Biased CoverageI am a public interest attorney...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Biased Coverage

I am a public interest attorney who has represented Supplemental Security Income (SSI) clients for nearly 15 years. I continue to be distressed by the nature of The Sun's coverage of the SSI program.

I am writing in response to the front-page story on March 11: " 'Coached' Children Wrongly Get Benefits" by John O'Donnell.

I attended the same meeting as Mr. O'Donnell and, in my opinion, he has grossly mis-characterized Dr. Bill Payne's testimony and, consistent with all of The Sun's recent stories about the SSI program, has presented a biased and incomplete description.

While Dr. Payne indicated concern about some children who were found disabled in the past, primarily during 1992 and 1993, my notes indicate that he stated that "the system is working pretty well now," that "the majority of cases are appropriately found disabled" in light of corrections made by the Social Security Administration.

He also stated that many children found eligible on the individualized functional assessment (IFA), the group to be terminated under the House Ways and Means Committee bill, meet or equal the medical listings, the group for whom benefits would continue. He cautioned that by cutting off "IFA children," some of those children would fall through the cracks.

I strongly disagree with the characterization of Dr. Payne's testimony as a public confirmation that "children without disabilities are getting monthly checks."

The statement that "Dr. Payne said his agency was getting little guidance from Social Security while being pressure to increase its approval rate for children" is also inaccurate since it implies that the problem is on-going.

As stated above, Dr. Payne clearly testified that the problem had been corrected and cautioned against overreacting. Consistent with the quality of the coverage on SSI, this clarification is buried in the story, after maximum negative impact is achieved with front-page coverage.

Consistent with the biased coverage, the article fails to discuss other testimony presented, including that of the General Accounting Office recommending elimination of the IFA.

The GAO witness was strongly questioned and criticized by members of the commission for its report . . .

Ethel Zelenske

Baltimore

Turkey's Action

Permit me to register some of my objections to points raised in the editorial "Turks in Iraq" (March 23).

While the editorial acknowledges that the PKK is a separatist and terrorist organization, it seems to question Turkey's legitimate right to defend itself against its scourge.

The PKK, which found it increasingly difficult to operate in Southeast Turkey, took advantage of the power vacuum in northern Iraq and set up bases there in order to continue carrying out its operations.

No country should be expected to stand idly by and watch a group of ruthless terrorists infiltrate its borders to massacre innocent civilians and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within its borders.

The Turkish government has an obligation to protect its citizens from violent terrorist threats. The decision to send forces into northern Iraq was not taken lightly, but it had to be taken to fulfill Turkey's obligation to protect innocent civilians from further attacks.

Turkey is legally and morally justified in its actions, which is why the U.S. government supported the operation. Indeed, the whole international community has an obligation to denounce terrorism unequivocally.

We hope the U.S. public, while supporting the American military presence in northern Iraq to protect the Iraqi Kurds from Saddam Hussein's wrath, will also recognize and understand Turkey's right to protect its own citizens from PKK terror.

On the other hand, contrary to inferences in the editorial, Turkey is committed to democracy.

The government continues to take the necessary steps to fully align the Turkish democracy with that of the European Union based on the individual freedoms and liberties for its citizens, regardless of their ethnic background.

Nuzhet Kandemir

Washington

The writer is ambassador of Turkey.

Inflation Gauge

Alan Greenspan told a Senate committee that the Consumer Price Index overstates inflation by failing to account for improvements in quality of goods.

If this is true, people who receive inflation-adjusted government benefits enjoy a windfall that costs Uncle Sam about $30 million a year.

It is time to overhaul our chief inflation gauge in order to make it more accurate. To figure out how much of a price increase is due to quality change and how much to inflation is a most complex issue.

The Federal Reserve Board chairman believes the CPI overstates inflation by 1 percent. If that is correct, why was it necessary to raise interest rates six times?

Joseph Lerner

Baltimore

Equal Rights?

After reading columns by Susan Reimer and Ellen Goodman, the only conclusions that can be discerned are that, in their view:

* Women have the right to work long, hard hours at a personally fulfilling jobs in the private and public sector. The amount of time they spend at work should have no impact upon their fitness as a parent.

* Men who pursue the same fulfillment are obviously self-centered pigs with no right to expect equality from courts in custody matters.

Maybe we ought to take another look at that Equal Rights Amendment.

Les Schaefer

Ellicott City

Too Many Lawsuits

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a tort reform bill. The trial lawyer's association has succeeded in watering down what was originally proposed.

The original proposal for the "English rule" would have called for the loser in a civil court case to pay the winner's court costs. This would have encouraged people to settle out of court and discouraged people from bringing ridiculous lawsuits that tie up the courts or force insurance companies to settle because it is cheaper than going to court.

Of course, the opponents hide behind clever one-liners proclaiming justice for all, but our civil court system has been so manipulated that in most cases it has nothing to do with justice.

In fact the ambulance-chasing attorney glut that we have seen in the last 15 years has turned the civil court system for many into little more than a lottery that you don't have to pay to play.

I have lived in Baltimore City for 10 years, and on the streets of Baltimore, many talk of the day they will have their "suitcase." A "suitcase" is when you get to sue somebody and win some money. Please don't think this is isolated to stereotypes of urban dwellers.

Several years ago my wife bumped the car in front of her and cracked its tail light. There was a time when I would have paid the $130 to fix the tail light and that would have been the end of it.

However, the other person involved contacted an "if-you-don't-win-you-don't-pay" attorney who "pursued justice" vigorously, and my insurance company paid them $5,100 to settle out-of-court.

The justification was pain and suffering. When I called my insurance company outraged, they explained that if it went to court it would cost so much to win that it was better for them to settle it.

After this was explained, I then said, "So you're telling me that the insurance companies will pay claims if they're brought. You just give money away."

The insurance adjuster said, "If it is under $20,000, most of the time we will."

After that, my rates went sky high and then I was dropped.

This is nothing more than a racket. The only winners are the doctors and lawyers, and the loser is as always the hard working honest guy.

Where are ethics, fairness, justice, integrity, decency, righteousness and honor in this?

These practices are killing business, ruining individuals, thwarting justice, increasing the cost of doing business, raising consumer prices, driving insurance rates out of sight and helping to erode integrity from our society.

We have reached a new low when lawyers offer preferred customer cards. My hope is never to be in court; the lawyers want you to look for every opportunity to go there.

It isn't hard to see why lawyers are among the least respected professionals in the country. It is time the American people demand the highest ground.

Jeff Zenger

Baltimore

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