Obscene profits

Wonder how so much of your paycheck gets siphoned off at the gas pump or burned up heating your home? Wonder no more … this week energy giant ExxonMobil announced record profits of over $36 billion — the largest annual profit in corporate history.

Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor grows. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said last week that the incomes of the top one-fifth of families have grown far faster than the incomes of poor and middle-strata families. And this despite ever-growing productivity of workers on the job.

Besides the obvious obscenity of soaring profits amid a growing wealth gap, ExxonMobil’s case has special features.

First, its record profits were achieved despite extensive hurricane damage to its Gulf Coast facilities. What if ExxonMobil had offered, with no strings attached, to help the myriad, largely African American families torn from their economic and social roots by the tempests? (Note that Citgo, wholly owned by the Venezuelan government, did just such a thing when it provided deeply discounted home heating oil to working-class communities hard hit by the same soaring prices that gave the oil giants their huge profits.)

ExxonMobil and other oil companies’ profits are also rooted in war, environmental devastation and in repression of indigenous peoples in oil-producing regions. It is not a coincidence that this administration is targeting Iraq and other Middle East countries rich in oil for attack and occupation.

But the violence doesn’t stop there. Human rights workers charge that Indonesian army units the company hired for “security” at gas extraction facilities in the Aceh region have engaged in severe abuses against local villagers.

Nor has ExxonMobil displayed any concern for lowering U.S. dependence on oil. It has no plans to invest any of its earnings in alternative or renewable energy.

ExxonMobil is only the leader in a flock of bad actors. Its soaring profits, how they are made and their effects on communities at home and abroad, point to the need for a better way — a nationalized energy industry controlled by the people, for the people.