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Racism, Corruption and the Class Struggle in Arizona

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From Kasama

“Corruption, elite domination, and white favoritism are the most important factors in understanding Arizona’s strange political history, including this latest episode. But class struggle against it is key to understanding why the nation’s strangest state may soon be in the vanguard of struggles for real freedom. Those involved in such struggles stand like saguaros in this beautiful state, even as the snakes and scorpions scurry about us.”

Thanks to Jed for pointing out this essay. The piece first appeared on Facebook.

Corruption and Class Struggle:

What It’s Like to Live in Arizona Right Now

By Joel Olson

With the passage of the notorious anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 last spring, the outlawing of ethnic studies as of January 1, the gutting of the school and university systems, the collapsed housing market, the high unemployment rates, and now the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, you might be wondering what it’s like to live in Arizona right about now.

It ain’t easy.

But it helps to put Giffords’s shooting in historical perspective, which is defined by two things in Arizona: corruption and class struggle. And ironically, this perspective gives me hope about the radically democratic future of my home state.

 

Arozona Gov. Jan Brewer — demonstrating the classic hard-eyed white racist look [Would it be too outlandish to call this look “reptilian”?]

Arizona’s economy was founded on the “Five C’s:” copper, cotton, cattle, citrus, and climate (tourism). These C’s were controlled by big mining and agricultural interests and real estate developers. Corruption was commonplace as they manipulated the political system for their benefit.

A group of these capitalists, called the Phoenix 40, controlled state politics until the 1970s, when the political establishment opened up some. But even after their rule, the state capitol has always been a place to lie, bribe, and scam your way to what you want. If the names Don Bowles, Evan Mecham, AZ scam, Fife Symington, or the Keating 5 (which included Senator John McCain) mean anything to you, then you know that corruption is as plentiful as the parking here. And I haven’t even mentioned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio or State Senator Russell Pearce, the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of racist nativism.*

SB 1070 and Giffords’s shooting, in other words, are but the latest of a storied history of corrupt cowboy capitalism.

Such tomfoolery is part of the class struggle in the Grand Canyon State. Three classes matter in Arizona: elites, the white middle class, and the working class. The elites come mainly from the agriculture/mining, tourism, and construction/real estate sectors (with an emerging tech sector). They are the masters of the corruption I described. But in a system of majority rule, elites need a junior partner to dominate. This is where the white middle class steps in.

The white middle class is the engine of suburban development here. The new housing developments, strip malls, and big box stores that pop up almost daily (until the recession, at least) are built for and fueled by this class. Many in this class run small businesses related to the main sectors of the economy, such as ranching, construction, landscaping, and pool maintenance. Many are retirees who used to manage businesses in other states. This small business atmosphere contributes to the libertarian, Barry Goldwater-style political culture of the state.

For years, this relationship has been mutually beneficial. While legal segregation never took deep root in this state (most of Arizona’s explosive growth took place after Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954), unofficial practices have kept many neighborhoods and schools comfortably white for decades, and the best jobs have been traditionally denied to Chicanos and Natives. (With a Black population of just three percent, the racially “out” groups in this state have historically been Chicanos, Mexicans, and indigenous peoples.) Politicians have successfully tied these practices to the laissez-faire economic policies of the elites, giving whites the sense that their success is due strictly to their own work ethic rather than being facilitated by white privilege. As a result, many white middle and working class Arizonans identify with the success—and conservative politics—of the elites.

This collusion has created an anything-goes capitalism mixed with a suburban consciousness. Call my state the Wild West or suburban hell—they’re both accurate to a large degree.

But the partnership has been fraying in the last two decades. Pressures to diversify corporations, universities, and governments have led elites to support various multicultural initiatives, which middle class whites resent. (Arizona voters in November voted to outlaw affirmative action by a wide margin.) The state’s Latino population has outpaced white growth, and the state is now nearly one-third Latino. Areas that were once comfortably white now have Spanish-language business signs. More and more schoolchildren have brown faces—even in the “good” schools. Cars roll down formerly white streets bumping music whose percussion comes from a tuba.

Further, middle class whites increasingly see elites in collusion with the Brown working classes rather than them. They have reasons for believing this. Agriculture, construction, and tourism all depend on a highly exploitable, low-paid working class, which makes migrant labor desirable. Undocumented labor makes up 27% of all construction workers, 60% of agricultural workers, 25% of restaurants workers, and 51% of all landscaping workers in Arizona. This sets small business interests—who usually can’t take advantage of such labor—into a tizzy. It sets off many other middle and working class whites as well, who feel that “they” are stealing “our” jobs. This is the political power behind SB 1070—a law that Arizona’s elites largely oppose.

The frayed alliance between these two classes has created the political mess this state is in today. It is the story behind SB 1070, HB2281 (the anti-ethnic studies law), the elimination of affirmative action, the attack on the public education system, the attack on public workers for enjoying “Cadillac” pension plans, and Giffords’s shooting. The alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is not only of the white middle/working class, his addled mind is a gross exaggeration of its contradictions and confusions. Of course Loughner is probably crazy, but his mental health—and even his ideology—are not the point. What matters is that the conflict over this frayed class alliance—and all the political vitriol it has generated by Tea Partiers and others—pointed his illness toward Gabrielle Giffords.

In the face of this mess, it is the working class—largely Brown, largely poor, largely poorly educated, largely ignored—that represents the best hope to build a new Arizona within the corrupted shell of the old. Exploited by the elite, despised by many whites, and largely shut out of the political system, this class has had to make its own way through the state’s crazy political landscape.

With a weak Democratic Party, a labor movement crippled by “right to work” laws, a small civil rights contingent, few political nonprofits, and almost no organized left, Arizona’s working class is turning to grassroots democracy, operating outside the “official” political channels and fearlessly making political demands that challenge the pillars of laissez-faire capitalism itself. This path they are carving is quite possibly a model for working class struggles throughout the nation.

Take the grassroots fight against SB 1070, for example. The Tierra y Libertad Organization in Tucson has been a leader in opposing SB 1070. But it is also creating a new model of democracy. Declining to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, they raise funds through the community, which they use support their struggle for the self-determination of its base communities. In Phoenix, Puente has organized the major immigrant rights demonstrations in Arizona, but they are also organizing neighborhood meetings throughout the Valley of the Sun. In Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Repeal Coalition (I’m a member of this group) demands that all persons in a global economy be free to live, love, and work wherever they please, and they demand that ordinary people have a full say in those affairs that affect their daily lives. The undocumented workers, moms, and college students who make up the group don’t seem to worry that these demands are deeply radical and disrupt the very functioning of Arizona politics as it currently operates. These groups work with others, such as Border Action Network, No More Deaths, and Arizona Interfaith, that are organized in a traditional nonprofit format but nevertheless encourage face-to-face democracy and are courageously fighting 1070 and myriad other evils.

These working-class struggles suggest a new Arizona. They suggest a world in which working people decide the fate of the community, not the rich. They suggest a world in which democracy rather than white privilege decides how to allocate resources. They suggest a world in which borders are tools of the bosses rather than walls that “defend sovereignty” or “prevent terrorism.”

This class will not win for a while. The elites and the white middle classes are yet too powerful. This coming year, Arizona politicians will gut the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship, defund public education until it barely operates, and do many more stupid things. But as elites and the white middle class continue to bicker, the Arizona working class continues to learn lessons, develop leadership, practice grassroots democracy, and make demands that seem “unreasonable” today but might tomorrow become as obvious as the multiplication table.

Corruption, elite domination, and white favoritism are the most important factors in understanding Arizona’s strange political history, including this latest episode. But class struggle against it is key to understanding why the nation’s strangest state may soon be in the vanguard of struggles for real freedom. Those involved in such struggles stand like saguaros in this beautiful state, even as the snakes and scorpions scurry about us.

* * * * * * * *

Joel Olson has lived in Arizona for over 25 years. He is a member of the Flagstaff Repeal Coalition and teaches political theory at Northern Arizona University.

* For the uninitiated or un-Arizonan: Don Bowles was an Arizona Republic reporter who was murdered by a car bomb in 1976 while investigating connections between Arizona elites and the Mafia. Evan Mecham was a racist governor (he was a John Birch Society supporter) from 1987-1988 who was impeached for obstruction of justice and misuse of government funds. The Keating 5 were five U.S. Senators, including Arizona Senators John McCain and Dennis DeConcini, who were accused of corruption in 1989 for illegally intervening on behalf of Charles Keating, whose Lincoln Savings and Loan bank collapsed, causing thousands to lose their life savings. “AZ scam” was a bribery and money laundering scandal that several state legislators were convicted of in 1991. Fife Symington, the governor of Arizona from 1991-1996, was impeached and indicted for 23 counts of fraud and extortion.

 

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US TOXIC WASTE DUMPING IN HAITI: Clinton, the Dems & Duvalier Dump on Haiti

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SPECIAL REPORTS
Toxic wastes and Haiti
By Mitchel Cohen
Online Journal Guest Writer

Jan 26, 2010, 00:48

Two decades ago, the garbage barge, the Khian Sea, with no place in the U.S. willing to accept its garbage, left the territorial waters of the United States and began circling the oceans in search of a country willing to accept its cargo: 14,000 tons of toxic incinerator ash. First it went to the Bahamas, then to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bermuda, Guinea Bissau and the Netherlands Antilles. Wherever it went, people gathered to protest its arrival. No one wanted the millions of pounds of Philadelphia municipal incinerator ash dumped in their country.

Desperate to unload, the ship’s crew lied about their cargo, hoping to catch a government unawares. Sometimes they identified the ash as “construction material”; other times they said it was “road fill,” and still others “muddy waste.” But environmental experts were generally one step ahead in notifying the recipients; no one would take it. That is, until it got to Haiti. There, U.S.-backed dictator Baby Doc Duvalier issued a permit for the garbage, which was by now being called “fertilizer,” and four thousand tons of the ash was dumped onto the beach in the town of Gonaives.

It didn’t take long for public outcry to force Haiti’s officials to suddenly “realize” they weren’t getting fertilizer. They canceled the import permit and ordered the waste returned to the ship. But the Khian Sea slipped away in the night, leaving thousands of tons of toxic ash on the beach.

For two years more the Khian Sea chugged from country to country trying to dispose of the remaining 10,000 tons of Philadelphia ash. The crew even painted over the barge’s name — not once, but twice. Still, no one was fooled into taking its toxic cargo. A crew member later testified that the waste was finally dumped into the Indian Ocean.

The activist environmental group, Greenpeace, pressured the U.S. government to test the “fertilizer.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Greenpeace found it contained 1,800 pounds of arsenic, 4,300 pounds of cadmium, and 435,000 pounds of lead, dioxin and other toxins. But no one would clean it up.

The cost of the cleanup at Gonaives had been estimated to be around $300,000. Philadelphia’s $130 million budget surplus would more than cover it, but Philadelphia lawyer Ed Rendell — then mayor of that city and later chairman of the Democratic National Committee — refused to put up the funds. Joseph Paolino, whose company (Joseph Paolino and Sons) had contracted to transport the waste ash aboard the infamous Khian Sea garbage barge owned by Amalgamated Shipping, refused as well.

In July of 1992, the U.S. Justice Department — under pressure from environmental groups throughout the world — finally filed indictments against two waste traders who had shipped and dumped the 14,000 tons of Philadelphia incinerator ash. Similar indictments were brought against three individuals and four corporations who illegally exported 3,000 tons of hazardous waste to Bangladesh and Australia, also labeled as “fertilizer.” But none of the waste traders were charged with dumping their toxic cargo at sea, nor even with falsely labeling it as fertilizer and abandoning it on the beaches of Haiti, Bangladesh, and Australia. They were charged only with lying to a grand jury. (“Indictments Announced in Philadelphia’s Haiti Ash Scandal; Greenpeace Calls for Immediate Cleanup,” Greenpeace News, July 14, 1992, and “Philadelphia and U.S. EPA Get Unexpected Ash Packets,”Greenpeace Waste Trade Update, March 22, 1991.)

A month earlier, similar watered-down indictments were announced against three individuals and four corporations who illegally exported 3,000 tons of hazardous waste to Bangladesh and Australia, also labeled as “fertilizer.” Meanwhile, the government stonewalled, for years; it took more than a decade for the U.S. government to clean up the waste.

U.S. law was interpreted to protect the dumpers, not the dumped on. Unwilling recipients of toxic wastes are offered no recourse. In recent years, much of the waste from industrialized countries is exported openly, under the name of “recycled material.” These are touted as “fuel” for incinerators generating energy in poor countries. “Once a waste is designated as ‘recyclable’ it is exempt from U.S. toxic waste law and can be bought and sold as if it were ice cream. Slags, sludges, and even dusts captured on pollution control filters are being bagged up and shipped abroad,” writes Peter Montague in Rachel’s Weekly. “These wastes may contain significant quantities of valuable metals, such as zinc, but they also can and do contain significant quantities of toxic by-products such as cadmium, lead and dioxins. The ‘recycling’ loophole in U.S. toxic waste law is big enough to float a barge through, and many barges are floating through it uncounted.”

Every year, thousands of tons of “recycled” waste from the U.S., deceptively labeled as “fertilizer,” are plowed into farms, beaches and deserts in Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Brazil and dozens of other countries. The Clinton administration followed former President George H.W. Bush’s lead in allowing U.S. corporations to mix incinerator ash and other wastes containing high concentrations of lead, cadmium and mercury with agricultural chemicals that are sold to (or dumped in) unsuspecting or uncaring agencies and governments throughout the world. (Greenpeace Toxic Trade Campaign, “United States Blocks Efforts to Prohibit Global Waste Dumping by Industrial States,” December 2, 1992.)

These dangerous chemicals are considered “inert,” since they play no active role as “fertilizer” — although they are very active in causing cancers and other diseases. Under U.S. law, ingredients designated as “inert” are not required to be labeled nor reported to the buyer.

President Clinton — expanding the policies of his ignominious predecessors — continued to obstruct the rest of the world from regulating the disastrous international trade in hazardous wastes. At a critical March 21-25, 1994, international conference in Geneva, the United States stood with only a handful of waste-producing countries against the entire world in opposing a resolution banning the shipment of hazardous wastes to non-industrialized countries.

Shadowy covert operations figures spent the next two decades promoting schemes involving the shipment to Haiti of U.S. toxic wastes.

In November 1993, Time Magazine reported that a former U.S. government operative had detailed “an elaborate plan to tap U.S. aid funds for low-interest loans that would be used to transport New York City garbage to Haiti, where it would be processed into mulch to fertilize plants bioengineered to provide high-quality paper pulp. ‘We could collect $38 a ton for the garbage,’ claims [Henry] Womack . . . who helped oversee construction of the base that the Reagan Administration-backed contras used to stage attacks against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.” Womack has similar dreams for Haiti: “We’d make a bundle, and the government could get enough to pay the whole army’s salaries.” (Jill Smolowe, “With Friends Like These: A Host of Shadowy Figures is Helping Haiti’s Military Rulers Hatch a Plot to Sideline Aristide Permanently,” Time Magazine, November 8, 1993). Womack lived in a South Miami house with a couple: the sister of Michel François, who headed the death squads in Haiti and served as chief of its national police, and her husband.

Although most agents are not usually as candid as Womack, such plans are common. In August 1991, for example, Almany Enterprises, a company also headquartered in Miami, proposed shipping 30 million tons of incinerator ash from various U.S. cities to Panama over the subsequent four years. Almany would pay the government only $6.50 per ton of toxic waste received in Panama. The ash is believed to be highly contaminated with cadmium, copper, lead and zinc. Almany proposed to landfill the ash in marshlands near the free zone of Colon. Dozens of similar schemes are rampant. Throughout the Caribbean and Central America the devastating health crisis is exacerbated — if not directly caused — by international capital’s “recycling” of toxic wastes. (Indeed, Haitian women who have emigrated to the U.S. have been found to have double or triple the cervical cancer rates as women born in the U.S.)

Said Ehrl LaFontant of the Haiti Communications Project: “Instead of repatriating Haitian refugees to Haiti, the U.S. government should repatriate this toxic waste back to its own country.”

Toxic waste dumping in Haiti was, after all, a lucrative source of income for the Duvalier dictatorship. Former Haitian despot Duvalier profited handsomely in his relationship with the U.S., to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. That relationship included allowing U.S. toxic fertilizer to be dumped in Haiti, at the expense of the Haitian people.

Duvalier’s U.S.-based lawyer, Ron Brown, also did well, economically, by their relationship. In the early 1980s, Brown was a partner at the powerful Washington law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow. Duvalier secured his services by paying him $150,000 as a retainer, and Brown went to work for the brutal dictator on Capitol Hill. Before his death while flying over Yugoslavia and scouting U.S. investment opportunities, Brown had been personally linked to Lillian Madsen, who had married into an extremely wealthy Haitian family with vast holdings in coffee and beer. (She later divorced.) Madsen lived in an expensive Washington townhouse that had been purchased for her in 1992 by the commerce secretary himself and by his son, D.C. lobbyist Michael Brown. The Madsens were major backers of Duvalier and among the main domestic financial backers of the September 1991 coup against elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Brown uttered nary a word to support the return of Aristide and democracy to Haiti, nor did he protest the U.S.’s toxic practices there.

Brown also represented Fritz Bennett, the brother of Michelle Bennett Duvalier, wife of the deposed dictator, when the brother was arrested in Puerto Rico for trafficking in narcotics. (Michelle Duvalier’s touch with reality herself can be somewhat shaky, as when, in exile, she said: “Flee Haiti? Why do you say we were fleeing Haiti? The president and I decided it was time to leave. Nobody can ever say we had to leave Haiti. We wanted to go.”)

Brown was also the subject of a scandal involving Vietnamese businessman Nguyen Van Hao, who was the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Development under the corrupt U.S.-backed Saigon dictatorship in the early 1970s. Hao alleged that Brown agreed to be paid $700,000 in exchange for his help in lifting a trade embargo against Vietnam. Hao, who previously lived in Haiti, and Brown had a mutual Haitian friend, Marc Butch Ashton — Lillian Madsen’s brother-in-law. Ashton was a financial advisor to Baby Doc. A large landholder and owner of Haiti Citrus, a lime exporter, Ashton allegedly used a squad of 40 Tonton Macoutes death squads to guard his properties. Poor farmers who leased their land to Haiti Citrus say they were intimidated and tortured by Ashton’s thugs when they tried to get better terms. (Counterpunch, December, 1993)

Brown himself detailed his services to Duvalier in a nine-page memo. Brown’s letter, written in French on Patton, Boggs & Blow letterhead, blamed Monsieur Le President’s problems on an unfair image created by the U.S. media. As to his efforts on Haiti’s behalf, Brown wrote that “We continue to dedicate a considerable amount of time to the improvement of relations between the Republic of Haiti and members of congress and the American government, with the goal of substantially increasing American aid to Haiti. Early success in this regard,” crowed Brown, “is essentially the result of our Washington team.” (Counterpunch,December 1993)

Brown also informed Duvalier that he was looking after Haiti’s long-term interests by maintaining good relations with leading American political figures:

“While we have always enjoyed excellent relations with the government of President Reagan, we have also established personal contacts with almost all the Democratic candidates in order to ensure that we continue to have access to the White House regardless of who wins the presidential election in 1984.” Brown boasted that his “leading role in the Democratic National Committee has served us in these efforts, while a certain number of my colleagues in the Republican Party assure the permanence of our access and the excellence of our relations with the government of President Reagan.”

Juan Gonzalez, writing in the New York Daily News, continued the story:

“When Brown wrote his memo, Amnesty International had accused the Duvalier regime of torture, detentions without trial and ‘disappearances.’

“Here is some of what Brown reported to Baby Doc:

“‘Despite the unfair image of Haiti by the American media, and despite the opposition expressed by some members of Congress, it is certain that today . . . a growing number of people — both members of Congress and government officials — stand ready to defend the interests of Haiti. This . . . is essentially due to the work of our Washington team. . . .

“‘We continue to pay a great deal of attention to the Black Caucus and to other liberal members of Congress . . . [who] are now, thanks to our efforts, ready to help. Although some of them continue to make negative comments about Haiti, all, without exception, have proved to be cooperative on the issue of aid.’ “

Brown was reporting on his success in getting Congress to say one thing but do another. On foreign aid, he proved more than worth his annual retainer. While he represented Haiti, annual U.S. assistance increased from $35 million to $55 million.

Brown offered not a word in the memo about human rights.

Brown went on to serve as President Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, which is one of the agencies that oversees toxic waste shipments and promotes corporate investment in Haiti, particularly in the notorious assembly zones established by the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment program there. (The assembly zones were populated by the IMF’s removal of one-third of the rural population from their lands, now to be used for export crops to the U.S. and elsewhere).

In his confirmation hearings before the Senate, Brown was not asked a single question concerning toxic wastes, nor of his relationship with the Duvalier dictatorship.

[Brown was killed in a plane crash several years ago].

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