SocraticGadfly

March 08, 2021

Winter storm kabuki theater under the Pink Dome

You know what I'm talking about.

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness getting fired by his board and PUC Chairwoman DeAnn Walker resigning under pressure? It's all kabuki theater, Danny Goeb, for two reasons:
1. None of you talked about the Railroad Commission, in spite of those natural gas lines freezing up. I know, they're all elected, but still ...
2. We haven't seen a bill yet, especially not a bill that mandates weatherization requirements for ALL THREE agencies.

Until then? Kabuki theater, and we dive into the Roundup, starting in that area.

More here at the Trib on how the RRC, and oil and gas companies it regulates, have dodged the eye of Danny Goeb, Strangeabbott and the GOP for what's surely deliberate reasons, but have also seemingly flown under the radar of most Dems. The three commissioners may be elected, but ... their scope of duties and required duties can still be controlled by legislation. (In the story, an O&G lawyer argues the RRC has the power to require weatherization right now. But, until it's forced to, it won't. C'mon.)

The real problem at the PUC, as Justin Miller notes, is one that plagues many federal regulatory agencies as well: the revolving door. At least on paper, the feds have addressed this with "time-out windows" of two years or more. Until the Lege does that, too, it's still kabuki theater. And, Miller helpfully reminds us that the PUC also regulates water and telecommunications. Follow the links inside that piece; and, if you're a Republican reading this, not just Dem or beyond, demand action from YOUR Legiscritter.

Meanwhile, ERCOT's focus on a supply market rather than a capacity market, has left it more than a bit light in the financial loafers. Will We the Consumer take the hit? Of course. This is Tex-ass.

And, reminder: Until more Dems get serious about the RRC ... until more Dems get serious about ConservaDems involvement in the root of the problem ... until more Dems get serious about the Texas equivalent of needing to restore the original Glass-Steagall ...

Things won't really change.

March 05, 2021

Mad masklessness: HEB fails (as do Albertson's, Tom Thumb), Kroger passes, as do some others

Update: HEB caved later on Friday, even if its press release was a bit confusing and self-undermining by using the word "expect" after the first "require" — the "expect" being the word I saw first, as HEB's Thursday afternoon PR remained defiant.

First, let me state that within the cult of Texas exceptionalism, there are three sub-cults in the business world, guaranteed. (There were four, but Jethro Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys have semi-sucked for so long that Stephen A. Smith's parody of "How 'bout them Cowboys" may be more of a cult in Texas than the real thing.

One? Whataburger. Just watch Twitter light up any time In-n-Out gets mentioned, as I've blogged.

The second? H-E-B, which I've miniblogged in Roundups about the neoliberal "national" magazine of Texas exceptionalism, Texas Monthly.

The third? Bucee's, of course.

Last August, Dan Solomon, who apparently has never met a puff piece he didn't like, did exactly that with HEB. Other stores, like Kroger, also gave employee pay bumps, cut store hours for restocking time, etc. I think Wally was the first on the reduced hours. (Second, Kroger is the only unionized grocery chain in Texas. That's another reason to shop there first.)

Also, in January, Mimi Swartz jumped on the fellation bandwagon, this for Charles Butt himself. (Related? Whether Kroger, HEB, or Wally, I hate any store that calls its employees "partners," unless, at a minimum, they have stock options, or at a maximum, like Winco, they have a direct piece of pie — if it's direct there.)

Now, to HEB's anti-public health stance on masks.

HEB's decision to almost IMMEDIATELY jump on Gov. Abbott's cancelling the state mask mandate smacks to me of maybe expecting this move to happen and definitely wanting it to happen. As of the time of this post, HEB was radio-silent on social media.

Since I live on the north exurban area of the Metroplex, I can't really boycott HEB. But? I can, and will, boycott Central Market. And HEB already knows that.

This San Antonio Current piece, which I saw as the No. 1 Facebook post when searching for HEB's Facebook handle to make sure I tagged it when Kroger announced it would continue requiring masks. The person who posted it was butthurt that the header had the word "bullshit" and also claimed that it was opinion.

Boo-hoo on the first count. Wrong on the second.

As I commented, there was a link in the first paragraph to a previous Current story about HEB employees complaining that the company was telling them to not enforce mask mandates. Facts on the ground, not opinion.

As far as the "bullshit"? It is. It's kabuki theater, as any non-cultist can tell.

HEB didn't respond as to whether it would hire security or how, if anything beyond new signs saying "masks are not required but  ureged" it actually would "urge" anything.

Now, Kroger's statement may in part be kabuki theater PR, seeing HEB get its ass kicked on social media.  After all, it did so itself with "Kroger Andy," as I also blogged last year

So? The enemy of my enemy is my friend, first. Second, Kroger waited a full day after the Texas and Mississippi orders to make a statement. Contrast that to HEB.

Besides, Kroger kicked ass on HEB in another way. Its announcement included saying that employees would get a $100 bonus to get vaccinated. Haven't heard that from HEB.

As for the HEB cultists and claiming HEB was so pioneering? More Kabuki theater. The Interwebz says it started requiring masks July 1. BUT that was only AFTER Strangeabbott pulled the teeth from his ordinance, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff then found the "loophole," per this story. And, per this story, it only acted when 85 percent of its stores were under municipal or county mask mandates after other local leaders followed Judge Wolff.

And? Kroger was only three weeks behind with its NATIONWIDE mask mandate.

That didn't stop HEB from, as part of a "stronger" plea to please wear masks, from engaging in this BS:

H-E-B was an early adopter of mask use before any mandates and orders had been passed.

I told HEB on Twitter that, per the above info, it wasn't even a half-truth; it was a 15 percent truth.

(Said "stronger plea" also appears to put the kibosh on a Thursday rumor that HEB would backtrack.)

Speaking of kabuki theater, Strangeabbott's original order became kabuki theater the moment he refused to prosecute anybody (aka Shelley Luther) and refused to let local governments do so.

What this is really all about, beyond Abbott the legalistic hairsplitter arising again with his no-masks order details, to riff on Chris Hooks, is Abbott being afraid of Christofascist Tim Dunn rounding up somebody to primary him. (No, it won't be Danny "Duty to Die" Goeb. Dan Patrick likes the freedom to snipe away from his Lite Guv spot.)

Worse news yet! Strangeabbott said he was originally planning to lift the mandate last month, before the #AbbottBlackout intervened!

(Tom Thumb and parent Albertson's are both going the HEB route, albeit with less public kabuki theater and without being a Texas cult. Wonder how the Texas exceptionalists would play this if it were the other around.) Fortunately, Sprouts and Aldi, along with Target and Costco, have joined Kroger

Sadly, D Mag, at that link immediately above, was a sucker for HEB PR, not noting that "expect" is not the same as "require."

March 04, 2021

Roundup part 2: Smoke if you've got it in Dallas, worship the Golden Calf

Plenty of stuff for a breakout second Roundup beyond the weather stuff, especially given the looniness at CPAC.

So, let's dig in!

CPAC

Cancun Ted Cruz said he remained Trump's lapdog.

Oh, that Golden Calf Trump statue? Hecho en Mexico. What? "Get a rope!"

Jan. 6

Why hasn't the FBI worked harder to "talk to Luke Coffee"? For that matter, why hasn't the DOJ indicted him? Turns out he HAS been charged and has surrendered to authorities and that the (lazy-ass?) Monthly hasn't updated its story. (I insert the adjective per the first half of the roundup and a Texas Monthly piece flat-out lying about Texas' grid disconnection being problematic. Texas Monthly semi-sucks or worse on a semi-regular, if not regular, basis.)

Texana

Once again, Willie Nelson can't wait to be on the road again.

Another Texas tradition that coronavirus can't kill off? Scarborough Faire will start its 40th season in weeks.

The assassination of Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton has a Texas tie. The Monthly discusses the new movie.

Politics

Tony Tinderholt and Katrina "Bullets" Pierson are among the wingnuts who might run for the late Ron Wright's Sixth Congressional District seat.

North Texas

Dallas' new police chief may have officers doing less marijuana enforcement.

Politics, national

Glass half full or half empty? I kind of agree with this USA Today piece that if Trump, out of the Oval Office only five weeks, had 45 percent of people at CPAC say they'd take someone else for prez, he is closer to burned-out supernova than lurking land mine. On the other hand, Trumpianism is still here in spades. After all, the top alternative to Trump at CPAC was Ron DeSantis.

G. Elliott Morris notes the corrosive effect of a misinformed public on democracy and governance. 

Matt Mohn shows how Joe Biden would have done under the 2004 Tom DeLay re-redistricting.

Solar Winds — the big picture

Bruce Schneier talks about the price of capitalism on cybersecurity.
 

Texas Progressives talk winter storm aftermath

We've got CPAC detritus, plenty of winter storm aftermath detritus and other thoughts to occupy us for this week's Roundup, so let's dig in. Winter storm items are big enough that we're again splitting the non-COVID version of the Roundup into two at this site.

We've got updates on the likely Kabuki theater by the Lege versus ERCOT and PUC, rural and low-income hits and more. Let's dig in.

• Let's start with the ProPublica/Trib piece that dives deeper into just how fucked-up the Texas electric world is and just how deeply Texas power companies have made it that way. Plus, PP/T rightly blame not just ERCOT and the Public Utilities Commission but the Railroad Commission for not requiring natural-gas power plant suppliers, and the plants involved, to winterize. So, shut the fuck up Wayne Christian.

• Move next to Politico, which focuses on: "Where's Abbott?"

• All the talk about Winter Storm Sucks-ass's effects were centered on urban areas, and it is true that Texas is becoming ever more urban. But, as I can attest, rural Texas is indeed facing the short end of the stick on dealing with the storm's aftermath.

• Also hard hit? School districts that can't reopen due to storm damage. THAT, in turn, as yours truly wrote in an op-ed at his day job, is why UIL should have immediately decided to just shove back boys and girls basketball playoff brackets by a full week.

• SocraticGadfly offers his suggestions for people to fill those vacant "unaffiliated" board positions on ERCOT. 

• Off the Kuff advises you to be more mad at the Public Utility Commission.

• The Lege put both agencies in the hot seat at hearings, but will it ultimately be anything more than kabuki theater? Not if Strangeabbott is only welcoming ERCOT board resignations but not PUC ones. Not if either Abbott or the Lege lets stand ERCOT CEO Bill Magness telling the Lege he wouldn't have changed a thing.

• That's why, per D Magazine, there's four key questions involved.

• Rolling blackouts and other problems from the storm hit low-income residents harder; per the piece, it hit illegal immigrants harder yet. 

That piece is also, to riff on uninformed comments by an alleged "energy expert" Joshua Rhodes that I blogged about last week, also detailed on how public housing is really under-insulated and under-weatherized. But, it notes that it's not JUST public housing either; due to crappy construction, which ALSO affects AC bills, Southern states' residents generally lead the nation in electric costs.

• The Observer also has a roundup of how we got here.

• Chris Hooks has a further roundup at the Monthly, noting that we really got here because a then-bipartisan Lege started us on this road in the late 1990s. I've said this more than once in comments at Kuff's site, that Democraps as well as Rethuglicans brought us here.

• The "National magazine of neoliberal Texas exceptionalism" ignores how El Paso survived the storm so well PRECISELY because it was connected to the Western US grid in making a lying claim that ERCOT's disconnect was not part of the problem. That also was discussed by me in last week's winter storm portion of the Roundup.

• The now-notorious Griddy has been booted from the list of Texas electric providers.

• Texans for Public Justice documents Greg Abbott's reliance on funding from the energy industry. The

• Texas Living Waters Project urges the Legislature to use the current legislative session to address the long-running water infrastructure challenges laid bare by Winter Storm Uri. 

• Jeff Balke lists eight emergency preparedness items you might want to have on hand.

March 03, 2021

The future of the Colorado River stares the Southwest in the face

The recent winter storm helped somewhat, but the Colorado Plateau and Western Slope are dry enough this year that, per High Country News, the Upper Colorado River Basin (Upper, not Lower) is having to implement a drought contingency plan.

The biggie is that this is part of a larger ticking time bomb.

The Colorado River Compact, which overallocated the river, and which, due to the formulation of the U.S. Senate and other things, wrongly divided the seven U.S. states into Upper and Lower basins, expires in five years.

HCN's Nick Bowlin says it will be renegotiated in "patchwork" fashion over that time. But, will it? Rather, might we not have attempted renegotations that fail?

He notes that, per that Upper basin contingency plan, BuRec has said that Lake Powell could hit a trigger point in 2022 similar to the one that Mead hit in 2019.

It's no wonder that, per another link in the story, hedge fund types and other vulture capitalists salivate over privatized Colorado River water. Some have even been, often surreptitiously, buying up water rights where they can. That said, the Times notes that these vultures have allies, starting with Colorado's former chief water allocation official, James Eklund. A real neoliberal attorney grifter, he also worked as private council to then Gov.-John Hickenlooper, known here as Chicken Licker and worse. After leaving his state job in 2017, Eklund, per this piece, first went to work for white-shoe Squire Patton Boggs before forming his own law firm.

That Times story moves forward by reminding us of the Owens River and Chinatown. Prescient indeed. It then moves to Aussie water markets, which some in the US would like to emulate. Critics note the end result is financiers cheering for more drought.

The problem is further exacerbated in New Mexico by transfers (not large, but still) from the Colorado to the Rio Grande, which is currently even more stressed out.

Even if a new deal can be successfully negotiated, problems loom. Some of them are discussed by an excellent book.

Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the WestDead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West by James Lawrence Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just how dry can the Colorado River system get?

I've often thought of the tragedy of Marc Reisner dying fairly young. I have no doubt he would have written a third edition of Cadillac Desert, had he lived long enough to have the hard science on global warming issues that we're getting today.

Well, short of that, we have James Powell, no relative of John Wesley Powell, writing "Dead Pool," a worthy successor to both that and Donald Worster's "Rivers of Empire."

That said, Powell goes beyond those two books in some ways.

First, he not only has the global warming science that Reisner didn't, he works with this issue more than Worster.

He also addresses development issues and water-grubbing in the modern West a bit more directly than they did. And, he addresses the future of what a "dead pool" on either Lake Powell or Lake Mead will mean for city water, irrigation water, and hydropower in the Southwest.

While Powell doesn't tell Las Vegas or Phoenix they should prepare for Armageddon, he pretty much details that's what's facing Phoenix ... an increasingly polluted smog, with Colorado River run-off chemicals in addition to hydrocarbons, nighttime temperatures sometimes staying in triple digits, and no more cheap electricity.

Someone like Ed Abbey, or an Ed Abbey fan, would love this book.

View all my reviews

March 02, 2021

Coronavirus week 47: Mal-aria, third vaccine. more Kristi Noem lies, etc.

• First, the best news, as explained by Skeptical Raptor. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved with FDA Emergency Use Authorization.

• Texas will likely get an initial allotment of 200,000 J&J shots. However, that could embiggen shortly, with the new announcement that J&J will partner with Merck on production.

• That partnership doesn't excuse Strangeabbott ending Texas' mask mandate. Not.At.All. We're nowhere near out of the wood. Question: Did he do this to get wingnuts back on his side as we still face the detritus of the Abbott Blackout? (Oh, while you're at it? Boycott HEB [and Central Market]. The grocer immediately followed Abbott's announcement that it would no longer require masks. Yeah, I know, retailers don't like being mask police. But, the swiftness of HEB's action indicated it wanted this to happen.)

• "Malaria" is literally the Italian for "bad air."

As school districts and other institutions scramble to improve ventilation systems, Sarah Chang says we can learn something from a century and more ago.

• That said, some school districts just plowed straight ahead, like Southwest Sicking Local School District. Doors and windows were opened more, but there were no fancy upgrades to AC units. Otherwise, mask mandates were enforced and hallways were made one-way at Thomas Watkins High, and that was it. And, no, it's not in ruraldom. It's in suburban Columbus, Ohio. The state leadership of Gov. Mike DeWine, UNarguably the most enlightened Republican governor in the nation on this issue, has surely helped.

• Hilda Bastian, a coronavirus data genius right up with Zeynep Tufecki, weighs in on the problems with the AstraZenica vaccine (she expects it to get worse), how the Amer-European part of the developed world failed to learn more from the developing world (though she ignores China's vaccine failures in Brazil, but does note the problems with Russia's Sputnik V) and more. The biggest "more" is that she does expect Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, as a one-shotter and for other reasons, including its manufacturing capability, to be a game-changer.

On the flip side, she does think that annual vaccinations will become a thing, and apparently thinks, with some others, that COVID will become endemic.

• In the short or medium term, even with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine joining the mix in the US, will we stay ahead of COVID spitting out ever-new mutants? Only if we remain vigilant on masking and social distancing for quite some time.

• Uncle Fester Dick Cheney once famously said "deficits don't matter." National GOP elected officials have tried to make them matter whenever a Dem is in the White House. But, on COVID stimulus checks and related matters, everyday Republican voters agree with Cheney. In turn, that probably scares those libertarianish types among the national GOP; it further undercuts their "starve the beast" ideas.

• Carl Zimmer looks at the coronavirus amidst ongoing scientific discussion about viruses in general and the definition of "alive."

• South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, whose state had the the nation's second highest case rate behind only similarly nutbar North Dakota as of last week, and the nation's eighth-highest death rate, despite being an almost entirely rural and semi-rural state with only one city above 100,000 (and only that one metro area above 100K and just one other above 50K), continued to lie about her alleged "success" in battling COVID. And, I don't know how much good it will do since Twitter still doesn't have a "fake news" category for reporting individual Tweets, but I reported a bunch of hers.

At the same time, she's also a hypocrite and a grifter. On her Twitter feed, right before claiming that Democrats have been fearmongering on COVID, she salutes the money South Dakota is going to get from the latest round of CARES Act money .... a bill initiated by the Democratic House in the previous Congress.

Sadly, Dingleberry Jack at Twitter, while he is working on giving us things like a "paid followers" button or whatever the hell it is, still hasn't seen fit to catch up to Hucksterman and give us a "false news" line on options for reporting Tweets or accounts.

• Dos Centavos tells us about his successful vaccination experience.

• Robert Rivard is firm about the need to continue taking the pandemic seriously

• Did the Colonial, with a family-run marketing shop, fire an additional PR consultant it brought on last year because she insisted on strict masking and social distancing protocols? Richie Whitt says yes.