Homelessness

Homelessness is a social failure. When your fellow citizens have nowhere else to sleep and so sleep in the streets, this says more about you and the people with someplace to sleep than it does about the poor person who just couldn’t get it all together that month and lost their home. Debt snowballs fast when you live paycheck to paycheck. Before you know it they are putting your stuff in the street and changing the locks on the doors that used to be yours, and you wonder how all that debt piled up that quickly.

Just like that, you are homeless. You were a respectable upstanding citizen with an address before the eviction, and after the eviction you don’t exist. Maintaining an address is the baseline for receiving any assistance. If you don’t have an address, the government can’t and won’t help you. Those are just the facts, especially in Texas. Homeless people die every day on the streets of American cities and no one notices their deaths unless it’s a slow news day and so the homeless death notices reach the evening news. The poor, overworked cops who check the scene for evidence of wrongdoing, the workers at the city morgue who take possession of the remains when there is no known next of kin. They’ll notice, but there is little they can do all by themselves.

…and the only thing that separates you from those lowly, unmourned, unwashed street people is the ability to name your home address and prove that you live there. What would you do if you couldn’t go home to comfort every night? Scary to contemplate, isn’t it? That is life for a lot more Americans than most of us are willing to accept.

On The Media – The Scarlet E, Unmasking America’s Eviction Crisis – Part 1 of 4

When I first listened to the On The Media series on eviction, The Scarlet E, I really couldn’t see myself needing to reference the series. I mean, I’ve never been evicted (knock on wood) I don’t have any first hand knowledge about the subject, it would be presumptuous of me to write anything of length about a subject that I hadn’t experienced personally or hadn’t researched thoroughly, and I wasn’t planning on doing either of those things anytime in the near future.

Then, as most things in life happen, I was reminded of design ideas that I have worked on since homelessness started to be a problem I noticed back in the 1990’s. The city of Austin is drowning in homeless people these days, people who were evicted from housing in Austin that now live on the streets of Austin. Any longtime resident that is paying attention to how housing prices have inflated over the last few decades should not be surprised by this. Housing prices have doubled and quadrupled while wages have remained essentially stagnant. This is a recipe for disaster, and that disaster is now sleeping on the streets of Austin.

Donald Trump tried to criminalize homelessness. Anyone who thinks that law and order will put things back to the way they were (as if the hippies of the 70s were known for their adherence to law and order) needs to understand why we are having the problems we currently have. We cannot jail our way out of this problem, and we cannot expand our way out of this problem either.

The camping ban, one of the things that has divided Austin for decades, will not solve the problem. There are many other cities in the United States who have been fighting this problem for far longer than Austin has and they have all come to the same conclusion. Camping bans will not solve the problem by themselves. The problem of homelessness has many facets that have to be addressed before we can even hope to get people off the streets. Adding to their suffering by persecuting these people will just make us worse people than we are now.

What is needed is a countrywide if not continental or worldwide resolution to see that everyone has a home and a bed and decent food. Until we undertake that effort then we will continue to trip over the homeless in our streets. It is a mark of the failings of our economic system that they are in the street in the first place.

The place to start when addressing a homeless problem is to find the right sites to put transition shelters in. You can’t just hide these people and places away, put them out on the edges of society and shun them. We tried that with the State Schools in Texas that were disbanded during the Reagan administration. That was how we handled this problem before and it didn’t work then. I don’t see how doing it again will change the outcome.

The site(s) should be near where the homeless congregate already. Many of the overpasses they sleep under could easily be repurposed into transition shelters. These aren’t ideal locations; but in a crowded city they represent the scarcest commodity of all, under-utilized real estate; which is why the homeless congregate there in the first place. An ideal location would be a large open field near a river. Historically the kind of place that humans have been attracted to.

The transition shelters need to not look like or feel like prisons. No fencing, especially no chain link fencing. No visible guards or towers or patrols. A significant number of homeless people have mental illness problems that being out in nature soothes. The kinds of problems that feeling penned up just makes worse. So don’t pen them up.

The residents of the shelter should be entrusted to do most of the work required to run the shelter. Growing and cooking food, cleaning, etcetera. They are not children and should not be treated as children (children shouldn’t be treated as children either, but that is a different subject entirely) this part of the effort will require the input of metal health experts. These experts should be included in every part of the design process for the transition shelters if we want to avoid repeating previous failed attempts at dealing with homelessness.

The problem with homelessness goes deeper than this though. It goes to the heart of our own misconceptions about what an ideal home is. The single family residence is a pipe dream that has never been attainable for most people and would be catastrophic to the environment if we attempted to give every family their own residence with a landscaped yard and two cars in the driveway. We have to get away from these unattainable dreams and start dealing with concretes.

  • How much space does one person need?
  • How much confidence/comfort is required to make a person feel at home where they live?
  • Stopping theft without making prisons.
  • Stopping violence without making prisons.

A work in progress

Fuck Around & Find Out

Government so small it could fit inside a woman’s uterus.

Texas has a woman problem. There is no other way to describe it. Texas is misogynist beyond all proportion. You want proof? Texas is the first state to make prostitution a felony. A felony for selling sex? The hypocrisy of Texas Republicans knows no bounds. They preach about liberty and freedom constantly, and then turn around and pass draconian laws to attempt to force women back into subservience to men. The only liberty that Texas Republicans think matters is the liberty of white men. This has always been true of Texas, the state was founded on it.

Texas leading the charge to make abortion illegal should therefore not be a surprise to anyone paying attention. The drive to make abortion illegal is also contrary to ideas about liberty. Women’s liberty, anyway:

We have a saying in Texas. “Fuck around and find out.” Someone fucked around:

Murder is not liberty. Just because its the brand of killing you like doesn’t change that.

reddit

If I was a murderer then it would be child’s play to instruct the people who matter in these kinds of situations, the people who learn from the experience of the fucker in the phrase fuck around and find out. I’m not a murderer, and therefore abortion is not murder, but then most things in life are not as simple as they might seem on the surface.

If I were a murderer, thought that murder was acceptable, it would be child’s play to set up a situation where the target of my ire expired and either vanished or seemed to die of natural causes. Nearly half of US murders go unsolved today. These are real murders of real people, not the fantasies of anti-abortionists who see people who don’t exist.

Real people who are dead or just missing, and these statistics don’t include the people that no one notices went missing in the first place. So, yeah. If you really think the person you’re talking to is a murder, it would be better to keep quiet and let that sleeping dog lie than it would be to tell them that you’re onto them. They might decide it was in their interest to make you disappear. Just a friendly reminder.

Abortion isn’t murder; not because I’m not a murder, but because there is no person there to be murdered. The above linked article explains why a fetus doesn’t meet the high bar required to demonstrate the existence of a unique human life. Read it if the caution about accusing people of murder doesn’t sway you into keeping quiet about your delusions.

I do understand where anti-abortionists are coming from when they say that abortion is murder. Where they think they are coming from when they try to adopt the label pro-life, and then fail utterly at being pro-life. I have two children of my own. When I say that people who oppose abortion fail to grasp objectivity on this subject, I do this with my own subjective, anecdotal experience with my own children to back me up.

That is the opening paragraph of this article:

Read the rest of it if you want to know why abortion is necessary.

Postscript

Texas is not alone in its woman problem, the United States and possibly the entire world outside of the European Union has a woman problem. However, the United States has just volunteered to illustrate the problem for everyone else. Maybe the rest of the world will learn from the lesson that US women will now teach to US men. Hope springs eternal.

The above was first published as a revised opening section of the linked abortion article. As usual with changes made in the heat of the moment, the changes were ill-conceived and required abortion. Err, required their own article and not be the brash opening of an article that I routinely use as a reference for the subject of abortion. So here they are in their new home, made with the modest investment of a few minutes of effort and no money down. Exactly like the beginnings of the vast majority of lives currently being lived on this planet. Beginnings are cheap and easy. Maintenance is expensive and time consuming.

Featured image by Anne Lesniak; society6.com, bananarampage.com.

Touring Texas

I ran across a question from some Brits who were going to be driving from Houston to Austin on Reddit. They wanted to know about bars being open, and anything specifically to do on the drive between Houston and Austin. Having only been that way once or twice, I have little to say about the span of distance between those two cities.

The bars in Texas are open. All of Texas is open because our Governor wants to make his Trumpist base believe that he agrees with the lies told by the former President and his supporters. That COVID is a hoax and we don’t need to be vaccinated or worry about anything except what scam cure for the hoax (explain that one) they are supposed to buy this week.

My advice to foreigners coming to Texas? If you have to come, get vaccinated and wear a mask. I’d pick a better vacation spot if I were you though.

In the comments that followed there were dozens of people offering up various eateries all over the state, most of it ethnic food. I’ve always found this tendency to be quite humorous. “What’s the best thing in my city? Something brought here from another place.”

People who live in an area routinely think that the best thing in the area is the thing that isn’t from there (Like suggesting getting Kolaches or other ethnic food that is widely available in Texas) If you can get brisket every day (the staple food of Texas) brisket isn’t the thing that you suggest others eat. A tourist sees things differently. This is why I try to think of the things I would do while visiting a strange place, and then find those kinds of things around me. Things that have merged into the background noise for residents.

Knowing what people who don’t live in Texas might find interesting while visiting Texas is the foundation of at least one person’s fame and livelihood:

https://thedaytripper.com/ (this is not displaying correctly on the published article. I don’t know why. -ed.)

It would be foolish for me to attempt to outdo someone who makes a living trying to bring attention to the little-known parts of Texas. Even the Texas Standard has a weekly weekend trip tip to keep Texans and visitors apprised of what is going on around us in Texas each week. That segment usually airs on Thursdays. The archive for the show has become neglected in the COVID years.

However, I have traveled in Texas myself and I have a particular bent towards the kinds of things that I think visitors might overlook. I drove between Austin and San Angelo for years, and the Texas forts trail was always worth the time following when I had the time to devote to it. Fort Concho in San Angelo has Christmas events. Usually.

As someone with architectural/archeological interests that sort of thing is fascinating to me. I stop at roadside markers and explore almost any abandoned structure that I can access from the road. I’ve found neglected churches, abandoned schools and country courthouses just driving down old roads looking for places to explore, when I’ve been required to travel long distance through unfamiliar country.

When I have guests in Austin I always take them to tour the Texas Capitol complex. I don’t know if it’s open now with COVID, but the historical tour combined with the modern underground expansion is a unique bit of architecture to experience. The same goes for shopping at the Domain or visiting the new stadium for the soccer team. Driving out to the F1 track. If you are from Austin you probably never want to go to these places. If you aren’t then it’s probably something that you might find interesting.

If it’s nature you are after here, there is the Wildflower Center or Zilker Botanical Gardens (renovation) McKinney falls is lovely, but then so is Hamilton Pool. If you go to Zilker park you might want to go through the lights at Zilker, walk around under the moon tower that they turn into a christmas tree.

After all of that you will want food. The Salt Lick is where most people go or know about if they think about Austin and brisket. When I worked downtown I would walk over to Franklin‘s or the Ironworks. I haven’t been there in years, but both places are still in business so they probably don’t suck as places to go to eat. Places that serve brisket in Texas have to be good if they want to stay in business.

https://www.instagram.com/elarroyo_atx/

No matter where you go, you’ll still be in Texas unless you drive for more than a day. Do your best to enjoy yourself while you are here.

reddit

Carbon Monoxide

Etenesh Mersha, 46, meanwhile, made a fateful decision, one repeated by scores of Texas residents who lost electricity that week. Desperate to warm up, she went into their attached garage and turned the key to start her car. As the engine hummed, it provided power to run the car’s heater and charge her phone while she talked to a friend in Colorado — at the same time, filling her garage and home with a poisonous gas.

propublica.org

The number of deaths from the Winter storm that passed through Texas and the rest of the nation back in February is almost certainly an undercount. There were 86 deaths that occurred in Travis county in that timeframe, and yet only twelve deaths are claimed as storm-related. I simply don’t accept the number as reported by Republican controlled Texas state agencies.

I find it hard to believe that so many people died of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because I was almost killed by carbon monoxide poisoning when I was night stocking at the Piggly Wiggly in San Angelo. They had decided to remodel the store, and they were running gas-powered concrete saws to cut in new refrigerant lines to the new display cases. They didn’t want people to just walk into the store at night, so they locked all the doors and started up the saws. They couldn’t figure out why we all got headaches and had to go home.

Maybe it is because the heat exchanger on our upstairs furnace leaked due to the previous owner welding a crack in the furnace rather than replacing it. We almost died that time as well, until I noticed that I was having the same symptoms that I had when they were cutting the floors that time in the 80’s.

American media is replete with stories about people committing suicide by sitting in their cars in an enclosed garage. I have a hard time believing that most people hadn’t been exposed to the knowledge that carbon monoxide is a killer and that you shouldn’t burn fossil fuels in an enclosed space because of carbon monoxide buildup. Then I remember my own near-misses with the gas, and I am thankful that we put carbon monoxide sensors up in the house after we found out about the leaky heat exchanger.

Knowledge is power. Even this latest winter storm reveals this fact. Knowing the facts about the machines you use and their effects on your environment will keep you from dying. You certainly can’t rely on your government to tell you these things, especially not in Texas.

Lawmakers this year are considering a broader modernization of state building codes that is unrelated to February’s storm. If the measure passes, it would require carbon monoxide alarms in some new homes and apartments, but not those built or renovated before 2022. And it would allow local governments to opt out.

propublica.org

Democratic Shutout? Why the Surprise?

spotify.com fivethirtyeight.com

The district went Trump +3 in 2020. Who was dumb enough to think it would go Democratic? That it would go Democratic without the DCCC taking an interest in the race? Every seat in Texas is rigged for Republicans. Rigged. They cheated a decade ago and they’ve yet to be punished for this transgression. That is the fact that you should takeaway from the election. The panel says a lot of stuff about the election and what that means to the nation, stuff that really shouldn’t be applied broadly. Texas Republicans are not like Republicans in other states. Texas politics is not like politics in other states.

As far as the opening segment on the census goes, the states didn’t choose to undercount. Donald Trump chose to undercount while appealing to his White Nationalist base. The real question there is “why did Trump pick up Latino votes in 2020?” I will bet you that this is because a certain portion of the Latino community thought that Trump was talking to them. They don’t know that he’s talking about them when he talks about illegal votes. They are all illegal voters in Trump’s eyes and Trumpist eyes. They need to understand this fact about Trumpismo.

The Republican base has committed political suicide with their support for Trump. The corpse of the Republican party simply hasn’t stopped twitching yet. Give it time. Eventually rigor mortis will set in. I hope.

Squeaking for Hugs

“This is Bonnie and Clyde,” said Will Whisennand, who oversees care of the mammals at the Austin Aquarium, as he walked into the otter exhibit. “They squeak when they’re happy. They squeak when they’re sad, when they’re excited, when they’re hungry. They’re always squeaking.”

kut.org – During The Winter Storm, The Austin Aquarium Went Dark And Cold. The Otters Snuggled For Warmth
KUT – During The Winter Storm, The Austin Aquarium Went Dark And Cold. The Otters Snuggled For Warmth – March 5, 2021

@wildlifewill95

Had to keep my babies warm during the power outage…. 🦦 #zookeeper #otter #zoo #aquarium #winterstorm #texas

♬ SugarCrash! – ElyOtto
tiktok.com/wildlifewill

They just want to be held, want to be cuddled, want to be smothered.

Will Whisennand

I haven’t been able to hug friends and family for over a year now. When I finally get to hug them again, I’ll be making noises much like that otter is making in the video. There will probably be tears, too.

texasstandard.org/typewriter-rodeo

The Enron Legacy

there were many factors that went into creating the energy disaster with which Texans are now dealing. But at least in one respect, the problems in Texas are a product of an approach to the energy business that Lone Star State companies like Enron pursued at the end of the 20th century.

wapo

Ken Lay was George Bush’s best friend, back when George Bush was governor of Texas. That was what Ken Lay would tell you, if he was still alive today. The story is more slanted now that Ken Lay has been convicted of felony crimes and his flagship business, Enron, went bankrupt and took $40 billion dollars and the fortunes of thousands with it. Also, Ken Lay is conveniently dead of natural causes, so it is easy to blame him for all of the greed that was behind the drive to deregulate the energy sector in the United States.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (book) (movie)
Movieclips Classic TrailersEnron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) – Nov 20, 2013

It is because of Ken Lay’s friendship with Governor and then President Bush that the Texas and California electrical grids ended up being the mess that they are today. It’s just taken longer for Texas’ grid to fall apart than it did California’s, which has been on the ropes since Enron arranged for it to start suffering rolling blackouts back at the turn of the century.

I watched/read The Smartest Guys in the Room when the movie/book came out back in 2005. The story itself was just another nail in the coffin of my belief in market solutions, the death of my libertarian delusions. Every time that the fraudsters finally convince someone in authority to deregulate, it doesn’t take long to prove that government regulation had been there for a very good reason after all. Enron bought energy companies and then created energy markets for their power to be sold on. That was what those regulations stood in the way of, huge profits on Wall Street.

One of the last acts of desperation in the failing business that Enron became after its meteoric rise on the stock market was to turn off power generation in California’s electrical market in order to drive up the price of electricity and put money in the pockets of Enron executives and traders. Enron created rolling blackouts on purpose in order to profit from the suffering of California citizens. One of the last acts of desperation of the Texas Public Utility Commision during the recent winter storm was to set the price of electricity high enough on the Texas market to inspire power generators to turn on their excess capacity and flood the Texas power grid in their time of need. It’s just too bad that there wasn’t any capacity to be had because the power generators hadn’t bothered to insure against freezing by weatherizing their supply systems. Just too bad that electric energy generators and their investors were more interested in profiting off of the suffering of Texas citizens than they were in spending money weatherizing against winter storms that they hoped would never show up, but still manage to show up about every ten years anyway.

KUT 90.5 – Texas’ Power Grid Was 4 Minutes And 37 Seconds Away From Collapsing. Here’s How It Happened – February 24, 2021

Millions lost power. Hundreds died. How did this happen? KUT’s Mose Buchele explores what happened during the worst blackout in Texas history, how we got the electric grid we have today and what could be done to fix it.

kutkutx.studio/the-disconnect
kut.org

Shares of Macquarie rose 3.4% in Sydney on Monday after the company raised its profit outlook. They are now down 2.8% over the past 12 months.

One customer told the Dallas Morning News that his electric bill for five days stood at $5,000, the amount he would normally pay for several years of power. Another told the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate that he had been charged more than $16,000 for February.

wsj.com

It is also too bad that Texas’ hostility to federal regulation caused it to seek an isolated grid through ERCOT, which meant that most of Texas went without power when it’s isolated grid went down and no one could send it power to keep it afloat. Unless you were lucky and lived around El Paso, which (along with Amarillo and the panhandle) are not under ERCOT and consequently only saw minor interruptions in service.

This is what happens when you make the essentials for survival into profit-driven commodities; commodities that no one can understand how to profit from unless they are scarce enough to drive demand over available supply. When there is more demand than there is supply of the essentials some people won’t survive. The death toll across Texas due to the winter storm and resulting power outages is still unknown but is likely to be well over 100 people, and a bank in Australia made 200 million off of those deaths.

Texas is misnamed. Texas (tejas) supposedly means friend or ally. Nothing could be further from the truth than seeing Texas as your friend or ally. That is the ploy of the confidence man, the demand to trust him even though he seems to be oilier than all get out. The Texas mascot should be the irresponsible teen who wants to shirk all the day long because he can. It should be the grasshopper that whiles the summer away instead of storing food for the winter. Like the grasshopper and the irresponsible teen, Texas is always unprepared for adversity because of these infantile behavior patterns. Texas is a great place to be young and healthy, because there are no worries about tomorrow here, and no requirement to save anything for that day of need. Texas is a horrible place to be old or sick in because there is no place to go when you reach your hour of need. No allowance for the slackers that we pretend to be fond of, but throw out in the cold the minute that things get tough.

The true beneficiary of Texas largesse is the corporate raider, the false priest, the con artist. Texas is made for thieves. Personal and corporate greed are rewarded here, rewarded more highly than any human virtue. Just look at Ken Lay. He understood what Texas was for. He rode that pony hard and put it up wet counting on not being there when the tax man came for his cut. He died a millionaire, of the diseases of old age he could have avoided if he had straightened up and flown right. Why bother? No one gets out of this life alive.

The Enron legacy is ERCOT and every other Texas boondoggle ever hatched. Every scheme that amounted to nothing more than stealing from public coffers and crafting a golden parachute for yourself. If we had those billions that Enron stole from us, that the deregulation scheme stole from us, we wouldn’t need to go without water or power, the average Austinite wouldn’t have to be out there hand-delivering necessities to people on the verge of death during a pandemic. This lunacy has to stop. The question is, will we pay attention long enough to make it stop?

Featured image from twitter.com/austinenergy

Postscript

The BBC on the subject of the legacy of Enron:

spotifyBBC Business Daily –
The collapse of Enron: Did we learn the lessons? Dec 2, 2021

They don’t go into the facts of Texas’ continued reliance on power systems that were set up for Enron to make profits from. The fact that power systems in all areas where Enron was active are still suffering from the after effects of Enron’s malfeasance.

Governor Greg Abbott made off like a bandit after the legislative session that did not fix the Texas power grid, but not nearly as much of a bandit as one of the owners of Texas’ power generation facilities:

Winter Storm Uri cost us an estimated $293 billion in damages and some estimates put the actual death toll closer to 700. Nearly 5 million Texans lost power; many more went days without water. Remember?

One Texan who hasn’t forgotten is Dallas resident Kelcy Warren, although not because he worried that he and his family were in any danger. Warren, co-founder and now executive chairman of Energy Transfer Partners, lives in a 27,000-square-foot ivy-covered stone castle on nine acres in North Dallas. He bought his humble abode in 2009 for a reported $29 million. We can imagine that the heat stayed on in the Warren manse (or perhaps the family repaired to its private island off the coast of Honduras.)

What the pipeline tycoon remembers, we suspect, is not the nearly $300 billion that the storm cost Texas. It’s the figure $2.4 billion. As Justin Miller reports in the current issue of the Texas Observer, that’s the profit Warren’s company collected during the blackouts, a sizable portion of the $11 billion profit the natural gas industry as a whole collected by, in Miller’s words, “selling fuel at unprecedented prices to desperate power generators and utilities during the state’s energy crisis.”

Warren, a hefty donor over the years to former Gov. Rick Perry, former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, made sure that Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t forget either.

On June 23, Warren wrote out a check to Abbott’s reelection campaign in the amount of $1 million. That’s the biggest check Warren has ever given a Texas politician, according to campaign finance reports. And it’s four times the usual $250,000 gift that Abbott has gotten from his reliable Dallas benefactor nearly every year since he was elected governor in 2014.

houstonchronicle.com

This is the Enron legacy, in spades. This is what the for-profit power generation scheme that Ken Lay wanted put in place is there for. It is there to make billions of dollars for people who control access to the power of the state. We are fools to continue to allow this fraud to continue at our expense, at the possible cost of our own lives. If you vote for Republicans in Texas, you are the biggest fool of all.

Guaranteed City Services

The power went off about 2am while I was having a soak in the tub before heading to bed. I grumbled and then rinsed and dried myself off in the dark and climbed up out of the tub to get dressed again so that I could go find the flashlights and the hurricane candles and make sure the house was set up for several hours of life without electricity in the middle of a nearly unprecedented winter storm.

This is the second time in a month that the power has gone off here at the house. It’s off at the school across the street too which has never happened before, and that bothers me. The school is on a seperate grid set aside for essential services. Most Texas schools were built to be shelters for harsh weather as well as their main purpose as schools, and they are largely self-sufficient architecture if properly maintained. The power being out there was a signal that this was not the ordinary squirrel chewing on transformer wires kind of problem.

The power stayed off until 4:38am. It came back on while I was washing dishes by candlelight. Weirdly that is the same thing I was doing the last time there was a power outage. The power stayed on for ten whole minutes and then it went back off again. I’m going to start a fire in the fireplace soon and start cleaning the shotgun in preparation for the zombie hordes that should be milling about by the time everything thaws in a week. I hope all of you have your zombie plans ready.

This is getting to be a too frequent problem. If I wanted to be on my own for power I would live out in the country. I don’t live in the country because I want services from the city to work when I need them too. I’d like to not have to buy solar cells, a battery backup and a generator just because I as a homeowner can’t rely on the city to keep the power on. This is why we pay taxes. We pay through the nose so that the services we need are there when we need them.

Yes, this is unprecedented weather, a never-before seen type of winter storm for this area. I get that. But this is the second time in a month, and that time the weather was normal and the power was still off all day. The city needs to start making sure that basic services stay on all the time, and just FYI that also includes the internet in this day and age. It’s time for a rethink, as the saying goes. Let’s start getting the city to pay attention to what is really important to us as citizens. What is that?

  • Shelter for everyone.
  • Clean water for everyone.
  • Food for everyone.
  • Electricity for everyone.
  • Healthcare for everyone.
  • Information services for everyone.

When it became clear to me that climate change was a thing some time around 2010, I started thinking that the municipalities and states needed to start making plans to deal with unexpected weather conditions in the future, because we really don’t know what will happen as the planet warms up. Winter storms stalling out in the Southern regions of the United States are perhaps a completely unlikely event to contemplate, but that is what the word unexpected means, and that is also why they changed the nomenclature from global warming to climate change, because the net effect may have been hotter temperatures worldwide, but the individual weather patterns will include things like what we are seeing right now. We need to be planning for this kind of event in the future, and we should have started these plans twenty years ago or even earlier.

We’ve waited too long and now it is time to play catch up, and we’d better start doing the planning in earnest or we’ll be seeing rolling blackouts all summer and winter in the years to come. People dying to unforeseen climate events is something that we should not just be accepting blythely like we are doing right now. How many homeless will freeze to death tonight? How many of them have died so far this year?

In a year marred by uncertainty and loss, homeless Austinites and advocates gathered Sunday morning to remember and read the names of the 256 homeless Austinites who died in 2020 – an increase of more than 70 deaths compared to last year.

Along Auditorium Shores, dog tags representing each life lost were nailed to a memorial live oak on the banks of Lady Bird Lake. The silver tags fluttered and jangled with each gust of wind on the blustery morning, while Austinites on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail went about their Sunday exercises largely unphased.

kut.org

Will it top 400 in 2021? 500? When will we say enough?

February 18, 2021 – I wrote the original portion of this article Sunday night, early Monday morning, by copying parts of text that I had written on Facebook and Nextdoor earlier in the day Sunday. I was using my phone as a hotspot while typing on my laptop and it was the only connection to the outside world that we had in the house at that time. Not too long after my 5 am post, the phone and then the laptop went dead, and I had no power to charge either of them (other than sitting out in the SUV we borrowed from a friend due to the terrorist squirrels attack on our car) until Wednesday afternoon when we were woken up from the pretty poor sleep we were getting without our cpap machines, woken up by the sound of the high temp alarm going off on the chest freezer that sits just the other side of the wall from our bedroom. So that makes just under four full days without power for us here in Austin.

Most of the food in the chest freezer will be of questionable safety and will have to be thrown out, and that goes double for the contents of the refrigerator. We moved most items that we needed to keep edible to the porch, which remains colder than the refrigerator even today, Thursday the 18th.

That is 59 hours without power thanks to the Texas electric grid manager’s (ERCOT) unwillingness to provide or find additional power to keep the electricity on for most Texans. The death toll from freezing will not be known for some time (90 days per the Statesman article quoted further down. -ed.) and the cost of life among the homeless population may never be known. Nor is this winter storm over. I noticed flakes of snow falling again today as I washed dishes in my freshly boiled tap water this morning.

Boiled tap water? The boil water notice was instituted yesterday as the assessments of the damage that the lack of electricity for four days has had on our local infrastructure revealed that the power had been turned off at Austin’s largest water treatment plant, and that water pressure remains under low pressure conditions. Low water pressure means that contaminants can be siphoned off of toilet tanks or leaks in cracked water lines, rendering the once potable water in the lines potentially life-threatening. The boil water notice will probably remain in effect here for several days.

I’m still no more confident the power will stay on than I was when it came back on the last time. It may be still on now, but how long will it be before ERCOT or the PUC once again screw up and Texas is subjected to blackouts because of it? This has happened several times, pretty much every time that the weather goes below freezing for long enough for the non weatherized portions of the electricity grid to freeze and then fail to provide power.

When I wrote about this issue on Nextdoor several people displayed a complete lack of knowledge about the subject of the electric power grid in Texas. People like this guy:

So you’d like Texas to invest hundreds of millions (or possibly billions?) of taxpayer dollars to expand capacity to meet the power needs created by a single day of once in a century weather?

The problem is not capacity that needs to be built into the system. The problem is weatherization. Weatherization that has been pointed out as being needed before, but that Texas’ electricity council has never done anything to address:

Morning Edition – What Went Wrong With The Electric Grid In Texas? – February 17, 2021

So this is a very frustrating narrative, and largely because it is true that some of the solar and wind farms were producing less than you might have expected because of the extreme cold, but a lot of them were actually overperforming expectations as well. Simultaneously, almost an order of magnitude or almost 10 times as much of the thermal system – so coal, gas and nuclear – actually shut down because of the extreme cold, due to things like instruments freezing, et cetera. So I think the overall point here is all of the fuels were really, really struggling. And as the governor mentions, renewables being about 10% of the grid, the other 90% of the grid was not available in the way that we expected to, either, and in a way that was very, very far outside of what we expected to see fail.

NPR.org

The weatherization issue is a known problem and it is an old problem. In 1989 Texas faced power outages due to freezing weather impairing the electrical grid. It happened once again in the 1990’s and in 2011. Now it is happening again because ERCOT and it’s member corporations have still not complied with suggestions made by the national electrical regulating body more than a decade ago.

Millions lost power. Hundreds died. How did this happen? KUT’s Mose Buchele explores what happened during the worst blackout in Texas history, how we got the electric grid we have today and what could be done to fix it.

kutkutx.studio/the-disconnect

As another commenter pointed out on that thread on Nextdoor, this is because ERCOT was set up specifically to allow Texas to avoid federal regulation. This is possible because all of ERCOT’s activities are inside Texas, which means its activities are not interstate commerce and thusly cannot be regulated by federal authorities. ERCOT passed on the recommendations from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to their participating electrical power generators, but few if any of them were followed:

Moreover, some of the same equipment, the report noted, had failed during previous cold snaps. One in December 1989 prompted the state’s grid operator to resort to system-wide rolling blackouts for the first time.

“Many generators failed to adequately apply and institutionalize knowledge and recommendations from previous severe winter weather events, especially as to winterization of generation and plant auxiliary equipment,” the 2011 report said.

The failures have already spurred a tangle of finger-pointing, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott calling on leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, to resign.

bloomberg.com

The wikipedia page I linked under the acronym ERCOT above appears to have been written from press releases and from ERCOT’s own website. It is pretty hard to find any information on this obscure agency that isn’t filtered through their own internal lens. A local news station has just recently published a story that claims that several board members don’t live in Texas and one board member purportedly lives in Canada:

A KXAN analysis of ERCOT’s board revealed a total of five members do not live in Texas. Along with Telberg and Cramton, board members Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper do not appear to live in the Lone Star State.

Anesetti-Parra’s professional social media account shows her location as Canada, Bulger’s ERCOT biography lists his home as Wheaton, Illinois and a University of Pennsylvania law school biography shows Hepper calls Maine home.

kxan.com

What is clear is that ERCOT has proven that it can’t manage Texas’s electrical generating grid with any reliability and needs to be scrapped and replaced with another organization that is mandated with ensuring that power stays on for the average Texan even when inclement weather is affecting the region.

This is not a big ask. This is not asking the government to invest billions of dollars providing excess capacity, although re-investing the millions of dollars of profit that these corporations have taken out of Texas in the future of Texas and in Texas’ ability to sustain the necessary systems for power generation and delivery would be a completely justifiable demand.

I’ll start simple. I’d like the state to stop denying that climate change is real. It’s all around us and affecting us more and more each day. Stop pretending that science is political. Science is real and climate change is real and we are just going to have to learn how to deal with this new reality that we have created. I would like a task force to be set up to spitball and then solve similar issues to this one we are living through now, and then they need to set up preparations to deal with similar crisis in the future.

There will be another crisis this summer from the heat and there will likely be one next winter from the cold. Once in a century storms seem to happen every other season these days. It is time to get off of our collective asses and go about setting up the systems we will need to survive this new and rapidly changing climate we find ourselves in. Austin should probably increase their investment in the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, and possibly start backing current plans to expand that station to generate more power. That would be a good place to start. On the other end of the spectrum Austin and Texas should allow and/or encourage households and businesses to install battery backup systems for their solar power systems, so that households and businesses can draw on their own power during peak demand cycles. Completely the opposite direction from where Governor Abbott is currently agitating energy to go, demanding a reinvestment in oil and natural gas:

Beau of the Fifth ColumnLet’s talk about windmills in Texas and cars on Mars – Feb 17, 2021 (I’d like to thank Facebook for making it so buttfucking hard to link videos inside Facebook that they’ve forced me to go out and subscribe to Beau’s Youtube Channel that I didn’t even know he had in order to get a working link to this video that I originally found on Facebook. Facebook video, a major driver of video subscriptions for Youtube. Google should be paying you. -Ed.)

(When South Australia Went Dark, Some Politicians Blamed Wind Turbines. They Were Wrong, Too.)

In the meantime we still don’t have running water. Luckily we started having drinking water delivered a few years ago because Austin tap water had started tasting weird and didn’t look to be improving anytime soon. At least I could still wash dishes and clothes in it, as well as cook with it, while it was running. I really miss water at the taps that we could drink as well as do all those other things we need water to do in the average human home. Looking forward to the time when we can once again take basic necessities for granted as being guaranteed by the governments we elect to make sure we have what we need to survive.

If you elect people who hate and fear government to run government, you get bad government.

Bad government has consequences. Bad government can’t handle a crisis, won’t help its citizens (not can’t help its citizens, won’t), and can only blame others for its endless failure.

And you don’t have to look any further than what’s happening in Texas right now to see it.

facebook.com/Stonekettle

We made the Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word on MSNBC Feb. 18th & 19th . A clip from Rachel’s show is the featured image. Here are some links to the screenshots (Instagram link 1 and link 2) I took from the Thursday Feb. 18, 2021 show.

The last commenter on the Nextdoor post I cribbed a portion of the text for this article from kept passively/aggressively implying that we had better shut up about wanting the power to stay on if we didn’t want to pay more for our electricity here in Texas. After about the fifth version of this reply being posted in the thread, I asked her to answer the question “is it a prosecutable crime to allow someone to freeze to death in their house by turning off the electricity? Yes or no?” She never responded to the question.

Hector Nieto, public information officer for the county, said the medical examiner’s office was busy processing at least 86 cases from Feb. 13-20 to determine the causes of death. 

statesman.com

Here is a story from the Feb. 25th Texas Standard:

texasstandard.org

Tap water was declared safe to drink citywide in Austin on the 25th. There were three other stories about the aftermath of the storm in this episode of the show.

Postscript

The state’s tally currently stands at 151 deaths. But by looking at how many more people died during and immediately after the storm than would have been expected — an established method that has been used to count the full toll of other disasters — we estimate that 700 people were killed by the storm during the week with the worst power outages. This astonishing toll exposes the full consequence of officials’ neglect in preventing the power grid’s collapse despite repeated warnings of its vulnerability to cold weather, as well as the state’s failure to reckon with the magnitude of the crisis that followed.

buzzfeednews.com

The official tally is up to 210, but I have to agree with Buzzfeed here. The graveyard doesn’t lie. The death toll during the storm was the number of people who died during the storm, less the average number of deaths for that month historically.

Do you want to know why the Texas power grid sucks as bad as it does today?

Spreading the California Model

The news pundits and the Republicans are tripping all over themselves trying to tell us how they, the Republicans, will take back the U.S. House and Senate in 2022. This is the historical perspective as well as the wishful thinking of the party that is out of power. Historically the president’s party loses seats in the legislature in midterm elections.

Historical trends break in times of crisis; and this is one of the greatest moments of crisis that the United States has ever been through. The pandemic that never seems to end. The failed coup d’état. The slow trickle of damning evidence that emerges about the failed coup from the January 6th investigative committee.

What I am interested in is seeing the government act on the best ideas; and the only way to get the best ideas to rise to the top of the structure and get acted upon is to engage the wisdom of the crowd. Notice that I say best ideas and not correct ideas? Correct is subjective. Best is, or can be, objectively defined. This should not be a right/left issue or a conservative/liberal issue. This is an issue of good governance and only a fool or an authoritarian would want to make sure that the country continues to have bad governance through the enactment of bad ideas. This is why the jungle/blanket primary is the first thing we need to see established, nationally. It will take away the power that enables Trump because his ideas are demonstrably very bad and very unpopular.

Time changes everything. Wait a couple of beats and see what happens next. I think we need to start working on supporting our local Democratic candidates right now. Pushing back on this same old normalization narrative that the Trumpists have spun out repeatedly since the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape emerged (I have never understood why “Mexicans are rapists” didn’t make a dent, and that was the first speech he gave) It is the leadership that is truly reprehensible here, not the rank and file average self-identifying Republican. They can’t bring themselves to vote for Democrats, and they can’t find any other choices to make.

I’ve been saying this for years. We have to start pushing the California model across the 49 other states in the union:

  • Jungle primaries – Republicans frequently don’t even get into the general election in California anymore because their ideas simply aren’t popular with the majority of the citizenry. Jungle primaries opens the process up, prequalifying only the top two vote getters for the general election. We have to be bold. We have to be certain that we will be the choice of the majority of the voting populace.
  • Redistricting commissions – Completely remove politics from the drawing of districts. X number of people in a congruous geographical area represented equally across the board, that number needing to be smaller than 1 million people. With unbiased redistricting that can be demonstrated as fair, the person who actually gets out and finds out what their constituents want, and fairly represents that desire, will win.

I would also add automatic voter registration to the list (I’m not sure if California has this yet or not) so that the population knows it can vote because just doing normal business with the government registers them to participate in the process. Again, we need to be bold and have faith that the citizenry will reward us for doing the things that need to be done to make sure that they have a voice and that they will be counted. Exactly the opposite of what the Republicans are peddling right now.

In Texas we have to start with the people who can vote, but don’t. They don’t vote because they don’t believe anything can change. They outnumber the Republicans two to one. Two to one. We have to convince them to vote for us on the promise that we will make these changes.

If we don’t do this, then the war of attrition will continue until the United States ceases to exist through its own inability to act. Separate camps fighting over the reducing spoils until we are no more than the American Balkans that we deserve to be. Choose.

facebook & Defusing Trumpismo

Postscript

I’m just going to start dribbling out the pieces of the Politics 101 article that is never going to gel into a single article. Maybe it can be marshalled into a page, or maybe I should lend my efforts to Indivisible. Food for thought.

This post was published because I ran across another set of comments (these from 2018) that were in the same vein, and I was in the process of adding them to this article when I thought to ask “what other articles are out there that have these phrases in them?” I found two. This one was essentially complete, so I just hit publish on it. It was a year old already anyway.

Featured image: screencap from Khan Academy – Open primaries, closed primaries, and blanket primaries

Abbott’s War on Absentee Voting

Local officials in Texas say they plan to fight a new order from Gov. Greg Abbott to limit the number of places where voters can hand deliver mail-in ballots.

Abbott announced the order Thursday, the same day local election officials opened the drop-off sites.

NPR.org

I’ve been of the opinion for decades now that the governor’s office has overstepped its constitutional bounds. It started with Pointy Boots, err, Rick Perry, but Abbott has stretched the areas that the office was intended to govern into areas that are far beyond constitutional intents. I know that interfering in city and county business was exactly what the writers of the Texas constitution were trying to prevent, and yet Abbott has done this routinely over the last few years with the legislature’s help.

Local officials, both county and city, should call his bluff this time. Tell him that he can either get the Secretary of State to issue a guideline that makes that limitation on balloting official (but still questionable) or he can drag the legislature back into session to make the voting changes he calls for a legislative directive that is demonstrably constitutional. Otherwise, tough. The counties make those kinds of decisions and the counties have already made their decisions.

Greg Abbott is not the dictator of Texas, he’s just the governor. His job is to look pretty, sign bills and cut ribbons. That is the extent of his power. That he can only do two of those things is not our problem.

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The district court was wrong to rewrite Texas law. But the distinguished judge who did so was simply following in the Governor’s footsteps,” Ho wrote. “It is surely just as offensive to the Constitution to rewrite Texas election law by executive fiat as it is to do so by judicial fiat. Yet that is what occurred here.

statesman.com