Byrne: Democrat gridlock shouldn’t be our fate

“We will never accept political gridlock as our fate.” — 2020 Democratic Party Platform

Last Saturday, the House of Representatives met to pass a bill blocking the reform of our troubled Postal Service, reform which is desperately needed for a failing agency hemorrhaging billions of dollars each year. It was just a political show as the Democrats knew it was going nowhere, although I don’t know who in America wasted their Saturday afternoon to bother watching another display of blathering hypocrisy.

Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff and until recently a member of the House, came over to do something positive. He had conversations with various members in an effort to kickstart the talks on the next coronavirus bill which Speaker Nancy Pelosi stalled three weeks ago before sending the House home for what would be six weeks. A group of House Democrats has circulated a letter to Pelosi and other House leaders calling for the talks to resume, so Mark wasn’t coming for show but to make an honest effort to get back to the bargaining table.

The problem is, Pelosi’s not having it. When Mark tried to see her on Saturday, she wouldn’t meet with him, claiming she was busy with others. Now, let’s consider all this: we’re in the middle of a pandemic, people are hurting, the economy still needs help as it recovers, rank and file Democrats want negotiations on a new bill addressing all this to resume, the president’s chief of staff personally goes to the speaker’s office – and she won’t make room in her Saturday schedule to see him? Instead, she presses on with the vote on a silly, unserious bill and ignores the elephant in the room.

I’ve said this before. Pelosi has cynically calculated that not passing a bill hurts President Trump’s chances in November and she’s willing to put the nation through months of unnecessary pain to get the political result, and the political power, she wants. Gridlock is her strategy, and she’s willing to ignore the president’s chief of staff, and her own Democrat members, to follow it. There we were, all together, and could have spent the otherwise wasted day on something of great importance to the American people. But we didn’t, and then she sent us all home for another three weeks.

That’s why when I read the preamble to the Democrats’ 2020 platform, I had to laugh: “We will never accept political gridlock as our fate.” They use gridlock as a political tool repeatedly. We started this Congress with the government shut down. We spent last year passing political messaging bills which went absolutely nowhere in the Senate and then burned the fall in impeachment proceedings which of course failed in the Senate. She literally tore up her hard copy of the president’s State of the Union Address while still on the podium and on national television. She’s caused the House to abandon Washington and our jobs as legislators. And she won’t talk to the president’s key aides.

Gridlock shouldn’t be our fate. As the legislative branch of the government of the most powerful country in the world we can and should be working together for the best interests of the American people. If you want gridlock to stop and for us to get to work, don’t turn power over to the party with the platform which says one thing while its leaders literally do the opposite. It’s called hypocrisy, a poor and bankrupt way to govern.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

8 mins ago

Bioscience discoveries show the power of collaboration

Two recent research accomplishments in which the UAH Department of Biological Sciences closely collaborated with partners from outside the university illustrate the strength in such partnerships.

Dr. Jerome Baudry (pronounced Bō-dre), a molecular biophysicist and the Mrs. Pei-Ling Chan Chair in Biological Sciences, joined with Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) to employ its Cray Sentinel supercomputer to rapidly identify 125 naturally occurring compounds that show promise as treatments for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

In separate research, Dr. Eric Mendenhall, a UAH associate professor of biological science, teamed with the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology to identify the function of 208 proteins responsible for orchestrating the regulation genes in the human genome. The research was published in Nature in July.

The partnerships were essential to the discoveries, says Dr. Paul Wolf, Biological Sciences chair, and UAH provides an ideal environment to nurture partnerships with industry and other entities.


“Solving complex problems requires integration of a diversity of thought,” Dr. Wolf says.

The Department of Biological sciences at UAH encourages faculty and students to work with each other and with local and national entities on collaborative projects, he says.

“The research successes of Eric Mendenhall and Jerome Baudry illustrate the kind of breakthroughs that can be made with such partnerships,” Dr. Wolf says. “We very much hope to see these collaborations grow in the future.”

Potential COVID treatments

Together Dr. Baudry’s lab and HPE used the Sentinel supercomputer to rapidly assess a batch of 50,000 chemicals to identify 125 naturally occurring compounds with a computational potential for efficacy against COVID-19.

The research was noted in a keynote speech by Antonio Neri, HPE president and CEO, at the HPE Discover Virtual Experience event. Neri told over 100,000 registrants from the computing, scientific and business worlds that the HPE collaboration with Dr. Baudry “allowed his research team to deliver results in weeks versus months or years.”

The idea for an alliance with HPE developed months before the COVID-19 crisis, following a meeting to discuss how to integrate natural products, artificial intelligence and supercomputing.

“One of the presenters, Dr. Rangan Sukumar, is a distinguished technologist in high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence at HPE,” says Dr. Baudry. “He talked to his colleagues there and they reached out to us to inquire about the possibility of working together.”

As the collaboration was becoming more operational the COVID-19 pandemic developed. Located in UAH’s Shelby Center for Science and Technology, the Baudry Lab was searching for potential precursors to drugs that would help combat the global pandemic.

“At HPE we are committed to being a force for good, and since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been on a mission to extend our technologies and resources to scientists on the front line of drug discovery,” says Bill Mannel, vice president and general manager of HPC at HPE.

“We found a perfect match with Dr. Baudry and his team at UAH, who have used our cloud-based supercomputer running in Microsoft Azure and a dedicated technical staff to support their research,” Mannel says.

By using the supercomputer through the cloud, the team was able to increase outcomes of drug candidates through biodiversity at an unprecedented speed, he says, saving them years of research and millions of dollars in costs.

“It has also been an honor helping Dr. Baudry realize his vision and be a part of the overall journey to advance treatment efforts to combat COVID-19 and end human suffering.”

The partnership marked the first time a supercomputer was used to assess the treatment efficacy of naturally occurring compounds against the proteins made by COVID-19.

“We used supercomputers to predict natural products most likely to bind to three proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” says Dr. Baudry. SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name of the COVID-19 virus.

“Out of the 50,000 natural products that we looked at using supercomputers, we found several hundred to be predicted to be potentially binding on the proteins of interest,” he says. “We further found 125 – but there may be more – that are particularly interesting because they bind right where we want to, they are not too big, not too small and they have the chemical profiles of pharmaceuticals.”

There are many diverse natural sources for the chemicals of interest, Dr. Baudry says.

“Many are from relatively common medicinal plants that can be found in the U.S., and many are from more distant plants from Southeast Asia and South America, as well as from some ground and oceanic bacteria strains and fungi.”

A Biological Safety Level 3 laboratory in Memphis is testing natural products that were identified by the Baudry Lab for their activity against the COVID-19 virus. Chemical molecules found most efficacious will form the basis for future testing for efficacy, tolerance and adverse effects in human trials, a process that might include chemical modifications to make the drug more efficient, better tolerated or both.

“Every drug that ends up surviving this long and winding road of development and testing starts as a hit that binds to a protein. It is this initial event that we are modeling here using supercomputers,” Dr. Baudry says.

The fight against COVID-19 has created a new meeting of modern high-capacity artificial intelligence with humankind’s most ancient healing knowledge, Dr. Baudry says.

“Normally it would take a very long time and a lot of money to achieve that, but with the supercomputers we can perform this initial hit discovery step much faster and cheaper,” he says. “Even five years ago, this would not have been possible.”

Located in a Microsoft Azure data center in Texas, Sentinel made the work more rapid than ever before possible and an HPE team helped facilitate it. Dr. Baudry’s UAH team accessed Sentinel through the cloud with Microsoft Azure.

Sentinel is capable of computing 147 trillion floating point operations per second and can store 830,000 gigabytes of data. That’s as fast as the Earth’s entire population doing 20,000 calculations every second.

At the same time, Dr. Baudry’s lab also collaborated in other COVID-19 research with the Alabama Supercomputing Network and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Understanding how cells work

A close collaboration between the UAH lab of Dr. Mendenhall and the lab of Dr. Richard Myers, who is the president, M. A. Loya Chair in Genomics, science director and a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, resulted in new understanding of the function of 208 proteins responsible for orchestrating the regulation of genes in the human genome. These proteins and others play major roles in determining the type and function of new cells, a process known as differentiation.

The working partnership was a fundamental building block for the resulting discoveries, says Dr. Myers.

“We have greatly enjoyed and benefited from this close collaboration with Dr. Mendenhall and his team, which involves a combination of complex ‘wet-lab’ experiments and computational analysis and interpretation of large amounts of data,” Dr. Myers says.

“One of the most satisfying things about this work is that we are creating a knowledge base of how human genes are regulated that is being used by thousands of researchers and clinicians around the world,” he says. “The data and findings are made freely available rapidly to everyone, and this has helped to greatly speed up our understanding of the human genome.”

It is critical that genes be turned on and off in different cell and tissue types, but scientists haven’t had a good idea of how that was controlled, says Dr. Mendenhall.

“Ours and many other groups have been working for years to find what regions of the human genome controlled this turning on and off – what we call enhancers and promoters,” he says.

“We wanted to determine what proteins control this turning on and off. These are called transcription factors, and our group looked at where 208 of them function. It was a large number and we helped to add a significant amount of information to how genes are turned on and off.”

Transcription factors can make a cell into a heart cell, a liver cell or even a cancer cell. Their location along the DNA strand, or genome, is critical to what role a cell will play during its lifetime. The genome in each of our cells is identical. It’s the transcription factors that act as the switches to turn on or off genetic functions and differentiate the capabilities of one cell from another.

“We have close to 20,000 genes in our genome, and about 1,800 of these belong to the class called transcription factors, which is a pretty large portion of our genes,” says Dr. Mendenhall.

“These genes code for proteins that work in our nucleus to turn genes on or off by binding to the DNA. Once they bind to the DNA, which is tightly controlled by many chemical and biological mechanisms we don’t yet fully understand, they find a nearby target gene to usually turn on, but occasionally turn off.”

It’s important to have a complete catalog to get a full picture of how genes are controlled, Dr. Mendenhall says. That’s a key part of how humans develop from embryos and it’s important to how our cells do their jobs and keep us healthy.

“An incomplete picture leaves we scientists unsure whether we are missing key transcription factors, or of how to explain why certain transcription factors bind here but not there, or turn this gene on but not that one,” Dr. Mendenhall says. “We have a lot of outstanding questions and a lot of these questions will be easier to answer once we study all 1,800 transcription factors.”

Teams led by Dr. Myers and Dr. Mendenhall employed the latest rapid genetic sequencing techniques, running dozens of parallel experiments at one time to quickly locate and flag transcription factors in a lab-grown line of liver cancer cells called HepG2 that are used for research purposes.

The new discoveries came as part of the $31.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Project to further the construction of a comprehensive list of functional elements in the human genome. A scientific offspring of the Human Genome Project, the ENCODE Project launched in 2003 and is a scientific consortium that is tasked with creating and sharing genomics resources that are used by many scientists to study human health and disease.

Advances in a new technology called CRISPR-Cas9 hastened progress by allowing scientists to test almost any transcription factor. Key to the research was a procedure developed in 2015 by Dr. Myers and Dr. Mendenhall called CETCh-seq.

With CETCh-seq, scientists first use the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic editing technique to design a reagent to modify a genome in cells. Once they are flagged, in the second part of the CETCh-seq method a protocol called ChIP-seq tells them where the transcription proteins are located.

“It took a lot of dead ends,” Dr. Mendenhall says, “but we also found a lot of new questions to pursue that we couldn’t have predicted.”

(Courtesy of UAH)

1 hour ago

7 Things: Impeachment scheduled amid message of ‘unity,’ Alabama mayor questions vaccine rollout, Brooks draws big crowd as House punishment looms and more …

7. Gambling to be a priority in upcoming legislative session

  • State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is stepping down from his pro tempore position so he can focus on legislative efforts, one of them being legalizing gambling in the state of Alabama.
  • Marsh said that he’s wanting to push “a comprehensive gaming package … to provide scholarships for young people.” He added that “a gaming bill can provide a long-term statewide broadband program.” Marsh is also looking to present the legislation as a constitutional amendment so “it’ll be for the people to vote on.”

6. Ainsworth comes out against Biden’s executive order for public school sports


  • An executive order by President Joe Biden would allow transgender females, meaning they were born male, in public schools to use female restrooms and compete in female sports. This order has already received heavy opposition, and now Alabama Lt Gov. Will Ainsworth has come out against the order, too.
  • Ainsworth criticized it as a “terrible policy.” He added, “You can’t have guys playing girls sports, to use your quote President Biden, ‘Come on, Man.’”

5. Huntsville picked for Space Command because it’s the best choice

  • Some leaders in Colorado have complained that making Huntsville the location for U.S. Space Command Headquarters was a political decision, but the Air Force has continued to defend their decision and explain why Huntsville was the best choice.
  • The Air Force Press Desk stated, “Secretary of the Airforce thoughtfully considered all input … she also received feedback from the National Command Authority, defense oversight committees, senior commanders and functional staff experts before making her decision on the preferred location.” The decision won’t technically be final until after an environmental impact study is concluded. It’s expected that announcement will happen in early 2023.

4. Orange Beach mayor urges mayors to be vocal about vaccine issues

  • As Alabama continues to be criticized for the vaccine rollout, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon is advocating for other mayors and local officials to voice issues that they’ve had with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. Kennon has already said people should be required to be residents to receive the vaccine.
  • Kennon said, “We should be busting our butts to figure out how we can distribute hundreds of thousands of doses…It should be a mass effort to come up with the ability to distribute mass doses of the vaccine.” Some officials have said that they don’t have the supply of vaccines to meet the demand in their areas.

3. Mo Brooks allies and foes rally

  • Over the weekend, a “Free the Speech” rally was held in Priceville, Alabama, and U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) spoke at the event in which he received a standing ovation. Also speaking at the event was former State Representative Ed Henry.
  • Henry said that if members of the state legislature “aren’t here, they don’t care about you.” One person showed up at the event of about 500 to call for Brooks to resign over his comments on January 6 that have now spurred some to call for Brooks to be censured. Another event was scheduled to oppose Brooks, and about 20 people showed up.

2. One in five Americans trust the “unity” message

  • A new poll conducted by ABC News/Ipsos has shown that one in five, just 22%, Americans have “a great deal of confidence” in President Joe Biden being successful in uniting the country. The poll also showed 24% of people are not confident “at all” in uniting the country.
  • According to the poll, 19% don’t have much confidence that Biden will unite the country, but 35% have a “good amount” of confidence. These responses were taken after people watched Biden’s inaugural address.

1. Impeachment trial will start the week of February 8

  • As the Senate prepares for another impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, despite him no longer being in office, more senators have started voicing their support or lack of support for having a trial. U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) has expectedly shown support for the trial.
  • Romney said that Trump’s “conduct with regards to the call to Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia as well as the incitation towards the insurrection that led to the attack on the Capitol call for a trial.” Romney added that for there to be “unity in our country.” there also has to be “accountability, for truth and justice.” By comparison, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that the “trial is stupid.” “It’s counterproductive…it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” he added.

2 hours ago

National gang leader from Birmingham sentenced to 40 years on federal charges

Two leaders of the Gangster Disciples, a notorious national gang, were sentenced on Friday in federal court for a racketeering conspiracy involving murder.

Shauntay Craig, aka “Shake,” of Birmingham, was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The 42-year-old Craig previously pleaded guilty in August 2019 to racketeering conspiracy involving murder and drug trafficking.

He was a “Board Member,” the highest-ranking position nationally in the Gangster Disciples besides the single chairman of the board atop the organization. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Craig was responsible for violence, drug trafficking and murders, including orchestrating the murder of a government informant in Colorado to protect his drug empire.


Additionally, Donald Glass, aka “Smurf,” of Georgia was sentenced to life plus 120 months in prison. Glass, 30, was convicted by a federal jury in May 2019 of racketeering conspiracy involving murder, discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, causing death through the use of a firearm, and other firearms crimes.

Glass led the “H.A.T.E. Committee,” a specialized enforcement team within the Gangster Disciples that allegedly reigned terror through numerous murders, shootings and robberies. As leader of the H.A.T.E. Committee, Glass reportedly ordered his band of teenage shooters, including a juvenile who Glass groomed to be an assassin, to shoot and kill more than 10 people.

“As leaders of the Gangster Disciples, these defendants terrorized communities across the country by engaging in, and ordering others to engage in, multiple acts of violence, including murder,” stated Nicholas L. McQuaid, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The significant sentences imposed upon defendant Craig for his national leadership role in the gang, and defendant Glass for his creation of an army of teenagers who shot and killed indiscriminately, demonstrate that even the most sophisticated and ruthless gangs are no match for the coordinated efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement.”

The sentencing occurred in the Northern District of Georgia; numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies across multiple states investigated the case.

According to the charges and other information presented in court, the Gangster Disciples are a national gang with roots in Chicago dating back to the 1970s. The gang is highly structured, with a hierarchy of leadership posts known as “Positions of Authority.” The gang strictly enforces rules for its members, the most important of which is “Silence and Secrecy” – a prohibition on cooperating with law enforcement. Violations of the rule are punishable by death. Evidence at trial showed that the Gangster Disciples were responsible for at least 24 shootings from 2011 through 2015, including 12 murders.

“The Gangster Disciples are a ruthless gang that preyed upon our communities for far too long, and Craig and Glass were the driving force behind the devastation the gang caused,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office. “It is our goal to dismantle these organized, violent criminal enterprises and we could not do it without the efforts of the FBI-led Safe Streets Gang Task Force and its state and local partners.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

ADPH’s Dr. Scott Harris urges lawmakers to address COVID vaccine questions directly to the agency, not through the media

Last week, four state senators criticized the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it a “kink” in the pipeline.

In a release provided to the media, State Sens. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Randy Price (R-Opelika) warned shortcomings in vaccine distribution was coming at the cost of lives.

During an appearance on this week’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said while he welcomed hearing from the lawmakers, he would have preferred to have heard from them directly and not through the media. He also insisted the answer to their questions was available on the ADPH’s dashboard website.


“We always appreciate hearing from legislators or anyone that has concerns about that,” Harris said. “We’re very happy to respond to that and get the correct information out. The gist of the letter, which was not sent to us. It was actually sent to the media. But the gist of the letter was that somehow Alabama has a kink in the supply of its vaccines, and we’re not giving enough vaccines because vaccines aren’t being given quickly enough. And I would say, first of all, we certainly acknowledge we want to give vaccines as quickly as possible, but that’s actually an incorrect understanding of how the vaccine distribution works. Vaccines in the U.S. are distributed according to population to each state. Whether we give vaccines quickly or slowly — it does not determine what our supply is. We get around 50,[000] to 60,000 doses per week because that’s Alabama’s share by population of the total amount being manufactured.”

“There were some questions in the letter about why certain data wasn’t available, which actually is available,” he continued. “I wish we had an opportunity to answer those questions before those questions were sent to the media. But we do post on our dashboard every day updated daily total number of doses that are shipped in Alabama and how many have been given. We have that broken down by date for anyone to see. And so, I think there are legitimate questions about could we be doing this faster, and the answer is we’re doing everything we can to do be doing it faster. But I wish we had a chance to respond to that letter before everyone in the state was asking us about it.”

McClendon, the chairman of the Alabama Senate’s Health Committee, responded to Harris’ remarks on “Capitol Journal” with a pledge to file legislation that would give the executive and legislative branches oversight authority over the ADPH via text to Yellowhammer News on Sunday.

“Neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch have any authority over the ADPH or the State Public Health Officer,” McClendon wrote. “The bill I have prepared and ready to file corrects that. I’ll file it once everyone that wants to co-sponsor has an opportunity.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

17 hours ago

College football overcomes the pandemic

Last year was unlike any other. January 2021, however, offered a familiar sight: Alabama won its sixth national title under coach Nick Saban. The 2020 Crimson Tide featured Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, many other award winners, and rank among the greatest teams in history.

Before we debate history and look forward to next season, we should celebrate the tremendous sacrifices required of players to play through COVID-19. Coaches and staff also went beyond the call of duty but were getting paid. Most players will never play professionally and deserve a big “Thank You.”

College football is always demanding, but in 2020, players faced impositions like repeated testing, contact tracing and quarantine rules. They had to navigate virtual meetings, social distancing and masks on the sidelines. Many programs basically isolated players in the athletic dorms upon their return to campus in June. Marshall’s players only left Huntington for road games; Army’s players did not see their parents after the start of June.


In 2020, each conference decided how many games to play and four FBS conferences initially canceled their seasons. The SEC opted for a 10-game, conference-only schedule; the ACC and Big 12 allowed one nonconference game. Independents faced a nightmare, leading Notre Dame to play in a conference for the first time in the program’s history.

Game postponements due to COVID-19 began immediately. Troy’s season opener on Labor Day weekend was one of the first contests postponed. The chaos extended to television; Alabama’s November 14 primetime game on CBS against LSU was postponed.

Postponements led to scheduling on the fly. California and UCLA played on November 15 (a Sunday) after their games that week were called off. BYU agreed on Thursday to play a nationally televised game at Coastal Carolina two days later. The ensuing battle of unbeatens was one of the year’s best games.

Athletics departments reduced seating, when local governments allowed fans at all. Concessions and stadium entrances were reconfigured for social distancing. The adjustments reduced revenue and increased costs.

The 2020 season offers valuable economic and life lessons. Perhaps the greatest is the virtue of flexibility. Perhaps nobody exhibited this more than Alabama’s coach Saban, known for trying to control everything around his program. As the coach said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep everything in some kind of a controlled mechanism,” but he realized that, “this year that hasn’t been possible.”

People make life plans involving a career and where to live, but our economy does not always accommodate. Our market economy creates the enormous prosperity we enjoy today. We find a way to contribute within the division of labor and then invest in education and training. Yet businesses sometimes fail and new technology can eliminate the jobs we’ve trained for. A willingness to adapt serves us and the economy well.

Conferences and not the NCAA control FBS football. Each conference decided whether to play, as opposed to one decision by the NCAA. When six conferences showed by example football could be played safely, the others launched abbreviated seasons.

Federalism similarly decentralizes decision-making across the states. Georgia and Colorado showed economies could reopen safely; Alabama and others showed that students could safely attend school. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health officials have criticized America’s federalism. We should be glad that Washington could not shut our entire nation down.

Universities faced enormous criticism for playing this season. As Alan Dowd points out in a recent piece for the American Institute for Economic Research, challenges and uncertainty can be viewed in two ways: as obstacles to be overcome, or as reasons to quit. College football gave us an example of the former. Similarly, gyms, restaurants and retailers figured out how to operate safely when politicians allowed.

Entrepreneurs starting new businesses face long odds and innumerable obstacles requiring hard work, ingenuity, and courage. College football showed us that even a pandemic can be overcome.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.