Tilting at Windmills.


The Beresford's Backyard * Mandy Does It Right * Cracking the Cynic's Code Switching in South Carolina * The Cruelty of Markets * Eyes on the Prizes

WHY DO THE RICH WANT TO GET richer? A new television commercial for the Scudder Fund explains a reason. It asks: "What if your son gets into Harvard? What if your mother has to go into a nursing home? What if they both happen at the same time?" This kind of fretting can go on and on -- what about the grandchildren? How much money will they need? What will Harvard cost then? So the million or so that you had always thought would be all you could need gradually turns into 10 million, then 20, then 100 as your imagination goes into overdrive with new visions of enormous drain on the family purse.

IF, AS TOM BROKAW SAYS, THE World War II generation is the greatest generation, what's the worst? That's easy, writes Paul Begala in the April Esquire, it's the Baby Boomers. Selfishness, he says, is their primary characteristic. An example is supplied by a recent article in The New York Times describing the Nimby--"not in my backyard"--battles being waged by today's comfort class. It used to be that these fights were about garbage dumps and hazardous waste sites, writes the article's author David M. Herszenhorn; today they are about things every community needs--ball fields, libraries, school buildings, churches, and housing for their elderly--just as long as they are not too near the houses of the affluent. Residents of The Beresford, a celebrity-infested apartment house on Central Park West, fought the construction of the nearby American Museum of Natural History's new planetarium. Now they're protesting a proposed monument to Alfred B. Nobel. They say the people who might come to see the monument would crowd the sidewalk. Wealth breeds a sense of entitlement explains Rosalyn Baxandall, a professor of American studies. "People of a certain class think they have these rights and that they have earned them"--and that no one else should have them.

"REPORT CLEARS First Lady and Others in FBI Files Case" read the headline in The Washington Post over the story that Robert Ray, who succeeded Ken Starr as independent counsel, had found "no `substantial or credible' evidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton or any other senior White House officials sought confidential files of Bush and Reagan political appointees." In other words, the Filegate scandal was a phony. The Post put this story on page four. You have to wonder how many stories it had run on page one that strongly implied that Filegate was a major scandal.

ONE OF THE LESS ATTRACTIVE traits of the market economy is the way it takes advantage of the innocent. A cruel manifestation of this characteristic was the practice of charging blacks more than whites for life insurance. When James D. Crane joined The Independent Life & Accident Insurance Co., his boss handed him two premium books: "You write the white people out of this and the niggers out of this." The premiums in the second book were about 25 percent higher.

Under pressure from the civil rights movement, insurers stopped this practice in the mid-'60s. That is they stopped it for new insureds. But not for those who were already insured, reveals The Wall Street Journal's Scot J. Paltrow. Some of the companies continue to charge them the old rate. What's saddest about all this is that most of this overcharging is for what is called burial insurance. Even the poorest elderly blacks try to keep up their payments on this insurance in order to spare their families the cost of a funeral.

I'm usually in the cynics' camp when it comes to class action suits. I suspect that most of them are brought to enrich the lawyers involved. But some are laudable. And that would certainly be the case if a suit is brought on behalf of all the blacks who have been cheated since the rates were supposed to have been reduced in the '60s. The very possibility must make the insurance companies tremble. And if most of the damages went to the black victims, with the lawyers accepting only modest fees, it could be lovely.

JUDICIAL WATCH, A RIGHT-WING group that has been hounding the Clintons, recently took advantage of the failure of the news about...

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