What Texas is teaching the rest of us

Half the state without drinking water. Electric bills of thousands, one for $16,752. Gas lines and wind turbines frozen and inoperable. Millions without power. Ted Cruz shamed for escaping to Cancun because he could, while his constituents were dying inside their houses.

That Texas swagger got pretty stilted this week. The storied Lone Star state, bastion of rugged male individualism, self-sufficiency, and humble bragging, got blown away by an old lady: Mother Nature. 

At first Governor Greg Abbott and the coal-oil-gas cabal blamed the renewable energy sector – wind and solar – an easy target. But then the word got out that wind and solar provide only 20% of the state’s energy on a sunny, windy day, and a mere 7% on a cold, snowy day.

Dang it!

So now, he’s blaming the state energy sector, a little closer to the truth, but also a pile of horse puckey. The Texas energy sector was designed built and modified by Texans, and no-one else.

In the 1930’s the Federal government started regulating interstate transmission of electric power. Texas, by that time, the muy grande hombre of energy and anti-regulation, immediately refused to send or receive power across state lines. 

Texas didn’t need energy or regulation from anyone, pardner!

With no regulation, energy competition in Texas became the wild, wild west.

In the 1970’s, in an effort to calm that wildness, the state formed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT. But the people who ran ERCOT were still oil-coal-gas good ol’ boys, so little really changed.  

Natural gas machinery, housed inside buildings in the rest of the country, were left outside in Texas. It was cheaper. Wind farms and solar farms, had no anti-icing features. It was cheaper. Gas lines and pipelines were not winterized. It was cheaper. 

Lower costs meant bigger profits. Yahoo!

In 1999, Governor George W. Bush went even farther. He deregulated the Texas energy sector, leaving it a purely market-driven, supply and demand system.

Yippy kai yay!

But when Arctic weather hit the fan in 2011, Texas did nothing. So it happened again this year, only far more catastrophically. Supply dropped, demand grew, prices skyrocketed. And, because Texas had refused to join either of the two main power grids serving the rest of the country, Texans were left out in the cold – literally – and facing utility bills of thousands of dollars.  

The Lone Star state felt pretty helpless and lonely last week.

Compare that to New Jersey. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, New Jersey residents lost power for weeks. New Jersey utilities, following regulations, billed them only $15 that month vs a normal bill of around $150. No-one was charged thousands of dollars.  

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap”, some wise old guy (I think his name was Jerry) said eons ago.

But before we non-Texans laugh up our sleeves at anyone with a twang, we might look at ourselves, too.  

Take the Covid19 crisis. Some states sent doctors and nurses to New York in the beginning. New Yorkers returned the favor later. Even though it has the fifth largest economy in the world, California couldn’t deal with the last two years’ fires by themselves; they needed and got help from other states. New York and its surrounding states are incredibly dependent on each other, economically and culturally.

That is why we call ourselves the “united states”. We help each other out in dealing with things as large as a pandemic or as small as winter storms.

That concept translates equally to international situations. Nationalism is a nice idea in terms of culture and history, but not when it alienates other countries who could help us. We can’t fight off Russia’s or China’s or Iran’s attacks without the help of our allies. We can’t take on the next pandemic without our allies along with other countries. We might get to zero carbon emission by ourselves in 30 years, but we can never survive climate change itself without the help of the entire world.

As Lincoln might have said: we need each other, maybe not all the time, maybe not most of the time, but absolutely some of the time.  

Just ask Texas.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

The 5th Avenue Smoking Gun

I’ve always thought you could divide the world into 2 groups: leaders and followers. 

We talk about leaders a lot. “Hey, that Molly, she’s a great leader!”  

Or, “Don’t work for that bozo! He couldn’t lead his way through an open door!”

We tend to ignore followers because, well, they’re followers. Who cares, right?

Here are some qualities of a good leader you’ll find in most leadership courses: Good communicator, accountable, responsible, motivated, high integrity, emotionally stable, and smart.

George Washington was a great leader. Ditto Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Kennedy… I guess I’ll stop before Nixon.  

Good leaders are all around us. The best leader I knew personally was Pat McGuigan, retired ex-Command Sergeant Major in the Army who was the Manager of Malvern, PA when I was President of that town’s Council. He helped turn many of my cool ideas into reality, like getting Congress to designate a Revolutionary War battlefield as a Federal Park…(Wait…No… that was his idea.) Or adding three playgrounds to the town…(Oops… his idea, too). Or after he left, naming the Municipal Building “McGuigan Hall”… (Yep, that was my idea – I’ve always been a leader at naming). 

Marks of a bad leader are: No empathy, ruthless, dishonest, lazy, dictatorial, narcissistic, blames others, vindictive. 

We’ve all known people like that.  

That doesn’t mean bad leaders don’t have followers. Jim Jones had followers; they drank his kool-aid and died. Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jon-Un, Castro, Che Guevara, and others had followers. They didn’t do well, either.

Good leaders do good things for their followers. Bad leader do bad things for their followers.

Followers have only one real responsibility: choose their leaders carefully. It’s a big responsibility and not always easy. It requires good education and good judgment. The turn of the last century saw bad judgement by followers in Italy and Russia who followed charismatic leaders right into loss of freedom. Those followers were followed by worse followers in Germany and Russia (again), not to mention South America, China, Burma, Viet Nam…  

A lot of pain comes to followers of bad guys (interestingly, I can’t name many women who were bad leaders, but that’s another column).

Our recent leader was known as a bad guy well before he ran for President. He stiffed suppliers and banks, cheated on his wives, discriminated against renters.

His followers, for whatever reason – anger at big government, loss of status, racism, fear of liberals – glommed onto him like a horny teenager at a porn site.

And, predictably he did a lot of things that hurt the country internationally and nationally, as well as his followers, many thousands of whom died from his non-leadership of Covid 19.

The combination of his Big Lie and love-struck followers led to the Jan 6, 2021 assault of Congress and, this week, his impeachment trial.

But they aren’t the worst followers in the Trump Saga; the worst followers are those who follow his followers.

California Representative Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader under Trump, had a chance to remove and admonish Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, anti-semite, QAnon follower, 9/11 doubter, and all around mean girl. Instead, he and numerous other Republican leaders slobbered over the 74 million Trump voters and, in the interest of keeping them unified against Democrats, did nothing. 45 Senators, so far, have done the same thing for the same reason: they voted against impeaching Trump. 

Following followers is not just circular leadership, it’s a downward spiral for the country.

On the other hand, some leaders have shown courage and integrity. Senator Romney and Representative Cheney, along with a few other Republican leaders, have stood up to the Trump mobs at professional and personal risk (death threats and more). Wouldn’t it be incredible if more Republican leaders put the nation in front of their craving for power? 

As the Impeachment unfolds this week, the House Managers have presented evidence that months of Trump’s speeches incited the Jan 6 riot. The remaining question is: did he do it on purpose? Did he know his constant lies would trigger an attack on Congress. 

In other words, is there a smoking gun?

For the answer, go back to a campaign speech before he won the Presidency.

Over four years ago, on September 23, 2016, Trump said: “They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.”

Substitute “Capitol” for “5th Avenue” and you have your smoking gun.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)