This Land Is Ours. We Stole It Fair and Square.

Texas was part of Mexico until American newcomers decided to make it their own country. Whether the new Republic of Texas would join the Union and whether it would be a slave state were much-debated issues until 1845 when Congress agreed to admit Texas as the 18th state. We’d soon be at war with Mexico. (American politics hasn’t totally changed since 1845, although the Democrats eventually switched sides and became less warlike.)

From “Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster” by H. W. Brands:

Four months [after Texas joined the Union], James Polk made prophets of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster by commencing a war with Mexico. Polk’s war was a land grab wrapped in self-defense. Texas entered the Union with its southern boundary in dispute. The United States claimed the Rio Grande as the border; Mexico claimed the Rio Nueces, more than a hundred miles to the north. Mexico nominally claimed the rest of Texas as well, never having acknowledged the loss of its rebellious province. But though it responded to the American annexation of Texas by severing relations with the United States, it took no military action to challenge the new regime on its northern frontier. This frustrated Polk.

The president’s expansionist appetite grew with the eating; not content with depriving Mexico of Texas, Polk coveted California as well. He attempted to purchase California, but the Mexican government rebuffed him. Polk then sought a pretext for declaring war on Mexico. He sent troops to the disputed strip between the rivers, hoping to goad the Mexicans to attack.

Weeks went by and the Mexicans refused to take the bait. Polk, more vexed than ever, prepared a war message for Congress, in which he blamed the Mexicans for insults and injuries against American honor and interests. It was a flimsy document, as Polk himself recognized, but he was determined to have California and its Pacific harbors, by whatever means necessary.

Then, just as he was about to transmit his message to Congress, he received news that Mexican troops had finally engaged the Americans. “After reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil,” Polk told Congress. “War exists, and notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico itself.” For emphasis the president added, “The two nations are now at war.”

John Calhoun begged to differ. Polk wanted Congress simply to endorse his assertion that war existed and give him authority to prosecute it. Calhoun wasn’t going to be stampeded into anything. “The question now submitted to us is one of the gravest character, and the importance of the consequences which may result from it we cannot now determine,” he told the Senate. “The president has announced that there is war; but according to my interpretation, there is no war according to the sense of our Constitution.”

Calhoun didn’t challenge Polk’s account of the attack on American forces. Nor did he question Polk’s authority to resist and repel such attacks. But he distinguished hostilities from war. “It is our sacred duty to make war,” he told his fellow senators, “and it is for us to determine whether war shall be declared. If we have declared war, a state of war exists, and not till then.”

Calhoun succeeded in slowing the rush to war, but not by much. Congress debated the president’s request, with most of the negative comments coming from the Whigs [Polk, like Andrew Jackson, was a Democrat].

Some asked whether Polk had done all he could to avoid armed conflict; their strong implication was that he had not. A few went so far as to charge Polk with provoking the war. “This war was begun by the president,” Garrett Davis, a Kentucky Whig, told the House. Some inquired whether the Mexican attack, if it indeed had occurred as the president said, had been authorized by the Mexican government. Still others rejected Polk’s assertion that the soil on which the blood had been shed was American. Some said flatly that it was Mexican; others remarked that ownership was still in dispute.

But Polk knew the American political mind better than the dissenters did. He understood that the shedding of American blood—under whatever circumstances—created an irresistible impulse toward war. A negative vote could be characterized as an unpatriotic vote, and no lawmaker lightly risked that. The few surviving former Federalists remembered how their party had wrecked on its opposition to the War of 1812. In the end scarcely a dozen Whigs refused the president’s request. John Calhoun haughtily abstained.


Ulysses S. Grant fought in the Mexican War as a young lieutenant. Years later, he called it “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation”.

When Fascists Get Together (Texas-Style)

Every time I hear Republicans talk about Democrats, it sounds like Superman’s Bizarro World, where Mafia wise guys are upstanding citizens and only the cops make money off extortion, theft, drugs and gambling.

Thus, the Texas Republican Party held a convention last week. To say the least, it wasn’t pretty. From the Texas Tribune:


The Tribune article didn’t mention that convention attendees also want a vote on leaving the union and a constitutional amendment that would create their own version of the Electoral College (that would allow a minority of voters spread around the state to overcome urban votes from Democrats). From the Houston Chronicle:

We urge the Texas Legislature to pass a bill in its next session requiring a referendum in the 2023 general election for the people of Texas to determine whether or not the State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation.

The State Legislature shall cause to be enacted a State Constitutional Amendment creating an electoral college consisting of electors selected by the popular votes cast within each individual state senatorial district, who shall then elect all statewide office holders.

Texans in the Cold: A Few Completely Random Thoughts

Houston is the “energy capital of the world.” It is home to 4,600 energy-related firms, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. We have the expertise in our own backyard to ensure energy reliability for the state. However, Texas’s leaders have chosen to prioritize profit over people. When there are no regulations requiring power plants to winterize, and the generous tax abatements they receive don’t have those requirements, it creates an incentive not to do so for once-in-a-decade storms. The added cost of preparing a plant for extreme weather would cause the price of electricity provided to be higher, thus making the responsible plant operator unable to compete in a market where these costs are often skipped. — Heather Golden, “Failing Government, Freezing Texans”, The Bulwark

When a deep freeze shut down half the power generation capacity in Texas this week, the wholesale price of electricity exploded 10,000 per cent, with the financial consequences now being felt all the way from individual households to huge European energy companies. Astronomical bills face customers who opted for floating-rate contracts tied to wholesale prices in the state’s freewheeling electric market.

The wholesale power price was at the maximum allowable $9,000 a megawatt hour for five days from last Sunday. For a household, that translates to a $9 a kilowatt-hour electricity rate, compared with a typical cost of 12 cents.


In Burleson, a suburb of Fort Worth, Valerie Williams has been charged more than $6,000 by her electricity retailer Griddy to power her 1,400 sq ft home over the past few days. As the storm approached, Griddy told its customers to switch to more typical fixed-rate plans from other providers, but not everyone did, since there was little indication of just how extreme prices would become.

Griddy was charging her credit card multiple times a day, Williams said. She struggled to find a new provider during the crisis before finally identifying one that would switch her service on Friday. “I’m guessing it will be close to $7,000 by the time we get moved,” she said of her bill. . . .

On Friday, the city council in Denton, Texas, met to approve emergency borrowing to cover $300m the city-owned utility would pay Ercot this week — more than quadruple its purchases in full-year 2020. — “Freeze Sends Prices Soaring: Grid Operator Ercot Requires Billions in Payments”, Financial Times

The idea behind Texas energy policy was that a deregulated market didn’t require any oversight to protect the system from crisis, because profit-maximizing utilities would build in robust excess capacity to take advantage of possible price spikes. But they didn’t, even though the price spike has been incredible. — Paul Krugman

Yes, there are numerous places where Smith deplores the impact of government, and specifically the effects of intrusive regulation on trade . . . . But overall the view of Smith as anti-government seriously mistakes him. . . .He was quite clear that markets — and indeed society as a whole — are generally sustained by trust and confidence, and that for these and other things they rely on external institutions, notably of law and government, for their viability. By contrast, if merchants are left entirely to their own devices, the result is corrosive. He robustly asserts that “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices”. No one who has read Smith closely can rationally believe he is an out-and-out free-marketeer. — Jesse Norman, Adam Smith: Father of Economics

The divide in our politics isn’t between proponents of big vs. small government. It’s between those trying to use government to help people and those who just want to troll the other side. When we elect responsible people, we end pandemics. When we don’t, people freeze to death. — Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ)

American Politics Today: A Case Study

One America News Network (OAN, not OANN) is where you go for “news” when you think Fox has become way too liberal. Somebody posted this screenshot today:


Yes, we all remember how the former president “went and fought every weather crisis”, like that time after Hurricane Maria when he personally launched paper towels — or was it toilet paper? — to a roomful of Puerto Ricans and then decided to delay millions of dollars in financial aid.

So why is that cowardly weakling Joe Biden “hiding in his basement”? Biden may have immediately declared a state of emergency in Texas and authorized the federal government to send generators and other supplies, and and he may have spoken to Gov. Abbott yesterday:

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke this evening with Texas Governor Greg Abbott about the severe winter weather situation facing central and southern parts of the United States, including Texas. [He] conveyed his support to the people of Texas [and] reiterated that the federal government will continue to work hand-in-hand with state and local authorities in Texas to bring relief and address the critical needs of the families affected. He also shared his intentions to instruct additional federal agencies to look into any immediate steps that could be taken to support Texans at this time. The President also expressed that his administration was at the ready should the State of Texas or any other impacted region need additional federal disaster support or assistance as severe storms move across the US.

But what has Biden done for Texas lately? Damn liberals.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman of The New York Times tells what occurred after the disaster struck:

For a while, the politics surrounding the power outages that have spread across Texas looked fairly normal. True, the state’s leaders pursued reckless policies that set the stage for catastrophe, then tried to evade responsibility. But while their behavior was reprehensible, it was reprehensible in ways we’ve seen many times over the years.

However, that changed around a day after the severity of the disaster became apparent. Republican politicians and right-wing media, not content with run-of-the-mill blame-shifting, coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead — the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people were freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have run the state for a generation.

This wasn’t normal political malfeasance. It’s the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation — raw denial of reality, not just to escape accountability, but to demonize one’s opponents. . . . 

Like many states, Texas has a partly deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas chose not to provide power companies with incentives to install reserve capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made power cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable when things went wrong.

Texas authorities also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which has deliberately cut its power grid off from the rest of the country precisely to exempt itself from federal regulation, only partially implemented the recommendations.

And the deep freeze came.

While Texas’s Republican governor was blaming wind power, other state officials admitted that power plants and pipelines that deliver natural gas were the main source of the problem. (Besides which, wind turbines operate in places like Norway and Greenland all winter without breaking down.)

The Washington Post describes what actually happened this week:

Wind accounts for just 10 percent of the power in Texas generated during the winter. And the loss of power to the grid caused by shutdowns of thermal power plants, primarily those relying on natural gas, dwarfed the dent caused by frozen wind turbines, by a factor of five or six.

As the cold hit, demand for electricity soared past the mark that ERCOT [the Electric Reliability Council of Texas] had figured would be the maximum needed. But at a moment when the world is awash in surplus natural gas, much of it from Texas wells, the state’s power-generating operators were unable to turn that gas into electricity to meet that demand.

In the single-digit temperatures, pipelines froze up because there was some moisture in the gas. Pumps slowed. Diesel engines to power the pumps refused to start. One power plant after another went offline. Even a reactor at one of the state’s two nuclear plants went dark, hobbled by frozen equipment.

Krugman (who knows the answer) asks, therefore, “Why, then, the all-out effort to falsely place the blame on wind power?”

The incentives are obvious. Attacking wind power is a way for both elected officials and free-market ideologues to dodge responsibility for botched deregulation; it’s a way to please fossil fuel interests, which give the vast bulk of their political contributions to Republicans; and since progressives tend to favor renewable energy, it’s a way to own the libs. And it all dovetails with climate change denial.

But why do they think they can get away with such an obvious lie? The answer, surely, is that those peddling the lie know that they’re operating in a post-truth political landscape. When two-thirds of Republicans believe that Antifa was involved in the assault on the Capitol, selling the base a bogus narrative about the Texas electricity disaster is practically child’s play.

Greg Sargent of the Post concludes:

No doubt many Republicans expressing outrage at the failures producing this disaster — and calling for accountability and reform — are sincere in their intentions, though we’ll see how long those demands persist.

But it’s painfully obvious that in an important larger sense, many aspects of their reaction to the Texas calamity do indeed demonstrate the future they want.

It’s a future in which the default response to large public problems will be to increasingly retreat from real policy debates into an alternate information universe, while doubling down on scorched-earth distraction politics and counter-majoritarian tactics to insulate themselves from accountability. . . .

The thing is that Abbott knows renewable energy isn’t to blame. Elsewhere, he has admitted that natural gas and coal failures played a key role. Yet the lure of retreating into the Fox News universe — and spewing nonsense he knows will resonate there — is irresistible.

When a politician’s fundamental purposes in public life are to pursue power and maintain the economic and cultural status quo, it’s easy to lie with a clear conscience. As Gen. Sherman once said:

The lust for Power in political minds is the strongest passion of Life, and impels Ambitious Men to deeds of infamy.

My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

Sweet land of liberty?

The older I get, the less patriotic I feel. It was easier to love America when I knew less about it.

Take, for instance, those brave Texans, joined by Davy Crockett of all people, standing up to the evil General Santa Anna at the Alamo. I didn’t know until recently that Mexico had invited the Americans to settle in Texas, with the understanding that the American immigrants would become Catholics, learn Spanish, obey Mexican law and presumably become Mexicans. For the most part, the American settlers ignored Mexican law, including the law against slavery. In little more than a decade, the Americans were fighting to take Texas from Mexico and, of course, make slavery legal. (Walt Disney and John Wayne didn’t tell that part of the story.)

Despite their defeat at the Alamo, the Texans prevailed and, after some controversy, joined the United States as a slave state. President James K. Polk immediately tried to expand Texas by purchasing land from Mexico. When Mexico refused to sell, Polk sent American troops into Mexico, igniting the Mexican-American War. Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in the war, later referred to it as “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation”. The Mexicans call it “the United States’ Invasion of Mexico”.

It’s clear that we haven’t lived up to our ideals as a nation. Obviously, nations never live up to their ideals completely, but our ideals are relatively high and our behavior is relatively low in too many cases.

So it isn’t surprising that there are lots of people with doubts about America these days. The person who wrote the article at the link below brings up Vietnam and Cambodia, Bush and Cheney, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Manning and Snowden, the NSA and our frequent outbreaks of paranoia.

He might have mentioned a whole bunch of other things. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world. We are the largest arms exporter in the world. Our leading politicians are for sale. People sometimes wait for hours to vote in poor neighborhoods, but not in rich ones. We’re the only developed country that doesn’t require paid vacations or maternity leave. And one of my favorites: our drug companies send drugs banned in America to other countries:

Dr. Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez tries vainly to convince parents that the costly American drugs they buy to fight their babies’ diarrhea are useless and often deadly.

Some of the drugs can paralyze a child’s intestines. Others can destroy a child’s ability to fight other infections. All fail to treat the worst enemy of a child with diarrhea: the dehydration that kills about 4 million children under 5 in underdeveloped countries every year, the World Health Organization says. All these infants need, WHO says, is an inexpensive mixture of sugar, salt and water.

Of thee I sing.


One citizen’s angry appraisal of America:

How drug companies profit by selling dangerous drugs overseas: