May 26, 2005
Workers' Comp Woes
I am appalled by Jill Stewart's self serving and misleading missives about the so-called reform (in reality, deform) of workers' compensation ("It's Time to Heal Worker's Comp," May 6).
During the past approximately 25 years I have been representing injured workers. I am proud to say I am an Orthodox Jew and a registered Republican. As you can imagine, I am not a starry-eyed liberal and I certainly do not support the very rare and sometimes understandable (but not excusable) desire to take advantage of the system. But, the new regulations and legislation violate the very spirit and substance of the workers' compensation system, which is to adequately compensate those who put their life and limb at risk working for others. As an Orthodox Jew, I have felt comfortable seeking compensation for my laboring clients, especially as such compensation does not differ radically from the damages available to an injured worker under traditional Jewish law. As a good American, follower of halacha and an employer myself, I recognize we all have a duty to go as far as possible to aid and make whole those who are truly injured through no fault of their own, but this is exactly what the new laws do not do.
Any fair-minded insurance defense attorney will admit that the new laws are shamefully and extremely draconian. Every attorney who represents injured workers already has several horrible-but-true tales of what has happened to their clients over the past few months. I hope the many Democrat legislators who signed on to this plan did not realize the actual impact of what they were creating in this monstrous Senate bill by giving the benefit of doubt to the governor. No one can honestly tell you that there has never been fraud and abuse in the system, but it has not been endemic or systemic either. Let politicians and insurers chase the treatment mills and other scavengers away by enforcing the law as it stood, but the solution is not starvation wages and denial of bare minimum medical treatment for injured workers.
Is The Jewish Journal so starstruck that the best you could do for a cover story the week of Yom HaAtzmaut was an article including a profile of a "beautiful young" Israeli expat actress who has fulfilled her life's ambition by standing on a soundstage with Scarlett Johansson ("Shalom Hollywood," May 13)? I wish her all the best in her endeavors -- but I may be old fashioned. I would have preferred a cover story for Israeli Independence Day following up on some ex-Angelenos pursuing the Zionist dream by making aliyah.
My first visit to a Reform congregation was truly exciting ("Reform's Reforms," May 20). Although some of the ritual and prayers were foreign to me, the majority of the readings were in English and relevant to the issues that I face in the modern world. The sermon called upon us as individuals to make a difference in the world. This was a call to action, not a request for belief!
I am 62-years-old and preparing for my bar mitzvah 13 years after my conversion. I struggle with Hebrew. I am more comfortable worshipping in English. I am a Reform Jew. I do not consider Reform Judaism to be less religious than traditional Judaism. In fact, I assert the opposite. Traditional ritual and following a faith-based list of rules has the very real danger of seeming religious without challenging the worshipers to truly search their hearts and their minds for ways to repair our world. Judaism is an action religion. We are challenged to do. We are challenged to repair the world. We are challenged to be better than we are. We are not challenged to accept kashrut, tefillin, tzeniut or tzitzit.
As a freelance book editor who has worked with the Reform movement and continues to do so, I read with great interest Micha Odenheimer's cover story. To the many noteworthy facets of change that the article reported, let me add one more: the publication three months ago of a revised edition of its bestselling Torah with commentary. Of the new edition's many features, three in particular manifest that Reform Jews study Torah more seriously than before:
1. It provides a Hebrew text that is among the most historically accurate and visually precise ever published.
2. It places the translation right next to the Hebrew original, paragraph by paragraph, so that the translation better serves as a stepping-stone to the real text.
3. It is backed by more than 350 pages of online documentation that list and explain changes made to the Hebrew text and to the translation (relative to the first edition), because the publisher believes that its readers care about those details.
Such changes are achieved only with a considerable investment of time and expense.
This and other recent publications of the URJ Press (www.urjpress.com) speak volumes about the direction of the Reform movement.
David E. S. Stein
There is a factual error in Tom Tugend's piece "Stamp of Approval." Yip Harburg, the prolific lyricist of such Ammerican pop standards as "Over the Rainbow," was not, in fact, Jewish ("Stamp of Approval," May 20). His co-writer, composer Harold Arlen, who created the gorgeous melody for "Over the Rainbow," was very Jewish (his father was the venerated cantor Samuel Arlen). The talented Harburg joked about feeling like an honorary Jew in that he worked with various Jewish composers of the golden era of American song, and because his name sounded Jewish -- but he was Christian.
Healing Workers' Comp
Jill Stewart is well-known for her anti-worker and anti-workers' comp sentiments. She has repeatedly misstated the facts and attacked the wrong parties ("It's Time to Heal Worker's Comp," May 6). She continues to have a distorted view of what is going on in workers' comp. We did not get reform of the workers' compensation systems -- we got an outright assault, a mutilation of injured workers' rights. How dare she attack the one group of people who have fought long and hard to protect the injured workers' of this state, the lawyers who represent them?
Stewart claims that the money spent on workers' comp went to the middlemen, like lawyers who were milking the system. Wrong again, Ms. Stewart. Nothing could be further from the truth. No. 1, the insurance company does not pay the attorney fees. Attorneys only get 15 percent attorney fees, paid by the injured workers from their award or settlement. Compare that to all other areas of law where fees are much more substantial. The insurance companies, who padded Gov. Schwarzegger's with exorbitant amount of money, got the reforms they wanted. How's that for taking special interest money and the governor doing favors for those who did? Now the insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of the injured worker. Employer rates have not dropped as promised and, as her article states, permanent disability benefits are now the bottom in the nation. That is not something this state should be proud of.
Injured workers' rights to medical control have been taken away. Do we take that away from any other segment of society? No. Injured workers' rights to obtain treatment that is necessary has been taken away. We have limited their benefits while they cannot work and reduced their compensation for permanent disabilities. We have taken away their right to be retrained if they cannot return to their usual and customary work as a result of their permanent injuries. This is a travesty, Ms. Stewart. You should be ashamed of yourself for distorting the truth. Try living in the shoes of an injured worker.
I am outraged by what the governor has done to hurt the working men and women of this state and I am outraged by the special interest money he has taken from the insurance companies. The injured workers of this state deserve better.
In response to Jill Stewart's scathing attack on attorneys representing workers, it revealed more about her ignorance of the subject matter than anything else. Senate Bill 899 is the most vicious attack on the basic rights of the injured worker in California history. Instead of focusing on the rights of injured workers, she goes off on a tirade against their attorneys who instead of "milking the system" earn a mere 15 percent fee. The recent Rand Study confirms that benefits paid to injured workers are woefully inadequate. The new legislation even cuts that amount by at least 50 percent. As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I can tell you unequivocally that the California applicant attorneys are the most dedicated group of lawyers on behalf of their clients that I have ever had the pleasure to associate with. Of all the reasons for the workers compensation crisis, Stewart is misinformed in blaming the attorneys. She should do more research before she spouts off about a subject of which she certainly has little knowledge.
Ronald M. Canter
I read with dismay another of Jill Stewart's articles about workers' compensation. I can only say, "Jill, you've got it wrong." She falsely hints that the truly injured will be helped by the Schwarzenegger sellout of injured workers. Nothing is further from the truth. Under the new AMA guides, the near dead, such as Terri Schiavo in her final days, would only be considered 90 percent disabled according to one of the editors of the AMA Guides.
Stewart has declined an invitation to meet with injured workers or an attorney representing them to hear directly from them how the changes have hurt truly injured people.
She needs to expand her sources beyond the Chamber of Commerce.
Battle of Faith
James D. Besser's article shows a moral blindness to seven glaring realities ("The Faith Wars Heat Up, " May 20):
1) For the past 37 years, the forces of political correctness have poisoned, corrupted and degraded every institution of American life.
2) Those who are "faith revolutionaries" are average, decent people who were not very political. They were focused on raising their families, making a living and supporting their houses of worship. Pushed too far, they are angry and radicalized.
3) There are serious changes in American Jewry. A decade ago, you could not find enough Jewish Republicans for a living room meeting. Today, they are packing large auditoriums to capacity.
4) During the days of Harry Truman, Democrats represented "average Joes" who played softball at the public park while the Republicans represented those who played golf and tennis at posh country clubs. Today, the opposite is true.
5) Too many Jews, including numerous rabbis, are lukewarm Zionists. The Christian right loves Israel unconditionally.
6) Bigotry against Jews and Christians is socially acceptable. Islam is sacrosanct!
7) The real dangerous hate mongers, whom we need to fear, are on the left -- not the right!
Rabbi Louis J. Feldman