Oil men put Santa in chains

By Erik Dolson

Merry Christmas.

It’s that time to turn away from the scourge of Trump and look for kinder, gentler souls. Recent news gives us many candidates, but we’ve heard enough about foreigners with names like Putin or Erdoğan or Assad.

Fortunately, we can focus much closer to home on Gary R. Heminger, Chairman and CEO of Marathon Oil, and the Koch brothers, David and Charles,

These oligarchs are or soon will be responsible for killing thousands of innocent people around the world, many right here in the U.S. These three, especially, are attempting to get Americans to burn an additional 300,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil per day.

Why? Because Marathon is now the largest gasoline refiner in the U.S. and C.E.O. Heminger makes only $20 million per year in total compensation. It’s not enough. The Koch brothers have wealth of about $50 billion, each. But it’s not enough! THEY NEED MORE MONEY!

They want to roll back mileage standards so fewer people will be interested in electric cars, so giant SUVs will be used to get groceries. They don’t care who dies in California fires or Florida hurricanes. They don’t care about crop damage or rising sea levels.

Fake news, you say? No. A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday, December 14, 2018, predicted damage that will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

Effects include record wildfires in California, crop failures and crumbling infrastructure. American exports and supply chains disrupted, agricultural yields falling to 1980s levels and fire season that could spread to the Southeast.

The oligarchs don’t care. They write laws they wrap around huge wads of cash and slip to legislators across the country.

“Roll back fuel standards,” they whisper, “and we’ll give you even more. We’ll keep you in office as long as you want, we’ll make you rich when you leave ‘public service.’ ”

Hear them laugh as they say “public service.” In your imagination, hear the snap of rubber bands around stacks of campaign cash, catch the scent of extravagant dinners and listen to the roar of private jets. Because your imagination is as close as you will get to these oligarchs who own “our” government.

Aloud they say, “Americans deserve freedom of choice in the vehicles they drive.” But what they mean is “Americans should drive the thirstiest, most wasteful vehicles in the world so we can sell them more gasoline!”

That’s why the Kochs fought laws in Iowa that would make it easier for gas stations to install chargers for electric vehicles. Where is their advocacy for choice in that?

Not there, because the oligarchs don’t care about choice, they just want more money. They don’t want less pollution. They want more money. They don’t care how many lives are lost to wildfires. They want more money. They don’t care if millions face hardship due to a hard hit economy. They want more money.

These greed monsters hide behind giving Americans “freedom of choice.” This is not about freedom. The only freedom here is their freedom from responsibility for the suffering they cause.

Freedom of choice? Here are a few other freedoms the American people would like to choose: Freedom from lung cancer caused by pollution from the 350,000 to 400,000 barrels of additional gasoline per day burned. Freedom from despair for children with brains shriveled from lead in our drinking water. Who will give them freedom in choosing their future? Freedom for suffocating oceans from algae blooms caused by subsidized Koch fertilizer running off subsidized sugar cane fields in Florida. Freedom of information for voters as Marathon pays lawyers to cloak corporate lobbyists writing laws that state legislators are too busy or corrupt to understand.

Let’s talk about those choices if we’re going to talk about freedom of choice.

It’s not about free markets, either. There are no free markets in America, outside of Craig’s list. Economists call what’s happening a “cost shift.” The oligarchs profit by shifting the true cost of their greed onto the rest of us.

Remember “Main Street bailing out Wall Street?” Well, Wall Street is at it again. Drug companies rig the price of medicines; banks shuffle mortgages and put working Americans out of their homes as if playing Monopoly on the living room carpet; Marathon juggles gas prices to influence elections; and the Koch brothers write state laws and gerrymander elections to retain a choke hold on democracy.

We have become what Plato described over 2,000 years ago as an “oligarchy,” where political power is given to rich but incompetent leaders, there’s instability  between rich and poor, a growth of  revolutionary spirit among the poor and poor performance in military campaigns (Good-bye, Kurds. We’re out of here! Good luck with Turkey, Russia and Syria. Thanks for your help with ISIS and Iran!)

What is especially galling about this latest effort by Marathon and Koch Industries is that it’s being undertaken while the companies are aware of the consequences. The impact is not a matter for debate: we all know what’s happening around the world.

I accept that the job of a company is to maximize profit, not worry about social impact. If Heminger wants to waddle up to the White House to kiss Trump’s (ring) for a few hundred million per year for his company, and a few more of those millions for himself, well, that’s capitalism.

But it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they don’t profit on the back of our suffering, that our rights to clean water and breathable air and healthy food are protected or that we are at least compensated for what they’ve taken from us. Maybe they could at least buy each of us a casket.

In a just world, the Koch brothers and Heminger would be held accountable. They would lose their fortunes to the multitudes who suffer because of their greed and would spend the rest of their days as cellmates asking their God for forgiveness.

But we don’t live in a just world, we live in a world where justice is sometimes hard to come by and hard when it is. If that day comes, hopefully the American people will demand these oligarchs pay for their crimes against humanity.

That’s what I asked Santa for this year. Predictably, all I got was a lump of coal, dug in Wyoming and on its way to China. It fell off a train in Washington state. Santa wasn’t able to get south of Canada, anyway. On December 20th, Republicans in Congress passed a law that sleighs could no longer be powered by magic reindeer, and must burn at least one gallon of crude for every gift given to children all over the world.

Merry Christmas.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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