Friday | August 15, 2003
Lightning strikes! Davis reanimated?
by RonK, Seattle
At this writing we do not know whether to blame lightning, Bill Gates, Osama or Canada. We do know the Northeast power grid tripped and took a hard fall yesterday. The resulting blackouts will shed fresh light on California's recall election ... and could even bring embattled Gov. Gray Davis back from the political dead!
Last night was Davis's first good news day in months. Inquiring anchors groped through the whats and whys of systemic collapse, and Davis graciously received on-air plaudits from former Energy Sec. Bill Richardson and others. The more media looks into the Great Blackout, the better Davis's track record will look.
In 2000 and 2001, Texas energy traders -- including Dubya's closest cronies -- adopted explicit schemes to create power shortages and hold California for ransom. A White House Energy Task Force -- led by Dick Cheney and cheer-led by George W. Bush -- ran active interference for the energy banditos, while western ratepayers and system managers couldn't get on Cheney's calendar.
California Republicans adopted an explicit strategy of exploiting blackouts to destroy the despised Gov. Davis, and crowed about it on chat boards as the crisis deepened: use blackouts to break Davis, and use Davis to break the Democrats.
Back then, an earthquake 3,000 miles from Sac'to saved Davis's political scalp. Vermont's Sen. James Jeffords switched from R to I. Control of the Senate changed from R to D. FERC commissioners -- with Senate confirmations pending -- read the writing on the wall and instituted emergency "don't call them price controls" price controls ... and the "California Energy Crisis" was history.
No more blackouts ... no more price spikes ... no more panic buying ... and (exactly as some of us predicted) plenty of power to go around.
Davis had been right all along -- but the damage was done. In diffuse public consciousness, the finger of blame followed Davis ... even as the body of evidence pointed conclusively in the opposite direction. Months of extortionate pricing left California (and other western states) tens of billions of dollars in the red. Regulators and courts found against the banditos, but did little to make ratepayers whole.
Davis was left holding the budgetary bag, along with the vague, lingering impression that he coulda-woulda-shoulda done something more, or less, or different. (The crisis was no accident, and neither was this persistent impression -- reinforced by perpetual repetition repetition repetition of Mighty Wurlitzer propaganda.)
Now, a lightning strike 3,000 miles away may have saves Davis's political scalp.
Lesson #1: The lights can go out without Gray Davis being anywhere near the switch. More lessons will follow an extensive, high profile post-mortem of the greatest Great Blackout in history.
Post hoc analysis will cast light on nationwide deregulatory erosion of the entire power grid's margin for error. It will remind us that relying on markets alone to equilibrate electric supply and demand is fundamentally irrational. This in turn will put the energy banditos, their ill-gotten billions, and their closed-door meeting with Schwarzenegger and his pals back in the spotlight.
It's a long story. It's a long way from over. When it's over, Davis -- by a simple twist of fate -- may be the last man standing.Posted August 15, 2003 08:10 AM