John Stossel

I always thought victimhood was something to avoid. It meant that something bad was happening to you, something you didn't want. But since today's laws give victims special power and attention, some people seem to aspire to the title of "victim."

What taught me how far things have gone was one small workplace in Ithaca, N.Y., where a group of "victims" said they were being poisoned by the office air. This was odd since the building was in a rural area and the windows could be opened. The air seemed fine to me, but the workers' demands might make you sick.

They complained chemicals emanating from a new rug gave them a zillion different symptoms -- memory loss, headaches, sore throats, "severe mouth infections," a "metal taste in your mouth," "shortness of breath," and "burning, itching, tearing eyes."

Four said they were sick all the time. They said the building gave them a disease called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). This meant just a whiff of copier fluid could disable them. Their doctors went along, declaring them "totally disabled."

Their employer was Tompkins County's Social Services Department, the agency charged with dispensing services to "victims." Is that a coincidence? Or does being in the "victim business" make you susceptible to becoming a victim? I think it's the latter. Servicing victims all day encourages you to focus on things being wrong.

The Social Services Department went out of its way to accommodate its "sick" employees. Tompkins County hired an "environmental expert" to test if there was anything wrong with the building. His tests found no problems, but he acknowledged that the office photocopiers gave off fumes. So the county installed vents to suck any fumes out of the building. One vent cost $3,000.

Not enough! said the workers. They were still sick. So the environmental expert said maybe the problem was the carbonless paper. This is the same paper restaurants use for credit card receipts. It's not known for "chemically assaulting" diners or waiters. If it were, restaurants would quickly stop using it, or they'd go out of business.

In this case, however, the carbonless paper was in the county's offices. The offices were run by bureaucrats. They weren't spending their own money, and they couldn't go out of business. Tompkins County bureaucrats agreed to pay someone to photocopy every single piece of paper so these workers never had to touch it.

Not enough! said the workers. You also have to photocopy every single old form stored in the basement and every single form that's touched carbonless paper. The county did.

John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at > To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at ©Creators Syndicate