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As Elections Near, Big Oil Flexes its Muscle

In this undated photo released by the California State Lands Commission, an offshore surf sled used in the Summerland oil fields during "Re-Abandonment" operations off the coast of California.
AP/CA State Lands Commission
Rebecca Solnit is the author of 13 books, including the forthcoming Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

This country is being run for the benefit of alien life forms. They've invaded; they've infiltrated; they've conquered; and a lot of the most powerful people on Earth do their bidding, including five out of our nine Supreme Court justices earlier this year and a whole lot of senators and other elected officials all the time. The monsters they serve demand that we ravage the planet and impoverish most human beings so that they might thrive. They're like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, like the Terminators, like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except that those were on the screen and these are in our actual world.

We call these monsters corporations, from the word corporate which means embodied. A corporation is a bunch of monetary interests bound together into a legal body that was once considered temporary and dependent on local licensing, but now may operate anywhere and everywhere on Earth, almost unchallenged, and live far longer than you. The results are near-invincible bodies, the most gigantic of which are oil companies, larger than blue whales, larger than dinosaurs, larger than Godzilla.  Last year, Shell, BP, and Exxon were three of the top four mega-corporations by sales on the Fortune Global 500 list (and Chevron came in eighth). Some of the oil companies are well over a century old, having morphed and split and merged while continuing to pump filth into the air, the water, and the bodies of the many -- and profits into the pockets of the few.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision this January, they have the same rights as you when it comes to putting money into the political process, only they're millions of times larger than you -- and they're pumping millions of dollars into races nationwide. It's like inviting a T. rex into your checkers championship -- and it doesn't matter whether dinosaurs can play checkers, at least not once you're being pulverized by their pointy teeth.

The amazing thing is that they don't always win, that sometimes thousands of puny mammals -- that's us -- do overwhelm one of them.

Gigantic, powerful, undead beings, corporations have been given ever more human rights over the past 125 years; they act on their own behalf, not mine or yours or humanity's or, really, carbon-based life on Earth's. We're made out of carbon, of course, but we depend on a planet where much of the carbon is locked up in the earth.  The profit margins of the oil corporations depend on putting as much as possible of that carbon into the atmosphere.

So in a lot of basic ways, we are at odds with these creations. The novelist John le Carré remarked earlier this month, "The things that are done in the name of the shareholder are, to me, as terrifying as the things that are done -- dare I say it -- in the name of God."

Corporations have their jihads and crusades too, since they subscribe to a religion of maximum profit for themselves, and they'll kill to achieve it.  In an odd way, shareholders and god have merged in the weird new religion of unfettered capitalism, the one in which regulation is blasphemy and profit is sacred.  Thus, the economic jihads of our age.  

They Fund By Night!

In the jihad that concerns me right now, most of the monsters come from Texas; the prey is in California; and it's called our economy and our environment. Four years ago, with state Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, we Californians decided we'd like to cultivate our environment for the benefit of all of us, human and biological, now and in the long future.

They'd like to pillage it to keep their profit margins in tip-top shape this year and next. The latest tool to do this is called Proposition 23, and it's on our ballot on November 2nd. It is wholly destructive, cloaked in lies, and benefits no one -- no one human, that is, though it benefits the oil corporations a lot. (You could argue that it benefits their shareholders, but I'd suggest that their biological and moral nature matters more than their bank accounts do and that, as a consequence, they're acting against their deepest interests and their humanity.)

When he signed AB 32 into law, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, who's totally weird, termed out, but really good on climate stuff, said: "Some have challenged whether AB 32 is good for businesses. I say unquestionably it is good for businesses. Not only large, well-established businesses, but small businesses that will harness their entrepreneurial spirit to help us achieve our climate goals. Using market-based incentives, we will reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. That's a 25% reduction.  And by 2050, we will reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. We simply must do everything in our power to slow down global warming before it's too late." 

With Proposition 23, two out-of-state oil corporations, Valero and Tesoro, and right-wing oil billionaires based in New York and Kansas are trying to use the California initiative process, originally intended to allow citizen intervention in the governance of this state, to countermand AB 32 and set policy for us.

"According to data from the California Secretary of State's office," Kate Sheppard recently reported in Mother Jones magazine, "more than 98% of contributions to the pro-Prop. 23 campaign are from oil companies. Eighty-nine percent of the contributions come from out of state… Valero contributed $4 million, Tesoro gave $1.5 million, and a refinery owned by the notorious Kansas-based billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, of Koch Industries, kicked in another $1 million. Just last week, Houston-based Marathon oil contributed $500,000."

Actually, Tesoro and Valero are headquartered out of state, but their refineries in California gave us 2.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals in our air and water last year, and they'd like to continue offering the citizens of my state these gifts that keep giving illness, death, and long-term environmental devastation without interference. The coming vote is not about protecting fancy places for upscale hikers -- the stereotype used to portray environmentalism as a white-person's luxury movement -- it's about air quality for inner-city people, especially those who live near refineries and harbors. This is the kind of environmental degradation that's about childhood asthma and increased deaths from respiratory illness. In other words, Prop. 23 is part of a corporate war on the poor. A vote for Prop. 23 is a vote to turn the lungs of poor children into a snack for dinosaurs, to put it in bluntly Hollywood-ish terms.