Getting Very Tired of this Nonsense

The incredible failure of basic systems in Texas this past week sent me over the edge. Again.

Mind you, I’m not in Texas. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the weather’s been mild and mostly sunny (though we are worrying that we’re not getting enough rain).

But I’m from Texas and I have a lot of friends and family there. And I do still own a house in Austin. The last time I checked with my tenant this week, she was doing OK — she had power, though the water was off. My fingers are crossed that nothing too bad will happen.

I’d be worrying even if there hadn’t been a massive failure of the entire energy grid, a failure caused by years of bad energy policy in Texas. (Here’s a piece in The Washington Post that explains it better than I can.) Bad weather makes me worry, especially when it’s weather that’s out of the ordinary for that time and place.

But it was the collapse of all the systems necessary to provide energy and water to people that did me in. That was avoidable, just another example of government not doing its job and leaving millions of people in the lurch.

If it wasn’t as bad as the nightmare management of the pandemic, that’s only because it was mostly in Texas and a lot fewer people have died. Sure, Texas has 29 million people and at least 20 million of them were affected, but it didn’t affect everyone in the entire country like the pandemic has.

(Many other states had weather emergencies, but only Texas had a collapse of all basic systems.)

It’s starting to feel like every time I start to feel like things are getting better, something else comes along to show me we’re in perpetual crisis.

Beginning in mid-January, I saw things start to shift. The change from a criminal con man to a president who actually cares about doing the job healed the stomach ache I’ve had for most of the past year.

Then I got lucky enough to get my first vaccine shot. And the virus numbers finally started to come down in our county. I began to hope we might finally get this pandemic under control.

While the impeachment hearing made it all too clear that “the former guy” and his cronies are still out to destroy everything worth having in our country, it was also clear that the adults in the room were in charge and had his number.

But then the vote to convict failed, reminding us all that a large number of people elected to public office in this country are willing to throw the rule of law and the basic tenets of democracy under the bus so they can hold onto power. That depressed me, made me realize that the change we need is still hanging by a thread.

And now most of Texas is suffering.

As a rule, major failures during weather emergencies do in politicians when it happens on their watch. I hope a lot of Texas politicians go down for this one. It certainly looks like Ted Cruz might.

Watching his idiotic effort to escape the Houston deep freeze by going to Cancun — which included traveling internationally during a pandemic — I was reminded of another Republican senator from Texas and how he responded to a disaster.

John Tower was elected to the Senate from Texas in 1961 in a special election necessitated because Lyndon Johnson had insisted on running for both Senate and Vice President at the same time and won both races. Too many Democrats jumped in the race and Tower ended up with the job, which gave Republicans a foothold in Texas back in the day when the state was run by very conservative Democrats with an occasional push from more liberal ones.

I never voted for Tower. No one in my family ever did either. I deplore most of what he did in office.

But in 1979, a massive tornado hit Wichita Falls, a north Texas city of about a hundred thousand people. It took out 20 percent of the housing in town (in both rich and poor neighborhoods), knocked out the power to the whole city, killed 45 people, and put 800 in the hospital.

Two days later, I was working at the big disaster relief center, giving legal advice to people who had lost everything. This was pre-FEMA, but the feds already had people on the scene providing help. Tower came in, with his wife, and walked around talking to people, shaking hands, seeing what was needed.

But he didn’t just do a photo op. He went back to Washington and convinced Congress to roll back the interest rate on loans made to disaster victims. It had been raised to 7 percent; he got it rolled back to 3 percent and made it retroactive. That helped a lot of homeowners whose insurance coverage hadn’t kept up with the cost of housing.

Six months later, my parents got flooded out because a tropical storm stalled over their house and dumped 42 inches of rain in 24 hours. That was the North American 24-hour rainfall record for almost 40 years. You can look it up. The records say “near Alvin, Texas,” but trust me, it was pretty much on top of my parents’ place.

That loan rate made it possible for them to build a new house, because they didn’t have flood insurance. As I recall, they needed some help with their application and Tower’s office helped them out even though, as I said, they never voted for him.

The country wasn’t a perfect place in 1979 and I still think Tower was a terrible senator in most ways. But he knew how to take care of his people.

The Republicans in power today, especially the ones in Texas, can’t even be bothered to do that.

2 thoughts on “Getting Very Tired of this Nonsense

  1. It seems to me that human history makes it clear that when you cheap out, on the theory that “that would never happen”–rain, cold, tornado, earthquake, what have you–you are more than likely to be proved catastrophically wrong. I can only assume that each decision maker in Texas combined “that would never happen here” with “or at least, when it does, I’ll be long gone and they’ll blame someone else.”

    My understanding is that part of the reason that the US had such a crisis around PPE at the beginning of the pandemic is that after the Cold War ended, the government looked at the national warehouses stocked with all sorts of disaster supplies–kept in readiness for a nuclear war–and decided that was a wasteful setup. “If something happens, we’ll just buy the stuff we need–PPE, generators, things like that–from Big Box stores. That way we don’t have to hold on to this stuff and make sure it’s up to date, and it will be there.” Except, of course, it wasn’t, because the Big Box stores don’t keep that kind of supply on hand, because they don’t expect to need so much, and it costs them money to keep that kind of stock at the warehouse. Because that will never happen, and if it does, I won’t be the one blamed for it.

    1. One other thing I heard about PPE in California: We started to stockpile stuff like that after the SARS outbreak, which fortunately didn’t come to much here. But after the 2008 crash, someone (I suspect Jerry Brown or someone in his office) decided we didn’t really need it. Brought to you, btw, by the same people who yell at us about earthquake supplies. Though come to think of it, I’m not sure they’re still paying the disaster specialists at the Oakland Fire Department to put on readiness training anymore. (We took the class, though we probably don’t have enough earthquake supplies.)

      The other problem in Texas is that they farmed out everything to the private sector. The people running things do not believe in providing services to their people; they believe in making the rich richer. I keep explaining that to people who want to move to Texas because it doesn’t have an income tax. (I also explain to them about Texas property taxes, which are ridiculously high because Texas doesn’t have an income tax.)

      People keep comparing this crisis to California’s rolling blackouts last year during the heat wave. But while we shouldn’t have had to resort to rolling blackouts, at least the whole grid didn’t go down. That was bad management, but not on the scale of the Texas situation.

      With climate change and an interconnected world, we need a whole lot more long term thinking. I hope this wakes someone up somewhere. And I really hope some politicians, at least, lose their jobs.

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