By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R) questioned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus at a hearing on fiscal year 2015 funding for the military on the importance of the littoral combat ship (LCS) to the U.S. naval fleet and the program’s future. Mabus said that a small surface combat ship capability is critical to the Navy and discussed options for reaching the fleet’s 52-vessel requirement, beyond the 32 LCSs that the Navy will purchase in a dual-buy from Austal USA in Mobile and Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin.
Sec. Mabus said that the Navy is currently considering three options for the procurement of the 20 additional small surface combat ships – continue the current LCS program, pursue a modified LCS, or draw up a new design. Mabus said that speed of delivery to the fleet and cost will be critical factors. In discussing the viability of a modified LCS, Mabus said, “And the great thing that a ship like LCS brings is that, as technology changes, as missions change, because it’s modular you don’t have to change the whole ship, you just change the weapons system.”
After the hearing, Sen. Shelby said, “I was pleased to hear Secretary Mabus reaffirm the Navy’s need for this critical capability and praise the work done thus far on LCS. Listening to his comments today on the future of the program, I am optimistic that Austal is well-positioned to continue meeting this essential requirement for our fleet. As Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to monitor these developments carefully.”
In the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing Sen. Shelby asked, “Mr. Secretary, the Department of Defense, as you well know, has decided to reduce the overall purchase of LCS ships from 52 to 32, in favor of what they — what we’ve heard is a more capable surface combatant, whatever that means. I understand the decision about the future of the program will go one of three ways possibly. It could stay on track. It could be modified. Or the Navy could draw up an entirely new design. Last week, you commented that you saw the modification option perhaps as a viable option in the future. Could you discuss that hopefully [with] the Committee today?”
Sec. Mabus said, “I think it’s very important to look at exactly what the Secretary of Defense said about LCS. First, he said that we should not engage in contract negotiations past 32 ships. And getting to 32 ships will take us almost completely through this five-year Defense plan.
Second, you’re absolutely correct that there were three options. Navy has set up a team, CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] has set up a team, to look at our options. And the three options that you gave — continue the LCS, continue a modified LCS or a brand new design.
The last two things, though, that the Secretary pointed out was that we had to take cost into account and we had to take delivery time to the fleet into account. Because overall, we need the 52 small surface combatants that we have said that we need.
We will have this review done in order to inform the F.Y. ’16 fiscal year.
And Senator, one other point I’d like to make — this is not unusual in Navy ships. We’re on — we’re about to start building flight 4, flight 3, but there was a 2 and a 2A, on our DDG-51s that are built in Maine and Mississippi. We’re about to begin flight 4 on our Virginia-class submarines. So we take a look at these programs and changes as requirements change, as technology changes. And the great thing that a ship like LCS brings is that, as technology changes, as missions change, because it’s modular you don’t have to change the whole ship, you just change the weapons system. And the final thing I’ll say is that the price of LCS, one of the things I’m most happy about, first ships of those class, both varieties, built in Alabama and Wisconsin, cost more than $750 million. The ships coming out of the 10th ship on the block buy from each one will cost around $350 million.”
Sen. Shelby said, “So the more you buy, the price comes down. Isn’t that just basic economics?”
Sec. Mabus said, “It’s basic economics and it’s — and it’s true for every ship. I want to point that out.”
Sen. Shelby asked, “How important, Mr. Secretary, for the record, is LCS to the Navy?”
Sec. Mabus said, “Well, a small surface combatant is critical to the Navy. And if you listen to our combat commanders, if you listen to the needs that they require, we have to have the countermine capability, the counter-surface capability, and the counter-submarine capability that these ships are designed to bring. And in terms of the countermine and counter-submarine, the weapon systems that LCS has today are better than what we have in the fleet.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) has announced that President Obama’s administration was proposing massive cuts to shrink America’s military to levels not seen in almost 75 years. Among Secretary Hagel’s new budgetary priorities were less littoral combat ships.
U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R) from said: “The Littoral Combat Ship, called ‘the backbone of the future fleet’ by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, is a critical component of our future fighting force as we continue adapting to changing combat necessities. This ship, built on time and within budget by Alabama workers in the Port of Mobile, is uniquely situated to fill the role of three different Navy missions integral to the Navy’s global strategy and will do so by replacing four separate vessels all approaching the end of their respective service lives. Its low cost to manufacture and low cost to operate bolster the argument for its necessity during tight budgetary times.
The Independence-class LCS is built in the Port of Mobile by Austal USA, employing roughly 4,000 residents of Alabama’s First Congressional District. The Independence-class LCS has a top speed of 44 knots, carries a crew of just 40 sailors, and can be specially configured for mine sweeping, sub hunting, operating unmanned aerial vehicles, operating helicopters, and can support Marine or Special forces operations. The cost is $704 million each, although the original navy estimate was that the LCS would cost just $220 million each.
The U.S. Navy plan called for building 55 LCSs with the first twenty being ten each of the Independence-class and Freedom-class. That plan apparently has changed.
The U.S. Navy had originally proposed a competition between the two competing designs with winner take all; but eventually decided to split the order between both shipyards and accepted both the Austal designed Independence class and the more conventional Freedom class.
Austal is the largest builder of aluminum ships in the world. Austal has two shipyards: one in Western Australia and one in Mobile. Started in 1988, Austal has manufactured 220 vessels to date including warships, ferries, and luxury motor yachts.
Sen. Shelby is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a senior member of its Defense Subcommittee.
Sen. Richard Shelby was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 after previously serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Alabama legislature.
Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend
As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.
The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.
The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.
A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.
Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.
Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.
The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.
Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.
Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise
The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9.
UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.
“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said.
Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.
Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.
Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.
The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.
Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”
Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”
Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.
“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”
Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.
“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.
Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.
Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.
Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”
The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.
Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.
“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”
Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.
“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”
Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.
The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”
Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.
“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”
District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.
“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”
District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.