Oil companies posted record profits in the third quarter of last year: For example, ExxonMobil - 75%, Royal Dutch Shell - 68%, and ConocoPhillips - 89%. That's profit.
The oil companies' good fortune just happened to come about in the same quarter that two powerful hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast. In America, one man's loss is another man's windfall.
Americans paying dearly at the pump raised cries of price gouging. Outraged Washington politicians demanded that oil company executives appear before a Senate hearing to explain themselves. The Senators placed the corporate bigwigs under oath and grilled them for three hours, until the remorseful moguls tearfully apologized for taking advantage of a national calamity.
Ok, I made the last part up. In fact, the Senate never even bothered to put the execs under oath. And at the end of the sham hearing, it was the Senators who limped away with their tail between their legs:
[T]he executives, whose companies and parent corporations earned $32.8 billion during the last quarter, provided little beyond what the industry has been saying for weeks: Their profits are huge because the industry is huge; the companies are ready to invest billions of dollars to get more oil; and if Congress tries to punish them by imposing a windfall profits tax, it will only lead to fewer such investments.
But not every Washington pol is afraid of the big, bad oil companies. Last week, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Joe Barton, launched an investigation of a major oil company for possible antitrust violations:
You will be surprised to learn that Barton, one of the top recipients in Congress of campaign donations from the energy industry, is not probing whether ExxonMobil or Chevron or any of the other oil giants engaged in price gouging when gasoline and heating oil costs skyrocketed the past few years.
No, the good congressman has set his sights on the only oil company that actually dared to lower its prices last year - at least for the poorest Americans.
After Hurricane Katrina shined a spotlight on poverty in America, Hugo Chavez pledged that Venezuela-owned Citgo would provide huge heating-oil discounts — as much as 60% — to low-income Americans this winter.
The program is already in effect in a number of northern states, although it has received very little publicity. It has been so successful, says Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, that "about 60 members of Congress from all parts of the country...are asking me, 'Can I set up a meeting with Citgo?' to see if they can get this kind of program in their district."
Lowering prices when demand is high? How unAmerican is that? No wonder Pat Robertson wants Chavez killed.
Note: For the next few days I'll be wading in the frog pond with Lily while Kvatch is resting up. And let me tell you — for us non-amphibians, this water is ccccold. So be kind...
You got me for a second, I was thinking you needed a talking-to about the 'under oath' scenario!!! Scared me!
Lily, I'm hearing echos in the Halls of Blognonymous. I hope it isn't going to be just you and me kibbitzing over the next few days.
Hellooooo...Where are all Kvatch's loyal Blognonymites?
Helen - No excuse! ;-)
Maybe I scared them away with my obvious lack of charm.
You have to wonder about the patriotism of these American companies exploiting oil addiction, when the socialist guy down south shows more compassion for Americans than Americans.
Lew - There's nothing patriotic about American business. The only motive is pure self-interest.
Lily - My favorite song? For the record (that's a pun that will only be caught by the old folks), my favorite songs come from a time far, far away.
P.S. Please stop hating Big Oil, and thus, America.
Lily, look at the bright side, at least you don't have to raise all them tadpoles.
Oh yeah, when I read that about the oil execs in the senate, at first I though I had stumbled into an alternate universe. But then you reeled me back in to "Republicans in control" and all things again made sense.
Typical male. Hmph.