Nel's New Day

February 16, 2021

Climate Change Creates Havoc in the U.S.

The biggest story in the past few days has been the weather. In just the United States, about 150 million people—almost half the population—was under winter storm warnings. Texas may have been the worst problems across nation with more than 4.2 million customers losing power, many of them for extended periods of time. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for the red state so that FEMA can provide help.

On Fox network, anti-Democrat and anti-Biden Tucker Carlson declared wind energy was completely responsible for the electricity shortage because the “windmills froze.” He called wind turbines “fashion accessories” while ignoring their success in freezing areas such as Iowa and Denmark. Wind turbines help power thousands of homes in the interior of Alaska during the winter as well as in the Baltic, northern Scotland, and other cold areas.

Authorities explain that rolling blackouts to spread the power across more customers became necessary after natural gas, a fossil fuel, froze inside pipelines not made for the current weather conditions in Texas. Compressors for the pipelines and coal piles froze as gauges and instruments did at natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants. In some areas such as Dallas, the temperature as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit was lower than Anchorage (AK). Plummeting temperatures caused spikes in use of electricity, leading to outages for unknown lengths of time. With the severe shortage of power, companies prioritized gas for heating homes and businesses instead of generating electricity, leaving people with electric furnaces, 60 percent of the population, in the cold with no electricity. Pipes will freeze because the shortage of electricity means no running water. Cell phone service is disappearing because backup generators at towers are freezing or running out of fuel or both.”

Meanwhile wholesale prices for natural gas went up as much as 4,000 percent. In northern Texas, the cost of a megawatt-hour went from an average of $18 to $300; Houston saw an increase in megawatt hour from $22 to $9,000. The increase in price was partly responsible for the lack of electricity: power management “shed load”—cut off customers—instead of dealing with the cost spikes.

A serious issue in Texas is its insistence on operating its own power grid, managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), for 90 percent of the state’s electricity serving 26 million customers. Texas is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the country. Outside Texas, power company revenues pay to have generators on call during times of high demand, Texas electricity customers pay only for the power actually provided. Prices are lower during normal times, but the grid reliability suffers during times of spiking electricity demand.

Daniel Cohan, a Rice associate professor of environmental engineering, call ERCOT “an island.” In desperate circumstances, the state has nowhere to go to more energy, and the state hasn’t maintained its grid. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the department of economics at the University of Houston, said, “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

The map (left) shows the widespread liability of a separate grid with lack of regulation. 

ERCOT’s predictions for the winter, using past winters, assumed it had sufficient resources and expected to lose about 8,600 megawatts in the winter for a peak demand of 58,000 megawatts. Instead, 34,000 megawatts went offline at the same time as a peak of 69,000 megawatts in the storm.

Texas built its own grid after the 1935 Federal Power Act regulated interstate electricity sales. ERCOT operates outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and assumes natural gas will always be available. Instead the liquid froze. As of Monday afternoon, over three-fourths of ERCOT’s gigawatts offline were from gas and coal. Yet publicity blames the wind and solar energy while using the current chaos as an excuse to raise utility rates. Ten years ago, when fossil fuel power underperformed, the conservatives falsely called the outages “a direct consequence of the Obama administration’s agenda to lay siege to the coal industry.” In that decade, Texas drillers have burned off massive quantities of natural gas–$750 billion worth in just 2018—instead of using it for the grid.

What Tucker Carlson doesn’t know—or refuses to admit:

  • Wind turbine outages are responsible for less than 13 percent of Texas’ power shortages.
  • ERCOT predicted wind turbines would produce only 10 percent of the state’s winter electricity; less than half the share of 22.9 percent in the summer.
  • Over 80 percent of the power shortfall came from problems at coal- and gas-fired plants.
  • During the power shortage this week, wind turbines exceeded expectations because of the winds generated by the storm spinning the blades faster than usual.

As of Tuesday evening, the weather has killed at least 25 people in the U.S. from tornadoes, fires, car crashes, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. In Louisiana, a man died after he fell on ice and hit his head. The windchill went from Canada into Mexico, and snow fell on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Snow covered over 73 percent of mainland U.S., the largest area since records began in 2003. All except three of the 48 mainland states had snow.

Delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries slowed the distribution as did the inability of people to get to vaccination sites. Medical personnel frantically looked for people to vaccinate after power and generators failed. The 2,000 record lows included -26F in Sioux Falls (SD) and -38F in Minnesota, and at least 20 cities experienced their coldest weather in history. More records are expected. 

Over 2,700 U.S. flights were canceled with 800 at Dallas-Fort Worth and 700 in Houston. Another 1,300 flights were delayed. In just Alabama, 100 school systems closed. San Antonio canceled all its flights.

The Dallas Stars postponed a National Hockey League game against the Nashville Predators, and the Houston Chronicle failed to print the paper after the plant lost power, something that didn’t even happen during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Abilene (TX) shut off water services at all three water treatment plants. At -16F, Tulsa (OK) had 113 broken water line since Sunday, and a parked patrol car couldn’t move because of frozen water around its wheels.

In Oregon, the coast stayed warm and wet, but much of the rest of the state was hit. About 330,000 people lost electricity, the largest number in recorded history. Heavy snow and ice brought down trees and branches, and the resulting blocked storm drains may cause flooding. Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order preventing price-gouging in nine Oregon counties because of unusual increases in lodging rates for temporary stays while power is out in homes.

Carlson’s next false claim may be that record low temperatures prove the fallacy of global warming. The rapid heating of the Arctic, however, pushes the North Pole’s cold air further south. It’s all part of climate change. Winter storms have been strongly increasing in the U.S. Northeast since 2008 as Arctic has heated up at a rate over twice the world’s average. Cold air around the North Pole, an area of low pressure tightly circulating during winter like a spinning top, is moving because of interference to the jet stream, strong winds at lower elevations than the polar vortex. Arctic warming causes a shift in the jet stream which then hits the polar vortex. Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said, “Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air.” In the past month, Europe has also seen huge gusts of snow.

The storm will likely continue across the nation on Wednesday with a return to average or above-average temperatures within seven to ten days. Wednesday, however, the sun will be out at my house on the Oregon Coast.

One bright spot: The United States no longer blocks assistance from states based on their politics. Biden promised unity, and the red state of Texas was the first to receive federal assistance. He made a call to red state governors Greg Abbott (R-TX), John Bel Edwards (D-LA), Andy Beshear (D-KY), Laura Kelly (D-KS), Bill Lee (R-TN), Tate Reeves (R-MS), and Kevin Stitt (R-OK). The call repeated that his administration is ready to answer requests for federal assistance and deploy federal emergency resources to help people in the storm.

April 3, 2020

Incompetence Kills

People said they voted for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) because he claimed to be an expert businessman. Now his incompetence is killing and sickening hundreds of thousands of people in the country. Republican legislators were told about DDT’s stupidity and cupidity, but they stuck with him. Pro-DDT people cling to every lie that he tells. Yesterday, the world passed the one million number mark of confirmed COVID-19 cases with almost 28 percent of these in the United States. Today, April 3 over 1,000 deaths in the U.S. brought the total up to 7,392 since the first death on February 26, 2020—only 37 days ago. The mortality rate thus far is 2.5 percent, and many confirmed and deaths aren’t reported in the United States. [Daily deaths until April 1.]

These are some reasons for many of the deaths from COVID-19 in the United States:

Photo by Alex Brandon/AP/Shutterstock 

DDT put his son-in-law Jared Kushner “in charge” of the health crisis. At today’s White House campaign rally, Kushner announced that the supplies and equipment purchased by the federal government is “our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” DDT blamed states for a lack of preparedness:

“Long before this pandemic arrived, they should have been on the open market just buying.”

The federal government now buys these supplies and sells them to the highest bidder, including foreign governments if they outbid states. Today, asked about the definition of “our stockpile,” DDT sneered at the reporter for what he considered her stupidity and finally said that the government was saving the supplies for a real crisis.

Kushner’s bidding system has produced enormous markups for vital supplies in New York: 20 cents for gloves usually costing less than a nickel; as much as $7.50 each for masks, a markup of 15 times; up to $2,795 for infusion pumps, over twice the regular rate, and $248,841 for a portable X-ray machine that typically sells for $30,000 to $80,000. And these are the prices if the state can buy them. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that sometimes the order doesn’t come because someone made a higher bid or the federal government takes it for “our stockpile.”

Over 2,000 federal ventilators in the federal stockpile won’t work because of no maintenance. When maintenance contract expired in August 2019, DDT gave the maintenance contract to another company. The ensuing dispute between the two companies wasn’t settled until January 2020 with no maintenance for six months.

DDT has said that states can get equipment they need if are “appreciative” of him. Florida gets 100 percent of its requests because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ closeness to DDT, and Kentucky, with DDT’s protector Mitch McConnell, and Oklahoma, get things it doesn’t ask for. New York, with almost half the country’s deaths from the virus, badly suffers from DDT’s dislike of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose brother is a CNN news anchor. Oklahoma asked for 16,000 face shields and got 120,000 along with 84,000 N95 mask, over twice the state’s request. New York needs 30,000 ventilators and were sent 4,400. Wisconsin, with a new Democratic governor, asked for 190,000 nonsurgical masks from FEMA and got nothing.

DDT’s workers are also incompetent. Pennsylvania got shipments with no packing list, California got 170 broken ventilators, and Alabama got 28 cases of face masks with dry rot,

DDT isn’t ordering the vital ventilators.  Five years ago, the federal government paid a Pennsylvania $13.8 million to create a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ventilator to stockpile for emergencies. The project was finished last summer, and the FDA gave the company permission to see two higher-priced commercial versions around the world. Not one of these ventilators is in the United States. Last week, DDT finally told GM to mass-produce another company’s ventilator, but no senior official has mentioned the cheaper ventilator that the U.S. permits sold overseas. Lack of ventilators will be largely responsible for deaths from COVID-19. Last month, HHS said that the low-cost ventilator can provide pandemic preparedness; this month it says that companies are “free to develop other products based on technology developed in collaboration with the government.” Hopefully, the company can start making 4,000 ventilators a week—by next October.

Even after DDT knew about the health crisis, he continued to send dozens of shipments of crucial medical supplies to foreign governments. Instead of stockpiling vital respirators, ventilators, and protective gear manufactured in the U.S., he shipped them to Germany, Belgium, and Japan as late as March 17. Yet Tuesday, he said that he knew over a month ago that the crisis was “going to be horrible.” At the end of March, the U.S. begged Thailand for a medical shipment, only to be told that the U.S. had just sent two large shipments of equipment to Bangkok. Yet at Friday’s press briefing, he continued to heap blame on President Obama. “The shelves were empty,” he repeated in complaints about President Obama after emptying themselves by sending vital supplies offshore.

DDT’s Agriculture Department stalls actions on requests from food banks to speed up distribution through relaxed regs. Millions of newly-unemployed people are inundating food banks that are required to collect information—name, address, household size, and income—to ensure the recipients are under a state-set threshold. At least four states have asked for a suspension of this process and use disaster protocols. USDA first refused and then approved the plans in three states for a month. The rules aren’t lifted in states not formally submitting requests although the department could do this under DDT’s national emergency order on March 13. Greater numbers and longer interactions mean greater danger of contracting COVID-19, and many distributors, for example in Ohio, don’t wear protective gear to save the PPE for healthcare workers. At the first food-bank drive-through distribution in Greater Pittsburgh, cars line up for over a mile as volunteers and staffers worked in the rain to get information, about five minutes per car.

DDT refuses to re-open Affordable Care Act despite millions of workers losing their jobs. People living in 38 states using HealthCare.gov may not be able to get insurance. DDT’s actions endanger not only the people without insurance but everyone else because people without insurance probably won’t seek care for illness. At the same time, DDT is backing the lawsuit to remove the Affordable Care Act.

VP Mike Pence ignored any problem about lack of health insurance at a press briefing this week. He repeatedly referred to two insurance companies as “inspiring” because they will forgo payment for COVID-19 testing and treatment but couldn’t answer how everyone else will pay for these needs. He said that “states all the country have Medicaid” but ignored states that refuse Medicaid to people who have lost their jobs. Different restrictions in other states also block people from Medicaid. About Pence’s answer, DDT laughed and said:

“I think it’s one of the greatest answers I’ve ever heard. Because Mike was able to speak for five minutes and not even touch your question. That’s what you call a great professional.”

DDT still doesn’t provide enough tests for people who need them. Yet today, for a lark, he tested all his wealthy oil friends who showed up at the White House to praise him. Actor Daniel Newman is a classic case of testing shortages. In mid-March, he was billed $9,116 for a test that wasn’t processed. He got the test before the law requiring free testing after experiencing symptoms, but his insurance company refused to cover the cost. After Newman was swabbed, the doctor told him that the hospital wasn’t allowed to process the sample because of the limitations on tests each day.

DDT largely ignores the plight of U.S. people when he talks at press briefings while fawning over wealthy business CEOS (aka DDT donors). MyPillow founder, TV pitchman, and DDT donor Mike Lindell went over the edge in his extravagant statements that “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we’re on.” Lindell continued by make several references to the name of his company. Missing among the parade of big business is the Trump Organization because DDT has offered nothing.

Health experts’ predictions don’t match the White House statements about 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, but White House officials won’t explain how they made their determinations or release their data. Inside the White House, officials argue about the accuracy of the new projections. Last week, Anthony S. Fauci said at a task force meeting that the models brought out at the daily press briefings aren’t “reliable. A leading epidemiologist said the estimate seemed to be rushed with answers required in 24 hours. The White House prediction also lacks a timeline, citing a few months or the year-plus required for a vaccine. The public has been given only one slide for information. Models are used for long-term strategy, something not found in the White House. 

DDT’s lack of leadership has left inadequate manufacturing, inability  and unwillingness to distribute supplies to place that need them, and complete confusion in who is in charge of the logistics.

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