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Vivian Norris Headshot

Goodbye Good Ole Boys, Hello Hollywood? How Will Obama Handle the Oil Industry?

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Having grown up in Texas Bush oil country, and later living and working in and around entertainment and technology economies such as Seattle, Los Angeles and abroad, where a more liberal mind-set supports a future with Obama as the leader of choice, I keep trying to figure out how this is going to work. If (and I hope it happens) Obama wins, how will he deal with the oil companies,? Bush is pushing through opening up protected lands and coastlines to drilling (using as an excuse the need to be more self-sufficient because look at all of the instability in oil producing regions...Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela...and now Russia...isn't that timing interesting?) Two entirely different ways of existing, one based on a LOT of petrodollars, and the other, on a sustainable future, are coming into conflict as they did in the times of Kennedy and Johnson.

Obama is about vision and a better future, but he hurdles the will encounter with the oil industry are not that different than those John Kennedy dealt with decades ago. The debate that took place back then dealt with the depletion allowance which means that the oil companies virtually do not have to pay taxes. Yet this mindset is also benefits the more liberal Hollywood machine. Large US corporations, Hollywood, etc., base their subsidiaries in places like the British Virgin islands, (does Hollywood get to claim a "depletion allowance" as soon as their product say a film is put out there, it could potentially lose value, be pirated, etc.?) and do not pay taxes off that income. Our largest producers and potentially largest payers of tax, do not pay much tax and have the most creative accounting known to man.

The Republicans will always back a pro-oil immediate future, until their own voters, and the lobbyists filling their coffers with dollars, stop supporting them. Just as Hollywood backed Kennedy, we now have it backing Obama. But Hollywood is not just about movie stars, entertainment is our largest export! Yes, reality shows, blockbusters and CSI and the jobs they create and the profits they bring in, define us. Interestingly enough, both oil and entertainment, are dependent upon pipelines, trade regulations (remember those drawn-out GATT talks during the Jack Valenti MPAA reign and the blocking of Hollywood films from China?), and monopolies.

Bush took a pro-oil Texas mind set to a national level, just as he did with tort reform which he pushed through in Texas, and as President extended nationwide. US citizens basically can no longer sue to stop abusive behavior by oil companies, and even worse, Big Pharma and biotech...they test a new drug on you, you get sick and die, too bad! Your husband or father is injured in a refinery, as a soldier at war with Iraq, or your child by those nasty adjuvants in vaccines, if you can afford a lawyer, the company will never have to pay out the huge amounts of the past and will simply continue its abusive behavior. Hey...and if you do make it to court, those judges are bought and paid for and appointed for life by...none other than the Republican machine! Hollywood entertainment may harm us in other ways...but we can always turn it off.

It was no accident that another Texas President, Lyndon Johnson, appointed Jack Valenti, who had been a PR guy for the oil companies, to his administration. Valenti then went on to rep another huge industry, the film industry, as a very powerful President of the MPAA. Just like oil, he argued before world trade bodies, entertainment is a product. Maybe it is, but France and others fought back like hell, and subsidized and protected their industries, because otherwise...they would have no industries! And this is also about their local economies, and JOBS!

The new head of the MPA is a very smart man, Dan Glickman, and not by chance formerly head of Agriculture for Clinton. If we consider food supplies and biofuel to be the new oil, his home state of Kansas and the parallel between subsidies for agriculture/energy and the support of the entertainment industry as our largest export echo the story of Texan Jack Valenti's understanding of the oil industry before repping Hollywood. So as long as Obama sees the oil industry, and the entertainment industry which is supporting him, as both being about the economy, jobs and profits, he will be fine.

If Obama can help support a shift into a new renewable energy future, and encourage a majority to support it, he can begin to chip away at one long-entrenched economy by replacing it with a more visionary one. Perhaps Hollywood should take note and help in this process. Just as they indirectly supported US dominance via many storylines in their films, perhaps they can promote a more viable future. But the future looks a bit grim, just look at the latest Speilberg Raiders of he Lost Ark in which the Russians are again the enemies, the Cold War never really ended, and a "perfect" American suburb is blown to bits. Maybe Obama (rumored to be played by Will Smith) can help us feel more optimistic about America's future? And export a more positive image abroad?

Let's face it, Obama is a movie star. The old saying that politics is full of people who were not good looking enough to be movie stars no longer holds true. In addition, Obama is an international product, and just as Hollywood now makes most of its profits abroad, Obama is highly successful around the globe.

But Obama would not fit well in a Texas oil company board room. Big oil has to change and it will not do so without a fight (or a few wars as we can see). Obama is going to have to find a way to function with these enormously wealthy and powerful companies and individuals. He has managed to do so in Hollywood, maybe he can meditate and reach out to the ghost of Jack Valenti, who seemed to have as many friends in the Exxon boardroom as he did on the red carpet in Los Angeles.