Gas Price Archive

Spitbugs, prophets and male chauvinist pigs
Originally published in the June 30, 1996, Daily Sparks Tribune

If I had to pick this year's best God-fearing, Judaeo-Christian example of crass capitalistic reality, the award would go hands down to shameless Joe Barton of Texas.

The Republican congresscritter has held Sen. Phil Gramm's former congressional seat since Barbara Vucanovich was a sophomore. If I may say so, he does dear Babs and ole Phil plumb proud. On last Thursday's ABC News special revealing(?) the skulduggerous shenanigans of the smoking industry, anchorman Peter Jennings asked Rep. Barton how much the tobacco lobby influenced his recent inquisition into the Food and Drug Administration. (Barton and his fellow tobacconists are trying to cripple the agency and smear its chief, Dr. David Kessler, who wants to regulate the noxious weed as the addictive drug it is.)

Barton did something I've only seen the likes of Jimmy Swaggart do on TV. To respond to Jennings' question, he first pulled out a Bible. The Bible. The Good Book. The marketing manual accepted not only by devotees of Moses and Jesus, but also highly respected by the disciples of Mohammed.

The Hon. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), native of wacky and wighteous Waco, pulled out his Bible and laid hands thereon. He then swore in the name of all he holds dear, including God, wife, family, United Methodist faith (and probably mom, apple pie and Chevrolet), that neither tobacco lobbyists nor their campaign contributions have influenced his actions in trying to gut the FDA.

In all my years in the bloodsport of follytix, I've never seen such an obscene display. Just using a Bible for such purposes should offend anyone who feels that all religious beliefs command respect. When a person holding high public office reduces his supposedly sacred creed to the level of stage prop, civilized society suffers, democracy diminishes. It's just plain bad marketing, let alone bad taste.

If Joe Lonestar Barton had any class at all, he would have sworn on a stack of Olympic rings, or maybe onion rings. Or rang a Taco Bell.

I guess I can't blame the congressman from Marlboro Country for a poor choice of media symbols. It's hard to keep one's perspective in this day and age. After all, Barton's made such a poor set of career moves. Before hitting rock bottom and replacing Phil Gramm in the House, he spent a couple of years as a consultant to ARCO. Regular readers know what love I harbor for that outfit, the Judas goat of the profit gouging gas price monopolists.

When I see ARCO and its friendly competitors jacking prices up and people around, it motivates me. When I see Joe L. appropriate his version of the word of God for cheap political theatrics, I am stimulated. The lesson is clear. Steal from these guys, they're the best at greedy self-promotion and this little gambling town needs all the shameless, avaricious horn blowing we can get. We need more than a photo opportunity, we need our own TV special, laden with stars lusting to be adored. We need our own world class awards show. I bet even grand prize winner Joe L. would show up if Barbara V. delivered the invite.

In a world of Oscars, Emmys, Grammies, Tonys, Addys and Phonies, what should such an award be named? We need something both catchy and timely. How about the Golden Spitbugs? If you live anywhere near a juniper tree, you know what I mean. You wake up one morning, and that tree or bush which had been doing so well after consecutive wet winters is festooned like a spittoon. Mine looked like a whole baseball team had visited overnight.

What parasite could it be, I queried and quavered? Aphids? Republicans? Roseanne, George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott taking batting practice?

Nope. Spitbugs. They're everywhere this year. Must have something to do with upcoming elections. I've got a hunch that spitbugs carry the seeds from which political yards signs spring. Though I've yet to see one, I know they're all over my neighborhood, signing their work in foam. So, Congressman Barton, this bug's for you.

BOB "MARLBORO'S MAN" DOLE wins the Beavis and Butthead Trophy, perhaps the only thing he will win this year. Dogged by a giant walking Democrat cigarette butt wherever he goes, Mr. Dole became understandably exasperated at getting smoked out.

"Am I supposed to tell a legal business they can't contribute to my campaign?" said the man from Kansas about all the money he has taken from the tobacco industry. No, sir. Take money from whatever legal businesses you can. It's your Constitutional right. But do let me know when contributions from Nevada's legal brothels arrive. P'tooie.

(Once again, I recommend that you read "Tobacco Dole" in the May/June edition of Mother Jones magazine. Much of the current national dustup about the tobacco-cancer industry has its roots in the splendid 40-page MoJo investigation.)

THE CHICKEN LITTLE IN EVERY POT AWARD goes to sweet little Katie Baker of Reno. She was cooking dinner when lightning struck her kitchen during last week's thunderstorms. She showed KTVN TV-2 how the bolt went down her stovepipe, through a pot lid and "made a big black hole in the poor little chicken's butt." Ms. Baker made a charming impression of grace under fire. She also made CNN by midnight.

THE "WHAT'S WORSE THAN A CARNIVAL CRUISE?" PRIZE. Take a Carnival Cruise and you can end up with a serious viral illness or worse. A shipload got sick last week and one guy died. Carnival and its competitors in the high seas vacation industry are subsidized by you and me. They operate tax-free courtesy of your congress and mine. They're so rich, they can afford to hire Kathie Lee Gifford to do their commercials. Wonder if they're going to capitalize on their mutual fame and book a Kathie Lee and Frank cruise to Guatemala to see the K-Mart/Walmart sweatshops? P'tooie. I'll stay home and eat at safe places like the Reno Hilton.

IT WAS NECESSARY TO DESTROY THE CITY IN ORDER TO SAVE IT TROPHY goes to the city of Reno for last Thursday's maddening, simulated, elongated freight train traffic blockage. What if a real disaster had happened while they were staging one? P'tooie.

HIP-DEEP WADERS GO TO WATERGATOR BOB WOODWARD, who has been rich and famous far too long. His latest dishonor to Hillary Rodham Clinton was a flat out lie. In order to publicize his new book, Woodward or his promoters allowed a story out that made Mrs. Clinton look like she had been hosting seances at the White House. This got everybody talking about Woodward's book, a classic case of what I call Tumbleweeds journalism. One of the running gags in T.K. Ryan's comic strip involves the title character always shunning the unwanted attentions of the local spinster. One day, 'Weeds is standing in front of the Grimy Gulch Bar when the newsboy from the Desert Denouncer runs by.

"Extra, extra, read all about it. Tumbleweeds to marry Hildegarde Hamhocker."

Mr. Weeds immediately goes to the newspaper's wacko editor. "Why did you print that story about me and Hildegarde?"

"Because it's news boy, big news," said the newsman.

"But it's a lie!"

"That ain't news."

The current edition of JFK Jr.'s George Magazine, the one with actress Demi Moore fully dressed as Martha Washington on the cover, features an in-depth story on Woodward that you may find disturbing. Was the death-bed confession he said he obtained from CIA Director William Casey a work of fiction? Does he manipulate and betray confidential sources, like the widow of comedian John Belushi? Read the piece by author Robert Sam Anson. It will change your perspective and maybe even send you spittoon shopping.

A CONSPIRACY THEORY CERTIFICATE goes to Bill Clinton, currently up to his keister in elephant gnats about those infamous FBI files. Look at the facts. Exactly 23 years ago last week, John Dean disclosed the existence of a Nixon White House enemies list. The U.S. Postal Service just started selling the James Dean stamp. Coincidence? I don't think so.

THE HONOR THY FATHER GOLD WATCH goes to the gambling-industrial complex, the industry with a heart of gold (cold, yellow and hard). The closure and planned demolition of the venerable Sands Hotel in Las Vegas is a sign of the times. George Levine, a Sands waiter since the early 1960s, was among the legion let go. The 71 year-old son of Russian Jewish immigrants got his plum position when it was really a prize worth winning. He scored a job at the home of the legendary Rat Pack "where, on any given night, a lucky working stiff might catch a c-note from Sinatra himself," according to my Las Vegas colleague in columny, John L. Smith. Levine used his earnings to send two daughters to college. "The Sands was more than a steady check for many of its hired help. It was the place, where, for example, Levine watched his daughter, Shelley Berkley, climb from weekend buffet waitress to vice-president of government and legal affairs," Smith wrote. She also won a seat in the Nevada State Assembly and currently serves on the University of Nevada Board of Regents.

Vice-president Berkley got to fire her own father. And that was the spits.

MORAL OBTUSENESS PRIZES. Forward a whole case of Golden Spitbugs to the Airport Authority of Washoe County for its long tradition of degrading women. Take authority board member Glenn Carano, best known as the football player with the rich and powerful casino owning dad. As my colleague in columny Dennis Myers recently reported in the Reno News & Review, former UNLV and Dallas Cowboy quarterback Carano said, "I don't know for a fact, but it seems to me that most of our problems in personnel tend to come from the female side as far as potential lawsuits."

He allegedly made the statement at a meeting boycotted by the board's two female members because it was held at Lake Tahoe in order to exclude the public. Executive Director Bob White has been disciplined by the board for his angry tirades against female employees and board members. Board member Geno Menchetti said he favors "pats on the head" rather than money to handle female employees of his law firm. Mr. Menchetti, call your office. Bob Packwood dropped off an engraved golden spittoon.

THE WHITED SEPULCHRE SPITBUG goes to the marginally Christian Southern Baptist Convention. These religionauts have come up with the most creative form of anti-Semitism since Hitler's ratings dropped. They want to go out and convert their misguided Jewish brethren. "Hey, Lee Roy, bring the sheets. I got the cross and the gas in the back of the truck." Downward Christian soldiers. You've just won a Spitbug. P'tooie.

P'TOOIE TO THEIR COUSINS, TOO -- the ones currently pressuring Disney to eliminate domestic partner health benefits for its unmarried employees. Remember, true believers, Jesus used his own spittle to heal the sick. Consider your Golden Spitbug award as an attempt to cure your un-Christian bigotry, hatred and prejudice.

THE BOOK OF JUDGES: Rookie Washoe District Judge Janet Berry gets a juicy gilded p'tooie for her cockamamie decision gutting Nevada's open meeting law. The news media, with the probable notable exception of the Reno Gazette-Journal, will now take the case to the -- aargh! -- Nevada Supreme Court. Our Supremes are notorious for their belief that what the public doesn't know can't hurt anyone.

Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer apparently went to the Justice Cliff Young School of Criminal Law. What do you do with a guy convicted of trying to induce little girls into his van with $100 bills? Probation, says she. Hooey says we. P'tooie, too.

HOPIN' FOR OPEN: Maybe us muckraker types make too big a deal about all these closed meetings, cozy caucuses and clandestinely senseless consensuses. Shouldn't we just trust our elected officials to do the right thing? Nope.

For many years, the Sparks city council deliberated in secret then treated us to endless unanimous, non-debated decisions. The local news media praised the new spirit of unity and harmony on the formerly fractious body. Fortunately, all those guys were lampooned, harpooned, spittooned and eventually dis-elected. Spitheads.

A GOLDEN GOOSE FOR THE MORALLY OBTUSE: A gannet (single-t) is a goose. With two t's, it's the name of the largest newspaper corporation in the country, owners of the Reno Gazette-Journal, whose position on the propriety of closed meetings led to Judge Berry's nutty gutting of the state open meeting law. Keeping unpleasantry quiet seems to be a corporationwide disease.

Gannett CEO John Curley, who makes about $30,000 a day, twice cut off 13 year-old stockholder Laura Ellis at the company's annual meeting last month. Ms. Ellis first tried to ask former first lady Rosalyn Carter, a longtime Gannett board member, when the company would allow her father to go back to work. Mr. Ellis is on strike against Gannett's Detroit News. She was reduced to tears after being censored a second time.

Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Rollan Melton also sits on the corporate board. The Motown newspaper strike is shaping up as the 90's version of the 1981 air traffic controllers confrontation. Why do I get the feeling that the corporate ethics of ValuJet will eventually win? P'tooie.

GOOSE GREASE: Our neverending grief at the hands of BigOil continues. A consortium called the Automotive Trade Organizations of California recently alleged that "unofficial reports from seaport terminal employees claim imported gasoline is being bought up by ARCO, Texaco, Shell and other majors. Employees even claim they've been sternly warned not to talk about it or ever confirm to anyone that conventional fuel was shipped out earlier this year..."

Well over 90 percent of western U.S. gas is refined from California and Alaska crude. No phony international crisis could impact it. Yet, we in the west have been paying the highest prices in the country. Whether or not the trade association sources are correct, there has never been a western gas shortage this year. Big Oil corporate propaganda isn't worth spit, but shines a lot of media. P'tooie!

Your juniper trees can survive spitbugs just fine, although a garden hose will make you feel a lot more comfortable about walking near them during spitting season. For those spitting mad about pesky mites and stronger blights on the body politic, try the ancient remedy. I believe it's still called voting.

Nighty night. Don't let the spitbugs bite.

Be well. Raise hell.


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Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past four years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.

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Copyright © 1982-2012 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 43-year Nevadan, editor of and; and former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, He is producer of Nevada's annual César Chávez Day celebration and serves as first vice-president, political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail

Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in those parts ever since. Tempus fugit.

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