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Byrne applauds Austal on LCS contract

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the U.S. Navy awarded two of three Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to Austal USA. Congress appropriated funds for 3 LCS in Fiscal Year 2019.

Two of those will be built by Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama. The third will be built by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) applauded Austal for the contract awards.

“The fact that Austal received two of the three contracts from Fiscal Year 2018 for Littoral Combat Ships is yet another indication of the high quality work being performed at our shipyard in Mobile,” Rep. Byrne said. “This marks the third straight year that Austal has received two of the three contracts – a testament to the fact we are delivering capable ships on time and on budget. Congratulations to the almost 4,000 men and women who work at the shipyard and help equip the Navy with warships.”

Austal USA of Mobile, Alabama was awarded a fixed-price-incentive firm target modification to a previously awarded contract for the construction of two Littoral Combat Ships. The Navy may release a competitive solicitation(s) for additional LCS class ships in fiscal year 2019, and therefore the specific contract award amount for these ships is considered source selection sensitive information so is not being released by the Navy at this time.

The work will be performed in Mobile, Alabama; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio; Kingsford, Michigan; Bristol, Connecticut, and various other locations of less than 1 percent each and is expected to be completed by September 2024. Fiscal year 2018 Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy funds are obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the fiscal year. This contract modification was awarded via a limited competition between Austal USA and Lockheed Martin.

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The 2019 Defense Department funding bill funded a 33rd, 34th and 35th littoral combat ship, three more than the 32-ship requirement set by the Navy. The Barack H. Obama (D) administration cut the original 55 ship requirement to 32 in 2014. The mission modules that will make each of the ships specialize as a mine sweeper, a submarine hunter or small surface combatant have been delayed due to technical issues.

The littoral combat ship is a set of two classes of relatively small surface vessels designed for operations near shore, the littoral combat zone, by the Navy. Austal builds the trimaran hulled Independence class. Lockheed Martin builds the more conventional Freedom class.

At this point 15 LCSs are deployed with the navy and the other seventeen are in various stages of construction and development. These newest three were not supposed to be built under the Obama administration plan to halt the LCSs at 32. Will there be more LCS’s greenlighted in the 2020 budget is in question.

Currently Austal USA and Lockheed Martin are competing for the contract for 20 new guided missile frigates which will be larger, multi-mission, and more lethal than the two LCSs. Both shipyards have submitted a more stretched design based on their Independence and Freedom class LCS hulls. The Obama Administration Defense Department had capped the number of LCS and frigates at 50. Now it appears that the Republican controlled Congress has reverted back to the original 55 ship requirement. Where the LCS contract was divided between Austal and Lockheed, the contract for the frigate is supposed to go to just one ship builder, dramatically reducing the work at either Mobile or Marinette.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District which includes Mobile where Austal USA builds the Independence class. Byrne is seeking another term; but faces Navy veteran Robert Kennedy Jr. (D) in the November 6 general election.

Original reporting by Defense News’ David Latner contributed to this report. Wikipedia was also consulted.

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Jones introduces bipartisan legislation forbidding mailed unsolicited “live” loan checks

Brandon Moseley

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Monday U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) joined Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) in introduced legislation that would end the practice of mailing high-interest loans to consumers in the form of “live” checks.

When consumers receive these loan checks, many unknowingly believe they have received money from their bank or financial institution, not realizing that the check is often a high-interest loan.

The Unsolicited Loan Act of 2018 would prohibit this practice and ensure that consumers access loans only when they proactively apply for them. This legislation mirrors the decades-old prohibition on the mailing of live credit cards.

“As working Americans look to make ends meet, lenders will often target cash-strapped families with these mailings,” Senator Jones said. “It is unconscionable that someone would take advantage of another person’s dire financial situation to make a quick buck for themselves. We need to end this predatory lending tactic and pass this legislation to protect consumers and their pocketbooks.”

“People should understand clearly when they are taking on debt,” Senator Cotton said. “But because ‘live’ checks mailed directly to consumers don’t require an application or any previous relationship with the consumer, many individuals don’t realize that these checks are actually high-interest loans until it’s too late. Just like Congress ended the practice of mailing ‘live’ credit cards nearly 50 years ago, Congress should pass our bill now to stop this underhanded practice.”

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“When you receive a check in the mail, it’s natural to assume that depositing it will help—not hurt—your bottom line,” Sen. Merkley said. “But these checks don’t pad consumers’ pocketbooks; instead, they send them into a vortex of debt. The practice of mailing high-interest loans disguised as checks is unconscionable and clearly predatory. Today, we’re sending a bipartisan message that this unacceptable practice must end.”

The sponsors said that it has been long recognized by Congress that consumer loans should require an application by a customer. In fact, Congress banned the mailing of unsolicited live credit cards nearly 50 years ago. In modern lending, a formal loan application can often take just minutes. The bill does not prohibit the direct marketing or mailing of a loan application. The sponsors say that this legislation would provide common-sense consumer protections without limiting access to credit for consumers who willingly apply and seek lending products.

The bill would also ensure that companies cannot shift from the mailing of live checks to other forms of transfer, such as a gift card or an “e-check.” In addition, it would ensure that customers are not liable for debt incurred from an illegal, unsolicited live check loan. The National Consumer Law Center has endorsed this legislation on behalf of its low-income clients.

According to usdebtclock.org the average American is carrying $58,849 in debt. American families owe over $19,371,000,000. Almost $15,374,000,000 of this is mortgage debt; but Americans also carry nearly $1,580,000,000 in student loan debt and almost $1,050,000,000 in credit card debt. According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, through November 703,130 Americans have already filed for bankruptcy in 2018, including 24,676 in Alabama.

Senator Jones was elected a year ago in a special election for the seat vacated by Senator Jeff Sessions (R) when he accepted President Donald J. Trump’s (R) nomination to be U.S. Attorney General. Jones is the only Democratic candidate to win a statewide election in Alabama since 2008.

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Byrne applauds NOAA’s increased Red Snapper catch limit under new rule

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, applauded a new NOAA Fisheries rule to increase the annual catch limits and annual catch targets for the Red Snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This increase from NOAA shows exactly what those of us on the Gulf Coast have known for years: the health of the Red Snapper fishery is incredibly strong,” Representative Byrne said. “These latest numbers will further drive us to continue fighting for greater state control over the Red Snapper fishery and a full and adequate Red Snapper fishing season.”

The commercial annual catch limit would increase from 7.007 million pounds to 7.701 million pounds. The annual recreational charter boat catch limit would increase from 2.848 million pounds to 3.13 million pounds. The annual recreational private boat limit would increase from 3.885 million pounds to 4.269 million pounds.

The catch limits for Red Snapper are being increased because assessment of Gulf red snapper was completed in 2018 and indicated that red snapper was not overfished or experiencing overfishing, but the stock is still in a rebuilding plan. Based on the assessment, catch limits can be increased. The commercial, recreational, and component ACLs could also be increased.

The proposed rule would also decrease the annual catch limit of West Florida Hogfish from 219,000 pounds to just 129,500 pounds in 2019. It would increase to 141,300 pounds in 2020, and 150,400 pounds in 2021 and beyond.

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The current Red Snapper total ACL is 13.74 million pounds whole weight. Of that, 51 percent is allocated to the commercial sector and 49 percent to the recreational sector. The recreational sector’s annual catch limit is further divided into the private angling component (57.7 percent) and federal for-hire component (42.3 percent). These components were implemented in 2015 and are currently set to expire in 2022.

This is just a proposed rule. NOAA is seeking public comments. The comment period is open now through January 3, 2019. You may submit comments by electronic submission or by postal mail. Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

Step 1) Go to:
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0130

Step 2) Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields.

Step 3) Enter or attach your comments.

Submit written comments to Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Alabama federal and state officials have been troubled by federal red snapper rules for years. Last year, Congressman Byrne worked with Senator Richard Shelby and other Gulf Coast congressmen to secure a full Red Snapper season for Alabama’s recreational fishermen.

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Voyager 2 has left the heliosphere

Brandon Moseley

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The Voyagers have gone where no man-made spacecraft have gone before. For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe follows Voyager 1 and has exited the heliosphere, the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Members of NASA’s Voyager team discussed the findings at a news conference on at Monday at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Washington. Only Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have ever journeyed this far from Earth.

Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Voyager 1 crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.

Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but the information, which is moving at the speed of light, takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

The most compelling evidence of Voyager 2’s exit from the heliosphere came from its onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an instrument that stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980, long before that probe crossed the heliopause. Until recently, the space surrounding Voyager 2 was filled predominantly with plasma flowing out from our Sun. This outflow, called the solar wind, creates a bubble, the heliosphere, that envelopes the planets in our solar system. The PLS uses the electrical current of the plasma to detect the speed, density, temperature, pressure and flux of the solar wind. The PLS aboard Voyager 2 observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles on Nov. 5. Since that date, the plasma instrument has observed no solar wind flow in the environment around Voyager 2, which makes mission scientists confident the probe has left the heliosphere.

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“Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” said John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.”

In addition to the plasma data, Voyager’s science team members have seen evidence from three other onboard instruments: the cosmic ray subsystem, the low energy charged particle instrument and the magnetometer. The readings from those instruments are consistent with the conclusion that Voyager 2 has crossed the heliopause. Voyager’s team members are eager to continue to study the data from these other onboard instruments to get a clearer picture of the environment through which Voyager 2 is traveling.

“There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Together, the two Voyagers provide a detailed glimpse of how our heliosphere interacts with the constant interstellar wind flowing from beyond. Their observations complement data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a mission that is remotely sensing that boundary. NASA also is preparing the upcoming Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), due to launch in 2024) to capitalize on the Voyagers’ observations.

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

While the probes have left the heliosphere, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have not yet left the solar system, and won’t be leaving anytime soon. The boundary of the solar system is considered to be beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun’s gravity. The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU. One AU is the distance from the Sun to Earth. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly 30,000 years to fly beyond it.
The Voyager probes are powered using heat from the decay of radioactive material, contained in a device called a radioisotope thermal generator (RTG). The power output of the RTGs diminishes by about four watts per year, which means that various parts of the Voyagers, including the cameras on both spacecraft, have been turned off over time to manage power.

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

Voyager 2 was launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization. A Voyager probe even appeared in Star Trek the Motion Picture, as the villain.

Voyager’s mission controllers communicate with the probes using NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), a global system for communicating with interplanetary spacecraft. The DSN consists of three clusters of antennas in Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

The Voyager Interstellar Mission is a part of NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL built and operates the twin Voyager spacecraft. NASA’s DSN, managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, operates both the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, part of the DSN, and the Parkes Observatory, which NASA has been using to downlink data from Voyager 2 since Nov. 8.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville employs thousands of Alabamians.

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Brooks lauds November jobs report

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, made a point to laud the good Bureau of Labor Statistics November jobs report Friday.

“The November Jobs Report is very good in the context of two troubling events: the threatened return of socialist, anti-growth policies of Democrats who have captured the House of Representatives and rising interest rates (caused by Federal Reserve hikes coupled with America’s dangerous deficits straining credit markets),” Brooks said. “These combined threats undermine the economic confidence of job creators which, in turn, risk causing adverse impacts on America’s economy.”

“Despite threatened socialist policies and rising interest rates, in November, America’s economy added 155,000 new jobs, average hourly income continued to grow at a 3.1% annualized rate, and unemployment remained steady at the 50-year low rate of 3.7%— all welcome news for American workers,” Brooks said. “I am very pleased that Americans are personally benefitting from the tax cuts and deregulation policies that spurred 2018 to be America’s strongest growth rate in over a decade!”

Brooks said that the key takeaways from the Bureau of Labor Statistics October jobs report are: America’s economy added 155,000 new, nonfarm payroll jobs in November 2018; America’s November unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, a year-to-year improvement of 0.4 percentage points over the 4.1 percent unemployment rate of November 2017; and over the past year, the average weekly earnings for all non-farm American workers increased by 0.2%, or six cents (to $27.35/hour). That is an 81 cent improvement in hourly wages over the past year.

Brooks said that African-American unemployment fell by 0.3 percentage points, to 5.9 percent, which is the all-time record low unemployment rate for African-Americans. Asian-American unemployment fell from 3.2 percent to 2.7 percent. The Caucasian-American unemployment rate actually rose from 3.3 percent to 3.4 percent. The Hispanic-American unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent to 4.5 percent. The labor participation rate remained unchanged at 62.9 percent. The long-term unemployed (those unemployed for 27 weeks or more), declined by 120,000 to just 1.3 million.

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This is the lowest the unemployment rate since December 1969, and this is the fifth consecutive month that the unemployment rate has been below 4 percent. There have only been 12 months since 1970 that the unemployment rate has fallen below 4 percent. Seven of those months occurred this year.

More than 73 percent of adults entering employment are coming out of the labor force rather than from unemployment.

The gains were apparent in most industries. The biggest gains this month were in transportation and warehousing (25,000) and in manufacturing (27,000). Overall manufacturing has added 468,000 jobs since the election.

Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.

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Byrne applauds Austal on LCS contract

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 3 min
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