District Council 1707 has hundreds of members living and working in the area referred to as “ground zero.” Our offices are on the north side of Canal Street, the northern boundary of the area directly affected by 9/11. It has now been revealed that the Bush administration’s assurances of the safety of the air and the environment were lies. The EPA has prepared a report revealing that dioxins and other pollutants were present in the highest concentrations ever recorded. The workers and inhabitants in the area were encouraged to go back to live and work amidst the poisonous dust in upholstered furniture and carpets and air conditioning ducts.
The lies that will produce sickness and death as a result of people going back into the area are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) read into the Congressional Record a report on how the Bush administration has manipulated, distorted, or interfered with science on health, environmental, and other key issues. The issues they lie about are:
• abstinence-only education • agricultural pollution • Arctic National Wildlife Refuge • breast cancer • condoms • drinking water • education policy • environmental health • food safety • global warming • HIV/AIDS • lead poisoning • missile defense • oil and gas • prescription drug advertising • reproductive health • stem cells • substance abuse • wetlands • workplace safety • Yellowstone National Park.
These lies and distortions serve various constituencies on the right in addition to Bush’s corporate cronies. For instance, propagating the lie that having an abortion increases the chances of breast cancer is aimed to bolster the anti-abortion movement.
Bush’s biggest lie of all was claiming that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, a lie he used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Indeed, this is an administration that rode into office on a lie: “I was elected.” The realization that theirs was a minority view, however, made them resort to lying as an everyday expedient. This administration has, in and around it, a cabal of right-wing extremists that have espoused a philosophy that legitimizes lying as a necessary tool.
These advisors – Paul Wolfowitz is a leading example – are known as neo-cons and they all are disciples of a deceased University of Chicago professor named Leo Strauss. Strauss was very concerned about protecting society (the wealthy) from the multitude (that’s us) and to do this, he maintained, we have to understand that deception (lies) is the norm in political life.
It appears that the ability to lie, distort and twist the truth is a necessary part of the applicant’s resume to get hired by Bush. An instructive case in this regard is that of the Secretary of Education, Dr. Rod Paige, the former superintendent of education in Houston. Bush lauded Paige as the miracle-maker in improving the education system in Houston. Paige left Houston claiming that the dropout rate for high schools was 1.5 percent. When the state did an audit after Paige left, the audit showed a dropout rate of close to 40 percent. Paige was able to get principals to lie by removing tenure protections and forcing everybody to be rehired every year.
Of course Bush & Co. have other strings to their bow. If you are not in a position to lie convincingly then you stonewall. The White House refused to make public the list of the energy plutocrats that met with Vice President Dick Cheney right after they took office. This meeting occurred even before the plastic covers were taken off the new office furniture. Just one result of that meeting was Enron and the theft of millions of dollars from California ratepayers.
Another example of stonewalling important public issues is the matter of disclosing the number and severity of the wounded American soldiers brought back from Iraq. The highest estimates from observers are anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000. Bush is not only hiding the numbers; he has been able to hide the wounded themselves. There has been virtually no media coverage of the wounded, and that can’t be an accident. There is another figure that’s being kept from the public: the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the invasion.
It is when that stonewall crumbles that a lie is necessary. So, lacking an effective lie detector, how is one to know when Bush is lying? The answer is simple. When his lips are moving.
David Buxenbaum is a trade unionist. This column originally appeared in the Oct/Nov issue of AFSCME District Council 1707’s publication, DC1707 Voice.