ExxonMobil Under the Lights
By Matthew Rothschild

November 10, 2005

Republicans didn’t even have the integrity to swear in the oil executives testifying before them.

Why make your contributors liable for perjury charges? (Oil companies give $52 million in campaign contributions, “with 80 percent of that going to Republicans,” according to Sept. 22 Senate testimony by Tyson Slocum, research director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.)

But it was a sight, anyway, to see the head of ExxonMobil on November 9 trying to explain away the $10 billion profit his company made in the last quarter.

Lee Raymond, chairman of ExxonMobil, tried to fob it off by saying that oil profits and commodity prices “go up and down” from year to year.

But that excuse didn’t wash.

Even before Katrina, as Slocum noted, oil prices had been jumping, in part because of the consolidation in the oil refinery industry over the last decade. “Recent mergers in the domestic oil refining industry have consolidated control over gasoline, making it easier for a handful of companies to price-gouge consumers,” he testified in September. “In 1993, the five largest U.S. oil refining companies controlled 34.5 percent of domestic oil refinery capacity. . . . By 2004, the top five—ConocoPhillips, Valero, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP—controlled 56.3 percent.”

And after Katrina, price hikes at the pumps did not seem to come from the invisible hand of the market but from the headquarters of ExxonMobil.

The company, according to some local gas station operators, “raised the wholesale price of its gas by 24 cents a gallon in 24 hours,” the AP reported.

Confronted with that allegation, Raymond didn’t confirm it but said the company tried “to minimize the increase in price while at the same time recognizing if we kept the price too low, we would quickly run out.”

What he didn’t add is that keeping the price too low is not what makes the company huge profits—or gives him handsome bonuses.

He tried to show sympathy for average folks who are suffering, saying he understood that high prices “have put a strain on Americans’ household budgets.”

But everybody didn’t love Raymond’s act.

Barbara Boxer noted that oil execs are swimming in bonuses and told them to their face: “Your sacrifice appears to be nothing.”

For the first time in decades, there’s a groundswell of support for a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. In fact, 79 percent of Americans, according to a recent poll, favor such a tax if the proceeds go to fund alternative energy sources.

If our democracy was working properly—I was going to say well oiled—then a windfall profits tax might stand a chance.

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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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