It’s amazing. Just when you think there are no new depths of shamelessness and betrayal of trust to which the Bush administration can sink, they manage to sink deeper into unchartered infamy. Hold on now, I’m not even mad yet. I’m talking about the seventy seven percent cut in the medical assistance for 9/11 first responders in the current federal budget. Gravely ill firemen, police, and other workers who labored at that site, workers who have come down with life threatening cancers and respiratory illnesses linked to their heroic efforts at ground zero are being shafted once again.
In the name of full disclosure, I am not writing this from some disinterested “good citizen” viewpoint. I have a young nephew, John McNamarra, a heroic fireman who worked as a first responder at that site and who later volunteered for rescue work after Katrina in New Orleans. For the past few years he has been suffering from various cancers resulting from that work for which he is currently under treatment at Sloan Kettering. Last weekend he called me to talk about the government’s new betrayal. As the father of a one year old son, Jack, John is fighting the battle of his life, and there is no godly reason why men such as John have to fight the government as well for proper medical care and compensation. One pill – yes one small pill that reduces the agonizing nausea of his chemotherapy costs as much as a thousand dollars. Okay, I can rail about the greedy drug companies and their obscene profits, but my first concern is our government’s ingratitude and cruelty, something which the congress must address and remedy to help all these men and women.
As Representative Carolyn Maloney writes, “It’s shocking that the president would use his final budget to take an axe to 9/11 health care programs.” Ms. Maloney is a wonderful representative but her use of shocking seems naïve. Are you shocked? After Katrina? After Walter Reed? Not me. I recall that first lie told by the federal government about the risk at ground zero to workers, one that came through the Bush mouthpiece, Christie Todd Whitman, then head of the Environmental Protection Agency, now a lobbyist for nuclear power. This former New Jersey governor claimed that anyone in the area of ground zero, meaning not only the workers who worked in the rubble trying to rescue the buried and reclaim body parts, but the residents of the apartments in the area, were safe from the toxic fumes that filled the air for days, sometimes weeks. According to a later report of the New York City Department of Health “The collapse of the Twin Towers brought 200,000 tons of steel, 5,000 tons of asbestos, 12,000 miles of electric cables and 425,000 cubic yards of concrete crashing down into lower Manhattan… The combustion produced a toxic cauldron of concrete, dust, glass fibers, and cancer-causing asbestos, as well as particles of lead, chlorine…24 gallons of jet fuel, and burning plastics released carcinogens including dioxins etc.”
As someone who lived more than eighty long city blocks north of ground zero I could smell the bitter, toxic air coming in through my bedroom window for days.
The first Bush betrayal was the unscientific, false reassurances which endangered so many; and according to John and others, was not the result of ignorance but done by design. It seems that the federal government and the city wanted to reopen Wall Street quickly, fearing the economic repercussions of 9/11. In order to do so they had to reassure the public that the area was safe, without having any scientific evidence that it was indeed safe. So the health of many thousands was put at risk, thousands of ground zero workers and ordinary citizens who would have taken greater precautions to guard their lungs against these toxins had not the government told them that this was unnecessary. How many babies living in that area at the time of 9/11 are doomed to serious lung disease in the future thanks to George W’s reassurance? We won’t know about future ramifications until years from now, but right now there are thousands of people who might otherwise be healthy today who are suffering from some form of respiratory disease or cancer, thanks to the Bush government’s criminal reassurance, and continuing negligence.
Over 3,000 firefighters sought respiratory treatment since 9/11. In the year after the attacks city firefighters as a group lost lung function equivalent to twelve years of aging. There are other appalling statistics for the police and similar statistics for construction and iron workers. I could go on, but we get lost in numbers, at least I do, and this isn’t about statistics, it’s about simple justice for these men and women, medical and financial compensation, and human decency. The decency part is not now possible. We won’t get it as long as George W is president, and we can only hope that these valiant first responders will not be forgotten by the next administration. When you add this to the atrocious way our wounded Iraqi soldiers and vets have been treated it is a panorama of governmental malfeasance verging on atrocity.
It is hard to forget that this is the Republican government that profited politically from the fear of terror brought on by 9/11, both on the national level through Bush’s red alert re-election, and on the local New York level in terms of that B movie ghoul who impersonates a human so ineptly, Rudy Giuliani; a man who built his fortune on other men’s misfortune from 9/11.
ABC TV had scheduled a full report on the health crises faced by the first responders in 2007. But then that nut in the Philippines falsely confessed to the killing of Jon Benet Ramsey so that critical report was replaced by perp shots and the usual sad pictures of the murdered child in her beauty queen paraphernalia The ABC in depth report on the 9/11 first responders and their health problems was never aired. So much for the concerns of the MSM for anything but the last murder or the next scandal.
John will be speaking in Washington today, February 26th, on the steps of the Capitol, together with a group of men and women suffering from 9/11 related health injuries. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somebody listens to them and then, does something about their critical problems? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. In the 1920’s there was a mantra promoted by the French psychologist and self-help guru, Emile Coue, that suggested one should rise in the morning and say, “Every day in every way, I get better and better.” And you would. We might bring that up-to-date for the Bush administration by rising in the morning and saying, “Every day in every way they get badder and badder.” And they will.