Voices From Street Corners (Vol 23): The Great Blackout & Other Thoughts

Thursday September 8, 2011 began like any other day. It was a wonderful afternoon. But, around 3:30 PM everything all of sudden changed when I noticed power going out.

At first I thought it is something temporary. As I tried to call out on my cell phone and did not have any signal, I figured something was just not right. When I happened to have a signal, I picked up the phone to call Laguna Niguel City Hall to see whether they had heard anything since I could not get through to San Diego Gas and Electric. When the City Staffer noted that the blackout covered almost all of San Diego and had impacted North Laguna Niguel, then I knew it was really serious. When she also told me that they found out about it through the internet, then I started to really be concerned.

I will admit that my initial thought was that somehow there was a terrorist incident. I could not help it because of the relentless campaign of fear that began back in 2001 with that horrible day. The nation was told of credible threats that supposedly originated from Pakistan. There was an immediate annnoucement from Homeland Security about the fact that it was not a terrorist incident.

Anyway, I had to manually get out of the garage to get some matters tended to. As I was “in town” I saw the near chaos. Although I was handicapped, I managed to get a few emails out to key contacts to make them aware directly. Just like millions in Southern California, I was “dead in the water”. I tried to get to a few Wi-Fi Hotspots–but they were all overflowing. I went out to the Local Albertsons and they had run out of Ice. As I was trying to get a sense of what was going on, I asked two Sherriff’s Deputies of their sense of how things looked. When they told me that they did not know and it might get ugly, my only reaction to it was: Wow!!!

In the meantime, I noticed that my gas was “near empty”. So, I had to somehow find a gas station to get gas. Half the gas stations in town were shut down.  The others had quite a line!!! I ended up driving down towards Laguna Beach. I wish I hadn’t because the entire stretch of Pacific Coast Highway was dark.   I turned around and headed back up North on Crown Valley. As I drove up, I nearly ran through the junction of Club House and Crown Valley because it was so dark. I think the Almighty somehow saved me because I frankly don’t know what would have happened if I had crossed that intersection in the near chaos on Crown Valley.

I did manage to get into the local 76 and got filled up.  But, as I was filling up, I saw people filling up Gas Canisters gearing up for a long haul. It was kind of amusing, but scary at the same time. In a way, I was horrified as I drove back up towards my place. As I drove up,  the scene of half of the City being dark was creepy. As I got back to my place, I tried to get a sense of it all. I could not believe when I got this brief  overview from a friend who works for Southern California Edison:

“…..I hope that this email finds you all in good spirits and doing well. Due to the power outage last night in most of South Orange County, the power grid is still being worked on and some of you are not able to use/receive email.

The outages were triggered after a 500 kilovolt (kV) high-voltage line from Arizona to California tripped out of service. This transmission outage cut the flow of imported power into the most southern portion of California. The California Independent System Operator Corporation (CAISO) has issued a transmission emergency. Which sometimes will make your phone-lines and cell phones, very weak in signal but just know that 82% of the grid is up and running….”.

Although everything was back to normal by Mid-Day on Friday, the implications of this outage was widespread. This, of course, led me to think about whether our communities were truly prepared for a major emergency. The short answer to that was absolutely not. Beyond that, I thought about the vunerability of our Grid and the state of our infrastructure today. If a simple flip of a switch can cause such havoc, what will happen if a true calamity befalls us? What is absolutely critical to underscore is that critical infrastructure in the United States is in terrible shape–and this notion that somehow the marketplace will make things better is a wonderful fantasy that can be only possible in the make believe world of Ron Paul and the rest of the Republicans who are vying for the Presidency.

As I thought about the day after, my thoughts yet again drifted away to Washington, Kabul and Baghdad. This was the weekend that we remembered all those brave souls who perished on that horrible day. We also remembered all Americans and others who had given their lives in this quest. We also needed to remember all those Iraqis and Afghans who also lost their lives as well. Just within the past 24 hours, 4 Afghan police officers died as a result of the brazen attack by the Taliban in Kabul. Furthermore, attacks by insurgents in Baghdad resulted in horrific deaths targeting civilians. It was, to say the least, shocking.

America has spent some 1.2 Trillion Dollars prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is as the Country’s economy is not producing jobs. This is as the Republicans in Congress continue to press their agenda of no taxes and spending cuts on the Country. What is unfortunate to observe is that such policies have been pursued for the past 30 years since Ronald Reagan became President. Yet, the Gap between the rich and poor has grown to be a ever more and the top 1% control more than 90% of the wealth of the Country. Yet, all the Republicans tell us is that they wish to impose more of the same so that they can, as the Office of the House Speaker Put it: “….to  discuss the need to liberate America’s economy by removing government barriers to private-sector job growth – the focus of the Republican Plan for America’s Job Creators. The House has already passed more than a dozen jobs bills focused on eliminating obstacles like excessive regulations, the threat of tax hikes, and Washington’s job-crushing spending binge, but most are stalled in the Democratic-led Senate. To see them, visit Jobs.GOP.Gov and click “Track Legislation.” The Speaker is slated to make a speech tomorrow to push his agenda through.

The blackout prevented south OC residents from hearing the President’s Jobs Address to a joint session of Congress. Click on the image below to see the video of President Obamna’s address.

President Barack Obama delivers an address on jobs and the economy, Chuck Kennedy, 9/8/11

As this tug of war continues, the people on Main Street continue to suffer and seem to have been forgotten. The acriomony and mistrust is absolutely sickening. This is as I see a Congress that is absolutely committed to doing one thing and one thing only: making the Country ungovernable until elections next year. When I see stories about Tom Coburn holding up nominations, Richard Shelby Vetoeing Fed Nominations, Judges not be approved and other obstructionist tacits, I cannot help but wonder. The President could not even put Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Protection Bureau because of such static in the Congress. She’s now running to challenge Scott Brown for Ted Kennedy’s Old Seat.  Interestingly enough, Scott Brown has been out of the limelight for a while.

Despite all the doom and gloom, though, I was still hopeful as I had the privilege to attend the 9/11 remembrance event at Crown Valley Community Park in Mission Viejo. I saw a community that came together to remember and be thankful for all that we have been blessed with. Will such spirits prevail in Washington? I wonder…….