Though the cozy relationship between oil and government goes back to ancient Rome, these days must be its most brazen. The Romans weren’t so profligate as to salt Carthage (Tunisia) after its defeat; they redeemed it into an olive oil colony that soon, in producing two-thirds of the empire’s quota for olive oil, was strewn with the villas of oil wealth. Oil was such a valuable commodity that olive country could pay their taxes with it. It was an indispensable ingredient in cooking, lamp fuel, medication, cosmetics and so forth, the lifeblood of Roman society.
Just as Rome forbade the importation of olive oil from Carthage until its subjugation after the Third Punic War, it passed legislation to encourage olive oil manufacture once Carthage was absorbed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rome’s influential merchants who trafficked in what Homer called “liquid gold” wanted to keep Carthage’s oil from competing with that of the empire (Italy, Spain, Greece et al.), “trading with the enemy” notwithstanding. How much did the Third Punic War have to do with olive oil and wheat?
Things certainly do change to stay the same. Homer called Rome’s lifeblood “liquid gold,” and Beverly Hillbillies called our lifeblood “black gold.” It’s worth fighting wars and sundering empires over.
Hell, it’s worth starting wars over. Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy task force schemed to plunder Iraq’s oil and parcel out concessions, as proclaimed in papers like “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The Bush administration would not release any of the papers on these discussions until after the war had started. By that time Halliburton, of which Cheney was the former CEO, was profiting immensely from its no-bid contracts in the region—but these were mere offsets to its enormous asbestos-related losses. Maybe Halliburton is on a Warfare to Work program, which will redeem it from its lossy past to a future of black gold-to-black ink.
Welfare to Work and like programs ostensibly help at-risk populations. When BP used prison labor (paid on a sliding scale from nothing to bubkus, and including tax breaks for BP) to clean up its Deepwater Horizon spill, The Nation documented largely-Black chain gangs sporting “Inmate Labor” suits on Louisiana beaches. These populations were hardly improving their future work prospects, assuming they’d live very long: if they refused a job, they could lose all the sentence-abatement time they had worked. The Bush-era Work Opportunity Tax Credit offers companies hiring from risky populations $2,400 for each work-release inmate. One wonders at the spirit of this law, but in practice it amounted to a stepchild of slavery—a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s lieutenant said, “They’re not getting paid, it’s part of their sentence.”
We wait to see what catastrophe ExxonMobil has wrought in Yellowstone, and what depredations Big Oil will bring to New York if Governor Cuomo trades our environment to fracking companies for a few jobs and some tax revenue. The prospects aren’t good; France just banned hydraulic fracturing, and they were the first country to adopt the metric system. Maybe we’d rather eat our freedom fries in the shadow of their Statue of Liberty while pumper trucks gurn offshore.