Stacey Abrams' latest novel, "While Justice Sleeps," feels modern until the protagonist comes home from a horrendous day and listens to annoying then menacing voicemails — left on a landline, attached to an answering machine, that beeps in between calls. Why did she make such an anachronistic choice for the fictional 26-year-old U.S. Supreme Court law clerk at the heart of this sprawling thriller about the race to unravel a multinational conspiracy and save the life of one of the justices? "I keep a landline and an answering machine," Abrams, 47, said. "I keep a landline because if your servic...
Stories Chosen For You
By Mitchell Ferman, The Texas Tribune
July 5, 2022
Texans are seeing skyrocketing home electric bills this spring and summer, with many customers paying at least 50% more than they did for electric bills at this time last year.
And nobody seems to know when costs will go down.
“I am worried people are going to be shocked,” said John Ballenger, vice president at Texas retail electric provider Champion Energy. “Realizing this is 50 or 60 or 70% higher than what they had paid before, I’m just not sure it’s real to people yet. If it’s not, it will be very, very soon when the bills hit this summer.”
Here’s what Texans need to know about why utility bills are getting more expensive:
What’s driving electricity and gas bills higher?
The elevated utility bills have primarily been driven by the price of natural gas, which has shot up more than 200% since late February when Russia, a top gas-producing country, invaded Ukraine and upended the world’s energy market.
Since then, Texas, the leading natural gas-producing state in the U.S., has not been able to keep offering its own residents cheap energy.
Since the war in Ukraine began, Texas has been exporting more natural gas than ever before, sending much of it to Europe as many countries try to wean themselves off Russian gas. Congress lifted a longtime ban on exporting U.S. oil and gas in 2015, which opened world markets to Texas oil and gas producers.
“People are lining up around the world to get our product,” said Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.
But demand for natural gas has also been growing at home as more people and businesses continue to flock to Texas. A hotter-than-normal spring and early summer also have driven demand for power to record-high levels. Most Texas power plants run on natural gas.
“We’ve seen Texas gas go over to Europe, which has then created a supply issue locally in the state of Texas,” said Cory Kuchinsky, chief financial officer and treasurer for CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility that provides energy to more than 1 million customers. “Our customers feel the real-time impact of changing fuel costs.”
The hike in utility bills comes during difficult financial times for many Texans, who have also been facing high prices at grocery stores and the fuel pump due to growing inflation.
How long will Texans see higher utility bills?
With the war in Ukraine dragging on and upending the world energy market, Texas electricity providers are cautioning customers that the high rates could linger for months or longer.
The higher prices will, however, benefit some Texans. As a major gas producer, the state typically benefits from high oil and gas prices in the form of jobs and state taxes on oil and gas production. Cities located in the state’s oil fields usually benefit even more.
“I grew up in Odessa in the middle of oil and gas, and there’s always been this inverse relationship,” said Carrie Collier-Brown, lawyer for the Alliance for Retail Markets, a trade group for Texas electric providers. “For folks out there, it’s better for their economy when gas prices are high.”
But despite the spike in demand, the oil and gas industry isn’t seeing major production growth because of a backlog of orders for vital equipment due to supply chain issues stemming from the pandemic, said Garrett Golding, energy economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
“There’s also a shortage of labor across most of the oilfield services,” Golding said, noting that companies are trying to hire aggressively. “But we’ve seen it for several quarters now: It is a struggle to get qualified people into the positions (companies) want right now.”
Is the price of natural gas the only cause?
While they agree the price of natural gas is the primary driver behind Texas utility bills, energy experts say there are other factors at play.
The state’s main power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, has been managing the grid more cautiously since last February, when millions of people were without power for days in subfreezing temperatures after a combination of cold weather across the state and skyrocketing demand for energy shut down power plants as well as the natural gas facilities that supply them with fuel. Hundreds of people died.
Public Utility Commission chair Peter Lake, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott after the winter storm to lead the agency in charge of ERCOT, has said the grid operator is no longer prioritizing providing Texans cheap power. Instead, Lake said, its main focus is the grid’s reliability, especially during extreme hot or cold weather. But that has a price.
“Conservative operations add costs,” said Cathy Webking, a longtime Texas energy lawyer.
ERCOT’s new approach to operating the grid means asking power plants to be online and available in case they’re needed, and that means paying generators a prescribed price to operate no matter what happens. Before the 2021 winter storm, power plants ramped up or went offline based on market demand.
Golding, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said Texans are paying for last year’s grid disaster — and will for years. Texas lawmakers last year approved roughly $7 billion in ratepayer-backed bonds to deal with the financial fallout from the storm. Some electricity utilities were strapped with billions in new debt after paying exorbitant prices for electricity set by ERCOT during the storm — the high prices were an incentive for power plants to provide more electricity — and the debt drove some utilities into bankruptcy.
“On everybody’s bill, there are also these surcharges for paying for what happened in 2021,” Golding said.
Disclosure: CPS Energy has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/05/texas-energy-bills-natural-gas-export/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
There was a time when I felt pretty good about Independence Day. By that, I mean it did not feel totally phony. I understood America was not as free as it should be. But history – events in my lifetime – suggested things were improving. If America was not completely living up to its promise, it was trying to honor most of it. If nothing else, Barack Obama’s historic election seemed like evidence of that.
These days our annual ritual in civic religion seems emptier than it had in the past. Indeed, it feels like I should have been more grateful for what we did have instead of what we didn’t. What we did have is now rapidly fading. That Hillary Clinton never cracked the last glass ceiling was a goddamn disgrace, but at least women were entitled to protection by federal law of their right to life and liberty. Post-Roe, my daughter is now one-half the citizen her male classmates are.
Even so, the Fourth of July serves as a good reminder that freedom is not what we are given. It is what we take. Perhaps most of all, it is an opportunity to take back its democratic meaning. We may have to live inside a world of white power that's protected by our judicial overlords, but we don’t have to believe, as they do, that white power is freedom.
It’s the opposite.
Here are four visions of democracy – by Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, William Ellery Channing and the medieval poet Saadi. I found them, or versions of them, in Singing the Living Tradition, a Unitarian Universalist hymnal. (Channing was a Unitarian minister.) As you struggle for your independence, I hope these give you strength.
"The idea of democracy," Abraham Lincoln
As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable curse of the race.
As I would not be a slave so I would not be a master.
This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
Our reliance is in our love for liberty. Our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all people in all lands everywhere.
Destroy this spirit, and we have planted the seeds of despotism at our own doors.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and cannot long retain it.
Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?
Let us have faith that right makes might and that faith led us to the end, date to our duty, as we understand it.
"The limits of tyrants," Frederick Douglass
Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.
The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
"The free mind," William Ellery Channing
I call that mind free, which masters the senses, which protects itself against animal appetites, which contemns pleasure and pain in comparison to its own energy, which penetrates beneath the body and recognizes its own reality and greatness, which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting and seeking after righteousness.
I call that mind free, which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven, which, whilst consulting others, inquires still more of the oracle within itself, and uses instructions from abroad, not to supersede but to quicken and exalt its own energies.
I call that mind free, which sets no bounds to its love, which is not imprisoned in itself or in a sect, which recognizes in all human beings the image of God and the rights of his children, which delights in virtue and sympathizes with suffering wherever they are seen, which conquers pride, anger and sloth, and offers itself up a willing victim to the cause of mankind.
I call that mind free, which is not passively framed by outward circumstance, which is not swept away by the torrent of events, which is not the creature of accidental impulse, but which bends events to its own improvement, and acts from an inward spring, from immutable principles which it has deliberately espoused.
I call that mind free, which, through confidence in God and in the power of virtue, has cast off all fear but that of wrongdoing, which no menace or peril can enthrall, which is calm in the midst of tumults, and possesses itself though all else be lost.
"To serve the people," Saadi Shirazi
To worship God is nothing other than to serve the people.
It does not need rosaries, prayer carpets or robes.
All peoples are members of the same body, created from one essence.
If fate brings suffering to one member
The others cannot stay at rest.
In 2016, podcaster and former “Fear Factor” host Joe Rogan endorsed longshot presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. When Sanders lost because of tepid support among Democrats of color, I figured Rogan would do the rational thing and support Hillary Clinton. Clinton and Sanders had voted together 93% of the time in the Senate. Even while he was in a heated primary against her, Sanders had said that, “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”
Sanders campaigned aggressively for Clinton after he lost because “I disagree with Donald Trump on virtually all of his policy positions,” but Rogan effectively sat out the (to then) most important presidential election in his lifetime, wasting his very public voice on third party candidate Gary “What is Aleppo?” Johnson. Following the stereotypical Bernie Bro playbook, Rogan justified his decision by ignoring the enormous human stakes of the 2016 election while showing disdain for a woman far smarter and vastly more accomplished than he would ever be.
After Trump took office, he followed through on the neo-fascist agenda Sanders had warned about, ripped the nation in two, and soiled the presidency daily through his antics. Rogan could have admitted his error in judgment, but he chose to double down, continuing his blinkered attacks on Hillary Clinton while hosting a series of charlatans on his podcast.
Comedian Jimmy Dore denied Syria’s well-documented chemical weapons attacks on its own people and regurgitated bogus anti-Clinton talking points Russian intelligence had used in 2016 to splinter America’s left.
As Donald Trump was on his way to racking up over 30,000 lies in just one term, Rogan and professional troll (and Fox regular) Michael Malice significantly exaggerated Hillary Clinton’s garden-variety political dishonesty.
Rogan and Pat Miletich (a former MMA fighter posing as a serious thinker) minimized the seriousness of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and leveled accusations against the Clinton Foundation—while predictably failing to mention the foundation’s tens of millions of impoverished beneficiaries in the developing world, including the nine million women who received discount rate AIDS drugs.
While chatting with the dullard John Joseph (lead singer of the Cro-Mags), Rogan dredged up right-wing conspiracy theories about the Clintons having people murdered and trotted out the debunked theory that the DNC had robbed Bernie Sanders of the Democratic candidacy in 2016.
Lost in these conversations were the many concrete ways Donald Trump’s presidency was negatively impacting millions of Americans’ lives, and the undeniable fact that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have involved a radically more humane and sustainable policy decision tree (to say nothing of vastly more competent governance). Context and nuance took a back seat to heated speculation and shiny objects. Rogan and his guests were poster boys for the Dunning-Kruger effect; they had crawled down just enough Internet rabbit holes to fake their way through with cavalier confidence.
With the arrival of the coronavirus in 2020, Rogan had a chance to redeem himself. Surely, this moment of social chaos, mass death, and deadly Trump administration deception could give a skeptic like Rogan the opportunity to up his game—to be civic-minded, to be accurate, to at least aspire to be a poor man’s Marc Maron.
Rogan instead zigzagged wildly in the true spirit of the low-information voter.
Again he advocated for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. When Sanders lost the primary due to his lack of support among Black Democrats (just as he had in 2016), one would think Rogan would have supported Sanders’ choice, Joe Biden. Biden and Sanders had a governing partnership plan which was codified in a 110-page policy paper.
And the alternative was horrendous. Sanders campaigned for Biden in fear of what would happen if we “allow the most dangerous president in modern American history to get re-elected” and called sitting out the election “irresponsible.”
As he had done in 2016, Rogan made the political dilettante’s error of overlooking the qualifications of the candidates and the cumulative impact their decisions would have on actual human beings in favor of hot takes based largely on his visceral reactions. Rogan refused to endorse either major candidate in 2020, despite Trump’s colossal mismanagement of the pandemic.
What commentary Rogan did offer on the race that would decide the fate of American democracy often devolved into attacks on Biden’s cognition which failed to account for the degree to which Biden’s verbal misfires were the result of his stutter. Rogan at one point said he favored the obese Trump over the fit-as-a-fiddle Biden because “he doesn’t seem to be aging at all.”
Even after abandoning Joe Biden and American democracy, Rogan still had a chance to be a Science-forward independent.
But he blew that too, becoming a frequent purveyor of misinformation that undermined public health.
He suggested young, healthy people not get vaccinated.
He hosted a guest who claimed—without evidence—that the cattle de-wormer ivermectin could extinguish Covid-19. He hyped ivermectin based on anecdata after he got infected and convinced his caught-in-a-lie bro Aaron Rodgers to “recuperate” with this unproven miracle drug.
He mistakenly likened mRNA vaccines to gene therapy.
He said he wasn’t getting vaccinated after catching Covid-19, though vaccination would have improved and extended his immunity.
He hosted a vaccine scientist who said that millions of Americans were being convinced to get vaccinated due to “mass-formation hypnosis” and a cardiologist who claimed that the pandemic was “planned.”
Rogan’s misinformation campaign careened along giddily until Neil Young and Joni Mitchell boycotted Spotify earlier this year. The public controversy, and concerns that other musicians might pull their music (and more to the point, their revenue) forced Spotify to act. Spotify’s CYA maneuver was to create an advisory board to review any Covid-19-related content on Rogan’s podcast.
His $200 million contract at stake, Rogan went along with the advisory board and issued a scripted mea culpa on Instagram which included the admission that, “I do all the scheduling myself, and I don’t always get it right.”
Despite being hobbled by stricter standards around pandemic information, Rogan continues to spread his political illiteracy far and wide.
Though Joe Biden has rolled up formidable accomplishments with a threadbare congressional majority—the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, a record number of (diverse) judges, big strides for LGBTQ rights, the lowest unemployment since 1969, and healthcare coverage extended to 4.6 million Americans—Rogan continues to reduce the Biden presidency down to high school taunts about Biden’s cognition, claiming the president is “basically a shell.”
Ironically, Rogan is doing exactly what he accused others of doing recently when he was outed for having used the N-word more than 20 times on his show: making sweeping statements about a public figure based on unflattering montages posted by political opponents.
Sweeping statements which are dubious at best.
During his NATO expansion press conference just days ago, Biden stumbled a few times, but he kept his place and kept moving, in the process putting on a foreign policy clinic. He inventoried individual NATO ally’s GDP commitments to defense spending and reiterated NATO’s commitment to Article 5. He discussed America’s force posture in Europe, rotational deployments in the Baltics, advanced multiple rocket systems, and counter-battery radars. He explained actions taken by the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Development and a bunch of other things that are as foreign to Rogan as valid sourcing.
But ageist attacks on the man who got by far the most votes for president ever, the man who oh-by-the-way saved American democracy, aren’t the low point for Rogan.
On his podcast recently, in addition to saying we had a “dead man” as president, Rogan praised Florida governor Ron DeSantis for his (lackadaisical) Covid-19 response, saying DeSantis would make a “good president.”
In just two years, Rogan has gone from endorsing (for the second time) a Democratic Socialist who backs Medicare for All, strong labor unions, steep tax increases on the rich, free community college, subsidized childcare, a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, and aggressive measures to regulate greenhouse gases to supporting a Republican with an extremist agenda.
Given the chance, a President DeSantis would slash Medicare spending, do everything in his power to destroy unions, shower the wealthy with huge tax windfalls, do nothing to help working Americans afford college or childcare, and appoint theocratic judges certain to further erode women’s rights, the rights of LGBTQ Americans, the right to vote, and any federal laws designed to protect our air and water or combat climate change.
Down deep, Rogan knows many of his political opinions are fraudulent. In February of 2020, after the Sanders campaign caught flack for trumpeting his support, Rogan told guest Mark Normand, “Here’s a really important point. I'm a fucking moron. If you're basing who you're going to vote [for president] based on…what I like? I'm not, I’m not that balls-deep into this stuff, I’m just not. I’m not the guy….I don’t know what’s required to be a good president, I really don’t. And I don’t understand what’s required to make sure the economy functions correctly, and also I don’t understand what’s required to make the military function correctly. It’s just guesswork.”
Rogan is free to indulge in guesswork because he is completely divorced from the harsh economic realities of most Americans. While 58% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, Rogan makes $60 million annually and lives in an 11,000-square-foot, $14.4 million French country estate on Lake Austin.
He has precisely no skin in the game. Politics is just a parlor game for Rogan.
Quaint notions like intellectual credibility and social responsibility are for suckers when you’re laughing all the way to the bank.
Unfortunately for American democracy (and public discourse), Rogan’s 11 million listeners aren’t in on the joke.
Dan Benbow has been an online political features writer since 2003. His work has appeared at RawStory, the Miami Herald, the Progressive, MSN.com, Truthout, Salon, Buzzflash, AlterNet, BeyondChron, AddictingInfo, GetUnderground/Kotori Magazine, and his boutique blog, Truth and Beauty. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed @danbenbow on Twitter.