How bloody tragic that the official accounting of the events before, during and after the 9/11 attacks, as inadequate as that turned out to be, was not the result of the U.S. government's thirst to uncover the truth, but because of the shaming that 9/11 widows put on George Bush and Congress. And that renewal of the bill providing medical care and compensation to thousands of 9/11 responders was not the result of compassion at the highest levels, but another public shaming, this one led by Jon Stewart.
After lobbying Congress since late summer, first responders who spent months working at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks are set to finally receive lifetime medical care for illnesses as a result of their labors on what they euphemistically called The Pile.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act is a must-pass provision included in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package that is expected to be approved today in the House and tomorrow in the Senate. Zadroga was a New York City Police officer who died at age 35 of a respiratory disease attributed to his participation in rescue and recovery operations at the World Trade Center.
"Never again will survivors and responders be forced to walk the halls of Congress, begging for their health care. Never again will they lose sleep over fear that this life-saving program will run out," declared Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who sponsored the reauthorization in the House and had pushed back against the obscene indifference to the plight of 9/11 first responders among too many people Capitol Hill. "I'm ecstatic. Our holiday wish came true."
New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the chief sponsor in the Senate.
Despite being told by the Environmental Protection Agency that the air around Ground Zero was safe to breathe, many first responders developed cancers and other debilitating illnesses because of their exposure to the Ground Zero toxins.
Even with bipartisan support for the legislation, some House and Senate Republicans viewed the program as an unfunded entitlement program and sought to limit its size and duration. As it is, $680 billion, or about two thirds of the omnibus spending package, is not covered by budget cuts or other tax offsets.
The Zadroga Act foot dragging drew the wrath of comedian Jon Stewart, who had guilt-tripped Congress into originally appropriating funds for first responders in 2010 and has been their passionate advocate ever since. Stewart reappeared on late-night television for the first time since his retirement to implore people to pressure Congress to support the Zadroga Act extension. The hashtag #WorstResponders started trending on Twitter and a fire finally was lit under recalcitrant congressfolk.
As head of the EPA, Christie Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and a rising national Republican star until she was cast out of the GOP temple by the conservative priests, led the big-lie campaign that Ground Zero air was not dangerous to breath.
Whitman asserted in an upbeat September 18, 2001 press release, later found to be one of many altered by the White House as part of its all-encompassing //9/11 cover-up, that:
"We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances. Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breath and their water is safe to drink."
Whitman and other environmental and health officials suspected and later were made well aware that there were an array of toxins at Ground Zero and in the surrounding area from the impact of the jetliners and collapse of the towers. These included minute shards of glass and asbestos, PCBs and other poisons.
About 70,000 people, including 5,300 first responders, have enrolled in the compensation program. More than 4,000 have cancer, many have severe pulmonary diseases, several have died and many are expected to have significantly shorter lifespans.
Whitman, who was forced out of her EPA job because she was too moderate for the anti-environment Bush administration, initially refused to testify before a House judiciary subcommittee about her post-9/11 statements before finally agreeing to appear. At no time during her tenure as the nation's top environmental watchdog did she ever question the White House's stage management of her.
In 2003, the EPA’s own inspector general concluded that Whitman did not have sufficient scientific information to state that the air was safe to breathe, while the cover-up of Ground Zero hazards extended well beyond the feds and included New York state and city health agencies.
The obdurate Republicans who held up the Zadroga Act renewal are, of course, shameless, but that is of a pattern. George Bush showed no remorse for his complicity in the 9/11 attacks, having spent the entire month of August 2001 vacationing at his Texas ranch posing for photo-ops in a 10-gallon hat as he flashed his frat boy smirk, clear brush and ignored detailed warnings from his intelligence bigs that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the U.S. by flying hijacked passenger aircraft into high-profile targets, including the World Trade Center.
Mychal Judge, a 68-year-old priest and New York Fire Department chaplain, was uptown at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi when the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Father Mike donned his FDNY chaplain’s uniform and rushed to the towers, where he removed his fireman's helmet to administer the last rites to a firefighter and a woman who had jumped from the tower when he was struck in the back of the head and mortally wounded by a chunk of falling debris.
You may not realize that you knew who Father Mike was until you reflect on the image above. //Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton's photograph, one of the most gripping images to come out of that horrific day, is a modern day Pietá. Father Mike was so beloved that his death certificate bears the number 00001 -- the first official World Trade Center casualty.