Stranded On An Electrical Island
February 18, 2021
The Good News
- Singapore removed criminal penalty for suicide, leading to better outcomes for mentally ill (Vice)
- British veterans, sacked for being gay, allowed to get their medals back (CNN)
- New River Gorge: Meet America’s 63rd National Park (NYT, $)
“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.” — Maya Angelou
Stranded On An Electrical Island
As much of the southeastern US reels from a once-in-a-generation cold snap, one state seems to be grabbing all the headlines: Texas. That’s because while most states are tapped in one of two national power grids, the Lone Star State has been running off its own independent electricity grid for years. So unlike the rest of the country — which has outfitted its energy sources with winter-weather-proof equipment — Texas’ privatized energy providers never felt the need to prepare for an unprecedented cold spell. In the name of free markets and cost efficiency, there was simply no incentive to prepare the state’s power supply for the winter’s worst.
Well this week the worst has come to fruition, as energy demand reaches unprecedented heights amidst chilling temperatures — which just so happen to have frozen much of the state’s natural gas pipelines, which can clog up with ice as moisture in the gas solidifies. Without any outside help from national power grids, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has been forced to cut the cord on many of its 26 million customers, leaving Texans to fend for themselves as they endure a generational cold spell.
Rolling blackouts have become the unfortunate norm this week, as the state’s “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices” has allowed the wholesale price of electricity to jump from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000 in just a matter of days. As his constituents sat freezing cold in the dark, Texas Governor Mark Abbot called for ERCOT reform, claiming that “far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”
While everyone agrees that something is seriously wrong with the state’s independent power grind, defining what exactly is to blame has become more of a partisan finger-pointing fest as the blackouts roll on. Many Republicans — including Abbott — have attempted to blame the crises on insidious “green” energy. The governor pointed to several frozen wind turbines as the reason that the “Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America” during an interview with Sean Hannity.
But in fact, the real culprit of this fuel fiasco has been the widespread failure of Texas’ natural gas systems. This sentiment has been echoed by both energy experts and ERCOT themselves. “Texas is a gas state, [and] gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” senior ERCOT official Dan Woodfin conceded in an interview with the press on Tuesday. So don’t go blaming green energy for a crisis perpetrated by green-seeking state officials intent on maintaining what ERCOT CEO Bill Magness proudly described as “an electrical island in the United States.”
- Texas Grid Failure Stirs Feud Between Cities and State (NYT, $)
- No, Frozen Wind Turbines Did Not Cause the Texas Blackouts (Vice)
- US oil and gas production could face weeks of delays due to cold (NBC)
Myanmar Won’t Cave To The Military
(Lillian Suwanrumpha via Getty Images)
- Despite the military’s claim of mass public support, hundreds of thousands of protestors marched in Myanmar on Wednesday. The day’s demonstrations were largely peaceful, but security forces fired shots in the city of Mandalay after dark in a confrontation with striking railway workers, residents said. The military coup overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi occurred on February 1st and was met with waves of protests and demonstrations across the globe.
- The Wednesday protests in cities across Myanmar were some of the biggest since daily demonstrations began on Feb. 6 to denounce the coup that halted an unsteady transition to democracy. In addition to demonstrations, many crippling work strikes have hit the government, and local celebrities have been charged with inciting civil servants to join in the protest. “If we don’t win this battle, our future, the future of our generation, the future of our children, will be lost,” said actor Pyay Ti Oo.
- The Nobel Peace laureate, detained since the coup, now faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy. The arrests of Suu Kyi and hundreds of others have also drawn strong criticism, with renewed anger from Washington and London over the additional charge for Suu Kyi. (Reuters)
The Not-So-United Kingdom
- According to a recent national survey, the majority of British citizens are reportedly not happy with the post-Brexit trade deal secured between the British government and the European Union.
- The 2,002-subject survey, conducted almost 5 years after the 2016 Brexit referendum, showed the country’s persistent divide on the issue. 27% wanted a much closer relationship with the EU or wanted Britain to rejoin the union, 22% wanted a closer relationship with the EU while remaining outside the union, 12% wanted Britain to further detach from the EU, 24% saw the exit deal as the best option for the “foreseeable future,” and 15% said they didn’t know their stance on the deal.
- Some other takeaways from the survey: a majority of respondents saw the EU as a more important international partner to Britain than the US; younger, urban voters were more pro-European than older voters; and a majority of respondents wanted to maintain or increase UK spending on foreign policy while also supporting a multilateral approach to climate change.
- As the UK chairs the G7 and hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly planned to use this year to push his “global Britain” agenda, but he may find pushback from Britons: 49% said they didn’t trust the UK government on foreign policy, while 39% expressed trust and 12% were undecided. Johnson’s voting base, which was drawn to him with promises to “get Brexit done,” was the most isolationist which may clash with the PM’s desire to expand the UK’s global reach. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Federal prosecutors charge three North Korean hackers accused of conspiring to steal more than $1.3 billion (CNN)
- China arrests leader of fake vaccine scam (BBC)
- Estonia warns of “silenced world dominated by Beijing” (Axios)
- Biden renews ‘Quad’ with allies despite Beijing pressure (France24)
- Can America Restore Its Credibility in Asia? (Foreign Affairs)
- Biden seeks to sideline Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Guardian)
- Nigeria gunmen raid Kagara school and abduct boys (BBC)
- Canada’s Weapons Bill Would Allow Cities to Ban Handguns (NYT, $)
- Amazon vs Reliance: Why are two of the world’s richest men in court? (BBC)
- Facebook Blocks News In Australia Over Government Plan To Force Payment To Publishers (NPR)
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Radio Loses Its Rush
- Conservative commentator and talk show host Rush Limbaugh died at age 70, announced by his wife on his radio show on Wednesday morning. The Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree passed away from complications from lung cancer. Known for his right-wing ideology and lack of censor, Limbaugh has been praised by some while harshly criticized by others. The host of the “Rush Limbaugh Show,” tens of millions of listeners tuned in daily to hear his rhetoric and ideas.
- Limbaugh first took to the air in 1971, but broke into the mainstream when he became an on-air host at Sacramento’s KFBK. Limbaugh soon went his own way and started the “Rush Limbaugh Show” in 1988. Despite millions of fans, critics have expressed their dislike for his reputation as a racist, sexist, and homophobe over the years for comments on a wide variety of public figures including Chelsea Clinton, President Barack Obama, NFL players, and many others. Rush’s show continues to be aired on 600 stations across the United States with an audience of 27 million after thirty-two years on the air. (NBC)
Investing In Testing
- While all eyes are currently on vaccination rates, we cannot forget about the importance of testing — the Biden administration certainly isn’t. They announced Wednesday that they plan to invest more than $1.6 billion in COVID-19 testing.
- $650 million of this budget will go towards expanding testing in K-8 schools and “underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters.” Carole Johnson, the White House’s COVID-19 testing coordinator, explained this decision stating: “These are places that typically don’t have the resources or the bandwidth to build partnerships with academic or commercial testing labs, and that’s where the government can be a facilitator.”
- $815 million will go towards increasing domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials that have created shortage issues. Some vital examples that Johnson listed are “pipette tips, a specialized paper used in antigen tests, and the specialized molded plastics needed to house testing reagents.”
- Finally, the remaining $200 million will go towards genomic sequencing efforts to better understand and prevent new variants of the virus in the U.S. This will ramp up sequencing from 7,000 samples per week to 25,000. (CNBC)
Additional USA News
- New York Sues Amazon Over COVID-19 Workplace Safety (NPR)
- Leading House Democrat sues Donald Trump under a post-Civil War law for conspiracy to incite US Capitol riot (CNN)
- Ron Kim Says Cuomo Threaten to ‘Destroy’ Him Over Criticism (Intelligencer)
- Trump attacks McConnell in fiery statement (Politico)
- McConnell’s Strategy Has Party in Turmoil and Trump on Attack (NYT, $)
- Revealed: chemicals giant sold Louisiana plant amid fears over cost of offsetting toxic emissions (Guardian)
- Biden’s recovery package to follow $1.9 trillion relief plan (WaPo, $)
- How Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus bill could expand Obamacare enrollment (Vox)
Google’s Do-Gooder Mantra
- Contrary to popular belief, Google’s main company value isn’t, “I’m feeling lucky,” it’s actually “Don’t be evil.” This mantra actually dates back to the inception of the company and can be argued is still somewhere in the foundation today.
- Marissa Mayer, an early Google exec, says that the idea originated around the time Google started monetizing their search engine in the late ’90s. One of Google’s engineers, Amit Patel, believed that a deal with the Washington Post, which (while not confirmed) would allow their articles to appear first in Google’s search engine, would forever compromise the company’s integrity.
- Before the meeting started, Patel snuck into the meeting room and wrote “don’t be evil” on the lower-left of the whiteboard. Following that meeting, the mantra found on the whiteboard was adopted by the rest of the team.
- Since the term was coined and added to Google’s official code of conduct, things have gotten a bit more complicated at the company. So much so that in 2018, following years of extraordinary growth and questionable moves, Google moved “don’t be evil” to the very bottom of their code of conduct. (Vox)
- If Planet Nine exists, why has no one seen it? (BBC)
- Scientists Accidentally Discover Strange Creatures Under a Half Mile of Ice (Wired)
- Smartphones could one day sniff out cancer—just like a dog (Fast Company)
- Milford Graves, Visionary Drummer Who Mapped The Music Of The Heart, Dead At 79 (NPR)
- People Have Spent Over $1 Million on a Literal Marketplace of Ideas (Vice)
- Inside the hidden society of lightning strike survivors (Guardian)
- Inside Hollywood’s Rush to Make the First GameStop Movie (Vulture)