Well, obviously, it's Canada's fault. We should invade. Or, at least, take this opportunity to say really mean things about them while their computers are out.

Here's a hot tip for you -- after the blackout in the Northeast is over, there will be a few companies who will have won, big time. Top of the list is RadioShack (NYSE:RSH). Need a battery, go to the Shack. Need a flashlight? Flashlights and batteries galore come from Energizer (NYSE:ENR). For these companies, the blackout created a second Christmas. Good thing RadioShack no longer requires putting your life history into a computer before you buy anything.

The list of companies for which the blackout is an economic disaster is long. The airlines and the power companies, neither of which have had a good go of things lately, are obvious victims. MGM's (NYSE:MGG) casino in Detroit went dark for the first time since it opened in 1999 -- not that Thursdays are big nights for the house. Ford (NYSE:F), GM (NYSE:GM), and their suppliers reported massive shutdowns in the Detroit area. Retailers, restaurants, you name it... last night, they were all dark. Of course, many of these companies have business interruption insurance, and as such the insurance companies, which had been blessing their lucky stars through 2003 for the lack of large-scale disasters, have just seen their streak come to an end.

We're going to see a tremendous amount of blame over the next few days and weeks. Not like my blame Canada farce, but real finger pointing. But here's a news flash: Just like in California -- where ridiculous plant siting and approval processes kept any large-scale power generation from being built for a decade before the 2001 crisis -- people in the industry have known for years that the Northeastern power grid was at risk but could do nothing about it. The culprit in this case is good old NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard. No one wants to have high-tension transmission facilities built near them, and in the densely populated Northeast, any facility built is by definition going to be built near someone.

The economics of electricity is a very tricky thing. Companies must have enough capacity on hand to handle not only the highest peaks experienced in the past, but what they think will happen in the future, even with plants and other facilities taken offline for periods of time. Facilities that are designated as "peaking power" generation can stay offline more than 90% of the time, and yet must be kept ready to go into service at once. The cost to do this can be substantial, and yet it is entirely necessary, as we discovered in California, where insufficient capacity and bad regulation created the environment that invited disaster. And disaster they got.

Utilities used to be looked upon as the safest of investments. Between deregulation, power trading scandals, and lower credit ratings, we can see clearly that this is no longer the case. As long as the utilities are left to deal with the gross patchwork of local regulations and restrictions, even if they have the foresight and financial wherewithal to prevent such disasters, they will not be allowed to fix the problem.

You want to blame someone for your long walk to a dark home yesterday? Start with the thousands of litigious neighborhood associations and work your way up.