Now BP wants to be part of our community

I found myself filling up at a BP gas station, in spite of my arguments for a boycott. Hey, I was running late and it was the fastest entry onto the freeway this morning.

Before the Gulf oil spill, our local BP really wanted no part of our community of soccer clubs, tournaments, baseball teams, school plays or anything else that asked for a small sponsorship. After this Gulf oil spill, we are reminded of how much a part of our “community” they are.

Interesting.

Can we now count on you for a sponsorship for the several soccer tournaments where hundreds of players and their families stop by and buy gas? How about sponsoring the local Northmont High School play this fall with a $50.00 business card ad in the program? Can we count on you to really now be a member of our “community?”

We’ll be asking. We hope the answer will now be “yes.” After all, community is a two-way street.

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The real tyranny in America

MSNBC Rise fo the New Right Image

I watched MSNBC Chris Matthews’ The Rise of the New Right yesterday. I learned almost nothing new about the Tea Party and the conservative movement, but Alex Jones’ quote, “We’re in deep tyranny. Deep, deep, deep…” keeps ringing through my head. This man is afraid and wants to make everyone else around him fearful. I guess fear sells as his website is chock full of ads. (By the way, everyone advocates for hoarding gold, water, guns and ammo, but nobody thinks a loyal dog would help. Except Hollywood. If this country collapses, I’m sticking with my pack.)

Then I got to thinking about who the real tyrants are in America. Alex Jones, his network and FOX News came to mind right away, but so did a lot of others. I’ve prepared a very short list below to get you thinking about how much non-government tyranny is wielded over us with little oversight and almost no recourse.

FICO Scores and Credit Agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax)
Every American has now been reduced to a non-disputable, three-digit FICO Score between 450-850. A FICO Score is determined by a semi-secret algorithm that is held by a private corporation. Your FICO Score determines if you will get a loan, a job, insurance and an apartment. It determines where you can live, where you can work and how much in interest you will pay on a loan if you are deemed worthy enough to get one. It even determines whether or not you can serve your country in the military and to what capacity. If your FICO Score is too low, you can be denied a security clearance.

If you become unemployed and begin shopping at WalMart to save money, your FICO Score will be adjusted accordingly, thereby affecting your credit limits. If your identity is stolen, your FICO Score will be decimated with little recourse. If the credit bureaus make a mistake reporting your payment history, they do so with impunity and can erode your FICO Score with one typo on an account number, name, amount, etc.

Personal Debt
Nothing in this country paralyzes economic or personal mobility more than personal debt. Yet we embrace it every time we buy something on credit, lease something we can’t possibly afford, charge a new gadget that we have to have or buy something on late night TV for three easy payments. The credit card has become the new handcuff. Try renting a car without a credit card or staying in a hotel by paying cash. Try buying an airline ticket without a credit card (well, now anyway, not before the NYC car bomb thing.)

Homeowner’s Associations
If you think you own your own home, go ahead and try painting it lime green with chocolate shutters. Try putting up a large flagpole and fly an eight-foot American flag in the front yard. Try digging up your back yard and planting a vegetable garden. Try building a chicken coop and raise chickens. Try drilling for oil on your property. Try putting up a radio tower. Try putting up a wind turbine generator. Try doing something as Earth-friendly as hanging your laundry out to dry. You will find out very quickly how much power your homeowner’s association has and how forcefully they will wield it.

Health Insurance Companies
Regardless of how you feel about your health insurance, they are the only “death panels” in this country. Doctors want you to live as long as possible. So do hospitals, health care clinics and drug companies. Dead people don’t generate recurring income. The only ones that want you to die quickly when you are sick are health insurance companies. It is in their best interest to rush you to your end. Healthy people pay premiums; sick people rack up expenses. You do the math.

Parent Associations at Schools
If you think your child will succeed by getting good grades or get a place on the team by working hard and honing skills, you have never had an interaction with a parent association. Their members consist of self-appointed despots who have gone to the school and their parents went there and their parents went there. Getting “in” a parent association requires more humiliation than the worse sorority/fraternity hazing you can imagine. Staying in requires all the vicious deft of a hockey mom and the morals of a soccer mom.

These are just a few “unelected, non-government” groups that wield tremendous power over our day-to-day lives and have far more influence on where we can go, what we can do and to whom we can speak. They control what opportunities our children have, what homes we can buy, where we can live and what jobs we can have.

I could think of a few more like churches, energy corporations, your own employer, etc but I’ll leave those to you and the comments below.

Ironically enough, it is government that is most likely to protect us from these unelected tyrants. Or at least try to. Or want to try to. Or say they want to try to.

Our “free society” is at once our greatest asset and our greatest enemy. It enables us to plunder and pillage resources that belong to all of us for the purpose of personal enrichment. It is the hoarding of power with a select few — be that elected senators like McCarthy or fear-mongering activists like Jones — that is the real tyranny.

We should be vigilant and suspicious of both.

The argument against boycotting your local BP gas station is just riot control

When the TSA started holding airports and airlines hostage almost nine years ago, my tolerance for driving distance increased from two hours to ten. With only two reliable flights out of DAY to anywhere — the first one and the last — what used to be a same-day trip has now expanded to a minimum of three days. So, I’ve gotten to driving pretty much anywhere I need to go.

All those trips need to be powered by gasoline. When I am on the road, I don’t just pull over to any gas station I find open and willing to sell me gas. I pull into a gas station that is clean, the gas is of reliable quality, the credit card machines work and that have name-brand recognition. Being two to ten hours away from home with a tank of bad gas is just not my idea of a fun time.

And most of the time that meant pulling into a BP station. BP had made it’s retail franchises like the McDonald’s of the gas world. And because of that, they got my business. Because of that, the local owners got my business for more than just gas. The road has it’s own demands. We’ll come back to this later.

As this Gulf Oil Gush produces more bad will toward BP, there is a movement afoot to stem the rising tide of boycotts against BP stations. The argument goes as such:

The BP station is independently owned by one of your neighbors and by boycotting, you are hurting your own local economy. These are the people who support your local baseball team, are members of your PTA and are just trying to make a living in this otherwise horrible economy. Moreover, it is not BP that caused the greater problem as we ALL are at fault with our demand for low priced gasoline and cheap goods and services. Shouldn’t we all be sharing the blame here?

As a small business owner who hated +$4/gal gas a few years back, the argument almost worked on me. These are powerful statements and are, for the most part, true.* I wouldn’t want my customers turning on me because of something a corporation did for which I have no control.

Let’s look a little more closely at a couple of “truths” about boycotting BP stations.

We are all at fault for demanding low prices on everything the petroleum industry produces
Companies make products to sell and marketing companies create ways to make consumer want them. And more and more and more. Price is just one tool in their arsenal. Since no company stays in business for very long selling a product that costs more than it sells for, they find ways to subsidize production costs or cut quality. The consumer does not set the price;** the marketer sets the price. Low-priced gasoline and the subsequent purchase of our SUVs and excessive driving habits, etc are all by-products of marketers wanting to sell more crap. We’re just dumb saps falling for the consumer lifestyle they bludgeon us with.

If we actually had to pay for the real cost of gas, we would. If we had to pay the real cost of food, we would. We would buy fewer cars and they would be smaller and more fuel-efficient. We would buy less food and waste less. (How many people don’t eat the entire $12.00 hot dog at a ball park?) Without cheap gas, the auto industry would have put more money into developing fuel-efficient technology instead of flashy car ads for TV. But it was easier to convince ordinary people who did not have the money to buy a car to finance it and lobby tax subsidies from governements to keep fuel costs low.

It is clever trying to make us all accept communal blame for the Gulf Oil Gush, but it simply isn’t true. The oil industry created low prices to sell more stuff to make more profit. The American consumer simply accepted the lower prices because there was no alternative. And we became addicted because that is what human beings do. Had the oil prices remained high to their true cost, we would have also adapted because, surprisingly, that is what human beings do.

The BP station owner is not at fault. Don’t hate on him; he is one of us.
Again, this is yet another marketing ploy to keep us from boycotting or worse, descending upon the station with pitch forks and torches is a fit of oil rage. The BP owner IS at fault for accepting the franchise, co-op ad dollars, brand good-will and increased sales due to product trust (see my road trip stuff above.) If this were not true, then having a BP sign and branding on the pumps would not matter. We would feel perfectly happy to buy our gasoline from Joe’s Gas and Pump Stump. But we don’t trust Joe. Joe probably waters down his gas to make more profit. BP doesn’t; they are reputable. In short, the station owner benefitted from BP’s marketing. They just happened to have bet on a horse that tripped and broke its leg. Or maybe they didn’t really have a choice as BP was going to put them out of business if they didn’t sign. But nobody forced them to stay in the retail gas business. We hope.

For those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War, we understand how socially dangerous it was to ask, “Do you support the war effort?” So does our government; so much so that when the Gulf War came around in 1991, it was not even a question. The position went from “support the war” to “support our troops.” Regardless of whether you thought the Gulf War was just or not, you couldn’t possibly be against the troops. It was a very clever marketing message that was a no-win to disagree with. And the same message was used at 9/11 with the endless stream of “God Bless America” performances and unchecked anti-freedoms legislation by the US Congress.

And now the same tactics are being employed by our governments, media and BP to keep the citizens from becoming angry. We can’t show up to protest in front of an oil rig, but there is a BP station in every neighborhood. The problem was simple to define; how will governments and BP prevent the citizens from taking out their anger at the pump? We’ll make the station owner one of them and make them feel stupid and trite by convincing them they are all at fault and they don’t understand modern economics.

And for the most part, it is working. If someone starts a “Boycott BP” group on Facebook, they are immediately ridiculed for not understanding how business works, that the owner is really not part of BP, that they are only hurting their local economy, that they are part of the bigger problem so they are being a hypocrite! Nobody likes to be sneered at in public by the media and influential voices for being “unsophisticated.” (As an example, look what they are doing to Alvin Greene.)

You may jeer at me and call me unsophisticated, but I am still not going to buy gas from my local BP station. I’m not going to be joining any “Boycott BP” groups on Facebook either because that is just lazy protesting. But I am going to continue to reduce my footprint and support local business people who know my name and appreciate every sale. Even when I know I could buy it for less somewhere else.

And hope for the day when I no longer need to buy gasoline from BP or anyone else.

*Except for that supporting the local baseball team. My local BP station always turned down my request for a sponsorship, saying they would get business anyway from teams traveling in. I’m not bitter. Much.

**Next time you are in a grocery store, try asking to pay MORE than the listed price for that loaf of bread. There is no way to do it. Consumer don’t demand low price. We are convinced by smart marketers and media that high prices is what keep us from buying stuff. It’s an easy argument; marketers and media always take the easy road.