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The brutal, purposeful slaughter of almost 3,000 people on 9-11 horrified people in every country on this planet. We grieved for the widows, orphans, parents and loved ones who became 9-11 survivors. We then reached into our pockets and sent almost a billion dollars to charities that promised to help 9-11 survivors. This was an unprecedented demonstration of compassion and support for the victims of war.
Unfortunately, for some survivors, what we did was not enough. Early on, they complained that “their money” wasn’t getting to them fast enough. Then they lobbied Congress for federal benefits. When they announced the federal program to compensate those who would rather not use the courts, far too many survivors howled with outrage. How dare we offer them so little they said! How dare they insult our compassion, saith I.
Some will try to explain away this boorish behavior as anguish brought on by the pain and suffering that these people experienced. Others will try to explain it away as typical New York harshness, but those dogs won’t hunt. Those survivors who are complaining are greedy, and I don’t like it.
We all know that no amount of money can replace a loved one. Nevertheless, do you really believe that those who died on 9-11 are more deserving than the tens of thousands of other Americans who die each year from other forms of violence?
Some will say that 9-11 was different. Well, how different was it from what happened in Oklahoma City? Their deaths were just as tragic as those who died on 9-11. But there was no federal plan to help the survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing. They just had to get over it and get on with it.
The harsh reality is that 41,821 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2000. Drunk drivers killed 16,653 of them. Their deaths were just as tragic as those who died on 9-11. Yet most Americans ignore the pain and suffering of the survivors of traffic deaths. The federal government doesn’t even give these survivors a tax holiday. So I have zero sympathy for those 9-11 survivors who whine.
Carl Pearlston summarized how bad things were with a Christmas Day e-mail entitled “How About a Little Gratitude?”
A widow with two young children, whose 29-year-old husband made $478 a week as a chef, is quoted by the Los Angeles Times as scornfully dismissing the proffered compensation: “I think a million and a half is very little for us. This settlement does not make me happy.” She wants $3 million or she will sue, and “doesn’t care how long it takes.” And who does she intend to sue? The American people, the federal government – the taxpayers, you and me – and our airlines. Apparently she thinks that she is entitled to compensation as a matter of right and she is not alone among the survivors and their lawyers.
Carl then looked at the potential financial impact on this widow’s family of the federal offer that “doesn’t make her happy.”
The widow noted above has already received some $30,000 in tax-free governmental and charitable aid in the past 3 months, which is more than her husband’s before-tax income of $25,000 per year. According to the Presumed Loss Calculation Tables of the September 11th Victim Fund of 2001, she should receive just over $1 million – $600,000 in economic loss and $400,000 for non-economic compensation (better know as pain and suffering). If she were to invest the total sum in 5 percent tax-free municipal bonds, she would receive $50,000 per year free of federal (state and city) income tax, which would be twice her late husband’s pre-tax salary. What more could or should she reasonably expect?
America is a great country and her citizens and government have bent over backward to help those who lost loved ones on 9-11. However, we must not create a special class of survivors. They are no more worthy than the survivors of the 12,102 people who were shot to death by others in 1998. They are no more deserving than the survivors of the millions of U.S. military families who have lost men and women during our wars.
The good news is that the overwhelming majority of survivors have acted with grace and dignity that is indeed moving. I ask those others – the whiners – to show the same amount of class as their colleagues. If they don’t like the federal government’s offer, the offer of their fellow citizens, fine. Sue in court and get what you can. But first stop whining. It won’t make things better for anyone.
Let me close by quoting Carl again:
The 9-11 disaster was so horrific that normal legal connections between fault and the responsibility to make whole were swept away in the desire to ease the national pain and provide a speedy remedy to those whose financial support had vanished. No one who suffered loss is going to be made entirely whole; no amount of compensation can replace the lost lives. But a generous and sympathetic nation is trying to ease those losses with reasonable compensation. It is not too much to expect a modest show of gratitude from the survivors for the taxpayer’s generosity.
Right on Carl, right on.