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Monopolists and mass malpractice
by Andrew Barbano
Apr 12, 2008 | 596 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dubya and his dastards learned long ago that in 21st century America, little crooks go to jail while big crooks go to lunch.

The best way to steal from people is to conduct your heist in plain sight. It is thus no wonder that the Bush-Cheney Maladministration was spawned by the oil industry.

I have been compiling information on retail gasoline price fixing for two decades. You will find the Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive linked to every column at Barbwire.US.

The old Standard Oil trust, which President Theodore Roosevelt led the charge to break up, has now largely been reconstituted a century down the road. Old John D. Rockefeller would be proud.

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? Alas and alack, oil companies buy smarter lawyers than the government and usually buy the government, too.

There used to be true competition at the gas pump. Not anymore. Most of the independents have either gone under or become affiliated with one of the BigOil majors. This is part of a conscious strategy by the oil companies that can conspire to fix prices without ever breaking anti-trust laws (which the feds have refused to enforce for decades anyway). All they have to do is look down the street at ARCO’s signs.

Oil companies require their retailers to sell within a very narrow price range. The floor is set by ARCO stations with other majors pricing according to pre-set limits. The game has been to drive the indies under or into the arms of the biggies. They will leave a few independents around to retain the veneer of competition, but remember one thing: All of our local gasoline comes through the same pipeline from California.

With the pirates running the ship of state, consumer protests may be safely ignored. Well-intentioned people occasionally try a “boycott Exxon for a day” or somesuch. Never worked, never will. What Exxon doesn’t sell, the Shell across the street will. Same pipeline. Same gas.

Drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge won’t help. There’s not much oil there and somehow we’ve forgotten that allowing drilling on Alaska’s north slope was sold as a way to make the western U.S. immune to the whims of OPEC. Then came Bill Clinton who allowed Alaskan oil to be sold to the far east.

Even with a plentiful supply, BigOil makes sure that refineries go offline for “maintenance” at convenient times.

As a beleaguered gas pump jockey told a Nevada legislative committee back in the 1980s, “When gasoline is five dollars a gallon, you can only count on one thing: ARCO will be at $4.98.”

As with the Iraq War, our political leaders don’t have the stomach to fight BigOil.

Dubya’s presidency may be vilified by thee and me, the great unwashed. But corporate America loves the guy. He will leave office with record oil prices and record company profits, a candidate for the Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Assn. of Manufacturers halls of fame.

Washoe Med, renowned for mass malpractice

For those not on my e-mail lists, you might want to go to Barbwire.US to get my midweek screed about that den of iniquity and inequity currently known as Renown Medical Center.

Some of the e-mail I received was just so darn cute I have to reprint some of it.

“Where do you get such misinformation and how the hell did you get my email adress (sic)?” wrote one angry woman. I asked her to send me information to correct any errors. I’m still waiting.

A guy purporting to be a Washoe Med/Renown employee wrote, “I understand any system and company has challenges, but your e-mail is not fact based and does not represent many of the great things we do. We spend millions of dollars on this service not to mention that we provide 85 percent of the care to the uninsured in this community. I hope you would look to represent the whole story as you continue to discuss this subject.”

Sorry, Charlie. I’m the only guy who has been reporting the whole story, for two decades now. You should see some of the nasty notes the Tribune newsroom has received from Washoe Med honchos over the years.

I get especially perturbed when somebody like Charlie trumpets how much the hospital does for the uninsured.

First, they have to. State law requires every hospital to devote a certain percentage of its volume to indigent care. Second, Washoe Med/Renown is reimbursed handsomely every month by Washoe County taxpayers for the care of the indigent and uninsured.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. My online column pointed out, as I have many times here in the Tribune, that the current ownership made a deal in 1985 to acquire the county hospital in return for paying for indigent care in perpetuity.

They came before the county commission with a story that went something like this: “Your little ole hospital has always made a few bucks or broken even, but that won’t last. Indigent care will bankrupt the county. Let us take this white elephant off your hands and we will assume the cost of indigent care in exchange.”

The hospital administrators controlled the information and were the only ones who knew the hospital’s real financial condition, which was just fine. Three corrupt commissioners deeded over the hospital, worth up to $134.2 million in 1985 dollars, for just $3 million.

Then, deputy D.A. (and now retired judge) Ed Dannan removed the contract provision on indigent care from the final deal. So the fatcats got to have their cake and eat it, too.

This sordid tale is told in stunning detail in the 1995 Washoe County Grand Jury report, available exclusively at It will be linked to the Web edition of this column.

Washoe Med/Renown is now trying to bust out its nurses union, which means union busters are running the joint, not health care professionals. Back in my patient advocacy days, we called that mass malpractice.

I won’t go that joint, not even when I break out in a rash from reading guys like Charlie.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail barbano@front Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.

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