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The perils of playing the other guy’s game
by Andrew Barbano
Apr 24, 2011 | 509 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The late, great Tribune columnist Orland Outland once quoted Damon Runyon in advising me to never, ever, play the other man’s game.

“One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.”

And so we come to America’s de-cider-in-chief.

Hizzoner the President made a whistlestop in these parts last Thursday. Sharp reporters were quick to pounce on his earthshaking announcement that the feds are going to investigate gasoline price-gouging, better known as categorizing the obvious. He added that the (oxymoron alert) U.S. Dept. of Justice is also going to investigate intentional manipulation of oil and gas prices or fraud. The AG in D.C. cited no evidence, although it’s easily witnessed at every BP/ARCO station in the United States.

An American cartel conspires to fix pump prices every day. BP/ARCO sets the floor and everybody else marks from there. They never talk to each other, so conspiracy cannot be proven. They also engage in cut-throat competition, which used to be illegal but is apparently no longer enforced.

The result of this very successful 30-year strategy has been to drive independent discounters out of business or make them branded retailers. A few independents have been allowed to survive to maintain the illusion of competition. Retailers are blameless. They can only sell their product in a very narrow range dictated by their mother ship. Deviate too far and you get shut down.

Prices spike upward on any publicity and only ratchet down slowly afterward. More discounters die in every such cycle.

The Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive at has been compiled over the past two decades from very publicly available information. No less than the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal and ABC News have run one-shot features about parts of this.

I guess I’m going to keep writing this story until the cows come home from jumping over the moon.

Remember how they told us that supporting the dirty Alaska pipeline would result in lower prices on the west coast, the region now leading us to six-dollar-a-gallon gas?

Remember how they said that the invasion of Iraq was not about oil? The London Independent just published documents from the Tony Blair government that indeed, it was. BigOil execs consulted with high officials to make sure they got their greedy fingers into the filthy lucre of the toxic petroleum pool.

The president is blithely walking down the same old blind alleys which always result in “we looked into it and it’s just the invisible, omnipotent and always fair hand of the free market in action.”

Bull. It’s a totally rigged game. The corporate bandidos are putting cider in our ears and corn in our tanks while our elected officials tell us to just swallow hard, nothing can be done. They know better than to screw with the oil companies.

We need a nationally recognized leader to step forward and get people talking about what’s painfully on the public record.

Where is he? Or she?

Decider cider, part deux

William Greider, the nation’s best financial investigative reporter, wrote about the recent downgrading of the U.S. Treasury’s credit worthiness by Wall Street shill Standard and Poor’s, which lied to investors and encouraged them to buy worthless securities before the big meltdown.

“The deficit panic is itself bogus — poor-mouthing America to avoid raising taxes on the folks who got the money,” Greider wrote.

“Naturally, this reactionary approach was first promoted by Republicans, but has been tacitly embraced by the Democratic president and Congressional Democrats. No more talk from them about jobs, jobs, jobs or doing anything real to save millions of families from home foreclosures. Barack Obama promises to do the blood-letting more delicately than barbaric Republicans, protecting Social Security and Medicare and other much-loved programs. But can people believe him? They have been burned before by vague good talk.

“If you listen closely, Obama is setting himself up to fashion another ‘grand compromise’ with the right. He will explain this is the ‘adult’ thing to do. But his supporters may once again see betrayal. As the polls keep reporting, the populace is overwhelmingly opposed to any political deal-making that punishes them again for a catastrophe they did not cause. People seem to know it is wrong to dump more pain on them while the real malefactors are not held accountable for their sins,” Greider concluded.

NPR reported last week that Obama’s approval numbers have been tracking like those of previous presidents defeated for re-election. Once inside the DC bubble, they never seem to learn. Obama came and left Reno encased in a bubble wherein no such pesky issues were permitted.

Harry Truman used to say that if you give people a choice between two conservatives, they will always vote for the real thing.

The president proceeds at his political and our personal peril.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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