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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of August 20 - 26, 2003

Opinion Columns

That ol’ demon—government

Commentary by Pat Murphy

When politicians with shallow intellects and empty programs fail to excite voters, they try one last thing.

They run against "government" as if it were a living, breathing evil menace.

It’s a dicey strategy, however. Not all government is the demon they claim: Government is even attractive enough for hypocrites to join and slurp at the taxpayer trough.

Government subsidies with taxpayer funds for industries that support them, for example, are dandy. So, too, are huge government contracts for industries in their congressional districts. Likewise government tariffs on foreign products that threaten hometown industries.

But the most consistent and pervasive dirty blame-word in politics still is "government."

Now we have another spectacle of what happens when demonizing of government is complete--the paralyzing blackout affecting 50 million Americans on the East Coast and in the Mid West last week that wasn’t supposed to happen, as well as the outrageous Enron rip-off that were born of anti-government deregulation and an end to aggressive government oversight.

Thoughtful energy experts have been pleading for years to modernize the nation’s transmission grid system and provide a uniform set of standards for operations and maintenance. Because hundreds of companies now involved have differing standards, America’s electric grid has the appearances, as some critics complain, of a backward Third World system.

For two years, a step toward modernization and regulation has been languishing in Congress because (a) some congressmen believe each state should have the authority to set standards and (b) President Bush wants authority to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, as if to suggest oil is connected to transmission of electricity.

As for states regulating the grid: imagine the utter nonsense of states individually creating a crazy quilt of standards for aircraft design and safety, or states individually deciding standards for homeland security.

Yet, the interstate nature of electric distribution is no less a federal matter than homeland security and aviation administration, and in fact is far more a federal homeland security matter than arming airline pilots.

Tragically, the consequences of small-minded, petty political congressional dithering on regulating the nation’s electricity grid could be catastrophic.

Should a terrorist sabotage a weak link anywhere in a system widely known for its vulnerable links, and power failures swept across the nation, a national disaster would ensue--vital functions to sustain and protect the country would collapse, not only interrupting commerce but causing unconscionable loss of life due to fuel and food shortages, shutdown of water systems, crippling of transportation, to cite just a few consequences.

Multiply last week’s blackout a hundredfold. Multiply the broken oil pipeline in Arizona and the sudden shortage of gasoline several thousand times over.

Yet, while the country’s vulnerable electric grid system represents a major security weakness looking for a disaster, the demonizers of government regulation are working furiously on constitutional amendments with even more heavy-handed authoritarian federal policing powers--outlawing gay marriages, criminalizing flag burning and prohibiting abortions.

For the moral zealots, first things first.



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