February 6, 2011


I work for an electrical utility. When I first started there, in the late 70’s, we were taught about the separability and redundancy built into the system, which was designed by cold war engineers. Each region had its own generation, subtransmission, and distribution components, and could be operated as a separate entity. The regions were connected at a high level for efficiency and redundancy. Not true today. No one wants generation plants anywhere near, so they are far away and out of mind. I remember standing on top of a mountain, looking down and seeing the fragile thread of the transmission lines across the desert. The strongest impression I had was one of vulnerability. We still have a comparatively robust system with a fair amount of redundancy at lower levels. But like the rest of our infrastructure, much of the system is old and overloaded. Solar panels and high speed rail won’t solve the problem. We need a national program to rebuild our infrastructure, combining people who are willing to sweat and get dirty with the most effective of the new technologies we have developed. In the meantime, I just remembered that I am overdue for maintenance on my portable generators…

Yeah, we’ve pinched pennies by reducing robustness. That’s a poor practice that produces rotten results.

UPDATE: Reader Jeffrey Hollister writes:

If Obama back in ’09 had used the gazillions in ‘stimulus’ funds for an FDR-style plan to rebuild roads, bridges and the power grid, the actual work on the associated projects would probably be going into high gear right about now. Between the skilled jobs directly generated and the multiplier rate of those jobs, the unemployment rate would be heading downward without the need for statistical hocus-pocus; state and local governments’ balance sheets would gradually be repairing themselves through added tax revenue; and Obama himself would be a prohibitive favorite for reelection next year, even without the assistance of his MSM sockpuppet corps. But rebuilding the country and stimulating the economy (the real one, not the public-sector hog trough) was never Obama’s objective. Has everyone forgotten Robert Reich’s call to congressional Democrats to make sure they keep stimulus funds out of the hands of ‘white male construction workers?’ Just in case anyone HAS forgotten, here’s the video…

Yes, and the feminists wanted to be sure that the money didn’t go to white male construction workers, too.

Last November, President-elect Obama addressed the devastation in the construction and manufacturing industries by proposing an ambitious New Deal-like program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. He called for a two-year “shovel ready” stimulus program to modernize roads, bridges, schools, electrical grids, public transportation, and dams and made reinvigorating the hardest-hit sectors of the economy the goal of the legislation that would become the recovery act.

Women’s groups were appalled. Grids? Dams? Opinion pieces immediately appeared in major newspapers with titles like “Where are the New Jobs for Women?” and “The Macho Stimulus Plan.” A group of “notable feminist economists” circulated a petition that quickly garnered more than 600 signatures, calling on the president-elect to add projects in health, child care, education, and social services and to “institute apprenticeships” to train women for “at least one third” of the infrastructure jobs. At the same time, more than 1,000 feminist historians signed an open letter urging Obama not to favor a “heavily male-dominated field” like construction: “We need to rebuild not only concrete and steel bridges but also human bridges.” As soon as these groups became aware of each other, they formed an anti-stimulus plan action group called WEAVE–Women’s Equality Adds Value to the Economy.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), the Feminist Majority, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and the National Women’s Law Center soon joined the battle against the supposedly sexist bailout of men’s jobs. At the suggestion of a staffer to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, NOW president Kim Gandy canvassed for a female equivalent of the “testosterone-laden ‘shovel-ready’ ” terminology. (“Apron-ready” was broached but rejected.) Christina Romer, the highly regarded economist President Obama chose to chair his Council of Economic Advisers, would later say of her entrance on the political stage, “The very first email I got . . . was from a women’s group saying ‘We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.’ ”

No matter that those burly men were the ones who had lost most of the jobs.

Or, you know, fixed things like electrical grids. The feminists won. So the money went elsewhere, and we got . . . er, what did we get, anyway?

MORE: A reader emails: “In the past, many utilities maintained a 60-90 day coal inventory at the power plants. Now I’ve heard that some state regulators have forced the utilities to reduce their inventories in order to keep rates low. As low as thirty days.” So if coal shipments are delayed by weather, etc., that could be a problem much sooner than in the past.

MORE STILL: Reader Dan Harlan writes: “As much as I would like to blame Obama for not doing anything about the sorry state of the American power grid, I have to give credit where it is due. The Bush administration did nothing after the northeast regional blackout in 2003, which should have been the wake up call for the entire country. I don’t know why anyone is surprised about the lack of any real stimulus in the so-called stimulus bill. The main problem with Keynesian Economics has always been the fact that governments do not spend money for economic reasons, they spend it for political reasons.”

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