5 months ago

Alabama tech president: Apollo 11 landing gave father his final wish

HUNTSVILLE — The successful landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon 50 years ago to the day is famously known as a “giant leap for mankind.” However, to one Alabamian, it meant the world.

Speaking at the Apollo 11 50th anniversary dinner at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on Tuesday, the anniversary of the launch which was powered by an Alabama-built Saturn V rocket, Teledyne Brown Engineering President Jan Hess shared the emotional story of how much the historic mission’s culmination meant to her and her family.

Hess, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, now leads the very Huntsville firm that was the first high-tech company established in the city in the 1950’s to help Dr. Wernher von Braun build the Redstone Rocket, the first large American ballistic missile.

Noting the company’s early work with von Braun, Hess said, “They too believed the impossible was possible.”

She and her eight siblings grew up in the Rocket City, and Hess remembers the Space Race vividly, saying she “grew up hearing amazing things happening at [Redstone] Arsenal.”

“My dad’s excitement about man landing on the Moon was contagious,” she told the crowd on Tuesday. “So much so, that I wrote a series of books — five pages [each], very large print — about an astronaut named ‘Jerry,’ who first visited the Moon and then every planet. I was seven years old. But you see how a seed can be planted. And then another. And then another.”

One of the questions that all speakers were encouraged to answer was where they were when man landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 at 2:17 p.m. CST.

Hess explained why she would never forget the answer to this question for two intertwined reasons.

“I believe my recall is close to perfect,” she emphasized.

“I was ten-years old, and I was watching the landing on TV with my father and my mother and some of my siblings,” Hess recounted. “It was perfectly quiet in the room, except for my mother’s voice, recounting to my father what was being shown and said on TV. Her voice was steady but conveyed the significance of what was occurring. You see, we were in my father’s hospital room. So, although we didn’t know it, he was within hours of the end of his battle with cancer. And he met one of his missions — and that was living to see man land on the Moon.”

“So, I want to salute and thank the men and women who worked tirelessly over 50 years ago, [who made that moment possible and inspired future generations and space exploration],” Hess concluded.

You can relive the golden anniversary of Apollo 11 in real-time here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 mins ago

Merrill: Shelby used ‘power and his clout’ to protect Sessions from Trump; ‘Would not surprise me’ if Trump endorsed Sessions

Ever since former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his decision to seek his old U.S. Senate in Alabama, speculation about an attack from President Donald Trump has been rampant.

However, there has not been such an attack, at least not yet.

During an appearance on Birmingham radio Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Aunie Show,” Secretary of State John Merrill, who was a candidate for U.S. Senate until last Sunday, discussed his decision to bow out of the race and how Sessions’ entry into it played a role.

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Merrill indicated he had thought things would have taken a different course when Sessions entered the race, particularly with his other opponents former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) and President Donald Trump.

“Let me tell you — first of all, we felt like when the conversation became intense with Senator Sessions’ entry into the race that the dynamics would probably play out because of what we had observed with the president, of the president continuously beating on Senator Sessions, talking badly about him, talking unfavorably about his service as attorney general, and doing that in tweets consistently between the day he announced and March 3,” Merrill said.

“We also felt like Coach [Tommy] Tuberville and Congressman [Bradley] Byrne would use a number of their resources to try to inflict harm on Senator Sessions and his candidacy,” he continued. “We also felt like the two of them would work against each other, and bring harm to each and define each other in whatever way was positive to the other candidate. But, the first thing that happened, of course, if you recall, when Senator Sessions said he was running, Coach Tuberville came out with the swamp ad. There was actually two ads — there was one that was a little bit over a minute and one that was 30 seconds about why Jeff Sessions did not need to be back in the Senate seat. But the president never said anything.”

According to the Tuscaloosa County Republican, the lack of an attack on Sessions by Trump was attributable to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa), who he said was using his clout to protect Sessions.

Merrill also said it would not surprise him if Trump endorsed Sessions in the end.

“When asked about it, coming to Tuscaloosa for the LSU game, the president did not say anything negative at all. I attribute all of that to Senator Shelby and all of that to Senator Shelby using power and his clout to ensure Senator Sessions is protected from the president in that regard. That changes the dynamics dramatically, and we continued to watch what was happening. And you can see the president has not said anything negative about Senator Sessions since he got in the race and I don’t anticipate that he will. Now I will say this: It would not surprise me one bit if he ended up endorsing Senator Sessions.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

54 mins ago

$62.3 million to be invested in bringing broadband to Alabama’s rural areas

HAMILTON — A group of public officials and business executives gathered in Hamilton on Thursday to announce four investments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) totaling $62.3 million. The investments are all aimed at improving broadband access in Alabama’s rural areas.

The two most substantial investments, at $29.5 and $28.2 million respectively, are 50/50 loan grant combinations being given to Tombigbee Electric Cooperative and Millry Communications.

The Tombigbee investment will affect Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Franklin, Winston and Walker counties. The Millry portion will affect Choctaw and Washington counties.

Per the USDA, the investment will total $62.3 million. The funds are aimed at creating high-speed broadband infrastructure. The USDA estimates it will improve internet connectivity for more than 8,000 rural households, 57 farms, 44 businesses, 17 educational facilities, 14 critical community facilities and three health care facilities in rural Alabama.

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Two smaller investments are being made in National Telephone of Alabama (TEC) and Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative.

The TEC investment is a $2.7 million 50/50 loan-grant combination serving Colbert County. The Farmers investment is a $2 million loan that will affect unserved areas in Jackson and Dekalb counties.

Present at the announcement were U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative CEO Steve Foshee, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell, along with representatives from Millry Communications, National Telephone of Alabama (TEC) and Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative.

“Beyond connecting us to our friends and family, high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is a necessity, not an amenity, to do business, access opportunities in education and receive specialized health care in rural America today,” LaVoy said.

In March 2018, Congress appropriated $600 million to the USDA with the intent of expanding rural broadband access in rural America. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue unveiled in December of 2018 the “ReConnect” program by which rural areas could apply for the allocated resources. The USDA says they “received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding.”

The $62.3 million announced for Alabama on Thursday makes up over 10% of the total money spent by the program.

ReConnect dispenses grants, loans and grant/loan combinations to private sector providers in rural communities. The ReConnect money goes to building high-quality broadband infrastructure in areas with inadequate internet service. The USDA defines insufficient service as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

The funds for the program originated in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. A subcommittee on which Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) sits.

Citing Congress being in session, Aderholt appeared at the announcement via a pre-recorded video. He said he was glad the program would “help close the ‘digital divide’ that isolates so many parts of rural America.”

“This program is beginning to pay dividends in rural Alabama and America,” he said of ReConnect.

“USDA also recognizes the strong leadership of Senator Shelby in making these funds available for rural communities in Alabama and across the country,” USDA Alabama Rural Development Director Chris Beeker told Yellowhammer.

“Expanding freedom FIBER broadband to residents across northwest Alabama meets a critical e-Connectivity need,” said Steve Foshee, president and CEO of Tombigbee Communications. “From students having the ability to complete their schoolwork, to our neighbors in need of receiving adequate healthcare, freedom FIBER broadband will help improve the lives and communities of rural northwest Alabama.”

Foshee also emceed the event and was praised by name by each of the other speakers for his tenacity and commitment to providing internet for his area.

Several groups of school children were bused in for the announcement and sat in the audience.

ADECA Director Boswell said to the young people in attendance, “You’ll be able to travel the world at your fingertips, no more having to go to McDonald’s for the hotspot.”

Two employees at the McDonalds nearest the site of the announcement confirmed to Yellowhammer that students from local schools frequented the establishment after school to use the internet.

Annis Jordan spoke at the event on behalf of Millry Communications. Millry provides service in Washington and Choctaw counties. Jordan said Millry had wanted to invest in high-speed broadband for the last 10 years, “but the financial analysis then and throughout the years since did not allow us to proceed until this year.”

State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield) said a substantial part of the coverage will be in his district, and complimented Steve Foshee for his work in bringing the project to fruition.

He told Yellowhammer, “This is a big day for rural Alabama. Too many times, we’re left watching on the sidelines.”

Fred Johnson, the CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Corp, praised Aderholt in his remarks, calling the dean of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation “the one person most largely responsible for the funding of this program.”

Joey Garner, a VP of TEC, one of the companies receiving an investment, said, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to increase our fiber internet network in Alabama with the assistance of this federally-funded grant. TEC is committed to our local service areas, our customers, and our employees, and we look forward to these great opportunities and additions in 2020.”

State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R- Mount Hope) also represents areas that will be covered after the announced investment. He said in a text to Yellowhammer, “High-speed internet is as important today as electric power was in the 1930s.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) said in a statement to Yellowhammer, “Today’s announcement is fantastic news for Alabama. This significant investment from USDA of $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure across rural Alabama is critical for economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life in our state.”

One of the students in the audience was Natalie Langley. She told Yellowhammer that her house benefitted from a previous Tombigbee expansion of high-speed internet.

“It was bad before,” she said of her old internet connection, “my mom spent a lot of money on cellular data before we could get fiber.”

In remarks to reporters after the event, Undersecretary LaVoy praised the cooperation between Alabama’s public officials and businesses that brought the announcement to fruition.

“This is the model, what we have in communities like this,” he said, gesturing to those around him. “I would say Alabama is at the forefront of being able to make what we want to see happen.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 hour ago

Pete Buttigieg’s silly grievance tour in Alabama is a joke

Any time a candidate for president comes to Alabama we should be thrilled.

It gives them a chance to meet voters that normally don’t factor into presidential elections and it gives the state the chance to put its best foot forward.

But that’s not what 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s trip to Alabama was about.

He is here because he has no black support in a primary where black support is very important, so he comes to Alabama to rip on the state.

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He swings by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice outside of Montgomery, not to learn anything, but to attack a fictional problem of “white supremacy.”

No one in the press dared to ask what he has done about this in his current position, or even what he will do if he becomes president. They acted like the dutiful scribes and staff photographers that they are so he can say, “I went to the lynching memorial” the next time his lack of black support is questioned.

And what better way to gain street cred nationally among black voters than to attack Alabama lawmakers for passing an abortion ban that the citizens of this state solidly support?

Buttigieg said, “What we see in Alabama unfortunately among legislators is a refusal to follow the law of the land.”

But this is not true.

Alabama lawmakers passed a law that was specifically meant to challenge the interpretation of the “law of the land,” which is, obviously, not a law at all but a Supreme Court ruling.

Supreme Court precedent is challenged all the time. He should know this.

Again, expecting the American press or their less competent Alabama counterparts to question him on these things is a mistake; they don’t have the knowledge necessary to do so.

But Buttigieg’s pandering was so broad he needed to be in the state for more than one day to get it all in.

While appearing at an event in Birmingham, he made the point that raising the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit non-white Americans.

How he reconciles that argument with his suggestion that we bring in more immigrants to compete with low-income workers is beyond me, but again, no one in the media seems interested in drilling down on these poorly thought-out arguments.

This is all just a PR trip and nothing more. Buttigieg is bumping up in some polls but is still struggling with black voters.

The first state with a large number of black voters is South Carolina, where he is polling fourth overall with 6% of the vote and a whopping 0% among black voters.

Remember why Buttigieg came to Alabama: It wasn’t to court voters here. It was solely to pander to black voters in other states.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

Alabama’s innovative reform to Medicaid is paying dividends

One of the toughest, yet least-talked about, challenges facing the U.S. today is how to effectively deliver affordable health care to America’s growing population of senior citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that by 2035, the number of adults over the age of 65 will exceed the number of children under the age of 18. The graying of America’s population especially creates a challenge for what, at times, can be a fractured and overly complicated health care delivery system.

In Alabama, over 90,000 senior citizens’ health care is funded in part via Medicaid, the federally-mandated insurance program that serves the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. Even though Medicaid is federally-mandated, that definitely does not mean that the federal government covers all of the costs — Alabama’s portion of the costs provided by the general fund was $755 million in Fiscal Year 2019, a figure which eats up 37% of all non-education spending by the State of Alabama.

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Over the past several years, I have worked closely with the past two governors, other legislative leaders, Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar and private sector partners to identify new delivery models that will bend the cost curve down for Medicaid, while ensuring Alabama’s senior citizens on Medicaid still receive good medical care.

In early 2017, I went to Washington, along with Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, Medicaid Commissioner Azar and other state leaders, to meet with Dr. Tom Price, who then served as President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

That trip and subsequent phone calls and data presentations paid off: in 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in Washington granted Alabama the opportunity to pursue a new delivery model of health care services for the more than 20,000 senior citizens in Alabama who are receiving long-term care through Medicaid.

Let me tell you: it is not an easy thing to persuade a federal agency to grant a state a waiver from any program’s requirements. Federal government employees – even the hardest-working and best-intentioned – are not necessarily keen on innovation.

In October of 2018, Alabama launched the Integrated Care Network (ICN). In this new model, Medicaid contracts with an Alabama-based healthcare provider to serve the 22,500 patients who are receiving long-term care through Medicaid. These senior patients and their families have expanded choices through the ICN: most are in nursing homes, but about 30% have chosen to receive care in the comfort of their own homes.

Where are we nearly a year down the road from the ICN launch? A few weeks ago, I convened a meeting of Medicaid, the Department of Senior Services, nursing home owners and health care providers. Their reports were encouraging. According to Medicaid’s estimates, the ICN model has already saved the state $4 million — and Medicaid projects the savings to grow over the next few years.

In 2039, if trends hold, 42% of Alabamians will be 60 years or older. For the senior citizens who will need Medicaid’s assistance, it is imperative that we continue to modernize and innovate in the area of health care, especially for programs like Medicaid that are funded by the taxpayers.

Newton’s first law states that an object will remain at rest or in uniform motion along a straight line, unless it is acted upon by an external force — inertia, in a word. That is a concept that often applies to government programs and agencies. In this instance, the innovation of the Integrated Care Network represents the external force that is moving Medicaid to a sounder fiscal footing.

Greg Reed is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader, and represents Senate District 5, which is comprised of all or parts of Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa, and Jefferson counties.

4 hours ago

Ivey invites Alabamians to join as she lights Alabama’s official Christmas tree

Governor Kay Ivey has invited Alabamians to join her for the official state Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The program is scheduled for Friday, December 6 at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

“I invite all Alabamians, friends, and neighbors to join us here at the Capitol for that special occasion. This is always a wonderful event and serves as such a great reminder of the spirit of hope that Christmas brings,” said Ivey in a news release.

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According to the release, Alabama’s 2019 Christmas Tree is a 40-foot-tall Eastern Red Cedar. It was grown on Mr. and Mrs. Ray Allen’s Farm in Bullock County. When lit, the tree will have around 37,000 lights strung on its branches. It will also be decorated with special bicentennial ornaments to celebrate Alabama’s 200th birthday.

At around 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the 151st Army National Guard Band will begin playing. At 5:30, the ceremony will begin. The program will also have a performance by the Forest Avenue Elementary School Choir.

Ivey will be joined in making remarks by commander and president of Air University at Maxwell Airforce Base Lieutenant General James Hecker and others.

The citizens assembled are invited to join the governor in counting down before she flips the switch to light the tree.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.