Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course--The Concept of a 'Local Vendor Cartel'

We've all heard the variations on the old phrase, "If it looks like a [often expletive noun], smells like [same identifier], and sounds like [again], then it's probably [one more time, with gusto!]."

Well, here in Bowling Green, KY--my hometown, where I've lived my entire life--I've finally come to the 'scarlet conclusion' [scarlet to denote it's importance] that our gas prices deserve their very own euphemism--or, more aptly, their own term.

The term? I'm calling this local 'price fixing phenomenon' the vendor cartel.

For years, our gas prices in Bowling Green have been substantially and consistently higher than the surrounding region's rates; often greater than the national average, and very commonly higher than large urban areas in the United States.  Sometimes they even overtake areas routinely known as tourist traps.

Local citizens of Bowling Green have been writing their opinions to the local paper for years--dozens have been printed (usually more than 30 per year), and I'm sure hundreds have been received by the newspaper.

I'm no expert in the method of problem solving, per se, but I've finally come to realize that, in order to solve our problem, we first have to properly identify it.

It's really so very simple--what we have here is a 'vendor cartel'.

Of course, anyone my age or older would know I've stolen part of my little 'term' from the phrase 'oil cartel', which we were forcibly familiarized with in the 1970s to identify why gas prices began soaring way back then, and why they were also probably not coming back down.

Here's the wikipedia entry, for noobs.  Basically, it really was a bunch of rich, greedy Arabs who got tired of the U.S. helping out their avowed enemy (but also their neighbor), Israel.  These wealthy punks banded together and successfully conspired to create a shortage of their product everywhere we [the United States] had friends.  When pressured, the major oil cartels (primarily one called OPEC) will throw out some fake explanation for their greedy deceit--everything from 'war is hell (and expensive, isn't it) to outright defiance toward us.  Everyone growing up more recently knows that they just don't feel the need to give reasons any more--they've grown far too wealthy off our fat, made powerful, dangerous terrorist alliances, and don't give a fat burp about being accountable for their greedy ways.

Which leads me to my comparison of how this applies locally.  In reading dozens of complaints from our local citizens in the local Daily News, I noticed a distinctly repeated pattern of a small group of local online users (i.e. trolls) who routinely take point against anyone daring to voice their 1st-amendment-protected rights to complain about local gas prices.  These trolls are always the same people, always use aliases, and are 'out there' apparently to 'take down' anyone daring enough to say anything against the obscenely-high gas prices around here.  Like mercenaries, I've seen them make online comments that go far beyond the pale--actually tantamount to hate crimes--about little old ladies, even, who are basically saying they're quickly becoming shut-ins in Bowling Green because they simply cannot afford the extremes in gas prices here anymore.  When I rushed in to defend these people being attacked, online, I've been called everything from crazy, to outright psychotic, and in one case, even a pedophile (of course, you can look me up--I'm NOT!!!).

These local trolls seem really desperate to squelch any complainers locally, and they're more prolific (and often, obscene) than Stephen King about it.  They live up to their troll status by making their hate-filled, false, comments, in every single story online; the Daily News, WBKO TV station, even social media sites (Topix).  The things they say get uglier than most Black Friday scenes--heck, even where wedding dresses are involved (obvious snark--'sorry').

I've often jumped in and called these trolls what they're begging to be called ['trolls']; sometimes I've even speculated openly in my online responses to them, that I wonder if they're being paid by local gas vendors to make their hate-filled rants.

Whatever their pay-offs may be, they obviously get something from attempting to slander, defame, and demoralize innocent locals who just want some final, real, official responses from the KY Attorney General, or some other public officials (many of the opinion letters have been open letters to these public figures).

Many letter-writers (and most online commenters) have been openly speculating for more than a decade that 'the government' (whether local, regional, state, or even federal) was directly--or indirectly--involved in some kind of price-fixing scheme, but a)no one's been caught, b)it sounds a little bit more than paranoid, assuredly, and c)frankly, we don't have the local investigative media resources to do any more than just that--speculate.

So, I thought, this morning, if I'm going to speculate...which I will...if we're all given to speculate.

Hmm...let me just put it this way: While we're speculating, why not at least try and correctly identify the real problem, by giving it a name that might even correlate with what's been said to be going on in Bowling Green in so many of those letters through the years?

That's when I came up with it--our very own 'vendor cartel', a local group that will do basically anything to support its own greedy ends.  A 'group' like a cartel might even be a number of organizations that--by sheer number alone, much less the inherent resources of each sub-group in the larger one--could even hire their very own 'Pavlov dogs', trained to attack anyone questioning what is going on here, especially if they're getting close to the scent of the real answers, themselves.

In the 1970s, the Arab oil cartel successfully created such a shortage of actual gas here in the U.S. that we were basically shut down economically.  Anyone who lived through it should also see a very direct effect the embargo then had on the economy.  The very same year OPEC 'cancelled' our gas shipments, this tactic also led to one of the biggest stock market crashes in the history of the market itself.

So, I don't take my little 'term' lightly--it's what we have in Bowling Green--a 'vendor cartel', and I'm just happy to give it a name.

One of the most intelligent characters in the Frank Herbert book/movie series Dune was Thufir Hawat; he was identified in the series as a 'master assassin' hired by the royal family depicted in the series as the personal private instructor to Paul Atreides (heir to the Duke's throne); in this office, he made some very apt, intelligent, and remarkable statements, often directly to Paul himself.  One of my favorites--and certainly one of the more memorable--quotes in the movie adaptation of Dune, came from Thufir, shortly after he accompanied 'House Atreides' to the planet Arrakis (a.k.a. 'Dune') as part of their attempt to escape the evil schemes of the 'Emperor of the Known Universe' (I know, he sounds like a guy you'd want to escape from, right?)

The quote comes from when Thufir was putting in overtime for the Atriedes', looking around to see the 'Emperor' had 'installed' any type of 'welcoming party' to kill them off.

"The first step in avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence".

How this applies to our local problem?  We can speculate endlessly about why our gas prices here are so 'inexplicably high', but a better start might be finding out if looking at the concept of a local 'vendor cartel' might help explain things more exactly, more correctly, and even lend some insight into rooting out those responsible, by looking at the behaviors associated with cartels.