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Birmingham Officials Get Briefing on Ukraine Situation

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

In the last eight months, the Ukraine has dominated International news in ways that no country ever wants to dominate International headlines.  Ukraine has seen months of civil strife and unrest that has led to the ousting of the pro-Russian Ukranian President, the invasion of the Crimea by Russian armed forces and separatists seizing government buildings in Eastern Ukraine.

On Wednesday, May 14, the President and founder of the First Investment Group, Borys Soboliev, was in Birmingham to meet with local business and political leaders about the situation.  Soboliev is on the board of directors of the U.S. Ukraine Business Council and has served the Ukrainian government in a variety of roles both before and after independence from the USSR.  Soboliev was hosted by Alabama State Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale at a press conference with Alabama journalists including the Alabama Political Reporter at Birmingham’s Vulcan Park.  Sen. Beason is a candidate for Congress representing Alabama’s Sixth District.

Chairman Soboliev said that he was here to stress the strategic importance of the United States Ukraine relationship and to build a stronger trade relationship.  Soboliev said that some Americans take the stance that what happens in Ukraine does not affect them much.  Soboliev said however that Ukraine has tremendous strategic importance including mineral deposits.

Soboliev grew up in a Ukraine that was part of the old Soviet Union.  Soboliev said it his my privilege is to compare the different periods.  The relationship between the United States and Ukraine has become more and more open in both deeds and in words.  Ukraine has become the breadbasket for Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The modernization of Ukrainian agriculture was primarily due to the contributions of John Deere, DuPont, and Caterpillar.

Ukraine has done much to develop its role in the international economy through trade development agencies, multinational companies, and the World Bank.  Part of Soboliev’s mission is to show opportunities for investment.

Soboliev said that one of Ukraine’s major strategic importance is its titanium deposits.  Ukraine has large concentrations of the important metal.  Ukraine hopes that with knowledge and expertise of American companies that they can lower the cost of making things with titanium so that it continues to become used more and more in sectors beyond defense to include sectors like automobiles.  Titanium deposits are found in both the western and eastern portions of Ukraine.  Soboliev said that 95% of Russian Ukrainian titanium products are made with Ukrainian titanium.  The only other places with comparable titanium deposits are Madagascar and Kenya and there are ecological problems with mining there.

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Soboliev said that titanium (which is stronger than steel and does not corrode) will replace iron in many applications.  Ukraine is working on their capabilities to bring the cost of working with the material down.  This is a real practical area where western and Ukrainian strategic partnership has been working.

Soboliev says that following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea other cities in the Ukraine, including Donetsk, have been invaded by Russian nationalists and terrorists.  Ukraine has felt the compassion of the United States and other nations and they really appreciate this attitude.

Senator Scott Beason asked Soboliev: “How deeply involved do you think is the Russian Government involved in the autonomy movement?”

Soboliev said that much of what we hear about the situation is influenced by Russian propaganda.  “Ukraine has no resources to pay for propaganda at all.”  Soboliev said that Putin has used Russian media and TV channels to spoil minds of people in the Ukraine.  None of this is new.  “The Nazis used similar tactics in the thirties.  What we are watching on Russian TV is so falsified.”

Joseph Goebbels said that people will more readily believe a big lie than a small lie.

Soboliev accused the Russians of putting women and children in front of their military equipment in Crimea.  Ukrainian military forces could not fire on the civilians.  Soboliev claimed that many of the Russian nationalists who seized the buildings in Eastern Ukraine are really Russian troops.  Soboliev said that authorities in the Ukraine have captured over 100 and have recognized them as members of Russian Special Forces units.  The Russians pay protesters cash on a daily basis in cash to protest in support of the Russians in front of the buildings which are held by Russian Special Forces.

Soboliev said, “We are undermined by our neighbor.”  This is, “His (Putin’s) way of sustaining his empire of evil.”

Soboliev said that Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union the most tragic event of the 20th century.
Soboliev said that when he was working for the Ukrainian Republic before the fall of the USSR, in 1991 we were called on to Moscow and we (the Republics) were told to pay money to prop up the USSR to prevent its bankruptcy and we had no money to give.  Soboliev said, “The insolvency of the Soviet Union was a product of its development.”

Soboliev said that Putin carried the luggage for the Mayor of St. Petersburg at the time so knows little of the actual events.  “I participated in that.  If a government has no money it will collapse.  I saw this with my own eyes.”

Soboliev said the City Hall here in Birmingham has to balance its budget and so should national governments.  Soboliev said that this is not how to run the country.  The development of trade and free markets is the real solution for Ukraine and for Russia.

Soboliev said that melding the nation is a challenge for Ukraine because many are settled on their own national roots.  Americans don’t care they go where the jobs and the opportunities are.  Ukraine can improve the unemployment situation in the east by moving workers from the east to the west to develop the titanium industry.

Soboliev said, “He (Putin) failed with his blitzkrieg.  He is not original.  He is just repeating ideas of 1930s.”

Putin expected mass uprisings in support of his Russian occupation and all he has gotten are some drug addicted persons who are unemployed and getting paid.  We are proud that we have no difference on the banks of the Dneiper.

Soboliev said that he has some relatives in Sebastopol (the capital of the Crimea).  They were expecting subsidies from the Russian takeover.  Those that are elderly were expecting Soviet times to come back.  “Then they were poor but secure.  Now when Putin said no cash no money they are a little bit upset.  There was nothing in the stores then but what was there was cheap.  This is the legacy of Soviet times which has made us where we don’t work but are expecting the good Czar to come and bring it.”

Soboliev accused Putin of manipulating gas prices and said that the Ukraine wants to move to normalize the market prices for natural gas.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Soboliev if it was a mistake on the part of Ukraine to agree to give up its nuclear arsenal.  Soboliev said, The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was signed by four Presidents including Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton and it guaranteed that no hostile actions would be pressed on the Kiev authority in any direction.  Soboliev said that, “As Deputy Finance Minister at that time, keeping even one ICBM was detrimental to our state budget.  It was not possible to keep the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world.”

The failure of our guarantors to has displayed bad example to world including Iran.  One of the guaranteeing countries (Russia) invaded our territory.

Soboliev said that when you analyze the situation inside the Russian Federation there are a lot of places that would prefer independence to remaining in Russia.  If there was a referendum in Kaliningrad today 100% would participate and 120% would vote for rejoining Germany.  If a referendum was held in the Kurile Islands the residents would overwhelmingly vote to rejoin Japan.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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America celebrates Independence Day

The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4.

Brandon Moseley

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The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress. This is a national and state holiday that is celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, concerts of patriotic music and is traditionally the height of the summer holiday season.

The Declaration of Independence defined the rights of man and the relationship between government and the governed. It also stated the colonists grievances with the distant British government and explained why independence was both justified and necessary.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” the Declaration reads.

The principal writer of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, who would go on to be the wartime governor of Virginia, vice president and the third president of the United States.

As brilliant as the Declaration of Independence is, independence was not won by words alone — but by the sacrifices of the men and women who sacrificed on and off the battlefields of Concord, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Quebec, Charleston, Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Yorktown and countless more to win the nation’s independence.

That ragtag, often poorly equipped and underfed army was led by General George Washington. Washington would go on to be the head the Constitutional convention and the first president of the United States, serving two terms.

Both Washington and Jefferson are immortalized on Mount Rushmore as two of the greatest presidents.

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An estimated 25,000 Americans were killed fighting the Revolutionary War. The British forces lost over 10,000 troops including many Americans who opposed independence and fought and died for the British crown. An estimated 58,000 crown Loyalists would leave this country over their loyalty to the British crown. Many of them settled in Canada.

“Today, we celebrate our Nation’s independence and the vision of our Founding Fathers revealed to the world on that fateful day, as well as the countless patriots who continue to ensure that the flames of freedom are never extinguished,” President Donald Trump said in the annual presidential July 4 message.

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ADPH urges Alabamians to have “safer-at-home” July 4th celebrations

This year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday is the Fourth of July, a day when many families hold elaborate celebrations with their friends. It is a time for friends, family, fireworks, barbecue, celebrating our nation’s independence and enjoying the summer weather.

But this year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

“Independence Day is a wonderful celebration for all Americans,” the ADPH said on their website. “As we move toward this major holiday, we want to share some recommendations and reminders for local governmental officials.”

The novel strain of the coronavirus is the largest pandemic to deeply impact this country in a century. At least 57,236 Americans were diagnosed with the virus on Thursday alone and 131,533 Americans have died, including 983 Alabamians.

A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

The ADPH emphasized that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to it.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that everyone should avoid large gatherings.

This CDC video explains more about how large gatherings can spread the virus.

According to ADPH, there are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses at this time.

There is ongoing medical research regarding treatment of COVID-19. Although most people will recover on their own, you can do some things to help relieve your symptoms, including taking medications to relieve pain and fever, using a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough and drinking plenty of fluids if you are mildly sick. Stay home and get plenty of rest.

Alabama is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases in the month of June and into early July.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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Alabama reports 1,750 new COVID-19 cases ahead of July 4th

The seven-day average of cases per day surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Brandon Moseley

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Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19.

Heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Alabama is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than ever before as hospitalizations continue a worrisome surge and the state’s death toll rises.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama on March 30, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Ahead of the holiday, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home due to the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that another 22 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 just in the last 24 hours. That takes the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983. Of those, 96 died in the last week alone (June 27-July 3).

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A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

Alabama reported an additional 22 deaths Friday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Of those, 96 died in the past seven days alone, or roughly 10 percent of the state’s total death toll. In the past 14 days, 171 people have died, or roughly 17 percent of the state’s death toll.

Even as the number of tests also increases — at least 430,000 have been tested — a larger percentage of tests are coming back positive compared to any other time period, according to the Department of Public Health and APR‘s tracking.

Roughly 15 percent of tests in the past week have been positive.

The large increases come as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday extended the current “safer-at-home” public health order, which was set to expire Friday, to July 31.

The number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is also at a new high, with at least 843 people hospitalized with the virus on July 2, the most since the pandemic began.

On Monday, in Jefferson County, where cases are increasing rapidly, residents were ordered to wear masks or cloth face coverings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the city of Mobile also began mandating masks or face coverings. The cities of Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Selma have also implemented face covering orders.

Of the 7,645 cases confirmed in the last week, 1,321 — or roughly 17 percent — were reported in Jefferson County alone. Nearly 28 percent of Jefferson County’s 4,802 total cases have been reported in the last seven days. Since March, 152 people have died in Jefferson County.

A campaign rally for President Donald Trump that was planned for Mobile on July 11 has been canceled because of the rapidly worsening coronavirus situation there. Mobile County has had 633 newly diagnosed cases in the last week, or roughly 8 percent of the state’s cases this week. Mobile County has had a total of 3,904 cases and 134 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Montgomery County reported 426 newly diagnosed cases in the last week. Overall Montgomery has had 3,947 total cases and 104 deaths thus far.

Tuscaloosa County has 393 new cases this week. The surging number of cases in Tuscaloosa and Lee Counties — where 276 tested positive this week — could potentially put the 2020 college football season in jeopardy. Tuscaloosa has had a total of 2,188 cases and 42 deaths, while Lee County has a total of 1,302 cases and 37 deaths.

Despite making it through several months with relatively moderate increases, Madison County is also experiencing a surge of new cases in recent weeks — with 407 cases in the last week alone. Madison has had 1,271 cases and seven deaths.

Many people are flocking to the beach for the Fourth of July holiday, where the coronavirus is also surging in Baldwin County with 328 new cases in the last seven days. Baldwin had been largely spared to this point with 828 cases in total and nine deaths. This week’s increase accounts for 40 percent of the county’s total case count.

Alabama is not alone in seeing surging case numbers. Forty of the 50 states reported rising coronavirus cases in the last week. On Thursday, 57,236 new cases were diagnosed and 687 Americans died. The U.S. death toll from the global pandemic has risen to 131,823.

Globally, there have been 11,092,229 cases diagnosed, though the real number is likely much higher. At least 526,450 people have died from COVID-19, and, with 208,860 new cases diagnosed on Thursday alone, there is no sign that this global pandemic will be over any time soon.

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Prison worker says excessive pepper spray may have killed inmate

A prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put the inmate’s life in jeopardy.

Eddie Burkhalter

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It’s not yet clear what caused the death of 38-year-old Darnell McMillian after he was pepper sprayed inside an Alabama prison last month, but a prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put his life in jeopardy.

Some time around 6 p.m. on June 22, three correctional officers placed McMillian in suicide cell S-11, with an inmate who was known to be aggressive and who was already on suicide watch, according to a prison worker with knowledge of the incident, who reached out to APR to discuss the death because the person said it troubled them.

The ADOC worker asked not to be identified because the person is still employed with the department.

“He shouldn’t have been doubled up with somebody,” the worker said of the aggressive inmate already in cell S-11. “It was very clear that the person in that cell was threatening.”

The worker said the officers enticed the two men to fight, and once the inmate began threatening McMillian, McMillian took the first swing to hit the man.

The three officers standing outside then deployed a pepper spray called Cell Buster into the cell, the worker said. Cell Buster is a potent spray used by correctional staff and produced by the Chicago-based company Sabre.

“The inmate was yelling that he couldn’t breathe,” the employee said. “One Cell Buster is enough to do a lot of damage. There were three officers present at the time of this, and there were three cans of Cell Busters sprayed.”

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The employee said that once McMillian was pulled from the cell, he was almost unconscious and then “went completely unconscious, because he was coughing and aspirating.”

The cell was then cleaned by inmates, except for some spots of blood, which the worker said might make it appear to have been a homicide by the other inmate, but the worker said several staff members at the prison believe the death may have been caused by excessive use of pepper spray.

“He was on his back when they were getting him to the infirmary, which can also cause asphyxiation, especially if he’s coughing and saying he can’t breathe. That spray can make you vomit,” the worker said.

While there are video cameras that record each suicide cell, the worker said they do not believe there is footage from cell S-11 during the time of McMillian’s death. The employee said they’ve been through many incidents in the prison but that “this one seems pretty bad.”

The worker said it’s not clear why the officers encouraged a fight between the other inmate and McMillian, but from experience, the person said some officers will do so when an inmate angers them.

The employee said when they read APR’s first article on McMillian’s death, and there was little information on what happened, they decided to reach out.

“I’d rather share it and put it out there,” the person said. Some details of what the worker said were corroborated by the Jefferson County Coroner’s office.

Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates told APR on Thursday that McMillian’s final cause of death awaits results from the autopsy, which can take between four and six weeks, but that there did not appear to be any external injuries that could have caused his death.

McMillian was pronounced dead at Donaldson prison at 7:49 p.m. on June 22, Yates said.

Yates, reading from his notes on the incident, said that in the moments before his death, there appeared to be a physical altercation between McMillian and another inmate, and that correctional officers used pepper spray to stop the fight.

“Obviously, Department of Corrections staff is going to step in to stop that, and it’s my understanding that after that, he was having complaints of not being able to breath,” Yates said. “I think they used — there was some pepper spray that was used to stop that, and he immediately went, from our understanding, to the infirmary.”

“From our autopsy, I don’t believe we found any type of trauma that would explain death,” Yates said.

His office is awaiting lab results, to include toxicology and other lab work to determine if drugs or an unknown medical condition may have been factors in his death, Yates said. McMillian didn’t have a history of any heart conditions, but Yates said lab results could reveal one if in fact he had a condition.

Asked if it’s possible to die from exposure to a large amount of pepper spray, Yates said “I haven’t heard of it, not to say it can’t happen.”

“I think you could pass away from extreme amounts of anything,” Yates said, but he’s never known of a death that resulted from large exposures to pepper spray.

Yates said there have been no reports to his office of any other inmate in that cell, or any ADOC staff, experiencing health problems as a result of the incident.

A 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice on the use of pepper spray by police and corrections staff in North Carolina found that two cases of the 63 studied resulted in death from the use of pepper spray, and that both incarcerated persons who died had asthma. In only one of those cases, however, a large amount of pepper spray was used on the man, and the positioning of the man’s body may have been a factor as well.

“Pepper spray was used more times in this case than in any other, but according to police officers, it was ineffective. The subject, who was obese, was handcuffed behind his back and placed in a facedown position when being transported,” the report states. “The difficulty of breathing in this position may have been compounded by the damage already done to his airways.”

In June, a 35-year-old inmate named Jamel Floyd died after correctional officers at a federal prison in Brooklyn used pepper spray after he had barricaded himself in his cell. He was unresponsive when removed from his cell and prison staff were unable to revive him, according to CNN. The death was under investigation and the U.S. Marshals and the FBI were notified, according to a release by the Metropolitan Detention Center.

According to the Sabre’s own promotional video, Cell Buster is to be used in three-second bursts, with the correctional officer checking after each burst to determine if the “desired effects” have been produced, before using it for another 3-second burst. Cell Buster’s description states that the product “delivers pain, irritation, inflammation, coughing, temporary blindness and redness of skin.”

ADOC spokeswoman Linda Mays in a message to APR on Thursday said that the department’s Law Enforcement Services Division is investigating all aspects of the incident.

“While we would like to address your questions and provide insight that would be helpful to you, at this juncture in the process we simply cannot provide information that would compromise the integrity of our ongoing investigation. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation into Daniel [sic] McMillian’s death,” Mays wrote.

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