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Sewell speaks to National Security Forum at Miles College

Brandon Moseley

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via Office of Rep. Terri Sewell

Tuesday, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell, D-Selma, and U.S. Army Lt. General Robert P. Ashley, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency spoke at the Miles College National Security Forum.

“It is with great pride and honor for me to come to my district with one of my colleague’s Lt. General Robert P. Ashley,” Representative Sewell said. “It is with immense pride that I show General Ashley the talent that is right here in Birmingham.”

The Congresswoman and the General also met with students at UAB and National Guard. General Ashley has a degree in political science from Appalachian State University.

General Ashley told the students, “There are tremendous opportunities for you in the defense community, but it is really hard work and you have to work your way in.”

Gen. Ashley said that his parents had tenth grade educations and there was no expectation that he would go to college. His father served in the Korean War and retired from the Air Force. The family then moved back to North Carolina and he worked as a sewing machine mechanic. The expectation was that I would go into one of the many textiles mills that were operating in North Carolina at that time. Ashley said that after going to Appalachian State, he went into the army and served as a frontline intelligence officer during the Cold War monitoring Soviet troop movements.

Ashley said that the Army had a program for officers with an understanding of tactics to spend a year getting a Master’s degree. “I applied to the program and it is a yearlong introduction to the intelligence agencies.”

Ashley took the GRE to begin the Master’s Degree work and scored borderline. Before the semester began one of his professors came to him and told him that they did not think he could do the work. That motivated Ashley and he made the honor role that first semester. They said OK and gave me a tutor. “I said I will take all the help that I can get.”

Ashley said that friends in the Special Operations Community asked him to join them in Japan. “I said yes and disappeared into that community for about six years.”

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“How bad do you want it?” Ashley asked the students. “You are bad at standardized tests? I am terrible at standardized test. This is all achievable.” “We want somebody who wants to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency provides foundational intelligence and understanding the operational environment for political leaders as well as for the warfighters.

Ashley said that the DIA needs analysts. “We are up on the Hill all the time,” to advise decision makers. “We have a pretty big budget not in Ms but in Bs.” The big budget means they need economics majors, IT, legal (I never go anywhere without my lawyer), and technology majors. We also have to have people who manage the operations. We also need human relations, “To take care of the 20,000 people that work for us.”

“The DIA is looking for people with a quest for knowledge,” Gen. Ashley said.

Gen. Ashley said that the CIA, NSA, State Department, and FBI all have intelligence components.

Why do I do it? Ashley said. “My kids. That starts my why. Imagine a bullseye and at the center of my bullseye is my family, my kids, my wife, and little Arthur (his coming grandson).”

“I have one year left and then I will go back to North Carolina,” Ashley said.

Sewell said that she wants to, “Demystify national security and show where a pipeline can be created from Birmingham to the intelligence community.”

Sewell said that Director Clapper, former CIA Director Brennan and Ashley’s predecessor Ben Steward, another three-star general, have all come to Birmingham to speak to the Miles College Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence.

“We have had a phenomenal day in Birmingham,” General Ashley said. “There are careers for the students at Miles in the intelligence community.

Director Ashley said that the intelligence community needs to start looking at the high school level to develop the foundations in technology and international relations. “If you don’t have that foundation at the high school level you are going to struggle.”

Ashley said that General Mattis has a book coming out. I highly recommend it. “I was his intel officers at Central Command. He is an incredible man.”

“We do not make the decisions, Ashley said of DIA. “What we do is inform the decisionmakers.”

“I have been an intelligence agency my entire career,” Ashley said.

“25 years ago DIA was 50 percent civilian and 50 percent military,” Ashley said. “Today it is 75 percent civilian and 25 percent military; but 50 percent of the 75 percent civilians have worn the uniform.”

Sewell said that DIA provides foundational information to the nation’s leaders. Sewell said that her committee has oversight over all 17 intelligence agencies; but her subcommittee has special oversight over the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Sewell said that she did not know anything about intelligence when Nancy Pelosi assigned her to the committee; but that she has committee to really appreciate what the intelligence agencies do to protect our national security.

Ashley said that he went in to intelligence because he was a big James Bond fan growing up. There is a little bit of what James Bond and Tom Cruise does in Mission Impossible in there; but most of it is collecting information.

“I am happy that the academic professionals at Miles recognize the importance of national security and intelligence,” Gen. Ashley said.

Sewell said that she has put an emphasis on increasing diversity in the intelligence community.

Gen. Ashley acknowledged that most of the people in the community are, like him, White males; but said that progress is being made, though it is slow.

Bobbie Knight is the interim President of Miles College.

In 2009 Miles College was the first college in the state to establish an Intelligence Community Center President Knight said. “The Miles College students are critically needed by the nation’s intelligence professionals.” I am proud to say that Miles graduates are working for the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, and the Secret Service.

The DIA has a presence in more than 140 countries.

Miles College is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Fairfield and was founded in 1898.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell is presently serving in her fifth term representing Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Sewell sits on the House Intelligence Committee where she chair the Defense Intelligence Committee that has oversight over military intelligence.

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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Byrne secures authorization for additional Austal ship in NDAA

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, this week announced that the House Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 by a vote of 56 to 0. The bill includes a Byrne amendment authorizing $260 million to construct an additional Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel at Austal Mobile. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote for passage.

“Today’s defense authorization bill received strong bipartisan support and will ensure that the men and women of our military have the resources necessary to protect American interests and safety,” Byrne said. “Like most legislation, the bill isn’t perfect, but the committee’s willingness to work together towards a common goal should be a template for the entire House of Representatives to follow.”

“It is great news for Southwest Alabama and our entire nation that the committee accepted my amendment to authorize the construction of an additional EPF at the Austal shipyard in Mobile,” Byrne said. “Passage of this amendment acknowledges the critical role the 4,000 men and women at Austal Mobile play in supporting our nation’s military readiness and moving us closer to our goal of a 355-ship fleet. In fact, just this week we reached a landmark when the Austal-built USS Oakland LCS was delivered to the Navy, becoming the 300th ship in our Navy’s fleet. Construction of an additional EPF will strengthen Austal’s footprint in Mobile and bolster its contributions to our national defense, and I hope Congress moves quickly to pass this bill into law.”

The NDAA sets policy and authorizes funding for the entire United States military and has been passed by the House each year for the previous 59 years. The bill is expected to receive a vote in the House as soon as this month.

An Expeditionary Fast Transport is a 338-foot shallow draft aluminum catamaran designed to be multi-mission capable of intra-theater personnel and cargo lift, providing combatant commanders high-speed sealift mobility with inherent cargo handling capability and agility to achieve positional advantage over operational distances. Bridging the gap between low-speed sealift and high-speed airlift, EPFs transport personnel, equipment and supplies over operational distances with access to littoral offload points including austere, minor and degraded ports in support of the Global War on Terrorism/Theater Security Cooperation Program, Intra-theater Operational/Littoral Maneuver and Sustainment and Seabasing. EPFs enable the rapid projection, agile maneuver and sustainment of modular, tailored forces in response to a wide range of military and civilian contingencies such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. It is a non-combatant transport vessel characterized by its high volume, high speed, and flexibility. Its large flight deck can accommodate a variety of aircraft.

The EPF is designed to transport 600 short tons of military cargo 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots in Sea State 3. The ships are capable of operating in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities and on/off-loading a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank (M1A2). The EPF includes a flight deck for helicopter operations and an off-load ramp that allow vehicles to quickly drive off the ship. The ramp is suitable for the types of austere piers and quay walls common in developing countries. The ship’s shallow draft (under 15 feet) will further enhance littoral operations and port access. This makes the EPF an extremely flexible asset for support of a wide range of operations including maneuver and sustainment, relief operations in small or damaged ports, flexible logistics support or as the key enabler for rapid transport.

EPF has a crew of 26 Civilian Mariners with airline style seating for 312 embarked troops and fixed berthing for an additional 104. Military Sealift Command (MSC) operates and sustains the EPFs, which will be allocated via the Global Force Management for Theater Security Cooperation, service unique missions, intra-theater sealift and special missions.

Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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Supreme Court sides with Alabama in COVID-19 voting case

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have made it easier for many Alabamians to vote during the pandemic, issuing an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction in People First of Alabama v. Merrill.

The court’s more liberal justices dissented, while the five conservative justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, which had blocked absentee ballot witness requirements in a few Alabama counties and a statewide ban on curbside voting programs.

The decision to grant the stay means that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting remains in place, and he may intervene into any county in Alabama to prevent curbside voting.

Voters in every county in the state must still follow all the required witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Federal District Judge Abdul Kallon had found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order allowing local officials to implement curbside voting. Merrill and the secretary of state’s office appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, who issued the emergency stay.

The court could still hear Alabama’s appeal, but the ruling was a blow for the groups representing the plaintiffs in the case. Caren Short is the senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer,” said Short. “Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”

Deuel Ross is the senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”

Plaintiffs argued that making voters go to the polls and wait in line to show a photo-ID would be a bar to voting given the fear of the coronavirus in Alabama. Voters will have to decide whether voting in the July 14 party runoff elections is really worth the risk of possibly contracting the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and possibly dying.

At least 14 Alabamians died from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the state death toll to 961. Additionally, 1,162 Alabamians tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state argues that voter ID and other security measures are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote and prevent voting fraud. Since his election as Alabama secretary of state, Merrill has said that it is his goal to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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Jones calls for more federal funding, support for state departments of labor

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today is urging Senate leadership for additional federal funding and support for state departments of labor, which have been overwhelmed by the wave of unemployment insurance claims. This also comes as disturbing reports emerge out of Montgomery, where Alabamians have been camping out overnight outside of an unemployment claims center in search of help with their claims.

“As the nation continues to struggle with the health and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to help those who are suffering from unemployment as a result. Alabama’s unemployment rate in May was 9.9%, and my home state is facing a 70% increase in the evictions of renters,” Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, wrote. “This hardship is sadly not unique to Alabama, and Americans across the country are struggling to pay their bills, to keep the lights on, and to put food on their tables.

A recent article in the Montgomery Advertiser detailed a line of unemployed Alabamians that has formed for weeks in a parking lot outside an Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) claim processing center, with many sleeping outside overnight in the rain or participating in a “black market” system of selling spots in the line.

“While the ADOL has noted that an in-person presence is not required to file or resolve unemployment claims, technical glitches and difficulties reaching ADOL staff have so frustrated claimants that for many, traveling to Montgomery seems to be the only remaining option. These claimants seek such urgent relief that they have been camping out overnight in the hopes that their claims will be resolved.  To make matters worse, Alabama’s unemployment fund is on track to become insolvent within the next month or two,” Senator Jones continued.

“As we continue to observe the grave status of unemployment and its repercussions on our nation, I urge the leadership of the Senate to consider including language that addresses unemployment issues in the next pandemic relief legislation in July. I respectfully urge the inclusion of language providing greater availability of federal funds for state Departments of Labor, to ensure that hardworking Americans can rely on temporary monetary aid to help feed their families and keep a roof over their heads during these trying times,” the letter concluded.

Senator Jones has been a strong advocate for support for working Alabamians throughout the COVID-19 crisis. He has introduced legislation to cover the wages and benefits of employees of affected businesses and non-profits until the economic and public health crisis is resolved, and during the negotiations for the CARES Act, he proposed the Small Business Lifeline fund to direct financial assistance to workers through payroll processing companies. Senator Jones has also called for the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration to allow payroll processing companies to disburse the CARES Act small business loans to reduce complications and expedite salaries to workers who have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

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As the nation continues to struggle with the health and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to help those who are suffering from unemployment as a result. Alabama’s unemployment rate in May was 9.9%, and my home state is facing a 70% increase in the evictions of renters.  This hardship is sadly not unique to Alabama, and Americans across the country are struggling to pay their bills, to keep the lights on, and to put food on their tables.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs during this pandemic, and have turned to the unemployment benefits provided by programs in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These newly created programs have created a much-needed lifeline for folks across the country. Most notably, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program were created to ensure states would be able to expand coverage of unemployment benefits given the outsized nature of the pandemic on employment.

However, the majority of State Departments of Labor have been experiencing great difficulties in updating their technical systems to withstand the sudden influx of numerous claims, disbursing benefit payments efficiently to claimants, and effectively communicating with claimants who may be frustrated with the speed at which their claims are processed.

The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) has disbursed nearly $2 billion in COVID-19 related unemployment compensation benefits under the PUA, FPUC, and PEUC programs. While ADOL has been working incredibly hard for Alabamians, phone call lines remain jammed, and benefits take significant time to process. ADOL has received 576,314 unemployment claims to date, and the Department is staffed enough to field less than 4% of the calls it receives per day. Since the crisis began, ADOL typically receives 210,000 calls per day; yet only 6,000 to 7,000 of those calls can be processed each day.

Put simply, ADOL is overwhelmed by the massive influx of claims. An article in the Montgomery Advertiser, enclosed with this letter, details the difficulties that Alabamians are experiencing.  In an effort to address claims more efficiently, ADOL opened an in-person claims center in Montgomery, Alabama, but it too was inundated by the unmanageable number of claimants.  While the ADOL has noted that an in-person presence is not required to file or resolve unemployment claims, technical glitches and difficulties reaching ADOL staff have so frustrated claimants that for many, traveling to Montgomery seems to be the only remaining option. These claimants seek such urgent relief that they have been camping out overnight in the hopes that their claims will be resolved.  To make matters worse, Alabama’s unemployment fund is on track to become insolvent within the next month or two.

This is not the first time in recent times that state unemployment funds were in need of aid from the federal government. During the Great Recession, states that exhausted unemployment benefit funds were able to borrow from the Treasury Department to strengthen their funds. Given these dire economic times for state and local governments, the ability to access federal funds should be available once again to cover the costs associated with unemployment benefits.

As we continue to observe the grave status of unemployment and its repercussions on our nation, I urge the leadership of the Senate to consider including language that addresses unemployment issues in the next pandemic relief legislation in July. I respectfully urge the inclusion of language providing greater availability of federal funds for state Departments of Labor, to ensure that hardworking Americans can rely on temporary monetary aid to help feed their families and keep a roof over their heads during these trying times.

Sincerely,

Senator Doug Jones

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Byrne opposes Democratic infrastructure bill

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, this week voted against a Democratic infrastructure bill — H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act — which he said was crafted without any input from Republicans.

“Democrats and Republicans have traditionally worked together to craft highway bills, but Speaker Pelosi continues to allow even bipartisan priorities like road and bridge funding bills to become vehicles for her radical agenda,” Byrne said, “As the Democrat Chairman noted, this bill is simply the radical Green New Deal disguised as a highway bill. In fact, this bill would fund partisan priorities totally unrelated to transportation infrastructure, and I cannot support such reckless spending of taxpayer dollars. The American people need a highway bill, and we will need both parties at the table working together to give them one.”

“The Democrat Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and lead author of this bill responded to Republican criticism by acknowledging it seeks to implement “the principles of the Green New Deal,” Byrne concluded.

The Democratic controlled House passed H.R. 2, but even before it had passed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said that the bill would not be voted on in the Senate.

“So naturally this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate,” McConnell said. “It will just join the list of absurd House proposals that were only drawn up to show fealty to the radical left.”

The $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan would provide billions to repair the nation’s roads and bridges, but it also funds broadband, schools and hospitals. It would also force states to commit to reducing greenhouse gases and other climate measures in order to get any of the road money.

President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill if it gets that far.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, also voted against H.R. 2.

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“Nancy Pelosi & her Socialist comrades are hellbent on destroying America,” Brooks claimed. “They won’t stop spending until America is bankrupt. They covet economic disaster so they can rebuild a Socialist America under the guise of providing economic relief. In this instance, Socialism comes cloaked as an infrastructure bill.”

Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. He is not seeking another term in Congress.

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