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"Michael Clayton", Issues of Accountability and Brave New Films' "The Real Rudy: Radios"

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I saw Michael Clayton last night. The issue of accountability, or the lack thereof, threads its way throughout the movie. Simply put, no one is willing to take responsibility for anything. And, depressingly true to life, there seems to be an inverse correlation between taking responsibility and the rich and powerful, as those with more power run away from it the fastest. There’s the Westchester big wig who calls in Clooney, the fixer, to clean up the mess he left behind at a hit and run. And Don Jeffries – the CEO of UNorth, the agrobusiness giant – who signs and then suppresses a report laying out the health hazards of their product. And don’t forget UNorth’s top lawyer who sweeps the problems under the rug by outsourcing wiretapping, surveillance, and eventually murder. Even the title figure Clooney portrays does not eagerly don his superhero cape. He is dragged in after his friend and colleague is murdered, and he himself barely survives a car bombing. While Clooney’s character sticks up for the little guys in the end, it’s only once he begins to question what has become of his life that his values start to shift and realign. These days, we are so desperate that we’ll take any hero we can get, even one who only inadvertently does the right thing. Machiavelli is the new American idol, everyone has a price, and whistleblowers are an endangered species. Look around. This is the poisonous atmosphere that the current administration has perfected.

The subtitle at the Michael Clayton website is “The truth can be adjusted.” This sentiment rings true with New York’s fire fighters, who feel that is exactly what Rudy Giuliani has done with 9/11. They are sickened by the spin machine that has skillfully transformed him into a larger-than-life, national hero. Like the blind men and the elephant, they see something and someone very different. They find Rudy to be murderously incompetent, and a headline-grabbing liar besides. With campaigning already underway, the timing of this short film couldn’t be better. Rudy wants to be your president. He’s the one who’s constantly touting his role on September 11 as proof of his fitness for the job. Let’s not take his word for it; let’s evaluate his case for ourselves.

The back-story

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Motorola has apparently had a long-time exclusive with the City of New York. Warren Stogner, who manages all the government contracts in the NYC area, says that he has never seen such a tight (some would say unhealthy) relationship between vendor and client – “Overly close… far too close. It’s not a good thing.” Motorola supplied the radios that failed abysmally in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They also provided the replacement radios that were not bought until Spring 2001, and which were recalled only one week later. To add insult to injury, the city had failed to do any field-testing on the next round of radios. These are not actions likely to inspire confidence in local government.

Mayoral inaction

When Rudy became mayor in early 1994, a damning report had already been issued - the U.S. Fire Administration/Technical Report Series - about the malfunctioning radios that were in use at the time of the 1993 WTC bombing. Giuliani had ample time to fix that problem. On his watch, there were seven years of inaction. After the very overdue purchase and immediate recall of new Motorola units in Spring 2001, the firefighters were forced to go back to using the exact same radios that had failed miserably at the same site eight years before. The problems were major and well documented. The radios had already been deemed inadequate for buildings of that size, as the signal was simply not strong enough. Even worse, the radios lacked “interoperability,” meaning that police and firefighters could not communicate with one another. This literally became an issue of life or death on 9/11. 10-15 minutes before the collapse of either of the WTC buildings, police helicopters saw them listing and issued a vacate order, correctly predicting at least a partial collapse of both structures. This order was picked up by police radios, and as a result, not a single member of the NYPD died in the North Tower. The same could not be said for the 121 firefighters who perished there, the message fatally unheard.

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Giuliani worsened matters by making an incendiary statement at the 9/11 hearings. He claimed that the firefighters selflessly ignored orders to vacate and remained by choice in the Towers. His fallacious version of events outraged the dead firefighters’ families. Eileen Tallon, mother of fallen firefighter Sean, her only son, is livid over Giuliani’s distortions of the truth. She accuses Giuliani of implying “that our sons practically wanted to die.” Andy Ansbro, a firefighter who is a former police officer, asserts, “I didn’t take the job in order to commit suicide.”

Firefighters didn’t evacuate because they never received the order to do so. It is legitimate to say that the malfunctioning radios kept them from getting critical information that could have saved their lives. Spin can’t undo that fact, however inconvenient it may be. These families are still hurting, and they’re looking for accountability. Their sacrifice entitles them to the truth.

Where’s the press?

For the most part, this brouhaha has been met with media yawns. Surprised? I guess it’s not as sexy as the antics of Paris Hilton or Britney’s custody woes. At the rate we’re going, journalists will soon be as respected as used car salesmen, and the judgment will, sadly, be a fair one (no offense to used car salesmen). Honest journalism is becoming an oxymoron. As one who has been noting the silence of the non-web media on election fraud issues for the last several years, this is old news. Nevertheless, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still unacceptable.

Precisely because Giuliani hitched his star to 9/11, his actions deserve to be scrutinized. After all, if it were up to him and his supporters, he will be the next president. But, even if he had not wrapped himself in the flag, his past actions are likely good indications of his future performance. It behooves every American to look closely at each candidate. In this case, investigating the claims made by the firefighters’ families is not too much to ask. These heroes died while attempting to save their fellow New Yorkers. If their lives were cut short partially because of bad decisions made in the years leading up to September 11, we need to know that too. We can’t put the past to rest until we’ve got the whole story.

This documentary from Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films is less than seven minutes long. Within that small package, the case against Rudy is efficiently and effectively laid out using interviews with firefighters’ families, an associate professor of Fire Science with more than ten years working in fire and building code enforcement procedures, an investigative journalist, and an expert in “emergency management and health and medical response.” Remarkably free of hysteria considering that the grieving families are among those interviewed, the film poses questions that need answers.

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• Why was nothing done to improve FDNY radio performance for seven years after a clear need was demonstrated in the 1993 World Trade Center attack?
• When new radios were finally ordered, why did the city block other companies besides Motorola from bidding on the contract?
• Once Motorola was given the contract, why did its cost jump from $1.4 million to $14 million?
• Why were these new radios never tested?

Wayne Barrett, investigative journalist, senior editor for Village Voice, and author of two books on Giuliani sums it up nicely. “Not only did they take forever to deal with the radio problem. They made all the wrong decisions up the line in picking the radio that would be used.” Those decisions had devastating consequences for dozens of firefighters and their families.

What you can do

Watch this video: The Brave New Films website supplies further documentation of the claims made in the film. Weigh the evidence and decide for yourself.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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