Everybody knows the dice are loaded.
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows the war is over.
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Everybody knows the fight was fixed.
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.
That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.
— Leonard Cohen
If you’re tired of being raped at the gas pump, you will find all you need to know at the NevadaLabor.com Oilogopoly Archive and that’s the end of today’s column.
But I don’t think our indefatigable editor would agree, so I have to write it again like I’ve been doing for the past two decades. Here goes: The price you pay for gasoline has little or nothing to do with Libya, Alaska, the Gulf oil spill or anything other than corporate greed. It is also burning testament that Big Oil can afford much better lawyers than do governments.
It all started in those halcyon early days of Reagan deregulation. ARCO killed its credit card program in 1982, promising lower prices. They sorta kinda delivered and that’s why gasoline costs so much today. Lemme ‘splain.
ARCO began acting as the stalking horse for the seven sisters, setting the benchmark price in western regions. The rest of the major brands marked up from there. They were willing to let ARCO set the floor because ARCO’s prices would drive independent discounters either out of business or force them to become major brand affiliates to survive.
Once a dealer signs that deal with the devil, he or she yields price control to the company, which allows retailers to fluctuate only two or three cents up or down. Deviate and you don’t get gas anymore.
Meanwhile, ARCO’s cut-throat pricing kills the independents, executions now largely complete. More than three of four indies have disappeared in California. A few are allowed to remain in order to preserve the illusion of competition.
In reality, the big boys have successfully conspired to fix prices and it’s all legal because they never talk to each other. They need merely check ARCO’s signs every morning to see how to price their products.
ARCO, now owned by those wonderful folks at British Petroleum, jacks up the price upon any bad news: an oil refinery fire, a pipeline burst, a war, Mitch McConnell’s pants catching fire, you name it.
For decades, we have seen the price of retail gas inexplicably skyrocket immediately after news of some disaster even though current stocks come from petroleum purchased perhaps years ago on the futures market.
So what gives? You do. You give till it hurts and almost nobody will publish the story.
Maybe this will help: Charlie Sheen went nuts because he sniffed overpriced gas. Somebody call FOX News.
Only six major categories are worthy of mass media attention: Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, murder, mayhem and rape.
Incensed over high prices while topping off his tank, Charlie Sheen ripped the top off a gas station attendant.
Unfortunately, it was a hairy guy named Bill. Damn.
Better luck next time.
The point is that gasoline price fixing is both boring and expensive. Four-dollar gas, combined with local, state and federal government budget cuts, will send us into the second half of Great Depression, Part Deux — no matter what Duke Boehner of Orange says to the contrary.
There is no chance that Congressional Demolitioncrats will have the courage to push for trustbusting like Teddy Roosevelt a century ago.
Indeed, the breakup of Standard Oil accomplished by TR and the Progressive Era has now largely been reversed and John D. Rockefeller’s monster is back at full strength.
A long forgotten commentator came up with the best analogy during the Arab oil embargo of 1973: The oil companies are like the title characters in French novelist Alexander Dumas’ “The Corsican Brothers,” who could read each other’s minds without saying a word.
Until the U.S. Justice Department or some ambitious state attorney general decides to screw with the oil companies, we remain screwed, condemned to pay permanently inflated prices by what in effect is a domestic cartel. They fix prices at whatever level they want and we are allowed to pay it if we can. Any politician who says otherwise does so at career peril.
The fight is fixed and American consumers roll over and play dead. We have become so conditioned to making choices where no real choice exists that we say it’s hopeless and give up.
Ole John D. Rockefeller could not have engineered it better.
The winner is NV Energy boss Michael Yackira, who announced in 2008 that he was voluntarily freezing his pay but somehow still took home about $1.6 million extra over the past two years.
Meanwhile back on Planet Earth, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission sided with IBEW Local 1245 and ordered a full investigation into NVE’s allegedly dangerous levels of understaffing — which is apparently evident everywhere but at the top.
César Chávez Day IX happens Thursday, March 31, at Circus Circus-Reno. Dinner is at 7 p.m. See CesarChavezNevada.com for details.
I invited Gov. Sandoval several weeks ago, but he has not responded.
Hope springs eternal.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, chair of the Nevada César Chávez Committee and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.