Monday, February 22, 2021

BTRTN: The Lone Star-ving State... Was This The Week Texas Turned Blue?

Are the people in Texas not suffering enough without having to tolerate the endless incompetence, hypocrisy, and tone-deaf human depravity of their Republican leaders? Steve thinks it is time that Texas turns blue… Beto late than never.

 

It was one of those days of stunning juxtapositions that leave you slack-jawed at the agony and the ecstasy.

The day I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine, I felt a sense of genuine awe and wonder that in the span of one year, scientists had identified and understood  the virus, developed a vaccine, rigorously tested it, gained regulatory approvals, and then a supply chain had been built to manufacture it, distribute it, and get it into my arm. What a country!

Then I turned on the tv, and watched in horror as CNN flashed video of freezing, desperate people in Houston, Texas burning furniture to survive.

It was all too much… after four years of denial, deceit, political calculation, misinformation, polarization, hypocrisy, corruption, cruelty, racism, inequity, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, ignorance, violence, and insurrection, I sat numb as our nation neared its 500,000th COVID-19 death and our second largest state writhed in agony, operating under Dickensian conditions.

What a country.

What happened – and continues to happen -- in Texas is terrifying. Appalling. The week began with power outages and loss of heat in freezing conditions, with thermostats inside homes showing temperatures below 40 degrees. And yet the crisis managed to grow worse as the freezing temperatures refused to budge and the agony of frigid weather was exacerbated by food shortages and a dearth of potable water. Millions of Texans were forced to spend a week in utter misery that could only be relieved by rising temperatures.

Perhaps the only thing worse than the suffering inflicted by the weather was the behavior of the Republican leaders in Texas.

At the peak of the crisis, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was on Fox News, saying “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”

Somehow, I truly doubt that the freezing and infirm 86 year old grandmother in Big Spring leaned forward in her chair and said, “You tell’em, Sonny Boy! I am so glad that you are focused on getting the word out that A.O.C. and all those liberal commies will exacerbate the Federal deficit with their crazy schemes about saving the planet! Now excuse me while I burn my rocking chair.”

It would be one thing if Abbott was exploiting the suffering of his citizens to make an honest point about the perils of over-reliance on clean energy.  It rapidly surfaced, however, that the far, far bigger problem was that the weather impacted the flow of natural gas. Then it came out that Texas had made a decision to not invest in wind technology that could withstand freezing temperatures. Which is to say: had Texas invested in the proper equipment, the wind turbines would have continued to generate electricity where gas failed.

As the days passed and the stories emerged about what actually caused the massive chain of failures in the Texas power grid, we learned that the state’s famous aversion of Federal government interference and government regulation in general played a key role. The “privatized” power system is run by the “Electric Reliability Council of Texas,” which was specifically formed to ensure that electricity generated in Texas would not be transported across state lines, and therefore would not be subject to Federal jurisdiction or interference. The result? Texas is an electricity island, unconnected to any other states, and therefore unable to tap into national power resources at times of need.  

Regulations that would have required energy providers to winterize their equipment were “optional.” The next time someone asks you to give you an example of an oxymoron and you are tired of saying “jumbo shrimp,“ may I suggest “optional regulation?”

As so often happens, we are shocked by the devastation caused by a horrific “natural” disaster, only to learn that the far greater disaster was the human failure to anticipate problems and act pro-actively to prevent them. In fact, the storm in Texas was hardly unprecedented: prolonged freezing conditions in both 1989 and 2011 had resulted in widespread outages and recommendations that investments be made to winterize equipment. While some parts of Texas – notably El Paso -- heeded this advice, most did not.

It would be unfair to offload the full blame for the actions and inactions that led to last week’s acute misery on one party. Indeed, the decision to operate the Texas power grid independently dates back to 1935.  A state that prides itself on small government, minimal regulation, and no state income taxes may have been allowing the seeds of this calamity to take root for a very long time.  

But this much is fact: Texas has had Republican governors since 1995, when Ann Richards was defeated by one George W. Bush. Bush was succeeded by two-term Republican Rick Perry and the current incumbent Republican Abbott.   The last Democratic Senator from Texas left office in 1993.

Now we all know that deep in the Texan soul is a notion of personal responsibility. No hand-outs. Frontier character. So if there is going to be responsibility for the decisions about failing to winterize equipment or keeping the energy grid separate… well let’s just say that it would be colossally nuts to blame things on the Democrats.

Which is why Abbott’s attempt to foist his responsibility off on the “Green New Deal” is so appalling.

And it is not just Abbott. We had to endure the bloviation of the state’s Republican icons.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry used this week to fiercely defend the state’s frontier spirit of independence: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” Gee, Rick, you really might want to do a quick Rasmussen poll on that one, because I traded texts with the daughter of the aforementioned 86 year old grandmother, and she was worried sick about her freezing, Lone Star-ving relatives, and I am pretty sure that she wasn’t ready to sign her mom up for three more days of misery.

This, of course, is the same Rick Perry who has on several occasions coyly postured about seceding from the Union.  In 2009, he was caught on tape saying “when we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” It was not the only time. At a Tea Party rally in the same time frame, Perry said that if the Federal government “continues to thumb their nose at the American people … who knows what might come out of that.” Rick Perry loved playing the role of Texan rogue spirit incarnate, but I don’t recall him discouraging FEMA from bringing billions in aide after Hurricane Harvey clobbered Houston, and we suspect that Texas is going to need a heaping serving of Federal disaster relief after last week. What were you saying about no hand-outs?

Perry is not the only Texan Republican leader to float the idea that the citizens of Texas would rather defiantly suffer rather than tolerate the involvement of the Federal government. At the outbreak of the coronavirus, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick went considerably further, insisting that Texas seniors would rather sacrifice their lives to the coronavirus than risk the health of the economy in a lockdown. “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?  And if that's the exchange, I'm all in."

And, of course, Texas was one of the four Southern states – all led by Republican governors -- that last spring invited utterly disastrous coronavirus outbreaks by re-opening their states for commerce far too quickly in order to demonstrate proper fealty to Donald Trump. Governor Abbott watched calamity unfold in Texas until finally back-pedaling and issuing a statewide mask mandate.

Yeah, you knew we were saving the best for last: that punctually unctuous blizzard of bloviation, the passenger-side gas bag of the Republican Party, Ted Cruz. The Senator chose this particular moment to fly to Cancun, Mexico, alleging that he was responsibly filling his obligation to be a great Dad by flying to a posh, warm vacation spot as the citizens who elected him froze, suffered, and, yes, died.  Cruz cruelly abandoned ship, jumping on the plane to a warm, dry Ritz Carlton hotel while Texans suffered unbearable misery. Personal responsibility? Cruz attempted to offload his epic dereliction of duty onto his ten and twelve year old daughters, who apparently “wanted a vacation.” I have to think that hiding behind the skirt of your ten year old daughter does not sit well in Marlboro Country.

The very best part? Watching the videos that ordinary citizens took of Cruz striding thought the airport and casually sipping his latte in one of those upscale airport lounges. You can see him become increasingly aware that his day is about to turn into the ninth circle of Instagram, and yet all he can do is carry on. He would later claim that he realized his little junket was an error “as soon as he sat down on the plane,” which is essentially saying that he regretted the error of his ways when he realized that he was not simply trending, he was keeping up with the Kardashians. This is of course functionally identical to feeling no remorse for sleeping with your best friend’s wife, but feeling deep, burning regret for getting caught.

Oh, Ted: when will you learn? Within hours The New York Times had the full text trail of Heidi Cruz’s game plan for a rager in Cancun, presumably having checked to make sure that the citizens of Texas had plenty of cake before downloading her boarding pass. (P.S. – Heidi makes no reference to her daughters’ need for a vacation).

Even if this had been the first and only lapse in ethical judgment in an otherwise sterling career of public service, it’s hard to imagine any politician weathering this agonizing storm. But this is Ted Cruz. Donald Trump mocked this guy’s wife’s physical appearance, threatened to “spill the beans” about her – we still don’t know what that means -- and then accused his father of participating in the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas.

What does Cruz do in return? On January 6, Cruz was one of two U.S. Senators who endorsed Trump’s assertions of voter fraud which, in turn, emboldened the insurrectionists. One of the most nauseating moments in the video of the attack on the Capitol was when two thugs came upon Ted Cruz’s desk in the U.S Senate, and, in rifling through his papers, were pleased to conclude that Cruz was on their side.

Everything is indeed big in Texas, but unfortunately that extends to the Republican leadership’s 4-H Club of hyperbole, hypocrisy, hubris, and hostility.

You see, the big lie in Texas is that for all of the alleged streak of independence and Republican chafing at Federal “interference,” Texas is actually one of those states that takes more money from Washington than it sends in. No, it’s not wildly out of proportion, but that is a fact. Indeed, my humble little state of Connecticut pays proportionally far more to the Federal government in taxes than we get back.

So it is mathematically accurate to say that Connecticut, in some real measure, subsidizes Texas. That’s a better kept secret down in Plano than who shot J.R.

It has been a horrific week for our fellow citizens in the state of Texas.

Please know that for all our raging criticism of your Republican leaders, we ache with sadness as we watch the suffering of millions of hard working and good-hearted citizens. We feel deeply for the children and the grandmothers. You deserve so much better than the pompous, deceitful Republican gas bags that hold so many of your statewide and Federal offices.

Please consider the many brilliant Democratic stars you have to choose from.

For starters, the guy who did not get elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas – Beto O’Rourke – spent last week doing a whole helluva lot more for Texas than Cruz, the guy who was. While Cruz was packing the Coppertone, O’Rourke led a volunteer crusade that resulted in 784,000 “wellness calls” to Texas senior citizens, according to reports in The New York Times.

Texas, you will have a chance to undo the absolutely terrible decision you made to re-elect one of the most despicable human beings in government when you could have elected O’Rourke. Oh well, Beto late than never.

Among the many House Managers who argued brilliantly that Donald Trump deserved to be convicted in the impeachment trial, your Congressman Joaquin Castro was particularly sharp, measured, and brilliant on his feet in the Q and A section.

His brother, Juli├ín Castro, was elected mayor of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the U.S., at the age of 35. As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he was the youngest member of Barack Obama’s cabinet. And as the field of Democratic candidates for President in 2020, Castro was one of the final ten to stand at a podium in the debates.

Please, Castro brothers, run for Governor. Run for the U.S. Senate. Run all of these smug Republican cowards, blamers, and utterly heartless jerks out of Dodge.

The Democratic Convention named two Texans among its “17 Rising Stars” who shared the keynote responsibility, State Representative Victoria Neave and Congressman Colin Allred.

Texas, there are many terrific female Democratic stars on the rise that each deserve your attention… women such as M.J. Hegar, Candace Valenzuela, Sima Ladjevardian, and Gina Ortiz Jones. Worthy of note: in addition to the fact that every Texas Governor since the mid-nineties has been a Republican, they have also all been male. Just sayin.’

There has been much talk about the changing demography of Texas, and the seeming inevitability that it will morph to swing state and then blue state. Indeed, in 2018, Beto O’Rourke nearly toppled the incumbent Cruz, losing by only 214,921 votes out of 8,306,185 cast.

Perhaps the horror of last week will accelerate the process by which Texans evaluate whether all that macho talk about going it alone, small government, and supposed self-reliance gives way to a more modern understanding of the roles and responsibilities of government.

Or, perhaps it simply causes Texans to conclude that they don’t need any more heartless leaders deep in the heart of Texas.

Come on, Texas. Give your Democratic leaders a chance.

Right now, all you have is an Abbott without the Costello, a Perry who isn’t even a Cuomo, and Cruz without the control.

Hook ‘em, Horns. Give them all the hook.

Vote Blue, Texas. You know… the color on your state flag where the Lone Star sits.

 

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3 comments:

  1. Nicely done.

    I had to make a short trip to Dallas last week. Love Field, the drive to and from the hotel, and the hotel itself were functional. But I am unaccustomed to finding a car idling in the hotel parking lot with people sleeping in the racked back front seats. And the first three restaurants we called included one closed, one open for shortened hours, and one only supplying their delivery services. And I was astonished to read local coverage of a landlord with an unleased apartment kept at 60 degrees -- and expecting a monthly bill over $9,000.

    Perhaps the non-voters who form a solid majority of Texas citizens will become inspired enough to participate in elections to come.

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