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After 20 Years, Holding Giuliani Accountable For Post-9/11 Toxic Air Debacle

Reprinted with permission from The Chief-Leader

The chairs of both the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee have written to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio requesting that he release any documents in the city's possession pertaining to what officials knew about the air quality in and around lower Manhattan in the days and weeks following the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists.

The Congressional inquiry comes as the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund reported it had received 3,900 death claims related to WTC health conditions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 3,311 people enrolled in its WTC Health Program have died.

In their September 20 letter, Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who co-sponsored the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, wrote that disclosure was critical to "help provide injured and ill 9/11 responders, survivors, and their families a better understanding of what the City knew at the time about the likely scope of the health crisis and when they knew it."

The de Blasio administration responded with a statement: "As we continue to remember both those that died on 9/11 and those that passed away years later from toxic dust, we will not forget the lessons we learned that day. We will review the letter."

Three days after the 9/11 attack, Christine Todd Whitman, then-head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters that "the good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern." Two years later, an investigation by the EPA Inspector General found that the agency "did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement" when it did.

Bush Doctored Releases

"Air-monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern," the inspector general concluded. The report stated that President George W. Bush's White House Council on Environmental Quality heavily edited the EPA press releases "to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

The IG also found that the Council described the readings as just "slightly above" the limit, despite the fact that samples taken indicated asbestos levels in lower Manhattan were double or even triple the EPA's limit.

When the agency watchdog tried to determine who had written the press releases, investigators "were unable to identify any EPA official who claimed ownership," because they were told by the EPA chief of staff that there was "joint ownership between EPA and the White House," which gave final approval.

Reps. Maloney and Nadler cited those findings in their recent letter to the mayor. "This report outlined what the federal government knew about the extent of the problem and the clear health threat, after the EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman had repeatedly said that the 'air was safe to breathe,'" they wrote. "However, we have yet to see a full accounting of what then-Mayor Giuliani and his administration knew at the time."

The Congressional leaders linked their inquiry to "President Biden's ongoing review and declassification of documents related to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's possible involvement in the 9/11 attacks" and the need for "full transparency" about just "what the government knew about the health risks at Ground Zero" and whether it "potentially covered up that information."

"While previous reports have hinted at what the Giuliani administration knew about the health risks, it is time for a complete accounting of this history," Ms. Maloney and Mr. Nadler wrote. "If it is true that they knew that thousands of responders and community members would face tremendous long-term health impacts, the administration unnecessarily delayed the effort to provide health care to the thousands of responders and survivors exposed in the aftermath on the pile and in schools, offices, and homes around the area."

Health advocates from first-responder unions and the lower Manhattan neighborhood supported the call for the city to disclose all documents it has related to what it knew about the air quality in and around the site.Ultimately, Federal officials defined the WTC health impact zone to encompass all of lower Manhattan south of Houston Street and portions of western Brooklyn.

'Can't Repeat Mistakes'

Kimberly Flynn, the executive director of 9/11 Environmental Action, and Rob Spencer, director of media services for the Organization of Staff Analysts, who co-chair the WTC Health Program Survivor Steering Committee, wrote: "In the earliest days after the collapse of the towers, the City rather than the federal government led the initial disaster response. In addition, the City Department of Health issued hazardous guidance to those who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan below Canal Street, such as a recommendation to clean up potentially asbestos-contaminated dust in interior spaces using a wet rag and a mop. Respiratory protection was not mentioned."

They continued, "For these reasons and many more, Representatives Maloney and Nadler's request for full disclosure by the City of information about its decision-making and the origins of its guidance is welcome and the release of the information long overdue. We need to understand the failures of decision-making after 9/11 that led to decades of suffering and illness. Going forward, we cannot afford to repeat these mistakes."

Lila Nordstrom, who attended Stuyvesant High School adjacent to the WTC site and is a WTC Health Program participant, wrote, "This was not just a critical issue in the immediate aftermath but was an ongoing failure that continued into Mayor Bloomberg's tenure."

During a September 21 phone interview, former Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy said he welcomed full disclosure of what the city knew about the air quality following the Trade Center's destruction.

'Knew It Wasn't Safe'

"In my view there wasn't a single Firefighter who thought the air was safe to breathe, but in those first eight to nine days, we thought we would still find people alive," Mr. Cassidy said. "But when it shifted from an actual rescue to [the months of] recovery, there is a legitimate argument that the city agencies did not provide the proper adequate protective gear. You had guys wearing cloth bandannas and those flimsy masks."

"We all know now the air in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 and in the months that followed was poison to breathe—but it is imperative that it is made clear what was known then," said Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo. "We owe it to the detectives, their fellow first-responders, and every person who has died of a related illness or continues to battle for their life today."

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano stated, "Nothing should be left in the shadows. Thousands of us worked the pile at Ground Zero, helped evacuate people from lower Manhattan, or shuttled other first-responders to the site. They were told the air was safe and many have the paid the price of that lie. Hundreds have become seriously ill and dozens have died."

Vincent Variale, president of AFSCME Local 3621, which represents Emergency Medical Service Officers, said, "It seems they might be doing this for political reasons, particularly because it involves former Mayor Giuliani. But that said, they should investigate this and hold people responsible."

Nadler recalled at a recent 9/11 memorial that he "immediately" pushed back on the EPA's assurance about air quality at the time, explaining, "I knew immediately that this was ridiculous—you could just take one look and there was zero evidence that this was true."

Facing A Threat From Republicans, Will Public And Private Sector Unions Unite?

Reprinted with permission from City & State NY.

In recent months, the labor movement had been on the winning side of the news cycle. First, President Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, was withdrawn. Then the push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act collapsed.

But on closer examination, both the Puzder flameout and the health care meltdown were mostly due to self-inflicted wounds. The disclosure of Puzder’s domestic violence history and upstate Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso’s attempt to shift county Medicaid costs to their home state exacted a heavy price for Republicans.

In reality, these labor “wins” were rearguard actions by a union movement with fractures between its leadership and its rank and file that Trump, much like former President Ronald Reagan, has already exploited. Trump’s path to the White House was paved when he flipped 200 counties in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania that voted for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Trump did that by winning hundreds of thousands of votes from union members whose leaders had bet big on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and who backed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in last year’s presidential race, said he believes the Democratic Party has lost touch with its blue-collar working-class voters – and Trump has cashed in. Now, Samuelsen said, Trump is courting private sector unions while his budget would lay off thousands of unionized federal workers.

“There is a playbook and it belongs to the illustrious governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker and that playbook was to go after the public sector and sort of tell the uniforms and the trades that everything would be OK and then after he got done gutting the public sector, he gutted everybody else as well,” Samuelsen said. “Walker has had meetings with Trump since the election and hopefully organized labor is not going to be deluded into thinking that can’t happen nationally the way it happened in Wisconsin.”

“(Wisconsin Gov. Scott) Walker has had meetings with Trump since the election and hopefully organized labor is not going to be deluded into thinking that can’t happen nationally the way it happened in Wisconsin.” – John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100

In 2011, Walker and the Wisconsin state Legislature dismantled decades of labor protections, ending collective bargaining for public unions and requiring them to pay more for their health care and pension benefits. Walker withstood a recall election and went on to win re-election.

Since 2011, union membership has dropped by 40 percent in Wisconsin with just 8 percent of the state’s workers now in a union, well below the national average of 11 percent. During his own short-lived presidential bid, Walker pledged to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board and end union representation for federal workers. “If you’re a big-government union boss in Washington, this is a threat to you and to all of the politicians that you have under your control in our nation’s capital,” Walker said at a Nevada campaign rally, according to Reuters.

Wisconsin passed a right-to-work law, a measure that historically had traction only in the South and West, but in 2012 a similar measure was enacted in Indiana and Michigan. As early as 1995, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing think tank supported by the Koch brothers, had been pushing state legislatures to adopt the anti-union measure.

By contrast, New York has the highest percentage of unionized workers in the country, at a time when unions are in a precipitous decline nationally. Between 2000 and 2016, New York’s percentage of workers in a union only fell from 25.5 percent to 23.6 percent and New York is now the only state in the nation where more than 20 percent of the workforce belongs to a union.

Not since the 1920s has the Republican Party, traditionally anti-union, so totally dominated state capitals. As a consequence, both New York’s public and private unions are in the national labor union vanguard, to staunch the bleeding from a movement that began here. Now, activists say distinctions between private and public sector unions have to fall away as they face a battle for survival.

With Congress and the White House in Republican hands, Samuelsen said unions have to anticipate that a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court could make a union comeback an even steeper climb. “Everything is an organizing challenge, whether it be a Supreme Court decision that impacts us negatively in terms of our ability to function and our ability to collect dues or national right-to-work legislation, we can’t just put our heads in the sand,” he said. “We have to get out in front of it.”

A key part of TWU’s strategy is to look for organizing opportunities. “In the private sector, we organize anything that moves, like the tour bus operations and bike share workers here in New York, Philadelphia and out in San Francisco,” he said.

Arthur Cheliotes, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, which represents New York City’s supervisory and administrative employees, says his union has expanded into nonprofits. It now represents workers with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Planned Parenthood and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Cheliotes said successful unions today have to not only organize in the workplace but also in the wider community. “It means a grass-roots approach to connect with their members making sure that at the front lines the members understand the value of a union and probably more importantly bring about more militancy,” he said. “Ultimately it should be organized people fighting organized money.”

Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. Follow him @stucknation.

Federal Layoffs Loom As Trump’s Meat-Ax Targets EPA And IRS

Reprinted with permission from The Chief.

The draft of President Trump’s first Executive Budget indicates he will make double-digit funding cuts to dozens of non-military agencies as diverse as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. State Department.

If his budget gets Congressional approval, the spending reductions would result in thousands of layoffs, according to members of Congress and the unions that represent the Federal workforce.

The Federal fiscal year starts in October, and critics of the proposed cuts are hoping that they can limit their scope in the Senate, where the GOP has only a four-seat advantage and members may be concerned about next year’s elections and falling into line behind a scorched-earth agenda that was not a key component in Trump’s upset victory.

On the table is a proposed 24-percent cutback at the EPA, which would downsize its headcount of 15,000 by 20 percent; a 37-percent rollback for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a 14-percent cut to the IRS.

The Trump cuts also zero in on agencies that are part of the core of the Department of Homeland Security, including a 14-percent slash to the Coast Guard and 11-percent reductions to both the Transportation Security Administration and FEMA, according to the New York Times. The savings resulting from these cuts would allow increases in headcounts for border and immigration enforcement and for the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico that Mr. Trump made a central campaign pledge.

In an email exchange with THE CHIEF-LEADER, Mi­chael Chertoff, the former DHS Secretary under President George W. Bush, was critical of the Trump strategy to shift resources to the Mexican border by cutting funds that go to protect the nation’s vast coastline and airports. “It’s a little like putting an extra lock on the front door and none on the back door,” he wrote. “You are not protecting the house. It these cuts happen, it would be counterproductive.”

“These budget cuts will make a difficult job even harder for the women and men who protect our skies, patrol our waters, and help us prepare for and respond to emergencies,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. “President Trump promised to ‘make American safe again,’ but the drastic budget cuts he’s proposing will do just the opposite. You don’t improve security by slashing budgets for programs that prevent terrorists from hijacking airplanes.”

One of Mr.Trump’s first official actions upon taking office was to impose a Federal hiring freeze “to be applied across the board in the executive branch.” The executive order excluded the military and gave the heads of all executive-branch departments the latitude to grant exemptions if they deem it “necessary to meet national-security or public-safety responsibilities.”

Back in January, the President also directed that within 90 days of the executive order, “the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the Director of Office of Personnel Management, shall recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.”

The significant spending reductions under last week’s budget draft call for cuts in the form of billions of dollars in domestic grant aid passed down to states, counties, and local governments, as well as the reduction in Federal headcount. The dramatic realignment in priorities is being driven by Trump’s plan to use the $54 billion in cuts to fund new spending for the Pentagon, offset significant tax cuts, and wind down agencies like the EPA. Trump contended throughout his campaign that it was “killing American jobs” and gave an edge to the country’s foreign competitors.

In comments made last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon, the White House’s chief strategist, flagged the “three verticals” that would shape the President’s priorities going forward: “national security and sovereignty, economic nationalism,” and “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

But in addition to making plans for dramatic cuts to the civil-service workforce down the road, Trump has yet to fill more than 1,000 top political positions with job titles like Deputy Secretary which would require congressional confirmation, according to National Public Radio. While many news commentators saw this as a sign of incompetence, Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Policy, said it was the sign of a disciplined strategy of “deconstructing” the government. “They may look chaotic, but they are crazy like a fox,” he said in a phone interview.

For Light, the most compelling evidence of the Trump administration’s intention was the 14-percent cut it wants for the IRS.

“Think about it. What better way to break the back of the government than by undermining the ability of the Federal Government to fund itself?” Light asked. “It fits right into the deconstruction agenda. Like removing the electrical wiring in a house. You start sawing off big parts of these agencies and under-staff them enough so they can’t function; you break morale and finish them off by strangling their funding.”

Light said that in selecting Congressman Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina to lead his Office of Management and Budget, Mr. Trump picked a “really smart guy” who knew the ins and outs of the budget process better than anyone and would “be the most-effective Budget Director in the last 20 years.”

 Light, who spent time working on Capitol Hill and retains good sources there, said he was closely following a proposed House measure that would give new clout to political appointees over their civil-service subordinates.

“It would give Cabinet-level officials the prerogative to demote anyone of the 6,000 members of the Senior Executive Service, the highest-paid career people inside the government,” he said. “Any one of these measures by themselves would be significant, but taken in their totality, it is a well-executed deconstruction strategy.”

The combined impact of the hiring freeze and the previous elimination of close to a third of the IRS’s personnel could leave taxpayers frustrated in future years, warned Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU represents 160,000 workers across dozens of Federal agencies.

He said last month in a phone interview, “When you look across government, we certainly have many agencies that have been underfunded. If you look specifically at the IRS since 2010, the IRS has lost almost $1 billion of its funding. That has resulted in the IRS losing on the order of 20,000 employees; that is roughly 30 percent of their workforce.”

According to a senior Federal official not cleared to speak with the news media, the last large-scale reduction-in-force layoffs happened back in the 1990s at the Department of Defense. Reduction-in-force guidelines were first codified after World War II, when the national government wanted to downsize.

Those basic parameters, still in force today, require that civil-service employees subject to termination be ranked into a retention register based on their veteran status, length of service, job performance and the type of service, assuring that provisional hires would be first to go. “The concept is to make sure the newer employees and the poor performers go first,” the source said.

Those employees may retain the right to “bump” other employees, depending on their own work history, how high up they are on the retention registry, and the nature of the cutback.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Denver Post that a voluntary buyout program across the government could be more feasible than just reducing the size of the workforce. “It’s something we’ve been contemplating putting together,” he said. “We have not yet figured out the final equation.”

IMAGE: FILE PHOTO: Mick Mulvaney testifies before a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination of to be director of the Office of Management and Budget on Capitol Hill, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo