Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Separating Fakes From 9/11 Victims
Sadly, my experience reflects this.
Saturday, December 21, 2002
Friday, December 13, 2002
Complaint of the Day:
My parents have started concluding telephone conversations with me by going, "Um, yeah, I'd love to talk, but I've got this thing going on. I'll call you, later. Maybe this week?"
Thursday, December 12, 2002
There have been a number of articles in the New York media lately about Kenneth Feinberg, the special master of the Federal Victims’ Compensation Fund. (There was one in the New Yorker, and a slightly longer one in the NY Times Magazine.) Needless to say, being a developing 9/11 wonk, I grabbed both of ‘em up as quickly as I could.
Feinberg is the “special master” (yep, the name of the title hints at the near-dictatorial authority he has) of the federal Victims’ Compensation Fund, which is designed to compensate some 3,000 family members of 9/11 victims for the wrongful death of their loved one. The federal government created the Victim’s Compensation Fund, not as independent legislation, but as part of the legislation designed to bail out the airline industry. 3,000 people suing American or United (or the US government or the pope or whoever) was more than the already bloated and weakening airlines could bear.
So, make no mistake about it, as much as this money might help stabilize these families in crisis, or help them worry less about next month’s rent and more about grieving, this is hush money. It’s throwing these families a bone; it’s giving them a substantial sum of money in order to get them to not sue the government, the airlines, whoever.
The process itself of applying to the Fund is one that maximizes legal efficiency, and (thus perhaps necessarily) also maximizes its insensitivity to victims. The application is substantial (50 pages or so) and pretty much requires the help of an attorney to complete right. The application, in true Feinbergian style, comes with an actuarial table in the back detailing the different categories of victims and the various awards that come with them. Feinberg developed this process through lengthy experience negotiating these kinds of settlements—he did the one between the feds and vets over Agent Orange, for instance, and also over an IUD case. The actuarial tables are his tried-and-true tool, and, legally, speaking, they’re a paradigm of efficiency. They reduce all these complex variables (death or injury, number of kids, total income, age, etc.) to a relatively simple equation. So, f’r instance, if my husband Jimmy was a 35-year old bond trader making $500,000 a year and we had two kids, I can look right in the back and see that our presumed award might be worth—3 to 4 million.
Efficient as Feinberg’s actuarial tables might be, their efficiency doesn’t overcome the instinctive revulsion I feel—and I know others feel—upon seeing the value of 3,000 lives reduced to a mathematical equation. But does that make the Fund wrong? Unnecessary? Evil?
Most of our clients are displaced workers, OK?—people who worked in NYC and lost their jobs as a result of 9/11. Maybe 80 or 90 percent of our clientele is that group. But of our clients that did lose loved ones, very few are applying for the Fund. I’m not sure why—it’s probably a combination of reasons—but I suspect a lot of it has to do with the fact that applying to the fund and receiving an award is simply too final. The table is too final. Seeing your loved one’s life reduced to a mathematical equation is too final, and our clients’ are going to duck that process as long as they can.
Tomorrow: further discussion of Feinberg, the Fund, and America & the nature of grief.
PS: email me at email@example.com. (Sorry, I don’t know how to put up a link yet.)
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
I work in 9/11 relief in New York City, and as a result I've been pretty intrigued by the whole spate of articles that've been published recently about Kenneth Feinberg, the special master of the 9/11 Victims' Compensation Fund. Post on him (and the hoopla) hopefully forthcoming.