So we suffer bubbleheaded bleach-blondes standing at pump islands interviewing bitchy customers under a $5 a gallon sign.
And nobody does nothin’.
I’ve tried. The biggest consumer section of NevadaLabor.com is the Oilogopoly Archive, a 17-year cold case evidence locker of BigOil getting away with murder.
An edition of the following was sent to a dozen or so mainstream and alternative newspapers and magazines in 1996.
When it comes to gasoline prices, we have achieved national consensus: the public is screwed and everybody knows how, with which and by whom. Might the great unwashed hope that the legit media will eventually find out why?
Alas, no. The real story could bite them on the ass and they’d say the mosquitoes sure are big this year. The foundation for the current spike in retail gas prices has been cleverly laid over the past 14 years.
We may view 1996 as test marketing of a national price-fixing strategy. I have legislative and court records and inside people. I wrote a 7,000-word series. The final installment is enclosed. Call me if you want to look at the rest.
The past six weeks are just a warning of things to come. The monopolists really have developed a better mousetrap. You and I are in the cage. John D. Rockefeller would be proud.
While we were sleeping, BigOil came up with a new Monopoly game.
1. The California cancer spreads. The national media have missed the story behind the current spike in gas prices. I have yet to see any reportage, let alone analysis, as to the real reason why California price hikes led the nation when 93 percent of West Coast gas comes from California and Alaska crude. The other 7 percent comes mostly from Canada and a trickle from Asia. All of the above is non-OPEC oil. After a 23-year ban, we just began to export Alaska crude to Japan.
The answer lies in 14 years of clever cutthroat competition designed to let ARCO take the point in eliminating independent retailers through a “price zone” scheme. This explains why two ARCO stations a few blocks apart can have different prices. The strategy kills small neighborhood retailers. I have evidence that all the BigOil “majors” participate in this oligopolistic pricing practice.
2. Independent dealers either get branded or get out. California had more than 20,000 gas stations in 1972. Today, only about 9,700 remain. Four or five major oil companies now control 75 percent of the retail business in Southern California, the very definition of oligopoly.
3. The Smoking Gun, 1982’s biggest hit. BigOil set the stage for the most recent round of price gouging more than 14 years ago. I have the “smoking gun” internal memo by the president of ARCO (now BP) delineating the marketing strategy.
4. The point guard theory of price fixing: Let one dominate a region until all the little guys are either chewed up, swallowed or spit out. I have sworn testimony and statements from gas retailers as to the grand design. One poor guy told the Nevada Legislature that his BigOil supplier forced him to sell gas at retail cheaper than he bought it wholesale.
5. Hide in plain sight: Any news can be manipulated as an excuse for instant price increases which go down slowly, if at all. Fill the air with media flak to obscure the facts, as has been successfully done in the instant “crisis.”
6. Compete on style, not substance. The goal first set forth in the 1982 Smoking Gun Memo is now being achieved industrywide. Gimmicks, contests and big TV budgets will create the image of competition where none exists.
7. Pull the ladder up behind you. BigOil’s arrogance is such that they can fix prices with impunity and buy lawmakers to consolidate their power. Their favorite preserve is the easiest and cheapest place to buy influence: state legislatures. Some markets in the U.S. already have a monopoly controlling the price of gasoline.
8. Take the scam nationwide. The major U.S. oil companies have refined their method of fixing retail prices to a point where they can launch it nationally when the opportunity presents itself.
9. The fix for price-fixing: a little old-fashioned big government trust-busting. Break up Rockefeller’s reconstituted Standard Oil monopoly.
10. Ban zone pricing, a.k.a. cutthroat competition. It’s already supposed to be illegal. Tighten regulation and disclosure of “internal money laundering.”
Seventeen years have passed. Alas and alack, nothing’s changed.
The Social Darwinists running for the Republican presidential nomination have a new statistic to pimp. According to the March Harper’s Index, a homeless person’s life expectancy is 30 years below the national average. The law of the jungle is already national policy.
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Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 43-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and producer of Nevada’s March 31 César Chávez Day celebration. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988. E-mail email@example.com.