Whadda you mean "we," Mr. TV Pundit? When you say "we" are doing better in Iraq or, even more absurd, that "we" were right to invade that country in the first place, are you putting Joe Blow American in the same bag as the top officers of Exxon, which made $40.6 billion in profit last year thanks to the turmoil in the energy markets? That royal "we" is good for the royals who control our government, but its persistent use embodies a pernicious lie that betrays the core ideal of representative democracy.
Ever since "we" invaded Iraq, most of us have gotten nothing to show for it other than an enormously increased national debt that we will be paying off for decades to come and an economy that is sputtering into recession. Oil sold for $22.81 the year before the war was launched against a country with the world's second-largest holding, and the average price last year was almost three times that, at $64.20.
With oil bouncing up to $100 in the fourth quarter, Exxon recorded the highest corporate quarterly return ever. Chevron, the country's second-biggest oil company, saw profits rise 29 percent that quarter, contributing to an enviable profit of $18.7 billion for 2007. Clearly, what's good for big oil is not good for most Americans, few of whom would look back on 2007 with favor.
It's easy for the Bush big shots to equate the fortunes of big oil with that of the nation. After all, George W. got to be president only because his failed career in the Texas oil industry exposed his charms to the big energy guys, who then bankrolled his political career. Dick Cheney was an out-of-work defense secretary when picked to be CEO of Halliburton, which has profited mightily from its dealings with Exxon, not to mention running the Iraq franchise.
And the image we should all recall is of the Chevron tanker named Condoleezza Rice. Only in America would we think it not a conflict of interest that Rice was paid handsomely for being on the board of Chevron from 1991 until she resigned to go to work in the Bush White House. How worried can she be about the deteriorating position of the United States in the world when her oil company buddies are doing so well?
We are conned since early childhood to look with dark suspicion upon anyone who points a finger of accountability at the robber barons of the corporate world. It is for that reason that Exxon's outrageous profits made in exploiting an energy crisis that has hurt so many ordinary Americans barely elicits media outrage of any sort. Nor does this fact get much play in the presidential race. To her credit, Hillary Clinton took umbrage over Exxon's then record-setting profit of $39 billion last year, stating: "I want to take those profits and put them into an alternative energy fund ... that will actually begin to move us toward the direction of independence."
From the hysterically negative response of the right-wing media, you would have thought she had hailed the second coming of Karl Marx. No wonder this year with even higher profits there was no similar outcry from any of the leading candidates. They should be outraged because the taxpayers they are supposed to represent are forking over a lot of money for the military in order to make the world safe for Exxon.
The lifeline of Exxon is not its oil drilling skills but rather the power of the U.S. government, particularly the military, that can be marshaled to intimidate those nations that would dare challenge Exxon's right to profit exorbitantly. Whether it's about pushing for a pipeline crossing Afghanistan or tying up Venezuela's foreign assets in international courts, as Exxon managed to do last week, the U.S.-based oil giants strut with the full confidence that Uncle Sam will back them up.
But who will back up Uncle Sam except ordinary American soldiers and taxpayers who sacrifice to fight and fund battles that have nothing to do with their national interest? What a sorry record U.S. oil companies have compiled in places like Venezuela, Nigeria and the Persian Gulf down through the decades. But throughout those imperial adventures backed by U.S. gunboat diplomacy, there was the illusion that the plundered loot would be shared with the folks back home. The next time you fork it over at the pump remember the $40.6 billion Exxon got, and you will get the point that "they" and "we" are hardly in the same boat.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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