On the Other Hand...

by Jim Davies

$250,000 Looted During Ice Storm


The Great Ice Storm of '98 broke a lot of trees, downed a lot of cables, and presented the Pols hereabouts with a rare opportunity to boast. And boy, were they satisfied with themselves! On one local radio show soon after it ended, a Town Chairman and a former Selectman and an Emergency Director spent a whole hour in an orgy of complacent self-congratulation. Isn't government great, at breaking our legs, handing us a crutch, then telling us how vital they are?

True, they did find some time to thank the real heroes of the Storm - the PSNH people who put everything together again in appalling weather, and the volunteers who checked on their neighbors to see if they needed help. Those folk are the salt of the Earth; but they'd have gone to work whether the politicians asked them to or not.

They said nothing however of any substance about why the storm caused so much disruption, or of what was the actual significance of the declared "Emergency", so I thought today to make good on some bits of those very large omissions.  

Why the Mess?

Nature placed an inch-wide cylinder of ice around each of trillions of local twigs, with the inevitable result that scores of thousands of branches snapped, of which some fell on roadways. That much came from the freak storm, and would have disrupted traffic until the fallen limbs could be plowed aside. Such a storm hits only a few times per century, and such relatively infrequent inconvenience seems a fair price for living in these delightful surroundings.

But this one went far, far deeper than that as we all know, and the reason is that electricity comes to us through overhead wires. WHY?

We could have gotten by without Cable TV (some say, better than usual.) We could have gotten by with overhead phone wires; only a few were put out of action (Bell Atlantic reminded me that they power them up with only low voltage and so do not switch off just because a wire hits the ground) and anyway the cost of CBs and cell-phones is low enough to do without them if we want to prepare for a possible cutoff. But electric power is much less dispensible; in-house generators are not at all cheap, and power still comes over head instead of under ground. THAT is why we had all the chaos.

Power companies, here as elsewhere, have enjoyed a monopoly for most of this century, and that's at the root of why they don't bury their cables. If they had faced ordinary, free-market competition, some of them would long ago have solicited business with the claim "We bury. You'll get fewer power-outs here."

But government has everywhere outlawed such competition, and the Pols have taken nice kickbacks for that favor, and so we have all had a choice of one. The folk at PSNH are hard working and helpful, but that Company's directors have been hand-in-glove with government throughout living memory, and THAT is why you and I shivered without power; to compete is verboten!

Burial of power cables would not add much, if anything, to the price per KWH. Everywhere in Europe that I've visited, they go underground as a matter of course; only very rarely do they appear on poles, for example to serve an isolated cottage. Yet in some parts over there, the cost per KWH is less than in New Hampshire! Most probably, if competition were allowed here, the economies each vendor would make in the face of his rivals would be enough to absorb any such extra cost without hiking prices to us customers.  

The "Emergency" Scam

The political device known as a "State of Emergency" is quite a different animal from the actual emergency, whatever it may be. Rather, is is a way to suspend some of our rights in the alleged "public interest" (have you noticed, whenever the Pols want to repeal or suspend your rights, it's always "for the public safety"?) and to cause a transfer of money they find advantageous.

Take for instance the rather affluent town of New London.

A spokesman for its government placed the cost of handling the storm at over $250,000, and said that the State of Emergency would enable it to recover that unexpected cost without the strain of having to raise taxes. I'm not too clear who declares it (Governor Shaheen?) or how it applies to this Town or that, but what is very clear is that it's a way for local Pols not just to steal money from their own residents (which might cost them votes) but to plunder it from residents elsewhere (which can cost them none, since those victims can't vote locally.) So it's not hard to understand why Pols stand ready to declare one at the jerk of a knee: looting, always evil, is made totally risk-free.

New London's quarter-million estimate included the cost of accommodation for repair workers in the elementary school, which I'd have thought would have stood upright whether occupied by them or by schoolkids. So as well as the basic act of theft involved there was maybe some quite creative accounting.

Worst of all, that Town's Fathers decreed that all access roads would be closed to non-residents for three days, to "prevent looting"! I tried to go there to buy food from a store I knew to be open, and sure enough, State Route 11 was blocked off by men with guns. I wasn't carrying a gun, so I didn't argue. Exactly how this outrageous interference with basic travel rights ties in with the State of Emergency, I'm uncertain; but what I can see is that New London is ruled by a bunch of two faced hypocritical thugs. From one side of its face the Town told non-residents to KEEP OUT, while from its other side it told us, as above, to PAY UP. Real looters looted imaginary looters.

Such looting is inexcusable whatever the wealth or voter-status of the looters and lootees. But since New London has a per-capita income well above the average, this was a case of tax money going UPHILL, from poorer to richer. Come to think of it, though, that's how most of your tax dollars usually flow...

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