Though a large majority of Americans thought it was right and good and natural for the government to pay off the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, it was not. This was a completely original application of government resources that had never been done before, and it was at the behest of the airline industry which convinced the government– and the makers of this movie– that the nation would suffer immense economic harm if existing law was permitted to prevail and the airlines were sued, like they should have been in a capitalist free enterprise economy.
Have the airlines ever sued somebody? Have any of the executives or large shareholders of the airlines ever sued somebody? Did they think, before 9/11, that unlimited jury awards in tort cases might be a bad idea (actually, Republicans generally do)? Why were gun manufacturers specifically exempted from tort law in 2005? (As the link clarifies, gun makers could still be liable for “defects” in their product, if a product designed to kill and maim people can ever be said to have defects– does it not kill and maim? Take it back to the store!)
Remember all that blather you heard about government hand-outs leading to toxic dependency? Yeah, that’s only for immigrants and black people. In a capitalist system, as we claim to have, and as we say justifies letting poor people fend for themselves instead of helping them, the courts provide a system by which a good citizen can address compensation for deficiencies in a product or service that causes personal loss and suffering.
So the U.S. government broke all of it’s own rules and principles and decided that it would pay off the families of victims so the airlines could continue to pay off its shareholders and executives.
Next problem: how to decide who gets what?
We are the government: we have trillions. Line up and put your hands out everyone. And remember, repeat after me, “it’s not about the money”. Let’s work on the euphemisms for it: to bring closure; to ensure dignity; to make sure this never happens again; to bless the children and the kittens and the apple pie.
Meet Ken Feinberg, who, you should know, has been repeatedly hired (subsequent to 9/11) by large, powerful corporations like BP and Boeing to handle massive claims distributions after great big disasters. (Most recently, he has managed the 737 Max victim fund). Feinberg is asked by John Ashcroft to be the master of the compensation fund for victims of 9/11 and to the credit of “Worth” he is shown to be, at first, pretty clueless about managing the delicate feelings of the victim’s families. (Except that he does refuse a salary– but then, we know how that works: somewhere down the road he will receive another appointment, maybe to a board or government post, that does pay, very, very well). But the film does want it both ways: the families cannot be seen to be a mob of greedy materialists salivating at huge financial rewards. It’s not about the money, right? But it is always about the money and even the supposedly “pure” Donato family that sneers at the idea of taking compensation eventually joins the suit. Possibly the gravest hypocrisy in the U.S. right now is this absolute bullshit that people get away with when suing someone for a grievous loss. It is always about the money. “Worth” is far more honest than I expected about that, and presents some interesting dialogue about how the “worth” of a human life is determined. Should a janitor’s family get the same payout as a rich executive? (The initial plan, which rightly offended so many of the litigants, said: the CEO should get more since more potential earnings were lost.) And what about the children of a fireman by a woman with whom he was having a secret affair? Even more delicate: the gay partner of one man who lived in Virginia which did not allow for gay spouses. “Worth” is above average in it’s handling of these subjects, and relatively self-effacing– for a time– about Feinberg himself. Perhaps that is because it was critical to present him credibly while soft-pedalling the fact that this was all, all, really about sparing the airlines’ shareholders from shouldering the cost of their liability for 9/11, and for allowing juries to award scads and scads of millions of dollars for “pain and suffering” to family members who can cry on cue on the stand during a trial. We are also shielded from detailed discussion about the percentage of a settlement sucked up by the lawyers in cases like this. The most depressing thing about this entire episode is how the government continues to resist any serious discussion about compensating the families of victims of slavery, or racial violence, in any form whatsoever. I’m not saying there is no argument against it– there is. I’m just noting how obvious the difference is between these two constituencies, and how quickly we can disregard and make exceptions to policy whenever we feel like it.
Astonishingly, Feinberg’s entry in Wikipedia contains no personal information about the man. That is wondrous, for someone who was pivotal to some of the biggest and most controversial disasters in recent memory.