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Toxic Twins

Arizona Meet BP

by ALVARO HUERTA

What does the State of Arizona have in common with PB, the British global energy corporation?  Well, let me count the ways ….

First, both have been spewing toxins into America’s environment since late April.  In the case of Arizona, on April 23rd, Governor Jan Brewer signed into law an unconstitutional and racist measure (SB 1070), whereby criminalizing undocumented workers and legalizing racial profiling against Latinos.  As for BP, on April 20th, this corporate mammoth, in the spirit of the “drill-baby-drill” chorus, caused the largest oil leak disaster since the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill over two decades ago.

Secondly, both have been grossly inaccurate regarding their data to rationalize their claims.  The supporters of Arizona’s immigration law, for example, argue that since undocumented workers account for the “rise of crime” in this state, the state government had no choice but to pass a law aimed at curtailing these so-called criminals.  Yet, recent reports show that crime has actually declined in the desert state and the cheerleaders of this draconian law have yet to produce any legitimate data correlating recent immigrants with crime.

On the contrary, recent research shows that undocumented immigrants on average commit less crime than native-born Americans, especially once we take into account for age, gender and other factors to make valid comparisons.  We need to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. For example, if we know that recent immigrants are younger (and most likely male) compared to Americans, then we can’t compare these two groups equally when it comes to crime, especially since we know that young people are more likely to commit a crime than older folks.

Writing for the American Conservative magazine in a recently published essay, Ron Unz does an excellent job of examining the complex nature of Latinos (and other groups) vis-à-vis crime rates where he analyzes hard data to debunk myths perpetuated by Republicans and others in this country about the so-called Latino immigrant menace.  Despite being a leading force against bilingual education in California in the 1990s, Unz actually puts his Harvard and Stanford educational background to some good use by closely examining the complex relationships between ethnic groups (whites included) and crime in this country.

As for BP, when the corporation first estimated the magnitude of the oil leak, corporate officials dramatically underreported the amount of oil being released daily in the ocean and, consequently, U.S. states in the Gulf of Mexico.  For instance, corporate officials, according to news agencies, originally calculated the leak 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day, while U.S. Government officials estimated it at 12,000-19,000 barrels (504,000 to 798,000 gallons) per day.  Other scientists, based on video evidence, have estimated it at 70,000 to 100,000 per day.

Thirdly, the actions of both the Arizona government and BP corporate leaders have caused more economic hardship for the residents of the already economically depressed regions.  In the case of Arizona, the growing national boycotts against this financially struggling state have resulted in the loss of revenue (both current and future) that will further damage the fragile economy caused by the housing crises, loss of jobs, credit crises and, overall, current recession.

This includes major cities (and counties) like Los Angeles and other municipalities officially joining the economic boycott against this racist state, in addition to countless individuals, trade groups, unions and others that have already canceled reservations and vacation trips.  These collective actions represent a major blow to a state that depends heavily on out-of-state business and tourists to support the local economies, especially in tourism where hotels, spa resorts, restaurants and gift shops depend on outsiders to spend money and consume goods.

In the case of BP, the massive oil leak, which apparently will continue to spew oil until late this summer, has resulted in another financial blow to Louisiana’s local economy, not to mention other Southern states like Alabama.  Still recovering from the hurricane Katrina disaster, Louisiana and its residents in particular now face the ecological and financial consequences of this ongoing oil leak.  For instance, for those who depend on revenue from the fishing industry for commercial and recreational purposes, this uncontrollable oil leak amounts to financial hardship for decades to come.

Lastly, in both cases, the Obama Administration has failed to act swiftly and decisively to resolve these human-made disasters.  In the case of Arizona, President Obama has used mild words to condemn this racist law. When a racist cop arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.—a renowned African American scholar—at his home last year, Obama originally used the word “stupidly” in describing this incident, yet in the case of the racist immigrant law in Arizona, he used the word “misguided.”

As a former constitutional law professor and, now, the most powerful person in the world, Obama should deliver a legal viewpoint and moral condemnation of a law that goes back to the dark days of Jim Crow during the mid-20th century with legalized racism.  Apart from shunning Governor Jan Brewer—the modern day version of the late Alabama Governor George C. Wallace who strongly defended segregation—Obama should take a bold position against this rogue state government and its disregard for the humane treatment of immigrants and racial equality.  This immigration law not only violates federal law, for example, since the federal government ultimately overseas immigration enforcement, but also creates a new round of civil rights violations in this country against a particular racial group: Latinos.

As for BP, the Obama Administration has also been too slow regarding the out of control oil leak.  From the start, Obama should’ve been on the ground to put pressure on BP and, by a particular juncture, should’ve taken full control of the operations to fix the leak (and corporate assets) since the London-based corporation doesn’t appear to be capable of stopping it anytime soon and may renegade on paying for all economical and environmental incurred costs.  This is the same corporation that didn’t have an adequate back-up plan in place to either prevent or quickly stop this type of leak.  This is the same corporation that took the risk in the first place to extract oil at an unprecedented 5,000 feet under water. This is the same corporation that hasn’t been fully transparent about the magnitude of this leak and long term dangers to the impacted ecosystem.

To be fair to Obama, however, this type of offshore drilling comes from the pro-big energy, Bush-Cheney Administration.  Not only have Republicans (and now more conservative Democrats) been more than willing to explore for offshore oil at any cost, but the regulatory agencies responsible for preventing or minimizing disasters of this scale in the first place have been too cozy and in cahoots with mega-oil corporations like BP and others.

In short, in order to stop racist laws and disastrous oil leaks from occurring in this country, the federal government, in conjunction with the public, needs to take more proactive and aggressive measures to prevent state governments and corporate officials from spewing pollutants into our environment, resulting in both short and long term disastrous costs.

ALVARO HUERTA is a doctoral student at UC Berkeley. He can be reached at: ahuerta@berkeley.edu

 

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