The Shame of 9/11

Ten years have passed since 9/11 and I still have trouble watching those news clips the media likes to replay over and over again of that fateful day in 2001. It's still painful. And I thankfully, did not lose any of my friends who worked in the Twin Towers or surrounding areas. I was safely at work in midtown Manhattan when the planes hit. I remember for days after, the lighter debris from the World Trade Center's fallen towers would blow onto my street in Brooklyn and if the wind was blowing was east or north there was an unnerving stench in the air.
One image I cannot get out of my mind from that day, is the sight of the endless stream of firefighters entering the burning buildings. I remember the look on their faces of both hope and despair. They were bravely mobilized to search and save human life while knowing full well that they were sacrificing their own. On that day 343 New York firefighters, 15 EMTs lost their lives. Two thousand other first responders were injured. But in the process they assisted 16,000 people evacuate the collapsing buildings.

In the weeks after, thousands of first responders with inadequate protection and equipment spent endless hours digging through the mountain of ruble in search of life and human remains.

These men and women represent to me the best of humanity and should be celebrated and rewarded. They definitely deserve much better than the politicians who run this country.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pressured by the White House made the inane announcement promptly after the collapse of the buildings that despite all the dust and fumes and air contaminated with 24,000 gallons of jet fuel, glass, asbestos, cement, lead and other toxins was within healthy limits and that clean up should continue and that NY residents should resume to their activities downtown.
Inevitably, within 48 hours of working on the site after the attack, 90% of New York City firefighters complained of cough symptoms. Ten years later, we now know that not only did inhaling this air cause coughing, it is also caused asthma, gastrointestinal problems, scars on the lungs and significant increase in cancer amongst first responders. So instead of rewards and recognition, thousands of this nation's first responders were faced with failing health, loss of employment due to illness, bankrupting medical bills and death.

Finally in 2006, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was introduced to fund treatment programs and provide compensation funds to those who suffered physical harm or death in the World Trade Center attacks. But the bill did not pass. Nine years after the attacks in 2010, a revised bill was introduced with a lesser financial cost that excluded cancer from the list of illnesses covered in the legislation. This was the Democratic party's compromise in the hopes of attaining Republican support for the bill. This is despite studies from the Lancet Medical Journal that stated that those exposed to substances at Ground Zero were 19% more likely to develop cancer than those not exposed. This ridiculous exclusion has left nearly 10,000 Fire Department personnel little alternative to spend their life savings to pay for their medical treatment, if they could even afford it.

In the latter half of 2010 when the legislation was up for vote again, it became known that the Republican party planned to filibuster the revised bill citing that the $4.3 billion dollar price tag was still too high. (Although, they do not seem to have any problems funding $1.649 trillion for two wars or spending $1.2 trillion to bailout the financial industry.*)

It was not until comedian John Stewart started highlighting this legislation and all the political drama around it on his show, that prompted public outrage which finally resulted in the passage of the bill in December 2010 - more than nine years after the first health problems amongst the first responders became evident. However, since the bill still excludes cancer from any funding or support, the battle for many of the first responders still continues.

U.S. politicians so frequently cite 9/11 when it suits their political aims but when it comes to actually helping those, who so selflessly helped and saved so many on that horrible day, their interest in the attacks seems to shift. John Stewart described this fiasco best when he called it a 'national shame,' and the senators responsible for blocking this bill the 'worst responders.'

The attacks on 9/11 remains a painful moment in this country's history. It is appalling that the leadership of this country made it a much darker, more painful stain in the nation's memory.



In Shock and Awe of Japan

A few months ago, I was on the shinkansen going from Tokyo to Kyoto. The bullet train was relatively full, but most of the passengers with their heads bowed were quietly busying themselves with their meals, their mobile phones, computers or reading material. The train conductor gently slid the door open came into our car. But before he started to check tickets, he bowed to all the passengers in that specific car. Nobody was really paying any attention, only perhaps my mother and me. After thanking each passenger and checking each ticket, before he moved on to the next car, with all our backs facing him, he bowed again.

When we were in Kyoto, we took quite a few of the buses to get around the city and almost every time, no matter what bus, no matter who the driver was, the bus driver thanked every single passenger as they got off the bus. Sometimes thirty people got off the bus at once. The bus driver barely took a breath.

While in Tokyo, my husband and I walked in a 7-Eleven convenient store in Shinjuku. It was rush hour and the store was packed with people picking up dinner, snacks, a coffee or a magazine for the long train ride home. We picked up two bottles of water. The enthusiasm with which the convenience store clerk greeted us, packaged our water and thanked us for this 'tremendous' purchase, was absolutely unparalleled for us. Although, not so unusual in Japan.

It didn't matter what the job was, how inspiring or how mundane, each and everyone for the most part did it with extreme pride and enthusiasm. It seemed that every job was the most important job in the world and their lives depended on it.

A week after the one of the most horrendous natural disasters to hit Japan, you see that same professional honor and pride amongst those tireless anonymous workers in the nuclear plant in Fukushima bravely risking their lives, in the hopes of saving the lives of many millions.

Watching the news unfold, many miles away in Southern California, I can't help but feel that the Japanese people definitely deserve better government leadership and better executives from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to lead, help and guide them through this three headed disaster. But what is incredible about the Japanese, is that no one seems to be sitting around indulging much of any time in self-pity. Although, no one would blame them with thousands dead and miles of endless destruction. Instead, what we see are news articles upon articles in the global media describing the patience, resilience and mutual respect of the Japanese -waiting hours in line at barely stocked supermarkets to pick up their ten allotted items to feed their families. There is no pushing, no looting, no theft. And honestly, these are dire times.

**House lot at sea - Image taken by the US Navy Photo by Dylan McCord

The Japanese people are not waiting for their government or the world to come save them - they are going to do it for themselves and each other. I read a story about how an elderly woman trapped under her own house, apologized to the rescue workers for being such an inconvenience and questioning them, that surely there had to be other people out there who might need their assistance more pressingly. I saw TV reports of neighbors in the Sendai area, who fared a little better from the earthquake and tsunami, pool together their resources to make miso soup and rice balls to feed those in the shelters who were left with nothing. The residents of the areas hardest hit are collecting snow in the hills and mountains and boiling them for water; and making chopsticks out of the bamboo they have collected. Neighbors are helping each other to clean the layers of mud from their homes, restoring their lives little by little. Stories like these are endless. I know, because I have been glued to every report on Japan in print, on TV and on my computer. The Japanese people refuse to be victims. They are not waiting for any handouts.

There is a quote that says that you know the true character of a friend are when you are in need. Well, I think the same can be said for a society. You know the true measure of a society, when all hell has broken lose and their survival is at stake and they can still manage to keep their dignity, honor and humanity intact.

I bow to you Japan.


What an incredible day in history

In honor of the courageous people of Egypt who accomplished the impossible with only the strength of their will and their hopes and dreams of a better future....

Celebratory fireworks over Tahrir Square
*Felipe Trueba/European Pressphoto Agency
(Image taken from the NYT)

"I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him [...] I'm talking on behalf of Egypt. [...] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started [...] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. "
- Activist Wael Ghonim

"We are one." - Egyptian Muslim and Christian Pro-Democracy Demonstrators

"President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down and has handed power to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces." - Omar Suleiman (February 11, 2011, just after 6PM Cairo time)

"Egypt is free!" - Protestors

"We have been able to restore our humanity ... to be free and independent." - Mohamed ElBaradei

"Now, we can breathe fresh air, we can feel our freedom." - Dr. Gamal Heshamt

"The greatest day in Egyptian history." - Ayman Nour

"The word tahrir means liberation. It speaks in our soul that cries out for freedom and for evermore will remind us of the Egyptian people. What they did, the things they stood for and how they changed their country and in doing so changed the world." - President Barack Obama


"Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." - Robert F. Kennedy (1925 –1968)

Sout Al Horeya (The Sound of Freedom)

**For a translation of the song click on the red cc button on the bottom of the screen.


Hope out of Darkness

For the past ten days, I have been glued to the television and the internet, soaking up every update on the pro-democracy protesters in Egypt. (More power to them)! When the violence started, it was heartbreaking. As a self proclaimed global citizen, I know that humans are not so different regardless of geography or location. If we push aside politics and the politicians and the small group of religious freaks and fanatics, we all want the same things - peace, freedom, opportunities, nourishment, equality. This image that has gone viral below reinforces that. Taken by an anonymous photographer, it apparently shows a group of Christian Egyptians forming a human shield in Tahrir Square (the epicenter of the Egyptian pro-democracy protests) so that their Muslim countrymen can say their prayers peaceably amidst the violence and chaos yesterday.

When the worst of humanity came to the forefront with the state sponsored thugs, out rises the best of humanity. Purity and beauty in the middle of such horror. It gives me hope....