Promises redeemed by Exxon

Posted June 16, 2009, at 5:44 p.m.

Happy Anniversary, Lady Liberty! Mai oui, 124 years ago today the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York — a gift from our Revolutionary War allies, the French, without whom we would not have attained the many freedoms she represents.

And golly what a beacon she has been. Standing there silent and still in the middle of New York Harbor — just as she has all these years — to welcome refugees literally and now figuratively to these United States. With one arm lifted tirelessly to the sky that she might light the way to freedom and a way of life for — wait a minute, I’m wasting words here trying to say something profound when Emma Lazarus already put it perfectly. Her words are inscribed at the foot of the statue that Emma dubbed the Mother of Exiles: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Man, what a promise of hope. It’s a good thing that the Mother of Exiles is made of copper and Emma Lazarus is dead. One of those ladies might ask us to change the inscription.

Now I know we’ve still got the golden door. Of course we do. A simple recession bordering on depression isn’t going to tarnish gold. It’s just the lie we’ve made of the doorway being for the poor, homeless or tempest-tossed that needs to be corrected.

And it’s not just that there’s no gold waiting for them; there’s not any coin of any kind. In fact, according to a January Washington Post story citing U.S. Census figures, the number of immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, becomes stagnant when the U.S. economy falters. They really do come here to work. And when there’s less work available, fewer are willing to take a chance on finding a new life.

So if the huddled masses aren’t reaping the benefits of the world’s largest economy, who is?

Why Exxon Mobil, of course — to name one. And I didn’t choose them just because of their years of record- breaking profits. I chose them because I especially get a kick out of the profits they’ve made since the recession hit. And the fact that the records they broke to amass more than $40 billion in profits in 2008 were their own record-breaking profits from the year before.

It looks like the fate of the oil companies will continue to improve in spite of the fact that many believe their precipitously high — albeit profitable — gas prices helped fuel our current economic ruin. In fact CBS News ran a story in May that “Oil and gasoline prices continued their recession-defying march higher … Wholesale gasoline prices, which typically rise during this time of the year, have been especially strong and are now up a staggering 140 percent since Christmas Eve.”

Those higher gas prices sure hurt us wretched refuse, but don’t despair, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stands poised to recoup some of that money. Remember the Valdez? Exxon was found guilty 14 years ago for the oil spill that happened six years before that, but remarkably they still haven’t paid the fines. And this week the Appeals Court instructed them to pay the money and the interest on the money they’ve been in court trying not to pay. And, get this, they even told Exxon that they had to pay their own lawyers and couldn’t deduct the cost of their appeals from what they owe.

Luckily for them, the price of gas just went up.

You and I need to rethink Emma Lazarus’ golden door. It’s not for us, our children or even for those who would like to make the United States their home. No, that golden door is for Exxon Mobil and their kind. Once we accept Lady Liberty’s tarnished virtue perhaps we’ll feel better and accept more readily the Pacific Daily News report that gasoline prices rose 10 cents per gallon yesterday. Don’t think of it as unpatriotic and unbridled greed; think of it as fulfilling the dream as inscribed on the pedestal at the base of Courtesan Liberty.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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