Robert Byrd’s
lifelong embarrassment

    Robert C. Byrd has done much for North Central West Virginia and the Mountain State. His work can been seen at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Justice Identification System complex or at the aerospace development near Benedum Airport.
    Byrd likes to say that he’s planted the seeds of growth and success for the region. But it’s up to all of us to work together to reap a bumper crop.
    On Thursday, he gave all of us, especially the young, important food for thought: Mistakes made as a foolish youngster may be forgiven, but they are seldom forgotten.
    While Byrd is hailed in these parts for providing a much needed economic boost and has become a well-respected statesman throughout the country, his membership in the Ku Klux Klan while a young man in West Virginia has “emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me, in a very graphic way, what one major mistake can do to one’s conscience, career and reputation,” Byrd said.
    He said his membership in the KKK “was the most egregious mistake I have ever made.” “Upon introspection, I find the entire episode difficult to understand. The only conclusion I can draw for myself is that I was sorely afflicted by a dangerous tunnel vision, the kind of tunnel vision that, I fear, leads young people today to join gangs or hate groups.”
In owning up to his past mistakes, Byrd will do little to silence his critics. In fact, he will probably open the door for more criticism.
    But he also knows that by speaking out, he plants another seed. And this seed might be the most important, for it may be the one that fosters the concept of cooperation and understanding in a world full of diversity. It’s a seed of education with the final lesson being world peace.



Legal services needs to learn how to count

    Shame on Legal Services for overstating its number of cases. Whether the overstatement was deliberate — to secure more funding from Congress — or accidental, as Legal Services says, we still say: Shame on Legal Services.
    It’s not that we oppose Legal Services or what it does. By providing legal aid for the poor, the government program helps to make the U.S. legal system, in which wealth seems to outweigh right, a little fairer.
    But Legal Services overstated the number of cases it handled in 1997 by the tens of thousands. Here are some of the numbers:
— Legal Services reported that it served 1.93 million clients in 1997. But an audit of just five of the 269 regional Legal Services’ program found caseloads had been overstated by 90,000.
— The Legal Aid Society of San Diego reported more than 14,000 telephone calls as cases.
— A Legal Services group in Florida reported 44,993 new cases in 1997. It turned out to have worked only 5,500.
    Remember, these are erroneous numbers uncovered in reviews of just five of 269 regional Legal Services programs. How common such overstatements are nationwide still isn’t known. But Legal Services says it is revising its counting methods and expects its reported caseload to drop by 200,000 in 1998.
    Perhaps the overcounting was just the result of poor bookkeeping and out-of-date policies, as Legal Services officials say. But there certainly was motivation to overcount. Congress looks at Legal Services’ caseloads in deciding how much to allocate for the program. The more cases reported, the more taxpayer dollars received. Congress gave Legal Services $300 million this fiscal year, up from $283 million last year.
    The overcounting shows us this much at least: Legal Services is either a slipshod operation or a shady operation. Congress should find out which it is and make sure changes are made.
Tim Langer
Telegram editorial board member



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Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999