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Thursday, May 26, 2011 05:13 am

What’s inside Big Oil’s head?

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The big five of Big Oil might want to mull over a bit of advice that baseball great Ted Williams once offered to rookies: “If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.”

Apparently, the chieftains of BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell thought that a bit of gruff, CEO bluster would be just the thing to brush back public anger over the industry’s all-star avarice and arrogance. Bad thinking.

Recently, the heads of these multibillion-dollar behemoths, pumped up on narcissism, strode into a U.S. Senate hearing room and took wild swings at a bill titled: Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes.

In a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline, strato-spheric rises in petro profits and a federal budget deficit severe enough that Republicans have called for killing Medicare, the spark that exploded the public’s fury at oil giants was the revelation that the big five are on the government dole, drawing more than $2 billion a year in corporate welfare payments.

Exxon’s top exec flailed at the bill, absurdly labeling it “discriminatory.” Next up was Shell’s man, who feigned almost-comic outrage at the notion that our nation’s budget deficit should be reduced “by taking more from the few,” as though he was unaware that “the few” in question are notorious tax dodgers, paying little or nothing on their enormous profits. Wildest of all though was Conoco’s chief, Jim Mulva, who inflamed senators and insulted the public by calling the bill “un-American.”

No, Mr. Mulva, what’s un-American is that you five clueless CEOs expect to haul in $100 billion in profits this year, yet you’re whining that you should be given $2 billion in special tax breaks, even as little kids are being cut off from Head Start and the GOP threatens to take Medicare away from grandma. Start thinking about someone besides your sorry selves.

As one politician bluntly said of Washington’s annual tax giveaway to massively profitable oil corporations: “We don’t need incentives to the oil and gas companies to explore. There are plenty of incentives.” That was no lefty basher of Big Oil talking, it was George W. Bush.

Yet, thanks to an army of lobbyists and the regular delivery of bushel baskets full of campaign cash, the oil guys have been allowed to keep drilling into our public treasury, pumping out some $4 billion a year in various tax subsidies – more than half of which goes to the five richest corporations.

Incentives for what? Not to explore for more oil, hire more Americans or invest in renewable energy. Instead, top executives have spent the vast majority of their huge profits driving up their own corporation’s stock prices to enrich – who else? – themselves. This is why oil executives are less popular than a Mississippi River flood.  

Indeed, despite being called “un-American” by Conoco, the congressional proposal to repeal the loopholes is supported by 74 percent of us Americans, including a majority of Republicans. Yet, in March, every single Republican in the House voted in lockstep to protect all of the oil subsidies. Also, the budget that the GOP rammed through the House last month retains every dime of the $4 billion giveaway, even as that budget slashes food stamps, job training, college aid, and health care for seniors and the poor.

But it’s the poor oil goliaths that draw the tongue-clucking sympathy of these compassionate corporatists. For example, GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty called the idea of ending the subsidy “ludicrous,” wailing that killing it would be a crude “tax increase” on the waifs of Big Oil.

Meanwhile, Chevron’s CEO says: “I don’t think people want shared sacrifice (from oil corporations). I think they want shared prosperity.” Hello, Earth to Chevron-Man, you’ve been grossly prosperous for years – where’s the sharing?

If ignorance goes to $100 a barrel, try to get drilling rights on that guy’s head.  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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