Might it sometimes be appropriate for the government to lie in order to reassure the public? Asked this question during a Court of Appeals hearing yesterday in Benzman vs. EPA, the case brought by residents, students and office workers exposed to and in many cases sickened by the environmental hazards following 9/11,* EPA lawyer Alisa Klein answered, “Yes.”
Competing interests such as the economy or the “return to normalcy” [sic] might supercede that of public health, she argued.
There’s no question that Ms. Klein accurately represented EPA’s position. In addition to their compelling urge to reopen Wall St. ASAP after 9/11, the protocols they have developed to respond to a dirty bomb also take into account the economic import of the area exposed, regardless of the fact that an area that’s important to the economy will also be more densely populated.
Accepting, for the moment, the mindbending reasoning that requires us to be reassured by a government which has admitted that it will lie whenever it feels like it, let us turn now to some situations in which said government has seen fit not to reassure us but in fact, to scare the sh*t out of us.
The lead-up to the Iraq war, when Condoleeza Rice dropped a metaphorical bomb into the conversation with her allusion to a mushroom cloud, comes to mind, as do the “Hoo-oo-oo – Be very afraaaaid” references at the time to chemical and biological weapons labs.
Ditto Iran, up until last week.
Then there are all those toys with kooties and that contaminated toothpaste from China. I’m not saying they’re safe. I’m just wondering why they’ve garnered such prompt headlines while the press on American products such as Zonolite has traditionally been sluggish, never mind Agent Orange and depleted uranium. Some of the interests that have rightly decried lead-contaminated toys from China have, on the other hand, put up the strongest resistance to changing the lead laws in New York City housing, for example. (Also compare the press on avian flu with that on the numerous offenses of the American food industry.)
And remember the good old days of Homeland Security orange alerts and Osama’s sneak previews? The ones that tended to come just before an election or some other sensitive event?
They don’t fall into the category of reassurance but doubtless those in charge knew what they were doing those times also.
The government may not be consistent about wanting to reassure us but it certainly is consistently entertaining.
*I am one of the original plaintiffs in the case.