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Jones calls on Department of Commerce to end newsprint tariffs

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urging him to review recently imposed newsprint tariffs and consider how they will hurt local and community newspapers in the United States.

“Local newspapers are an essential component of the communities they serve, both as the primary distributor of regional news and advertisements for small business,” Jones said. “For an industry that is already struggling, a 22-percent import increase groundwood paper from Canada has the potential to close down small-town papers across the country. I urge Secretary Ross to evaluate these tariffs soon before they force our small-town Alabama media outlets to cut jobs, local media coverage, or both.”

The tariffs were imposed in response to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Commerce made by a hedge fund-owned paper manufacturer, North Pacific Paper Company, in Washington State, that claimed that Canadian government subsidies allowed their producers to sell newsprint at unfairly low prices.

Canadian newsprint producers began paying six percent more to export their products to the U.S. in January after the Commerce Department investigation concluded that would help offset the foreign paper mills’ advantage over American companies. In March, the tariff was increased by another 22 percent.

“I am writing in response to the Commerce Department’s investigation into imports of uncoated groundwood paper from Canada,” Jones wrote. “I urge you to take into account the challenges faced by domestic newsprint customers, including those in my home state of Alabama, as you continue your investigation. Combatting unfair trade practices and ensuring a level playing field for American businesses are goals that I share with President Trump and the Administration. I am concerned though in the case of tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper that the harm for American consumers will far outweigh the good.”

“Demand for newsprint in the United States has declined steeply in recent years and newsprint production has fallen as a result,” Jones continued. “Domestic newsprint production cannot meet the demands of American publishers. Small publishers, like weekly papers that serve rural areas, are particularly vulnerable to changes in newsprint price or supply. These papers can’t afford to pay higher prices for newsprint and many will be forced to close their doors and lay off employees if the current temporary tariffs and countervailing duties continue to be imposed.”

The timber and pulpwood industry is a major employer in the state of Alabama.

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

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Computer issue causes under-reporting of Alabama COVID-19 cases

Chip Brownlee

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An issue with the computer system the Alabama Department of Public Health uses to calculate and publicly report COVID-19 cases on the state’s public-facing dashboard is causing delays and a temporary underreporting of positive COVID-19 cases over the past several days, Alabama’s top public health official said Thursday.

“We’re working with our IT folks and the vendor of the program to try to get it straightened out, but yes, we are undercounting the positives on the public dashboard right now,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in an interview with APR Thursday.

The data issue is causing daily case counts to artificially decline, Harris said, adding that the undercounting is not purposeful.

Either way, the decline may give some the false sense that the pandemic has subsided when the decline has more to do with technical issue than a real decline in transmission of the virus.

It does not appear that the data issue is causing the Department of Public Health to miss positive cases but rather the issue is related to inputting those cases into a system that then posts the data for public consumption.

Once the system returns to normal functionality, the case count is expected to adjust, which may cause a spike in daily cases.

The Alabama Department of Public Health, in a tweet Thursday morning, said the issue with the program was due to the large increase in the volume of test results being processed by laboratories nationwide, causing the “national surveillance pipeline” to become overwhelmed.

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The overwhelmed system, the department said in the tweet thread, is causing delays in reporting, but the department, at least on Twitter, did not specifically address whether the delay was causing an underreporting of cases in the near term.

Harris said it was, the issue has affected several other states, and he hopes it will be resolved soon.

“There is definitely more than one state that has had the same problem because this is like an open-source program. There are other states that use it in public health — their own versions of it. So yeah, there’s more than one state having that problem,” Harris said.

The delays in data reporting are artificially making it seem as if the state’s daily case count is declining when it may not be, Harris said.

Over the past four days, the number of new cases per day has plummeted from more than 500 on May 31 to just 216 on Wednesday.

The 7-day average of new cases and the percent of tests that are positive, widely cited as better ways to assess trends, has also dipped as a result of the decrease in new reported cases.

“I’ve had several calls today, and I’m trying to make it clear to everybody that we don’t know that that’s true,” Harris said of the declining daily case counts. “The last four or five or six days, we’ve had 300, 400, sometimes 500 cases a day, and I don’t know why that would be different in the last day or so.”

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Huntsville police chief: Protesters “brought this on themselves”

Chip Brownlee

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Huntsville’s police chief and the Madison County sheriff defended the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters in downtown Huntsville Wednesday evening, claiming the demonstrators “came here for the fight, not us.”

Chief Mark McMurray said Thursday that demonstrators — whom he described as “anarchists” — “brought this on themselves” after refusing to disperse following the expiration of a permit at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening.

“We kept asking them to leave,” McMurray said. “They brought this — this group brought this on themselves. They came here for the fight, not us.”

Huntsville police and Madison County sheriffs deputies deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and demonstrators Wednesday evening, injuring several people.*

Video from the scene shows demonstrators in the aftermath of a peaceful Alabama NAACP rally peppered with rubber bullets and tear gas as law enforcement helicopters hovered overhead and police with guns moved among the rooftops in downtown.

One protester who was at the demonstration described her experience.

“After being forced into the park, the police boxed in the crowd and then shot tear gas behind us,” said Kelly Jovenitti. “I was forced to run into a cloud of it. Everything was chaotic. I couldn’t see. I know someone grabbed me and a medic was called. Some kind lady told me to take off my glasses and quickly rinsed my eyes the best she could.”

She said she has asthma.

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“I couldn’t breathe,” Jovenitti said. “My face was one fire. But the police were still coming. The gas was still coming. The rubber bullets were still coming. It sounded like a warzone.”

Jovenitti said she was not an anarchist. “I just love all people and believe we all should be treated the same,” she said.

McMurray said police felt they needed to clear the area before dark because protesters began donning protective equipment. Video shows a peaceful protest interrupted by police moving in.

“It’s darkness coming on, when we lose the fight,” McMurray said. “We have daylight, we win. It’s 90 minutes. It’s an unauthorized protest against the government. That’s what it is. That’s what anarchists do. This was not NAACP. This was a separate splinter group that took advantage of a peaceful protest and hijacked it to cause anarchy against our government. Their way is to cause damage, set fires, loot, pillage.”

He said law enforcement saw guns and other weapons among the crowd, though none appear to have been used. The police chief said two officers had minor injuries and were back at work Thursday, but that protesters threw rocks and water bottles at police cars, which he said counts as assaulting a police officer.

Protesters had bleeding wounds on their legs after being hit with rubber bullets, and a small child — less than four years old — was engulfed in tear gas Wednesday evening, according to AL.com’s Ian Hoppe.

“The whole tensions changed as they brought out more and more equipment, as they brought out the masks, the goggles and all of the bags started coming out,” McMurray said. “We didn’t change that tension.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, in a statement Thursday, said he supported law enforcement’s tactics Wednesday night.

“What occurred after the NAACP event was disheartening. A second event occurred, structured by people who were not part of our community,” Battle said. “They gathered at the courthouse to block the square and protest. This was not part of a permitted event, and there were no local organizers in charge, which becomes a public safety issue. Even so, police allowed the protestors time to express themselves before asking everyone to leave. Most complied, but others did not. Police were clear in their instructions and worked with the remaining protestors for more than an hour before using non-lethal irritants. The protesters had every opportunity to peacefully leave and they chose otherwise. The leadership of this second group is not our community.”

The first sign of any offensive action by protesters came after police deployed smoke and after trooper cars sped through the area, according to reporters at the scene, when the protesters threw water bottles at state trooper cars.

“How many warnings do you give before you lose your sunset?” McMurray said.

Huntsville has so far not imposed a curfew, but law enforcement declared the event an unlawful assembly after a city-issued permit expired at 6:30 p.m.

“I think that law enforcement needs to be very, very careful about what they’re doing and not anticipate violence,” said Sen. Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney. “I saw some people say last night in Huntsville that they were trying to prevent violence before it started, and you don’t do that, I don’t think, with gas and rubber bullets.”

Jones called for a “good, long review” and said images of snipers on roofs and children gassed were disturbing.

At least 24 people were arrested Wednesday evening, all of them from Madison County, the chief said. Twenty were arrested for disorderly conduct for participating in the “unlawful assembly.” But he also claimed that outside splinter groups agitated the crowd and “anarchists” organized the demonstration.

“The ones who stayed began donning all their protective equipment,” McMurray said. “They put on their eye protection. They put on their gas masks. They broke out their first aid kits, their water, their milk, their preparations for combat, and they stood their line, and they were confrontational with us.”

The police chief and sheriff said they were confident the protesters were an out-of-state splinter group because they saw cars with out-of-state tags.

“A lot of these people came in to ramp up the numbers of what happened Monday,” McMurray said, referring to the first time law enforcement deployed tear gas against protesters in Huntsville after a protest Monday evening. “They weren’t here for the NAACP. They were here for anarchist movements.”

McMurray displayed what he said was an anarchist poster found at the demonstration. He also showed photos of pipes and other materials, which he said were weapons stashed by the demonstrators, though none appeared to have been used.

Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner said police “did the right thing” Wednesday evening.

“We did the right thing last night,” Turner said. “At 6:30, when that permit was over, when they came to the square, we still showed patience and allowed them to march that square — when we could have initially just ended it. There is tensions across this country. We see it every single night on TV. It is a terrible thing, a terrible thing that happened to Mr. Floyd — terrible. But we’ve got to do the right thing. By doing these acts and coming into our town, or any town for that matter, and destroying it, it takes everything away from what happened. And we’re not going to allow that here in the city of Huntsville or in Madison County. We’re not going to do it.”

*Correction: This article previously stated that State Troopers joined Huntsville police and Madison County Sheriff’s Deputies in deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says State Troopers were only present as backup support and did not fire tear gas or other dispersants.

“Huntsville is one of several Alabama cities this week requesting support from ALEA. The agency has assigned ALEA Troopers to serve as backup during protests, but they have not participated in deploying tear gas or using other such means to disperse crowds. Details are law-enforcement sensitive and not available,” an ALEA spokesperson said in a statement.

 

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Byrne opposes Trump plan to use U.S. military to stop unrest

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump said he would deploy active-duty American armed forces to stop unrest in major American cities if governors fail to use the National Guard.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that he opposed the president’s plan. Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, has been a staunch Trump supporter in the House of Representatives, but he also said that he opposed the president on this.

“I agree with Secretary Esper,” Byrne said on Twitter. “At this time there is absolutely no reason to use the Insurrection Act to deploy active duty U.S. forces. This is an option that should only be used as a last resort.”

“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support for civil authorities in these situations in support of local law enforcement,” Esper said at a news conference on Wednesday. “I say that not only as Secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard. The option to use active-duty U.S. armed forces in a law enforcement rule should be used only as a last resort and then only in the most urgent and dire of situation. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

This is directly counter to the policy stated by Trump on Monday.

“Innocent people of have been savagely beaten, like the young man in Dallas, Texas, who was left dying on the street. Or the woman in upstate New York, viciously attacked by dangerous thugs,” Trump said. “Small business owners have seen their dreams utterly destroyed. New York’s Finest have been hit in the face with bricks. Brave nurses, who have battled the virus, are afraid to leave their homes. A police precinct station has been overrun. Here in the nation’s capital, the Lincoln Memorial and the World War Two Memorial have been vandalized. One of our most historic churches was set ablaze. A federal officer in California, an African-American enforcement hero, was shot and killed.”

“These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror,” Trump stated. “Violence against any American will never be tolerated. Tonight, President Trump announced executive actions to stop the rioting and restore safety to our cities.

Trump recommended every governor deploy the National Guard and establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take action, then the U.S. Military will be deployed.

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The president also announced decisive action to protect Washington, D.C., and our cherished national monuments. “As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property.”

At this time, we do not know if the president’s policy will actually be carried out or not as the Trump Administration official tasked with carrying out the policy, Mark Esper has, announced his public opposition to the plan.

There were riots in Birmingham on Sunday. A number of people, including reporters, were assaulted dozens of businesses were burglarized and looted and much of Birmingham’s downtown was vandalized. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has declared a state of emergency and instituted a citywide curfew between 7:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

That has since been extended to all of Jefferson County and is in place through June 9. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has activated one thousand Alabama National Guard troops to be deployed if requested.

Congressman Bradley Byrne is not running for another term representing Alabama’s First Congressional District.

(Original reporting by the Hill contributed to this report.)

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Police deploy tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protesters in Huntsville

Chip Brownlee

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Police in Huntsville deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and demonstrators chanting “I can’t breathe” in downtown Huntsville Wednesday evening, injuring several people, including a small child.

Video from the scene shows demonstrators at the aftermath of an Alabama NAACP rally peppered with rubber bullets and tear gas as law enforcement helicopters hovered overhead.

One reporter on the ground described it as a “war zone.”

State Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, the minority leader in the Alabama House, said the scene was reminiscent of Bloody Sunday in Selma as at least 35 state troopers were called in to forcefully disperse a peaceful crowd.

“Unnecessarily Using Force Against Peaceful Protesters in Downtown Hunstville,” Daniels said on his Facebook page. “Who called the State Troopers? I am so disappointed in our local and county leadership. This is not Bloody Sunday. Why the hell were the State Troopers called.”

In an interview with APR Wednesday evening, Daniels said it was very disappointing that it got to this point and he is demanding answers from local and state officials about why such a show of force and violence on the part of law enforcement was necessary.

“Thirty-five state troopers,” Daniels said. “This is the type of presence that was at Bloody Sunday.”

Daniels said there were several thousand people present at the formal demonstration, and several hundred stayed after the permit expired, but none of it appeared violent or disruptive.

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“Peaceful protesters and concerned citizens — where there is no evidence of any type of disruption, in my mind,” Daniels said. “I don’t understand why local, county and state law enforcement — to the sum of 35 state troopers being present with full gear. It’s just ridiculous to me and very disappointing. I’m waiting for answers.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said State Troopers did not participate in deploying tear gas or use other such means to disperse crowds. They were only present to assist.*

“Huntsville is one of several Alabama cities this week requesting support from ALEA. The agency has assigned ALEA Troopers to serve as backup during protests, but they have not participated in deploying tear gas or using other such means to disperse crowds. Details are law-enforcement sensitive and not available,” an ALEA spokesperson said in a statement.

Daniels and another state representative spoke at the rally earlier in the evening. He said he wondered if there was a threat posed or intelligence, which would be the only justification for such a deployment of force, and, if so, why he wasn’t notified.

“It leads me to believe that it was an effort to justify the actual number of law enforcement there,” Daniels said. “It looks to me like they were looking to justify the number of law enforcement that was there.”

Police began clearing the courthouse square in downtown Huntsville, where a Confederate memorial stands, after 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to AL.com. A protest permit expired at 6:30 p.m., leading armed riot police to disperse the crowd with pepper gas and rubber bullets.

The first sign of any offensive action by protesters came after police deployed smoke and after trooper cars sped through the area. The protesters threw water bottles at state trooper cars.

Protesters moved to Big Spring Park near Huntsville’s Von Braun Center before they were again dosed with a “heavy” dose of tear gas, which carried across to a media staging area and obscured a Marriott hotel in smoke.

AL.com’s Paul Gattis and Ian Hoppe report that a small child — less than four years old — was caught in the tear gas and began screaming.

Huntsville police said there had been no property damage or violence during the protest.

Lt. Michael Johnson with the Huntsville Police Department told Huntsville’s WHNT that the police department ended what they thought was “a pretty peaceful protest.”

“Once that permit expired, we still waited a good amount of time,” Johnson said.

It appears law enforcement waited about an hour before beginning attempts to disperse the demonstrators with forceful means like tear gas and rubber bullets.

“It started to get a little hostile. A couple of things were thrown at us,” Johnson said. “The verbiage, some of the threats, the hostility, blocking the road — we just cannot have that.”

Johnson said police were not “going to roll the dice” to see if the protest turned out to be violent.

“We’re not going to let this city go through what other cities go through,” Johnson said, justifying using a “chemical agent” on peaceful protesters.

Before riot police sprayed them with tear gas and rubber bullets, protesters chanted “we are peaceful.”

Daniels said people concerned about police brutality and what he called an inappropriate use of force Wednesday should show up at the ballot box and demand answers.

*Correction: This article previously stated that State Troopers joined Huntsville police and Madison County Sheriff’s Deputies in deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says State Troopers were only present as backup support and did not fire tear gas or other dispersants.

“Huntsville is one of several Alabama cities this week requesting support from ALEA. The agency has assigned ALEA Troopers to serve as backup during protests, but they have not participated in deploying tear gas or using other such means to disperse crowds. Details are law-enforcement sensitive and not available,” an ALEA spokesperson said in a statement.

 

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