Politics, The Economy

During my seven hour odyssey returning home to Jackson Heights from midtown Manhattan (nearly an 8 mile journey), I was fortunate enough to run into some very helpful people. There was the mother who helped me find a phone book (initially I thought I might stay with a friend in midtown), there was the West African guy who was driving to the Bronx but offered me a lift to the 59th street bridge (after getting stuck in traffic at 42nd street I ended up walking from there to the other side of the bridge in Queens), there was the Chinese guy who gave me a lift as far as 60th street and Queens Blvd. where his car ran out of gas (I walked home from there), there were people directing traffic, and people handing out much needed (free!) water along the way. Thank you!!!

But then there were all those people in air-conditioned cars who had nobody sitting in the back seats. There were also the cars that were offering rides for money. And there were the vendors who jacked up prices so high that I couldn’t afford to buy water (the ATM machines weren’t working and I had only $2 in my wallet). Pardon my cynicism but it is in this latter spirit that I interpret Bush’s remarks from yesterday about how we need to modernize” the nation’s electrical system. Why so cynical? (As if you need to ask!) Because this is the same administration which responded to the California energy crisis as an opportunity to help their friends at Enron by pushing further privatization:

In spring 2001 the lights were going out all over California. There were blackouts and brownouts, and the price of electricity was soaring. The Cheney task force was convened in the midst of that crisis. It concluded, in brief, that the energy crisis was a long- term problem caused by meddling bureaucrats and pesky environmentalists, who weren’t letting big companies do what needed to be done. The solution? Scrap environmental rules, and give the energy industry multibillion-dollar subsidies.

If anyone still thinks privatization is the best way to modernize” the system, please read today’s NY Times Op-Ed piece by Robert Kuttner:

But deregulation hasn’t worked, for three basic reasons. First, there is a fairly fixed demand for electricity and generating capacity is tight, so companies that produce it enjoy a good deal of power to manipulate prices. …

Second, the idea of creating large national markets to buy and sell electricity makes more sense as economic theory than as physics, because it consumes power to transmit power. …

Third, under deregulation the local utilities no longer have an economic incentive to invest in keeping up transmission lines. …

Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, and former Secretary of Energy, also has an op-ed in today’s times. He says:

We learned from the 1996 blackout in the West that operators of the transmission grid need to communicate better. Such coordination can be best achieved if a single operator, independent of utilities controlling power plants, is established to control the grid for a region. Such organizations can also help a region accommodate the additional need for power within the grid.

… States must recognize that the regulatory commission has an important role to play in ensuring the well-being of the grid and all electricity consumers.

Let’s hope that modernization” is carried out by people like those offering rides and water to their fellow New Yorkers, and not the opportunists with their empty cars and jacked-up prices…

UPDATE: Daily Kos has more on this.

UPDATE: Here is the Blackout History Project!

UPDATE: Here is Nathan Newman, who seems to have written about this in his dissertation.