By Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
When Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddows show, the liberal host pretended that President Obama had not recently gutted EPA’s ability to combat air pollution, as if it never happened. The truth is, “The White House conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the needs of susceptible populations, e.g., children, the elderly and medically compromise individuals and its corporate sponsors. The outcome was never in doubt.” The lesson: when the Democrat in the White House obeys his corporate master’s voice, his liberal supporters dutifully airbrush history.
“Are we to assume that domestic decisions that may trigger twice as many deaths as occurred in the World Trade Center should be ignored while foreign adversaries endure the full weight of the American military?”
This week all the trees seemed to grow weary of their red velvet and shimmering gold ball-gowns; they shook off their leaves and left streets coated with fall’s last carpet.
As the leaves danced in the wind, swirling through the aroma of coffee that often sweeps the streets of downtown Washington D.C., I reflected on how the leaves remind me of many in politics and the administration. Leaves that lift and turn in whichever direction the wind takes them. It is the same wind that carried President Obama’s promise during his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place” and to ensure that environmental and public health policies were not tainted by politics.
The late Marjorie Williams, who wrote on Washington and its passing leaders, noted once about Richard Darman, who was an aide to five Republican presidents, “I think he would do anything to advance himself.” “If the cavalry is winning, he’s for Custer, “ says another. “And if the Indians are winning, he’s for Sitting Bull.”
I could have sworn I heard a cavalry trumpet when Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was on the Rachel Maddows Show on MSNBC last week . She spoke of how important clean air was; she told of the thousands that develop serious respiratory illnesses from dirty air, especially that laden with mercury from carbon emissions. Maddows took it all in without a single rebuke or carefully researched question like: “You say all this Ms. Jackson, yet isn’t it true that little more than a month ago President Obama ordered you to abandon clean air regulations aimed at avoiding, according to the EPA, “7,200 deaths, 11,000 emergency room visits and 38,000 acute cases of asthma each year”?
“Smog-breathing citizens didn’t get the opportunity to hear why Jackson is still pontificating about measures she will not implement.”
Maddow never asked Jackson to explain why the public should accept the administrations decision and her acquiescence to the president’s order. Every human life must be judged valuable, after all, the US declared war on Iraq after 3,000 people were killed in the World Trade Center, initiating the longest and costliest war in American history. Are we to assume that domestic decisions that may trigger twice as many deaths as occurred in the World Trade Center should be ignored while foreign adversaries endure the full weight of the American military?
Maddows never asked these basic questions, and so we, as tax-paying, smog-breathing citizens didn’t get the opportunity to hear why Jackson is still pontificating about measures she will not implement.
When journalists fail to ask essential questions, then manipulated truth is allowed to remain unchallenged. Noam Chomsky calls this the “manufacturing of consent,” the capitulation of
intellectuals who serve the interest of corporate and government elites over the needs of the people.
And yes I understand that there is so much news that it is hard to be on top of every story, but the failures in this interview were stark.
A Game Changer
Ms. Jackson is in spin mode after a game changing article by New York Times investigative reporter, John Broder. Jackson had reason to find a friendly forum where she could espouse her version of events without fear of contradiction or critical analysis. Broder’s article exposes the primary players in the decision to ditch the revised clear air regulations. President Obama’s Chief of Staff William Daley was one of the primary actors. Daley is one of the heirs to the infamous “vote early – vote often” Chicago political dynasty. It is worth noting that before Daley could accept Obama’s offer to be the “closest person to the president” he had the unenviable task of shedding $7.6 million worth of stock in J. P Morgan Chase bank where he served as an executive, according to a regulatory filing.
Daley is no stranger to corporate boardrooms. In fact, President Obama selected him because of his close ties to the banking industry and corporate America. From 1989-1990, Daley served as the first Vice Chairman of the Amalgamated Bank of Chicago, and later president and chief operating officer from 1990–1993. He was appointed to the board of Fannie Mae in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, where he served until 1997. In December 2001, following his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton, he was appointed President of SBC Communications to help reform the company’s image. In May 2004, Daley assumed the position of Midwest Chairman of JPMorgan Chase, following its acquisition of Bank One Corporation, to oversee its operations from Chicago.
In a speech at Johns Hopkins University Daley encouraged students to be a part of the revolving door between big business and government, “Let me say this: As one of the only members of the president’s Cabinet to come from business, it’s good when you mix both government and business in your careers,” he said. “It makes better public servants, and it makes better businesspeople.” Daley certainly benefited from the revolving door. After leaving the Clinton administration, Daley earned more than $1.3 million, served on Boeing’s board and was a top lobbyist for JPMorgan Chase.
“President Obama selected him because of his close ties to the banking industry and corporate America.”
There was no pretense that the decision to sidestep the clean air decision was based on science or a concern for the possible 7,200 people EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told the President
could die from asthma or other upper respiratory diseases. The American Lung Association was no match for the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Association and corporate lobbyist. The White House conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the needs of susceptible populations, e.g., children, the elderly and medically compromise individuals and its corporate sponsors. The outcome was never in doubt. In the vernacular of the occupy movement, the 1% had decided that the 99% were collateral damage.
According to Broder, President Obama understood the public health implications of abandoning the revised clean air regulations but sided with Daley. Jackson was summoned to the White House, according to Broder, “the Thursday before Labor Day” and given her marching orders. As a loyal soldier she faithfully complied, whimpering back to EPA to continue to warm her seat. Courageous EPA whistleblowers, on the other hand, that have questioned and exposed corruption and policies that endanger the public continue to endure the full wrath of the Jackson administration.
I reread Bill Moyers: Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times (The New Press, New York/London, 2004), and I underscored these words: “Taking on political scandal is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington… I believe the power of money in politics has tipped the balance against our democratic institutions… Theodore Roosevelt believed the central fact of his era was that big business had become so dominant it would chew up democracy and spit it out… Mighty corporations are again the undisputed overlords of politics and government, their influence permeating the White House, Congress, and, increasingly, the judiciary.”
This is what Moyers was writing in 2003; how much more potent then are his words now as the greed that caused the global economic crisis remains unpunished and administration executives feel emboldened to mislead.
He wrote too: “Mark Hanna saw to it that first Ohio then Washington were, in his words, “ruled by business … by bankers, railroads, and public utility corporations.” Any who opposed the oligarchy were smeared as disturbers of the peace, socialists, anarchists, or worse. Back then they didn’t bother with hollow euphemisms such as ‘compassionate conservatism’ to disguise the raw reactionary politics that produced government of, by, and for the ruling corporate class. They just saw the loot and went for it.… Pro-corporate apologists hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words such as ‘progress, opportunity and individualism’ into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right.”
“Mighty corporations are again the undisputed overlords of politics and government, their influence permeating the White House, Congress, and, increasingly, the judiciary.”
It is when we ignore history that we allow lessons to go unlearned. Turning to my bookshelves I found something else, Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda by Alan Axelrod (Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2009). Axelrod wrote that America’s first propagandist was probably Ivy Lee who told John D. Rockefeller, “Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you’re doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want.” He was, as George Creel came to realize in 1914, a master of propaganda and Creel emulated him. Creel, a former journalist and head of the Committee on Public Information began selling the people on the very war President Woodrow Wilson had sought to avoid. In April 1917, Wilson and Creel would present U.S. entry into the First World War as an idealistic and ideological imperative, a fight to “make the world safe for democracy.” Doesn’t that remind you of another war and another president closer to these times?
By the end of 1917, 100,000 were working with Creel. He created a Division of News that would send out carefully orchestrated reports of the war. It made me think of Homeland Security and what journalists traded by becoming embedded in war zones and wearing military uniforms.
Truth-telling requires a certain distancing. When I blew the whistle at the Environmental Protection Agency I did not do it because I disliked my colleagues, or did not support the aims of the organization. I did. I liked my colleagues; some testified for me, one went to jail as a result of his courage. Defending the environment is one of the greatest tasks of our time; I spoke out because that is what I believe is necessary to sustain democracy.
In the final words of my book, No Fear: A Whistleblower’s Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA  regarding South African vanadium miners who were working under dangerous conditions for a US multinational corporation, I note: “We had opened our hearts to fellow human beings. We had heard of their pain, their struggle, and embraced it as our own. It is the sound freedom makes. Grasshoppers no longer looked like giants. We had mastered what my mom had long ago identified as the most imposing grasshopper of all: fear.”
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA is available through amazon.com and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha’s successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 ( No FEAR.)
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