Fascinating and depressing article in the February 24, 2012 issue of The Week magazine called "When Cold Kills - The frigid Maine winter, says Dan Barry, can turn lethal when the fuel oil runs out." This article originally appeared in the New York Times earlier this year.
The article focuses on Robert and Wilma Hartford who had recently moved into a poorly insulated house outside of Dixfield, Maine. Robert was a former stone mason who had traveled the country applying his trade and skills. However, Robert (age 68) now has a bad shoulder and Wilma (age 71) needs a wheel chair. They survive on $1,200 a month and have received about $360 in heating assistance. Because of their financial situation, like others mentioned in the story, they are not financially able to switch to more efficient, less expensive forms of home heating, locking them into their current financial duress of increasingly expensive oil home heating.
Even though it has been a relatively mild winter across the country, it still gets pretty cold up in Maine. Unfortunately, with rising heating oil prices, a fixed income, and health issues, this has placed a severe financial hardship on the Hartfords. The story revolves about their struggle to heat their poorly insulated home and the compassionate heating oil supplier that wants to help them but has already extended over $700 worth of credit in previous oil deliveries with little hope of ever recovering that money.
The heating oil supplier wants to help, he is a decent and compassionate human being, but he also needs to run a profitable business if he wants to stay in business. The story describes how this supplier is so torn up by the problem that he is under a doctor's care for stress.
The story goes on to describe how some Maine residents are keeping warm. Some sit in their idling cars with the car heater at full blast to warm up and then rush into their bedrooms and get under the bed covers. They buy portable, and more dangerous kerosene heaters, and hope they can afford kerosene. They look to their family and churches for help.
The Hartfords now have to heat their home by turning on the electric stove and burners and hope to spread what little heat they can get from that source throughout the house with a small fan. They ran their clothes dryer hose back into the basement to utilize the heat coming out of the dryer to keep their basement pipes from freezing. This obviously begs the question that if they do not have the money today to pay for home heating oil, will they have the money next month to pay for what is likely to be a very high electric bill from running the stove and clothes dryer to generate heat.
And in the most heartbreaking part of the story, Rober Hartford shows up at the heating oil supplier's business and offers to trade the title to the family car for a delivery of heating oil.
Part of the problem, according to the article, is that the Obama administration and Congress have cut the government subsidy for its energy assistance program. They have made it harder to qualify for Federal energy help and they reduced the amount of help available, on average by about 40%, from $804 to $483. This 40% drop is more impactful when you consider that the average price of heating oil is up $.40 or about 12% over the past year.
Now, I have never been a fan of large government bureaucracies, mostly because they are wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective. They tend to be corrupted from day one and never deliver on their promise. However, that does not mean there is not a place for a program to help Americans in need of a little help. And certainly, keeping people warm is such a program.
It has always been my theory that if government and the political class stopped doing a lot of things very badly and focused on just a few major things, and did those few things well, we as Americans would be way ahead of where we are now. We are the wealthiest country in the world, we should be able to do a much better job of feeding the hungry and warming the cold. Isn't it a shame that we do not?
Isn't it a shame that the Obama administration spent well over a billion dollars on an unnecessary and un-Constitutional military excursion in Libya? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today of Obama had obeyed the Constitutional and our laws and not inserted us into the Libyan conflict.
Isn't it as shame that politicians like Obama continue to host campaign fund raising dinners that cost anywhere from $35,000 to $70,000 per person to attend in these hard economic times? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today if our priorities were changed so that we spent $35,000 on home heating assistance rather than on one lame dinner with one lame politician?
Isn't it a shame that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives and employees received millions of dollars in government salary bonuses for operating two of the most dysfunctional enterprises in the history of America? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today if those unnecessary bonus payouts were put back into the energy assistance program.
Isn't it a shame that the U.S. Navy spent over $300 million to build two ships, the USNS Benjamin Isherwood and the USNS Henry Eckford, that it never used, simply built them and than junked them? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today if the military did not waste hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars on unnecessary armaments?
Isn't it a shame that the Obama administration and Washington political class allow anywhere between $60 and $90 billion a year of Medicare resources to be lost to waste and criminal fraud activities? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today if the Federal government knew how to run an efficient, effective, and less expensive Medicare program.
Isn't it a shame that the Obama administration and the Washington political class allow anywhere between $30 and $40 billion a year of Medicaid resources to be lost to waste and criminal fraud activities? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today if the Federal government knew how to run an efficient, effective, and less expensive Medicaid program.
Isn't it a shame that the Obama administration and the Washington class allow about $70 billion a year of Social Security resources to be lost to waste and criminal fraud activities? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfords might be a little warmer today if the Federal government knew how to run an efficient and effective Social Security program.
Isn't a shame that the Obama administration, the IRS, and the Washington political class fail to collect over $300 billion worth of taxes a year from tax evaders? Think about how many Americans like the Hartfordss might be a little warmer today if the IRS actually collected the taxes it is supposed to collect.
Isn't it a shame that the Obama administration and its cronyism pals has wasted at least hundreds of millions of dollars in failed alternative energy investments in companies such as Solyndra, Everygreen, Spectra, Beacon, Tesla, Fisker, and other companies who had strong ties to major Obama election campaign fund raisers? Think about how many Americans might be a little warmer today if the Federal government stopped wasting taxpayer money in markets it has no clue about.
Isn't it a shame that the Federal government wasted well over $400,000 in a NYC fly over three years ago to take a picture of the Statue Of Liberty, a picture that could have more easily and much more cheaply been created using Photoshop? Think about how many Americans might be a little warmer today if that $400,000 could be diverted to heating assistance.
Isn't it a shame that billions of taxpayer dollars will likely never be recovered because of the unnecessary financial bailout of General Motors and Chrysler? Think about how many Americans might be a little warmer today if that unnecessary bailout had not occurred and the auto companies went through the regular bankruptcy proceedings?
Isn't it a shame that Nevada Senator Harry Reid gets Federal funding for the annual Nevada Cowboy Poetry contest? Think about how many Americans might be a little warmer today if that funding went to helping out truly needy Americans rather than a poetry contest?
Isn't it a shame that audits of the Housing and Urban Development Federal organization show that it wastes or mishandles about $4.5 billion a year? Think about how many Americans might be a little warmer today if HUD actually knew how to operate efficiently.
Isn't it shame that Federal politicians divert about $16 billion a year to their campaign fund raisers and political campaign conributors under the guise of "earmarks," that serve no purpose except to help incumbent politicians remain in office? Think about how many Americans might be a little warmer today if those earmarks refreshed government energy assistance programs rather than refreshing another term in office for a politician.
Okay, you get the idea, we could go on and on about similiar situations of waste. We have allowed our politicians to skew and distort our nation's priorities, feeding taxpayer wealth into this cesspool of waste, criminal fraud, personal political gain, and inefficiency while people like the Hartfords try to barter the family car for a little heating oil. Disgraceful.
Again, I have never been a fan of large, ineffective government programs. However, that does not mean I am so uncompassionate that I do not realize there is a need to help those less fortunate within our society. We need government and politicians to focus on a much smaller but much better set of higher priorities than what they do now: they currently focus on nothing and halfheartedly try to execute a much wider set of low priorities.
This approach to governing has gotten us into the mess we have today. And this is also why no American, rich or poor, should see any increase in their current level of taxation. The political class in this country does not deserve access to any more of our wealth, they already have too much access and waste far too much of it on behavior and programs like those listed above.
A famous line from the movie "Animal House" goes like this: "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." For the President and those sitting in Congress, I would revise the line to read: "Smug, wasteful and impotent is no way to run a country." Not when you waste hundreds of billions of dollars a year while some Americans cannot get warm.