The Wire

  • Trump orders establishment of ‘space force’ as 6th branch of military

    Excerpt from Fox News:

    President Trump vowed on Monday to make space great again.

    Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to immediately establish a national “space force” that would become the sixth branch of the armed forces.

    “We are going to have a space force,” Trump said in Washington D.C. “An Air Force and a Space Force. Separate, but equal.”

    This is not the first time that Trump has floated the idea of establishing a “space force.” The president mentioned the idea in May during a ceremony at the White House honoring the Army Black Knights college football team.

    Trump did not go into details about what military role the so-called “space force” would carry out or who would command it, but he framed space as a national security issue, saying he does not want “China and Russia and other countries leading us.”

  • Ivey says import tariffs could hurt Alabama industry

    Excerpt from AP:

    Alabama’s Republican governor is separating herself from President Donald Trump on the issue of trade, saying import tariffs like those supported by the administration would hurt the state.

    Gov. Kay Ivey released a statement Monday saying import tariffs could cause retaliatory tariffs that would drive up the cost of items made in Alabama and sold abroad.

    The administration already has imposed duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, plus steel and aluminum from China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

    Ivey says growth in Alabama’s auto industry could be harmed if tariffs are imposed on U.S. goods around the world. Almost 60,000 people work in automotive-related jobs in the state.

  • Police ID suspect in shooting of State Senator’s son

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    “Foley Police Department has identified 29 year old Orneal McCaskey aka “OJ” as the suspect in the shooting of Akil Michael Figures this morning at 635 East Azalea Ave in Foley. The investigation revealed that McCaskey drove to the residence to confront Figures over a female. An argument ensued at the doorway and McCaskey pulled out a handgun and shot Figures at least twice in the lower hip area. After a brief struggle in the house, McCaskey fled the area in a gold or tan colored vehicle. Figures was taken to South Baldwin by private vehicle and later flown to Sacred Heart and has since been released. Orneal McCaskey is wanted for questioning in this case. The public is asked to call Foley Police Department at 251-943-4431 if you know where McCaskey is. He is considered armed and dangerous.”

3 hours ago

Survey: Electric vehicles make sense for Alabama drivers

(ACFC)

As many as 50 million Americans are about to flip the switch over to electric automobiles with their next purchase, according to the American Automobile Association. A recent survey conducted by the AAA found that popularity of electric cars is trending upwards. With infrastructure and availability all here, Alabama can lead the charge toward electric vehicles.

In its survey, AAA asked Americans if they were considering electric vehicles for their next car purchase. The survey found that 20 percent of Americans say their next vehicle will be an electric car – up 5 percent from 2017.

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The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition encourages Alabamians to make the move to an alternative fuel vehicle, such as an electric car. Electric vehicles offer nothing but benefits, from being more cost-efficient due to cheaper fuel to less expensive maintenance to being environmentally friendly.

Alabama’s relationship with Mercedes-Benz could be a factor in the state’s future with electric vehicles, too. The automaker announced in January it would be rolling out an electric version of each of its vehicles by 2022. With Mercedes – and most other automakers – launching more electric options, there have never been more alternative fuel vehicle options than we have today.

The Tuscaloosa County facility is the only Mercedes plant in the United States, and it will play a central role in the production of these electric vehicles. As these electric vehicles begin to be produced by the people of Alabama, the next logical step is for them to begin driving them as well.

There has never been a better time to switch over to electric. It is a common misconception that it is a hassle to charge your electric car, whether that be at home or on the road. Charging at home can be done through a 120-amp power supply, which is the same three-prong outlet that powers your television.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition is determined to make driving an electric vehicle in Alabama comfortable by assisting in getting proper infrastructure in place. Alabama currently has 84 electric charging stations, and a total of 198 charging outlets scattered across the state in almost all major cities.

More and more charging stations will continue to pop up across the state as more electric vehicles hit the streets. Current electric charging stations can be found at convenient locations in public, and some residential areas. The new Tesla charging stations in downtown Birmingham are just one prominent example. Several online sites, such as plugshare.com, provide charger locations.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition serves as the principal coordinating point for clean, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle activities in Alabama. The ACFC is part of the national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions that bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging technologies.

According to Alabama AAA PR and Marketing Director Clay Ingram, our state is warming up to electric vehicles as the technology and infrastructure begins to develop at a rapid pace.

“We have come a long way in accepting this, in a short number of years,” Ingram said. “We love our vehicles in Alabama, and I think there is a lot of room for (electric vehicles) as the technology continues to develop.”

With an average gas price of $2.91 – its highest cost since 2014. Gas prices are expected to increase over time without any anticipation of dropping. The average American spends $1,400 on gasoline a year, while average electric vehicle charging costs are $540 annually. Unlike gasoline cars, electric vehicles don’t typically require oil changes, fuel filters, spark plug replacements or emission checks. In electric vehicles, even brake pad replacements are rare due to the fact regenerative braking returns energy to the battery.

With all the aforementioned factors in mind, it is no surprise that the AAA estimated a below-average cost of ownership with electric vehicles. Electric cars also are the least expensive when it comes to yearly maintenance.

Since the 1970s, lawmakers in the United States have been putting effort into facilitating the research and growth of electric cars. The urge to reduce carbon emissions has given electric car production a lift. Electric vehicles emit an average of 4,500 pounds of CO2, with gasoline cars emitting more than double that.

This current shift to electric will not only have an environmental impact, but also an economic one. According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States has made progress in importing less oil, but still imports nearly 20 percent of what is consumed. The increasing use of electricity as an alternative fuel will further push the United States toward economic independence from foreign countries.

The benefits to driving an electric car are endless! To learn more about the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and advice on purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle, please visit www.alabamacleanfuels.org.

Mark Bentley is the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.

10 hours ago

Univ. of Alabama students can use ID card on Apple Watch

(Pixabay)

No more ID cards for University of Alabama students with an Apple Watch or iPhone.

In a statement from Apple, students only have to raise their wrist to gain access to places including the library, dorms and events, pay for snacks, laundry and dinners around campus, the Tuscaloosa News reported.

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The software was presented this week as students with an Apple Watch or iPhone can add their ID cards to the wallet for usage this fall.

UA president Stewart Bell spoke more in depth about the pilot program at a board meeting last week. The new software is cost free.

“We have actually been working on this project for some time a little bit under the cloak of secrecy,” Bell said. “It is a next-generation technology program that will allow our students to have access to security issues and things they pay for.”

The program is set to launch at Duke University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Alabama in September and expand to Johns Hopkins University, Santa Clara University and Temple University by the end of the year.

Bell said the university and Apple have been partnering to develop the program for about a year.

The functions will be available in September after students arrive for fall classes on Aug. 22.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 days ago

Bat blitz highlights role in Alabama’s ecosystem

(David Rainer)

Despite the stigma caused by countless Dracula movies, a dedicated group of naturalists continues to demonstrate its love for the animal with a face only a mother could love. Those enthusiasts express their devotion to the bat, nature’s only flying mammal, all the way down to the bat jewelry.

Bat lovers met recently at Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula for the annual Bat Blitz, a celebration of the small animal that can sometimes be spotted zooming around street lights at dusk, dining on a smorgasbord of insects.

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Nick Sharp of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division said this year’s Blitz was a joint exercise for bat biologists and enthusiasts from Alabama and Georgia. The Blitz is a collaborative effort of all the Alabama Bat Working Group (ABWG) members. Jeff Baker from Alabama Power and Shannon Holbrook from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served as co-chairs of the Bat Blitz committee.

Alabama State Lands Division’s Jo Lewis said the recent gathering was the 17th annual meeting of the ABWG, an informal affiliation of bat biologists and enthusiasts from many state, federal and private agencies across the state. The group holds the Bat Blitz in different areas of the state each year to sample the bat populations in those areas with mist nets deployed at night.

“We’re looking for distribution information about what bats are in what areas of the state,” Lewis said. “We have 15 species of bats that are native to Alabama. Some only occur in the more southern portions of the state, and others only occur in the more northern portions of the state because of the different habitats in Alabama and our complex ecosystems.

“In the north part of the state, bats appear to be more numerous because of the karst geology with all the caves. In the south part of the state, we have a lot of bats, but they don’t congregate as much in caves. They’re referred to as forest bats. They roost in trees. They’re actually all around us, but we’re kind of oblivious to them. A little bat hanging in a tree snuggled up against a nook or branch, you’re never going to notice.”

The southeastern myotis is one bat species found in the south part of the state but not as often in the north. The Bat Blitz researchers found 16 southeastern myotis bats in a culvert on the first night of the event.

Another bat more common in the southern part of the state is the Mexican freetail. Sharp said the fast-flying bat is now most often found in attics because most of the large, hollow trees it historically used have been cut down.

A bat that is found in the northern part of the state but not the southern part is the northern longear, a protected species. Gray bats, also protected, are found in north Alabama. The most common species throughout the state is the big brown bat.

Currently, the biggest concern for the bat enthusiasts is the condition known as white nose syndrome, a fungal infection that has killed more than six million bats in North America.

“Nobody knows right now how white nose syndrome affects the tree bats,” Lewis said. “We’re hoping it doesn’t affect them because they don’t roost together as much and are less likely to spread the infection.

“We do have confirmed cases of white nose in most of the northern counties, as far south as Bibb County near Birmingham.”

Lewis said it is very difficult to determine how much the syndrome has affected the populations in north Alabama because of the labor-extensive requirements to do those studies.

“From personal observation in a cave that I’ve been monitoring for the past 10 years, it followed the classic series of events associated with the disease, and it truly decimated the population,” she said. “A tenth of the number of bats that used to be there are there now. I used to count hundreds of tri-colored bats in there. Now, we’re counting 30. It has definitely affected that bat population.”

Sharp said data from nine caves in north Alabama monitored from 2010 to 2017 indicate a reduction of tri-colored bats by 70 to 95 percent. He said counts at two Indiana bat hibernacula over that time period are down 95 percent.

Bats are predators and eat huge numbers of insects, which can be disease vectors. They eat mosquitoes, which can carry several diseases, including Zika. Some of the insects the bats are eating are pest species that damage crops in the state.

“Their simple presence can deter pest species from infesting crops,” Lewis said. “If you have bats working a field, you’re less likely to have insects that are going to eat the corn.”

Sharp said bats provide at least $3.7 billion in pest control service to agriculture annually in the U.S., according to a 2011 scientific study.

Lewis said human-bat interaction most often occurs at dusk and dawn, especially around street lights, but bats are active all night.

“Bats will sometimes take a nap in the middle of the night,” she said. “But they’re not roosting. They’re just getting a little rest before they go back out and eat more insects. The street lights attract insects, so it’s kind of like McDonald’s for the bats.”

Another area of concern for bat researchers and the public in general is the fact that bats can be rabies vectors. Lewis said this adds to the stigma of bats but that rabies does not appear to occur at a higher rate in bats compared to other wildlife. Sharp said rabies studies in bats showed infection rates of less than one percent in wild animals.

“But there’s an extremely important distinction,” she said. “When humans encounter a bat, they are not interacting with the regular population of bats. They are interacting with a bat that is acting extremely abnormally because bats avoid us.”

Sharp said rabies can be transmitted by a bite from an infected animal or by bat saliva entering an open wound. Sharp and Lewis said to seek immediate medical advice if you suspect contact with a bat resulted in either of those situations. If the bat is incapacitated or captured, take the animal to have it tested for rabies.

“If you’ve had contact with a bat, it’s highly advisable to have that bat tested because rabies is 100-percent fatal if symptoms appear,” she said. “It’s just not worth the risk. Anybody who works with bats at the Blitz has pre-exposure vaccinations. Anybody who hasn’t had vaccinations cannot touch a bat. We’re having fun, but we have real rules that we will not bend.”

One of the presenters at the Bat Blitz was Vicky Smith of A-to-Z animals in Auburn. Smith, who has taught thousands of school kids about bats and their role in our ecosystems, dispelled several myths associated with bats.

“One is ‘blind as a bat,’” Smith said. “Bats are not blind. Bats have tiny eyes, but we’ve actually discovered something about their echolocation, the way they use sound waves to locate the insects. What we found was that once they get close, they zoom in with their eyes on the insect. When they scoop it to their mouth with a wing or their tail membrane, they use their eyes for up-close work. Another myth about their eyes is that light hurts their eyes. That’s not true.”

Another myth is that bats will get tangled in your hair, especially folks with long hair.

“Bats will come close to you,” she said. “You are not a food source, but you have attracted their food source by breathing out carbon dioxide, which attracts mosquitoes and other bugs. If the bat echolocates and sees a buffet flying around your head, he’s going to fly to that buffet. They will fly quite close to you in the dark, and that can be quite scary. We believe that’s how that myth got started.”

A misconception is that a bat, which belongs to the order Chiroptera (winged mammal), is just a mouse with wings.

“Bats are not rodents,” Smith said. “They are about the same size, but a bat typically gives birth to one pup per year. A little mouse about the same size can give birth to about 144 babies per year. Another difference is tooth structure. The teeth in a bat are more like dogs’ and cats’ with large canines to crunch the exoskeletons of the insects.”

Although outreach and education are important, Lewis said the main goal of the Blitz is to catch as many bats as possible to assess the population in that area.

For Lewis, catching bats during the Bat Blitz is just a continuation of her infatuation with the species.

“I’ve been doing this for 20-something years,” Lewis said, “and I still love it.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

3 days ago

Funeral set for Alabama WWII pilot missing since 1944 crash

(Pixabay)

An American pilot is being buried at Arlington National Cemetery more than 70 years after he crashed on a Pacific island during World War II.

Second Lt. Robert Keown (pronounced Cow-uhn) was flying a P-38 aircraft that went down in Papua New Guinea in 1944.

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Relatives never knew what happened to him until November. That’s when genetic testing confirmed that remains found years ago on the island were his.

Keown will be buried Friday with full honors.

Nieces and nephews are the closest remaining relatives to attend the funeral of Keown, who grew up near Atlanta in Lawrenceville, Georgia, before moving to Scottsboro, Alabama.

His father died in 1937 and his mother in 1979. Keown’s two brothers also died while he was missing, the most recent in 2015.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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4 days ago

Stealthy gov’t policies: What Alabama can learn from Hawaiian volcano eruption

(CBS News/YouTube)

Kilauea on the island of Hawaii began erupting on May 3, and has to date destroyed about 600 homes. The terrifying pictures led me to wonder why anyone would build a home on one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Hawaii’s regulation of property insurance provides part of the explanation, and Kilauea’s eruption offers a lesson for Alabama.

Geologists know a lot about volcanoes and lava. The Hawaii Volcano Observatory has mapped over 500 lava vents on Mauna Loa. Hawaii’s volcanoes produce two types of lava, with very different textures and flow speeds. The risk of lava flows varies widely across the island of Hawaii. Geologists divide the island into nine lava flow risk zones, based on the location of the most active vents and the mountains’ contours.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a public policy think tank, has detailed the insurance story.

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In the 1990s, insurance companies stopped covering homes in the two highest risk lava zones. With insurance unavailable, banks would not write mortgages, and builders could not build homes. The state government created the Hawaii Property Insurance Association (HPIA) to sell low priced insurance. Many homes destroyed in the eruption were built due to HPIA.

Hawaii used an insurance pool to subsidize building on Kilauea. Alabama uses an insurance pool, the Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association, for hurricane coverage along the Gulf Coast. Insurance pools offer “affordable” coverage, meaning priced in line with what people want to pay, not the rate sufficient to allow insurers to cover losses after the next eruption or hurricane. HPIA’s low rates virtually guarantee losses.

Why would insurers join HPIA then? Because they had to. No, Hawaii did not have The Godfather to make insurance companies an offer they couldn’t refuse. Rather, insurers must receive permission from state regulators to operate. Regulators made joining HPIA a condition for operating in Hawaii.

What happens when an insurance pool suffers losses they cannot pay in a future eruption (or hurricane)? They impose assessments, which are essentially taxes, on other state insurance policies. Hawaiians who live on Oahu might have to pay for the destroyed homes.

Insurance pools represent a stealth government policy, one likely to fly under the radar until disaster happens. Hawaii could have let insurance companies charge rates high enough to cover future claims and used taxes to pay part of homeowners’ premiums. For example, insurers could have been allowed to charge $20,000 a year to cover a house on Kilauea, with legislators covering $15,000 of the price using taxes. Instead, HPIA let homeowners just pay say $5,000, and relied on imposing taxes after the eruption.

Subsidizing building in risky areas is poor policy, but I think that transparency makes direct subsidies a better option. Citizens are more likely to reach an informed decision when legislators must spend our taxes. Stealth might produce programs that citizens do not truly want.

Humorist P. J. O’Rourke has said, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Mr. O’Rourke believes that government will spend our taxes on boondoggles, and often he’s right. Insurance pools suggest though that state legislators are probably subsidizing through insurance some things they would never dare spend our tax dollars on.

Defenders often argue that development would not occur in some risky areas without insurance pools. The point is valid. Yet the risk posed by lava – or hurricanes – is real, and development is more costly as a result. People should only live or work in high risk areas if doing so creates enough value to cover the higher cost. High insurance premiums ask people, “are you sure you want to build a home here?”

Geographer Gilbert White, a pioneer of natural hazards research, argued that disasters were never merely acts of God; our choices contributed to the outcome as well. Whether volcanoes and hurricanes produce disasters will depend on whether government encourages risky decisions.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

4 days ago

Lawsuit claims Congressional maps dilute black voters in 3 states including Alabama

(The Daily Show/YouTube)

A Democratic political group launched a legal campaign Wednesday to create additional majority-minority congressional districts in three Southern states, claiming the current maps discriminate against black voters.

Attorneys filed separate federal lawsuits in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, challenging congressional maps lawmakers in each state approved in 2011.

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The lawsuits filed on behalf of several black voters in each state are backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The suits claim the districts violate a section of the Voting Rights Act by depriving black voters of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the U.S. House of Representatives.

They ask the courts to block the three states from holding any more congressional elections under their current maps.

The new lawsuits mean there now are redistricting challenges pending in a dozen states — in some places, multiple lawsuits —alleging racial or political gerrymandering in U.S. House or state legislative districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on at least two of those cases alleging unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering by the Republican-led Legislature in Wisconsin and the Democratic-led Legislature in Maryland.

Though likely too late to affect this year’s elections, the lawsuits could force districts to be redrawn in advance of the 2020 elections.

The timing is important because any court rulings could set precedents for when all states must redraw legislative districts based on the results of the 2020 Census.

During the last round of redistricting, Republicans who swept to power in many state capitols in 2010 used their newly enlarged majorities to draw districts that Democrats contend have made it harder from them to regain power during the past decade.

Democrats aided by Holder and former President Barack Obama are attempting to better position themselves for the next round of redistricting by backing state legislative candidates, lawsuits and ballot initiatives that would shift redistricting powers away from lawmakers to independent commissions in some states.

“The creation of additional districts in which African Americans have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in each of these states will be an important step toward making the voting power of African Americans more equal and moving us closer to the ideals of our representative democracy,” Holder said in a statement Wednesday.

The National Redistricting Foundation also is helping finance pending lawsuits in North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, accused Holder of “resorting to politically-motivated litigation aimed at taking away the constitutional authority of elected state legislators to draw district lines.”

“The cynical lawsuits filed today by Holder and the Democrats are crass attempts to rally the left-wing base and to elect more Democrats through litigation, instead of running winning campaigns on policies and ideas that voters actually want,” Walter said in an email Wednesday.

Each state’s chief elections official is named as the defendant in each lawsuit.

Holder was serving as attorney general under Obama when the Justice Department cleared the 2011 congressional maps in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana as complying with the Voting Rights Act. But that doesn’t prohibit subsequent lawsuits asserting violations under a different section of the act.

Republicans hold commanding congressional majorities over Democrats in each of the challenged states, controlling six of the seven U.S. House seats in Alabama, 10 of the 14 seats in Georgia and five of the six seats in Louisiana.

All of the Republican House members for those states are white and all of the Democratic representatives are black.

The lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s map claims state lawmakers illegally limited minority voting influence by “packing” black voters into one majority-minority district and “cracking,” or spreading them out, among other districts. Louisiana’s U.S. House districts shrank from seven to six in 2011 because of slow population growth.

The Alabama suit claims the state’s 2011 map illegally “packs” black voters into its sole majority African-American district, now represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, and “cracks” voters among three other districts.

The lawsuit contends that Alabama’s black population is large enough, and geographically compact enough, to form a second majority-minority district.

State Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican who sponsored Alabama’s 2011 redistricting plan, said the map reflects the state’s population.

“I think their complaint is not grounded,” Dial said Wednesday.

The Georgia lawsuit claims lawmakers redrew the 12th congressional district to excise black voters in Savannah and add white voters from two counties, reducing the district’s black population of voting age from 41.5 percent to 33.3 percent.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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5 days ago

Birmingham folks come home with a handful of Tony Awards

(Photo/Courtesy Keith Cromwell)

The Best Revival of a Musical win for “Once on This Island” at Sunday night’s Tony Awards brought theater’s highest honor to a contingent from Red Mountain Theatre Company.

RMTC, its Executive Director Keith Cromwell and patrons Raymond and Kathryn Harbert all are Tony winners as producers of the award-winning musical.

“What an amazing feeling that it was almost 20 years ago when I was on that stage performing in the ‘Holiday Spectacular,’” Cromwell said. “What an amazing way to return to the great Radio City Music Hall, as part of the Tony Award-winning team that made ‘Once on This Island’ happen.”

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The recognition will help RMTC continue to fulfill its mission, Cromwell said.

Red Mountain Theatre Company is determined to use the transformational qualities of theater to further the momentum and renaissance of Birmingham,” he said. “The honor of winning a Tony Award for this beautiful production will allow us to more deeply engage, educate and enrich our amazing community.”

Kathryn Harbert, president of the theater’s board of directors, said she and her husband were “thrilled.”

“This will bring RMTC more recognition of the great work they do – and more closely connect them to the larger Broadway community,” she said.

“Once on This Island” was one of the night’s big winners, along with “The Band’s Visit” (Best Musical), “Angels in America” (Best Revival of a Play) and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” (Best Play).

Other Alabama actors had strong connections to a number of the awards:

–Lindsay Mendez won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Carrie Pipperidge in Broadway’s “Carousel.” Who steps in for Mendez when she’s away? Birmingham’s Scarlett Walker, who is in the ensemble every night and understudies the role of Carrie Pipperidge, which she has played several times since going on May 27 for the first time.
–He lost the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award to Ari’el Stachel of “The Band’s Visit,” but Norbert Leo Butz, as Alfred Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” performed on the awards show with the cast. Butz, a two-time Tony Award winner, got an early start at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where he graduated in the MFA program.
–His show didn’t win the big award, but Birmingham’s DeMarius Copes was right there on the Tony Award stage performing with the cast of “Mean Girls,” one of the nominees for Best Musical.
–Hoover’s Vasthy Mompoint also performed on stage, as part of the ensemble for another Best Musical nominee, “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 days ago

Auburn University research team discovers Zika-transmitting mosquito species in Alabama

(P. Smith)

Auburn University researchers have discovered the presence of Aedes aegypti — the primary mosquito that transmits Zika virus, yellow fever and other flaviviruses — in Alabama.

After a 26-year absence of the mosquito, Sarah Zohdy, Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Assistant Professor of Disease Ecology, and wildlife sciences undergraduate student Victoria Ashby have discovered the species in Mobile. Ae. aegypti was thought to have been eliminated from the state.

“Our CDC-funded research has not only allowed for the detection and molecular confirmation of the mosquito in the state, but over the last year we have documented the spread of the mosquito from central Mobile to all of Mobile County,” Zohdy said.

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The study was conducted from July 2016 to September 2017. Mosquitoes were collected twice a month from the grounds of various tire shops, gas stations, abandoned buildings and open containers quantified to estimate larval abundance. A total of 1,074 mosquitoes were collected, with Ae. aegypti being detected most commonly in the 36606 ZIP code of southwest Mobile, where there were more open containers than any other area in the city.

Since 1991, Ae. aegypti was thought to have been displaced in Alabama by another container-breeding mosquito, Ae. albopictus, because Ae. albopictus larvae are better competitors with resource-limited habitats and the males are capable of mating with Ae. aegypti and rendering the females sterile. Despite these advantages, Mobile is the ideal habitat for Ae. aegypti reintroduction or for remnant populations to persist because the city’s maritime traffic and its diverse mix of urban, suburban, rural and industrial environments allow the mosquito to find different habitats where it can either escape from Ae. albopictus or have the competitive upper hand.

The detection of Ae. aegypti confirms that Alabama residents could be at risk to contract several mosquito-transmitted diseases. “This work demonstrates that citizens of Alabama may be exposed to the mosquito vector of Zika, chikungunya and Dengue fever viruses,” Zohdy said.

Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Female mosquitoes become infected by ingesting microbes from a person’s blood while biting them and then passing those microbes to the next person’s blood stream. Once infected, the mosquito is then thought to remain infected and able to pass on the virus throughout the remainder of its life, about two to four weeks. During this period they may take three to four blood meals, biting up to four or five people during their lifespan. Ae. aegypti is particularly problematic because it will also bite during the day and is very adaptive to different environments.

Specific geographic areas of greatest risk are correlated to the existence of the Aedes species. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has developed estimated-range maps using models that predict potential geographic ranges where the Zika-transmitting mosquitoes would likely survive and reproduce based on local and historical records and suitable climate variables. According to the 2017 maps, the Zika-transmitting mosquito species are very likely to exist throughout the southeastern U.S. and as far west as California and as far north as Delaware.

Despite Alabama being an ideal habitat for mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, very little mosquito surveillance data has been collected from around the state. Zohdy said that because of its research efforts and the discovery of Ae. aegypti, her team is now working with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to the CDC, 449 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases were reported within the U.S. in 2017, with three reported in Alabama and two in Georgia. The majority of cases were instances of travelers contracting the disease from affected areas. Seven cases were acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission — two in Florida and five in Texas.

Zohdy’s team is conducting research in all 67 counties in Alabama to determine how widespread Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus are across the state.

In an effort to crowd-source mosquito surveillance data around the state, Zohdy’s research team has partnered with Prakash Lab at Stanford University to develop and implement an app called “Abuzz,” which will allow Alabama residents to record the sound of a mosquito flying. From this recording, the app can identify the species of mosquito and whether that species could potentially carry a disease by the sound of the buzzing of its wings.

Once deployed, the app can empower volunteer “citizen scientists” to participate in mosquito surveillance to help researchers increase the volume and locations of data collection. “Alabama has had little mosquito surveillance in the past, and we hope this app can change that to make it the best-sampled state in the nation,” Zohdy said.

Zohdy and her team also surveyed Mobile residents to gain insight about their perceptions of Zika virus and the best ways to target mosquito prevention. Of those responses, 70 percent reported a moderate to very high density of mosquitoes in their home and more than half of those surveyed said they feel concerned to extremely concerned that they or a family member might contract Zika virus.

“To help mitigate the threat of the Zika virus it is critical to understand local knowledge and behavioral factors related to exposure to the mosquitoes,” said Wayde Morse, an Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences associate professor of human dimensions, who participated in the research efforts.

The results of the research were published April 5 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, a scientific journal that historically publishes important information regarding mosquito surveillance. “Having this research published is a good way to reach people who study mosquitoes and other disease vectors,” Zohdy said.

Victoria Ashby, a sophomore studying wildlife sciences with a pre-veterinary medicine concentration, has worked with Zohdy’s research team for more than a year and leads fieldwork efforts. “My fieldwork has consisted of biweekly trips down to the Mobile Bay area in order to aspirate for adult mosquitoes and collect larvae using larval dip cups at 25 different sites in 12 ZIP codes,” she said.

After graduation, Ashby plans to attend graduate school to continue on the path of disease ecology research and later attend veterinary school. “I have a strong interest in veterinary epidemiology and public health and throughout my time so far at Auburn, my involvement in the disease ecology lab with Dr. Zohdy has really shaped my academic interests and ambitions,” she said.

Though Zika virus is primarily spread by infected Aedes species mosquitoes, the disease can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person or from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or at birth.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika, but the CDC recommends the best way to avoid contracting the disease is to protect yourself from mosquito bites by these tips.

–Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
–Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
–Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home by minimizing standing water in containers in and around the home.
–Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.
–Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. Always follow the product label instructions. When used as directed, these insect repellents are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Do not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
–Mosquito netting can be used to cover babies younger than 2 months old in carriers, strollers or cribs to protect them from mosquito bites.
–Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air-conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.
–Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex.

Report suspected illness or learn more about mosquito-borne disease prevention methods.

Read more about Zohdy’s research findings with the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Learn more about the Abuzz app.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 days ago

Alabama Sec. of State: ‘Why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?’

(John Merrill/Facebook)

In the 2015 Alabama Legislative Session, the Legislature passed legislation that required all county candidates and political action committees running for public office to file campaign finance reports with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office.

The 2015 legislation did not change the requirement for all state candidates to file with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. This 2015 filing process was to be accomplished through the electronic filing portal made available by the Secretary of State at this link.

This legislation gave candidates until the 2018 election cycle to become familiar with the law. Beginning with the 2018 election cycle, the Secretary of State’s Office was required to issue civil penalties to candidates who did not meet the campaign finance filing requirements. Those who received a civil penalty can either pay a civil fine or appeal to the Alabama Ethics Commission.

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The review and appeal process was put in place to allow for expungement in specific instances in which the Commission felt the candidate had extenuating circumstances which prevented them from meeting the standard deadline applied to all candidates for public office.

All committees, regardless if it is a candidate or Political Action Committee, are required to file yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, and major contribution reports to show Alabamians the source of all contributions, expenditures, and loans. The 2015 law required the Secretary of State to issue civil fines as listed below:

–1st Offense 10% of contributions or expenditures or $300 (whichever is less)
–2nd Offense 15% of contributions or expenditures or $600 (whichever is less)
–3rd Offense 20% of contributions or expenditures or $1,200 (whichever is less)
–4th Offense and all proceeding penalties are the same as the third offense but this activates our requirement to report the Candidate (PCC) or Political Action Committee (PAC) to the Attorney General and the District Attorney in the judicial circuit in which they reside.

When a committee files a report late, a comprehensive review process takes place to ensure that each penalty is legitimate and that the report in question is a required report for that candidate.

Step one involves one staff member of the Elections Division reviewing the late reports and preparing a file documenting the required reports and the violation number for the candidate or committee. That employee then delivers the penalty files to Clay Helms, the Assistant Elections Director and Supervisor of Voter Registration. Mr. Helms then reviews the files and corrects any errors before delivering the penalty files to John Bennett, Deputy Chief of Staff, who then reviews each penalty and checks the math on the amount of the civil fine. Once Mr. Bennett completes his review, he then delivers the penalty files to David Brewer, Chief of Staff, who then completes a final review. After Mr. Brewer’s review, he then delivers the penalty files to Brent Beal, Deputy Attorney General. Once signed, the letters are scanned and emailed to the email address on file for the PCC or PAC, and the original is mailed to the candidate via certified letter to ensure delivery.

This intensive review process ensures there is a system of checks and balances to protect candidates from unwarranted claims of impropriety.

As previously noted, a campaign committee can request an appeal if the committee believes extenuating circumstances caused them to not meet the deadline for filing their report. The appeal is reviewed by the Alabama Ethics Commission at their quarterly meetings.

The Ethics Commission held its first quarterly review of the fines against committees who had requested an appeal in December, and has held subsequent reviews in April and June. During each of those meetings the five member Ethics Commission voted to overturn all of the 54 requests for appeal that were submitted to the Commission for review for a total of 113 civil penalties. The fines were overturned based on concerns from the Commission that this law was a new law which campaigns could not be held responsible for accountability at this time.

The appeal process is in place for a candidate or committees first offense for which someone does not meet the standard as prescribed in state law. If they are a repeat offender, the law requires a monetary penalty be issued by the Secretary of State’s Office.

My question to members of the Ethics Commission, members of the media, and the people of Alabama is why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?

Further, the law was not established to function as an expensive, tax-payer funded, reminder to candidates who fail to timely file, but it was created to provide transparency on campaign contributions and expenses for all Alabamians to see and serve as a deterrent to candidates who wish to deceive voters by not providing evidence regarding the source of their campaign donations or expenditures.

Simply put, the Alabama Ethics Commission, like all other state agencies should follow the law, or ask the legislature to change it!

John Merrill is a Republican and the Secretary of State of Alabama

U.S. Rep. Byrne: Protecting a Gulf Coast tradition

(David Rainer)

Down here on the Gulf Coast, fishing is a way of life for many people. It is a tradition that spans generations and is one way we bond with our family and friends.

In fact, some of my fondest memories happened while casting a reel. I remember my father showing me how to bait a hook and teaching me about the patience of waiting for a bite. I enjoy carrying on that tradition with my kids.

Just in time to celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week, Alabama’s 2018 Red Snapper season officially opened on June 1st. The Red Snapper season is a real boon for our coastal communities, and the impact is felt all throughout Southwest Alabama. The economic impact flows to everything from gas stations to restaurants to hotels.

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Unfortunately, in seasons past, Alabama has felt the full force of Washington when it comes to regulating our recreational fishing. These regulations are based on junk science, yet have a huge impact on when we can and cannot fish.

Anyone who has been fishing in the Gulf over the last few years knows there are more than enough Red Snapper in our waters, and Washington’s methods of stock assessments are sorely out of touch with what is happening.

When it comes down to it, no one understands the needs of our fisheries better than those who cast a reel along the Gulf Coast. The federal bureaucrats in Washington have no business controlling our fisheries when those of us on the coast know what is best for our fishermen.

That’s why, earlier this year, I wrote to the National Marine Fisheries Service to advocate for Alabama’s application for an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP), which would allow the state to set our own season for the next two years.

I was pleased when this EFP was granted by the Department of Commerce on April 20, 2018, securing Alabama’s 47-day Snapper season for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Specifically, the 2018 Red Snapper season in Alabama will run from June 1 through September 3, with Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays open to fishing. The entire week of the Fourth of July (June 30 through July 8) will also be open for Red Snapper fishing.

You see, this is how government should work: take power from Washington and return it to the people who best understand the issue.

I am proud to have helped secure a lengthy Snapper season, which means our fishermen will have adequate time to enjoy a Gulf Coast tradition while our coastal communities will benefit from increased revenue. It is truly a win-win situation for coastal Alabama.

Of course, there were many people who had a hand in securing an adequate season for our fishermen. I thank Senator Richard Shelby for his support and his work to secure the language for the EFP in last year’s appropriations bill. I also appreciate the Gulf Council for their support of the exempted fishing permit pilot program and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship and our other Gulf Coast colleagues for working together to support our fishermen.

Ultimately, it was a total team effort to make this 47-day Snapper season a reality. This is a real victory for all our recreational fishermen as well as our coastal region.

As I have always said, this issue is about so much for than just our fishermen; the Red Snapper season impacts our entire costal community, and I look forward to a safe and fun season.

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

6 days ago

Hundreds unite in support of eastern indigo snakes in Alabama

(Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

Approximately 600 children and adults gathered in Conecuh National Forest to celebrate the reintroduction of the eastern indigo snake to its native habitat in south Alabama. The gathering marked the beginning of what organizers hope will become an annual event, the Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival.

The eastern indigo snake disappeared from the Alabama landscape in the 1950s. Today, it is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and the snake is a non-game protected species in the state.

The overwhelming support for the snake is likely a result of its preferred diet—other snakes, especially copperheads. In fact, the eastern indigo snake’s disappearance from south Alabama has corresponded with a sharp rise in copperhead sightings, and today, copperheads are responsible for more venomous snake bites in the Southeastern U.S. than any other snake.

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The Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival was hosted by organizations directly involved in reintroduction effort, namely the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, or ADCNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Auburn University Museum of Natural History’s Natural Heritage Program. The event raised awareness of the benefits of eastern indigo snakes and other forms of wildlife associated with the longleaf pine forest ecosystem.

The longleaf pine forest was once the most extensive forest system in North America, representing 90 million acres. Today the longleaf pine forest has been reduced to an estimated 2.7 million acres, including Conecuh National Forest.

“Conecuh is the only suitable site we have left in the state that will support indigo snakes,” said Traci Wood, habitat and species conservation coordinator for the ADCNR and festival coordinator. “We wouldn’t have anywhere to put them if it weren’t for our partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and their excellent management of Conecuh National Forest.”

As the longleaf pine forest has dwindled, so too has the wildlife that depends on the forest for survival. Currently, there are 34 species associated with longleaf pine forests that are threatened or endangered, including the eastern indigo snake.

“The loss of longleaf pine habitat, along with a loss of controlled burns, has really resulted in a snowball effect of species loss,” said Wood, who also administers the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project. “We hope that by getting children involved in the Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival, they will learn about the importance of protecting our state’s wildlife and carry that lesson with them into adulthood. The festival provided the children with hands-on science activities, which got them excited about conservation.”

A Bullock County community group, “CAMO Kids,” was among those present at the festival. “CAMO” is an abbreviation for “Children and Mentors Outdoors,” and the founder, Don Larkins, is the Bullock County District 1 commissioner. He and his wife, Tracy Larkins, manage the organization as a means of introducing local youth to the outdoors with an emphasis on community service and conservation.

“We are always looking for educational opportunities for the kids,” said Tracy Larkins, “and we had an amazing time at the Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival. It was very educational and the hands-on learning opportunities were invaluable. The kids really, really enjoyed it, which is great. Opportunities to spark excitement for science and an appreciation for the outdoors are invaluable. We hope the excitement guides the kids to choose a science-related career path.”

The festival featured interactive booths where participants could touch and hold live animals like the indigo snake and gopher tortoise, learn about black bears and birds, identify animal skulls, explore the longleaf pine ecosystem, and more.

“The festival was remarkable,” said Joe Dobbs, chairman of the ADCNR Conservation Advisory Board. “All of the exhibits, the opportunities for the children to be hands-on participants and see several varieties of the animals, to make them part of the conservation process, was very special. Given the right opportunities, like the Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival, kids get very engaged. And when they are engaged at that level and at a young age, it takes a lot to get them disengaged. Good stewardship of our resources, an appreciation of the beauty and how important our natural resources are to the state, proper conservation management, and participation in outdoor activities are all tantamount to the future of our state.”

Alabama sets the standard for conservation projects

The Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival marked the halfway point of the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project that began in 2009 and is funded primarily by a Wildlife Grant from the ADCNR through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The goal of the reintroduction project is to release 300 snakes in Conecuh National Forest, which is the estimated number necessary to reestablish a strong breeding population. To date, the reintroduction team has released 157 snakes, including 20 snakes that were released just prior to the start of the Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival.

The eastern indigo snake disappeared from the state due to a variety of factors, including loss and degradation of their natural habitat, over collection associated with the pet trade, excessive mortality from automobiles, and gassing of their winter refuges to catch rattlesnakes.

“The disappearance of the eastern indigo snake had to do with humans,” said James Godwin, zoologist with Auburn University’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program and coordinator of the indigo snake reintroduction effort. “Humans changed the landscape, altered the longleaf forest, so humans are the ones who have caused the loss of the indigo snake in south Alabama. But humans are going to be the mechanism by which we bring the snake back.”

Reintroduction of the eastern indigo is part of a larger conservation effort to reestablish the longleaf pine forest in the  southernmost part of the state of Alabama.

“In the Conecuh National Forest, our mission is to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem, and the indigo snake is an important piece of that ecosystem that’s been missing for the last several decades,” said Tim Mersmann, Conecuh National Forest district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service.

The eastern indigo is the longest native snake in North America and may reach a size of 8.5 feet and a weight of 11 pounds for males, and 6.5 feet and 6.5 pounds for females. A non-venomous, docile snake, the eastern indigo gets its name from its lustrous, glossy, iridescent blue-black coloring of the head and body.

“I have held snakes before but never such a large and powerful snake as those eastern indigos,” said Dobbs, who participated in the release. “And even though the snakes were raised in captivity, they instinctively knew exactly what to do and where to go when you let them go—straight to the gopher tortoise burrows, because that’s where they live, where they take shelter. It was quite a moving experience. It increased my already high level of appreciation for the diversity of the wildlife in Alabama.”

The snakes were bred, hatched and reared until they were 2 years old at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation at the Central Florida Zoo. Rearing and breeding large snakes like eastern indigos is challenging due to a number of factors such as maintaining enough adult snakes for breeding, pinpointing the most effective methods for breeding, successfully incubating the eggs, and locating the financial resources necessary to support the snakes while in captivity.

Disease is also a common problem for indigo snakes, and each snake is tested for cryptosporidiosis, an internal parasite that is on the rise and deadly for some snake populations, before being released into the wild.

Thus far, a combination of resources and expertise have allowed for success in captive rearing and breeding of eastern indigos, and the effort continues to grow.

“With the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project, we have established a model of what a conservation project should look like and how successful it can be when you build partnerships,” said Wood. “In 2009 when the project was initially funded, we never would have imagined being where we are today. Of course, we still have a long way to go, but because of the efforts and resources that so many have dedicated to this project, other states and agencies are looking to us as a model of a successful conservation program. Alabama is a leader in this area, and we are conducting some cutting-edge research along the way.”

The institutions and organizations involved in Alabama’s Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project include the ADCNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Auburn University, Central Florida Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and the Welaka National Fish Hatchery.

“Every day, people are behind the scenes managing our natural resources, and I appreciate that projects like these take a lot of
energy and effort,” said Dobbs. “The time investment of all those involved in the conservation of the eastern indigo snake in Alabama is inspiring. They aren’t just saving a snake from extinction. They are preserving a piece of our natural heritage for future generations.”

Candis Birchfield is a freelance writer from Lake Martin, Alabama.

1 week ago

Alabama officials welcome Airbus-Bombardier partnership plan

(Made in Alabama)

Alabama officials last week congratulated Airbus and Bombardier on making significant progress toward the completion of a partnership deal that could see the companies establish a new assembly line for Bombardier’s C Series passenger jets at Airbus’ Mobile facility.

Aerospace giant Airbus and Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier Friday morning said they have received all necessary regulatory approvals for a transaction that will give Airbus majority ownership in the C Series partnership. The deal is expected to close July 1.

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In the announcement, the companies said increased demand for C Series aircraft is expected to support the creation of a second assembly line at the Airbus facility in Mobile. That echoes earlier statements from company executives about plans for a possible new Alabama assembly line.

Governor Kay Ivey said Alabama is ready to support the plans to expand aircraft production at Airbus’ manufacturing center in Mobile.

“The alliance between these two great aircraft manufacturers and the future production of C Series passenger jets in Mobile underscore the strength of Alabama’s aerospace industry and our skilled workforce,” Governor Ivey said.

“Alabamians take pride in their work, and we look forward to adding the C Series aircraft to the world-class products that are made with care in Sweet Home Alabama.”

ACCELERATING GROWTH

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the completion of the C Series partnership has the potential to turn Mobile into a major global production center for aircraft.

“These plans represent a powerful testament to the partnership between Airbus and its U.S industrial home in Alabama,” Secretary Canfield added. “This development is a win-win for Airbus and Bombardier, and it will accelerate growth in Alabama’s high-flying aerospace sector.”

Airbus launched production of A320 Family aircraft at the Mobile manufacturing facility in 2015. The $600 million complex now produces four aircraft a month and employs more than 400 people.

“All of us at Airbus are excited to welcome the employees of the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership into the extended Airbus team, and to welcome the C Series aircraft to Airbus’ product offerings beginning July 1. It will also be exciting to see us grow further in Mobile,” said Kristi Tucker, spokesperson for Airbus.

Officials at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce also cheered the news.

“Additional capacity has always been a goal of our economic development team,” said David Rodgers, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber. “Since the initial Airbus FAL (final assembly line) opened in 2015, more than 20 aerospace companies have located to Mobile. We’re looking forward to continuing to see additional investment here, as we work to grow our aerospace cluster.”

The Airbus-Bombardier alliance was originally announced in October 2017.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 week ago

UAB study explains one reason hair can turn gray

(UAB)

Hair’s graying can be caused by activation of the innate immune system, according to a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The article, published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, highlights the negative effects of innate immune activation on hair pigmentation cells, called melanocytes, suggesting a connection between viral infection and hair’s graying.

“Our research looks primarily at how stem cells are affected by age,” said Melissa Harris, Ph.D., corresponding author and assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology. “Using current genomic tools, we are able to look at the whole genome to gain a better understanding of which genes are expressed and when, and this allows us to better address the question of why we age the way we do. Hair-graying and melanocyte stem cells make up the models we use to study this process.”

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Hair pigmentation over the course of a lifetime is dependent on the presence of melanocyte stem cells that reside in the hair follicle. As old hairs fall out and new hairs grow in, melanocyte stem cells serve as a reservoir for the melanocytes that produce the pigment that give hair its visible color. The loss of these stem cells leads to the growth of nonpigmented, or gray, hairs.

“Evaluating mouse models of hair-graying using genomic tools can reveal key aspects of melanocyte stem cell biology,” Harris said. “Using this approach, we discovered a novel role for the melanogenesis-associated transcription factor, or MITF, in repressing the expression of innate immune genes within cells of the melanocyte lineage in mice.”

The importance of this repression is revealed in animals that have a predisposition for hair-graying. In these animals, artificial elevation of the innate immune response either through a genetic mechanism or via exposure to a virus mimics results in significant melanocyte and melanocyte stem cell loss and leads to the production of an increased number of gray hairs.

When a virus attacks the immune system, infected cells respond by producing interferons. Interferons signal to neighboring cells, telling them to protect themselves. In the study completed by Harris and colleagues, it is clear that, while these signals are normally good, in excess they can also lead to the loss of melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, stopping the production of hair pigmentation. It is unknown whether these observations in mice will extend to humans, but Harris speculates that this may explain why some individuals acquire gray hair early in life.

“Perhaps, in an individual who is healthy yet predisposed for gray hair, getting an everyday viral infection is just enough to cause the decline of their melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, leading to premature gray hair,” Harris said. She further explains that gray hair itself is not a definitive indication of infection, and that at least in mice, there are many ways in which gray hair can be induced. This study highlights just one mechanism that helps us better understand biological contributions to the visible signs of aging.

Harris’ research team and co-authors on the paper include Joseph Palmer, a graduate student in the UAB Department of Biology, and Autumne Lee, an undergraduate student in the UAB Department of Biology.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

UAB ranked No. 1 young university in the U.S.

(UAB)

The University of Alabama at Birmingham[uab.edu] has been ranked the top young university in the United States and No. 10 worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2018 Young University Rankings.

Times Higher Education’s university rankings are among the world’s most comprehensive, balanced and trusted — a vital resource trusted by academics, students, their families, industry and governments globally.

“This prestigious recognition directly reflects the dedication and hard work that our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters have contributed to build tremendous, growing momentum in every pillar of our mission in less than 50 short years,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “I celebrate and share this tremendous honor with everyone in the UAB community, as well as with those who came before us and built the strong foundation from which we continue to effect positive, global change.”

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The full rankings are available online [timeshighereducation.com].

Times Higher Education ranked 250 institutions from 55 countries in this year’s Young University Rankings, which explores the same rigorous 13 performance indicators as the overall Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings — with young universities measured across their teaching, research, citations, international outlooks and industry incomes. However, the methodology has been carefully recalibrated, with less emphasis on reputation since younger universities are still building their reputations. Times Higher Education defines a young university as aged 50 years or under.

UAB, which spans more than 100 city blocks — roughly a quarter of downtown Birmingham — will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019. With nearly 21,000 students and more than 23,000 faculty and staff, UAB has become the largest single employer in Alabama, with an annual statewide economic impact exceeding $7.15 billion. It boasts many nationally ranked programs, including 13 graduate programs ranked in the top 25, according to U.S. News & World Report.

With annual research spending exceeding $562 million, UAB continues to create new knowledge and solve critical worldwide issues as a leader in federal research funding — ranking 23rd (top 4 percent) nationally and eighth (top 2 percent) among public institutions in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

UAB Hospital, the centerpiece of the UAB Health System, is among the 20 largest hospitals in the United States. UAB Hospital’s American College of Surgeons Verified Level 1 Adult Trauma Center is the only one of its kind in Alabama and sees more than a million patient visits a year. The U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals report listed 10 of UAB’s medical specialties in the nation’s top 50 programs of their kind, and UAB has the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Alabama and a five-state region.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Black bears on the move in Alabama

(P. Hill/Auburn University)

When the photo popped up on my smartphone, I wasn’t sure what it was. Something was swimming in the south end of Mobile Bay, and I facetiously asked, “Killer whale?”

The reply came back, “Black bear.” I expanded the photo, and, yep, there was a telltale round, black ear. I knew this photo, taken by inshore fishing guide Patrick Hill, would go viral.

However, as rare as this sighting may be, this is not the first time it’s happened. About 20 or so years ago, a black bear swam the south end of Mobile Bay, hung out on the Eastern Shore a little while, and swam back to where he came from, probably headed toward a population of black bears in the Grand Bay area.

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Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Large Carnivore Coordinator Thomas Harms was not really surprised that a black bear took a shortcut recently, headed west from the Fort Morgan area.

“We have bear pictures from Orange Beach and Fort Morgan and the Weeks Bay area,” Harms said. “I think there is a corridor there. These bears sometimes just make a big loop.

“Bears are excellent swimmers. It was probably just a young male on the move.”

If anyone should see a bear, Harms said the main course of action is to remain calm and let the bear leave the area.

“There’s no need to freak out if you see a bear,” he said. “It’s kind of like my father taught me about chainsaws. He said don’t be scared of them but respect them. It’s the same thing with animals. If you’re scared of it, just like chainsaws, it has the potential to hurt you. With a bear, don’t fear it. When you see one, give it space and let it go away on its own.

“We’ve never had a bear attack in Alabama. It’s even rare in the states where the population densities of bears are much higher. Just give them space, and let them know you’re there. They don’t see very well and don’t hear very well. Say whatever you want to, just be loud and let them know you’re there. They will typically turn around and leave.”

Harms said the black bear males in Alabama can reach weights of 250-300 pounds and live to be 15-20 years old. Females usually weigh 150-200 pounds. Harms said the likely adult population of bears for the entire state is estimated at 300-400 animals. The population in northeast Alabama has a Georgia ancestry, while the southwest population has Florida roots.

He said a new small population has popped up in Conecuh National Forest in Escambia County.

“I’ve got pictures of a sow with cubs in Conecuh National Forest,” Harms said. “If you have a sow with cubs, you know you have a viable population of bears living there.”

Harms said the annual cycle for black bears starts in February when the sows drop their cubs. In April and May, the males start expanding their home range first, followed by the females with the yearling cubs. The year-old females will settle on the fringes of the mother’s home range, but the yearling males are run completely out of the area, which is when the bulk of the human contact occurs.

“These young males get pushed out by their mothers, and then they get pushed even farther by the adult males,” Harms said. “These males are young and dumb. If they detect a dominant male, usually by smell, they’ll keep moving until they find a place where they don’t detect any other males. These are typically the ones that get turned around and into the suburbs and cities.

“The bulk of the calls we get this time of year is these young males passing through people’s yards in downtown Birmingham. It happens every year. We had one in downtown Daphne. One went from Georgia, through Alabama, all the way to Mississippi. That bear may stay there, but it could turn around and come back.”

Right now, June and July is the breeding season for Alabama bears, which means the adult males will be on the move.

“The large adult males are looking around for receptive females this time of year,” Harms said. “June and July is when the adult males are moving the most. The home range for an adult male can be up to 59 square miles, depending on the habitat. For females, the home range is about 20 square miles.

“Habitat in the southwest part of the state is a lot better, which makes the home range smaller than in northeast Alabama. It’s just the type of habitat. You go from mountainous habitat in the northeast to bottomlands in the southwest with tons of fruits, berries and vegetation. The bears live in the bottomlands and use them for corridors. They go to the uplands to eat. But they’re never too far from water. In the southwest, they don’t have to go too far to the next drainage. In the northeast, they may have to cross a mountain. They have to go much longer distances to get the same benefits.”

Harms said the bears in Alabama have a 94-percent vegetarian diet. Because Alabama does not have harsh winters, the bears can thrive with much less protein in the diet. He said bears are opportunistic meat eaters if they stumble onto a whitetail fawn or surprise a rabbit.

“Bears can’t chase down a rabbit, and once a fawn is able to get up and run, the bear can’t chase it down,” he said. “Bears can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, but only for very short distances. They are not very good predators. They will take advantage of any dead animals they come across, sometimes called carrion. Deer that succumb to the rigors of winter and the rut often become the main course for a lucky bear.”

Harms said bears in Alabama don’t really hibernate. During the few cold days of winter, he said bears will do like humans and stay inside, sleeping in their dens until the weather warms up again. The bears have put on the fat for the winter and rarely travel far from the den area until spring.

In areas where known bear ranges are adjacent to suburban subdivisions, Harms said homeowners need to make sure they don’t entice the bears to venture onto their property.

“In some of these subdivisions, people like to put up feeders so they can watch wildlife, like deer,” he said. “But there is a danger of bringing a bear near your house. You need to make sure that feeder is a few hundred yards away from the house. Make sure the bears can’t get to dog food or anything like that. If a bear constantly comes close to a house, it’s going to lose that fear of humans. Most bear attacks happen with bears that have lost their fear of humans. We need to avoid that.”

In instances when it’s not practical to keep food sources from the bears, Harms suggests using hot-wire fencing to deter the bears. Dogs bred to be guard dogs can also help keep bears at bay.

“But, you don’t want a dog that will chase the bear,” Harms said. “The dog will eventually catch up with the bear and may end up getting hurt when the bear turns around to defend itself.”

Harms said there is a common myth a bear will stand on its hind legs before attacking.

“The only reason bears get on their hind legs is to get their noses high in the air so they can smell you,” he said.

Harms said anyone with an interest in black bears can visit this link. The website is supported by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is a member of SEAFWA.

“The Bearwise website is a very good resource,” Harms said. “Any questions you have about black bears will be answered on that website.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 week ago

Andrew Zimmern: Birmingham the ‘hottest small food city in America right now’

(E. Harney/Alabama NewsCenter)

Andrew Zimmern knows about eating. And at this moment in America, he says Birmingham’s the place to do it.

“I think if you’re not eating in Birmingham these days, you’re missing out on something really unique and special,” the noted chef and TV food personality said in an exclusive interview with Alabama NewsCenter. “I think Birmingham has solidified itself as the hottest small food city in America right now.”

Zimmern spoke to Alabama NewsCenter after strolling the food and vegetable stalls at Pepper Place with local chef Frank Stitt, whose Highlands Bar & Grill was named the outstanding restaurant in America last month by the James Beard Foundation. Not only that – the same night, the Beard Foundation named Highlands’ Dolester Miles the nation’s outstanding pastry chef. Last week, Miles was featured in a full-page spread in The New York Times. Another of this year’s Beard winners – South Carolina barbecue pitmaster Rodney Scott, best chef Southeast – has announced plans to open a restaurant in downtown Birmingham.

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Highlands was a finalist for 10 years running, which Zimmern said is far more significant than the restaurant ultimately taking home the top prize.

“I think to be nominated is its own reward. Because when you’re nominated for restaurant of the year, in America, and there’s four or five other nominees, that’s amazing,” Zimmern said.

“The way I look at it is the inverse: Frank and Pardis were nominated umpteen times for that award,” he said, recognizing the team of Stitt and his wife, Pardis, who manages the operation. “That says more than the people who were nominated once or twice. To be that relevant for so many years, everyone knew – at least I knew – that eventually they were going to win that thing.”

Zimmern admitted he’s become “kinda addicted” to Birmingham. It was his third trip to the city to tape episodes for his TV empire. But this time he made the most of it, taping for two separate shows – The Zimmern List, broadcast on the Travel Channel, and a yet-to-be-named show coming this fall to the Food Network. It will focus on food entrepreneurs aspiring for culinary greatness. Three Alabama enterprises were interviewed in Birmingham for the new show: Chubbfathers, which has a food truck as well as a bricks-and-mortar place in Alabaster; Granny’s Fish ‘N Grits, a food truck usually found near Birmingham Daiquiris on Ninth Street North at Third Avenue North, and Highway Kabobery, a Huntsville-based food truck. It’s the first time Zimmern has filmed two shows for two separate networks at the same time in one city.

Zimmern was downright gushy about Birmingham and the hospitality it shows every time he’s in town. He went so far as to proclaim that the people of Birmingham are on par – possibly even nicer – than folks in his hometown of Minneapolis, who are known for their welcoming ways.

He tweeted his affection for the Magic City: “I’m on the road, 230 days a year at minimum, 40/50 cities in USA. I never get as nice a welcome as I do in Birmingham. People stop their cars, pause on the street or use social and actually say ‘nice to have you back.’ It’s amazing. Love the B’ham people! Thank you for the love.”

Nor did Zimmern temper his deep affection for the Stitts, longtime friends whose restaurants have spawned numerous chefs who have launched their own restaurants in Birmingham, and beyond.

“Birmingham is extremely blessed to have someone who is as talented as Frank. But more importantly, who is as inclusive, gracious and as civic-minded as Frank is.

“Frank is a great chef. Pardis is an incredible businesswoman and hostess. But they’re better people,’’ Zimmern said.

“I think when you look at the history of restaurants in America, 50 years from now, Highlands is going to be written about. It’s 35 years old, and it’s better now than it’s ever been. I mean, how many restaurants can say that?”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Alabama wins Silver Shovel Award for economic development

(Hal Yeager/Governor's Office)

Area Development, a national publication, has selected Alabama for its Silver Shovel Award, a top honor recognizing the state’s economic development successes in 2017.

In announcing the award, Area Development singled out several large-scale projects, including Mercedes-Benz’s plans to build a Global Logistics Center in Bibb County and Blue Origin’s project to assemble rocket engines at a new facility in Huntsville.

“It was a good year for manufacturing in Silver Shovel recipient Alabama, with major investments in a diverse collection of projects, most of them brand-new. Additional jobs are driving in by way of logistics and distribution,” the publication says.

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Area Development’s Gold and Silver Shovel Awards recognize the overall economic development effectiveness of state economic development efforts.

Alabama has won one of the awards each year since 2006, when it won a Gold Shovel. It won another Gold in 2012 and Silver awards in other years, including one for 2016.

“The business world has discovered that Alabama is one of the most attractive locations in the U.S. to make new investments, and this Silver Shovel award confirms that,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“I will continue to work to position Alabama for economic growth that creates jobs and opportunities for our hard-working citizens.”

Area Development noted that Alabama landed a raft of major projects in 2017:

International Paper is investing $552.7 million at its Selma facility
Aerojet Rocketdyne is bringing 800 jobs and a new manufacturing facility to Huntsville
James Hardie Building Products is opening a $220 million production center in Prattville with 205 jobs
Autocar is investing $120 million in a new heavy truck assembly facility in Jefferson County with more than 700 jobs

“More manufacturing projects reflect growth in the food and poultry, aluminum, paper, and fiber cement industries, and Walmart has promised delivery of 550 distribution jobs” in Mobile County, Area development writes.

EXECUTING STATEGY

The state’s 2017 economic development results are outlined in the Alabama Department of Commerce’s “New & Expanding Industry Report,” released earlier this year. The report provides a detailed look at nearly 400 projects recorded in the state during another solid year of business recruitment and support.

“The mission of Alabama’s economic development team is to facilitate the creation of high-caliber jobs in strategic industry sectors that will flourish in the future,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Winning a Silver Shovel Award for the fifth consecutive year is another affirmation that our team is consistently executing our strategy and achieving positive results.”

Since 2012, economic development activity in Alabama has attracted nearly $29 billion in investment and more than 105,000 jobs, according to Commerce figures. Exact totals for 2017 were $4.4 billion in new capital investment and 15,465 anticipated jobs.

Alabama joined Utah and Louisiana in claiming a Silver Shovel award given to states with populations between 3 million and 5 million residents.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 week ago

Beware, Alabama Republicans: Low Dem primary turnout doesn’t necessarily mean large-margin November wins

(W.Miller/YHN)

Now that the dust has settled and we’ve weeded out some of the pretenders from the contenders, things look pretty good for Alabama Republicans.

Despite a gubernatorial primary that wasn’t all that competitive, incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey’s decisive win Tuesday makes her seem nearly impossible to beat. If the three Republicans aggressively canvassing the state of Alabama couldn’t land a meaningful punch on Ivey, then how could a Democrat in overwhelmingly Republican Alabama be expected to do so?

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, the Democratic Party nominee, also avoided a runoff Tuesday night. He dispatched former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, a well-known, long-established entity in Alabama’s Democratic Party, without a runoff Tuesday.

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But he failed to even come close in the vote tally. Ivey finished with 330,743 votes – more than the 283,081 votes garnered by Democrats, including Maddox’s 154,889, combined.

On Wednesday morning, that was one of the big talking points from Republicans and right-leaning pundits in Alabama being used to dismiss the prospects of Walt Maddox being Alabama’s next governor.

There’s no question Maddox is a long-shot. Even with the enthusiasm of Doug Jones’ 2017 win in the rear-view mirror, it is hard to see “blue lightning” striking twice in the Yellowhammer State.

However, don’t assume Tuesday’s tallies indicate Ivey will win by the same margin reflected in those tallies.

First of all, in Alabama, given most of the action is on the Republican side of the ticket, a lot of Democrats participate in the Republican primary. Much like the top of the ballot, the down-ballot races, where a lot of local policy is determined, the winner of the GOP primary is the sure thing in November. Therefore, the numbers in a Republican primary versus the number of voters in a Democratic primary isn’t necessarily indicative of the Republican-Democratic voter ratio in November.

Second, some Democrats tend to only participate in general elections. Liberal voters that would cast a ballot for a Democrat tend to be younger. Younger voters don’t participate in these preliminary elections. In the 2014 midterm election cycle, Alabama voter turnout in the primary was 21 percent. Later that year in the general election, it was 41 percent.

In the 2014 primary, GOP nominee then-Gov. Robert Bentley earned 388,247 votes and Democratic nominee former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith 115,433 votes. Based solely on that, Bentley should have defeated Griffith by a 77-23 percentage margin.

But he didn’t. It was a little closer, a 64-36 percentage margin.

Even the biggest Republican cheerleader would have to admit that Walt Maddox is a more formidable opponent than Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat Parker Griffith.

Third, this is a midterm following a presidential election. Historically, the party in power, in this case the Republican Party, has struggled after a presidential election.

Trump is trending in a direction that defies this historical norm, but don’t discount that norm. The “blue wave” Democrats have been anticipating for the last two years might not be a tsunami. But you can’t entirely dismiss it.

Democrats may have peaked too early. They went very hard and very negative immediately after Trump’s inauguration and left very little in the tank for the midterms.

But don’t underestimate that Democratic Party enthusiasm, especially compared to current Republican Party enthusiasm.

Finally, there seems to be a moderation underway in suburbs of Alabama’s metropolitan areas. The 2017 special election showed us that given the right circumstances in places like Homewood, Fairhope, Auburn, and Tuscaloosa, dispirited Republican voters could be persuaded to go beyond just sitting out an election. They could be convinced to go the polling precinct and mark a ballot for a Democrat.

Furthermore, the explosion of growth in Lee and Tuscaloosa Counties due to the expansion of higher education in America has made those traditionally reliable GOP-voting counties less reliable.

Consider this: Look to the east in Georgia and what is happening.

Georgia is still for the most part a Republican state. But the growth of Atlanta has made it where the GOP can’t take things for granted. As Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile grow, there could be a similar phenomenon underway in Alabama. That’s not to say a shift in Alabama’s voting trends will happen overnight, but it could be a long-term issue, and the GOP should make sure it is getting ahead of that trend.

In the 2017 special election primary for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat, 423,282 ballots were cast for 10 candidates on the Republican side, and 165,006 ballots were cast for the eight candidates on the Democratic side.

One might have looked at those tallies and wondered where Democrats, even in a best-case scenario, could muster up enough votes to come close to competing with the eventual GOP nominee. But they did, and they won.

Kay Ivey certainly isn’t Roy Moore. However, beware of assuming one can extrapolate from Tuesday results what will happen in November.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

1 week ago

Alabama appeals order to make execution information public

(Wikicommons)

Alabama is appealing a federal judge’s order to make the state’s lethal injection procedures public and to unseal other court records about an aborted execution in the state.

Chief District Judge Karon O. Bowdre on Thursday stayed her order to make the protocol and sealed hearing transcripts public as the Department of Corrections appeals.

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Bowdre had last week ordered the records unsealed, saying the public has a “great interest in understanding how the state carries out its punishment.”

Lawyers for the state are appealing to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the state has an interest in keeping the information private.

Media outlets had sought the information after a lethal injection was halted when the execution team had difficulty connecting the intravenous line to an ill inmate.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 weeks ago

Australian manufacturer EOS selects Alabama for flagship U.S. facility

(Made in Alabama)

Electro Optic Systems (EOS), a Australian defense contractor specializing in remotely controlled weapon systems, announced plans Wednesday to locate its flagship U.S. manufacturing facility in technology-focused Huntsville, creating as many as 100 jobs in the first year.

EOS executives joined Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and local leaders for the announcement this morning at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

“EOS is very happy to have the opportunity to formally join the Huntsville community,” said Phil Coker, the company’s U.S. president. “Northern Alabama is an area of incredible people, outstanding institutions and immense potential and we are thrilled to have the chance to establish a business in this area.”

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EOS Defence System’s primary products are a family of Remote Weapon Stations, or RWS. In response to growing demand for these systems, the Hume, Australia-based company decided to expand RWS production to the United States.It is now outfitting a state-of-the-art production facility on Wall Triana Highway in Huntsville. The initial investment in the project is $2.5 million, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“EOS’ decision to locate its new manufacturing center in Alabama is a reflection of the state’s attractive business climate and its skilled workers, who prove their capabilities each and every day,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.

“Huntsville will make a great home for the company because Alabama’s ‘Rocket City’ offers every advantage a business needs to succeed.”

GROWTH PLANS

While the company plans to hire up to 100 full-time workers in the first year, it said it plans to expand the Alabama facility’s workforce to more than 200 employees with additional contracts.

Bob Greene, a group co-CEO and a founder of the EOS, said at the event today that the Huntsville facility will supply global customers and the U.S. military with the systems manufactured in Alabama.

Grant Sanderson, CEO of EOS’ Defence Systems Group, said Huntsville was selected over cities in Tucson and the Dallas Fort Worth area for the facility.

“This is the right city for us, it’s the right place, it’s the right time,” he said at the announcement.

EOS has produced weapon system technology for more than 25 years. Its products incorporate advanced electro-optic applications based on EOS core technologies in software, lasers, electronics, gimbals, precision mechanisms and more. The company is a leader in the development and production of robotic or remotely controlled weapons systems.

“Huntsville serves as a critical hub for high-tech defense work, and that makes the city a smart choice for EOS as it develops a flagship U.S. manufacturing facility,” said Canfield, who has headed the Alabama Department of Commerce since 2011.

“We look forward to building a strong partnership with the company and seeing it grow both its business and its workforce in coming years.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said EOS, whose facility will have an annual payroll of $5.7 million once its workforce numbers 100, is a great addition to the city’s roster of high-tech and defense companies.

“The important thing to this community is that they are bringing in technology that is a springboard to our future,” he said.

With EOS joining shipbuilder Austal in Mobile, Alabama is now home to Australia’s two largest defense contractors.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 weeks ago

A lot of Alabama candidates headed to ‘Buck’s Pocket’

(AL State Parks)

You voted Tuesday on a crowded ballot.

Historically, in Alabama we have voted more heavily in our Governor’s race year than in a presidential year. That is probably because we were more interested in the local sheriff and probate judge’s races, which run in a gubernatorial year, than who is president. The old adage, “all politics is local,” definitely applies here in Alabama.

We not only have a governor’s race this year, we have all secondary statewide offices with a good many of them open including Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Auditor, and two seats on the Public Service Commission. We have five seats on the State Supreme Court, one being Chief Justice. All 140 seats in the Legislature are up for a four-year term. These 35 state Senate seats and 105 House contests are where most of the special interest PAC money will go. And, yes, we have 67 sheriffs and 68 probate judges as well as a lot of circuit judgeships on the ballot.

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You may think the campaigning is over. However, some of the above races have resulted in a runoff which will be held on July 17. So get ready, we have six more weeks of campaigning before all the horses are settled on for the sprint in November.

We have a lot of folks headed to Buck’s Pocket. Last year after the open Senate seat contest, a young TV reporter for one of the stations I do commentary for asked me about Roy Moore and his loss. I told her ole Moore had gotten on his horse, Sassy, and ridden off into the sunset to Buck’s Pocket, which by the way wasn’t a long ride from his home in Gallant in Etowah County. She looked at me with a puzzled look. Probably a lot of you are also wondering what I’m talking about when I refer to Buck’s Pocket.

For decades, losing political candidates in Alabama have been exiled to Buck’s Pocket. It is uncertain when or how the colloquialism began, but political insiders have used this terminology for at least 60 years. Alabama author, Winston Groom, wrote a colorful allegorical novel about Alabama politics and he referred to a defeated gubernatorial candidate having to go to Buck’s Pocket. Most observers credit Big Jim Folsom with creating the term. He would refer to the pilgrimage and ultimate arrival of his opponents to the political purgatory reserved for losing gubernatorial candidates.

This brings me to another contention surrounding Buck’s Pocket. Many argue that Buck’s Pocket is reserved for losing candidates in the governor’s race. Others say Buck’s Pocket is the proverbial graveyard for all losing candidates in Alabama.

One thing that all insiders agree on is that once you are sent to Buck’s pocket you eat poke salad for every meal. Groom also suggested that you were relegated to this mythical rural resting place forever. However, history has proven that a good many defeated Alabama politicians have risen from the grave and left Buck’s Pocket to live another day. Roy Moore may be a good example. He has risen from the grave before. He is only 70 and he may grow weary of eating poke salad.

Most folks don’t know that there really is a Buck’s Pocket. Big Jim would campaign extensively in rural North Alabama often one on one on county roads. One day while stumping in the remote Sand Mountain area of DeKalb County he  wound up in an area referred to as Buck’s Pocket. It was a beautiful and pristine area, but it was sure enough back in the woods. Big Jim who loved the country and loved country folks was said to say that, “I love the country but I sure wouldn’t want to be sent to Buck’s Pocket to live.”

Buck’s pocket is now not a mythical place. If you are traveling up the interstate past Gadsden, on the way to Chattanooga, you will see it. There is a Buck’s Pocket State Park in DeKalb County, thanks to Big Jim.

So the next time you hear an old timer refer to a defeated candidate as going to Buck’s Pocket, you will know what they are talking about.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

2 weeks ago

Alabama bioscience delegation targets connections at BIO convention

(Made in Alabama)

A high-level delegation from Alabama’s bioscience industry is attending this week’s BIO International Convention, the world’s largest biotechnology conference, to make connections and build relationships that could blossom into new collaborations or investment partnerships.

The Alabama delegation at BIO in Boston includes representatives from 10 different bioscience-focused companies, university officials, and leaders from major research organizations based in the state. The group numbers more than two dozen officials.

The convention, which begins Monday and runs through Thursday, is expected to attract more than 16,000 industry officials from more than 70 countries. The event features one-on-one partnering meetings, networking receptions, and company presentations.

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Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the state’s robust presence at BIO makes a statement about the sector’s capabilities.
“Alabama’s bioscience industry is a vital economic engine for our state, powered by promising companies and world-class research institutions making breakthrough discoveries in their labs,” Secretary Canfield said.

“The innovative work being conducted in Alabama positions our bio sector for sustained growth in the future.”

Alabama’s bioscience industry has a $7.3 billion annual economic impact and supports around 48,000 jobs across the state, according to an analysis released in May by the BioAlabama trade group.

‘RELATIONSHIP BUILDING’

The BIO conference is the largest partnering meeting in the world for the biotech industry, and it offers many opportunities for connections, said Kathy Nugent, Ph. D., executive director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“What we hope to get out of it is potential partners for some of our therapeutics we have in the pipeline now,” Nugent said. “We also want to make connections. It’s relationship building, and it also gives us a chance to build visibility for the things we’re doing in Birmingham.”

UAB and Birmingham-based Southern Research are partners in the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance (ADDA), which permits the two organizations to share resources in a coordinated program.

According to UAB, the ADDA has a development pipeline of potential therapeutics for diabetes, Central Nervous System disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as various forms of cancer.

Representatives from Southern Research, as well as Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology and the University of South Alabama’s Office of Commercialization and Industry Collaboration, were expected to attend BIO, according to BioAlabama.

The group said these Alabama companies will have a presence at the event:

–Innovative Med Concepts (Tuscaloosa)
–Avanti Polar Lipids (Alabaster)
–Eurofins Biopharma Services (Huntsville)
–Discovery BioMed (Birmingham)
–Bridge Therapeutics (Birmingham)
–Proximity Biosciences (Auburn)
–Novocol Healthcare (Huntsville)
–Serina Therapeutics (Huntsville)
–Kowa Co. (Montgomery)
Evonik (Birmingham)

TARGETING GROWTH

Facilitating growth in the bioscience industry is listed as a priority in Accelerate Alabama 2.0, the state’s official economic development growth plan.

One reason is the pay: Annual salaries for those working in the field in Alabama average more than $67,000, according to the economic analysis.

BioAlabama says Alabama boasts around 780 bioscience companies and organizations, directly employing nearly 18,000 people working in a broad variety of activities.

Over the past several years, Secretary Canfield has led bio-focused Alabama trade and business development missions to Germany and Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, and Norway and Sweden.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

WATCH: Barry Moore discusses an extremely difficult time in his life and how God guided him through it

In this episode of Executive Lion’s Living Life On Purpose, Matt Wilson sits down with Barry Moore to discuss his faith, family, and an extremely difficult time in his life where God guided and protected him.

Barry Moore is a businessman and an Alabama legislator who loves God and serves him in all aspects of his life. He is a husband, father, and follower of Christ. He has been successful in business and loves to serve people and recently he felt called to higher office. He is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Marth Roby in the Republican primaries Tuesday.

WATCH:

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3 Takeaways:

1) It is through our toughest trials that our faith in God can grow stronger than we ever thought possible and if we let Him, the Lord will give us peace that cannot be explained.

2) God is speaking to us constantly and sometimes he would rather have our attention than anything else. Most importantly, he prefers our obedience more than our sacrifice.

3) The Lord can restore anything, no matter how bleak the situation or dire the circumstances. He is greater than anything we ever face.

2 weeks ago

Rodney’s Soul & Grill adds spirit and love with Alabama restaurant

(B. Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

It seems especially appropriate that Rodney and Stephanie Wilson serve soul food at their downtown Anniston restaurant. Just getting to the point of owning their own place took a lot of faith.

Several years ago, shortly after moving from Nashville to Oxford to manage a Hardee’s, Rodney began experiencing kidney failure. He ended up having a transplant and then needed to find another job. He had spent decades in the fast-food industry, but going back to that didn’t seem right. And he had long dreamed of having his own restaurant.

“The kidney disease is bad,” Rodney says. “When you’re going through dialysis, you have a lot of reflection time.” And, yes, he says, he sometimes bargained with God. “Going through that scare built my faith up to be able to step out. I thought, ‘If you got me through this, there’s nothing you won’t do.’ So that gave me the strength to step out and say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ He gave me the strength to do it, and look at us today.”

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Both Rodney and Stephanie have corporate food service experience, and Stephanie says, “I definitely think working in a corporate world helped a ton. You understand the flow, how business is, the ups and downs.”

Rodney says the budgeting and management skills he learned from working in the fast-food industry are serving them well.

Of their 12-member staff, three of the people worked for Rodney at Hardee’s, including Ms. Pat, who made biscuits at Hardee’s for more than 40 years. He says he’s humbled that they trusted him enough to come work at his new place. And he’s still getting used to the idea of ownership. “Drawing a paycheck every two weeks was good,” Rodney says, “but when you have your own (restaurant), sometimes it feels kind of surreal because you’re thinking, ‘Man, this money is going in my bank account.’ But you have to be responsible because there are bills and employees who have to be paid. It’s good, though. I love it.”

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Stephanie adds. “We looked at our stockroom, and Rodney said, ‘Look, baby. Look at our stockroom.’” Rodney adds, “It’s small, but it’s ours.”

They serve true soul food at Rodney’s Soul & Grill, which has been open for about two months. The portions are generous. The menu features lots of vegetables: turnips and collards, which are rich and tangy each in their own way; green beans; delicious black-eyed peas; mac and cheese; cabbage; thick mashed potatoes with a bit of potato skin mixed in; sweet potatoes with a secret ingredient that has some people coming in several times a week. Everything is made fresh daily.

“We do everything by hand,” Rodney says. “We cut everything. It’s long and tedious, but when you’re in soul food you have to bring a great product. And my sign says ‘real soul food,’ so I have to step my game up and make sure that it’s real.”

Offerings change from day to day, and the meat to go with your three might include chicken baked with rosemary or meatloaf topped with a traditional tangy tomato sauce. There are chicken wings. Fish is always fried to order, and there’s a fish fry special on Fridays. Most of the recipes come from Rodney’s mother. He grew up picking greens, cutting greens, picking corn, shucking corn. He knows a memorable Sunday meal might take most of the day to cook.

“My mom is a great cook,” he says, “and growing up, everybody always flocked to our house. On the holidays the house would be packed with people because of her cooking.”

When Rodney decided to open a soul food restaurant, he asked his mother for her recipes. “Right before we opened, she came down,” he says. “She lives in Nashville, and she’s 74 years old. She came down and said, ‘I want to make sure you’re doing my recipes correctly.’ She don’t play in the kitchen.”

The most popular dish at Rodney’s Soul & Grill is Jamaican oxtails, and that’s Stephanie’s specialty. They are fall-off-the-bone tender in a thick, rich stew bright with allspice. People come from all over for them, so this dish is available every day. Chitlins also are popular. So is the fried chicken, which is remarkably juicy with a nice, crisp, slightly salty crust. This was some of the best fried chicken we’ve had in a long while.

After decades of burgers and fries, Rodney says he wanted to bring a soul food concept to Anniston because it’s close to his heart and because there simply wasn’t a soul food restaurant here. Also, it’s familiar. “I know it. I know she knows it,” he says of his wife. “It’s been our tradition to eat soul food, so we thought it will be kind of easy for us.”

“We did a lot of research,” Stephanie adds. She has a salon, so she asked her customers there what they wanted. Soul food was the answer over and over. “When we first opened the door – that crowd! – I think I kind of froze for a second,” Stephanie says. “It was so crazy the first day. We didn’t even have time to talk to each other. Thank God (our employees) had restaurant experience. They just did what they know. At the end of the day we were giving hugs and high fiving.”

Rodney and Stephanie are especially proud that their restaurant is family friendly and affordable. “Our food is cooked with love,” Stephanie says. “You know, you can’t find a lot of places with love and quality.”

The restaurant is open every day except Saturday. That’s when the second dining room is home to a one-hour Bible study led by Stephanie’s father. “We do that to give something back,” Rodney says. “God has blessed me tremendously with a kidney transplant, putting me back on my feet, so … I want to do something spiritual so I can give back. We buy Bibles for people, and they can come in and get an experience with the Lord as well.”

The 5 p.m. gathering is open to anyone of any faith and attracts people young and old.

“In the customer service world,” Stephanie says, “you meet a lot of hurting people. … People see the light in us. They may come and ask questions, ‘How do I overcome this? How do I stop doing that?’ … I thank God we can help some of these people. It’s just small. Nothing over the top.”

“None of us would be here without God,” Rodney adds. “None of this would exist without him.”

Rodney’s Soul & Grill

1307 Noble St., Anniston, AL 36201

256-770-4463

Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. (no food service on Saturdays).

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)