I’m sure a guy who makes $14 million a year can afford some pretty fancy and stylish shoes. But who would have thought they’d actually taste good, too? And yet they must, because Chevron CEO John Watson sure spends a lot of time with his foot in his mouth.
First there was Watson’s incredibly out of touch Wall Street Journal interview in which he blamed the workers on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig for the explosion that led to the worst oil spill in American history (just a few days before the anniversary of the explosion, no less) and whined that Americans “take affordable energy for granted” even while Chevron stations were charging Americans more than $4 per gallon of gas despite the billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies Big Oil receives.
Then there was the public relations disaster that was the Big Oil CEOs’ appearance on Capitol Hill back in May, when Watson told a Congressional committee: “Don’t punish our industry for doing its job well.”
What is this punishment Watson was complaining about? As Senator Bob Menendez pointed out, the issue at hand was whether or not some $2 billion in taxpayer handouts received by Big Oil are still necessary given the $125 billion in oil profits expected this year. Restructuring the tax code to eliminate these handouts would bring industry profits down to a paltry $123 billion.
You and I might think the difference between $125 billion and $123 billion is negligible — either way it’s an astronomical sum. When you think of it in terms of all the fancy Italian shoes that money could buy, though, you realize just what a setback this will be for Watson and his ilk.
Ever game to try and out-embarrass himself, Watson has been at it again this past week. This time he’s armed with a really great soundbite that simply can’t fail — you can tell by the self-satisfied smirk Watson has on his face as he delivers it.
Big Oil just wants to be “put in the game,” Watson says, so they can get out there and create some jobs.
Watson’s been delivering his new line in interviews all over the place to make the point that pesky federal regulations are preventing intrepid free marketeers like himself from creating jobs — even as funerals are being held for four workers who died in an explosion at a Chevron refinery in Wales.
That’s kind of a cheap shot, I realize, and I’m certainly not trying to score any cheap points off of these tragic deaths. But I think it’s important to point out that one of the many facts Watson consistently and conveniently fails to mention is that destruction of the environment and human life is a constant and inevitable byproduct of Chevron’s single-minded pursuit of profits. Watson talks about job creation and uses colloquial-sounding lines like “Put me in Coach!” to distract from the true nature of Chevron’s business and the fact that, sadly, most of the folks whose lives and communities are destroyed never get a choice in the matter of their proximity to Chevron’s reckless business operations.
In Watson’s most recent interview with CNBC, for instance, the interviewer asks him point blank about the exorbitant profits Chevron is making. Watson says, “We’re a big business. Some times the dollars scare people in our business. We made $19 billion last year, but we’re investing $26 billion this year… We are investing all over the world to bring the supplies of oil and gas to customers.” See? Interviewer asks about Chevron’s obscene profits, Watson’s answer is about investments.
Chevron’s profits are able grow so large not because the company is “doing its job well,” as Watson would have us believe, but because the company refuses to pay for the true cost of its business — refuses to pay to clean up the environmental contamination it causes, or for the health problems caused by its pollution, to offer just a couple examples. Even Watson must know he can’t justify the disgustingly huge profits his company is raking in. Which is why this “re-investing” theme is also one of the chords struck by Chevron’s laughably ridiculous “We Agree” ad campaign. One ad reads: “California’s economy needs energy to grow. And we’re providing it. Reinvesting over $7 billion into the state over the past 5 years. Bringing new energy to market, helping support thousands of jobs, and boosting small businesses.”
It just so happens that the LA Times’ David Lazarus took a look at the investments Chevron is making in California, its home state, and found that the claims in Chevron’s “feel-good, misleading” ad campaign didn’t pass inspection. Lazarus concludes: “[Chevron] isn’t fooling anyone.”
The folks living in communities unfortunate to receive those investments are especially un-fooled. Ask pretty much any community Chevron has ever invested in, and they’ll probably tell you they would much rather have gone without. The True Cost of Chevron alternative annual report details communities around the globe that have been absolutely devastated by Chevron’s investments.
Never deterred by such facts, Watson also used his CNBC appearance to revisit another common theme, saying: “I never thought I’d see the day when an [American] administration and more than half the US Senate would propose a tax bill that actually would disadvantage a 132 year-old company like Chevron relative to Russian, Chinese, French, Italian, and other companies… So we did push back on those that were being critical and trying to impose punitive taxes on our business.”
Ah, the old “punitive taxes” canard again. Having to actually pay taxes?!? Why, that threatens to lower Chevron’s profits from obscene to, well, still obscene — profits the company is busy investing in communities all over the world to turn them into even higher, more exorbitant profits at the expense of human rights and the environment.
Enjoy your shoe leather repast, Mr. Watson.