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Exxon Mobil Needs a Hug

New York Times - BUSINESS, March 3, 2008 by Ben Stein
[...]
As usual, Senator Obama gave a fine oration, with thunderous applause from the audience as his reward. But then I was beguiled by a series of gifts he was going to give the American people (of course, with their own money): universal health care, antipoverty programs, large grants to college students in return for community service (a darned good idea) and other goodies.

Then he talked about the country’s energy policy and how he planned to change our dependence on oil. And he took aim at Exxon Mobil, which had almost $12 billion in earnings last quarter, and said that good old Exxon Mobil wouldn’t part easily with its profits.

Now, I know it’s primary season. I know Democratic candidates have to make obeisance to the populist, antibusiness wing of their party, just as the Republican front-runner, Senator John McCain, has to make bows and curtsies to the supply-side part of his (and my) party.

But Mr. Obama’s comments about Exxon Mobil are, as folks used to say, fightin’ words.
Mr. Obama is clearly an intelligent man. So it may not be too early to start a small process of education about Exxon Mobil and other oil companies and why attacking them is not smart.

First, Exxon Mobil, like all the other gigantic integrated energy companies in this country, is owned not by a cabal of reactionary businessmen holding clandestine meetings in a lodge in the Texas scrublands (as Oliver Stone so brilliantly illustrated in “Nixon”).

Exxon Mobil, in fact, is owned mostly by ordinary Americans. Mutual funds, index funds and pension funds (including union pension funds) own about 52 percent of Exxon Mobil’s shares. Individual shareholders, about two million or so, own almost all the rest. The pooh-bahs who run Exxon own less than 1 percent of the company.

When Exxon Mobil earns almost $12 billion in a quarter, or $41 billion in a year, as it did in 2007, that money does not go into the coffers of a few billionaire executives quaffing Champagne in Texas. It goes into the pension and retirement accounts of ordinary citizens. When Exxon pays a dividend, that money goes to pay for the mortgages and oxygen tanks and in-home care of lots of elderly Americans.

So, Mr. Obama, which union pension plans — and which blue-collar workers who benefit from them — will be among the first you would like to deprive of the income that flows from Exxon’s rich dividends? Continued...

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