Killing Power

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Marvin Schur of Bay City, Michigan, died a few weeks ago in his unheated home, "just days after the municipal power company restricted his use of electricity because of unpaid bills, officials said." He was 93.

Mr. Schur suffered “a slow, painful death,” said Dr. Kanu Virani, the pathologist who autopsied the body. “Hypothermia shuts the whole system down, slowly. It’s not easy to die from hypothermia without first realizing your fingers and toes feel like they’re burning.” He added, “It takes many, many hours to come to the end.”

A nephew described this retired machinist and veteran of World War II as “a loner, other than his marriage to Marian,” a schoolteacher who predeceased him by a few years. They had no children.

This self-reliant man may have attracted little attention during his life, but his death has sparked outrage nationally and internationally. "Melody A. Roth, administrative technician in the Bay City Manager’s Office, said at 10 a.m. [on January 27] she had taken about 50 calls from across the country and had another 35 voicemails from people angry with the city over Schur’s death. u2018I’ve taken calls from Canada, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Alabama — and that’s just the ones I can think of off the top of my head,’ she said." Remarks bombard websites carrying the story. AOL’s readers took time from lauding the Dear Leader to lament Mr. Schur: his tragic tale landed among the top five "most commented" stories, right up there with "Two-Thirds Approve of Obama’s Start" and "Obama’s Stimulus [sic for u2018Fascist'] Plan Heads to Senate."

Mr. Schur "went through some hard times in the armed services,” according to another nephew. But though he survived servitude to Our Masters, their monopoly of the market for electricity felled him. Mr. Schur owed Bay City Electric Power and Light (BCEPL) about $1100. And so "a city utility worker had installed a u2018limiter’ device to restrict the use of electricity at Schur’s home on Jan. 13, said Bay City Manager Robert Belleman." This gizmo does what its name implies: it limits but does not entirely cut the power. One of Mr. Schur’s neighbors pointed out that it’s "supposed to … allow enough power to run the furnace. [But o]bviously, it didn’t work." The temperature in Mr. Schur’s home had plunged so low that ice frosted the insides of the windows and water in the kitchen sink froze.

Would the State take one nanosecond or two to file charges of criminal negligence against a private company whose equipment failed in such circumstances? Not to mention all the politicians railing against greedy, heartless capitalism — especially since "nighttime temperatures in Bay City dropped to about 5 degrees below zero on each of the four nights after the city installed the limiter."

Never mind weather as brutal as the economy: Bay City’s government is giving these limiters quite a work-out. "Phil Newton, electric department director, said there are about 60 to 70 limiters in use across the city, about three times as many as a year ago. He blames the bad economy, which has left residents struggling to pay their bills. He said the city issues about 50 shut-off notices each week. … u2018We actually have almost two full-time people just dedicated to going around and turning people on and off and putting on limiters. It’s just really bad.’" Thank you, Congress, Bush, Obama, henchmen at the Treasury and Federal Reserve, and all the tycoons stealing $819 billion from folks who can’t even afford heat. Nor is Mr. Schur the first elderly resident to freeze in his own home, even if we limit so horrific a statistic to Michigan: Phyllis Willett of Vicksburg was 90 when she died in December 2007 from frost-bite and pneumonia after her power was cut.

For no reason except that "utilities" were born during the Progressive Era’s love affair with Leviathan, the beast either owns them outright (as in BCEPL’s case) or so heavily regulates them it might as well own them. Either way, it enforces a monopoly. The lack of competitors lets BCEPL’s "commissioners" charge customers whatever they like; indeed, these bozos voted to raise their rates by 3% less than a fortnight after killing their elderly client. Between corporatists craving profits without the hard work a free market requires and politicians craving power, their monopoly deprived Mr. Schur of better service at lower prices. And eventually it killed him.

Imagine his fate were several entrepreneurs competing for the electrical business of Bay City’s residents. Prices would be more reasonable; perhaps Mr. Schur would have kept up with the bills. If he didn’t, his supplier would have resolved the situation long before it reached epic proportions. That’s because companies relying on payments rather than subsidies need every penny and patron. Even New York City’s commercial landlords, "many" of whom "find themselves in a bind because they paid stiff prices for property in recent years and need to cover hefty mortgage payments," are nonetheless cutting deals with tenants in these tough times. "Jeff Gural, who owns 40 Manhattan buildings, said that he has been reworking lease agreements with struggling shop owners to help them stay in business. … u2018If someone can show us that they’re in trouble and they’ve been a good tenant over the years, we try to help,’ he said," in refreshing contrast to Leviathan’s lackeys.

Likewise, you can bet Mom and Pop’s Power would have negotiated with Mr. Schur after his first or second late payment. Would their agreement have heated his home to a balmy 80 degrees? Probably not. But he wouldn’t have frozen to death, either.

Amazingly, the sheeple get it this time. A public that normally blames everyone but the State for its crimes is actually faulting government. The Bay City Times notes that "most" of the 250 readers who commented on its website "blamed the city, some going as far to say the city should be sued, another to say the city manager should resign." It restores your faith in your fellowman to read about the meeting at which the politicians running BCEPL decided to extort their additional 3% — "an extra $21.60 per year" — from "the average homeowner": taxpayers swarmed the "Commission," not to protest this new theft but because they "wanted to talk about" Mr. Schur.

Naturally, being held responsible for their wickedness has politicians in a swivet. And trying hard to deflect liability. First, as they usually do, they blamed their victim. “It’s just unfortunate that this gentleman didn’t reach out,” Mayor Charles Brunner said. “We would have been there. We would have pointed him in the right direction or put him on some sort of payment plan.” Of course you would have, Chuck. Perhaps that’s why a man used to making his own way in the world didn’t come crawling to you for "help." Speaking of the "right direction," how about dissolving BCEPL, selling its assets, and opening the market to all comers? Pronto, before it kills another of its 60 or 70 “limited” customers.

Naturally, Our Rulers also blame us for Mr. Schur’s death. “I’ve said this before and some of my colleagues have said this: Neighbors need to keep an eye on neighbors,” intoned Bay City’s "Manager," Robert Belleman. Duh, Bob. Guess who found Mr. Schur’s body. “When they think there’s something wrong, they should contact the appropriate agency or city department.” Yeah, right. When you see wolves attacking a man, contact the appropriate alpha male.

With Our Rulers tying a big red ribbon around American taxpayers as a gift to their corporate buddies, the death of one old man may seem like just another drop in an ocean of overwhelming evil. But Mr. Schur’s unconscionable agony exposes what the bailout’s financial jargon, complex details and demagoguery disguise: Leviathan’s cackle and claws.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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