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Following Tragedy and Action: War Vet Freezes to Death in Home, Dems Hold Hearings

chicago dyke's picture

For once, I don't actually mean this title to be all that snarky. The man is dead, nothing can change that now. Hearings can be a first step to prevent future, similar deaths. The point I'd make is that there's something deeply wrong with allowing power companies to shut off people's homes in the dead of winter. I know corporate profit is God in this country, and all must submit to its needs, but then again, once upon a time we called power companies "regulated public utilities" and understood that in civilized society, allowing poor people to freeze to death simply because they are poor is, you know, barbaric. From the MI Dem Party Press Secretary via email:

LANSING – State Representative Jeff Mayes (D-Bay City) and State Senator Jim Barcia (D-Bay City) today called for a review of the tragic death of Marvin E. Schur, a 93-year-old World War II veteran, who froze to death in his Bay City home after Bay City Electric Light & Power placed a device on his home to limit his electric use.

"I am shocked and saddened by this tragedy," said Mayes, Chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee. "Though we're still getting more information, what's clear is that this man's death was entirely preventable. Until we understand this unfortunate situation, we need a moratorium on all electric shut-offs as well as the use of these limiting devices, in order to ensure that this does not happen again."

Schur, who owed more than $1,000 to Bay City Electric Light and Power, had a limiter device placed on his home on January 13 to restrict the amount of electricity that the home can use. If the homeowner uses too much electricity, the device shuts off all power to the home, and needs to be reset. City officials believe that nobody explained the device's operation to Schur, who tripped the device and did not reset it. Schur's body was found January 17.

"Under no circumstances should a person suffer what Marvin Schur did," Barcia said. "We need to know what happened and what we can do to prevent this from happening anywhere in our state, ever again. In the meantime, Bay City Electric Light & Power should suspend all shut-offs and use of regulators for the remainder of this winter season."

Mayes and Barcia have called for a review by the Michigan Public Service Commission to review city shut-off policies and offer recommendations to Bay City in order to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Additionally, Mayes is calling for a subcommittee in the House of Representatives to review policies and make additional recommendations. Mayes and Barcia are also drafting legislation to protect vulnerable citizens like seniors and the people with disabilities during the winter months. Both are working on efforts in the House and Senate that not only would restrict power shutoffs between November and April, but also would ban the use of limiter devices until strict criteria are met that would protect the safety of homeowners.

If I understand history correctly, deaths like this played a large role in getting various New Deal legislation passed. The down side to that comparison is of course that lots and lots of old and poor people had to die, before "hearings" and strongly worded press releases did anything to curb the oligarchic greed that had destroyed the economy.

I don't like all the "should" and "calling for" in the language of this release; I guess higher ups in the party are too busy to make serious hay out of an old man's tragic and preventable death. Or too cowed by the power company. We'll see what comes of this, if anything. But I'll say this: if corporations are allowed to put "limiters" on your power in the dead of winter, they're not too far from 'limiting' other things, even beyond what they already do, for the crime of being poor.

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pie's picture
Submitted by pie on

Just evil. I read about it yesterday. I hope the outrage leads to some kind of solution.

I guess he was expendable as far as the bottom line is concerned. No one cared enough to help. There are too many like him out there.

I don't know how some people sleep at night. I really don't.

TonyRz's picture
Submitted by TonyRz on

The extra evil part is that anyone in Bay City trying to decide between paying their power bill and some other one this month is NOT going to keep the power company waiting after this.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

The irony of all of this is that in my part of Michigan, both of the utilities that cover my area have policies that they don't do shut-offs in the middle of winter. There is no state-level consistency. Hopefully, that changes.

BTW, Vastleft did a story on this, yesterday. But, please do be sure to display the proper and appropriate amount and tone of outrage for Sarah, okay?

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

before posting this, i knew someone had put it up. but i thought you all would want to see the official Dem response in this state. afaik, the rethugs are silent on it. it's illustrative of the remaining differences between the two parties here, and goes against the idea that "there is no difference." of course, hearings that lead to nothing are barely a distinction worth noting, but with a little pressure, the hearings could lead to something needed in the state as a whole, as you note. thanks for finding what this blind morAn could not.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

here at Corrente, and to the spin I read in the original post we had, and contrasting that to the first piece I saw on the story, over at First Draft. So. You live in a place where the utility company is not allowed to cut off the power in winter? Fine. Good for you. Pat yourself on the back. And get out there and make sure that regulation doesn't get swept aside in the name of increasing profit, lowering rates, or saving on taxes, will you? Because it will, if you don't.

The cynicism in that thread, the callous acceptance of death at the hands of spreadsheet merchants, still rankles.

Submitted by lambert on

I certainly don't accept it. I don't think anybody here does. Where are you getting that from?

pie's picture
Submitted by pie on

In Detroit, someone called a hotline a few days ago to report that there was a man's body in an old elevator in a warehouse. He had apparently died several months ago. He was partially encased in ice, and they had to use a saw to remove him. It took repeated calls by a reporter to get someone to come.

Near Detroit, another man was found dead in his truck, his door open. They think he may have suffered a heart attack. He lived in the truck and had been dead a few days. His two dogs were found starved to death nearby.

This is the America in which we live.

No, Sarah. No one is making a joke about any part of these incredibly sad stories.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

but when I came here to talk about it I found a piece already up that had a snarky tone and a cynical spin, and it made me really angry.

I know it's just one story among dozens, if not hundreds, this winter; and I know we came here courtesy of the Ken Lays and George Bushes of the world. But we could at least spend a moment's remembrance, and offer condolences to any families or friends, when such tragedies strike. These people are very real human beings, despite their lack of material wealth or Earthly power.

But we're supposed to be compassionate, caring people, on the Left, are we not?

Submitted by lambert on

We laugh that we may not weep. Think of it as a form of anger management.

The only text that comes close to what I feel is Lincoln's:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of [class] war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash [of debt] shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Updated from slaveowners to spreadsheet murderers.

Neither tactically not strategically, I believe, is this correct. Ahimsa. But I'm a WASP, ya know? The really deep feelings are only rarely expressed. Perhaps this is wrong.

pie's picture
Submitted by pie on

with pain an the tragedy that surrounds us in different ways. You know the people here. They're hardly heartless and cruel. We all look at these awful, sad, unbearable stories and think, "There but for the grace of the FSM..."

Less lecturing and more understanding.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

in this posting at The Great Orange Satan site. The mayor welcomes the investigation, he writes, and he says there will be no more shutoffs.

This winter, at least.

To me, that is perhaps the best we can hope for; we cannot bring back Mr. Schur, or any of the others whose stories were told here. But maybe one of the differences we can make is that no more Americans need die alone, waiting to freeze, for no crime but being poor.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (a McClatchy paper IIRC) also carries this:

City officials are reviewing their procedures and in the meantime have suspended shutoffs and removed all limiters from homes after using the devices for 18 years.

The medical examiner is looking into whether Schur suffered from dementia, particularly after police found enough cash lying around in the home to cover his bills. His nephew William Walworth said Schur told him two years ago that he had $600,000 in savings.

"It’s definitely not a situation where money is an issue. The issue has to do with the mental faculties you have and your ability to make good decisions," said Walworth, 67, of Ormond Beach, Fla.

"For 50 years he paid the bill on a regular basis and never had problems," he said. "If people would know who their customers are and take concern for their customers, maybe they’d go knock on the door and see if everything is OK."