Meet the Texas Speech Pathologist Who Lost School Job for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel, Anti-BDS Oath

A Palestinian-American speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, has filed a federal lawsuit for losing her job after refusing to sign a pro-Israel oath. Bahia Amawi is an Arabic-speaking child language specialist who had worked for nine years in the Pflugerville Independent School District. But she lost her job last year after she declined to sign a pledge that she would “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract” and that she would not take any action that is “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.” We speak with Bahia Amawi and Gadeir Abbas, senior litigation attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He is representing Amawi in her lawsuit against the Pflugerville Independent School District and the state of Texas.

Heartless Texas Mayor Resigns After Horrific Social Media Post

A West Texas mayor has resigned after a disgusting social media post went viral. Ana Kasparian and John Iadarola discuss on The Young Turks. Support TYT by becoming a member: http://tyt.com/join Read more HERE: https://www.nydailynews.com/news/nati… “The mayor of the west Texas town of Colorado City resigned after posting a Facebook screed Tuesday in which he refused to help people deal with the snowstorm and said they were weak for asking for water and electricity.”*

Texas leaders failed to heed warnings that left the state’s power grid vulnerable to winter extremes, experts say

Texas officials knew winter storms could leave the state’s power grid vulnerable, but they left the choice to prepare for harsh weather up to the power companies — many of which opted against the costly upgrades. That, plus a deregulated energy market largely isolated from the rest of the country’s power grid, left the state alone to deal with the crisis, experts said.

Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures brought on by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune.

While Texas Republicans were quick to pounce on renewable energy and to blame frozen wind turbines, the natural gas, nuclear and coal plants that provide most of the state’s energy also struggled to operate during the storm. Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the energy grid operator for most of the state, said that the state’s power system was simply no match for the deep freeze.

“Nuclear units, gas units, wind turbines, even solar, in different ways — the very cold weather and snow has impacted every type of generator,” said Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT.

Energy and policy experts said Texas’ decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and choosing to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left power system unprepared for the winter crisis.

Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market.

“Clearly we need to change our regulatory focus to protect the people, not profits,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, a now-retired former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group who advocated for changes after in 2011 when Texas faced a similar energy crisis.

“Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits,” he said.

It is possible to “winterize” natural gas power plants, natural gas production, wind turbines, and other energy infrastructure, experts said, through practices like insulating pipelines. These upgrades help prevent major interruptions in other states with regularly cold weather.

LESSONS FROM 2011

In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said.

Woodfin, of ERCOT, acknowledged that there’s no requirement to prepare power infrastructure for such extremely low temperatures. “Those are not mandatory, it’s a voluntary guideline to decide to do those things,” he said. “There are financial incentives to stay online, but there is no regulation at this point.”

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which has some authority to regulate power generators in the U.S., is currently developing mandatory standards for “winterizing” energy infrastructure, a spokesperson said.

Texas politicians and regulators were warned after the 2011 storm that more “winterizing” of power infrastructure was necessarya report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation shows. The large number of units that tripped offline or couldn’t start during that storm, “demonstrates that the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds,” regulators wrote at the time. More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented the outages, the report said.

“This should have been addressed in 2011 by the Legislature after that market meltdown, but there was no substantial follow up,” by state politicians or regulators, said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow and economics professor at the University of Houston. “They skipped on down the road with business as usual.”

ERCOT officials said that some generators implemented new winter practices after the freeze a decade ago, and new voluntary “best practices” were adopted. Woodfin said that during subsequent storms, such as in 2018, it appeared that those efforts worked. But he said this storm was even more extreme than regulators anticipated based on models developed after the 2011 storm. He acknowledged that any changes made were “not sufficient to keep these generators online,” during this storm.

After temperatures plummeted and snow covered large parts of the state Sunday night, ERCOT warned increased demand might lead to short-term, rolling blackouts. Instead, huge portions of the largest cities in Texas went dark and have remained without heat or power for days. On Tuesday, nearly 60% of Houston households and businesses were without power. Of the total installed capacity to the electric grid, about 40% went offline during the storm, Woodfin said.

CLIMATE WAKE-UP CALL

Climate scientists in Texas agree with ERCOT leaders that this week’s storm was unprecedented in some ways. They also say it’s evidence that Texas is not prepared to handle an increasing number of more volatile and more extreme weather events.

“We cannot rely on our past to guide our future,” said Dev Niyogi, a geosciences professor at the University of Texas at Austin who previously served as the state climatologist for Indiana. He noted that previous barometers are becoming less useful as states see more intense weather covering larger areas for prolonged periods of time. He said climate scientists want infrastructure design to consider a “much larger spectrum of possibilities” rather than treating these storms as a rarity, or a so-called “100-year event”.

Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist at Texas Tech University, highlighted a 2018 study that showed how a warming Arctic is creating more severe polar vortex events. “It’s a wake up call to say, ‘What if these are getting more frequent?’” Hayhoe said. “Moving forward, that gives us even more reason to be more prepared in the future.”

Still, Hayhoe and Niyogi acknowledged there’s uncertainty about the connection between climate change and cold air outbreaks from the Arctic.

Other Texas officials looked beyond ERCOT. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins argued that the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry — a remit that includes natural gas wells and pipelines — prioritized commercial customers over residents by not requiring equipment to be better equipped for cold weather. The RRC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other states require you to have cold weather packages on your generation equipment and require you to use, either through depth or through materials, gas piping that is less likely to freeze,” Jenkins said.

Texas’ electricity market is also deregulated, meaning that no one company owns all the power plants, transmission lines and distribution networks. Instead, several different companies generate and transmit power, which they sell on the wholesale market to yet more players. Those power companies in turn are the ones that sell to homes and businesses. Policy experts disagree on whether a different structure would have helped Texas navigate these outages. “I don’t think deregulation itself is necessarily the thing to blame here,” said Josh Rhodes, a research associate at University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute.

HISTORY OF ISOLATION

Texas’ grid is also mostly isolated from other areas of the country, a set up designed to avoid federal regulation. It has some connectivity to Mexico and to the Eastern U.S. grid, but those ties have limits on what they can transmit. The Eastern U.S. is also facing the same winter storm that is creating a surge in power demand. That means that Texas has been unable to get much help from other areas.

If you’re going to say you can handle it by yourself, step up and do it,” said Hirs, the UH energy fellow, of the state’s pursuit of an independent grid with a deregulated market. “That’s the incredible failure.”

Rhodes, of UT Austin, said Texas policy makers should consider more connections to the rest of the country. That, he acknowledged, could come at a higher financial cost — and so will any improvements to the grid to prevent future disasters. There’s an open question as to whether Texas leadership will be willing to fund, or politically support, any of these options.

“We need to have a conversation about if we believe that we’re going to have more weather events like this,” Rhodes said. “On some level it comes down to if you want a more resilient grid, we can build it, it will just cost more money. What are you willing to pay? We’re going to have to confront that.”

The Texas attorney general moves to limit mail-in voting.

The Texas attorney general on Wednesday told the state’s Supreme Court that voters who fear getting infected with the coronavirus do not qualify as disabled and therefore cannot vote by mail-in ballot.

In the state’s latest voting-rights dispute, the attorney general, Ken Paxton, a Republican, asked the court to order election officials in five Democratic-led counties to follow state law on mail-in ballots. Mr. Paxton argued that Texas law requires in-person voting.

The state’s election code “does not permit an otherwise healthy person to vote by mail merely because going to the polls carries some risk to public health,” read Mr. Paxton’s filing, which was directed at elections officials in the counties containing Dallas, Houston, Austin, El Paso and the border city of Brownsville.

California’s governor announced last week that mail-in ballots would be sent to all voters in November.

Mr. Paxton’s move outraged Democrats and civil rights groups in Texas, who said it was part of a long line of actions by Republicans to make it harder for minority and low-income voters, who tend to vote Democratic, to cast ballots.

“Expanding vote-by-mail is a no-brainer and many states across the country, both red and blue, have taken this necessary step to protect their voters,” Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it appears the priorities of conservative state leaders are clear: Suppress the vote at all costs, even if it puts lives at risk.”

Mr. Paxton’s filing came as the state faces several lawsuits over its mail-in ballot rules, and as he has heightened tensions with three of the state’s largest Democratic-led cities. Earlier, Mr. Paxton warned officials in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio that their local mask-wearing requirements and other restrictions — all more strict than Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders — were unlawful.

When Mr. Abbott ended his stay-at-home order this month and set the stage for the state’s partial reopening, he angered many local officials by contending that his reopening policies superseded any conflicting orders issued by cities or counties.

Mr. Paxton issued letters to leaders in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio and threatened legal action over several local restrictions, including extensions of stay-at-home orders, protocols for houses of worship and requirements for face masks.

Sandra Bland, It Turns Out, Filmed Traffic Stop Confrontation Herself

Cannon Lambert, a lawyer who represents the Bland family, said the video, by showing Ms. Bland with a cellphone in her hand, seriously undercut the trooper’s claim that he feared for his safety as he approached the woman’s vehicle.

“What the video shows is that Encinia had no reason to be in fear of his safety,” Mr. Lambert, who represented the family in a $1.9 million legal settlement, said in a telephone interview. “The video shows that he wasn’t in fear of his safety. You could see that it was a cellphone, He was looking right at it.”

Mr. Encinia said during internal interviews with Department of Public Safety officials that he had been worried about his safety. “My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time,” he told department interviewers.

The prosecuting team concluded that Mr. Encinia’s permanent ban from law enforcement was the best option because there was no certainty of obtaining a conviction on the perjury charge, one of the prosecutors said at the time.
.. Ms. Bland’s death in a largely rural part of southeast Texas unified African-American leaders throughout the state, leading to the enactment of the Sandra Bland Act in 2017, which requires training in de-escalation techniques for all police officers, sets up protections in custody for people with mental health and substance abuse issues and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.
.. “Get out of the car,” the officer shouts as he thrusts a Taser toward her. “I will light you up. Get out. Now.”
.. Ms. Bland was pulled over near the campus of Prairie View A & M University in Waller County, where she had been planning to begin a new job, after the trooper said she failed to signal a turn. But the traffic stop became heated, and Mr. Encinia ordered Ms. Bland out of the car.

After the trooper told her to “get off the phone,” Ms. Bland responded: “I’m not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property.”

.. The video was released by WFAA in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network. Its chief reporter, Brian Collister, said the video had been in the hands of law investigators until it was obtained by his news organization. Members of Ms. Bland’s family called on Texas officials to re-examine the case after Mr. Collister showed them the video, according to the WFAA report.

.. Mr. Lambert, the family’s lawyer, told The Times that the release of the video raised questions about prosecutors’ decision not to press ahead with the perjury case, saying the recording undercut Mr. Encinia’s claim that he feared for his safety.

“So if the video showed that he had no basis of being in fear of his safety, and he lied about that, then you would think they would be using that video,” he said, calling prosecutors’ decision not pursue the case “extremely troubling.”

A team of five special prosecutors was assigned to the grand jury investigation. One of the team members Shawn McDonald, a Houston lawyer, said on Monday that he was not involved in the decision to drop the charges and pushed back at Mr. Lambert’s criticism of the team’s performance.

“For him to come back three years later is frankly quite ridiculous,” said Mr. McDonald, who added that he was “proud” of the investigation into the case.

Mr. McDonald said he first saw Ms. Bland’s video more than three years ago. “It was her cellphone so it was taken as evidence when we investigated the case,” he said.

Evidence typically was not released, he said, though a decision was made to release the trooper’s video shortly after the case began unfolding in an effort “to be transparent because of the concern everyone had with her arrest and subsequent suicide.”

Chip Lewis, a Houston lawyer who represented Mr. Encinia in the investigation, said his client was in a new career “wholly unrelated” to law enforcement, but he offered few details. “He’s working in the private sector, supporting his wife and family and living a quiet life,” Mr. Lewis said.