CHRIS POWELL: Eversource repays hysteria; and the spirit of liberty fades

Published on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 23:51

Congratulations to Eversource Energy for scaring the daylights out of Connecticut residents upon the approach of Tropical Storm Henri, warning that two-thirds of them might lose electricity for as long as three weeks. The company was preparing people to be glad if they just escaped with their lives and never got electricity again.

Of course, the storm weakened and changed course enough to spare Connecticut the severe damage that Eversource terrified people about. Only a few percent of the company's customers lost power and most got it back in a day.

Along with its hysterical warning, Eversource said it had recruited more supplemental repair crews from out of state than ever so the company might be more prepared than ever. As it turned out, many of the crews were diverted to Rhode Island, where damage was worse.

But Eversource may be somewhat forgiven for its hysteria, since it was a response to state government's own hysteria last August following Tropical Storm Isaias, whose winds were underestimated by forecasters and did more damage to Connecticut than any storm in many years. As a result repairs to the electric grid last August were painfully slow and Eversource and United Illuminating were faulted for poor coordination with municipal officials.

After last August's storm government officials couldn't just blame the trouble on the difficulty of predicting the weather. For the great virtue of life in Connecticut is convenience, and the power outages last August caused almost unprecedented inconvenience. People were angry, and blaming the weather satisfied no one. So government officials blamed the utilities and eventually even fined them for their supposed lack of preparation.

This time the weather's changeability worked in Connecticut's favor and the electric companies were overprepared. As Governor Lamont said, overprepared beats underprepared, and most people were relieved.

But an electric utility's preparation for a storm will always be a judgment call, susceptible to mockery by nature, and overpreparation, however satisfying at first, will have its own costs. Eventually many of those extra out-of-state crews will show up in Connecticut's electric bills.

Electric companies are convenient scapegoats in politics, which is why few elected officials who complain about them ever propose that government take over the electricity business directly, eliminating the buffer of a regulatory agency.

State government admits that it isn't properly maintaining its transportation system. Despite ever-increasing appropriations, Connecticut's schools have been declining as well. The electrical system is more complicated technically than those two others. So people who can't manage the transportation and school systems well may be doubly glad they don't have to manage electricity, too.

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In his great speech in 1944 Judge Learned Hand declared that "the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure it is right." But according to a poll reported last week by the Pew Research Center, nearly half the country – 48% – wants the government to start censoring "false" information.

The poll found 65% of Democrats favor censorship while only 28% of Republicans do. Democrats used to be the party of free speech and Republicans the party of repression. But now Democrats hold the presidency and Congress, politics is more bitter than ever, and power still corrupts, even faster these days.

So who is to decide what is false? That will be decided by the people in power – people with names like Johnson, Nixon, Bush, Trump, and, yes, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Putin, Xi, Kim, and Khameini, for censorship is the essence of totalitarianism.

Of course, imposing censorship in the United States would require subverting the First Amendment. But this has already started under President Biden.

Constitutions, laws, and courts aren't enough to preserve liberty, Hand warned. "Liberty," the judge said, "lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it."

If the Pew poll is right, almost half the country has lost the spirit of liberty. Can the other half save it?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 23:51. Updated: Wednesday, 25 August 2021 23:53.