The retiring head of Exxon-Mobil has just been awarded a compensation package worth an estimated four-hundred million dollars. This is the same man who on Capitol Hill last fall testified that soaring gasoline prices were uncontrollable and that "We're all in this together." But not together in the same way, of course. This man and his lieutenants made lots of money off of expensive petroleum products. I lost some.

But I do begrudge him his mammoth windfall? No. First I'd have to be able to conceive of it. The wealth piling up in some individuals' hands these days passeth all understanding. They may as well be infinitely rich -- unless, that is, they're thinking of using their cash to assemble private air forces and navies. I think they should be required to, in fact. Once upon a time, the oligarchs had a political obligation to fund (beyond the payment of normal taxes) fighting forces for the kings and emperors under whose protection they'd grown so powerful. Let's revisit that practice. The First Exxon-Mobile Mountain Division. The Seventh Microsoft Fleet.

Half a billion dollars, huh? Out here in the west (I live in Montana) it's not uncommon to come across the many-thousand-acre ranches of non-resident commercial titans. At the ends of their multi-mile driveways are largely un-lived in palatial homes -- or so I assume, since I can't cruise down to see them due to all the ominous "Keep Out" signs. All one sees of the ranches' mythic landlords are their jets swooping in around Independence Day, when the big guys throw barbecues for other big guys featuring famous country-western singers and private fireworks displays that are more splendid than any our little towns can throw. The skybombs sparkle surreally against the mountainsides as I drive to town to buy lemonade and hot dog buns for my own backyard festivities. A sense of being in things together doesn't come over me as I watch the light bursts. It's more a sense of being on my own in a land of unimaginable giants.

--Walter

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