- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2000

Politicians, lawyers treat tobacco money like lottery

Your Jan. 17 article "Bond plan speeds tobacco cash" proves what critics of the national tobacco settlement have been saying all along: The main goal of the suit against cigarette companies was to generate revenue for big government.

With states frantically seeking to sell the rights to their yearly payments from tobacco companies to investors in exchange for getting a smaller pot right now, governments are behaving like impatient lottery winners.

The politicians, of course, did not tell us they'd be playing Lotto with our tax dollars. When Attorney General Mike Moore of Mississippi filed the first anti-tobacco suit, he insisted that the litigation would recover money that tobacco companies "rightfully owe to Mississippi taxpayers."

Yet now the money is being spent on everything from bonuses to politically powerful D.C. public employees, to flood-control projects in North Dakota, to college scholarships in Michigan.

Worse, the biggest winners are lawyers one Minnesota law firm is getting $440 million, five Texas law firms will split more than $2 billion, and Mississippi lawyers will rake in $500 million.

Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos fought for a $1 billion fee, one-fourth of Maryland's $4 billion settlement. This prompted Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to insist that Mr. Angelos (a major political contributor to his party) accept "only" $500 million because "we agreed to change tort law, which was no small feat. We changed centuries of precedent to ensure a win in this case."

Greedy lawyers and activist politicians have corrupted our laws to extort a huge legal settlement from the tobacco companies. Unfortunately, consumers and taxpayers are left cleaning the ashtrays.

MARK SCHMIDT

Director of programs

National Taxpayers Union Foundation

Alexandria

1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue more bunker than boulevard

In December, several D.C. officials such as Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called for Pennsylvania Avenue to be reopened to traffic in front of the White House. While such action may or may not be prudent in light of security reasons, it is clear that the status quo is indefensible.

The 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the most famous addresses on earth, remains in a state of unsightly limbo, neither a street nor a walkway; more bunker than boulevard.

Either federal authorities should make a virtue of necessity and add some aesthetic flavor to the 1600 block (for example, by extending Lafayette Park south toward the White House, extending the White House lawn north toward the park or by reconstructing the strip of Pennsylvania Avenue into a legitimate promenade), or the street should be reopened to traffic.

To loosely paraphrase Winston Churchill, there is something to be said for closing Pennsylvania Avenue for good and there is something to be said for reopening it for good, but there is nothing to be said for the current policy.

ROY E. BROWNELL II

Washington

Federal holiday should be referred to as 'Washington's Birthday

On Jan. 14, prior to the Martin Luther King Day federal holiday, a local news station interviewed a gentleman who was concerned that this holiday has lost its meaning. His main concern was that our schoolchildren are no longer being taught the purposes of King's vision, and the public at-large views this as just another day off work.

This is eerily similar to the manner in which we now treat our Founding Father George Washington. On our calendars, the next legal, federal holiday following King is "Washington's Birthday." Unfortunately, we mistakenly refer to this holiday as "Presidents Day." The fact of the matter is, there is no legal holiday called by that name.

This discrepancy began in 1971, when then-President Nixon made a proclamation declaring the third Monday of that year Presidents Day. However, this had no legal basis and applied only to that specific year. In fact, no president, nor any Congress, has ever legally changed the name of this federal holiday, which has been in existence since Jan. 31, 1879. Unfortunately, the Presidents Day moniker has remained with us, and many in our society regard it as the official, legal name.

I have introduced legislation, the "George Washington, Bicentennial Act of 1999" (H.R. 1363), which would require all federal agencies and publications to refer to the third Monday in February by its legal name, "Washington's Birthday." This is a bipartisan effort, including at least one co-sponsor from each of the 13 original states. Sen. John W. Warner has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

This legislation would have no impact on the individual states, or the private sector, which remain free to name holidays as they wish. In fact, of the 50 states, 29 states and D.C. honor only "Washington's Birthday," 15 states have a separate holiday honoring Abraham Lincoln, and Massachusetts has a "Presidents Day" honoring its four native-born presidents.

On Dec. 14 we observed the 200th anniversary of the death of our first president, George Washington. As we prepare to celebrate his birthday on Feb. 22, let us once again show the proper respect for the father of our country.

REP. ROSCOE G. BARTLETT

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington

Taking a spin through responses to transportation issues

I'm writing in response to the column by Peter Huber and Mark Miller in which they assert that a sport utility vehicle is less harmful to the environment than a bicycle ("The green SUV," Commentary, Jan. 13). By jumbling together good ideas about free-market solutions to environmental problems with silly and pointless attacks, the authors taint and weaken their case.

Reducing environmental impact to a question of land use (when was the last time you saw a smog alert due to too many people on bicycles?) is simply silly. Even if it is only a matter of land use, would you rather live next to an oil refinery or a farm? There is no shortage of self-righteous and misguided people suggesting cycling as a cure-all (many of whom aren't transportation cyclists), but the fact remains that cycling is a healthy, low-impact form of transportation. The bicycle can be a competitive transportation option for some people and would be even more competitive if government subsidies for automobile-only roads were eliminated (no, gas taxes don't cover all road costs).

The comparison between the use of SUVs and bicycles assumes that people who bike will travel the same distances as those who travel by SUV. This is totally false. Transportation cyclists tend to ride short distances, and to combine trips, reducing the total distance they need to travel, and most will use a car for longer distance trips. By attacking biking in such a naive (or perhaps even disingenuous) way, they hurt the very cause they espouse. This type of argument is strongly reminiscent of the junk science that Mr. Huber has done so much to debunk elsewhere. I was very surprised to see him make such a hollow and pointless comparison.

ANDREW CASE

College Park

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Regarding your Jan. 17 editorial, "EPA for Honda," emissions controls are no longer about reducing emissions but about making the cost of purchasing, owning and maintaining a car prohibitive so we will all, like good little servants of the federal government, switch to public transportation.

If the primary focus of these controls were, in fact, reduced emissions, the emissions controllers would be skipping around the Mall with dandelions in their teeth because, as you point out, emissions are a bare fraction of what they were when all this started. Big V-8s today are cleaner and more fuel efficient than many of the 4-cylinder engines of the late '60s and early '70s.

Make no mistake, if public transportation were an option for me to get back and forth to work, I would use it. I would rather be reading than worrying about what the driver in the next car is going to do. I have used public transportation extensively in cities in the United States, Europe and Asia where it is efficiently run. However, in most U.S. cities, it is neither efficient nor available in a timely manner.

RON KOHL

Brandon, Fla.

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