Out in the cold again *UPDATED*

The Baron and Bill Jempty have done a good job of covering the natural gas crisis in Europe precipitated by the Russians in an attempt to recapture the bullying power of their old Soviet Union days. But there is currently another winter fuel crisis much closer to home:

Citgo pulls $100M in oil donations to Citizens Energy

Joe Kennedy announced yesterday he’s laying off 20 employees and temporarily halting most of his winter fuel-assistance programs due to Citgo yanking $100 million in support for the nonprofit Citizens Energy.

Citgo, owned by the Venezuelan government led by leftist loudmouth president Hugo Chavez, recently informed Kennedy that it was “temporarily” suspending its oil donations for the low-income program.

Kennedy, who was clearly distraught by the unexpected decision, said Citgo’s move is apparently tied to the recent dramatic fall in crude-oil prices.

Hundreds of thousands of needy Americans in 23 states and on Indian reservations will have to go elsewhere to get heating fuel, because Citizens no longer has the resources, Kennedy said.

Actually when I read this headline, my first thought was, Gee, don’t the Kennedys have money? Don’t they care about the poor? I’ve known plenty of people with a lot less than the Kennedys who shorted their own paychecks or used their savings or put their investments on margin or mortgaged their homes when their businesses hit hard times. I’ve had to make those kinds of sacrifices too. It’s hard for me to believe that a few phone calls to family couldn’t raise at least $10 or $12 million in emergency funding to keep the doors of Citizens Energy open and provide immediate assistance until the company could find new funding sources and secure new oil contracts. But that’s a topic for another post.

Right now, I’m more interested in the enormous gamble of allowing Hugo Chavez to provide 90% of the fuel delivered by the organization. If you are a small business or a sole proprietor with limited resources, sometimes you have to make compromises like that. But at the same time, you keep working leads, because it is simply too risky to stake the welfare of your company on one contract.

What was Joe Kennedy thinking? Were no domestic oil companies willing to participate? Or was the gap between Kennedy and Chavez closed by the illusion of a common interest, namely “sticking it” to the Bush/Cheney-led “system”?

The Citgo funding from Chavez was, I think, primarily designed to be a slap in the face for George W. Bush — “Hey look, we’re an ‘evil Communist’ nation, yet we’re helping to keep your poor, whom you obviously care nothing about, warm during the winter.” At the same time, Joe Kennedy probably thought he was bridging the philosophical gap between capitalism and communism and working for the common good … all while shaming Bu$hCo, which was too busy wallowing in oil profits to notice the plight of the poor. If you don’t like Republicans, such an arrangement probably looks like a winning strategy.

But, as the expression goes, reality bites. Communists generally have little interest in relationships with outsiders unless they are the major beneficiaries. Hugo Chavez no longer has the luxury of spoiling Americans with free fuel oil. Right now Venezuela is on the verge of a serious financial meltdown. And since he won’t have George W. Bush to kick around any more as well, Chavez has probably found it necessary to re-assess his priorities. Rich American do-gooders obviously no longer make the cut.

Perhaps out of spite Barack Obama should appoint Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg Ambassador to Venezuela. Would Hugo Chavez let her back in?


UPDATE: Apparently Hugo Chavez changed his mind and will continue the heating oil shipments to Citizen’s Energy. Joe Kennedy praised the decision and noted “President Chavez’s genuine concern for the most vulnerable, regardless of where they may live.” Which is interesting since, as Captain Ed points out, Chavez has allowed the electric power grid of Venezuela to essentially fall apart, thus endangering the lives of the poor in his own country.

The Obvious, Overdue
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