Freedom Rider: No human rights in Texas

The people of Texas suffer unnecessarily from bad weather because their state puts oligarchs first and does not recognize the human right to health and safety.

Texas, the Lone Star state, was once a part of Mexico but broke away after that nation outlawed slavery. Such reactionary beginnings have carried over into its governance in the 21st century and millions of people now pay a high price as a result.

That state’s government perpetuates its history by committing itself to being regulated as little as possible. Texas is disconnected from the two electric grids which provide power to the rest of the country. Its system failed under the strain of a freak snowstorm and people went without power and heat and even without water. Consumers pay unregulated utilities who are allowed to charge a fluctuating wholesale price which soars when demand is high. Those lucky few whose power stayed on now have bills in the thousands of dollars. Despite bragging about having once been an independent republic, and its position as the world’s 10th biggest economy, Texas was laid low by nature and most of its 29 million residents are suffering.

The term “human rights” is a serious one but it has been so badly misused in this country that its meaning has been lost. The words have been turned into a weapon that the U.S. government uses to attack nations it sees as enemies. Of course, its friends may wage wars and oppress their people but being labeled a human rights violator depends entirely upon relations with the United States.

The definition was discussed at a press briefing given by Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry. “Not to be wanting of food or clothing, not to be hungry or cold, this is the fundamental human right that is the most real. In the meantime in Texas … millions of people found themselves caught in the terrible situation of not having electricity and heating at home, a few tens of people even lost their lives because of this. This gave the Chinese people a deeper appreciation for what is the real human right, and made us believe more strongly that China is on the right path. We are fully confident about our future.”

China is the bogeyman du jour for presidential administrations, members of Congress and their friends in corporate media. The spokeswoman’s remarks about human rights were made in response to dubious charges of abuse against the Uighur population in Xinjiang province. But the inability to help people suffering during a natural disaster is an obvious human rights violation.

The average American has an image of this country that is a mixture of fantasy, indoctrination, and ignorance. They think of their country as being “rich” because that is what they have been told. But the word is meaningless and bears little resemblance to the life experiences of people who struggle. How great is a nation if it doesn’t manage the simple task of weatherizing its energy infrastructure?

Yet there has to be serious analysis of the situation lest finger pointing and do-goodism take the place of meaningful discussion. Texas Senator Ted Cruz was caught sneaking away to Cancun, Mexico, with his family when they didn’t want to be inconvenienced like everyone else in their state. His public relations nemesis, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, made the most of the moment and spearheaded a charity drive which ultimately raised $4.7 million. She even showed up in Houston herself to embarrass Cruz in person.

Personal charity is no substitute for a government that acts on behalf of and in the interests of its people. No individual should have to raise money for Texas. The federal government and that state are responsible for the care of the people. Of course, Texas is extremely conservative with no income taxes, a legislature that only meets every other year, and no requirements for the ironically named Energy Reliability Council of Texas to make sure that it can operate safely in cold weather.

Stupid politicians, tit for tat attention seeking, and feel-good fund raising are not the point of the matter. People have a right to have their most basic needs met and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure public safety and provide relief when needed. In an ideal, non-capitalist country, utilities would be in public hands. No government would be allowed to disconnect itself from standards of safety.

The corporate media will often show images of sparse food store offerings in Cuba or Venezuela to make the case against socialism. (The same reports never mention the damage caused by U.S. sanctions.) But the reverse never happens. Despite thousands of photographs showing empty shelves, people waiting on long lines for food and water, and property damage caused by governmental neglect, very few will ask if capitalism is to blame for this catastrophe.

Of course, it is easy to blame this one state, but it is America writ large, where human rights take a back seat to the needs of the oligarchy. Despite endless claims of superiority the commitment to protect human rights here is largely rhetorical. Just ask Texans who burned their own furniture in an effort to stay warm.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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