Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You can trust your car to the man who wears the star

Not long after I moved to Flagstaff, I noticed that some of the gas stations in town were labeled “Chevron”, which is a brand that did not exist in the 3 Midwestern states that I have lived in. To a very large degree, Chevron service stations are located in the Southern and Western states of America.

Out of curiosity, I did a little research on the Chevron brand name, and came up with some surprising information.

As it turns out, Chevron is a California-based multinational energy company that is active in over 180 countries. It is engaged in the oil, gas, and geothermal sectors, as well as in power generation. Along with BP, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total, it is considered to be one of the “Big Oil” companies.

At the end of 2012, it was the third largest corporation on the Fortune 500, and was rated the 16th largest public company in the entire world, according to Forbes Global 2000. The company’s revenue at the end of 2012 was $242 billion, and its PROFIT was $26 billion.

Although oil was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859, the true start of the modern oil industry was at Spindletop Hill in Beaumont,Texas on January 10, 1901. The Spindletop oil discovery led to the foundation of the Texas Fuel Company, which marketed its products under the name of “Texaco”. (Six years later, the Spindletop gushers also led to the creation of a company called Gulf Oil.) Ultimately, Texaco became the only oil company to sell gasoline under the same brand name in all 50 states.

Most of us are familiar with the friendly Texaco man, and you may remember the Texaco commercials from long ago, when a trip to the “service station” meant that the attendant put gasoline in your tank, cleaned your windshield, checked the air pressure in your tires, your windshield wipers, your battery, your oil, your fan belt, and your radiator. The average price of a gallon of gas was 36 cents, and you probably got green stamps with your purchase.

Texaco ultimately became a well known brand, largely due to its sponsorship of the Texaco Star Theatre. When the show was on the radio, from 1940 through 1944, its host was Fred Allen. In 1948, the show switched to television, and it continued there until 1956. The new host of the program was a man named Milton Berle, who quickly earned the nickname “Mr. Television”.

Surprisingly, the roots of Chevron Corporation go back even further than the Spindletop discovery. In 1879, the Pacific Coast Oil Company discovered oil at the Pico Canyon Oilfield north of Los Angeles. The company was sold to the Standard Oil Company in 1900, which ultimately became the Chevron Corporation in 1984. The new Chevron Corporation also absorbed what used to be known as Gulf Oil. In the year 2000, Chevron acquired the Texaco Corporation., and the vast majority of the Texaco gas stations were divested to the Shell Oil Company.

Every time that gasoline prices spike higher, somebody comes up with the bright idea that boycotting gas stations will somehow bring about lower gasoline prices, and snopes has covered a number of those schemes over the years.

As recently as the summer of 2011, Michelle Bachmann (the queen of crazy) was promising voters that she would bring back gasoline that was priced at $2.00 a gallon, even though the price of gasoline is determined on the world market.

Today, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.48, not much more than it was a year ago.

A more important issue than gas prices, though, are the subsidies that oil company’s continue to get from the Federal Government. At the end of the third quarter of 2012, the combined profit for the “Big Oil” companies was $90 billion, and Chevron was the 2nd most profitable on the list. By the end of 2012, the Big Oil companies had received tax breaks in excess of $2 billion, and the House budget of 2013 would increase those tax breaks by an ADDITIONAL $2 billion.

To protect their largess from the taxpayers, the Big Oil companies have spent $100 million on lobbying expenses since 2011. These expenses also were aimed at blocking pollution controls and safeguards for public health.

All by itself, Chevron has contributed $15 million towards the lobbying expenses. Of this amount, $2.5 million was donated to the Republican Leadership Fund Super PAC, which is closely tied to House Speaker John Boehner.

Apart from general lobbying expenses, the oil and gas companies contributed $15,000,000 in PAC contributions to Federal candidates in 2012, which means that the subsidies aren’t likely to end any time soon.

If that makes you mad (and it should), consider these facts:

1) the number one contributor to the PACs in 4 of the last 8 election cycles (going back to 1998) is none other than Koch Industries. In the other 4 election cycles, the company was either the 2nd or 3rd largest contributor. Koch Industries has provided organizational and financial assistance to the Tea Party, and the company would make a handsome profit if the Keystone XL pipeline ever got built.

2) 86% of the PAC contributions have gone to Republican candidates, and 14% have gone to the Democrats.

3) In January of this year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election war chest received $131, 500 in campaign contributions from oil donors in Midland, Texas. Three days later, a bill to repeal subsidies to oil companies failed by filibuster.

When I was a boy, the typical Texaco gas station looked like this ..

.., and you really COULD trust your car to the man who wore the star. Today, we all need to pump our own gas, and none of us are as trusting as we used to be. Green stamps, of course, are now a thing of the past.

As of last fall, 60% of the American population had little or no trust in mass media, which is the only logical explanation of why FOX News is as popular as it is. Our approval rating of Congress has now sunk to an all time low of 10%, a level that is BELOW our approval rating of cockroaches.

In spite of the gloom and doom in the paragraphs immediately above, it actually IS true that we can still trust the man who wears the star. According to the Wisconsin Police Journal, law enforcement officials have a 90% public approval rating.

There are exceptions of course, one of whom is shown below, but, hey, it’s refreshing to have at least SOME good news in today’s environment.

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