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A worker delivers fuel to an Exxon station in Keller, Texas. Exxon Mobil Corp. is making record profits while gas prices are soaring.

Associated Press

A worker delivers fuel to an Exxon station in Keller, Texas. Exxon Mobil Corp. is making record profits while gas prices are soaring.

Exxon Mobil's profits are our profits, too, column
March 7

Oil companies' customers' captive

I have a real problem with Ben Stein's scenario justifying the record profits recorded by Exxon Mobil.

I agree that every shareholder, whether it be an individual, pension fund or retirement account, is entitled to a fair and reasonable return on their investment. But when the oil companies increase the price of gasoline and other fuels on the pretense that it is done because of the increase in crude oil prices or the change in the refining process because of the change in season, and this results in "record profits," I have a problem.

The oil companies are not much different from public utilities in that they have a captive audience in their customers. There is little competition among companies. When the price of gas goes up, you can be sure that every brand's price will be within pennies of one another. If you drive a car, you have no other option but to buy gas to run it. Given Ben Stein's scenario, let's just turn the oil companies loose and let them charge whatever they want as long as it goes to the individual stockholder, pension fund or retirement account.

Dan Ward, Zephyrhills

Power in too few hands never good

Ben Stein's piece extolling the virtues of the global conglomerate Exxon Mobil is so full of holes it is laughable. Trying to equate a global powerhouse like Exxon, whose global hegemony has influenced wars and destabilizations of entire economies, to ordinary American citizens is a clever tactic that the right wing has used successfully for decades.

Mr. Stein writes "from Russia to Venezuela to Africa to the sands of the Mideast, nations with large oil reserves are making it harder for American energy companies to get their hands on oil and gas." God forbid that companies like Exxon and Chevron should have their global hegemony challenged. Oil is power, and too much power in too few hands isn't good for world stability or democracy.

Equating the interests of big business with the interests of ordinary citizens has worked successfully in the past because of the enormous amount of money that these conglomerates have invested in think tanks and political action committees. And the media, instead of investing in true investigative journalism, more and more frequently rely on these highly partisan "experts" like Mr. Stein to shape public opinion.

Laura Smith, Weeki Wachee

We're powerless on gas prices

I'm sure Mr. Stein has stock in Exxon Mobil, but even if he doesn't, he needs to talk intelligently. Nobody wants a company to take a loss, but record profits quarter after quarter?

This is one of a few industries that can raise prices overnight on speculation and we have no choice but to pay. The price then stays the same with little change for a period of time, and when the complaining subsides and we're used to paying it, they raise the price again.

Isn't it odd when it goes down, it's pennies, and when it goes up, it's nickels? Wouldn't it be nice if all our companies that wanted more profit could raise their price, all our customers would need to pay and the company employees in return are happy? Unfortunately, we normal people need to be creative and cut costs within to get any profit.

Richard Maier, Trinity

Gas prices force
tough choices

I've never replied to an article before. I am not a skilled writer like Mr. Stein. But I learned a couple of things from him:

• He will not be voting for Mr. Obama.

• He does not care for Oliver Stone.

I know I have neither the education nor prose with words he has, but come on — $41-billion a year in profit? We have people losing jobs because they can no longer pay for gas to get to a minimum-wage-paying job. Families losing their homes because they have to make a choice of what to pay each month.

I had a federal job, and three choices of where to invest my pension. I choose government securities to help support my country. I, sir, am not a big oil company and cannot afford to stay at the Oriental Hotel in Miami (checked, starts at $459 per night) and am now more confused after reading your article of why anyone in their right mind thinks $41-billion in profit, when our children live on the streets, is American.

Cheryl D. Hardesty,
Floral City

State's lies about jobs just aren't working, column
March 9

How common are fact distortions?

Leave it to the state's Agency for Workforce Innovation to send forth press releases that have declared thousands of jobs in the Tampa Bay area have been created. Now we find they have lied through their teeth — jobs galore, instead, have been lost.

Isn't it amazing how they reinvent factuality to suit themselves? To me, this represents propagandist activity by perjuring people to make folks believe that Tampa Bay is an oasis of well-being. What shameful effrontery, rigged statements. Do they think our lagging economy will regenerate via phony rhetoric?

I wonder how common distortions of perspective are in our state. Economic growth and opportunity won't come via fairy tales and empty lies. We sure need a new social order of things, more ethical and honest.

Robert B. Fleming,
St. Petersburg

Financial whiz: Insurance rates don't cover risk
March 6

Finally, insurance intelligence

Tom James, the CEO of Raymond James Financial, was quoted as saying insurance companies couldn't cover losses from a major hurricane in their current rate structure. He further stated that the politicians who fault the insurance industry for these problems have chased out every major insurance company in Florida — a situation he described as very precarious.

He should be applauded long and hard for stating the truth of the situation. If you listen to the demagogues in Tallahassee, they would have you believe that the insurance industry is only in business to rip off the insuring public. Such an attitude fails to address the fact that the insurance industry is a business attempting to make money for its stockholders and is free to sell its product here or in another state where they think they have a better chance of making a profit.

When Tallahassee sees these companies attempting to establish adequate rates or reserves to pay for future hurricane losses, they are accused of profiteering. And yet it is a basic principal of insurance accounting that adequate reserves be maintained so the insurance company can pay all its claims in times of disaster and remain in business to handle future losses.

As more and more insurance companies leave Florida or reduce their exposure to loss in Florida, the worse the insurance situation will become.

Merrill Friend, Tampa

We just can't afford insurance

Mr. Tom James, I don't know where you live, maybe on Mars. We already have home insurance that is out of touch with the people who live in the area.

A lot of us are retired. I'm 78 and support my grandson, who is 20 and hasn't been able to find a job nearby. Some days I'm good and other times I'm not, so he helps me out. Sure, I see you're a CEO and get big money for what you do. We all can't get big money to pay 35 percent more for home insurance. I have insurance for everything, but haven't used it except in 2005. Same with car insurance, health insurance, life insurance. Take all the other things I have to pay for, and there is very little left for any extras.

Get the ice water out of your veins and considering using a little heart. Open your eyes to the area and the people.

Renee E. Key, Spring Hill

Shipwreck secrets may be pried open | March 7

Spain has no
right to treasure

The Spanish government's claim to a shipwreck's gold treasures is just another example of looters and pillagers who have wreaked havoc on the world and its indigenous populations for centuries.

Not only the Spanish, but mostmost of the empires of Europe, have invaded countries around the world under the premises of exploration, spreading religion and commerce.

They really spread exploitation and persecution. In the case of the sunken treasure, this empire's minions invaded other countries; persecuted, enslaved and killed the local population; and took the gold and other valuable commodities to their own country.

The Spanish government has no right to claim items that were forcibly taken from another country through pillaging and looting. If any country has a right to the sunken treasure, it is the one from which it was taken.

Dale Gottschalk, Hudson

Bernanke puts onus on lenders | March 5

Don't reward the irresponsible

This is an outrage. Why should these borrowers who overspent, underestimated and clearly never gave careful, prudent consideration to what they could afford, be eligible to have their loan principal reduced?

Those of us who purchased homes using sound practical judgment to determine what we could afford, and diligently continue to make our monthly mortgage payments year after year, get nothing for our honest efforts. Why should this unconscionable behavior be rewarded?

Beverly G. Isaacs, Seminole

Mortgage mess

Government should cosign

The problem with the mortgage meltdown is simply this: People who would otherwise be willing to sell at a loss and get on with their lives are unable to do so. Why? Because under the current setup, all debts must be satisfied at closing.

In other words, if a person owes $200,000 on a home, but the market has dropped the value to $180,000, they cannot sell until they somehow come up with the balance of $20,000. They are locked into a situation where they are too poor to reduce their spending. People want to swim on their own, but they are tied to the luxuries of the Titanic. How hopeless is that?

Why not get past the stalemate of seeing it as an all-or-nothing proposition? If only the government had the foresight and good faith to step in and act not as the lender, but rather the co-signer on only the difference, the whole mess would magically disappear.

Think about it. At the time of closing, the bank would immediately receive back 90 percent of what it loaned. Compare this scenario to the bank getting no money and being stuck with a home that is declining in value. The seller would be able to cover the remaining 10 percent balance, especially now that they have been freed up to downsize to more affordable housing, and the "stop gap loan" spread out over the original 20- to 30-year mortgage term will have ridiculously low monthly payments.

Banks will not only recapture the lion's share of their sidelined capital, they'd also cash in on a wave of new mortgages now that the logjam has been broken and people start buying again.

Will Archibald, Tampa

What pumps up prices March 13

Tax on gasoline
is much higher

I read your article with anger. You state the taxes for a gallon of gas reflects around 13 percent. That may be at the pump, but what about the hidden tax that is levied right up the line? The tax on a gallon of gas is closer to 45 percent.

The crude oil is taxed, the refining is taxed, the marketing and distribution are taxed. In reality, what pumps up the price per gallon is the tax.

Can you tell me why diesel is higher than regular gas? When there is less refining involved, it used to be cheaper than regular or about the same. Prices go up because of government spending. That's the bottom line. It's out of control.

Bill Wischmeyer,
St. Petersburg

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Letters: Your thoughts on business news 03/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 8:41am]

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