Sunday, February 28, 2010, 09:37 PM - Political developments(Workerscompzone has been traveling in Israel...the last post was from Tel Aviv....in a few days the blog will return to regular commentary on important events in California workers' comp....)
Jerusalem....surely the most contested place on earth. Pretty much every inch of the old city is contested by some religious group. The old city is divided into four zones: the Arab quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, and the Armenian quarter.
I come down from my hotel located on Mt. Zion. Entering the Jaffa Gate, I run the gauntlet of hundreds of vendors in the labyrinthine old streets.
Why is it that so many of the places seem to be selling the same trinkets? Are those antiquities really old? Shall I break down and buy one of those "Don't Worry America, Israel Will Defend You" t-shirts?
Some of the vendors really do "got game". One guy ropes me into his stand to show me a picture of his dad, who is supposedly an Orange County police officer. He quickly changes the subject to the carpets and jewelry for sale in his shop.
Another vendor claimed he lived for a few years in Venice Beach. I ask him whether he ever smoked cigars at Arnold Schwarzenegger's place there, Schatzi on Main. Blank stare.
I stop for lunch. It's hard to beat a plate of hummus topped with minced lamb, washed down with a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.
The restaurant owner seems intent to be hitting on middle aged Northern European females. I eat my lunch slowly and must hear him ask various women whether they are from Austria or Sweden.
I dead down the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus is said to have carried the cross. It's slow going, as a crowd of Koreans trail an old, frail looking Korean pilgrim dragging a huge wooden cross on her spindly shoulders.
From there I turn into the Arab quarter. It looks less prosperous. Lots of kids play soccer in narrow, ancient streets. Signs are in Arabic, unlike other parts of Israel where signs are mostly only in Hebrew. It's not scary, but there's not a welcoming feeling on these streets either.
I wind my way toward the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the 3rd holiest site in Islam.
It's a no go in the afternoon, so I'm stopped by the tourist police. Even in the morning the Mosque is off limits. Try the Wailing Wall, I'm told.
Actually it's the Western Wall, a sheer stone face just below the Temple Mount. Several dozen IDF forces stand guard along the way, automatic weapons at their side, before I even get to the entrance with metal detectors.
Passing through, I'm at the wall. Actually it's a mammoth plaza. Perhaps a hundred Orthodox Jews are lined up praying at the wall, some sticking small pieces of paper in the crevices. Others seem to be standing or sitting, rocking and swaying as they recite the Torah.
Women seem to get the short end of the stick. The Western Wall female prayer area l takes up about a third of the space, with the guys getting the other two-thirds.
I missed the protests, but there were Temple Mount and old city clashes between rock throwing masked Palestinians and the police after stones were thrown at tourists.Tension has been very high this week after Israel announced plans to add several West Bank shrines to Israel's national preservation list.
Tension has been high in the Jewish quarter as some ultra -Orthodox Jews set up poles to demarcate areas where nothing can be carried on Shabbat (the Saturday religious holiday).
Everything looks dry as a bone, but menacing clouds roll in. There's thunder in the distance. Then lightning cracks appear to be closing in.
The scene is beautiful. It oozes history. But it's also somewhat menacing. One can see that an insult here or a stone thrown there can set off an international incident.
Time to get back to the hotel before the downpour.
A good time to read something on Israel's labor law. Here's an interesting piece, albeit several years old (so changes may have occurred):
http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialo ... nal/is.htm
And this article by Steven J. Adler, President of the National Labour Court:
Stay tuned. In coming days' I'll complete this series with a view from Bethlehem (in the Palestinian Territories) and Masada (on the Dead Sea).
For a report on the current strife, see this:
Friday, February 26, 2010, 07:37 AM - Political developments(workerscompzone is traveling; today he is posting from Tel Aviv.....next week the blog will get back to the usual shenanigans in the California workers' comp world....)
January 18, 1991.....
I'll never forget that day. The California Applicants Attorneys Association was having its winter conference in Southern California.
In the middle of a late afternoon seminar the program was interrupted.
The huge room went quiet, and then there were gasps and groans. It was announced that Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel had been hit by Scud missile attacks.
Many of the applicant attorneys were Jewish, particularly from the Los Angeles area. There was great consternation as it was announced that Iraq had launched a rocket attack on the major Israeli cities in the middle of the night.
As it turned out, damage was light. But psychologically, the attacks reenforced for many the fragile status of Israel in a fractious Mideast.
So almost 20 years later I find myself in Tel Aviv for the first time. A lot has happened in those years. The 1993 Oslo Accords. The 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a right wing religious fanatic. The Ariel Sharon visit to the Temple Mount. The second Intifada. Suicide bombings. The 2004 death of Yasser Arafat. The building of a wall to separate the West Bank Palestinians from Israel. Evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza. The ascendancy of Hamas in Gaza. 2006 conflict with Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Expansion of more settlements.
Development of a high tech industry sector.
And that's just skimming the surface.
Walking the Tel Aviv beach, one could imagine being in West LA. Bikers, runners, dog walkers, skaters...they're all here.
The U.S. embassy is there, on the beachfront boulevard.
A few blocks over are boulevards lined with Bauhaus style dwellings.
Much of Tel Aviv was essentially a planned community in the 1930s,
built in the German Bauhaus design of simple, flowing lines. Leafy boulevards traverse small side streets. There's a cafe every couple of blocks. With mild winters, people are outside enjoying themselves.
Aside from an occasional off-duty soldier carrying his weapon, there's little reminder here that the country is always potentially on alert. Bombings have been rare to non-existent for some time, though visitors to major landmarks, hotels and malls do go through a front door security check.
In central Tel Aviv the population looks largely European. Few Israeli Arab head scarfs are noted, and remarkably few men in ultra-orthodox black hats and suits are seen here. It's a secular vibe.
Signs are largely in Hebrew. Many places have no English signs, and in central Tel Aviv it seems rare to have signs in Arabic, even though an increasing percentage of the population are Israeli Arabs.
My first night here I tune in to cable TV on the Bloomberg channel.
Lo and behold they feature a debate on whether "the United States should step back from its special relationship with Israel". Roger Cohen (a New York Times columnist) and Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi said yes, while former U.S. diplomat Stuart Eizenstat and former Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich said no.
The debate is fascinating, and serves as a good introduction to the current strategic issues regarding the U.S. and Israel. You can see a summary here, which includes a link to actually watch the debate:
http://intelligencesquaredus.org/wp-con ... Israel.pdf
Cohen and Khalidi win the debate, taking a larger share of the undecideds in the live audience.
After being glued to my TV, I venture out onto a windy beach for a late night hamburger. Runners are still active on the beach path at 11 pm.
Dance clubs are opening at midnight. In the distance, from the old port of Jaffa, I can hear the wailing Muslim prayers.
Stay tuned. In my next post. I'm headed to Jerusalem. From there I'll share some information on the Israeli labor law system.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010, 08:53 AM - Political developmentsA writ has been granted in the Guzman case.
For non-lawyers out there, it means that the California Court of Appeal, 6th District (based in San Jose) has agreed to hear the case. In Guzman II the WCAB indicated that it will allow physicians to use all aspects of the AMA guides themselves (up to the "four corners" of the guides) in order to assess an accurate impairment rating.
Here is a link to the WCAB decision in Guzman II:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/wcab/EnBancdecisi ... ep2009.pdf
The 6th District is turning out to be a hotbed of appellate activity in workers comp. The Hertz v. WCAB (Aguilar) case came out of the 6th District. Hertz/Aguilar is now awaiting a date for oral argument at the California Supreme Court. The "XYZZ" case involving "colas" is out of the 6th District. The district is somewhat unpredictable.
It's not surprising that the court has elected to take the case. The case involves major issues of statewide impact.
So far the Court of Appeal 5th District has not signaled that it will take the Almaraz case appeal.
It's quite possible that the 6th District and the 5th District could both hear the Almaraz/Guzman issues and disagree. In that event the cases would have to go to the California Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the 6th District declined to impose a stay on the Guzman ruling.
Some injured worker advocates have felt confident that the Almaraz/Guzman decisions will withstand appellate court scrutiny. They believe that legislative dealmaking is best delayed in hopes that a Democratic governor is elected.
Whether that's a wise strategy or effectively a quixotic effort to run the table remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, all ye amicus groups, start your engines......
Monday, February 22, 2010, 10:05 PM - Political developmentsDan Walters is California's most seasoned journalist covering the scene at the state capitol. Over the years Walters again and again has shown his grasp of the politics and personalities that animate the legislative scene.
So it's with interest that I note his piece in today's Sacramento Bee, "Workers' Comp Battle Awaits New Governor":
http://www.sacbee.com/2010/02/22/255412 ... attle.html
Walters notes that the Schwarzenegger comp reform, enacted by "bulldozing the Legislature", has cut employer's costs by about $15 billion a year or almost $100 billion so far.
He also notes that the Schwarzenegger administration has refused to comply with legal requirements to amend the permanent disability rating schedule effective January 2010.
Walters calls workers' comp "one of the important, if subliminal, issues of this year's election".
Monday, February 22, 2010, 12:08 AM - Political developmentsCould it be that Anthem Blue Cross has given the gift that keeps on giving?
Anthem Blue Cross recently announced rate hikes of as much as 39% for many of its 700,000 California customers. The company claims that troubled economy has caused many to drop coverage, leaving it with a sicker, more expensive population.
Critics claim that in 2009 the 5 largest private insurers reaped over $12 billion in profits.
California is one of 25 states that don't regulate health insurance rates
(just as it doesn't actually regulate workers' comp rates either).
Outrage over Anthem Blue Cross's action has given the Obama Administration a hook to revive the moribund healthcare reform process. To those who say the healthcare system is doing just fine, the White House can cite the 39% rate hikes.
And Obama will be doing just that. He'll be proposing federalizing a rate review process by creating a Health Insurance Rate Authority, composed of 7 members (to include consumer advocates, an industry representative, a physician, etc).
The authority would issue an annual report setting the parameters for reasonable rate increases based on consumers in the market.
It reminds one of the function of the WCIRB in California's workers' comp market, though the WCIRB governing board is largely from the insurance industry.
Details are sketchy, but the proposal would apparently give some power to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to block insurance rate hikes or order rebates to customers.
Politically this is probably a winner.
But eventually all aspects of the healthcare delivery system need to be retooled. If expanding coverage and controlling costs were easy, a reform plan would have sailed through already. But without a public option or single payer system, expanding coverage through mandating that individuals buy coverage is tricky and controversial.
Getting rid of pre-existing coverage exclusions remains popular. As I've been noting for a long time, this is critical for so many of California's injured workers, many of whom lose their group insurance coverage.
But the experience in New York is a cautionary tale. In New York, a "guaranteed issue" law and "community rating" mandate have combined to make insurance costs high. Allowing people to purchase insurance on the way to the hospital tends to undermine a stable system of healthcare financing. Here's an excellent piece from Los Angeles Times writer Noam M. Levey, "A Cautionary Tale in Healthcare Reform":
http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and- ... full.story