Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Saturday | August 16, 2003

Blackout? What's the big deal?

I have to admit some bemusement as I watched the nation "rocked" by the blackouts the past few days.

I grew up in war-torn El Salvador in the late 70s, and spent a lot of time there through the height of that nation's civil war in the 80s. Blackouts were a part of life. No biggie. Between an antiquated third-world power grid and guerilla sabotage, such blackouts were common. Everyone knew to have flashlights, kerosene lamps, matches and candles handy for such eventualities.

Here in the US, however, you'd think the world ended. Granted, it sucked for people stuck in elevators and the subway, but otherwise, it really wasn't a big deal. Essential services (like hospitals) were on generators, and for everything else, about the worst that could happen was food spoiling in the refrigerator. Not the end of the world.

Yet now we'll be facing congressional hearings and all manners of grandstanding theatrics over a single blackout. It's no wonder the rest of the world thinks Americans are soft. We are.

So I've gotten a chuckle at stories of smart-ass Iraqis lobbing zingers our way.

"It's not in Iraqi nature to be happy when someone is suffering, but I thank God for allowing them to see how we live," said Leith Tamimi as a power generator hummed in a menswear shop. "I saw Americans on TV and they were enraged. If they were enraged after two days without power, how do they think we feel after four months?"
They have had little to intermittent power in 120 degree temperature since the war ended, and Bremer tells them to shut up and be happy they have "freedom". Many in the rest of the world didn't shed any tears either.

Nor am I.

Update: On the other hand, this, from Greg Palast, is damning.

Enron circled California and licked its lips. As the number one contributor to the George W. Bush campaigns, it was confident about the future. With just a half dozen other companies it controlled at times 100% of the available power capacity needed to keep the Golden State lit. Their motto, "your money or your lights."

Enron and its comrades played the system like a broken ATM machine, yanking out the bills. For example, in the shamelessly fixed "auctions" for electricity held by the state, Enron bid, in one instance, to supply 500 megawatts of electricity over a 15 megawatt line. That's like pouring a gallon of gasoline into a thimble -- the lines would burn up if they attempted it. Faced with blackout because of Enron's destructive bid, the state was willing to pay anything to keep the lights on.

And the state did. According to Dr. Anjali Sheffrin, economist with the California state Independent System Operator which directs power deliveries, between May and November 2000, three power giants physically or "economically" withheld power from the state and concocted enough false bids to cost the California customers over $6.2 billion in excess charges.

It took until December 20, 2000, with the lights going out on the Golden Gate, for President Bill Clinton, once a deregulation booster, to find his lost Democratic soul and impose price caps in California and ban Enron from the market.

But the light-bulb buccaneers didn't have to wait long to put their hooks back into the treasure chest. Within seventy-two hours of moving into the White House, while he was still sweeping out the inaugural champagne bottles, George Bush the Second reversed Clinton's executive order and put the power pirates back in business in California.

New York got hit by the same market "deregulation" forces, enabled by Bush and his fossil fuel energy cabal.

I'm thinking RonK's analysis of the blackout and its effect on the California recall election is spot on. This may very well save Davis' goose. Note how Palast essentially provides Davis with the seeds of his first commercial:

Californians have found the solution to the deregulation disaster: re-call the only governor in the nation with the cojones to stand up to the electricity price fixers. And unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. Gray Davis stood alone against the bad guys without using a body double. Davis called Reliant Corp of Houston a pack of "pirates" --and now he'll walk the plank for daring to stand up to the Texas marauders.
From scapegoat to hero? With all the twists and turns of the California recall, is this so improbable?

Posted August 16, 2003 09:57 AM | Comments (94)


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