Saturday, February 28, 2009

LG&E Turns Off Customers

You would think that in these trying times, a publicly owned utility company would be a little more consumer friendly and understanding. Well, apparently not at Louisville Gas and Electric in Louisville Kentucky. For years, the local utility company allowed slight modifications in payment dates since the typical customer is paid on the 15th and last of the month while the bill is always due on the 28th of the month. By simply allowing an additional 2 or 3 day “grace period”, customers get their bills paid on time. But that’s all changed.

The utility company recently sent out a notice to its customers that effective April 1st (appropriate though I presume unintentional), there will be no more grace period because of a change in their billing system. The bill is due on the 28th and it’s late on the 29th. And that means paying a late fee (which, as readers of this blog know, is a form of corporate tax on citizens). That means, through no fault of their own, the average customer could find themselves being penalized for something that is not only not their fault, but the result of changes being made by the company (it's like being fined for a crime someone else committed).

In an effort to try and reach some reasonable solution, my wife phoned customer service at LG&E to see if there was anything we could work out. After all, I doubt my employer (or anyone else’s) would agree to change my pay dates to accommodate LG&E’s billing department. While the conversation was reasonably polite, the customer service representative all but acknowledged that this was one of her employer’s dumbest ideas. Still, there was nothing she or anyone could do about it. However, if you were receiving “brown notices”, which are letters threatening to turn off the electricity, they would be willing to work with you on your payment dates. Huh?

Simply put, if you’re trying to pay your bill in full and essentially on time, they can’t help you. If you’re late because of how you are paid, sorry about your luck. It’s a strike against you and to add salt to injury, they tack on a $20 late fee. However, if you can’t pay your bill, they can work out a payment plan with you that will fit your needs. Maybe it’s just me, but where’s the logic here? Shouldn’t they be a little more accommodating to those who can and are willing to pay their bill? Are we, the average working class Joe and Jane, being penalized for trying to do the right thing? Well, it would certainly seem so to me. By the way, I understand that our formerly “One Great Newspaper”, the Courier Journal, is going to be doing the same thing. I suspect this will simply result in a further decline in subscriptions, which will ultimately send newspaper to the archives of media past. I look for the local water company to try this gimmick as well. The result for each will be more late payments (of course, the upside for them will be more late fees for their coffers) while we could end up with black marks on our credit while we juggle our checkbooks ever more perilously.

I would urge readers to contact LG&E and urge them to stop penalizing their customers and reinstate the grace period to accommodate how the average worker is paid. You can reach them through their link at: You can also reach them at (502) 589-1444 or (800) 331-7370 if you live outside Louisville.

The Obama Effect
By Roland Laird,
Author of Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans

During a recent segment on an ESPN sports show, Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers was being interviewed by one of the show's reporters. As the hour wound down, the in-studio host asked Mr. Iguodala, "Why did you do the interview outside? It's so cold, and you're not even wearing a hat." Iguodala replied, "Hey that's how President Obama did it -- in the cold with no hat. I have to step it up."

Iguodala then went on to mention how excited he was about President Obama, and that in his hometown (ironically, Springfield, Illinois), the test scores for Black males have gone up since President Obama was appointed to office.

The ad hoc interview responses of a Black athlete are far from a testament of Barack Obama's impact on the Black Community. They do, however, point to a state of mind -- at least in some sections. For instance, I've gotten a significant number of emails from people recapping their Inauguration Day experiences. All were upbeat and ranged from how proud they were to be Americans, to this occasion being the first time they'd ever seen their father cry. In the same vain, barbershops are reporting a resurgence of the "caesar" cut that Obama wears, although now it's being called an 'Obama'. There is even a humorous comic strip making the rounds that speculates 5 years from now, the first day of school in the Black Community will have scores of children with names like 'Obamalita Jackson' and 'Obama Taylor', to name a few.

I'm clearly stating the obvious by saying the emergence on President Obama has had a positive impact on the mood in the Black Community. A cynic could legitimately say that good feelings can only get you so far, but I think the cynic would be missing the point.

One of the major issues in the Black Community is the negative and stereotypical reporting of the news. I'm not a big news watcher, but whenever I sample it there is a preponderance of my people being reported as criminals or crime victims. Every now and then there are "feel good" stories, but those stories are far outweighed by the ruinous and painful stories I mentioned. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that Barack Obama's Presidency has changed the texture of the nightly news for the next four (hopefully eight) years. Night after night, the news will report on a Black man who also happens to be the most influential and powerful person in the world. In tracking the impact this will have, the closest thing I can think of is the impact Muhammad Ali had on young Black boys like myself in the 1970's. Ali stood tall, and spoke without any equivocation. He was Black, he was proud; but more importantly he was a man of his time.

Now Barack Obama is not the outspoken, pull no punches man that Ali was, but he doesn't need to be; he is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. When he speaks, no matter the amplitude or intensity, people have no choice but to listen. Just as Ali impacted people like me to be proud of who I am and to pull no punches, President Obama casts an image of dignity and grace under pressure. He too is a man of his time, for in these boisterous days, seeing a Black man exude a quiet strength, day after day, and night after night will over time bring civility and decorum into sharper focus in our communities. Seeing a Black man express his anger with dignity and without "cursing people out" in the most pressurized of situations is a positive that I look forward to seeing.

Again, the cynics will see little to no value in any of this. But the parent raising a child in the inner-city or the burbs knows this value implicitly. The school official that sees young Black children being heckled at assemblies after being given awards for excellent academic achievement knows the intrinsic value of President and First Lady Obama.

Now this is not to say that the cynics don't have a point to make. There is a good deal of blind hero-worship of President Obama; and the fact that he is the President of all America by definition means that some of his decisions may not be pleasing to us. When the going gets particularly tough and he needs to raise approval points, he may even decide to take the "Bill Cosby" stance of blaming low-income Black people for some of the problems that confront them. When Obama is wrong or we disagree with him, we have to voice it. There's no denying that fact.

Being President of the United States is the toughest job in the world. But like most jobs, the proof is in the pudding. If President Barack Obama is able to turn the American Economy around and loosen the grip of partisan politics, he will be viewed as an excellent president. A Black man demonstrating excellence on a daily basis, in the highest office in the land, will bolster our ambitions; and equally important, it will soften the stereotypes of black people that still infect much of American society. If a cynic can't see that bolstered ambitions and the erosion of stereotypes are a major impact on the Black Community, then I only have one question: What impact would a McCain Presidency have had on our community?

Author Bio
Noted African-American entrepreneur Roland Laird, co-author of Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, is co-founder of Posro Media, a Trenton, New Jersey-based company that produced the comic book series MC Squared: A Man With a Serious Game Plan and the syndicated comic strip The Griots. The company has worked and continues to develop a number of animated and documentary projects for film and television.

Poll Results

I asked you in our last edition if, given the opportunity, whether you would join a union or not. 47% of you said you were looking for that union card while a significant 35% said not a chance. The remaining 17% needed to think about it. While I am a supporter of organized labor, I can understand why some folks would oppose unions. They’re history has, sadly, not actually been stellar over the years. While much has changed for the better, employees need to be better aware of the abuses by management and what steps that can be done to protect them. To borrow liberally from Lord Acton, “Capitalism tends to corrupt. Unrestricted capitalism tends to corrupt unrestrictedly; especially if you’re management and no one is watching over your shoulder”. Thanks for voting!

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