Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Peace, Love, Flower Power
Some years ago there was a movie produced called Network. One of the characters, a TV newscaster, Howard Beale, said, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more”. He called on his viewers to go outside and shout that slogan in unison, partly as protest, partly as catharsis. In due time he got millions of his viewers to stand outside and chant that slogan. It brought people together in a common cause and it announced their message to the powers that be. He claimed that getting mad was the only answer to their many problems.

In the spirit of that film we, the residents of Saipan, could do something similar. Now we could go outside and vent our anger and frustration about power outages but everyone is pretty much doing that already with no success. So I suggest we try something in a positive vein. We could go outside at noon tomorrow and shout out “Keep trying CUC, we know you can do it !!”. Why might we want to do that instead of continuing to carp? Because as individuals we are helpless to do anything about it short term except give moral support to those trying to get the job done. (Unless you are a billionaire philanthropist and want to donate a power plant). There are long term solutions we citizens can help with but shouting revolutionary slogans will not get the job done.

Several people have written or spoken recently about how CUCs woes have been caused by poor management, bad planning etc. and are not the fault of the day to day workers, the linemen or the plant workers or the secretaries in their offices all of whom simply take their orders and carry them out as best they can. They too go home to find they can’t cook dinner or finish their homework because the power is out. They too are in the middle of a shower or ready to flush about the time the lights dim and go out. I agree, and what’s worse it can’t be easy to keep up employee morale in a place where the prime mission, delivering reliable electric power and water, is not working too well (okay is failing miserably).

Lack of money, lack of a coherent plan, lack of leadership, skyrocketing petroleum costs, lack of training, engines and delivery infrastructure worn out from wear and neglect. This is the mantra we’ve all heard chanted repeatedly as the cause of the electric power emergency we find ourselves in today. Collectively, they are the reason you can’t watch TV tonight, or make toast tomorrow morning.

So how do we get out of the mess? Marching, suing or shouting in frustration isn’t going to help. The temporary solution they are trying now is to rent some reliable generators and use that power to try and tide us over until the main engines can be repaired. I’m sure they would rather just go down to the generator store and order up a new power plant but our credit card is maxed out and the cash in the till won’t even pay current expenses, not to mention make a major purchase.

Maybe we can get Uncle Sugar to help us out. Maybe we could get the US military to help us out. Maybe we could apply for a loan at the World Bank or the IMF or the Asia Development fund or Household Finance Company or from Sam the Shark. The thing is, if we had that help in hand right now, today, it would be two years down the line before we saw new engines or a new power plant or new alternative energy producers shining in the sun. Unless we can get the Electric Power Fairy to wave a wand over Lower Base and fix it all overnight, the strategy of using a temporary patch on the flat tire of power generation seems the best solution short term.

Once the temporary generators are in place we need to work like the dickens to fix those broken main engines so the power can stay on while other plans are made. Meanwhile we need to develop a long range plan of action and decide once and for all what direction to go in the future. Maybe we could order three of those new generation nuclear power plants, one for each island. Maybe we could convert to coal like most of the rest of the world uses. Maybe we should opt for more of the same and buy a new petroleum based power plant even in the face of rising fuel costs. There are other alternatives too, but the point is we need to look at the options and make a firm decision and then carry that plan out if we are ever to really solve the power problem that stares us in the face. To get there at all we need to go to the private sector to get the job done and not rely on the government anymore. The alternative to planning and execution is to get used to cooking over a wood fire and going to bed at sunset.

Why bitch when it accomplishes nothing? Let’s get on the ‘we’re behind you’ bandwagon and give as much support to the hundreds of hardworking CUC employees as we can. These Worker Bees are all that stands between us and the real world of lives without electricity right now. We and our businesses and institutions have evolved too far and gotten too soft to live without it anymore.

Getting mad about it may have worked in the movie mentioned above but here in reality land we just need to help all we can, plan the best we can and then execute our plan without quitting. Divesting CUC from its government overlord is the first step in the healing process. As we have seen, you can’t legislate your way out of the problem and you can’t cure it by executive fiat. Let’s approach the problem like grown ups, responsible for our own actions.

In closing I will relate what my 4 year old said just after the power went off the other night. Standing in the yard shaking his fist at the sky he said “____ing CUC !! (expletive deleted). It seems that the outage interfered with Pooh while he was explaining math skills via DVD. When the power went off, so did my son. I can’t imagine where he heard such language.

Quote of the week: "Government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way." -- Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

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