and “The Mighty Mississippi” A Scientific American article in October 2001 by Mark Fischetti had this to say: “New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen…The low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing…Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die…A direct hit is inevitable.” The article went on to describe the entirely feasible engineering effort required to save the city from certain disaster. See also Mark Fischetti, “They Saw it Coming,” New York Times, Friday, September 2, 2005, p. A23. See also Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, “Review of Mike Davis, Dead Cities: And Other Tales, in City and Community (Journal of the Community and Urban Sociology Section of the ASA), Vol. 2, Issue 4, December 2003, pp. 369-370. See also New York Times, “Restore the Marsh,” Craig E. Colten, p. A27. See also Craig E. Colten, An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature, Louisiana State University Press, 2004, and his edited volume, Transforming New Orleans and Its Environs: Centuries of Change. See also, Ari Kelman, A River & Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, University of California Press, 2003. See also Richard Campanella, Time & Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day, Pelican Publishing Company, 2002. On the suburban locational bias in military spending, see John H. Mollenkopf, The Contested City, Princeton University Press, 1983; see also Mike Davis, Dead Cities, Ch. 13, “Who Killed L.A.?: A Political Autopsy,” pp. 239-274.
25. On the Hurricane Pam exercise, see the website of and the related links there, from which the information in this paragraph comes. See also the Report on Hurricane Pam, entitled: Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan, Draft, August 6, 2004, IEM/TECO4-00, Innovative Emergency Management ( Prepared for Sharon Blades, under FEMA BPA HSFEHQ-04-A-0288, Task Order 001. The estimate of fatalities is on p. 7. Another report, 448 pages, not yet released to the public, called “Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Plan,” also recognized that significant numbers of residents in New Orleans would be unable to evacuate. See Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Had Plan for Crisis Like Katrina,” Robert Block, Monday, September 19, 2005, p. A3-4. See also FEMA’s Southeastern Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Plan,
26. New York Times, “Storm Overwhelmed Government’s Preparations,” Scott Shane & Eric Lipton, Friday, September 2, 2005, pp. A1, 14.
27. This paragraph is drawn from “Life in the Bottom 80 Percent,” Editorial, New York Times, Thursday, September 1, 2005, p. A22. The figures on spending cuts, including to Medicaid, comes from New York Times, “Bush Rules Out Raising Taxes for Gulf Relief,” David E. Sanger & Edmund L. Andrews, Saturday, September 17, 2005, pp. A1, 10.
28. See Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide, especially chapter 5, New York: Black Rose Books, 1987, pp. 221-253. See also Noam Chomsky, Powers and Prospects, especially chapter 5, Boston, South End Press, 1996, pp. 94-131. See Robert K. Murray, Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920, Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 1955. See Richard M. Freeland, The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyism: Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics, and Internal Security, 1946-1948, New York: New York University Press, 1985. Originally published in 1970. See also Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-1960, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, Sydney: University of New South Wales, 1995. See also Judith Stephan-Norris & Maurice Zeitlin, Left Out: Reds & America’s Industrial Unions, Cambridge University Press, 2003. On the dismantling of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, the related end of capital controls and some of the consequences of these changes, see John Eatwell, “The Global Money Trap: Can Clinton Master the Markets?”, The American Prospect, Winter 1993, #12, pp. 118-126, and John Eatwell & Lance Taylor, Global Finance at Risk, New York: New Press, 2000. See also Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power & the Origins of Our Times, New York: Verso, 1994.
29. Los Angeles Times, “American Caesar,” Rosa Brooks, Saturday, September 3, 2005, p. B15.
30. Wall Street Journal, “Katrina Will Shape Military Debate: Army Has Resisted Proposal for Guard Disaster Unites: Short of People, Equipment,” Monday, September 12, 2005, Greg Jaffe, p. A 5. Government Accountablity Office, An Integrated Plan is Needed to Address Army Reserve Personnel & Equipment Shortages, July 2005
31. New York Times, “United States of Shame,” Maureen Dowd, Saturday, September 2, 2005, p. A29. New York Times, editorial, “The Man-Made Disaster,” Friday, September 2, 2005, p. A22. On earlier spending for freeways, see Mike Davis, Dead Cities, p. 261.
32. New York Times, “Intricate Flood Protection Long a Focus of Dispute,” Andrew C. Revkin & Christopher Drew, Thursday, September 1, 2005, p. A14. Editor & Publisher, “Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? ‘Times-Picayune’ Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues,'” Will Bunch, August 31, 2005. Others estimate the costs as much higher, but again, this is a question of fiscal priorities. Action before Hurricane Katrina would undoubtedly have saved minimally tens of billions of dollars and countless lives.
33. Wall Street Journal, “Overwhelmed: As U.S. Mobilizes Aid, Katrina Exposes Flaws in Preparation: Despite Warnings, Officials Say, There Wasn’t Clear Plan for a New Orleans Disaster,” Ann Carns and Chad Tehune in Atlanta, Kris Hudson in Baton Rouge, La., and Gary Fields in Washington, Thursday, September 1, 2005, pp. A1, 6.
34. For an important study looking at the very different experience of Cuba, see Oxfam, Cuba: Weathering the Storm: Lessons in Risk Reduction in Cuba, 2004. See also the important work of Amartya Sen, on democracy, development and militarization.
35. GAO, Disaster Management: Improving the Nation’s Response to Catastrophic Disasters, July 1993, p. 7.
36. Doug Bandow, “Federal Failure in New Orleans,” CATO Institute, September 8, 2005. For the NPR interview with Chertoff, see On Brown, see New York Times, “Director of FEMA Stripped of Role As Relief Leader: Decision Comes After Lawmakers Put Pressure on President,” Richard W. Stevenson & Anne E. Kornblut, Saturday, September 10, 2005, pp. A 1, 11.
37. MSNBC Reports, “Katrina: What Went Wrong?” Saturday, September 17, 2005. The dates for the quotes come from this program.
38. New York Times, “Director of FEMA Stripped of Role As Relief Leader: Decision Comes After Lawmakers Put Pressure on President,” Richard W. Stevenson & Anne E. Kornblut, Saturday, September 10, 2005, pp. A 1, 11.
39. This paragraph is drawn from the New York Times, “In Storm’s Ruins, a Rush to Rebuild and Reopen for Business: Contractors, and Lobbyists, Line Up,” John M. Browder, pp. A1, 14. On Brown and Root and the military-corporate complex, see Joseph A. Pratt & Christopher Castaneda, Builders: Herman & George R. Brown, Texas A & M University Press, 1999. See also Naomi Klein, “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” The Nation. Posted April 14, 2005. There is also the question of what will happen to the evacuees. Some are already pushing for the right of return to New Orleans for the evacuees, with guarantees of housing and jobs. The President’s mother, Barbara Bush, had a different, more hopeful view, perhaps influenced by her husband’s notion of the thousand points of light: “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas…Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality…And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” September 5, 2005, American Public Media, National Public Radio ( Then there is the political angle of some who appeared to delight in the fleeing of Blacks: Rep. Richard Baker, a “ten-term Republican from Baton Rouge,” was overheard as saying, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Washington Post, “Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina,” Charles Bibington, Satuday, September 10, 2005 ( Perhaps these views help explain the seeming callous disregard many feel the President and some federal, local and state authorities appeared to show for those left stranded.
40. Wall Street Journal, “No-Bid Contracts Win Katrina Work: White House Uses Practices Criticized in Iraq Rebuilding for Hurricane-Related Jobs,” Yochi J. Dreazen, Monday, September 12, 2005, A3, 5.
41. Mike Davis, Dead Cities, especially Ch. 13. See also New York Times, “From Margins of Society to Center of the Tragedy,” Friday, September 2, 2005, A1, 19. P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003. Peter Gowan, The Global Gamble: Washington’s Faustian Bid for World Dominance, New York: Verso, 1999. Peter Gowan, “The New American Century?,” The Spokesman, 76, 2002, pp. 5-22.
42. See the homepage of United for Peace and Justice
43. Wall Street Journal, “Katrina Erodes Support in U.S. for Iraq War: Bush’s Ratings as Crisis Manager Declines in Poll as Pessimism About the Economy Grows,” John Harwood, Thursday, September 15, 2005, p. A4.
45. W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880, New York: Atheneum, 1969. First published, 1935. Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution: 1863-1877, New York: Harper & Row, 1988. See also Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the US Working Class, New York: Verso, 1986.
46. New York Times, “Bush Rules Out Raising Taxes for Gulf Relief,” David E. Sanger & Edmund L. Andrews, Saturday, September 17, 2005, pp. A1, 10. New York Times, “Not the New Deal,” Paul Krugman, Friday, September 16, 2005, p. A27. See also New York Times, “Message: I Care About Black People,” Frank Rich, Sunday, September 18, 2005, p. A12.