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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.”

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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Jones testifies before International Trade Commission on negative impact of newsprint tariffs

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) testified at a hearing held by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) on the negative impacts recently imposed newsprint tariffs have had on Alabama’s newspapers.

Jones has advocated to stop to these tariffs, which are already hurting newspapers. In April, Jones wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross calling for an end to the newsprint tariff. He has cosponsored bipartisan legislation to suspend the tariffs while the Commerce Department examines the impacts of the tariffs on the printing and publishing industry.

“This issue first came to my attention back in March, when Bo Bolton, publisher of the Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Alabama—home of Harper Lee—traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to meet with me and my team,” Sen. Jones testified. “Bo’s message was urgent and clear: newly implemented tariffs by the Department of Commerce threatened the livelihood of his small-town newspaper, and thousands of other small, community papers that serve as the lifeblood of their communities throughout this country.”

“I have had a regular stream of publishers visit with me sharing the exact same message, asking for any relief possible before they would have to start cutting their services and laying off what few staff they might have,” Jones continued. “The sources for domestically produced newsprint are quite scarce, requiring newspapers around the country to purchase their newsprint from Canadian suppliers. In other words, the domestic jobs that would be protected by these tariffs is relatively minuscule compared to the number of jobs in the United States that these tariffs threaten. But one domestic producer, NORPAC, which is owned by a New York hedge fund, filed a complaint with the Department of Commerce alleging Canadian newspaper suppliers were being subsidized by their government and thus able to sell below market value. As I understand is common practice, the Commerce Department levied preliminary tariffs of 6.53 percent in January. That jumped to an average of 22 percent in March, when the Canadian producer was found to be [selling] below the market price.”

“Here’s what I just don’t understand: why would this Administration levy these outrageous tariffs when our own newspaper publishers, logging industry, and paper suppliers do not support the decision?” Jones continued. It seems to me that the only thing being protected by this tariff is a small portion of a Wall Street hedge fund’s portfolio. It certainly isn’t protecting the 600,000 printing and publishing jobs across the country, including jobs at every newspaper in the state of Alabama.”

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“The Decatur Daily is facing an increase of $450,000 over their 2017 costs, and they’ve eliminated 11 full-time positions already,” Jones said. “Aside from payroll, newsprint is their single largest expense. You’ll hear that refrain from many small papers. Samuel Martin, publisher of the Birmingham Times in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote to me saying that they are, “hanging on by our fingertips already to survive and things like these tariffs will be the difference on surviving for so many.””

Most newspapers and journals are in the process of migrating to the internet. The Alabama Political Reporter does not have an old fashioned print version so uses no newsprint whatsoever.

“While some big-named media outlets have found their footing in the digital age, that’s not the case for everyone,” Jones said. “For many in small towns in Alabama and across the country, folks still like to get their news from actual newspapers. They still like to read a paper front to back. Hold it in hand. They cut the coupons. They read the local events calendar. They learn about what their local officials are doing or, in some cases, not doing. Frankly, there are still far too many places where Americans still struggle to get access to broadband. These folks don’t have the option to go online to get their news. The digital model just doesn’t work there, at least not yet.”

“These small newspapers cover local news that wouldn’t make it into larger regional papers if they were to shut their doors. Local businesses lose perhaps their only outlet in which to reach their customers,” Sen. Jones testified. “The biggest losers in this fight ultimately will be the residents that rely on local newspapers to stay informed. So when I say that these papers are the lifeblood of communities, it is not an exaggeration. It’s a fact. That’s why I have been so deeply concerned about this tariff. If it’s not rolled back, it will present and existential threat to local newspapers that are already strapped. “

“It is why I left duties on Capitol Hill this afternoon to come here today to urge you to reconsider this tariff,” Jones said. “Instead, consider the significant impact it has already had on these small American businesses. I hope you take to heart the urgent calls you are hearing today and make the right decision to eliminate these tariffs and to protect this industry and valuable the service that it provides to all of us.”

Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “Since March a tariff of up to 30 percent on Canadian uncoated paper has raised the price of newsprint, making it difficult for cash-strapped newspapers to circulate their work. As if limiting economic freedom weren’t enough, the administration is also undermining Americans’ freedom of expression with this needless tax on journalism.”

North Pacific Paper Company plans to hire 50 new full- and part-time employees, the company announced May 2. The company, owned by the New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners, also announced the limited restart of operations for one of its paper machines, idled this past year.

The Longview, Washington-based company attributed the moves to “the U.S. uncoated groundwood papers industry starting to see a level playing field against unfairly traded imports.”

On May 2 North Pacific Paper Company (Norpac) which filed the trade complaint last fall has hired 50 more employees and is reopening a third machine at their Longview, Washington facility which they had shut down last year.

“After years of unfair, demoralizing market conditions and the associated difficult decisions that were required to survive, we have worked with our employees to test and create a system that can respond rapidly to the dynamic needs of the customers we serve. As more clarity regarding the impacts of competing on a level playing field become clear we will further improve our organizational capability,” said CEO Craig Anneberg in a news release.

Doug Jones was elected to the Senate in a special election on December 12.

(Original reporting by newsandtech.com contributed to this report.)

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Palmer: “Vladimir Putin is a bad man”

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday Congressman Gary Palmer said, “I have no doubt that Putin’s Russian operatives tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.”

“It does not take an expert on foreign policy to know that Vladimir Putin is a bad man,” Rep. Palmer said. “He is a ruthless and vindictive leader who is determined to restore Russia as a nation to be feared. I have no doubt that Putin’s Russian operatives tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. This has been confirmed through various sources, including the CIA and congressional investigations.”

While acknowledging that he believes there was a Russian operation to prevent Hillary Clinton from being President of the United States Palmer did not credit the Russians for the Republican electoral victory or acknowledge Democratic Party claims that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians operatives.

“However, this evidence should not be confused with the question of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Palmer continued. “In fact, as our own intelligence agencies have disclosed, all the Russians have to show for their efforts is that they were successful in hacking the server of the Democratic National Committee.”

President Trump has been widely criticized by members of Congress from both parties for his statements at the Helsinki summit with President Putin.

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“I appreciate the fact that President Trump has acknowledged that he misspoke at the press conference and fully supports the conclusions of our intelligence agencies,” Palmer said. “I encourage President Trump to step back and take stock of what is going on now as the Russians continue to try to divide us. We must continue to support the work of our intelligence agencies to protect us from those who would undermine our nation. Finally, these facts do not undermine the outcome of the 2016 election. President Trump should take great satisfaction from the fact that the American people elected him despite the efforts of the Russians and one or two operatives in the FBI to influence the outcome of the election.”

While many leaders of both political parties have declared the President’s summit a disastrous departure from decades of American foreign policy; Pres. Trump continued to defend his performance in Finland.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

Senator Rand Paul is the most vocal defending the President’s performance.  Paul is preparing for his own trip to Russia.

“There has to be some voice that doesn’t want war,” Paul said. “I want a voice that talks about engagement.”

Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District.

(Original reporting by Fox News, CNN, and SFGate contributed to this report.)

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Roby thanks Trump, Pence for helping her defeat Bright

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) won a resounding victory over former Congressman Bobby Bright. The two had faced off before in 2010 when the Republican Montgomery City Council woman Roby unseated the Democratic incumbent in Bright. Roby won the first contest in a hard fought general election. Eight years later, Bright had switched to the Republican Party and Roby was the incumbent U.S.

Representative. Roby won the rematch in a race that was nowhere near as close as polls had anticipated.
A triumphant Roby thanked a crowded room full of supporters at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center.

“I’m honored and humbled that the people of Alabama’s Second District have again placed their trust and confidence in me, and that I will have the opportunity to continue to do this job on their behalf,” Congresswoman Roby said. “On behalf of my family and me, thank you to each person who went out to the polls today to support me.”

“Over the past several months, Team Roby traveled up and down our district to touch as many voters as we possibly could to remind them why I believe I am best positioned to continue to fight for the conservative values we all hold dear,” Roby said. “To all of the people who took the time to talk with me and my team on your doorstep, on your porch, while driving down the road, or enjoying a meal — please know how much the time you spent with us means to our campaign. We didn’t take one vote for granted, and I truly valued visiting with so many great people on the campaign trail.”

Roby thanked God, her campaign team, the Second Congressional District voters and her family who, “I could not have done this without.” Roby also offered her, “Sincere thanks for President Trump and Vice President Pence for their endorsements and support.”

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Both President Donald J. Trump (R) and Vice President Mike Pence (R) had personally endorsed Roby in her bid for re-election.

“I wake up each and every day trying to be the best representative for you,” Roby told her supporters. “and to be in the best position to fight for your conservative values.”

“I am proud of the race we ran,” Roby said. “We ran a campaign based on fact and record and not on one of character assassination. As your representative I will always try to campaign with civility and grace.”

“Over the last year and a half, it’s been a great privilege to be a part of the conservative momentum and to work alongside my colleagues in Congress and the Trump Administration to push some very important priorities over the finish line,” Roby added. “We are in a unique position to accomplish even more, and I’m eager to continue the fight.”

Roby acknowledged that not everyone in this room is in total agreement on policy; but that is a good thing.

Roby was elected in the 2010 Republican wave election that swept Republicans into control of the House of Representatives after four years of Democratic control. Some conservatives in the district have criticized Roby in the past for being too willing to work with Speakers of the House Paul Ryan and John Boehner before that. Some of those conservatives supported a challenger against Roby in 2016, Wetumpka Tea Party founder Becky Gerritson. GOP voters chose Roby; but then became angry with the Congresswoman over some angry comments that Roby had for Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and her withdrawing her endorsement of Trump.

Conservatives were incensed and Roby faced four primary challengers in the GOP primary. Roby had less than forty percent of the vote in the primary with Bright besting three more conservative challengers.

Between the primary and the primary runoff, the Republican Party however coalesced behind Roby, and are poised to move on to the general election on November 6 with momentum.

At press time, with 82 percent of the vote in Martha Roby had 41,386 votes, 68.2 percent versus Bobby Bright who had just 19,322 votes, 31.8 percent.

Bobby Bright is a former Mayor of Montgomery.

Roby will face Tabitha Isner (D) in the November 6 general election.

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

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