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Alabama “incredibly well-positioned” to enhance status as space leader

Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. (File Photo)
Chip Brownlee

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As space technology advances and more private industry solidifies its footing, leaders in the space sector say Alabama is in a prime position when it comes to space exploration and technology.

“Alabama is uniquely and incredibly well-positioned right now to become even more of a leader in space,” said Deborah Barnhart, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. “Because of the expertise of our governor, because of her position of NASA’s User Advisory Group, we have a unique opportunity to make our voice stronger in the whole space world.”

The Alabama Space Authority, a group created last year by the Legislature to encourage the development of space technology and attract a federally licensed spaceport to Alabama, met last week for the second time to begin exploring the licensing process and other ways Alabama could expand its role in the space sector.

“We have a unique opportunity to make our voice stronger in the whole space world.”

Alabama is already home to the NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Redstone Arsenal and a plethora of private companies — from Teledyne Brown to Aerojet Rocketdyne and Blue Origin, just to name a few. Barnhart and others on the Space Authority say Alabama could forge out a solid position as the leader in the U.S. space industry.

“It’s very important that we keep that leadership voice strong,” Barnhart said. “A big role for the committee here is to keep our governor and the voices well-advised.”

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Vice President Mike Pence appointed Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group in February after her nomination by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama. The group advises and informs the National Space Council on a broad range of aerospace topics.

In addition to Ivey’s position on that national group, Alabama’s newly elected Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, could have an important role in confirming NASA’s top leadership positions. NASA has been without a confirmed administrator for more than a year, an unprecedented drought in leadership. And the acting director recently announced he was retiring.

NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot to retire

The nominee has been confirmed by a congressional committee several times but the nomination hasn’t been brought to the floor for a vote. Jones’ support could be important in getting the nominee confirmed, which could put Alabama on the new administrator’s map for future projects and licenses.

“At a time when Alabama could play a very critical, pivotal role, Sen. Jones alone could help move things in the right direction and resolve this issue not only for the state but for the nation,” said Michael Gold, vice president of Washington operations and business development for the private-sector space firm SSL, who spoke at the Space Authority meeting Friday.

“We don’t go to space as Republicans and Democrats; we got to space as people, as Americans and as humans. Sen. Jones could help us get back to that place.”

The NASA administrator confirmation has never been a high priority for the Senate, but this leadership drought is the longest in recent memory. President Barack Obama’s nominee was confirmed within months. Gold said have never been part of NASA before and Jones could help restore the bipartisan nature of space.

“We don’t go to space as Republicans and Democrats; we got to space as people, as Americans and as humans. Sen. Jones could help us get back to that place,” Gold said. “It would be a magnanimous gesture, and it would be critical for the state and the nation.”

The federal government, through the FAA, is expected to approve several licensed commercial spaceports across the United States in coming years. The minds behind the Space Authority, including State Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, hope the group can attract one of the spaceports to Alabama as commercial space travel becomes a reality in the near future.

“Somebody is going to get this spaceport in the Southeast, and we think we can be that place,” Dial said in an interview with APR. “This is going be for space travel, wherever it is located, what Atlanta is to the world today. They have millions of people flying through there today. It’s been a hub for Atlanta, and that’s why you have so many corporate headquarters there.”

While some have painted Dial’s proposals as wishful thinking, the 80-year-old state senator has said Alabama needs to think ahead. He believes the state shouldn’t wait for space travel and commercial space flight to become a bonafide reality before trying to throw its hat into the ring.

Panel working to attract spaceport to Alabama will hold first meeting Tuesday

Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma already have licensed private spaceports, and Camden County, Georgia, is trying to develop a spaceport on the Atlantic coast near Savannah. California and Virginia regularly launch payloads at government facilities, while Texas is another hub for private firms like Blue Origin and SpaceX to test their rocket engines.

Barnhart said the spaceport is only one part of the equation, though. The other roles of the Space Authority are perhaps more important, she said.

“We’re already lightyears ahead of any other state that has a spaceport in many other areas such as servicing, payload integration, payload servicing,” Barnhart said. “We’re uniquely qualified, as the Space Station commercializes in the future and as there are more and more orbits and launches to space with commercial payloads in them, to take advantage of that part of the business.”

Alabama’s fast-growing space industry and its many research institutions — from UAB to Auburn and the University of Alabama — could attract more space firms to the state and a spaceport could add to that equate.

“Another advantage of this will be the immediacy of access to payload processing. For example, UAB, HudsonAlpha, Auburn research, they can launch their experiments and have them come straight back to a near proximity so they can be processed quickly,” Barnhart said. “That would stimulate innovation and invention in our state, which of course then attracts high-paying jobs and talent into the state.”

Gold, whose firm designs and builds satellites and space systems for both government contracts and private customers, said there has never been a more exciting time in the space field.

“Much like Lewis and Clark, the government blazed the trail, but the real opportunities come with the private sector coming in,” Gold said. “That’s what we’re seeing happen.”

Private space companies are already investing in Alabama with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin announcing a new state-of-the-art rocket manufacturing facility last year. The company will build its new BE-4 rocket engine near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V rocket was first developed. Another private firm, Aerojet Rocketdyne, also broke ground on a 136,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Huntsville in October 2017.

Where the spaceport would be, if it’s ever constructed, was a point of contention among lawmakers in years past, but the authority is not focusing so much right now on where, but rather, how.

Regardless, the leaders agree Alabama is in a great position to succeed.

“Alabama is perfectly suited to be taking advantage of this, given the quality of life, the low cost of living, the educated workforce, the Marshall Space Flight Center and your educational institutions, not to mention the congressional delegation,” Gold said. “The stars are aligned for Alabama, and it’s just important that you pay attention to that and move in this direction.”

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National

Alabama has small but growing immigrant population

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama has a smaller immigrant population than many other states, but the immigrant population is growing and several industries rely heavily upon immigrants for labor, according to an analysis from the American Immigration Council.

As the Trump Administration continues to implement hard-line policies, including family separation, asylum crackdowns and travel bans, immigration remains a top issue as the November midterm elections near.

Immigrants represent nearly 4 percent of Alabama’s total population. In 2015, 169,972 foreign-born individuals lived in Alabama. Another 3 percent of residents are native-born U.S. citizens who have at least one immigrant parent, according to the analysis. About a third of Alabama’s immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens. Another 30,000 are eligible to become naturalized, the analysis found.

As the number of immigrants living in Alabama grows, it’s still lagging behind other states. Georgia, for example, has an immigrant population that comprises 10 percent of its total population. About 17 percent of Texas’s population is immigrants, and in California, the number is even higher at 27.3 percent.

State, Mo Brooks sue to block counting of immigrants in 2020 census

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Alabama has sued the U.S. Census Bureau, seeking to block the counting of undocumented immigrants in the 2020 census. Alabama officials fear Alabama could lose a congressional seat when reapportionment happens because Alabama’s total population growth is slower than many other states.

According to documents obtained through a public records request, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office has spent at least $4,914 paying the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration think tank, for a demographic analysis of all 50 states to determine how immigrant populations make affect reapportionment.

A number of the Center for Immigration Studies’ reports have been disputed by other groups such as the Migration Policy Institute, the libertarian Cato Institute, PolitiFact and the Immigration Policy Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CIS as an anti-immigrant hate group.

While the population is relatively small, industry relies heavily upon immigrant labor. Almost 13 percent of all workers in life, physical, and social sciences are immigrants, as are 12 percent of construction and extraction employees, according to the American Immigration Council’s analysis.

While a large portion of immigrants living in Alabama are naturalized citizens or legal residents, the analysis showed that nearly 40,000 U.S. citizens in Alabama are living with at least one family member who is undocumented. About 39 percent of the immigrant population — or 1.3 percent of the state population in 2014 — is undocumented.

More than 100,932 immigrant workers comprise about 5 percent of Alabama’s workforce, the analysis showed. The top industries for immigrant workers are manufacturing, construction, accommodation and food services, retail trade and health care.

Immigrants paid $719.7 million in federal taxes and $252.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014, and, as consumers, they spent $2.7 billion on Alabama’s economy. As entrepreneurs, immigrants in Alabama generated $179.3 million in business revenue in 2015.

Undocumented immigrants, despite their legal status, paid more than $62.3 million in state and local taxes in 2014, the analysis found, and that contribution would rise to $80 million if they achieved legal status. Those who had enrolled in President Barack Obama’s DACA program paid an estimated $13.2 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

All in all, immigrants have $2.7 billion in spending power.

The American Immigration Council drew from U.S. Census data and other sources to develop their analysis, which provides the latest demographic and economic contributions of immigrants in each U.S. state.

 

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Elections

Alliance for Retired Americans endorses Lee Auman for US Congress

Brandon Moseley

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The Alliance for Retired Americans announced that they have endorsed Democrat James Lee Auman for U.S. Congress in Alabama’s 4th congressional district. The Alliance represents more than 4.4 million retirees, including 68,337 in Alabama.

The Alliance wrote: “[we believe] that [Lee Auman’s] election to the House of Representatives will enhance the quality of life for older Americans.”

The Alliance cited Auman’s commitment to preserve Social Security and Medicare, as well as his dedication to provide more affordable health care for older Americans.

“Older Americans have the right to retire with dignity,” Auman said. “I am committed to supporting Alabama’s retirees by keeping health care affordable and earned benefits protected.”

Auman has also been endorsed by American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Alabama Democratic Conference, and the New South Coalition.

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Auman is running against popular eleven term GOP incumbent Congressman Robert Aderholt of Haleyville.

Auman’s repeated calls for Aderholt to debate him have been ignored.
On Tuesday, the Advertiser-Gleam, Arab Tribune, and Sand Mountain Reporter will hold a political forum in Guntersville, Alabama. Lee Auman accepted the invitation to participate. Robert Aderholt’s office has yet to respond to the request by the legacy media outlets.

“I’m looking forward to speaking with and hearing from voters,” Auman said. “As his constituent, I wish the Congressman would offer the people of his district the same respect.”

Martha Gravlee, Auman’s campaign manager said. “By refusing to respond, Aderholt has made one thing clear: he cares more about playing a political game than the people he was elected to represent.”

The political forum will be held at the town hall in Guntersville, Alabama at 6:00 p.m. tonight.

Auman faces a daunting task. Not only is Congressman Aderholt an incumbent with much more financial resources to spend, the Fourth Congressional District is the most pro-Donald Trump district in the entire country.

Lee Auman is a former camp manager.

The general election will be November 6.

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National

Trump approves Emergency Disaster Declaration for Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Michael

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump approved an Emergency Disaster Declaration for the state of Alabama in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s request on Oct. 11. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Program will provide assistance under category B to Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Michael.

“I greatly appreciate President Trump approving our request for federal assistance,” Ivey said. “Alabama has suffered damage, but we have also stepped in to help our neighbors. This assistance will help us recover some of the cost of response and recovery efforts conducted by the state and local governments. This will be a huge benefit to the smaller communities in Alabama that have been affected.”

Alabama has received a Federal Emergency Declaration for the state and the following counties: Dale, Geneva, Henry, and Houston. The Emergency Declaration is to help local and state governments cover costs associated with preparing and responding to Hurricane Michael.
Under the Public Assistance Program, assistance will be provided at 75 percent federal funding for approved costs related to the storm.

“Working together with our federal partners is an important part of helping Alabamians move back to some sense of normalcy when impacted by a storm like Hurricane Michael,” Alabama EMA Director Brian Hastings said. “We are extremely thankful that although Hurricane Michael was a historic storm our state did not encounter any loss of life.”

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency is working with all impacted areas to assess damages in order to possibly qualify for additional assistance to aid in the repairs to infrastructure and the collection and disposal of debris.

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Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida as a very strong Category Four Hurricane, the strongest storm to ever impact the Florida panhandle. The storm surge destroyed beach front homes while the winds which reached 155 miles per hour destroyed homes and businesses across Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

The storm also devastated many farms and ranches where barns were destroyed, fences knocked down, livestock killed, and crops, particularly cotton, was flattened and ruined. The disaster declaration means that farmers and ranchers in Barbour, Dale, Geneva, Henry, and Houston counties may be eligible for assistances through the NRCS.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist for Alabama Ben Malone announced the special financial assistance sign up for Alabama farmers and ranchers who suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality because of Hurricane Michael.

Affected producers can sign up for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The first batching period will end on October 26, 2018. A second signup period will end on November 9, 2018.

This assistance is available to individual farmers and ranchers to aid in recovery efforts on their properties and does not apply to local governments or other entities. Farmers can apply for assistance including: Emergency Animal Mortality Management, Clearing and Snagging, and Obstruction Removal. The NRCS recommends that farmers seeking assistance for any mass mortality event immediately notify the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries if they haven’t already done so.

Socially disadvantaged, veteran, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers can receive up to 50 percent advanced payment for purchasing materials or contracting.

For more information about NRCS and its programs, visit your local USDA Service Center to determine eligibility. Individuals are not eligible for USDA programs until they have completed the Farm Bill eligibility requirements.

Be sure to notify your crop insurer of Hurricane Michael losses. Inform your home and/or home insurers about any claims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may also provide some assistance to homeowners and business owners.

The Alabama Farmers Federation has established a relief fund to directly benefit farmers and ranchers.

“Farmers in south Alabama have received an outpouring of support from neighbors and people across the country,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “Many have asked where they can donate to help farmers who’ve lost their crops and barns, so we have created a special fund within the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation to accept these gifts.”

Donations are tax deductible and may be made at AlabamaFarmersFoundation.org or send checks payable to Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation to P.O. Box 11000, Montgomery, AL 36191.

“Hurricane Michael devastated crops, homes, barns and livelihoods in the Wiregrass,” said Parnell, who is also president of the foundation. “Farmers are resilient, but recovery takes time and money. Alabama producers are grateful for financial help from friends and supporters — and covet your thoughts and prayers during the rebuilding process.”

(Original reporting by ALFA’s Brandon McCray contributed to this report.)

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Elections

Aderholt expresses optimism ahead of midterm elections

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, was in Vestavia speaking to the Mid-Alabama Republican Club Saturday.

“While I don’t represent Jefferson County I do represent a lot of the counties around Jefferson County,” said Representative Aderholt. “Working with Gary Palmer is quite an honor. All seven of us feel that we represent the whole state without regard to those imaginary district lines that are out there.”

“I represent a large area of Tuscaloosa County including part of the city of Tuscaloosa and Northport,” Aderholt said. “I also represent Jasper in Walker County.”

On the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M Kavanaugh, Aderholt said. “We are excited to have him on the Supreme Court he is the second justice that Trump has been able to put two on the Supreme Court.”

Aderholt said that he did not know whether or not Kavanaugh would vote to finally overturn Roe versus Wade, but “I think he will vote in favor of stronger pro-life laws.”

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“What we are most proud of is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Rep. Aderholt said. “It is the most substantive modification to our nation’s tax code in 31 years.”

“April 17, 2018 marked the last time that taxpayers will ever have to deal with the old tax code,” Rep. Aderholt said. I am happy that we maintained the deduction for mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

Aderholt said that the Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018, HR 6760, which would make the tax cuts permanent has passed the House 222 to 191. The bill has been sent to the Senate but it has not been acted upon. The 60 votes Senate rule will make passing this difficult. I think we would see more legislation take place if Mitch McConnell would change the rules of the Senate to simple majority rules.

“I serve as Chairman of the Ag appropriations committee,” Aderholt said. “Homeland Security will be the bill to watch because that is where the wall is funded.”

“Total spending for 2017 was $4 trillion,” Aderholt explained, “But only $1.2 trillion is discretionary spending.”

Aderholt said that the House of Representatives currently has 240 Republicans and 195 Democrats. The Republicans could lose 31 seats in the midterms. A lot of it is because of the situation we have with the seats that are up are suburban. The rural districts are solidly red and behind President Trump. These are districts around major cities where soccer moms swing the district. “It is not going to be very easy to hold onto these.”

“In the Senate there are 51 Republicans and 47 Democrats with 2 independents; but they caucus with the Democrats,” Aderholt said. “I think after Kavanaugh we will pick up 2 or 3 seats in the Senate. They have 5 tossup seats we have four.”

“You can never predict what is going to happen on election day,” Aderholt said. “Two years at this time Hillary was essentially already the President according to the pundits. A lot of things can happen between now and November 6.”

“Many of us in this room were convinced he (Donald Trump would not win,” Aderholt stated. “A lot of people stood up on election day and that will continue to pay big dividends.”

Aderholt expressed cautious optimism that the Republicans can hold on to Congress despite the polls.

A member of the audience asked if Donald Trump would come to Alabama for the Veterans Day parade.

“He loves Alabama,” Aderholt said. “Alabama was the top performing state for Donald Trump and the fourth district was the highest performing out of the 435. It would be in keeping with his agenda.”

A member of the audience asked Aderholt about the triple digit inflation in Venezuela.

“That goes hand in hand with what you have with a socialist type country,” Aderholt responded.

Another member of the audience asked Aderholt what he thought of Jeff Sessions.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for Jeff Sessions,” Aderholt asked. “I have met with Jeff a couple of times since he has been in office. If he believes something is right in his heart, he will not budge on it. If you know Jeff Sessions, it does not matter what the political consequences are. Both men once they have their minds set they are not going to change it. He feels very strongly about his decision to recuse himself,”

Former State Representative Paul DeMarco is the President of the Mid-Alabama Republican Club. He presented Aderholt with a book about President McKinley by Carl Rove.

The general election will be November 6.

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Alabama “incredibly well-positioned” to enhance status as space leader

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 6 min
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