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Rod Rosenstein tours Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited Huntsville Tuesday to tour facilities at Redstone Arsenal including the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), the ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR) and NASA. The visit was announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town.

“It was an honor to receive Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today and tour the many impressive facilities aboard the Redstone Arsenal campus”, Town said. “It comes as no surprise that the DAG was impressed by the growth and capabilities here. We began the day touring NASA, a remarkable ambassador to the 40,000+ employees that serve aboard the Redstone Arsenal each day. Touring NASA is always impressive. The FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center and ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research and National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) facilities truly reminds us of the impressive advancement that law enforcement has made in order to stay ahead of criminal threats to the public. We were fortunate to be joined by ATF Director Tom Brandon as well. Our federal law enforcement capacities are tremendous but are only successful due to the hard work, dedication, and bravery of the men and women of all of our federal law enforcement agencies.”

Rod Rosenstein was appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Donald J. Trump (R). When it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with the Russian Ambassador twice during the 2016 election campaign, Sessions recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself meant that he could not be a part of the decision on how to investigate the charges that the Trump presidential campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence to discredit Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton (D).

Rosenstein made the decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the collusion allegations against the President and his campaign.

Rosenstein has been criticized by the President and by many conservatives for his decisions in the Mueller investigation, which has continued to this day. While some Democrats have suggested that Mueller has found compelling evidence to impeach the President, Trump himself has said that he has been vindicated by the investigation.

Trump recently asked for and accepted Jeff Sessions’s resignation. Chief of Staff John Kelly has also announced that he is leaving the administration. Rosenstein, however, remains as Deputy Attorney General.

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Economy

Federal prison officers in Alabama brace for second missed paycheck

Chip Brownlee

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When the federal government has shut down in the past few years, correctional officers at a federal women’s prison in West Alabama were optimistic. They knew it would be short.

They were even optimistic — as optimistic as you can be when you’re not getting paid for your work — when they faced their first shutdown in 2013 after Federal Correctional Institution Aliceville became operational earlier in that same year.

Until this shutdown, the 2013 lapse in federal funding was the longest they’d experienced. This one is different. At 28 days and counting, the current partial shutdown is the longest in American history.

“There’s no comparison,” said Terrence Windham, a correctional officer who has worked at the facility for nearly seven years. “With this shutdown, there is a whole lot less optimism that things are going to change anytime soon.”

Windham is right. That reality he and his colleagues are facing — the reality of not knowing when they’re going to get their next paycheck or whether they’ll be able to pay the mortgage, their rent or utility bills — shows no sign of changing anytime soon.

And they have an 18-month-old child to care for, too.

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Windham is among the 36,000 Federal Bureau of Prisons employees who are deemed “essential.” That means he has to work during the shutdown even though he won’t get paid until after the government reopens.

In total, an estimated 800,000 federal employees nationally, and 5,000 in Alabama, are facing a similar situation. They’re either working without pay or at home without pay.

I. “They want their money”

Negotiations between Congressional leadership and the president are stalled. They haven’t met since President Donald Trump walked out of a meeting earlier this month. Things are frozen.

Windham’s pay is frozen. So is his wife’s. She works at FCI Aliceville, too.

But the bills aren’t frozen.

Windham

“And so you kind of have to figure out, okay, what bill are you going to pay and what are you going to hold off on,” Windham said. Earlier this month, a credit card bill tried to charge one of their accounts. There was no money left.

“I had to kind of shuffle some things around to pay that bill, but if I don’t get paid by next month, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Windham said.

Thankfully, the Windhams are from Aliceville. They have family and friends to fall back on, and their family owns a funeral home, so he has some extra money to help pay the bills.

Other officers aren’t so fortunate.

“Creditors and lenders don’t care that it’s a shutdown,” Windham said. “They want their money. It’s not as simple as a lot of people think it is.”

The prison recently hired a number of new staff, too. Because of the schedule they started on, some of them haven’t gotten a full paycheck in more than a month Their first checks were only partial checks because the shutdown started just after they started.

“And they’re new staff. They don’t have a nest egg,” Windham said. “You know — young folks trying to get started in life. So this is very difficult for them. And for the older staff, mortgage payments are an issue.”

Things are already hard at FCI Aliceville. But they’re going to get worse next Friday. That’ll be the day they miss their second paycheck. Paying one month of bills is possible. Few families have enough savings to last beyond that.

“This second check is going to be the real cutter,” Windham said. “It hurt a lot of people, this first one, but the next one is going to be horrendous.”

It’s not just missing pay. For some, it’s extra costs. Most correctional officers at the prison don’t live in Aliceville, a small town of fewer than 3,000 people situated about 25 miles east of the Mississippi state line.

Most live in Tuscaloosa or Columbus, Mississippi. Both cities are nearly an hour’s drive away. Before the shutdown, workers were able to take federally subsidized transportation to and from work. Now they’re having to pay out-of-pocket for gas.

“Now people are having to use gas and spend money that they normally wouldn’t have spent to get to work,” Windham said.

II. “It is still a prison”

Nationally, the average salary of a federal correctional officer ranges from $40,000 to $50,000 a year, and they work in a rare federal government position that includes the likelihood of being harmed or attacked on the job.

Even at a lower security women’s prison like FCI Aliceville, there is still the possibility of danger.

“There are still fights that are going on,” Windham said. “There are still drugs being smuggled in. It is still a prison just with an extra stressor. That’s what I’m worried about — people thinking about their home life at work and then putting themselves in a dangerous situation.”

Despite the difficulties facing the officers, they’re trying to push through it. Overall, Windham, who also serves as the local Association of Federal Government Employees union president, said morale is okay, considering the situation.

“They’re working, they’re having fun, making jokes about it, trying to make light of the situation,” he said. “They’re trying to keep their mind off of it. But when they’re at home, sitting alone or with their spouses, with their kids, they don’t know whether that next check is coming.”

Nationwide, The Washington Post has reported that the number of officers calling in sick has nearly doubled. In Aliceville, the union is encouraging workers to show up. Not showing up, they say, only affects those who do.

“We’re trying to encourage people to come to work, and they’re buying it, but it’s hard to buy something for such a long time. It’s painful to keep working and not get paid,” he said. Abandoning their job is not a message they want to send to politicians.

Nor is it a message they want to send to their inmates.

Some inmates work in prison. They get paid. Sometimes it’s as little as a quarter an hour, but they are still getting their checks, while the correctional officers aren’t.

“I’m not going to say all of them, but some of them here locally have made comments that they’re getting paid, and we are not — kind of jabbing at us,” he said. “So when you have to deal with not getting paid and the inmates are laughing at you and joking, it doesn’t bode well for the safety and the security of this institution.”

III. An outpouring

Aliceville is small. Less than 3,000 people. When the prison arrived in 2013, Pickens County’s population jumped by nearly 1,000 people, including new inmates and staff. The prison was a boon to the local economy.

As of now, that boon has temporarily slowed. Fewer people are buying food and groceries. Fewer people are shopping at local stores because they just don’t have disposable money.

Windham, in the little free time he has not at the prison, is also a city councilman in Aliceville, where his family has long resided. His grandfather started a local funeral home.

“From a city standpoint, now we’re not able to sustain our tax base that we’re used to because people aren’t spending,” Windham said. “People aren’t going out and spending money. That’s how cities survive. Once that gets negated, it starts hitting the city home.”

Folk have stepped in to help, though. Churches and local businesses have been helping furloughed and unpaid employees. The water board and gas board are waiving some fees. And Alabama Power is working on a case-by-case basis to help federal employees with their utility bills.

“It’s tremendous the outpouring that has been going on so far,” Windham said. “But if this thing lasts months or years, you know, people can’t go without getting paid. That hurts the economy locally as well.”

IV. Telegram to Washington

Trump has said he’s willing to let the shutdown last for months or even years over his dispute with Congressional Democrats — and some Republicans — who have refused to provide $5.7 billion for a border wall when it doesn’t include a broader immigration reform package.

Windham and his fellow correctional officers have a message for Washington.

“While they’re getting their six-figure salaries, and we’re not getting our five-figure salaries — low five-figure salaries — we need them to do their jobs,” Windham told APR.

The prison is in Rep. Terri Sewell’s 7th Congressional District. Windham said Sewell and her staff have been on the phone with correctional staff repeatedly since the shutdown begin. Next week, she plans to feed the correctional officers, Windham said.

Sewell, in a statement to APR, placed the blame on Republicans.

“I am working hard every day to reopen government while the Republicans sinfully and irresponsibly hold hostage the paychecks of our federal workers,” Sewell said. “From the moment Congress went into session, I have voted seven times to reopen our government. I am continuing to work with leadership on a real path forward, but we need a willing partner in the White House. The Senate Majority Leader must take up our House-passed bills and end the shutdown now.”

The majority of the bills the House has passed were authored and passed by Republicans, namely Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, in the Senate. But after Trump said he would refuse to sign them, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell halted the process.

“We don’t care about the wall,” Windham said. “If you want it, get it, and if you don’t want it, fine. But don’t use us a political pawn.”

Shelby started his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee with a lot of success. The Senate passed more timely budgets than it has since 1997. But the standoff over the border wall halted his progress.

“I am disappointed that this standoff has resulted in a prolonged partial government shutdown, which has hurt federal employees and their families throughout Alabama,” Shelby told APR. “I believe there is a way for us to work together to move toward serious negotiations involving the President and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  It is critical that we find a solution that will fund the remaining 25 percent of the government for the good of the American people, and it is my hope that we can accomplish this as soon as possible.”

But McConnell has said the Senate won’t vote until an agreement is reached with the president.

“We just them to vote on something,” Windham said. “Let the president sign or not sign. But to not do anything is not an option anymore. Because on Friday, if people don’t get their checks, they’re going to have to make some hard decisions”

 

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Brooks, colleagues propose holding State of the Union address in the Senate Chamber

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, and House colleagues sent a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposing that the President’s annual State of the Union address be held in the Senate Chamber in after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, uninvited President Donald J. Trump. It is the first time in history that the U.S. House has revoked the President’s invitation to address the American people in his annual State of the Union address in the House chamber.

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unprecedented and hyper-partisan move to revoke President Trump’s invitation to address the American people at the annual State of the Union address is nothing more than a childish, partisan, political stunt that undermines bipartisanship at a time America needs it the most,” Congressman Brooks said in a statement. “It is the height of hutzpah for Speaker Pelosi to feign concern for the President’s personal security during the State of the Union Address while callously showing no concern for the thousands of Americans who die each year because of illegal aliens and America’s porous southern border. Speaker Pelosi’s conduct is nothing more than a radical, hyper-partisan and shameless attempt to appease the Democrat Party’s Socialist base and childishly embarrass the President of the United States.”

“Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to muffle President Trump and appease her radical, socialist, open borders base using the false claim of security concerns is shameful,” Brooks added. “Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi’s ‘questionable security’ claim was blown out of the water by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who stated yesterday ‘The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland.’[2] What’s more, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats not only never contacted Homeland Security or the Secret Service about this “red herring” security issue, both security agencies confirm they have been preparing for months and are ‘ready’ to secure the event.”

“Perhaps even more absurd is Speaker Pelosi’s claim that President Trump should not address the Congress because of the shutdown even though the State of the Union invitation was issued by Speaker Pelosi to President Trump on January 3rd during the shutdown. Speaker Pelosi’s revocation justification rings hollow and crystallizes the crass political motivations behind this hyper-partisan stunt.”

Brooks continued, “America faces both a crisis at our porous southern border and a federal government partial shutdown that is hurting millions of American citizens. Contrary to Speaker Pelosi’s claims, now is exactly when American people should hear from their President of the United States on these critical issues, and others, in the state of our nation. What is Speaker Pelosi so scared about what President Trump might say? Is Speaker Pelosi fearful of the truth about the dead Americans who lose their lives every day because of Democrat policies that aid and abet illegal alien homicides and overdoses from drugs that leak into America like a sieve across our porous southern border? Does Speaker Pelosi fear that true facts and sound arguments for border security will expose the Democrats’ and national media’s hyper-political rhetoric, outright lies and deceit?”

“I most strongly encourage Vice-President Mike Pence, in his Constitutional capacity as the presiding officer of the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to invite President Trump to report to the American people on the state of the union in the Senate Chamber,” Brooks concluded. “While traditionally these addresses have been held in the House Chamber due to its larger size, inasmuch as House Democrats apparently do not want to hear from the President anyway, overcrowding of the Senate chamber should not be an issue. I urge President Trump, Vice-President Pence (as President of the Senate), and Leader McConnell to maintain January 29, 2019 as the date on which President Trump can address the American people from the Senate Chamber, thus putting President Trump with our first president, George Washington, who also gave his first State of the Union address in the Capitol’s Senate Chamber.”

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Speaker Pelosi denies cancelling the State of the Union address, but rather simply wanted it postponed. The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, D-Marylond, stated on CNN that the “The state of the union is off.”

President Trump retaliated on Thursday, by denying Pelosi and a congressional delegation the use of a military airplane to take a Department of Defense trip to Belgium, Egypt, and Afghanistan. The group boarded a U.S. Air Force bus to travel to the Air Force base for their trip when they were then notified that the President was revoking their use of military aircraft. The President said that they can fly commercial. The military is not affected by the shutdown.

“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” President Trump wrote.

The group was to be gone for seven days. Government workers will not get paid for a second pay period if the government shutdown is not resolved before then. Any deal would be impossible with Pelosi out of the country.

The partial government shutdown is now into its 28th day. 420,000 government workers are being required to go to work despite not being paid. 380,000 government workers have been told not to report to work.

Fox News is reporting that food banks are being set up for the families of FBI, Coast Guard and other government agency employees who are not being paid during the shutdown. President Trump is requesting $5.7 billion for increased border security. To this point congressional Democrats have refused to negotiate.


Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.

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Senate rejects ban on federal funding of abortions

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would have permanently banned federal funding for abortions Thursday.

Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, voted for the measure, while Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, voted against the pro-life bill. The measure required the support of 60 Senators.The bill also would have banned Obamacare subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) brought up the anti-abortion vote Thursday, one day before “March for Life,” the annual march against abortion in Washington.

A vote to open debate on the bill failed 48-47.

Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) broke with their party to vote against the measure while Democratic Senators Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia) voted with the Republicans.

Alabama is a very pro-life state and Doug Jones’ no vote will likely be an issue next year when he seeks reelection.

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Alabama’s State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said, “The abortion vote shows again that Doug Jones does not represent the people of Alabama. Jones is for abortion up to the moment of birth. Alabama people are pro-life.”

Zeigler is a potential candidate for Senate against Jones in 2020. He formed an exploratory campaign testing the water eyeing the senate race.

“Today, Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would permanently end taxpayer funding of abortion,” Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said. “I was especially disappointed that one of the votes against the pro-life bill came from Doug Jones, one of Alabama’s senators. Standing up for the unborn and opposing abortion is a core Alabama value, and today’s vote shows the urgent need for more pro-life Senators.”

“This vote was especially notable as thousands of people from across the country, including hundreds from Alabama, will march in the streets of Washington, D.C. tomorrow in support of life,” Byrne continued. “As long as I am able to represent the people of Alabama, I will always fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and be a leader for pro-life policies.”

Congressman Byrne is also reportedly considering running for U.S. Senate against Doug Jones. Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a special election in December 2017. Republicans are determined to compete to take the Alabama Senate seat back.

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Economy

PCI investing heavily in out-of-state casinos using un-taxed dollars from Alabama

Bill Britt

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The Poarch Creek Indians are buying a billion-dollar casino in Pennsylvania using un-taxed dollars siphoned out of Alabama.

PCI is paying $1.3 billion for the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in a bid to expand the tribe’s lucrative gaming syndicate beyond the borders of Alabama.

According to lehighvalleylive.com, once the purchase is approved, the tribe, “plans to immediately invest $190 million into a 300-room hotel expansion and development of the No. 2 Machine Shop, possibly into an indoor water park.”

PCI is seeking to shelter its vast fortune in out-of-state investments as congressional leaders are questioning PCI’s legal status as a tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Questions about the tribe’s standing stem from 2009, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, which holds that only tribes that were federally recognized in 1934, could benefit from the federal land restoration efforts. It is this recognition that allows PCI to offer electronic gaming and enjoy other federal benefits and protections.

However, PCI was not federally recognized until 1984, some 50 years after the cut-off date imposed by the Supreme Court.

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In recent years, PCI has pushed Alabama’s congressional delegation for a “Carcieri fix,” to protect the tribe from any challenges to its status as a federally recognized tribe, but those efforts have been rebuffed by Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

As PCI’s fortunes have grown so has its influence over Republican politicians eager for ready cash.

U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne is leading efforts to gain a congressional solution to the tribe’s Carcieri problem but without Shelby’s support, it is a dead letter.

PCI has enjoyed a near monopoly over gaming in the state since Gov. Bob Riley closed the tribe’s competition during his bingo war.

According to several sources, Riley and former Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary are in league with PCI to take control of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. A move that would give the tribe nearly unlimited political power within the state.

Moving tax-free funds out of Alabama is just one of the latest moves the tribe is using to shelter its tax-free profits.

With the Sands acquisition, PCI is also looking at internet gaming and sports betting.

According to the lehighvalleylive.com report, Pennsylvania gaming regulators must approve the finalized plan.

It is uncertain if Pennsylvania’s gaming regulators are aware of PCI’s questionable status as a federally recognized tribe or rumors of an investigation by the Department of Interior into suspect acquisitions.

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Rod Rosenstein tours Huntsville

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