ESSAY- Blame game: Let's all stop pointing fingers

As we surge into yet another orgy of finger pointing, perhaps it's time to remember that the nature of humanity is to screw up.

Yes, General David Petraeus has some debatable opinions. Yes, Hillary wishes she had never taken donations from Norman Hsu. Yes, the Virginia Tech administrators wish they had locked down the campus after the first shootings. Yes, the counselor who questioned whether Cho Seung Hui was a danger wishes he/she had erred on the side of caution. Yes, Al Gonzales wishes he'd never gone along with the prosecutor's firings. Yes, George W. wishes he'd listened less to Don Rumsfeld and more to Colin Powell. Yes, Bill Clinton wishes he'd listened to himself when he promised America on 60 Minutes that he'd not cause any more pain in his marriage. Yes, Larry Summers wishes he'd never speculated on why there are so few women in science. Yes, Imus wishes he'd engaged brain before mouth.

The judge who decided Cho was "not enough of a danger" is, no doubt, trying to find a place to hide these days. It's either that or blame alcohol and go into rehab. 

People make mistakes. People say stupid things. People screw up. It's the nature of being human. 

But the way our nation immediately goes into attack mode– from rabid bloggers, to attack journalism, to lawyers seeking contingency fees– we're punishing the majority for the stupidity of the few. We're driving good people away from public positions by our vicious finger-pointing at the "crime" of being wrong, confused, or simply having to act without enough facts.

How could any candidate possibly research the background of hundreds– maybe thousands– of donors?

And the one thing all of us, from all political stripes, should have learned after four years in Iraq is that everything is confusing over there; that "right" may even have the same definition as "wrong."

America needs rational, realistic thinking, but instead we get the blame game. The fastest finger seems to think it wins, but in reality all of us lose. 

The New York Post's full front-page headline– only 12 hours after the Tech shootings– was "They didn't have to die," blaming campus authorities for thinking the first two shootings probably resulted from a domestic situation. 

Remember that many talented Immigration and Naturalization, FBI and CIA agents took early retirement after the 9/11 orgy of blame. Remember that at least five generals wouldn't take the Iraq czar job partially out of fear that they would catch hell.

How many good, competent, caring people are not going into politics today because they know some 30-second commercial will smear their reputation– possibly permanently?

How many bureaucrats don't act rapidly because they have to study hundreds of pages of instructions to be sure that what they do won't be slammed as over- or under-zealous?

How many of us don't make mistakes daily?

I'm not a Christian– I've spent only a few hours in church for weddings and funerals in the last 40 years– but Jesus was right when he said: "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone."

Gun control lovers should leave the "Right to Bear Arms" people alone. They didn't shoot anybody at Virginia Tech.

Republican and Democratic candidates should leave Hillary alone. She didn't know anything about what Norman Hsu did– or did not do– years ago., join Rush Limbaugh and move on.

Let's try, as Americans, to take Winston Churchill's message to heart. Defending his decision to keep Neville Chamberlain and others who had brutally mocked his war preparation message in the British government during the dark days of 1940, he said, "If the present tries to sit in judgment on the past, it will lose the future."

Churchill knew, of course, that Chamberlain had never been his friend– their antagonism was as bad as the worst of Washington today– but Churchill also knew that with the Germans swooping down on Dunkirk, it was "no time for proscriptions of able, patriotic men of long experience in government."

But that was the United Kingdom a generation ago. In America today we destroy our own "able" people. This is certainly not our finest trait, and will certainly not lead to our "finest hour."

Randy Salzman is a former communications professor and now a Charlottesville-based freelance writer.



Rarely have I ever seen a person in an article so aptly prove their 4th paragraph by the observation of the content of their 2nd paragraph.

It is quite obvious that you are simply substituting you perceptions stated as near certainties that clearly in at least some of the cases you have little more than informed speculation on.

Then you wrongly speculate about background checks of donors individually. This is a false argument that tries to deflect by over reaching example.

But what it does enlighten us with is that the effort all agree should not be part and parcel to our system relies on it's very premise that the collector above them , ie Mr Hsu in this instance must be relied on for his integrity as either a point of strength in the chain to affirm our confidence or on the other hand corrupt the system by less than good intents and cast doubts on the donors below him whether it is deserved or not.

When such a failure does occur and contact with those below results in some questionable data points then faith in the whole system suffers.

As to Ms. Clinton's knowledge of the past of Mr. Hsu you are quite wrong for very good reasons.

Mr. Hsu regularly came in close contact at social and political gatherings. The Clintons are under Secret Service protective observation and it is well known that even persons on guest lists of planned gatherings are vetted. For the level of interaction Mr Hsu had with the Clinton couple that vetting process would have easily detected the outstanding legal matters relating to Mr Hsu unless you are of the belief that the Secret Service would not avail them of information that is readily available to a patrol officer on a random traffic violation stop.

It is more reasonable to suggest that the issue was detected during such vetting and that someone privy to the information in the notification chain chose to ignore the warning sign.

A look at the situation after the situation broke and curious self investigation of the subject would have revealed by searching the FEC data base and it's available information that the submissions of the vast number of donations is like most everything else today handled by computers and software.
Also with enough research you will see that the submission reports even identify the software name and version used for the submissions.
If you then follow this back to research the capabilities of the software you will see it is a complete campaign financial package that models fundraising activity for all sorts of analytical analysis by many methodologies to evaluate compare and optimize your fundraising efforts with full knowledge of historic fundraising history for almost an endless set of proposed circumstances with detailed data of historic patterns and analyzes conformance with and notes exceptions to past norms of your performance.
Another component of that software suite is a module that has as it's sole purpose the detection of fraud. Many tests are used that parallel efforts of just the accuracy and completeness sections of the software for example are the city/zipcode pairs in agreement, does the donation amount by this donor plus past donations exceed donor limits? How many donors have contributed from this address and does it exceed a user defined threshold? Is the donor a person and not an LLC or Inc.?
It is notable that in the Hsu donors each and every one of these tests were violated based on FEC data available online. Clearly somewhere in the process staff had ignored the warnings the software provided and chose to over ride protections the software enabled.
Donor and refund data shows that donors contributed well above established limits that should have been questioned before the excess donations were credited to the system. Despite some being refunded there are still examples of donors with balances still above funding limits. There are some refunds that exceeded three times the total donor limits which should never have been accepted in the first place. Refunds are going to the wrong donor based on name collisions with corresponding address mis matches showing the error. Refunds are being sent to city addresses with zipcodes that are in error by over 5000 miles from the city location. A refund is going to a donor on the 7th floor of a VACANT LOT. Multiple donors at a single location are being selectively refunded. Some receive refunds others at the same location do not. Many donors have received refunds less than the amount they donated. This is different from excess donation refunds. Refunds are going to donors who have a FEC history of only donations to other political parties and no record of a corresponding donation to the Clinton campaign. Refunds are going to parties who have no record of a donation of any kind to any one. This can only be due to a name error manually entered, otherwise reliance on the data in the program would have provided the correct information.

I could go on, but I am sure you see that error and bounds checking had to be over ridden by positive action by staffers and/or supervisors and the vetting of Mr Hsu and handling of that information all raise troubling issues that should not be ignored or brushed aside.

An easy comparison of the performance of the Clinton campaign and donation return rates even excluding the Hsu donors would show their organization far and away exceeds faults in the donor system integrity by a multiple of amounts and instances. To my knowledge the Clinton effort has been the only major campaign to receive a notice letter from the FEC detailing improper contributions detected by the FEC audit software requiring action for resolution.

This combination of events leads to the conclusion that in fact all other donations need to be examined for other potential errors either by incompetence or intent.

We can not learn from the past if we refuse to examine events. This is easier with time but sometimes we must do our best to quickly improve our society. The tabloid media tendencies to immediately place blame when tragedy occurs are counterproductive and,often, wildly inaccurate.
However, the urge to improve our system by such actions as improving the gun purchase background system to keep dangerously mentally ill individuals from purchasing guns is absolutely necessary. In fact, thoughtful gun owners who wish to keep their "right to bear arms" should support efforts to keep arms out of the hands of the criminally insane.

Anyone who supports "gun control" laws in America is a traitor, and anyone who would take law-abiding citizens weapons of self-defense from them deserves to be shot dead with said weapons of self-defense.

John, one word- THERAPY

Really, it will help with your Delusional anger

I believe John may be one of those mentally ill people whose ability to purchase guns has been threatened. Or at least I hope so, since he seems to think it's okay to shoot dead anyone who disagrees with his political ideology. Hope he doesn't know my address.

In a scary way, JG, makes my point. For everyone's sake, we must value public safety more than the right to bear arms among people who have a history of being dangerous to themselves or others. The rest of us have rights too.

After the shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech last April there was a lot of high talk about increased accountability and people falling through the cracks of the Virginia Public Mental Health System.

So what has the Virginia State Mental Health Board actually done to improve the situation?

The answer, according to their own documentation is – nothing!

How do I know? The Virginia DMHRMSAS Board has met three times since April, including one expensive junket at a sleepover resort in Danville with free meals courtesy the taxpayer; but not one time does any of the terms “quality control”, “quality assurance”, or “accountability” appear in their minutes.

Anyone who wants to check on this for their self can go to

The Commonwealth will, of course, claim that independent Commissions were appointed to investigate this issue and Virginia has quality inspectors and quality plans in place.

But what have they accomplished?

Where are the minutes of their meetings that document any sort of detailed quality review of New River Valley Community Services quality control procedures, and the breakdown in those procedures that allowed Seung Hui Cho to “slip through the cracks” as they so colorfully say?

Most important of all; if the agency lacked funds or resources to send an employee to every mental health hearing and follow up on it, why was their Board of Directors not informed?

The problem, everyone keeps saying, is that people are slipping through the cracks of the Virginia Public Mental Health System. That is precisely the type of problem quality control engineers are supposed to solve.

So who serves on the Board of Directors? Lawyers, counselors, teachers, doctors, and psychiatrists!

Any quality control experts? Nope.

There should be a sign in every airport and port of entry in Virginia saying the following:

“Welcome to Virginia, where we hobble from one mental health related homicidal disaster to the next because our governor and our legislature lack the political will to put quality control experts in charge of our mental health delivery system. Have nice day and drive safely.”