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  • Terry Wigmore

Letting Go Of Dogma: lessons from Texas

I have been following the bitter winter weather descending from the Arctic and wreaking havoc, on the southern US especially. In northern areas, we are prepared, more or less, for weather events - those freak storms that take down power grids because of snow or ice. We still suffer from outages and disruptions every so often, but by and large, we understand the cold. We build our homes differently in northern areas, and frigid temperatures are part of what we call "climate" - the long-known patterns of seasonal weather. Although these "patterns" are disrupted, by extreme weather events, we are prepared to live in the cold and have systems and strategies to get us through to the other side of calamitous moments. We tend to build to more rigorous construction standards, insulate more, dig deeper water lines to stay below the possible depths of encountering frozen lines. Perhaps it is time for even the southern states, such as Texas, to reconsider Biden's slogan, "Build Back Better"?

Part of recovering from any disruption is to face the reality that you really have a problem, as in, literally, "Houston, we have a problem!" The news services are full of images and interviews of ordinary people trying to stay warm, and to find water. It was heart-breaking to watch this unfold while understanding that it was foreseen, and warned about, and still nothing changed. How is it possible for a state government to sit on the report issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for the 10 years since the last weather event did exactly the same thing? The adage, "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!" seems to apply to the leadership of the Lone Star State. Does party affiliation play into our understanding of the underlying causes of the present day suffering of so many in Texas? It might.

It seems that there are some generalizations that may be worth exploring as we look at the suffering in Texas. Texas is still predominately conservative, and a conservative mindset tends to be comfortable with the way things are, and doesn't readily embrace change (regardless o f the source of the impetus for change demanded by the realities of immigration, a pandemic, police shootings, racial inequalities etc.). Conservative views on government also tend to be more in support of local, small "g" government, rather than seeing any merit in big "G" government at the federal level. Any "government" is too much government for many far-tight conservative thinkers. This borders on libertarian beliefs where any government regulation or protection is viewed as coercive and an intrusion upon the rights of individuals. Conservative thinkers also tend to be more aligned in support of free-enterprise. What happens when massive widespread weather events come barrelling toward a collision with ideas about civil liberties, rights, freedoms, and business? Chaos.

Texas relies on Big Oil, and the undue influence these businesses (and their lobby groups) have over the state's legislature can be toxic, resulting in graft and corruption spreading through the political sphere (to be sure it is not just Texas that has this problem). Who wins in these battles when profits collide with safety and protection and civil rights? If you're in a republican stronghold such as Texas, Oil wins every time. In the 2011 report issued by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Texans were warned of the likelihood of a repeat of the power outages and suffering that would occur in the future IF something wasn't done right away to remedy the problems. Remedies cost money, and money (as in taxes) infringes on business' profits and requires regulations to be put in place and, well, that's where the buck stops - if you're wrapped up in the dogma that is republican politics in Texas.

Is it time, given 2 major weather events and the widespread suffering of so many hundreds of thousands, to re-visit the dogma that keeps Texas from being integrated into the national grid and keeps many aspects of infrastructure from being protected, upgraded and maintained for its citizens? I think so, I guess the adage, "You get what you pay for" and the corollary, "you don't get what you don't pay for" are equally true.

So, what good is dogma, of any sort, if it prevents progress and keeps the lights out and the heat off when you need them the most? Time to let it go, Texas, but thanks for the object lesson for the rest of us.

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