Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: News Page 1 of 17

This category will, no doubt, be spending time reporting on the antics of the Trump Administration, but natural disasters and other such news will also qualify.

Biden and the Border

The article below is a cobbled-together article from a variety of respected sources, all of them fiarly recent and all of them addressing the border, the border crisis, and the history of the border issues. In light of the constant litany of charges that “the border crisis” was all the Biden Administration’s fault, with little recognition of how long this problem has existed and no discussion of what all of the issues behind it might be, I decided to “copy and paste” some of the more enlightening articles out there…especially if they were current.

Apparently there are those who think that a problem this complex can be solved by simply throwing up a barrier, and that it should happen literally overnight, in the case of the Biden Administration in office only 100 days as of April 29th.

So, what, exactly, is the deal with the border wall, then and now? The following words from others are selections of articles, only, and this is far from the definitive word on the border and what has gone on there historically and is going on there now, but I thought you might enjoy reading some of the information for yourselves all in one place.

***********************

US-Mexico border violence deepens immigration divide | World| Breaking news  and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.11.2018

“Some 172,000 migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, the most in two decades. The problem is both push and pull: residents are driven out by hurricanes, crop failure, crime and corruption; they are drawn to the U.S. by family ties, work and stability in an economy expected to explode with post-pandemic opportunities, and an administration promising more humane treatment after the harsher Donald Trump years.

On Monday, VP Kamala Harris (delegated by President Biden to handle the crisis) meets by video with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in advance of a visit there and to Mexico in June. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Harris would discuss sending immediate aid to Guatemala and “deepening cooperation on migration.”

Harris plans to hold a call with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador next week after a virtual meeting with Guatemalan community groups on Tuesday.

Officials and advisers say Harris will have to figure out a mix of short- and long-term steps, find non-governmental organizations to partner with and use carrots and sticks to fight corruption.”

HONDURAS

“U.S. prosecutors allege Honduran President Hernandez participated in a violent cocaine trafficking conspiracy. His brother was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to smuggle almost 200,000 kg of cocaine into the the U.S. The effort was part of a state-backed trafficking operation that netted the president’s brother nearly $140 million, according to prosecutors.

President Hernandez was also cited in a separate case in the U.S. last month for allegedly participating in cocaine trafficking. He has dismissed the accusations as lies told by convicted criminals seeking to reduce their sentences and said he remains committed to fighting the drug trade.

Hernandez narrowly won a second term in a 2017 election that Organization of American States observers called “low quality” and whose result they refused to confirm. The country will hold a presidential election in November, and Hernandez is not running. That could allow the Biden administration to hold out hope for better leadership, but there’s little optimism that corruption there is a problem with an easy solution.

“The perception of impunity or the perception that people in positions of power can commit acts of corruption without consequence discourages the population and contributes to the sense that there is no future in their countries,” Zuniga told reporters after visiting.

FLEEING THE VIOLENCE

migrant caravan

Central American migrants en route to the US starting their day departing Ciudad, Hidalgo, Mexico. (Photo AP/Moises Castillo)

“Migrants, including a growing number of women and children, are fleeing the troubled region in record numbers. On average, about 265,000 people have left annually in recent years, and this number is on track to more than double [PDF] in 2019. (And has, during DJT’s final years and now.]

Some migrants seek asylum in other parts of Latin America or in Europe. However, most endure a treacherous journey north through Mexico to the United States. Unlike past waves of migrants, in which most attempted to cross illegally without detection, migrants from the Northern Triangle often surrender to U.S. border patrol agents to claim asylum. In 2018, the United States granted asylum to roughly 13 percent [PDF] of Northern Triangle applicants, almost twice the 2015 acceptance rate [PDF]. Guatemalans currently account for the largest share of the migrant flow, followed by Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Agricultural setbacks, including unpredictable weather and a destructive coffee rust, have fueled food insecurity and become a leading driver of migration. Many households depend on money sent home by relatives living and working abroad. Remittances equal a comparatively large portion—almost 18 percent [PDF]—of the three countries’ economic output. Meanwhile, corruption and meager tax revenues, particularly in Guatemala, have crippled governments’ ability to provide social services.

Decades of civil war and political instability [PDF] planted the seeds for the complex criminal ecosystem that plagues the region today, which includes transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18). Critics say that U.S. interventions during the Cold War—including support for a coup in Guatemala, brutal government forces in El Salvador, and right-wing rebels based in Honduras known as the Contras—helped destabilize the region. Though they have declined somewhat in recent years, homicide rates in the Northern Triangle have been among the world’s highest for decades.

ECONOMIC INSTABILITY

Economic instability. The region’s most significant coordinated effort to address economic instability is the so-called Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P), which made commitments to increase production, strengthen institutions, expand opportunities, and improve public safety. Announced after a flood of Northern Triangle migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the $22 billion plan is 80 percent funded by El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Corruption. The region has made significant progress in its battle against corruption, a longtime drag on economies. In perhaps the most prominent example, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing an independent body to investigate and prosecute criminal groups suspected of infiltrating the government. Widely trusted by Guatemalans, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) helped convict more than three hundred officials and significantly reduce Guatemala’s homicide rate.

Meanwhile, El Salvador has charged three former presidents with money laundering or embezzlement, and recently announced plans for its own international anticorruption panel. With the support of the Organization of American States, a regional bloc, Honduras also established a corruption-fighting committee and went so far as to fire 40 percent of its police during sweeping reforms in 2016, though citizen confidence in the force remains low [PDF].

What’s been the U.S. approach to the Northern Triangle?

Over the past twenty years, the United States has taken significant steps to try to help Northern Triangle countries manage irregular migration flows by fighting economic insecurity and violence. However, critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

George W. Bush administration. President Bush put trade at the top of his administration’s Central America agenda, negotiating the seven-country Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Under his administration, the United States also awarded Northern Triangle governments more than $650 million in development grants through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. During its second term, the administration grappled more with security challenges, including rising crime and drug trafficking in the region, and it responded with an aid package for Central America and Mexico known as the Merida Initiative.

Barack Obama administration. President Obama separated Mexico from the Merida grouping and rebranded it the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) [PDF]. Over the years, Congress has appropriated more than $2 billion in aid through CARSI to help the region’s law enforcement, counternarcotics agencies, and justice systems. Midway through his second term, Obama recast U.S. strategy [PDF] for Central America, forging what was intended to be a more holistic interagency approach to complement the region’s A4P plan.

After an upswing in migration from the region in 2014, the administration partnered with Northern Triangle governments on anti-smuggling operations and information campaigns intended to deter would-be migrants. It also cracked down on undocumented immigrants inside the United States. Court-mandated removals during his administration outpaced those under Bush, totaling about three million. After Mexico, the Northern Triangle countries accounted for the largest shares of Obama-era removals.

Donald J. Trump administration. The Trump administration has kept Obama’s framework for the region, but has prioritized stemming the flow of Central American migrants to the United States and ramping up border security.

Many of Trump’s actions have stoked controversy and sparked legal challenges. In the spring of 2018, the administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy [PDF] that sought to criminally prosecute all adults entering the United States illegally, including asylum seekers and those with children. As a result, several thousand children were separated from their parents and detained in makeshift facilities, many of which were criticized for being in poor condition. Trump officially rescinded the policy following a public backlash, though separations have continued.

OCTOBER 1, 2019:

The U.S. Immigration Debate | Council on Foreign Relations
 Photo courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations

Apprehensions of Northern Triangle citizens have more than doubled so far this year  (2019) compared with all of 2018.

Meanwhile, Trump has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in Northern Triangle aid, and is holding back future funding until the region “take[s] concrete actions” to address migration. The administration also tried revoking temporary protected status, a program that allows migrants from crisis-stricken countries to live and work in the United States for a period of time, for Hondurans and Salvadorans.

This seems to have made the situation at the border worse.

CHILDREN AT THE BORDER

A growing influx of migrants has led to a record number of children – 3,200 – being held in US immigration facilities as of 8 March. (*This has supposedly shrunk to 600 unescorted children being held, as of late April, 2021, with faster turn-around on processing and at least four families reunited after the Trump administration removed children from their parental escorts and lost track of many of them. Two shown being reunited recently had been separated from their parents since 2017 and 2018, respectively.)

US media reported that the figure had trebled in the past two weeks. It was also reported that half of the children are being held beyond the legal three-day limit, after which they must be transferred to the custody of health officials.

In January, the month that Mr Biden took office, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border – up from 4,995 in December – according to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

Are unaccompanied children being held?

Yes.

While in office, Donald Trump faced outrage over the conditions inside border facilities holding minors. Images from inside the detention centres showed children overcrowded in metal cages, others sleeping under foil blankets.

Some of these Trump-era facilities – now renovated and upgraded – are being used again.

Mr Biden has so far left a Trump-era Covid-19 emergency policy in place, which allows US authorities to expel almost all undocumented migrants seeking entry – bypassing normal immigration laws and protections.

But unlike Mr Trump, Mr Biden has decided not to refuse entry to migrant children or teenagers.

CHANGES UNDER BIDEN

Biden immigration policy stirs confusion at Mexico border - Los Angeles  Times
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

“Advocates say that with most children arriving with plans to reunite with sponsors – typically friends or family – they should be transferred immediately to their care.

And according to preliminary plans obtained by US media, such a system may already be in the works.

The Biden administration is reportedly rushing to convert its existing facilities into “reception centres”, meant to rapidly process migrant families with the goal of releasing them into the US within 72 hours of arrival.

The proposal would replace long-term detention with Ellis Island-style processing, allowing migrants to travel to US sponsors before completing asylum screenings. The reports, from the Washington Post and the San Antonio Express, suggest a major overhaul of the US immigration system. All those processed are tested for Covid-19 before being transferred.

What is happening with the Remain in Mexico policy?

On Mr Biden’s first day in office, DHS suspended a controversial Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their US immigration hearings.

About 70,000 migrants were enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – informally known as the Remain in Mexico program – since it was introduced in January 2019.

Last month, the Biden administration began to gradually process these tens of thousands of people waiting in Mexico, allowing them into the US while their cases are heard.

March 9, 2021

What’s happening to undocumented people already in the US?

Biden’s administration has taken several steps to reform the country’s legal immigration system.

He has proposed a major immigration bill that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country.

The legislation would also provide permanent protection for young migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, known as Dreamers.

The aggressively pro-immigration policy – which would greatly increase both family-based and employment-based legal immigration – will face staunch opposition in Congress, among Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

DIFFERENCES: THEN AND NOW

The White House has also started to focus attention on addressing root causes of migration in Central America, with Vice President Kamala Harris charged to shepherd an administration-wide effort to address conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent a team to the region in April to scale up emergency humanitarian assistance in light of the pandemic, aftereffects of hurricanes that struck in late 2020, and other challenges. Thus far, work with these countries has focused on short-term measures to reduce the pace of migrants’ arrival at the U.S. border. But the administration has consistently noted that long-term efforts to address poor governance and create economic opportunities in Central America will be key to stem irregular migration.

 

 

 

The 2021 Academy Awards: Post Ceremony

Darrel Britt-Gibson, Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.

I’ve held off on commenting on the April 25th Oscars. I wanted to see what the reaction, nationwide and internationally, was to the Covid-era ceremony.

Every year, we try to celebrate with our good friends in Des Moines, Iowa. This year, that meant flying there, which was an adventure in and of itself. We had to fly from Austin to Dallas and then make it from the “A” concourse to the “E” concourse. Although we had 2 hours between flights, we almost missed the second one, and one of the reasons was that we had the Traveling Trophy (a small Oscar) in my husband’s carry-on. This showed up as a metal object on the screening at TSA and that was an interesting delay.

When we got to Austin we got onto the American flight and then sat on the runway for over an hour during a thunderstorm. But, finally, we made it to Des Moines and geared up for the Sunday night festivities.

I am always skittish about those who wish to record something important and watch it later on tape, rather than watching it “live.” I voiced those objections to our hostess, but my remarks fell on deaf ears.

Thus it was that, after watching all the way to the “And the winner for Best Picture is _______” the screen went black. That meant that we missed the 3 biggest awards: Best Picture, which was announced before Best Actor or Best Actress, so it was a clean sweep and I missed all three of the most important awards “live” for the first time since 1955. (Sigh)

We ended up having to watch the presentation of the three most important awards on YouTube.

There have been any who have decried the choice of Union Station for the presentation, but I thought it looked rather cool. Similarly, by virtue of great effort, participants were not all wearing masks and it was a step up from the Emmy-awards show where everything had to be done by zoom.

On the negative side, because of Covid-19, there was no opening monologue, no host, no orchestra, and therefore, no big production numbers, although the nominated songs were all presented by individuals. Did the women dress up? Yes, they did. Was it the traditional Red Carpet that we have seen in previous years? No, it was not.

Now as to the films this year and who won, let’s pull up the list of nominees, with an “X” after the winners:

Best Picture

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Mank
Minari
Nomadland X
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

The winner, of course, was “Nomadland.” This did not come as a surprise since it had won all of the preliminary awards. I found “Nomadland” to be bleak, and would have preferred to see “Judas & the Black Messiah,” “Promising Young Woman” or “Minari” take home the trophy, but it is what it is.

Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins, The Father X
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

Everyone thought that Chadwick Boseman would win, and that, I am told, is why they re-arranged the order of announcing the Best Picture. The thought was that Chadwick’s win would end the evening and they probably had prepared some film tribute. Instead, 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins won and wasn’t even there. He was home in bed. So much for that plan.

 

Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland X
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Frances McDormand won, as it was predicted that she would. This makes 4 Oscars for Frances, although only 3 of them were for Best Actress. She won the 4th one as one of the producers of “Nomadland.” She has won Best Actress Oscars for “Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Nomadland.” She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress back in 1988 for “Mississippi Burning,” but lost to Geena Davis in “The Accidental Tourist.”

Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah X
Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

This category pitted 2 actors from “Judas and the Black Messiah” against one another in the supporting category, which was odd, but came about because of Oscar rules. I thought Lakeith Stanfield’s portrayal was the central part, but the voters disagreed and Daniel Kaluuya won.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari X

 

We watched “Minari” in the afternoon on Saturday, and all of us liked this sweet story of Koreans relocating to Arkansas. The win of Yuh-Jung Youn was well-deserved and her acceptance speech was charming. She was as excited about meeting Brad Pitt as I would have been. I must admit that I had assumed that, after 8 nominations, the Academy would finally give Glenn Close the Oscar she deserves for her unattractive role as Granny in “Hillbilly Elegy.” Later, she was involved in a scripted bit of entertainment involving Oscar-nominated songs and actually got up and performed something called “Da Butt.” As another said, “That was the most embarrassing thing since she appeared in ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’”

Directing

Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland Chloe Zhao’sX
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

This one was announced quite early in the evening and Chloe Zhao’s win was not unexpected. It was only the second win for a woman and the first for an Asian.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman & Lee Kern
The Father, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller X
Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers
The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani

“The Father” won. Again, unexpected to a point, but the film did take home the Best Actor award for Hopkins.

Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.l

Best Original Screenplay

Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Berson & Shaka King

Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell X

Sound of Metal, Darius Marder & Abraham Marder
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin

Emerald Fennell  won for scripting the Carey Mulligan vehicle “Promising Young Woman,” one of the more entertaining films of this year’s nominees. I had hopes that Aaron Sorkin might take home a trophy, as he is undoubtedly one of the best wordsmiths in Hollywood but it was not to be.

Animated Feature Film

Onward
Over the Moon
A Shawn the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

 Soul X
Wolfwalkers

“Soul” won for music and as best animated feature film. I am anxious to see it, but have not (yet) had the opportunity, although I did see all the main nominated films.

Documentary (Feature)

Collective
Crip Camp
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher X
Time

In this category, “Time” was considered a big favorite. “Collective” also had been written up positively, but I wanted us all to see “My Octopus Teacher” before the ceremony. Last year, we watched “Factory” the day before the ceremony, one of Barack Obama’s first projects after his presidency. We watched that one and it won that night (in 2019). This time, we watched “My Octopus Teacher” and, once again, it won. It’s a beautifully filmed tale of a man befriending an octopus in the underwater kelp forest off the coast of South Africa.

Documentary (Short Subject)

Colette X
A Concerto Is a Conversation
Do Not Split
Hunger Ward
A Love Song for Latasha

“Colette” won for Best Documentary Short Subject.

International Feature Film

Another Round (Denmark) X
Better Days (Hong Kong)
Collective (Romania)
The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

I had heard that either “Collective” or “Quo Vadis, Aida?” was going to win. I have seen none of these films. I thought the Danish gentleman who accepted the award was quite articulate.

Film Editing

The Father
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal X
The Trial of the Chicago 7

This was an upset category. “Sound of Metal” was a great film—until the end. Riz Ahmed was great and I anticipated that it would win for sound, but not for film editing.

Cinematography

Judas and the Black Messiah X
Mank
News of the World
Nomadland
The Trial of the Chicago 7

“Mank” won for cinematography. I had anticipated yet another “Nomadland” win here.

Sound

Greyhound
Mank
News of the World
Soul
Sound of Metal X

In telling the story of a rock drummer who loses his hearing, many interesting and innovative things were done with sound. This one I expected.

Music (Original Score)

Da 5 Bloods
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Soul X

“Soul” won for Best Original Score. Stephen Colbert’s musical director, Jon Baptiste, and Trent Reznor, of the “Nine Inch Nails” had a hand in this win.

Music (Original Song)

“Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah X
“Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“lo Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

This one was a bit of an upset, I think. “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” took the award, when “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” seemed to be the front-runner.

Costume Design

Emma
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom X
Mank
Mulan
Pinocchio

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” won, a victory for Viola Davis’ fat suit.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Emma
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom X
Mank
Pinocchio

Once again, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” triumphed.

Production Design

The Father
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank X
News of the World
Tenet

“Mank” won.

Visual Effects

Love and Monsters
The Midnight Sky
Mulan
The One and Only Ivan
Tenet X

This most-expensive project of Christopher Nolan’s took home the visual effects Oscar.

Short Film (Animated)

Burrow
Genius Loci
If Anything Happens I Love You X
Opera
Yes-People

Short Film (Live Action)

Feeling Through
The Letter Room
The Present
Two Distant Strangers X
White Eye

Of the non-major awards (i.e., aside from Best Picture, Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor or Actress, and Director) I scored 11 of 16 right. Considering the fact that I’d seen precious few of them, scoring close to 70% there was my big brag of the evening.

 

Happy Birthday Night in Downtown Austin (March 20/21)

Birthday dinner in downtown Austin at Fogo de Chau.

This will be a stream-of-consciousness retelling of last weekend’s Birthday Weekend in downtown Austin.

It was my husband’s birthday AND we had secured appointments for our second Pfizer Covid-19 shots at the HEB store on 7th Street. That is truly something to celebrate, since we are supposed to fly to Mexico in early April and who wants to fly to a foreign country if unvaccinated?

We started our weekend adventure about 11:15 a.m. (for a noon appointment) and went to HEB first (did you know that the last name of the owner of HEB is Butts? Just wondering…). There was really no line, so we were done there in record time and picked up all kinds of stuff for our room: pop, beer, fruit plate, doughnuts (for the morrow), vegetable plate and dip, chips, etc.

We then drove to the hotel on Rainey Street and checked in early. We found out upon checking in that it was going to cost an additional $50 to park the car overnight. Later, we would find out that it would cost an additional $20 to watch a movie in the room. So, the tab was now soaring to over $550.

Our first shot weekend, the entire bill was $150, at the Stephen K Austin Sonesta Hotel downtown on Congress Avenue,  and it was quite quiet there.

Jessica and I celebrate at the Hotel VanZandt in downtown Austin.

The “live” band across the street played until midnight and then some idiot outside kept revving a motorcycle until 2 a.m. I had forgotten my omnipresent wind machine. Also, there had been no mention of their much-vaunted pool deck being under construction. (The one I show in my photo is an apartment building across the street). Nor did they mention “work on the outside of the building,” which meant that we were to keep our blinds closed unless we wanted to flash someone. I will attach a photo of the bathroom, which had a large tub overlooking the city—or, in this case, the workers outside.

There are robes in the room, but mine did not fit. There were no coffee pots. We asked that one be brought up when we checked in. It took 7 hours to get it. It made one cup of coffee and then would not work.

So, we hunkered down with the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters to enjoy our goodies and watch Iowa in their first round of play. That went well, although Iowa would subsequently lose to Oregon, so there goes the season.

We also took advantage of the wine happy hour (5 to 6 p.m.) and, after that, went to Fogo de Chau, which I have probably misspelled, and ate.

Rainey Street on March 20-21st, Austin, TX.

This is directly across the street from the Convention Center downtown and was fairly busy. It is a chain (Brazilian Steakhouse). I think the price was $54.95 per person, but this was the son’s treat for his father’s birthday, and it was delicious. Waiters circle throughout the room constantly with roasted meats (sirloin, prime rib, chicken, pork, lamb) and they bring a very small dish of mashed potatoes to the table. Then there is a salad bar. Weirdly enough, they issue you a plastic baggie thing to use on your hand, like this is (somehow) going to protect you from spreading germs, were you to be infected with a disease of any kind. I don’t generally do much salad bar stuff, but I did take some potato salad (very bland) and two olives and some bread with butter packets. It was good that I took the bread, because the girls mainly wanted to eat bread and, at one point, they ran out of bread, which is odd. (Later, they brought some additional bread to our table, by request).

The dinner was delicious and very much appreciated. We then went back to the hotel, where we rented “Let Him Go” (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and Craig—who had his shot first on Saturday—experienced some after-effects—(fever, chills) that put him out early. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and was very sorry that I had not brought my wind machine. I was finally forced to press my phone into service, as it has a not-that-satisfactory version of my wind machine on it.

Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, Tx.

Hotel VanZandt. Corner room. Austin, TX.

When we awakened the next morning, my phone was nearly dead and we had to check out immediately to make it to my 12:30 appointment back at HEB. We were supposed to check out at 11 a.m.. but had asked for a slightly later check-out, so we left at 11:30 a.m. As a result, we got there around noon and—fortunately—there was no one there but me, at first. They were looking for someone named “Emily.” Another Hispanic gentleman signed in with his paperwork right after me. He was first; I was second, and then the MIA Emily showed and was given her shot, following mine. It is now Monday and I have not had any fever or chills or unusual fatigue or headaches, all good things.

So, we are both vaccinated for Mexico and the birthday—which included shirts, an Amazon gift card, a Home Depot gift card, and the room, itself, (with a complimentary lime pie dessert at the restaurant) feted Craig’s 76th year on the planet.

“The Return: Life After ISIS” Paints Grim Picture of ISIS Women in Refugee Camps (SXSW)

The Return: Life After Isis” at SXSW Online 2021.

This film from Alba Sotorra Clua goes inside the Syrian refugee camps where citizens from 56 different nations and their children are trapped in a hellish existence. After the West withdrew and left the Kurds on their own and thousands of ISIS families faced defeat in Syria, there were over 100,000 captives who ended up living in camps throughout Syria. This camp contains a group of 1500 women and children i tent cities in Qamsall and Beghouz in Northeast Syria.

The newspaper headlines from various countries tell their story: “No regrets. No remorse. No re-entry.” As the women tell their stories, some say they were naïve teenagers who fell victim to the lure of ISIS on propaganda videos they saw on Twitter. Regardless, the countries from which they came do not want them back. Their children might make be accepted, but not the adult parents.

Some women held in the tent city were already married to young men who went off to fight with ISIS. When that happened to Hafida Nawal of the Netherlands, she was six months pregnant. She followed her husband from Holland to the Middle East.  Her husband, too, became disillusioned by the entire experience and agreed that both of them would try to escape, just before he was killed in battle. He said to her, “At least now you have a chance because the women and the children can go, but they (ISIS) will never let the men go.” She describes horrible hunger and how her child was reduced to eating grass, but says she doesn’t know if the hunger or the bombing is the worst. “She now realizes, “Real freedom is what we have in Holland” and says that the realization “doesn’t stop me from regretting.” In June of 2020 the Dutch courts ruled against repatriation.

Hoda Muthana of the United States and Shamima Begun of the United Kingdom voice similar regrets. Shamima was only 19 when she left Britain to join ISIS saying, “I always wanted to be a part of something.  I wanted to feel useful. I feel really bad, as a Muslim, leaving them behind.” She described her upbringing in an Islamic household as one where she was not close to her strict parents, had no friends and turned to Twitter for friendship. She fell victim to the propaganda videos that promise “the path of glory” and “living the true glory” and “surrendering to jihad.’ Shamima, however, was one of the more active online spreading ISIS propaganda as @Ummjihad and says, “You don’t realize you are brainwashed until you snap out of it.” She gave birth in Syria; her son died. Her best friend was killed in a bombing raid. She says “This was just a cult that ruined many people’s lives.” Her citizenship, as well as that of Hoda’s, has been revoked.

The film traces the group for 2 years. It is 2 years of unrelenting horror, deprivation and loss. One woman who emerges as a heroine is Sevina Evdike, a Kurdish woman who continues to work with the women. She urges them to write to anyone who might be able to help them, but no positive word is heard.

The German woman onscreen shares that she felt discriminated against in Germany, but that it is much worse here in Syria.  Kimberly from Canada and the others look cold in their burkhas with strong winds and dust blowing throughout the ramshackle camp. They describe blood running through the makeshift hospital tent after attacks and women showing up who appear to have been beaten all over their bodies with a pipe, despite being pregnant at the time. The Canadian captive says that many do not survive such grievous wounds. They describe the sale of women in marketplaces and there is film footage of such a sale, (shot discreetly from a distance).

All express the same refrain, “I really regret for the rest of my life. I wish I could just erase it.” After Shamima’s son dies, she says, “He was my last hope, the only thing keeping me alive.”

No water, no food, women sold into slavery or used as human shields. It’s a grim companion piece to the similar film “Sabaya” by Hogir Horiri, recently shown at Sundance. (A “sabaya” is a female sex slave.)

All have condemned themselves to a life of unremitting pain and suffering, but, when asked what they have learned from the experience, two positive statements emerge: (1) How strong women can be, and, (2) The value of a human life.

 

“The United States Versus Reality Winner” Screens at SXSW 2021

 

Reality Winner, accused NSA whistleblower (Wikipedia).

This expose of the persecution of Reality Winner (yes, that is really her name) was made possible  because of a Freedom of Information Act that finally  resulted in the release of the audio of Reality’s interrogation by eleven FBI agents.

The director of this based-on-fact film is Sonia Kennebeck. A famous name, Wim Wenders, the 75-year-old thrice-Oscar-nominated German director, served as executive producer.

Another famous face and voice is that of international whistleblower Edward Snowden, interviewed onscreen,  who released NSA classified documents to the Washington Post and The Guardian in June of 2013 and has been in exile ever since. Snowden makes the point that the only thing the authorities want to hear from you in such a case is a “yes” or a “no” to the question of whether or not an NSA employee with a Top Secret Security Clearance voluntarily released information.

Reality Winner—so named by her deceased father, because his wife picked the name of their firstborn, so he was allowed to select the second child’s name—was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. In the course of her work in Augusta, Georgia, she came into possession of the documents that proved that Russia was trying to meddle in the presidential race of 2016 at a time when this fact was being disputed by the Republican party.

Reality was held over a year in jail without bond and charged with the crime in violation of 18 USC/793, the Espionage and Censorship Act, written in 1917 for World War I. The law makes it a crime to provide national defense information to a foreign government, even though the document did not endanger national security.

Despite the fact that Reality Winner had a spotless background and had, in fact, served 6 years in the Air Force, her decision to make public the document that proved Russian meddling has cost her everything—her freedom, her job, her life. She not only was held one full year without being granted bond, she is one of only 8 people ever to be sentenced under the act. She received the toughest sentence of any of them: 63 months in prison, plus 3 months of supervised release.

At first, Reality denied sending the document to “The Intercept.” She said she remembered she had folded the document and put it in the burn bag. After being held in jail without bond and without trial for a year, she admitted that she folded the piece of paper and smuggled it out in her pantyhose. She sent it (with a Georgia postmark) to The Intercept for publication. Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito, two reporters for “The Intercept” contacted the FBI. Another such individual (who spent 2 years in prison for a similar crime), said, “They single-handedly got her arrested.”

When the eleven agents swooped down on Reality’s home, they were aware that she had written online, “The most dangerous thereat is the orange threat we let into the White House.” They knew of her support for Bernie Sanders. They did not, however, ever bother to read her her Miranda rights and did their best to get her to confess guilt in a casual fashion.

Then, the government sat on the documents for over 2 years. The document that proved Russia’s involvement in meddling in our presidential election is now public. It never imperiled our national security. It is fairly obvious that Reality Winner was going to be made into an example to dissuade “leakers” within the Trump Administration. She was recently denied a pardon on compassionate grounds.

The feeling you come away with after the film is that Reality Winner was trying to live up to a patriotic ideal that her father and mother had imbued in her since birth. She held out for a very long time before admitting to the mailing of the document. Conviction was a foregone conclusion, as the paperwork bore a certain “code” that would prove it had been her duty to handle it (she usually handled questions about Iranian air space and spoke Farsi, Darsh and Pashto). The details about the folded paper, plus the postmark, marked this native of Kingsville, Texas for a tough road ahead. As Reality said to her sister, “That’s my whole life. That’s all I had.”

She did put up a good fight, writing, from jail, “This is the worst summer camp ever.  There aren’t even any bears.”

Reality was 25 when indicted and her actions at no time put United States security into jeopardy, but her actions did clear up the unanswered question about whether or not the Russians were actively working to subvert our free and fair elections. The revelation put us in a much better position to safeguard our 2020 election from any foreign interference.

It’s a cautionary tale for our time. It’s certainly not the last or only unfair thing we are learning about Donald J. Trump’s time in office.

SXSW Film Reviews to Come: Looking Back at One Year “Sheltering in Place”

“Lily Topples the World,” SXSW Online Film Festival, 2021.

Today is March 13th, Saturday, and it sticks in my brain pan as the day that my husband and I went out to see “The Way Back” at a local cinema. The place was deserted and, when I asked about upcoming films, the news was not good.

By that weekend, we were “sheltering in place” and we were going to be sheltering in place for one full year. My hair appointments became non-existent, My nails grew out and became a problem. I was giving hair cuts to my husband. I would not enter a movie theater for 7 months to see “Tenet” at the Regal Cinema (now closed) in Moline, Illinois.

During that long Covid-19 year my husband and I would contract the virus and be sick for two weeks (in October). We would venture out perhaps twice (once to a drive-in) to see movies, but the flow of new films would cease, so the sacrifice that no movies means, to me, as a bona fide movie buff, was slightly mollified by the realization that there were very few new good films coming out. All of us were glued to our respective television sets, and that is where I would cover the Chicago International Film Festival, the Denver Film Festival, Sundance, and, this coming week, SXSW, virtually, online.

I am Press at SXSW, again, and the films I will be seeing from March 16-20 will include the following, (with reviews here and on The Movie Blog.com and perhaps a few on QuadCity.com):

Tuesday- March 16th

“Demi Lovato: Dance with the Devil” (Credit: OBB Media @ the SXSW Online Film Festival 2021.)

“Hysterical – top female comics perform in a special.

“The Oxy Kingpins” – a documentary.

“Aretha” – a documentary about Aretha Franklin

“Lily Topples the World” – young girl sets up blocks to “fall.”

“Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil” – the story of Demi Lovato’s close call with death from a drug overdose.

“The Thing That Ate the Birds” – horror

Wednesday, March 17

“Recovery” –

“The Return: Life After Isis”

“Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free” (documentary)

Waze & Odyssey” with appearances by George Michael et, al.

Not Going Quietly – feature film

United States vs. Reality Winner – a documentary about White House leaks

Offseason

Thursday- March 18

“Swan Song” (Credit Chris Stephens, SXSW Online Film Festival 2021).

“Swan Song” – I actually have already seen this one, about a hairdresser called out of retirement in the nursing home to do a dead friend’s hair. The dead friend is Linda Evans (“Dynasty”). The hairdresser is German actor Udo Kier. The co-star is Stiffler’s Mom, from “American Pie,” Jennifer Coolidge.  Todd Phillips directs.

“The Lost Sons” – fascinating documentary about a boy kidnapped at birth from Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago only to be returned to his parents  2 years later. Or is the boy found in New Jersey really their son? A fascinating documentary with many twists and a Chicago setting.

“Cruel Summer” – Jessica Biel’s project; teen-aged cast.

“The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Mary Johnson – one of the few feature length films

“Violet” – a Justine Bateman project

“Alone Together” – a documentary about Charlie XCS

“Sound of Violence”

“The Spine of Night” – animated, with voices by Patton Oswalt and others. The last 2 are “midnight fare,” meaning scary films.

Friday, March 19th

“Late Night Girls Club” – Samantha Bee and Amber Ruffin

“Cruel Summer” Q&A”

The festival does not end until Saturday, but my husband and I are scheduled to get our second Pfizer shots on Saturday and Sunday, which is his birthday. We are making a true celebration out of it, staying at the VanZandt hotel downtown in a pricey room and dining out with the son and daughter-in-law, so no closing night film for me. Check back at WeeklyWilson.com for reviews of the above.

YOYO Philosophy Prevails in Texas (*You’re On Your Own)

View from Room 808 in the Sonesta Hotel in downtown Austin.

Today’s Austin American-Statesman column by Ken Herman contained the headline: “Abbott to Texans:   You’re On Your Own.”

In addition to thoroughly disapproving of Governor Abbott’s recent dictum to the state that all mitigation effort are off and everything is 100% “open” in the state of Texas now, Herman ended his column with these words:

“Abbott’s bottom line is we’re all on our own to do what we think is best.  Businesses are free to open to whatever capacity they want.  And customers are free to choose which businesses to patronize.

Sounds very Texan.  The problem is the worst decisions of the worst among us could become a determining variable about when real normalcy returns for the rest of us.  As we have seen since Day One of this life-threatening mess, we’re all still in this together.

Snide sidenote:  Hey! It could have been worse.  Abbott could have put ERCOT in charge!”

 

(*ERCOT, for the non-Texans out there, stands for The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which turned out to be ironically named when the entire system failed.)

Republicans Double-Down on Anti-Immigration Stance

Former Trump administration neo-Nazi and Breitbart spawn Steven Miller has been invited to address GOP members of Congress about the Democratic plan for an 8-year path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

This won’t be Miller’s first time trying to stop pro-immigrant legislation. Back when he worked for then-Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Miller “played a key role in ensuring the failure of a comprehensive immigration bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators who became known as the Gang of Eight,” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said. Miller in fact “drafted a 30-page memo that Mr. Sessions shared with the House Republican caucus,” [The New York Times, 2019].

While the Senate under former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid passed legislation by a wide, bipartisan 67-27, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner blocked it in his chamber. Now House Republicans are bringing Miller back.

“This comes on the heels of news that Donald Trump’s will address immigration in his upcoming CPAC speech. Clearly, the Republican Party is still the Party of Trump,” immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said. “The GOP is doubling down on ugly xenophobia and racism rather than trying to grow its appeal and reclaim lost suburban voters.” They are also trying to clamp down on absentee voting and are actively trying to gerrymander districts that didn’t go GOP in the last presidential election.

The organization said that the “ongoing political transformation of Georgia captures the perils of this approach.”

“In Georgia, a multiracial majority—sparked by the combination of bottom-up organizing by Stacey Abrams, Republican extremism, and changing demographics—delivered two Senate seats for Democrats and flipped an important electoral college state for President Biden,” the group said in the statement. It points to a new NBC News report finding that Democrats’ most significant gains from 2008 to 2020 came from three suburban Georgia counties.

In a testament to this shift, one of those Georgia counties, Gwinnett, elected a sheriff who ran and won on ending a racist and flawed agreement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Joining Miller to “brief” House Republicans are two other notoriously anti-immigrant officials from the previous administration: former acting ICE director Tom Homan, and former acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. Mark recently became an official hate group member, joining the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigrant organization deemed a hate group by the SPLC, as a “Senior Fellow.”

“Instead of changing course, working to reclaim suburban voters, and trying to expand their appeal, Republicans seem intent on speaking only to the cul-de-sac of the Trump base, re-emphasizing that white power is the beating heart of the party,” America’s Voice executive director Frank Sharry said. “They seem to gloss over the fact that Trump’s demonization of immigrants and refugees backfired badly, helping the Republican Party in the past four years to lose the White House, the Senate and the House.”

Texas Tales of Mismanagement on Feb. 21, 2021

Texas Tales:  “Our Government in Texas Failed Us This Week”

That quote from a Texas representative Lizzzie Fletcher interviewed on CNN at 2:17 p.m. (CT).

Other words of wisdom come from folks like John Bridges, the Executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman.

In Texas, the buck doesn’t stop here; it just gets on a plane to Mexico, [making Ted Cruz one of the first Latinos to flee the United States for a better life in Mexico]. 

Governor Abbott spent more time in his 4-days-too-late Press Conference talking about the Green New Deal than he did talking about the raw deal he and his cronies have dealt the state of Texas. The recommendations for winterization of the power grid were decades old, but Texas authorities in power sought to shift the blame to wind and solar panel, when that is not the truth.

The very idea of a Republican politician lying to protect his political future is not new, but it was refined to a daily performance art under DJT. And, in Texas, the man who said of his initial time in office in a 2013 speech to fellow Republicans,”I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home,” now has had to ask the federal government for help in a crisis that could be more costly than Hurricanes as famous as Katrina. President Biden will visit Texas this week to see how the federal government can help the state—14 million of us still boiling our water, if we have any—recover from the debilitating effects of a severe weather event that combined freezing temperatures with power and water failures.

First, in an attempt to shove the responsibility off onto solar and wind power not performing during the freak winter storm, Abbott went on Sean Hannity’s television show and blamed the entire mess on Green renewable energy. This was false. The power outages were due to freezing temperatures affecting natural gas plants, with uninsulated pipes causing gases with heavy carbon chains to liquify and intake or outtake pipes freezing. Oil wells can freeze up and did.

According to ERCOT’s Fuel Mix report, the state’s largest energy source last year was natural gas as 46% of the state’s energy needs. Wind supplied 23% and, if properly weatherized as experts had warned the blades should be, these fixtures continue working in sub-freezing temperatures. Coal supplied 18% of the state’s power, nuclear 11% and solar only 2%.

Actually, although half of the state’s wind supply turbines were frozen, on Tuesday the unfrozen turbines collectively produced up to 1,000 megawatts more energy than grid operators expected, because of the high winds that the snowstorm brought. ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said, “It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system at large.”

In an editorial headlined “Texans Deserve to Have Government That Works” Executive Editor John Bridges (Austin American-Statesman) noted that, “For too long, Texans have elected people more interested inn dismantling government than actually running one.  As we painfully learned this week, small government sounds good right up until the power goes out and the faucets run dry.”

Bridges further noted that the priorities of our elected officials, like Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Paxton, have been (1) their own political futures (2) their cronies and (3) their business interests. Right now, in fact, Paxton is embroiled in several legal investigations into impropriety with a local real estate developer, and his entire staff has blown the whistle on him, calling his behavior towards them punitive. Those lawsuits and others involving Paxton highlight why he was the Attorney General who filed the complaint attempting to throw out the electoral college votes of 6 other states on behalf of former President Trump. (The Trump administration didn’t really want Paxton, because of his unsavory reputation and the various investigations into his unethical behavior, but he was the only volunteer to come forward to lodge the spurious lawsuit.)

Bridges goes on to focus on the issues that these elected officials chose to waste time on, rather than making sure our power and water would work if there were a catastrophic weather event.  What were those other oh-so-important issues that tied up much of the Texas legislatures time?

  • The use of transgender bathrooms.
  • Restricting access to abortion.
  • Promoting or protecting the out-of-control gun culture.
  • Suing the federal government for political sport—at least 44 lawsuits during the Obama years by Abbott.
  • Restricting local taxing authority, much of which is spent on public safety.
  • Forbidding cities from controlling their own police budgets.
  • Finding ways to further restrict voter access, such as the ONE mailbox that was to serve as the drop-box for voters in a large Texas city of millions.

Rick Perry—-Abbott’s predecessor as Governor of Texas—famously said that Texans would rather endure a few days of blackouts than have the feds (the department he recently and ironically ran as U.S. energy secretary) involved in Texas’ energy grid. Let’s not forget that this is the same Rick Perry that Donald Trump mocked, saying he put glasses on to “make himself look smarter” and the student who got a grade of “D-“ in a college class entitled “Meat.”

So, as Bridges says, “Speak for yourself, Rick!”

Texans shivering in their own homes, burning candles and their own wood furniture for warmth, and harvesting snow to flush toilets do not agree. If Texas wants its own power grid and wants to run it “the Texas way,” its government must tirelessly regulate, inspect, and enforce the efficiency of that power grid.

An Abilene man froze to death in his bed.  The 60-year-old’s death was one of six tied to the freezing cold reported in and around that western Texas city this week, the Associated Press reported.  A Houston woman and her child died from carbon monoxide poisoning after seeking warmth in their car. As snow blanketed much of Texas on Sunday, an 11-year-old boy in the Houston area gleefully played outside. Seeing the snow was a first for the boy, who came to the U.S. from Honduras two years ago with his mother, she told the Houston Chronicle.

Less than 24 hours later, as temperatures plunged to near single digits and homes across the state lost power, that boy died.

Early that same morning, a San Antonio man left his house for a dialysis appointment — but he never arrived. His wife found him unresponsive nearly two hours later in the frigid weather.

A Black Austin renter described how he grabbed a few belongings from his back-of-the-house apartment and ran for his life. The couple in the front of the house, who had tried to heat the building with their barbecue grill, died in the fire.

The Houston Chronicle reports that more than two dozen people in Harris County alone have died from events related to this week’s icy weather. And the threat is far from over. Thousands of Texans are still without electricity, food and clean water. The entire state is under a boil order for water.

Texas was not prepared for the lowest temperatures it has experienced in 70 years and recent inspections of the power grid that declared it ready for the winter were wrong. It wasn’t.

Much like the unwillingness to acknowledge the problem, Texas stuck its governmental head firmly in the Trumpian sand and did very little to prepare for the onslaught of the pandemic that has now killed 41,000 Texans. Given months to develop a plan for the vaccine rollout, both state and local governments failed to develop and communicate a workable plan.

We are in the “1b” group of citizens with pre-existing conditions, older than 75, who should have been contacted to schedule an appointment for a Covid-19 shot. We have been trying for literally months to find any source of vaccine. The state website crashes immediately. Once you fill out your name, rank and serial number, including selecting a password, you learn that you must “check back later” to see if there is any vaccine availability. (There never is). Lately, when we attempt to sign in, the site says our passwords are wrong, despite having noted them upon entry. We then try to get a “new” password and the site promises to send a note to our mailboxes, but does not. Therefore, the state health site is worthless.

Then there are the sign-up lists for Walgreen’s, CVS, HEB, and the like. Yes, we’re on all of them, too, plus lists that exist in cities as far-flung as Houston and Dallas. It is nearly March and our constant “checking back” yields only the words “No vaccine available. Check back later.”

I even went so far as to secure a local doctor, hoping that having a local doctor for our winter months’ residence, might help. It hasn’t. I fear that our April trip to Mexico is going to see us as the only older members of the family group who have not had even one Covid-19 shot. While we may have some small amount of immunity from contracting a mild case in October, will that be enough? Or will we, too, become victims of this failure to try to protect the citizens of Texas and the United States.

As Bridges says, in his concluding remarks, “Texans don’t ask much of our government. But is it too much to ask that government not try to kill us?”

Texas in Turmoil: Firsthand from the Front

Store shelves in Texas on Saturday, 2/20/2021.

From this morning’s “Austin American-Statesman,” comes this assessment of our Texas water problem. 

We’re here in Austin (TX), experiencing the black-outs and lack of water along with the rest of the state. The cold weather meant below freezing. As a northeast Iowa native, not impressed by the cold part. However, down here, things immediately went to hell in a hand basket. Nobody could/would/should drive! So, that’s how it started, but that’s not how it’s ending. Now that it’s back in the above freezing range, things are changing, but there are still major, massive issues that we are right in the middle of, unfortunately.

“Tens of thousands of leaks in the system have wreaked havoc on Austin’s water supply,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros.  That has been compounded by an untold number of burst pipes in homes. Tuesday night and Wednesday morning Austin Water saw 325 million gallons leak out of the system, where, typically Austinites typically use 100 million gallons a day.

Meszaros:  “That is an incredible amount of water and nothing I’ve ever seen before at that rate,” said Meszaros, “So that’s what we’re managing is to not return to that state of affairs, where 100 million gallons of water could leak out of our system in one night.”

This means that Austin Water will need to methodically restart portions of the system to prevent leaks.

“It’s going to be a multiday process to restore pressure and service and then clear the system for use.  It’s really difficult to give precise timelines for portions of our section of our system.  We don’t know what we don’t know. And we don’t know how long some of them are going to take to fix.”

Reservoirs are now being refilled.  Thirteen million Texans are under boil water notices, including us. The effect has been acutely felt in the city, where a loss in water pressure forced evacuations at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center late Wednesday. All surrounding cities (Pfugerville, Bastrop, etc.) are also affected by the boil order.

Water systems under a boil water notice likely will face a logjam from state regulators as water pressure stabilizes.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires testing to ensure no unsafe bacteria is in the supply before lifting the advisories. Timelines for water service to return to normal remain elusive.  Said one official, “I just feel like this is such a catastrophic failure on every level. If I wasn’t so consumed with finding a functioning shower or a functioning toilet, I would be so angry.”

Supposedly, 13 million of us have no water, at the moment. Thirty-plus people have died, estimated.

Now, say the officials, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires testing to ensure no unsafe bacteria is in the supply before lifting the advisories.  The environmental commission is coordinating with the EPA to bring in mobile testing labs from out of state.

PULLING A CRUZ:  I have suggested that we go home to Illinois temporarily. Craig is always in such a Big Hurry to go home to “do taxes”, so I’m not sure why he is resistant to going back to Illinois, but he is. I refer to it as “pulling a Cruz.”  When we hit Wednesday and I’ve gone one full week without a shower/bath or hair wash, that could change. And we cannot, for the life of us (literally) get a Covid-19 shot here, despite putting ourselves on lists in Houston, Dallas, and about 10 places in Austin. We are definitely old enough for 1B and I have 4 underlying health conditions (things like asthma), so there’s that. I even went so far as to go find a doctor, thinking that might help. No such luck.

If I were to try to go home alone, I’d face all kinds of things that have been “turned off” that I know nothing about turning back on. I have to admit that I did not go to the basement and fart around with the water heater, etc. so if I go home alone, I’d face figuring out how to get things to “work” at home, or I’d be in pretty much the same situation I am here. I’m not afraid to fly (despite the pandemic) and we can fly free, thanks to the daughter’s job with Southwest Airlines, but it pretty much needs to be both of us going and only one of us votes for returning to the deep freeze so that we have running water.

Stacey, the daughter, who lives in Nashville has been with us since last Saturday. She is going to make a pilgrimage to the Walgreen’s (which finally opened for restricted hours and closes at 6 p.m.) to try to get us some dry shampoo.

I last had a bath and washed my hair on Wednesday, February 17th. It is now Saturday, February 20th.

I had 4 prescriptions that I had phoned in before the deluge. I was fearful that they would go back on the shelves. When Walgreen’s opened for limited hours (closes at 6 p.m.) I was Car #12; it took 35 minutes to get to the drive-through window to pick  up my prescriptions. Mission accomplished.

We have no water.  We tried to order pizza to eat, but very few pizza places were open. The one we found that WAS open had run out of pizza dough, but we were able to get lasagna, as long as we ordered right then, because they were closing down at 6 p.m. (It was 4:30 p.m. and we ordered right then.) Many gas stations are closed, because they are out of gas.

Beto O’Rourke taking questions in Davenport on 5/20/19.

El Paso has largely avoided this disaster because they learned from the 2011 freeze that hit. They planned for colder weather and, as a result, the built-in redundancies that should have been built in WERE built in. It is also not on the same power grid as the rest of Texas. They are on the western power grid. Texas is the only state to have its very own power grid. ERCOT failed Big Time. Other states can turn to their neighbors, but Texans, in general, don’t want to depend on their neighbors. El Paso took itself OFF the Texas power grid (ERCOT) and went ON to the western power grid (there are only 3 power grids, nationwide) after a 2011 bad freeze. Therefore, El Paso avoided the woes we are currently experiencing, firsthand. And I do acknowledge that, initially, we had power (pretty much throughout) and only lost our water completely yesterday. Before, we had very low water pressure, but we had a little bit of water. No more. Our laundry and dirty dishes are building up. There was talk of putting a garbage bag in the toilet and pooping into it, to keep flushing down.  I’ll be on a plane to the Midwest before it comes to that. People are putting saran wrap on plates, so that they don’t have to deal with a “dirty” plate that cannot be washed.

I’m planning on a small spaghetti jar for tonight’s dinner, as we had one lb. of hamburger in the freezer and we have spaghetti noodles. The hard part will be the water. While we have a bathtub full of water, we have very little bottled water. The feds are supposedly sending water in, but where is it? No idea. [Probably the same place our Covid-19 shot is: unavailable to us and met with the response, “We don’t have any.”]

After the spaghetti and some grilled cheese, we have a few frozen things (that, fortunately, did not go bad because our power stayed on), so we can eat our way through a couple steaks, some frozen pot pies. We have some canned food (soups, vegetables), but we are leaving the land of “What’s for dinner?” with a regular menu. I’ve made salmon and steak and a 10-lb. turkey and we are pretty much “out” of food, with no grocery stores having any for sale, apparently, since Craig just came back from Randall’s a few minutes ago declaring the shelves bare. The HEB stores warehouse all of their stuff in San Antonio warehouses and, until today, roads were considered pretty impassable. Now, with the warming temperatures, driving up to restock their stores from their warehouses is do-able, but did the warehouses storing the food lose power when the outage was statewide, like the stores did, and, if so, is there anything up in San Antonio that is still good that can restock the HEB stores here in Austin? I know that one employee had half-gallon jugs of milk in a wheelbarrow on her front porch in our subdivision, inviting the neighbors to “help themselves.” All were gone within minutes and good luck in finding eggs or milk or water, since then.

We are using water we melted from the snow to flush the toilets, sparingly. I’m pretty much treating the flushing like when we took the lobster dinner cruise on those old pirate ship look-alikes, which would not let you put paper in the water because, although they had toilets, they were not great toilets.

So, yes, we have power.

(Craig just tried going to the grocery store: no eggs, no milk, no chicken, no water. A line waiting to get in. I had to wait for 35 minutes in my car to get the prescriptions that I had phoned in well before the cold weather arrived. I was the 12th car in line. They were closing down early and have adopted early closing as their norm now.)

So, I’m not sure what is going to go down here in the next week. I’ve agreed to give this “we are camping out” lifestyle a green light for the week, but I honestly do not think they will have this situation “fixed” in a week, and I wonder how long it WILL take.

Obviously, there are going to be investigations and studies about the power failures. The headline on p. 5B today reads: “Just crippling: Texans Devastated.” It details the people trying to find food at HEB, which had to close 10 stores in the chain, because they, too, lost power. By Thursday the number in Texas without power was down to 450,000 from 4 million.  Harris County officials have a feature where residents can click through and see which major food stores are open. As bad as this was, it was almost worse, being second or minutes away from a catastrophic power outage. Texas makes more power than any other state in the union, but the weather disaster was unparalleled. Coldest it had been in 70 years, and it wasn’t really THAT cold, but it was below freezing, and that’s all it takes, in Texas.

The charges that wind turbines froze, were bogus. Forty %  of power is natural gas; 18% from coal; 11% nuclear; Wind power was under 30%—more like 27%. “No single fuel source can be blamed for this event.” Neil Chatterjee, the head commissioner of the energy commission.

The lesson is that the entire system has to be prepared for severe weather conditions. “Clearly, they have got to winterize everything.” The coal, nuclear, natural gas could have been winterized. “Climate change is having a dramatic change on weather.”

To me, it seems as though—just as Trump’s time in office revealed the true frailty of the U.S. in so many areas and destroyed our image abroad—this Texas freeze has revealed Texas’ image under Republican Governor Abbott as being full of holes. Texans like to think of themselves as hardy and “can do” types (just like Americans, in general, come to think of it).  Well, we can do as long as we have power and water. When we have no water, things become dire fast.

To me—especially in light of our complete and total inability to secure Covid-19 shots here, either—I feel like YOYO is the prevailing Texan and U.S. philosophy, these days. What do I mean?

“You’re On Your Own.”

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