The Texans

The women had big hair. Their slinky metallic dresses had big shoulder pads and obviously cost a fortune – for one wearing. The men ran oil companies. They wore two-thousand-dollar Italian suits with their two-thousand-dollar custom cowboy boots. And both the men and women were pretty – and nasty – and completely unaware of most everything. They didn’t do introspection.

They were amoral, and they were absolutely rich. And they had no taste. It was all glitz. This was Dallas – the wildly popular prime time soap opera that ran from 1978 to 1991 – week after week of ruthless nasty rich people having at each other. But damn, they did lead the good life. It would be so cool to live that life. That was the appeal.

Money fixes everything. Flaunt it. And of course Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ran from 1984 to 1995 – feeding the nation’s need for “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” – showing the quite real shallow and totally unaware idle rich, surrounded by gold-plated everything. Such people actually existed, and the nation decided they were way cool. Donald Trump noticed this. He turned himself into the outrageous absurdly rich man of the eighties. He figured it out. The totally unaware idle rich are charming and everyone wants to be just like them. He saw that. He’s crude and amoral and unaware of so many things, but he’s so cool. That’s why the nation elected J. R. Ewing president – and then tossed him out. He may have been a New York guy, from Queens, but he was from Dallas, the television show. He was cunning and nasty, and shallow, and vindictive. He was almost Texan. That is how everyone had come to think of Texans.

That was unfair. Some of them are fine people. But not all of them. There are the nasty kind. There’s this kind of Texan:

Sen. Ted Cruz was met with a wave of fury Thursday on his return to Houston from Cancun, Mexico, as critics questioned his decision to travel abroad while millions of Texas residents were without power and safe drinking water amid freezing temperatures that have left at least 21 people dead in the southern United States.

Public outrage has mounted in recent days as officials in Texas have sought to deflect blame for the state’s lack of preparedness for the storms – and Cruz, a prominent Republican figure widely seen as a potential 2024 presidential contender, immediately became an object of scorn for Texans already incensed by state leaders’ response to the crisis.

In an exchange with reporters outside his home in Houston on Thursday night, Cruz said he decided to return from Cancun, after flying there Wednesday, because he “didn’t want all the screaming and yelling about this trip to distract even one moment from the real issues that I think Texans care about.”

In short, he was cutting short this luxury dream vacation so people would stop screaming and yelling about him, and at him. He was the victim here, really. But maybe he had screwed up:

“It was obviously a mistake,” Cruz said of his decision to go on the trip. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it. I was trying to be a dad.”

He expressed regret and said he had decided to come back earlier than he originally intended.

“Leaving when so many Texans were hurting didn’t feel right, and so I changed my return flight and flew back on the first available flight I could take,” Cruz said, adding that he took a coronavirus test Thursday morning, tested negative and then got on an afternoon flight.

“From the moment I sat on the plane, I began really second-guessing that decision and saying, ‘Look, I know why we’re doing this, but I’ve also got responsibilities.’ I needed to be here, and that’s why I came back, and then as it became a bigger and bigger firestorm, it became all the more compelling that I needed to come back,” Cruz said.

Ah, he had a major public relations problem! But that could be fixed. It seems that he just loves his family too darned much:

“Well, what I would say is I was taking care of my family, the same way that Texans all across the state were taking care of” theirs, Cruz said. “It certainly was not my intention for that to be understood – as critics have tried to paint it – as somehow diminishing the hardship that other Texans have experienced.”

But he does love his family. They’re his human shields in this, but something is wrong here:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates the risk of the coronavirus in Mexico at Level 4 – the agency’s highest level of warning – and says on its website: “Travelers should avoid all travel to Mexico.”

Text messages among a group of Cruz’s neighbors, as first reported by the New York Times, show Cruz’s wife growing frustrated with the power outage at their home and inviting others to join them on a possible trip to Cancun.

“Our house is FREEZING,” Heidi Cruz wrote to the group, noting that their family “couldn’t stand it anymore” and had to stay elsewhere the night before.

These are those unpleasant people from that old television show, but now they’re not so cool:

The trip, which lasted about 24 hours, triggered calls from Democrats for Cruz’s resignation as well as a cascade of questions about why the senator decided to leave Texas while millions of his constituents are suffering during the storms and at a time when public health authorities have cautioned against international travel because of the pandemic.

Some Republicans suggested the trip could become fodder for Cruz’s potential rivals for the White House, as well as in his 2024 Senate reelection bid.

“Texas Democrats are going to go after him aggressively on this,” said Republican consultant Doug Heye, who previously was communications director for the Republican National Committee. “And if he runs for president, certainly other Republicans are going to draw that dichotomy with Cruz and say, ‘Look at what I did for my constituents in a time of need.’”

Heye noted that Cruz and his team appeared to have been unprepared for the images of him at the airport to spread online. He said the photos were reminiscent of the images of President George W. Bush peering through the window of Air Force One to survey the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) lounging on a beach that was closed to the public during a 2017 government shutdown.

Yeah, that’s a bad look, considering this:

In Texas, more than 3 million customers were still in the dark Wednesday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide. As of Thursday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the figure was about 325,000. Millions were advised to boil water as the frigid temperatures caused pipes to freeze.

In a statement, Cruz said he and his staff were communicating with state and local leaders to “get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on and our homes warm.”

But they know:

In the days since the storms hit, Abbott and some other state Republicans have put blame on frozen wind turbines – an argument contradicted by Abbott’s energy department. Former Texas governor Rick Perry (R) has drawn criticism, as well, for saying that Texans would spend even longer in the freezing cold to “keep the federal government out of their business.”

No one believes any of that wind turbine stuff, or believes Rick Perry. No one seems willing to die, to freeze to death, to show the feds how no one wants them around at all, but then Ted is a special case:

Cruz also traveled to Jamaica during the Senate’s Fourth of July holiday break last year, flouting public health recommendations to minimize travel during the coronavirus pandemic, said two people with knowledge of Cruz’s schedule, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the senator’s private travel plans. Cruz was visiting a longtime friend from college, the people said. At the time, the CDC had issued a recommendation that Americans “avoid all nonessential international travel,” in an attempt to minimize the risk of contracting the virus. Cruz’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

According to CDC guidelines, after returning to the United States, Cruz should stay home for seven days to quarantine and get tested three to five days after traveling.

He didn’t stay home. He’s special. But he does have one new fan:

While Cruz was being hammered at home over the trip, the reception was different among tourism authorities in Quintana Roo, the Mexican state where Cancun is located.

“We appreciate his visit,” said Marisol Vanegas, the state’s secretary of tourism, “and the visit of everyone else, always.”

But he’s still that nasty Texas guy from that old television show. Dan Zak shows why that is:

Nobody likes Ted Cruz. This is conventional wisdom in Washington. While not technically true – his family members like him, presumably, and his approval rating among Texas Republicans last month was 76 percent – it feels essentially true. Maybe it’s the exhausting smarm, the squirrelly ambition, the hollow theatrics. Maybe it’s how he tried to block relief aid after Hurricane Sandy, or how he helped to shut down the government in 2013. The Victorian facial hair hasn’t helped; it lends an incongruous quality of statesmanship to a man viewed by his colleagues as a pest.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” Republican John A. Boehner, the former speaker of the House, called him in 2016.

“If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in 2016.

Said Democrat Al Franken in 2017, when he was still in the Senate: “I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz.”

And now he’s a pariah:

“As far as I’m concerned it’d be fine if he remained in Cancun,” Democrat Chris Turner, a Texas state representative, said on CNN. “He doesn’t do anything for us in Texas or in Washington, so I don’t know that we’re going to notice when he comes back.”

The Cancun affair is “something that he has to answer to his constituents about,” Allen West, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, told the Associated Press. “I’m here trying to take care of my family and look after my friends and others that are still without power.”

“Lyin’ Ted,” as Donald Trump called him during the 2016 campaign, became “Flyin’ Ted” just past midnight Thursday, when TV journalist David Shuster tweeted a photo of Cruz headed for his seat, passport apparently in hand, on an airplane Wednesday afternoon.

But he loves his family, which Zak finds amusing:

Cruz released a statement confirming the trip, and noting that it was motivated by fatherliness.

“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Cruz wrote, mentioning the direness of the winter storm but not the pandemic that has inspired many people to avoid unnecessary travel. “Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.”

The Family-Man Defense, deployed to hilarious effect. As the father of daughters, I had to go to Cancun.

“Cold Cruz Flees to Cancun Amid Crisis!” was the headline on the Drudge Report.

This did not go well, and then the White House twisted the knife:

“I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted during her daily briefing Thursday, but the exact location is always known: somewhere near the floor of how likable a senator must be to maintain power.

But then there’s that other issue. Eric Levitz points to Tucker Carlson:

On Monday night, the most-watched anchor on America’s most-watched cable news channel informed his audience that the reason Texas is suffering blackouts this week is because the state’s Republican governor quietly implemented Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s climate agenda. Or, in Tucker Carlson’s own words:

“The Green New Deal has come, believe it or not, to the state of Texas. How’s it working out so far?”

Carlson twisted the knife:

Fifteen years ago, there were virtually no wind farms in Texas. Last year, roughly a quarter of all electricity generated in the state came from wind. Local politicians were pleased by this. They bragged about it like there was something virtuous about destroying the landscape and degrading the power grid. Just last week, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott proudly accepted something called the Wind Leadership Award, given with gratitude by Tri Global Energy, a company getting rich from green energy.

So it was all working great until the day it got cold outside. The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died.

Levitz adds this:

Carlson went on to argue that only coastal elites who’ve never had to live near a wind power plant support the technology; that wind turbines are actually bad for the environment; and that green-energy enthusiasts like Cory Booker “couldn’t fix your ice-maker, much less understand your wind farm” – after all, just look what politicians like him “have done to our cities.”

Carlson:

Not a single major American city is prettier or more functional than it was in 1950. The parks that previous generations so lovingly built are filled with vagrants and junkies. The monuments they constructed are covered with spray paint. Public transportation is a disgrace. It’s filthy, the streets are dangerous. Are you really surprised that Cory Booker was once the mayor of Newark, New Jersey? You shouldn’t be.

Levitz:

Tucker Carlson was born in San Francisco, hosts a television show in Washington, D.C., and has spent plenty of time in New York City. He is surely aware that Central Park is not a dystopian hellscape dominated by “vagrants,” that heroin addiction is not a pathology peculiar to urban America, and that Newark’s economic decline did not begin with Cory Booker’s election in 2006. Which is to say, he knows that he is telling demagogic lies that affirm the chauvinism of the kind of white, conservative, rural-dwelling American…

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, meanwhile, fed a somewhat less demagogic version of the same anti-wind narrative to the GOP’s country-club contingent, explaining that the Texas blackouts were a product of the state’s “growing reliance on wind and solar, which can’t provide power 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” and therefore, that the “Biden Administration’s plan to banish fossil fuels is a greater existential threat to Americans than climate change.”

What? Paul Krugman, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography, has a few things to say about this:

For a while, then, the politics surrounding the power outages that have spread across Texas looked fairly normal. True, the state’s leaders pursued reckless policies that set the stage for catastrophe, then tried to evade responsibility. But while their behavior was reprehensible, it was reprehensible in ways we’ve seen many times over the years.

However, that changed around a day after the severity of the disaster became apparent. Republican politicians and right-wing media, not content with run-of-the-mill blame-shifting, have coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead – the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people are freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have run the state for a generation.

This isn’t normal political malfeasance. It’s the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation — raw denial of reality, not just to escape accountability, but to demonize one’s opponents. And it’s another indicator of the moral and intellectual collapse of American conservatism.

That’s because this was quite simple:

The underlying story of what happened in Texas appears to be fairly clear. Like many states, Texas has a partly deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas chose not to provide power companies with incentives to install reserve capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made power cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable when things went wrong.

Texas authorities also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which has deliberately cut its power grid off from the rest of the country precisely to exempt itself from federal regulation, only partially implemented the recommendations.

That’s trusting in totally free markets to make everything wonderful, which once again didn’t work:

A power grid poorly prepared to deal with extreme cold suffered multiple points of failure. The biggest problems appear to have come in the delivery of natural gas, which normally supplies most of the state’s winter electricity, as wellheads and pipelines froze. Nor was this merely a matter of the lights going out; people are freezing too, because many Texas homes have electric heat. Many of the homes without electrical heat rely on, yes, natural gas. We’re looking at enormous suffering and, probably, a significant death toll.

So Texas is experiencing a natural disaster made significantly worse by major policy errors…

Instead of accepting responsibility, however, officials from Gov. Greg Abbott on down, backed by virtually the entire right-wing media complex, have chosen to lay the blame on green energy, especially wind power.

Now, it’s true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it’s a small fraction of the total. But that’s not because Texas – Texas! – is run by environmental crazies. It’s because these days wind turbines are a cost-effective energy source…

And consider this:

Why, then, the all-out effort to falsely place the blame on wind power?

The incentives are obvious. Attacking wind power is a way for both elected officials and free-market ideologues to dodge responsibility for botched deregulation; it’s a way to please fossil fuel interests, which give the vast bulk of their political contributions to Republicans; and since progressives tend to favor renewable energy, it’s a way to own the libs. And it all dovetails with climate change denial.

And there’s this:

But why do they think they can get away with such an obvious lie? The answer, surely, is that those peddling the lie know that they’re operating in a post-truth political landscape. When two-thirds of Republicans believe that Antifa was involved in the assault on the Capitol, selling the base a bogus narrative about the Texas electricity disaster is practically child’s play.

And if you’re expecting any change in the policies that helped cause this disaster, don’t count on it – at least as long as Texas remains Republican.

Given everything else we’ve seen, the best bet is that demonization of wind power, not a realistic understanding of what actually happened, will rule policy going forward.

In short, expect Texas. Expect Dallas. It’s back.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Texans

  1. Richard Thomas says:

    It was once said of a British MP (Ian Mikardo) who was both unpleasant and ill favoured that he was nowhere near as nice as he looked. The remark was made by a member of Mr Mikardo’s Labour Party. It would seem to fit Ted Cruz to the letter.

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