By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, March 2, US Representatives Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) and Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) issued statement in regards to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress and the impending Obama Administration deal with Iran on their nuclear ambitions.
Congressman Palmer said, “The diplomatic relationship between the United States and Israel is one of America’s most important. This is based not just on common interests, but common values. Like America, Israel is democratic, guarantees religious freedom, and is governed by the rule of law. Like America, not only was Israel was born out of adversity, but on an idea.”
Congressman Byrne said, “Tomorrow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will come to this Chamber to share his perspective on the threats posed by a nuclear Iran. Some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have complained that the speech is somehow out of line or for political purposes only. They have pledged to boycott the event, and the Vice President has refused to attend.”
Rep. Byrne continued, “I remain greatly disturbed by the way the Obama administration has treated Israel, our greatest and most important ally in the Middle East. I suspect the real reason the Obama administration is so opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech is because they are afraid of what he is going to say. They know he will speak the truth and that his statements will stand in direct contrast to what is being said by Secretary of State Kerry. Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t hide the real issues. These nuclear talks threaten not only Israel but also the Middle East and the entire world.”
Rep. Palmer said, “Unlike America, Israel is not bordered by two large oceans and two friendly neighbors. Instead, Israel has many hostile neighbors who wish to do it harm. Our friend and ally Israel faces a grave threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has explicitly threatened to wipe Israel off the map and is aggressively pursuing the capability to carry out that threat. Threats to Israel’s very existence are a daily reality.”
Rep. Byrne said on the floor of Congress: “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my serious concerns about the ongoing Iran nuclear talks. Iran is no friend to the United States or our allies. Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran has continued to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missile technology, the only legitimate purpose of such technology is to deliver a nuclear payload.”
Rep. Byrne continued, “Don’t just take my word for it. Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency recently wrote in his statement for the record to the House Armed Services Committee that ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to threaten US strategic interests in the Middle East. Iran’s actions and policies are designed to further its goal of becoming the dominant regional power, as well as to enhance its strategic depth. Tehran views the United States as its most capable adversary and has fashioned its military strategy and doctrine accordingly.'”
Rep. Palmer said bluntly, “There is little hope for diplomacy with Iran succeeding, and any agreement that does not include Iran dismantling its nuclear program is futile. Negotiations are being used as tools by the militant Mullahs of Iran to hide their intentions and buy time. It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister’s speech has become politicized, and some Democrats are boycotting the speech. Support for Israel is historically bipartisan, and it should remain as such. Even senior Democratic leaders, such as Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have had profound differences with this Administration’s approach to Iran. I urge those Democrats who are boycotting the speech to reconsider and show support for our ally Israel.”
Rep. Byrne said, “Since they started in 2009, the negotiations with Iran have been marked by missed deadline after missed deadline. It seems like each time details of the deal are leaked to the press the United States is giving up more, whether it be the number of centrifuges or the length of the deal. Just last week Secretary of State John Kerry came before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and pleaded for more time and understanding as the State Department continues to hold talks about Iran’s nuclear program. He asked us to sit silently while the details are negotiated in secret. He urged us to just trust him and his team.”
Congressman Byrne said, “It’s becoming increasingly hard to trust an administration that continually fails at these kinds of negotiations. Look at the Bergdahl deal when we gave away five high-level al-Qaeda officials. Look at the recent talks with Cuba in which the United States received very little while we released Cuban spies and pledged to open trade relations. And we can’t forget about President Obama telling Russian President Demitry Medvedev that he will have ‘more flexibility’ to deal with nuclear issues after the 2012 presidential elections – flexibility to deal with Vladimir Putin. Far too often they give away the bank and we get very little in return.”
Rep. Palmer concluded, “I look forward to hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu address colleagues on both sides of the isle concerning this grave threat. The friendship between Israel and America runs deep, and we must ensure it always will.”
Rep. Byrne concluded, “Last summer I traveled to the Middle East with the Armed Services Committee. During that trip, we met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and he really impressed me. He has a clear vision and message about his country’s defensive needs. And he is very determined to meet those needs. Israel is our strongest and most consistent ally in the region. We should listen to what they have to say.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to the House on Tuesday. President Obama has refused to meet with the Prime Minister because he is worried about influencing the Israeli elections. President Obama’s elections team is in Israel working for Netanyahu’s opponents.
Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District.
Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.
USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.
The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.
Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).
USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.
Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.
Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.
Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks
Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.
“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”
Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.
Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”
Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.
The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.
The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.
Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.
“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.
Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.
As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.
A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.
The Iron Bowl is Saturday
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.
Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.
In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.
Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.
The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.
Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.
Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus
Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.
Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine.
Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said.
“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response.
The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval.
“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations, we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines.
In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain.
“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily.
While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.
“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.