A Teachable Moment for Texas?

Here’s a question for you. When the dust (or ice and slush, as it were) settles in Texas, what are the odds the Greg Abbott administration or the Republican Texas legislature will do a dadblamed thing to reform their power system to prevent future disasters?

I’m betting zero. They’ll have some showcase investigations, fire some people, and make some decorative tweaks, and next winter they’ll still have the same old system.

Paul J. Weber and Nomaan Merchant report for the Associated Press:

 As frozen Texas reels under one of the worst electricity outages in U.S. history, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has blamed grid operators and iced-over wind turbines but gone easier on another culprit: an oil and gas industry that is the state’s dominant business and his biggest political contributor.

Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune points out that this electric grid disaster has been costly in many ways:

It could leave a lasting bruise on the Texas exceptionalism political and business leaders like to brag about. What happened over the last four or five days, as the state became the subject of national and international pity and head-shaking, could undo years of economic development promotion, corporate relocation work and tourism campaigns.

It makes it a lot easier on the competition. Who wants to go to a failed state? Sure, there is no income tax. But we’re rationing gas, turning off electricity for millions of households and boiling water so it doesn’t poison us. Austin even closed a hospital and moved the patients when they couldn’t rely on heat or water.

In a hospital.

The light regulation here has been a key part of the business pitch. But the dark side was showing this week in the failures of our basic infrastructure.

If you were thinking of building a technology or manufacturing company in Texas, would you still want to do that, after this week? I think not. But what will the Texas government do?

Next week, temperatures will warm and legislators can take off their mittens and start waggling their fingers at House and Senate committee hearings, a customary act of umbrage and self-preservation that directs our attention to potential bad guys and away from the current and former legislators who set the policies that helped put us in this position. …

… Lawmakers have a fresh chance to decide whether cutting this particular corner, swapping light regulations and low energy costs for the risk of leaving Texans exposed to the harshest winter weather, is worth it.

If the public keeps paying attention, it’s probably not. If the public leaves the details to legislators and the usual crowd of special interests, the state might do what it did last time: Waggle those fingers, write a report and put the matter away until it gets cold again.

That’s how politics works.

This isn’t just Texas. This is the Republican Party. It’s been both parties in recent years, I admit. The Dems were too invested in some notion of glorious incrementalism to do anything useful. But they appear to have gotten over that, for the most part.

Republicans, on the other hand, don’t seem to know what governing is any more. Chris Hayes had a segment last night in which he said that all Republicans know how to do is “performative trolling.” It’s worth watching.

As for Ted Cruz, he isn’t up for re-election for four years. It’s possible he will have rehabilitated his image — such as it ever was — by then. But didn’t it occur to him to, you know, help? “There are a million things that a senator can do in the middle of a disaster,” Hayes said, “none of which interests a politician like Ted Cruz, who sees himself as basically Rush Limbaugh with a Senate office.”

See also Biden is poised to sign a major disaster declaration for Texas at Vox.

16 thoughts on “A Teachable Moment for Texas?

  1. Can the federal government conduct an inquiry this year to factually establish what went wrong and what it would take to prevent it in the future. That's establishing a baseline for comparison to what WAS done. 

    Then can a second inquiry be demanded in early 2022, a checklist (verified) of the status of repairs/enhancements? This isn't telling TX that they are obligated to DO what the energy department says – it's informational to tell the citizens if the State of Texas is leaving them open for just as much pain in the future. 

    If they want to run an unregulated grid, that's no reason to require an uninformed citizenry. Texans have to fix their own government, and if Texas officials can lie with impunity, they will.

  2. When the dust (or ice and slush, as it were) settles in Texas, what are the odds the Greg Abbott administration or the Republican Texas legislature will do a dadblamed thing to reform their power system to prevent future disasters?

    That’s not the issue. We can safely say that Republicans don’t believe in government, or at least government that helps anybody except themselves. They’re incapable of anything else. It’s who they are.

    The issue is whether 1) the opposition can present a credible case that they and government are there to help, and 2) whether the majority of voters will go for it.

    The issue is not Republicans, the issue is how do you get rid of them, or get out from under their rule. If you want to, that is. Lots of people in Texas apparently don’t.

    • I was in the feed store and asked after a bag of oyster shell and the clerk noted that she could not get oyster shell and probably never, ever would again because of gosh-darn new regulations on dredging oyster beds. I related to her that my dad likes to take me to Oyster Bay Washington to kick around and we were talking to a guy who runs an oystering business and he said that they virtually have no more wild oysters… because of the increased acidification of the oceans oyster polyps do not bind with calcium carbonate and they have to grow the oyster polyps in vats inside in the proper conditions and then when they are mature enough to withstand the wild, they are placed into the beds to grow to maturity. He said that he did not know if he would be able to survive in the biz because of the overhead and environmental conditions. I remember that area with piles and piles and piles of oyster shell waiting to be put on rail-cars. I guess not now.

      The feed store clerk was all politics all the time… or just for an easy explanation and I wonder if she thought of there are dwindling resources and that there is actually a reason for not dredging the last oyster bed. She was denied a sale. Foresight, I thought, good public policy. She looked at me as if I was from Mars. I was not being political, just relating a story, but I cannot teach that you don't deficate where you sleep and that being prepared is saving money every time. 

      I went on Amazon and purchased 2x 50lb bags of oyster shell. Free shipping. I suspect in Southeast Asia they are dredging the heck out of the oyster beds for Mr. Bezos.

      I dont know what my point is.  I guess that public policy is dead because convenience is more important and everyone is looking for a quick fix/quick scapegoat.

      • In  other words, people who cannot see past the end of their own noses. These are the ones who want to "own the libs" because we're not so encumbered. Mediocre people have always tried to drag down their betters.

      • I've seen  shortage of oyster shell at the feed store recently. No discussion really. And oddly Safeway has BBQ oysters in the shell on sale this week – which suggests that there's a decent harvest as the $0.99 sale price is the same as it's been the last 7 years at least.


        Re: Texas learning – the professionals that work for technology companies are not going to allow the problem to remain too long. It's a more tractable problem than wildfires – just a matter of hardening infrastructure. Wildfire management pisses off people – there's both NIMBY and nature lover opposition to burning off the fuel in controlled burns. That may improve – we had a major fire this summer – evacuated for 12 days. People seemed calm during the 2 or 3 controlled burns we've had since the rainy season started.

        • Yeah, I am not a fan of oysters but it is interesting of you to mention the Safeway special. I suspect that it is also that the canneries that supplied the shells are gone as well … and the oysters that are eaten now are primarily on the shell, or something, I am curious, through.

          • I like oysters. Bought a couple of jars of fresh shucked oysters for a batch of oyster artichoke soup – price seems stable from a year ago. I also keep canned smoked oysters in my pantry – I like them in Mac'n'cheese with broccoli. Price seems stable there too – not greater than inflation would explain.

            Got me curious – looks like production is increasing slightly to meet demand – at least there is some reporting to that effect by Mississippi State from NOAA data.

      • Fascinating.  Do oyster shells have to be fresh to be effective?  In the service I was stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi.  Walking around looking at new construction I noticed that the fresh dirt dug up to make way for a foundation was mostly oyster shell.  The local magazine stand/bookstore just off base also had a snack bar that served a fine oyster po-boy.
        I am reminded about the comment about the Oyster Bar under Grand Central Station; it is the restaurant that would not be there if it were not already there. It is in a sub sub basement.
        Sir James Goldsmith began his career with a patent medicine consisting of powdered oyster shell.  His daughter Jemima was married to the future prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan.

        • I'm pretty sure that the 50# bags of oyster shell get stored for months in a warehouse. They're a supplemental feed for egg layers to provide calcium for egg shells. I don't know of anything that would make it stop being wholesome over time.

      • Its all about the quick buck in the short term, and damn tomorrow, let alone several years down the road. 

        These people believe the business of the US government is business, and not the welfare of the people, per its own Constitution.

      • I think the point is that there are reasons for things, and that despite 40 years of conservative talking points, "bureaucrats" in faraway Washington office buildings do not just sit around and go "How can we fck with hard-working people's ability to make a living just because we feel like it?" And if you think they do, maybe check it out; you'll probably learn a little something. Even though it means you won't get to act like a victim all the time. (Which is the most important thing for conservatives all day, every day.)

        For some reason it reminds me of the time Obama said we could save more oil by keeping our tires inflated than we could get by drilling in ANWR and the McCain campaign passed out a bunch of tire-pressure gauges and said "This is Barack Obama's energy plan."

        Not only was Obama right, but someone at NASCAR, the church of hard-working white Real Americanness, said "Yeah our drivers have a certain allotment of gas to get through a race, so we're freaks for fuel efficiency in general, and how tire pressure affects efficiency especially." None of this stopped McCain and the Republicans from going HURR DURR LOL all summer.

  3. From what I've seen and read, I actually think week's unmitigated climate disaster, and the state's woeful attempts to handle it, might make some TexASS RepubliKKKLAN politicians move their butt-steaks to save their butt-steaks!

    Apparently, in the last two generations, TexASS has had 3 similar, but not quite as drastic, costly, and extended deep-freezes: 1986, 2011, and this week.

    So, from 1986 until 2011, 25 years, was a long time.  So, yeah, that 1986 storm could be viewed as a true "Black Swan," or "Once In a Century," event.

    But 25 years from '86 to 2011 ain't once in a century.  It's now a once every quarter century problem.

    And from 2011 until 2021 is only 10 years.  And people remember shit from 10 years ago a hell of a lot better than from 25 years ago.

    My point is (yes, finally), that this weeks disaster coming only ten years after the last one will make citizens more likely to stay on their politicians butt-steaks to make improvements.

    Because what's next?  Another state-wide grid outage due to another storm in 5 years?

    The climate change is picking-up quickly.

    So I'd be willing to bet that there will be some improvements made.  Probably not enough if the RepubliKKKLANS stay in power. 

    But this black swan event may be a harbinger of another black swan event:  A Democrat winning state-wide office in the (grating) state of TexASS!!

    You want posituve change, TexASS?!?  Vote exclusively for Democrats.


  4. Proper regulation is an ideal.  One almost never even gets close to having it written just right and then there is the problem of enforcement.  Even well written regulations can be rendered worthless by over zealous, weak, or selective enforcement.  It seems in this case, Texas failed to understand even these fundamentals of regulation.  So the system failed under natures rare but significantly probable stress test.  

    The people will end up paying one way or another.  With this one they went for the con of cheaper energy.  They found out from the stress test that this may result in the penny wise/ pound foolish error.  This is an error I frequently make, but never on such a massive and catastrophic scale.  

    Penny wise and pound foolish is a pitfall of privatization.  If other states do not learn from the errors of Texas, they too will eventually attend the school of hard knocks.  I have found the school of hard knock's methods to be generally painful, repetitious, lengthy, and potentially lethal. 

    Those who demonize that which is social often fail to prevent what is anti-social.  Or put another way the greed is good crowd fails to recognize that unregulated greed is a vice with terrible consequences.  Will Texas learn from it's mistakes?  It has shown past learning disabilities so it won't do so with ease.  I worry more that other states might not learn vicariously from Texas's errors, and drag their own population though the same school of hard knocks.  

    Always remember one of the big rules of life.  You must learn from the mistakes of others.  If you don't you will probably not live long enough to make them all yourself.  We will see if Texas can learn one of the other big rules.  Try to learn something from your mistakes.  

    We need to print that on their bail out bucket. 


  5. There is a teachable moment in Texas, but it's not about focusing on the problem (Republicans) who refuse to be taught.

    The teachable moment is about the solution, as AOC demonstrates

    I first thought it’s a little nuts for a Congresswoman from NYC to get involved with charity work to benefit Texas. But she helped raise a ton of money and personally flew to Texas, to both help out but more importantly, to show that there is an alternative to Republican Stupidity.

    When Katrina hit, I saw a video of Mormon tractor trailers hitting the road from Utah, loaded with food and relief, that they have been stockpiling for themselves for years. Do you not think the Katrina victims weren’t grateful and impressed with the Church of Latter Day Saints?

    Focus on the solution – as AOC is doing, and not the problem – intransigent conservatives. You’ll wear yourself out – I know, I did this to myself.

  6. The Texas GOP isn't trying to learn anything regarding how to improve service to consumers because they have no desire to “fix” an Enronized system that does exactly what it was designed to do, which primarily is to deliver profit to the private sector.  Where regulation to limit disaster like what happened with the storm is out of scope, especially when it constricts or limits new opportunities to wring more profit, including gouging the hell out of consumers down there in the wake of the disaster they created.  To that end, they went straight to the politics of blame the democrats, Green New Deal, even Joe Biden for what happened.

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