Sunday, May 15, 2011

Un-American Accusations, Part 1: Big Oil

On Thursday, Big Oil executives appeared before a Senate hearing on a Democratic proposal to eliminate an annual tax break of $2.1 billion that the five regularly receive (ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron). In anticipation of this hearing, ConocoPhillips issued a news release the day before which headlined “Un-American Tax Proposals” in its title.  ConocoPhillips’ CEO, James Mulva declined to apologize for this public statement when given the opportunity to do so by Senator Robert Menendez (D, NJ), the bill’s chief sponsor.

It’s one thing to toss out an accusatory adjective like “un-American” in the heat of a political discussion, say;  it’s quite another thing use it in a carefully-considered public statement intended to be put out in print.  It is also quite another thing for the fifth largest private sector energy corporation in the world, and one with worldwide operations (even if headquartered in Houston, Texas) to tell American Congressmen/women that they are being “un-American” when they are working in earnest to reduce our deficit and, in the case of the House version, also to provide money for alternative energy programs.

Just think of it: the CEO’s of these corporations (and if not them in person, certainly the Republicans who agree with and support them) are the same people who we once heard constantly grousing about “Welfare Mothers.”  Orrin Hatch (R, UT), for example, scoffed at the hearings this week, calling them nothing but a “dog and pony show.”  Yet, only last year, he still was criticizing welfare recipients--or to be more precise today, those eligible for public assistance or unemployment benefits.  He is insisting that they have mandatory drug tests.  He also states that Welfare must be only a transitional program for any recipient.

With this in mind, let’s go back six years.  Oil was nearing $60/barrel, and CEO James Mulva and other top oil executives then told a Senate committee that they didn’t need these tax breaks to keep exploring for oil.  Today, with oil just over $100/barrel, they need these breaks even less.  Additionally, as a New York Times editorial today points out, “the Big Five earned a robust $35 billion in the first quarter of this year alone,” and so the impact on oil industry profit of eliminating the tax benefits “would be trivial.”

In as much as these Big Five oil corporations are among the wealthiest corporations in the world, why not apply to Big Oil Senator Hatch’s stipulation that welfare be only temporary--a way to “help families achieve self-sufficiency” and avoid “welfare dependency?” Big Oil certainly has achieved self-sufficiency.

But now Big Oil whines that weaning them from the dole is ‘un-American.”  As the Times editorial puts it, “one has to wonder why the oil companies are fighting so hard for a comparatively small amount of cash, at least for them. The only explanation we can come up with is that they have always gotten what they wanted and expect to do so now, so why not?”  In other words, to return again to Orrin Hatch, we have failed Big Oil by encouraging in them a form of “welfare dependency.”

The withdrawing of subsidies to large corporations is not “un-American.”  As the Times editorial stated, the complaints of the Big Five CEOs is “utterly absurd.”  But then, distortion of thought (or absurd thinking) is typical to addicts (i.e., those with a dependency).  They begin with the conclusion, “We need to retain these subsidies,” and then build a case for that conclusion, “Taking away our subsidies is un-American, it’s discriminatory.”  This is the logic of the addict.

In conclusion to this first part of my topic, "Un-American Accusations," I invite you to watch a You Tube video, “Richard Dreyfuss On Being An American,” from the documentary film, 18 in ’08 by David Burstein.  It’s a powerful, and short, piece in which Dreyfuss addresses the mandate for being a good citizen and emphasizes the fact that we all must sacrifice for the good of the country. He ends with this gentle warning:

“But don’t rest on hearing these nonsensical phrases that we hear, like ‘tax relief‘ which is a pretty stupid phrase, and misleads you about what your responsibilities are about running your country. You have to pay for your country or else you don’t have one.” 

Dreyfuss has offered a different version of President Kennedy’s inaugural address in which the latter says, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

What can BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Shell do for our country to demonstrate their respect for America and its representatives, rather than resorting to childish, absurd and indefensible name-calling? 

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