Sept. 11, 2001 archives: Anthrax puts spotlight on health care crisis

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, only a few members of the then-People's Weekly World staff were in the lower Manhattan editorial office when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. They worked under extraordinary conditions to meet the Wednesday deadline and produce a newspaper that week. It was a four-page edition that contained a statement from the Communist Party USA condemning the terrorist attacks, and praising the first-responders and their heroism. Despite attempts to locate that issue, it is lost to history, a much lesser victim of the aftermath of 9/11.

 In the following People's Weekly World issues, reporters worked to gather responses to the crisis by the people who rushed to help at New York City's Ground Zero, as well as at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Many of the people interviewed urged a firm response to the culprits behind the terrorist attacks, but not for the "war on terror" advocated by the Bush administration. PeoplesWorld.org republishes these stories here as part of commemorating the 10th anniversary of that tragic day.

(October 2001) The deaths of U.S. postal workers in Washington, D.C. and this week's discoveries of anthrax in locations around the country have set off a debate about the threat and the role the government should play in handling the crisis. The New York Times characterized the situation as a 'tangible fear of a mysterious germ.'

The growing numbers of people exposed and the lack of a coherent plan by federal and local governments to address people's concerns expose the fact that the richest nation in the world does not have an adequately funded, staffed or equipped public health system to respond to the threat of biological terrorism.

The Bush administration is asking for $300 million for local and state emergency bioterrorism response efforts out of a $1.6 billion emergency package being proposed to Congress. Unfortunately, the majority of the $1.6 billion is directed towards stockpiling Cipro, smallpox vaccine and other antibiotics.

At an Oct. 23 Congressional hearing, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., challenged the Bush proposal during Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson's testimony. Lantos challenged the idea that the $300 million was an inadequate response to the health crisis. "In a $10-trillion economy, haven't we the resources to protect the health of the people? Three hundred million amounts to $1.10 per person."

Lantos said a gradual increase in funding is not responsive to the crisis the people are facing.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, questioned the reasoning for not pursuing the five companies who are ready to produce the generic version of Cipro at 20 cents per tablet, compared with the $2 price from the Bayer Company, citing the laws that make it possible to do.

'You don't know me very well,' Thompson responded. 'I'm a very tough negotiator.'

Profits remain the bottom line in a time of crisis. The Bayer Company has been running full-page ads in The New York Times that say, 'We stand ready to support the U.S. government in providing Cipro to meet emergency needs.'

Mustering the necessary response to the anthrax threat and the dangers of bioterrorism is almost impossible, given the lack of long-term funding for public health needs. Some 43 million people without medical insurance, public hospital shutdowns and the privatizing of public clinics leave every community vulnerable.

The Washington Post reported that at the American Public Health Association's (APHA) annual meeting this week there was widespread criticism of the Bush administration response.

"Antibiotics and vaccine without staff and basic infrastructure is like putting Band-Aids on a huge wound," said Karen Krause, an Ohio health-care consultant and former public health officer.

"You can't just rent some people and drop them into a department' that does not have the training or technology to handle a biological or chemical attack," Krause said.

APHA Executive Director Mohammad Akhter said the administration's proposals are not adequate. "Of the nation's 3,000 public health agencies, at least 10 percent do not have e-mail; only 20 percent have developed plans to deal with a biological assault, and the vast majority are closed nights and weekends ... We need a billion dollars."

Not only is the health threat being mishandled, but the criminal investigation has not been a major factor in the response. Kucinich questioned Thompson on whether any anthrax was stolen in the last few weeks from government laboratories or were there other episodes that have not been reported. The response was typical of Congressional hearings: "To the best of my knowledge, it is not widespread, but the information is classified."

What has been painfully obvious is the lack of public statements by the Justice Department and the FBI voicing a commitment to finding those who sent anthrax through the mail as well as perpetrators of the hoaxes.

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post have reported that 90 abortion clinics nationally have received envelopes with powder. Six of those clinics in Washington, D.C. had notes signed by the anti-abortion terrorist group, the Armies of God. The bioterrorism threat is both a domestic and an international issue.

The Bush administration has been making some statements that link the anthrax crisis with bin Laden and Sept. 11. The Wall Street Journal theorizes, 'It's clear that it's being produced by someone with more advanced technology and skills than originally estimated.' Justice Department officials called it 'professional grade' anthrax.

No matter who is conducting terrorism - domestic or international - it is a crime against humanity. The full weight of the rule of law must be utilized to bring an end to the fear and uncertainty. National security will largely be determined by finding those who are guilty for Sept. 11 and for the anthrax attacks. We need to know by whom and how these criminal acts were carried out.

War can't solve the threat of terrorism alone. What people need is a coordinated response by the government that will guarantee health and safety and provide the funding for it and the assurance that law enforcement agencies will pursue those who are committing these acts, whether pranks or real anthrax episodes.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, at an Oct. 18 roundtable at the White House, said, 'We are going to go after these people ... and I hope we get a ton of them. I hope we throw them in jail, and we ought to throw away the key.' This crisis should not be used as an excuse to toss out our civil liberties and the laws that govern the prosecution of those who commit criminal acts.

Kucinich summarized the approach needed during the subcommittee hearings on bioterrorism. 'The country needs joint efforts by all the government agencies. We need to give a sense of security by having disaster plans. We need to give peace of mind that the government is working to deal with events,' said Kucinich.

'We need money immediately to have the capacity to respond to the crisis,' Akhter told MSNBC, 'to think in a forward [way] to deal with the health needs of the people.'