LA Progressive

Hurricane Harvey and the Myth of the “Texas Miracle”

From the time Texas Governor George W. Bush first bounded onto the national scene Texas Republicans have been lecturing us on the need for the nation to emulate the public policies of the state of Texas. Low taxes, lax regulations, and limited government, they argued, brought forth an “economic miracle.” And for years Texas politicians, especially the state’s two current Senators and the entire Republican House delegation, have been trashing the federal government as an impediment to this “miracle.”

In 2013, Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, as well as the Texas Republican House delegation, chose to vote against emergency federal assistance to the victims of Super Storm Sandy in New Jersey and New York arguing that without draconian cuts elsewhere in the federal budget (called “offsets”) Sandy relief was a waste of money. Now that the state’s largest city is under six feet of water these hypocritical Texas Republicans appear to have changed their tune on the role of Big Gov’mint. They now look to F.E.M.A. to save them even though it has the dreaded word “federal” right in its title.

At gun shows and Republican rallies Texans are well known for talking a lot about “seceding” from the Union. I doubt if many Texas Republicans are talking about that idea right now.

At gun shows and Republican rallies Texans are well known for talking a lot about “seceding” from the Union. I doubt if many Texas Republicans are talking about that idea right now.

The virtually non-existent state environmental regulations have made the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey far worse than it would be otherwise. For the time being thousands of Texans will have to deal with living amidst a toxic petrochemical stew filled with unknown levels of carcinogens and other toxins spewed all over the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Secretive and well-connected chemical companies like Arkema are aggressively moving right now to shield their legal liability even after being fined for their shoddy storage of deadly chemicals and failing to comply with the law even by the lax environmental standards of Texas. The Houston area is also the site of a dozen highly toxic E.P.A. “Superfund” sites that were allowed to languish for decades because few people in power in Texas thought they needed any special attention. It’s too early to tell what kind of environmental catastrophe is looming after Harvey dumped a few trillion gallons of water on these decaying toxic sites.

Houstonians are now surrounded with toxins that might not have been as bad had they embraced the idea that the state and federal government had an obligation to force the chemical manufacturers and refineries to practice more California-style environmental policies.

Harvey has laid bare all of the useful myths that have served the most powerful corporations in Texas so beautifully over the years such as the myth that the “private sector” run by a bunch of short-sighted profiteers can solve our social problems better than can representative government.

Recall that the Enron boys came from Texas, as did the shameless war profiteers of Halliburton/KBR. When the mortgage bubble popped Texas financial and real estate fraudsters were well represented among the ranks of those responsible. Each of these crises (or “opportunities”) cost the American taxpayers billions of dollars. The idea that Texas has been a showcase for a grand experiment in “free market” economics has been a myth all along.

If Texans truly believe that some beneficent corporate entity from the “private sector” is going to step up and save them in their hour of need they’ll be waiting for a long, long time. Capitalism doesn’t work that way, not in Texas, not anywhere.

If you want to see another wonderful example of how free market capitalism works look at the 1,200 dead and millions victimized in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal from a monsoon at the same time Harvey hit landfall that was relegated to the back pages in the U.S. press. In Texas as in south Asia, the poorest people are always among those hurt the most.

Historically, the hurricane that wiped out Galveston in September 1900 had much the same ideological effect on Texans. It too exploded the myth that they could “go it alone.” The Galveston crisis turned out to be a pivotal turning point in our nation’s history regarding the role of the federal government as a disaster relief coordinator. But the lesson of the 1900 Galveston hurricane was forgotten long ago, and the good people of Texas will forget this one too. President Lyndon B. Johnson used to marvel at how his fellow Texans would denounce the federal government forgetting that the government had “saved their asses” during the Great Depression.

The Right Reverend Joel Osteen didn’t even want to open up his giant arena he calls a “church” to give succor to the dispossessed. After being shamed in social media for his very un-Christ like behavior, Osteen, realizing he faced a P.R. disaster, graciously decided to open the doors of his “mega-church” to Harvey victims. But Osteen’s tone-deafness illustrates the mentality of many super rich people in Texas who have grown lazily accustomed to papering over grotesque inequality and injustice with a lot of chirpy Jeezus talk.

And why did god send Harvey to smite such god-fearing people in the first place? Right-wing Republican men of faith have been interpreting god’s will for us for decades telling us god wanted it whenever a natural disaster struck an area that happened to have a large gay and lesbian population. Of what debauchery worthy of smiting were Houstonians guilty?

Unfortunately, even after the collapse of the myths of the Texas “economic miracle” and the inherent failures of unregulated capitalism are exposed for all to see, the Trump Administration is following the Texas model at a rapid clip.

With Scott Pruitt at the E.P.A. (where he has surrounded himself with armed guards as he “deconstructs” the agency), and Ryan Zinke at the Interior Department (where he rides around on a horse selling off federal lands and closing wildlife preserves), the natural environment of the United States is in the hands of soul mates and fellow travelers of Texas Republicans.

And Texans are among the most skeptical people in ‘Merica about whether these “500 year” weather events have anything to do with human made climate change. It’s horrifying to think about the kind of changes that the pathetically unqualified former Texas governor and Dancing with the Stars contestant, Rick Perry, is pushing through at the Department of Energy.

Stay tuned for the new gold rush and “Shock Doctrine” orgy of privatization that will dominate the “rebuilding” of Houston just as it did in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Public schools will be privatized. Government lands and offices will be sold off to the highest bidder. Well-connected profiteers will win lucrative contracts filled with clauses that strip back workers’ rights and environmental protections.

The same people who got rich exploiting Texas’s non-existent environmental laws and Wild West attitude toward regulations, global warming, and the social costs of suburban sprawl will be poised to make another killing with federal assistance in rebuilding Houston. Just wait until those Enron guys and the young ambitious M.B.A.s newly minted from Texas A&M get a whiff of the potential windfall! The “miracle” will be back!

Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo’s Blog