Monday, November 21, 2011

The Gift of Gas

Tearing your hair out this holiday season wondering what to get for that indigent family member who is so hard to buy for? You are in luck! With government home heating assistance programs getting slashed and electric bills rising and a third of all American families now classified as poor or near-poor, your friendly local power company has come up with a brilliant solution: keep those cut-offs at bay, the Christmas lights twinkling and the home fires burning with a utility bill gift card!

No need to buy another cheap Chinese sweater to stave off hypothermia for the shivering Grandma subsisting on a meager Social Security check. This year, instead of her turning down the thermostat to 50 so she can eat, she can stay warm as toast and even see what she's doing as the lights stay on while she mails in her prepaid gift card with her utility bill.  

This is definitely a win-win-win-win proposition. First and foremost, the utility wins. It gets paid early -- before it provides even a single kilowatt of electricity, or one cubic foot of gas! Just think of how happy the investors will be with the added dividends. And if there is any money left over, they'll even be able to toy with the idea of spending some of it on infrastructure improvement, like trimming some trees that have a tendency to knock down power lines during the periodic freak storms that are becoming ever more periodic. Customers left in the dark for weeks may see outages reduced to mere days. Gas lines that are inspected and replaced may reduce neighborhood explosions. Of course, this is optional on the part of the utilities. As with every corporation, the American way is to reward investors first, CEOs second, customers third, and employees maybe. Disasters due in part to poor maintenance invariably come with the price tag of a rate increase.

But back to the gift cards -- according to the marketing, you win too. You have the satisfaction of knowing that your gift will keep your loved one warm and bright. You can even be anonymous. And the recipient wins: he or she will be spared the embarrassment of collection calls threatening cut-off, or the indignity of having to prove imminent starvation and dire penury to Social Service agencies in order to qualify for a one-time government heating bill handout.  And last but not least, the middle-man wins: companies handling the gift card business for utilities will get their generous cut, too. Who said there are no winners in an economic depression?

Utility companies nationwide are facing hard times. Delinquent accounts are reaching epidemic proportions, and most states have laws that forbid them from shutting people off in the dead of winter. Right now, they are forced by the states to simply reduce the wattage to the delinquents until they pay up. In other words, provide just enough heat for survival and enough light so they don't trip and break a bone. But if they reach for that remote and attempt to watch TV?  Zap! You cannot have poor people enjoying themselves in the middle of a depression, even during the holidays.

At least one utility company is even marketing its gift cards for those hard-to-shop-for affluent family members and friends who have everything -- but who still "might appreciate a little help with their energy bill." What a relief. Now I know just what to get for Mayor Bloomberg.  I can imagine the way his eyes will light up when he receives his $10 Con Ed gift certificate from an anonymous fan. It'll bring back fond memories of the day he froze out Zuccotti Park by first confiscating the OWS generators and then completely bulldozing down the tents.

Mr. Warmth


Anne Lavoie said...


'How To Start A Revolution' is an award winning documentary that will be shown on Current TV tomorrow night at 9pm Eastern time. It is about Gene Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institution. Gene is the world's leading expert on strategic, nonviolent action. To view the trailer, go to

There is also a helpful list of 198 non-violent actions at

Or simply check out the website at

Elizabeth Adams said...

@ Anne: Yes, a great site! I printed out the list of 198 and handed it out to our local Rebuild the Dream group and it is up on our web site as well.

Valerie said...

I have been totally impressed with Captain Ray Lewis. Thanks so much Neil for bringing him to our attention. I just saw this really enlightening interview with him on YouTube. The quality of the film isn't great but this guy is really wise - and talk about integrity!

It is an interview worth watching. You can also listen to the Chris Hayes interview - which seems to be a lot about Chris, a human golden retriever, and not so much about Ray Lewis - but it will introduce you to Captain Lewis if you haven't seen it yet.

Denis Neville said...

What Would Vannevar Blog asks “Do You Need A Weatherman?”

“It's bad enough that we're radicalizing Pakistanis. We shouldn't be radicalizing our own people.” “You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

“Are We All Black and Palestinian Now?”

“Is it possible that after 50 years, the abuse of the minority becomes so accepted that, under stress, the power structure extends it to the majority? Does the military training, equipment, and mindset given to once-civilian police departments after 9/11 accelerate the trend?”

Kat said...

Bloomberg says "quick! lookie over there-- a terror plot!" So, of course we were treated to the particulars of this pathetic plot (so pathetic that even the FBI passed on it!) by the faithful stenographers of our mainstream media.

Anne Lavoie said...


Great comment.

Also, NYC probably has a bigger budget than the FBI. I heard awhile back that their anti-terrorism budget was bigger than most countries. So I guess they have to use it or lose it.

Everyday we are seeing more of the real power centers revealed and where so much of the money is going. Astronomical tuition increases for riot police? Vice Presidents for Finance and Business? (Penn State scandal)

Unrelated I guess, but it was interesting to hear Hillary gripe that there are more members of military marching bands than State Department employees.

What a warped country.

Valerie said...


I think it is really a sign of the times that utilities are offering gift cards and that people are buying them. Instead of Christmas being about getting that little extra something a person wouldn't normally give him/herself during the year (I am getting a blender this year!), it has been about just trying to survive. I have no doubt an older person of limited means would welcome a gift card. I hadn't really thought about the fact - until you brought it up - that this is a sly way for the utilities to get money upfront. I, also, hadn't realised that they couldn't just cut a house off in the dead of winter for non-payment of a bill - thank God for that. I had a friend in Seattle who worked for the electricity company there. She said huge corporations were regularly in arrears on their bills - by as much as six months. She told me their bills were so high that it was more profitable for them to use the money and get the interest on investments than to pay their bills. So, I guess some poor people should get the same perks. It was her job to bug the big companies to pay. It is telling that she had a full time job doing this.

I DO worry about this sell off of the utility companies to private corporations. I was just having this discussion with a university friend. The corporate culture has changed so much. People used to want to build a business to pass on to their kids. Now they just want to build it to sell it for a quick and big profit. I fear that this is the fate of the public utilities if they are sold into private hands. No one will authorise the maintenance - it will be all about holding on to it just long enough to sell it further down the road for a profit. I expect there will be more and more terrible "accidents" due to low maintenance.

Just for comparison - my husband smelled gas outside our next door neighbour’s house last autumn and called the gas company. They were at our house asking question that same afternoon and the problem was fixed within a day.

Neil said...

If your indigent family member has a coal-fired furnace, you could just put a lump of coal in their stocking, and skip the gift card altogether. With the number of coal-fired power plants in New York, perhaps Ebenezer Scrooge-Bloomberg could get some coal and hand out lumps to senior citizens in the Christmas spirit. According to the Times, Coal Is Returning to Home Furnaces

Neil said...

Thanks Valerie. As Ray Lewis said, the undercover cops look to take out the group’s leaders. And watch out for the white shirts, the bosses. Great video.