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Commentary :: Government & Elections

Common Sense: Vol. #11

As long as mankind has tread this earth, there are always differences of opinion, and there is no lack of them today. It usually is tied to where your interests lie, and not necessarily on what is right or wrong. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the workings of government and the politics it inspires. Weve included a few in this volume of the more important ones. Of course, that too is a matter of opinion.
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In a strange bit of logic, the congressional Republicans are up in arms over a leak from the CIA that provided a banner headline story for the Washington Post. It seems that that agency had set up covert prisons in several Eastern European democracies and other countries. The article has led to new questions about the treatment of detainees and the CIA’s use of “black sites? in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The issue followed President Bush on his recent trip to Latin America and has created real concern in Eastern Europe. We say that this is a strange bit of logic because this leadership was not near so concerned about investigating the leak that identified Valerie Plame as a CIA agent and that ultimately was traced to the office of the Vice President and perhaps to that of Karl Rove as well.

These secret prisons are being used by the CIA to house and to interrogate terrorism suspects, with most of the captives at a compound in Eastern Europe. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wrote in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees that “If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks,? While this certainly is true, it was no less true in the case of Ms. Plame.

Interestingly enough as might be suspected, or at least hoped for, there were those in government who were ready with some interesting comments on the affair “There is plenty to investigate about the Bush administration’s use and misuse of intelligence,? said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “The American people deserve the truth. “Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) suggested that investigating the source of the prison article would be acceptable, as long as Congress also investigates the secret prisons themselves. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) added: “Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. The real story is those jails.? That of course becomes the crux in this comparison of the the leaks. That and the fact that the leak of the covert CIA agent Plame came from the depths of the administration. Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch suggested that Republicans should be focused on the illegality of those prisons, and not on the revelation of the illegality. These prisons of course violate the European Continents human rights principles. As we say, its all in how you look at it.

Another issue that has come up recently is the tax exempt status of a couple of religious institutions. The first has to do with a theme park located in the theme park capitol of the world, Orlando Florida. The park known as Holy Land was facing a demand for unpaid property taxes dating from 2001 that were close to one million dollars, a sum its lawyers argued would have forced the park to close down. This park is operated by Zions Hope Inc., a not for profit religious organization that seeks to graciously proclaim to the Jewish people their need for personal salvation through Jesus the Messiah and to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all men regardless of race, religion, gender, education, or national origin according to their web site.

After a long legal battle, Judge Cynthia MacKinnon agreed. In her ruling, the judge said that it had not been proved that the Holy Land Experience was using its profits for anything other than “evangelizing and worshipping?. The county appraiser, Bill Donegan is considering an appeal this decision saying that the park is different to other churches. None that i know of charge a $30 admission and run a gift shop for profit he said. Its a business.

On the other side of the country, the IRS has threatened to retract the tax exempt status of one of Southern Californias largest (and most liberal) churches because of an anti war sermon two days before the last presidential election. A guest sermon by former rector Rev. George Regas of the All Saints Episcopal church in Pasadena who opposed both he Vietnam War and the first Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that “good people of profound faith? could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support. He criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, “Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster.?

The church received a letter from the IRS stating that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church ? The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections. In a letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church’s tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, “It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season.?

An IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting. “They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election.? The church declined the offer.

As we say, it all depends upon how you look at it. Are you dismayed because roses have thorns or are you pleased that thorns have roses?

And finally a look at the struggling oil companies. Struggling to keep a straight face as they explain the reason for their obscene profits. Just for the record the companies made a $25 billion dollar profit in the third quarter, at a time when the average American motorist was having a tough time making ends meet when gasoline prices surged to over $3.00 a gallon in most parts of the country, and thoughts of winter heating bills made many wonder how they would cope. The news of these profits caught the attention of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, with some analysts predicting that the 29 largest oil companies would reap profits of $96 billion! Thats more than the industrial and telecom companies combined.

The chiefs of five major oil companies were called to testify in a Senate Hearing and to explain prices and assure customers they’re not being gouged. As you might suppose, they strongly defended the industry’s huge profits.

There is a “growing suspicion that oil companies are taking unfair advantage, and the oil companies owe the America people and explanation ‘ Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said, opening the hearing. Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp., said he recognizes that high gasoline prices “have put a strain on Americans’ household budgets'’ but he defended his companies huge profits, saying petroleum earnings “go up and down'’ from year to year. By the way, Exxon Mobil earned nearly $10 billion in the third quarter on sales of $100,7 billion. Only 57 countries have an annual GDP higher than that amount. Want to get an idea of just how much money that is? Look at it this way. Its more than a billion dollars a day, $45 million an hour, almost $340 for every living American. That amount is the most by any company in history!

How did the oil companies respond? The oil executives said their companies spend tens of billions of dollars in investments. Lee Raymond said his company had done its best to restore capacity after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “We acted responsibly in pricing at our company-operated service stations, and we also encouraged our independent retailers and distributors to do the same,? Raymond said.

Raymond was joined at the witness table by the chief executives of Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BPAmerica and Shell Oil USA. Incidentally the profits that these five companies made the day that gas prices hit an all-time high of $3.06 per gallon (just a week after Katrina did her thing on the Gulf Coast) was $364,000,000.00. Thats for one day!

James Mulva, chairman of ConocoPhillips, said “we are ready open our records'’ to dispute allegations of price gouging. ConocoPhillips earned $3.8 billion in the third quarter, an 89 percent increase over a year earlier. But he said that represents only a 7.7 percent profit margin for every dollar of sales. “We do not consider that a windfall,'’ said Mulva.

David O’Reilly, chairman of Chevron, attributed the high energy prices to tight supplies even before the Gulf hurricanes hit and said his company is “investing aggressively in the development of new energy supplies.'’ Shell earned $9 billion in the third quarter, said John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., but he said over the last five years the company’s investment in U.S. operations was equal to its income from U.S. sales.

Although the numbers are big, the criticism enveloping the oil companies as they announce their financial results this week is largely unfair, claims an industry analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York. He said that Exxon had at least $100 billion of capital at risk in its business and that although the industry looked flush, that was not always the case.

“In the late 1990s, when oil was just $12 a barrel, a lot of these companies were losing money and could have gone bankrupt,? he said. “Every time they drill a hole in the ground they spend tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, and there is no guarantee there will be a return.?

Well as we say, its all in how you look at it.

By the way, George Bush, early in his administration said he wanted to run the government like a business. Does the fact that he was head of three failed oil companies have any clue as to why we are where we are?
 
 


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