Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Winter Cold Brings Financial Misery To North

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Winter has only just begun and already many in the middle class are struggling with record high fuel bills. Congress cut fuel aid even as they cut taxes paid by the energy giants. I see a political blizzard in the future here.

From the NYT:
The cost of natural gas heat, already high, has risen 50 percent since last year. Home heating oil prices are up 30 percent. What that means for the larger economy will be divined by economists.

A hint of what it portends for the average person, though, is apparent in early indications from offices like Suffolk's.

"We have more people applying for help, and more of them are in a higher income group than we've seen before," said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, a group of 50 state directors in charge of administering a federal home energy assistance program that offers one-time-per-winter cash benefits of $100 to $500.
Those paltry benefits were set ten years ago under Clinton and record cheap energy. Few people needed it and it covered 100% of energy costs for the very poor.

It hasn't been raised since and of course now $500 pays less than a quarter of the costs. The buying frenzy, fueled nearly entirely by cheap loans running for less than the rate of inflation, is dying because credit card companies are nearly all across the board raising rates to 20-30%. This is not cheap money, it is usurous. I suspect last weekend's shopping frenzy was the last gasp, people counting pennies to buy ridiculously cheap luxury items. Now we will all hunker downa and desperately figure out how to survive this winter.
All were applying for help through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or Liheap, though no one was exactly low income. All, as it happened, would be turned away for having incomes that exceeded the strict federal limits - $41,616 for a family of four, or $28,296 for a family of two.
These Federal standards are silly since living in high-cost communities means someone on these incomes is really very poor, for example, if rents or taxes on properties are high like in the Northeast.
Elected officials from cold weather states have pushed hard for substantial increases in financing for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provided about five million people with benefits last winter.

Those efforts, however, have so far failed to bring an increase from last year's allocation, which was about $2.2 billion. Governors and lawmakers say about $5 billion would be necessary to meet the needs of the six million eligible people expected to apply for aid this year.

A parallel drive to impose a windfall-profits tax on energy companies, which have reported record profits, has also stalled.
Lieberman, a man whose first country of choice is Israel, recently toured Iraq and said our hideously expensive mess there is going just fine. All the Democrats are of divided loyalty, wanting money from various religious or business special interests like the military/industrial complex clowns, and so they support this ruinous war while pretending they are agast we can't muster the money to spend a measly additional $3 billion to keep Americans alive!

The GOP is totally toxic. They make no bones about who they really serve: the Pope in Italy, the Japanese government, and big big business. So they love this ruinous war. I would suggest we levy a 100% profit tax on money above the profit levels of two years ago on the big oil companies! Then we can easily afford to heat Americans this winter.

Like Chavez in Venezuala is offering us. From NPR:
So, record profits for oil companies, on record high oil prices. The Senate defeated a proposed windfall tax on those profits -- a bill that President Bush had threatened to veto such a bill. Time for Mr. Bush's nemesis -- Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez -- to get into the act. Chavez has renewed his offer to send discounted heating oil to America's poor. Venezuela's CITGO Petroleum says it will distribute the cheap oil next week, through community groups in Boston and the Bronx.
Can we switch Presidents? We get Chavez and they get Bush? Well, that would be terribly cruel.

How about we ship Bush to Iraq? He can run that place. I remember the right wingers here in America celebrating the attack on oil rich Iraq. "Oil will be cheap," they crowed.

"Never ever, when there is a war, is oil cheap," I cautioned. Well!

America tried to overthrow populist Chavez and replace him with oil toadies owned by our oil companies. This failed spectacularily and we are still reaping the crop from that mess. This is why Bush was viewed as a comedy character in South America. His trade initiatives were thrown back into his face.

Well, we need to rethink our energy systems and our way of living. I live in a solid house with an elegant passive solar energy system that requires little heat thanks to pushing air around from warm parts of the house to the colder parts. Most homes have been built with no regard to the sun, the rain or any elements. We build huge towers that need to gobble up tons of energy to maintain habitability. We ignore nature and think we can burn our way to happiness.

Our gas guzzling has brought this crisis upon our own heads. Now our auto industry is dying, our weather system is raging, note the high winds and violent storms, this month, a record number of tornadoes, heck, just this most recent storm which is about to hit me, the winds are howling already, has killed people with tornadoes and raging fires that run ahead of it, very violent, the isobars at 988 yet again like the previous three tornado laced storms! This is hurricane levels! There is no ocean push so the damage isn't as great as hurricanes, but only barely. Many travelers are trapped by blizzards in the Midwest and it is still only November. I fear this will be a violent winter just like we had a violent summer.

The sun was very active this summer and fall and we are still dealing with the energy it spat at us back then. This is what greenhousing does: it contains solar energy and winds it down via violent storms!

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