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.

EuqxyxkXYAA6ix6

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:

Untitled

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: 

http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/08/bin-laden-won-no-man-has-changed-america-more-for-the-worse.html#more

How drug companies profit by selling dangerous drugs overseas:

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19910611&slug=1288354

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

In 1949, two teenage boys leave their homes in Texas and ride their horses to Mexico. They meet another boy along the way, who eventually loses his horse and winds up in jail. The other boys get jobs working on a big ranch. One of them, the main character, falls in love with the rancher’s daughter. Unfortunately, the police are on their trail, wrongly believing that all three boys are horse thieves. Things do not go well after that.

All the Pretty Horses is the first novel in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. I don’t know if I’ll read the next one. This one was worth reading, but not very convincing. The main character, who is 16 or 17, is almost a superhero. In addition, the novel contains way too many run-on sentences and too much dialog in Spanish.

Two passages near the end of the book:

“He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activities in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.”

“… for a moment he held out his hands as if to steady himself or as if to bless the ground there or perhaps as if to slow the world that was rushing away and seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead.”  (11/19/12)

Horseman, Pass By, by Larry McMurtry

Horseman, Pass By was McMurtry’s first novel. It was the basis for Hud, the classic movie from 1963 about a small Texas cattle ranch facing a crisis. 

The screenplay didn’t change the setting or plot, but several improvements were made. Some unnecessary characters (a grandmother, some ranch hands) were eliminated. The role of Hud was greatly expanded (the horseman in the novel’s title refers to Hud’s father, not Hud). The black housekeeper Almea became the white housekeeper Alma. 

That last change was an improvement because it resulted in a more interesting, less predatory relationship between Hud and the housekeeper, a deeper relationship that doesn’t seem possible in the book, partly because of the way McMurtry writes what Almea says (“dese”, “dat”, “I needs to be leavin'” etc.).

This is one of those cases in which the film version is better than the original material.  (8/17/12)