Kirsten's Fan Club
Americans agree that the families of the victims of 9/11
deserve...something. What that something is, exactly, is a
somewhat elusive concept. What can possibly ease the
suffering of those who lost their worlds in the terrorist
attacks? What can be offered to a widow or an orphan in
the way of compensation for their loss?
The answer Americans seem to have settled on is money -- and
lots of it. Nearly one billion dollars have been collected
by private charities in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities.
Additionally, the federal government yesterday released
preliminary details of the September 11th Victims' Compensation
The Fund, part of the $15 billion airline bailout plan, will pay
an average of $1.65 million (tax-free) to each family directly
affected by the 9/11 attacks. So far, details of how
individual awards will be determined are vague, but we do know
that incomes and earning potentials will be considered, as well
as the numbers of surviving dependents. Any life
insurance, pension payments, death benefits or government
assistance already received will be deducted from the award, but
charitable donations will not. One other major condition
of the Fund is that families accepting payments waive their
rights to sue anyone for damages of any kind stemming from 9/11.
The benefits of this plan are obvious: in addition to giving
these broken families some immediate, tangible, tax-free relief,
the restrictions on lawsuits will ideally limit the damage that
trial lawyers can do to the faltering economy by suing airlines,
builders, and even the federal government into financial
oblivion. Unfortunately, the moral and constitutional
costs of the plan far outweigh the benefits.
The American public has been shockingly generous in the months
since that horrible day in mid-September. People have
reached deep into their pockets and sacrificed to contribute
hundreds of millions of dollars to the families of 9/11.
The massive funds Americans have collectively raised should be
more than enough to ensure a financially comfortable transition
for each and every family torn by terrorism, but the federal
government has apparently decided we weren't generous enough.
It has taken our tax dollars and begun allocating them as it
sees fit to supplement the charity Americans have already
bestowed upon the victims of 9/11. At this point, it is
imperative we stop and evaluate this situation -- not just for
the problems it presents today, but for the dangerous precedent
it threatens to set for tomorrow.
There is an immediate difficulty in deciding who shall receive
what kind of financial compensation for the losses suffered in
this tragedy. To even suggest a number implies one can
place a monetary value on human life. And to suggest
different monetary values for different individuals implies one
life could be worth more than another. But the reality is
that different families have different financial needs emerging
from these losses: For example, a young, uneducated widow
with three small children has different needs than a childless
widower with a stable income of his own. At the same time,
different families have varying provisions already in place.
The widow of a corporate vice president with a sizable life
insurance policy and hefty stock portfolio is considerably more
financially secure than the widow of a service employee with no
benefits and two mortgages to pay. This is not to say that
these families do not share equal and horrific pain, but the
truth is that they have very different financial needs.
We in America have tried to heal deep emotional wounds by
bandaging them with dollars, but all we have done is open new
and uglier wounds. Money is the catalyst for envy, class
warfare, and a host of other social ills even on America's best
days. How can we expect a nation under extreme duress to
objectively allocate billions of dollars to the victims of 9/11
without inciting these ills and worse?
Already, greed seems to have gotten the better of some of the
victims. Several widows have appeared on television to
declare the proposed financial aid inadequate. One has
already forfeited her right to federal aid in order to sue
United Airlines, and more are sure to follow.
What will happen in the future? Are we as a nation
prepared to hand out billions of tax dollars every time we are
attacked in this new war? It will be a tragedy if the
government's liberal allocation of tax money to the victims of
9/11 causes Americans to think twice before being so generous
with private charities if -- God forbid -- there is ever another
large-scale terrorist attack. In any case, this proposal
to add billions of taxpayer dollars to the already-sufficient
private charity of the American people is worth a harder look.
Kirsten's Fan Club
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