- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Affordable heating oil

Douglas MacKinnon’s Sunday Commentary column, “Cagey Chavez caper,” was personally offensive, factually misguided and in extremely poor taste.

First, the program to bring cheap heating oil to my constituents is about real help for people struggling with high energy costs. Citgo is providing cheap oil while the Republicans in Congress repeatedly decline to increase the amount of funding for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program and U.S. oil companies refuse to use some of their record profits to help the American people. It is shameful that the only oil company willing to help poor Americans in need of energy assistance this winter is a foreign-owned one.

If the Citgo program is, after all, nothing more than a propaganda trick, then I invite all the American oil companies, sitting on mountains of profits derived from normal Americans, to come and pull the same stunt in the Bronx and other cities in the colder reaches of our nation. I would happily accept that sort of largess from our own corporations.

Finally, perhaps most important, even the most basic etiquette deplores casually throwing around names such as Goebbels, Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin to make a statement about current politics. Arguments should by constructed without using such abhorrent and hysterical rhetoric.



REP. JOSE E. SERRANO

House of Representatives

Washington

Retailers respond

In the Dec. 7 Op-Ed column “Beware at the pump,” Visa USA Executive Vice President William M. Sheedy attempts to spin his employer’s hidden credit card fees out of existence. It’s difficult to know whether to be more aghast at the misrepresentations or the omissions.

It’s Visa, not merchants, that already dings consumers for billions of dollars in fees at the cash register. Visa’s take-it-or-leave-it contracts require that its surcharges be built into advertised prices, forbid the fees from being shown on receipts and effectively block cash discounts from being offered in most situations.

Retailers who want to offer lower prices to their consumers are justifiably upset. Consumers were, too, when they learned that Visa fees added nearly a dime to the cost of every gallon when gas prices skyrocketed this fall.

The amount taken out of consumers’ pockets by Visa’s secret fees and similar hidden charges from MasterCard has nearly doubled since 1998, hitting $17.4 billion last year. The number is projected to exceed $32 billion by the end of the decade. This is on top of the billions they charge consumers in interest and a host of penalty fees they seem to charge just because they can.

The Merchants Payments Coalition, the “small group” of merchants fighting back against these fees, includes associations representing all major U.S. retailers and many smaller merchants as well. Many were part of a federal antitrust settlement against Visa and MasterCard’s price-gouging debit card practices in 2003.

MALLORY DUNCAN

Senior vice president

and general counsel

National Retail Federation

Chairman

Merchants Payments Coalition

Washington

Wal-Mart survey was fair, balanced

Joel Mowbray’s opinion column (“Polling a pollster,” Op-Ed, Friday) charging that I crossed some ethical boundary in conducting a poll for a client is just that — his opinion — but he ignores important facts.

His insinuation that because Zogby International conducted a survey for a client that opposes Wal-Mart and because I have provided expert testimony in lawsuits against Wal-Mart, I must have an anti-Wal-Mart agenda and surely “cooked” the poll against the retailer is as far off the mark as one can be.

Zogby International is an independent vendor that conducts public-opinion research for clients regardless of their agenda. Their agenda does not become our agenda. We poll for pro-life clients and pro-choice clients, for Republicans and Democrats, for business and organized labor. We are independent and have grown to be one of the world’s most respected polling firms because quality, not ideology, is our mantra.

We have even polled for The Washington Times, but The Washington Times didn’t own us lock, stock and barrel.

Mr. Mowbray’s assertion that our poll for WakeUpWal-Mart.com was slanted because I have testified as an expert witness in cases against Wal-Mart is ludicrous. In his column, he boasts of his extensive research, but he fails to tell readers that my testimony had nothing to do with Wal-Mart’s business practices but rather was focused only on the efficacy of polling — which is my expertise.

Mr. Mowbray’s extensive research also failed him on another point, as he leaves the reader with the impression that in 1997, I was polling the New York City mayoral race for the New York Post at the same time I was working for candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani. It would have been ethical for Mr. Mowbray to have pointed out that my work for the Post had concluded before the work for Mr. Giuliani began. There was no overlap. There was no ethical breach.

In short, Zogby International is not an advocate for any of its clients. Our point of view is that we believe in good polling, and in this case, WakeUpWal-Mart.com got good polling. Nothing more.

JOHN ZOGBY

President

Zogby International

Utica, N.Y.

Morphed into defeatists

David Limbaugh has well characterized the Democratic party (“Boxed in politically,” Commentary, Tuesday). From high astride the donkey, “Howlin’ ” Howard Dean counsels redeployment from Iraq now, a precipitous action tantamount to surrender. The birdlike Nancy Pelosi, leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives, chirps merrily along.

Both of these high-profile Democrats apparently are oblivious to the enormous damage such a withdrawal at this time would do to our effort in the world war against Islamist terror.

The abdication of responsible policy-making by the Democratic Party is of such enormity that it boggles the imagination. Are all Democrats, save Sen. Joe Lieberman, infected by the virus of passivity? How has the party of FDR, Truman and Kennedy, strong liberals all, morphed into an array of defeatists?

History and practical experience both teach that weakness in the face of adversity emboldens the enemy. Professor George Santayana, in warning that those who don’t learn from history are fated to repeat it, must have had the Democrats in mind.

PAUL BLOUSTEIN

Cincinnati

Smoking in the District

The editorial blasting the D.C. Council’s passage on first reading of legislation making bars and restaurants smoke-free (“Ready the ink bottle, Mr. Mayor,” Saturday) unfairly generalizes about its supporters.

According to the American Heart Association, secondhand smoke kills an estimated 38,000 people a year, and 35,000 of those deaths are from heart disease. It is sound public policy to shield all workers from this danger. Just because you work in a restaurant or bar does not mean you should not receive the same protection. To say the bartenders and waitresses choose to work in a smoky environment places an unfair burden on hospitality workers. Was the same argument made about flight attendants before 1990 (the year smoking was banned on all domestic flights)?

The health of workers is the priority here, not an attempt to eradicate smoking in the District. All workers have the right to breathe clean air, and this legislation is designed to ensure only that.

Maybe opponents of a smoke-free District should give the health of workers and businesses a chance before decrying the legislation as big-government extremism.

REBECCA JENSEN

Washington

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