Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Notes From The Fringe: Maybe A Conspiracy Theory? NOT!

Yesterday on Hardball Chris Matthews tried painting an ideological distinction between our response to the nuclear crisis in Japan versus the secrecy and misinformation that characterized the Soviet disclosures following the Chernobyl disaster, back when communist Russia was in its death throes. Democracies (considering the release of information is coming mainly from Japanese authorities) are more caring for the people's welfare than authoritarian regimes, regardless of their ideology.

That is true — broadly speaking. But then a very interesting thing occurs: A consensus of views begins to crystallize in the media (mainly the electronic media, or TV-and radio- machine as Rachel likes to call it) all trending toward rosy and reassuring scenarios. There are valid reasons for this — news and government sources have a responsibility in times of extreme crisis to avoid panic in the population, especially when the information is incomplete and speculative. No need to raise concerns, say the experts, media elites, and government authorities — we'll do the worrying for you.

But then, isn't it interesting that the filthy (interchangeable adjective) rich millionaire media criers most vehemently attacking the legitimate concerns raised of a nuclear catastrophe are the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Larry Kudlow.  Is it just a coincidence that they stand to lose a significant portion of their investments if panic selling ensues and the world markets plunge as a result of the Japan Syndrome? Kudlow let the cat out of the bag when he said, "The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that." Kudlow gave voice to the NUMBER ONE concern of the right wing elites in this nation in the wake of the triple environmental disaster in Japan: preserving our economy and protecting their capitalist cronies. In this context, one can understands Lamar Alexander's lies and the Beck/Limbaugh agit-prop hysterics:

Of course, giving assurances about health and radiation exposure concerns in order to prevent a run on the markets, from governments' cost-benefit analysis, is a no-brainer as every effort (sometimes) is made to minimize casualties and victims. Most of us are invested in the stock market anyhow, so there is a natural tendency to tamp down the panic and ramp up the optimism. The thinking being, hey we can handle it, but there's plenty of people out there who will get hysterical and we don't need that.

It's a message management game that governments and media elites play in order to safeguard the short- and long-term health of the economy in times of crisis. The bottom line is, you can't listen to what the "experts" say to assess your personal risk of radiation exposure, or any kind of airborne environmental health hazard, for that matter. First of all, there is no level of radiation exposure that is considered safe. No one willingly submits to X-rays and CAT scans unless it's absolutely necessary. Second, if the threat's immediacy is removed, a kick-the-can-down-the-road attitude sets in regarding elevated cancers and exposure-related deaths several years down the road. That's what enables Alexander, Beck and Limbaugh to lie about it. Let's face it: Thousands of people die every year as a result of exposure to dangerous contaminants in "dirty" energy industry work such as coal, oil and gas. For Lamar Alexander and his capitalist cronies, that's just the cost of doing business.

When "civilians," as it were, are exposed, then a bit more message massaging and propaganda are required to allay fears and panic. But the principle is the same. From a cost-benefit analysis, there is an acceptable level of exposure and premature deaths that makes the victims expendable. This thinking is prevalent among crony capitalists, corporatists, wingnuts and libertarians — the fascists among us. (Note to Thom Hartmann: I believe in calling a spade a spade; besides, no one reads this blog, anyway.) Most of them would hardly face exposure to these environmental poisons and toxins, so it's just an abstraction to them, numbers on a screen, a positive cost-benefit analysis.

As we follow this unfolding crisis in Japan, with its terrible human toll, it's instructive to recall our government's reaction to the health hazard posed by the enormous toxic dust cloud from the collapsed twin towers in Manhattan hours after the 9/11 attacks. The EPA administrator was former NJ governor Christine Todd Whitman. She was considered a "moderate Republican" who cared about the environment. This was early into the George W. Bush administration. The EPA still had an unsullied reputation. Whitman put her cred with liberals and Democrats on the line by spreading the LIE that the air quality in Manhattan was "safe" to breathe.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, whose district includes Ground Zero grilled Whitman at a 2007 Congressional hearing on the health effects of 9/11: “Our government has knowingly exposed thousands of American citizens unnecessarily to deadly hazardous materials,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the subcommittee and a Manhattan Democrat whose district includes ground zero. “And because it has never admitted the truth, Americans remain at grave risk to this day.” Nadler and then-NY Senator Hillary Clinton issued a joint statement which said, in part:
"In a recent decision, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman's falsely reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the September 11, 2001 attacks were "without question conscience-shocking." The court also found the facts "support an allegation of a violation of the substantive due process right to be free from official government policies that increase the risk of bodily harm" by Whitman's misstatements regarding the air quality of the affected area. An EPA Inspector General review reached similar conclusions."
 I bring this up as a cautionary reminder of how the United States, a capitalist democratic state, reacted to an environmental crisis affecting thousands of people. Three years later, Senate Republicans were still trying to deny government health benefits to the surviving first responders — "heroes" they called them until the time came to take care of their health. It was only when Jon Stewart the "good" libertarian in his two-pony show intervened (because after all, he breathes the same air too when he drives into his "you go, I go" Lincoln Tunnel to eat oysters in Mahattan) that the Republicans were shamed into relenting.

The template is 9/11. What was the terrorist target in Manhattan: Wall Street. As Kudlow noted, the economy comes first. People are expendable when fortunes are on the line. And just because you invest in a geiger counter, or there's a run on iodine tablets, doesn't mean you're unreasonably paranoid.

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