Annual 9/11 Remembrance should push Congress to reauthorize Zadroga Act

Sep 16, 2015
In The News

As Bill Maher would say, "New Rule": No politician can evoke "9/11" who does not support reauthorizing and fully funding the Zadroga Act.

Each year for 14 years now, the names of the nearly 3,000 people who perished on September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center have been read off, one by one. The area has been held as a sacred site - there is even a sacred tree. A museum has opened dedicated to the people and the events of that day in minute detail.

It's become a holy ritual. The religion of victimization.

"Never Forget" is the mantra.

"There are two words to remember today. And they’re on the material you’ve been given, they’re on the scarves, they’re on the bandanas. The first word is remember. Remember. That is what today is about – remember," Governor Andrew Cuomo said during his 9/11 remarks this year.

"The second word was honor," Cuomo said. "We honor those firefighters and those policemen who went to the site that day."

Indeed, people throw are too quick to assign the label "hero," versus victim, which is what just about everyone killed on 9/11 was, but the real heroes were the 343 first responders who died - among them Great Neck's Jon Ielpi - and thousands who were innocently working in the Towers that cruel morning and escaped, often helping others to safety i n the process, and the the thousands who followed after, coming from all over the country to assist, and the thousands of area residents who bravely stayed, who were lied to by the government that told them the air was safe, are getting sick.

As the Daily Mail reported, "More police officers have died from Ground Zero illness than were killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11." A total of 71 police officers have died from illnesses linked to inhaling toxic dust and smoke from Ground Zero, compared to 60 officers who were killed in the attacks on September 11, 2001. Six police officer deaths in 2013 were blamed on Ground Zero illness, four in 2012 and three in 2011.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Marcy Borders, the woman from the famous 9/11 ‘Dust Lady’ photo, died of stomach cancer; she was just 42.

What I remember was how hard it was - in an era before Obamacare, when people were literally on their own for health care - to pass the Zadroga Act, named for James Zadroga, the 9/11 first responder who died from a respiratory disease in 2006, over Republican opposition.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act provides “medical coverage and financial assistance to members of the civilian army who rallied to serve their country and city in the dark days after” 9/11.

Despite the obvious illnesses that was felling these people (remember Jon Stewart having several on his show?), the Republicans in Congress blocked passage. It finally was passed in 2010, in the waning hours of Democratic control of the House before the Republicans took over. But it was only adopted for five years.

As New York Magazine reported, "The section of the law that helps pay for the ongoing treatment of first responders and survivors dealing with chronic diseases or respiratory disorders will expire at the end of the month. A year later, a nearly $3 billion fund – one that helps compensate those who have suffered economic losses because of injuries that happened at Ground Zero or maladies that came later – will also expire. If the law isn’t reauthorized soon, the many people depending on it will probably receive letters from the government in the coming months telling them the program has ended, leaving them impossibly worried about how they will pay for impending or ongoing medical expenses."

"Remember that there are people...who are home today, sick because of what they did on 9/11 and suffering because of what they did on 9/11," said Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his remarks on 9/11, said, "Because they didn’t ask the questions. Because they didn’t wait for the equipment, they didn’t wait for the masks. They just went and did the right thing. They deserve our support and we will not forget them. That is the Zadroga Bill and as the Governor of the state of New York I will not rest until that Zadroga Bill is reissued time and time again."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has championed the renewal of the Zadroga Act, said on WNYC"s Brian Lehrer program, "The health care compensation fund is expiring at the end of the month - men and women are dying of horrible cancers. Illnesses don't expire and their health care should not expire."

It took nine months to remove approximately 1.8 million tons from the WTC site.

Gillibrand noted that while no one on Capitol Hill is "overtly opposed, but too many want to cut, have it expire, renew it for only five more years. They are treating it like any other line item.

"There is a lack of urgency. These first responders shouldn't have to come to Washington, walk the halls. They are heroes. They came from every state, answered the call, raced to the Towers when everyone else was fleeing, and stayed for months, breathing in the carcinogens that are now killing them. There is no reason why Congress can't do this. We have a program [to cover health care] for those in the nuclear industry, people who worked in mines who are dying of black lung disease. The first responders were there for us when we needed them, and we need to be there when they need us most."

She said that the committee staff working on the Zadroga Bill are proposing to make it a five-year bill and cut funding. "They are looking at just another line item bill. It would be law today if it were true there is no opposition."

Asked why regular health coverage provided for police and firemen isn't adequate even for retirees, Gillibrand said, "Their insurance doesn't cover this, and doesn't cover it forever - coverage runs out. They have to mortgage homes to pay for treatment. Medicines can be thousands of dollars a month. They need specialists. Now that have had that for five years... they have specialized doctors to treat them. If we don't renew this now, their doctors will have to leave the program.

"It's outrageous for survivors and first responders to face uncertainty about whether the funding to cover their medical expenses will be available."

Over 57,000 people have met the program's initial eligibility requirements. Approximately 18,000 people have received medical treatment for illnesses related to toxic dust from the World Trade Center site.

The problem is that many of these cancers and illnesses do not emerge for decades.

This week, the Daily News reported, the findings of a FDNY study that indicated that firefighters who worked at the smoldering World Trade Center site had a 19% greater likelihood of developing cancer of those who did not.

"It is alarming evidence and it calls for action," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan). "It is our moral responsibility to reauthorize the bill."

"I think New Yorkers and people all across the United States who stand with our heroes, need to tell Congress they have to support our 9/11 heroes and make sure they have health care," Gillibrand said.

Let's remember how the Zadroga Act came into being:

The US House, still controlled by Democrats in September 2010, passed a new version of the Zadroga Act in September 2010. The Democrats were unable to break a Republican filiusber. Republicans objected to the pricetag (initially $7.4 billion), they objected to the whole idea of a new healthcare "entitlement" (heaven forbid!), and the provisions to pay for the health care through an excise tax increase on foreign-made goods. Then, the Republicans refused to end their filibuster until the bus tax cuts were renewed.

Then "fake news" Daily Show host Jon Stewart took the matter into his own hands. Abandoning any pretext at comedy, he devoted an entire show to the political battle over the Zadroga Act. Guests included four 9/11 first responders suffering from severe diseases and injuries related to their work near the WTC site, essentially embarrassing the Republicans.

"On December 19, 2010, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a $6.2 billion version of the bill paid for in part by closing a corporate tax loophole and in part by a 2% excise tax on foreign goods that did not include countries with international procurement agreements with the U.S. On December 22, 2010, Congress approved the final bill, which allocated $4.2 billion towards the program, and President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga Act into law on January 2, 2011. This act created the World Trade Center Health Program, which replaced earlier programs (Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program and the WTC Environmental Health Center program). The World Trade Center Health Program provides treatment services and medical benefits for people who worked in response and recovery operations as well as for survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

It reminds me of the signs waving at the Republican National Convention in 2004: Support the Troops - while at the same time, the Bush Administration was cutting back support for the wounded soldiers coming back, cutting back on the Veterans Administration hospitals. (Remember Walter Reade? Obama has focused on building up Veterans Affairs to service the million newly minted veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan while also addressing issues of mental illness, homelessness and jobs.)

It also reminds me of how the Republicans blocked funding for Superstorm Sandy relief until they were finally forced into it.

This is what I remember when I think about Sept. 11, 2001: how the Bush/Cheney Administration completely screwed up. Not one, not two, not three, but four planes hijacked, made U-turns in the sky for two hours. "Who could have imagined?" Condoleeza Rice told the 9/11 Commission. Everyone. Everyone could have imagined. The Millennium Plot that the Clinton Administration foiled involved hijacking 14 planes. The FAA issued 54 warnings. The G-8 had been moved earlier that year because of the threat of a commercial plane being used as a missile. Richard Clarke, the Bush Administration's counter-terrorism expert, warned Bush on Day One of his administration that Osama bin Laden was the one to watch. Bush ignored him. Giuliani located the emergency personnel and the anti-terrorism unit in the World Trade Center, the same building that had been attacked in 1993. The CIA had intercepted a message the day before September 11 signaling that the attack would come the next day that wasn't translated because Arabic speakers had been fired for being gay. 343 first responders died in the towers, including one of our own, because their radios didn't work and they didn't get the call to get out of the building. Recall how the Bush Administration would cynically raised the terror color warning to scare people to sheepishly follow, obey, vote back into office the leaders who failed so miserably, who abused their power so absolutely.

"Newly uncovered government documents show that the US government ignored a specific warning in 2000 that Al Qaeda planned to hijack a commercial airliner headed for the US," Steve Watson reported on on Sept. 27, 2013. The documents, released to Judicial Watch, show that the warning was ignored because "nobody believed that Usama bin Laden’s organization or the Taliban could carry out such an operation.”

The reason why Sept. 11 is elevated to holy status is to distract and divert, so that no one questions why it happened, how it happened and why nearly 3,000 people died. There is no answer yet as to whether it was supreme ineptitude, or purposeful ,the "Pearl Harbor" envisioned by the Project for the New American Century that enabled the Bush/Cheney Administration unchallenged control.

That's not hyperbole or rhetoric. That's fact. You only have to look at how Bush was able to rule, how every time people would question his policies - tax policy, for instance, rising unemployment, the housing bubble - he would raise the terror threat level and hurl a few "9/11s" about.

This is an administration, after all, that was bookended by 9/11 on one end and Katrina (another 1800 dead) on the other.

It's worth noting that the 9/11 Commission spent less time in their investigation and muted report than the various commissions still investigating Benghazi.

I am so sick of those who evoke 9/11 to justify anti-democratic actions (they say that 9/11 changed this country, there is "pre-9/11 and "post-9/11" and if you are in a pre-9/11 mindset you are merely naive.) The answer to that meme is that America changed - overturned habeus corpus, justified torture and anti-immigrant policies - only because we allowed America to be changed. 19 hijackers could never bring down "America." The Bush Administration did that for them.

9/11 was used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. You don't have Al Qaeda in Iraq until you have the US invasion. You don't have an empowered Iran until you depose Saddam Hussein. You don't have ISIL until you have the vacuum created of a corrupt Iraq regime, an American populace so traumatized by the Iraq War, incapable of crossing the "red line" to deal with the Syrian despot Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people,

The United States is not the only one that is suffering from terrorism. Terrorism was practically invented as a tactic against Israel, which has been suffering for its entire existence and now has become the prevailing tactic rendering old-school armies almost obsolete. What about the terror rained down on hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed in US bombs, the "shock and awe" leading to a big "oops.". The equivalent of a 9/11 happens every month due to the domestic terrorism of unfettered gun violence, but no one stands and reads the names of the 30,000 killed each and every year, each and every year. Do these parents, children, siblings suffer any less for their loss? Why are their lost loved ones less worthy of recognition?

Remember Cindy Sheehan, who just wanted Bush to answer one question, "For what noble cause did my son die?" Her son, as did so many others, signed up to fight in a burst of patriotism after 9/11 and believed the lie that Saddam Hussein was somehow implicated, that he was about to unleash "a mushroom cloud".

She was literally booted out of a Bush rally, no sympathy whatsoever for her loss, as the world is expected to pay the families of 9/11. No one reads the names of the 4,000 Americans killed in Iraq.

I'm not the only one who each September 11, feels like I am being hit upside the head.

NPR's Takeaway host John Hockenberry, said much the same thing in an essay he delivered on 9/11:

" I don't look at the calendar anymore this time of year. I dread this day. But not because of anything that might happen. It’s the ritual of 9/11 that I am through with....

"I'm done with the whole heroes thing. Aren't we over this? There’s the American tragedy story and the talk of America as the preeminent victim of terrorism—America isn't even close to being the most victimized nation by terrorism. If anything, we are more of a victim of our own domestic terrorism than from any foreign enemies, even though it’s easy and convenient to fear them more than kids with guns who wander into churches to kill.

"I cannot deny people's grief who lost loved ones that day. The people who were in the towers—I cannot deny the tragedy of those who couldn't make it out. But I think the 9/11-ization of American life has been a kind of poison for all of us. We had our moment when the whole world was with us after 9/11, and we squandered it.

"We spent trillions on two wars that turned a battlefield into a killing field for ISIS and gave us a refugee tidal wave from Syria and Iraq. And another battlefield in Afghanistan was turned into a fragile puppet government that rules over the biggest opium crops in the history of the world. Some of that Afghan heroin finds its way into our cities where it kills and destroys lives much more easily than flying planes into towers."

Hockenberry reminded me of Bush's "not my fault" disclaimer. "Prior to September 11th, we were confident that two oceans could protect us from harm.”

"We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on defense and it was the oceans that were protecting us? That was it? That was why no fancy fighter jets defended our airspace on September 11th? We bought the F16s for show, or to bomb and strafe other people?" Hockenberry said incredulously.

The reaction to his essay was surprisingly overwhelmingly supportive:

"I avoided tuning in to any news outlets today because I knew it would be wall to wall, in your face, vapid 9/11 remembrance rituals and coverage," commented Frank from Babylon, NY.

"Even ESPN had to get in on the act by having G.W. Bush on the Mike & Mike show (I shut it off). But this afternoon and out of sheer habit I turned on the kitchen radio (always tuned in to WNYC) and The TakeAway was starting up and I listened to John's essay. I was blown away: He stated exactly what was on my mind. Thanks John for having the balls to say what you did and air a much needed perspective. You spoke for millions of us who feel the exact same way you do."

"Remember," Governor Cuomo said. But really remember.

“I grieve for the thousands of innocents who died on 9/11, if I can also grieve for the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who died in Iraq after 2003," wrote Hockenberry's teenage daughter, whose first memory as a child on her first day of preschool was seeing a plane hit the towers at school was on September 11, 2001.