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'Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth': Sasse decries Trump's call for probe

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., took issue Thursday with President Donald Trump urging China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s business dealings there.

“Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth,” Sasse said in a written statement to The World-Herald. “If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.”

At the same time, Sasse also offered harsh words for Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. During a hearing last week, Schiff referred to the rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Schiff presented “the essence of what the president communicates” during the call and spoke as if he were Trump asking Zelensky to manufacture dirt on his political opponent.

While Schiff defenders say it was clear that he wasn’t providing the president’s exact words, critics have slammed him for spreading misinformation by making up misleading quotes and putting them in Trump’s mouth.

“Congressman Schiff is running a partisan clown show in the House — that’s his right because the Constitution doesn’t prohibit clown shows, but fortunately, in the Senate, we’re working to follow the facts one step at a time,” Sasse said.

A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sasse has previously said there is “terrible stuff” in that rough transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky. But he has also urged both parties to slow down and get all the information before landing on a final verdict.

Each new day — sometimes each new hour — brings fresh developments in the impeachment saga.

The president’s Thursday comments drew condemnation from Democrats who said Trump is now publicly encouraging foreign powers to interfere in U.S. elections.

They suggested that he’s doing so in the hope that evidence that he’s encouraged such interference privately won’t seem so bad.

But Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., rejected those suggestions.

“It’s saying ‘Hey did he do something wrong? Let us know,’ ” Bacon said of Trump’s statements about China and Biden. “I don’t condone it. ... I wouldn’t do it. But I don’t think that’s messing with our elections.”

Bacon highlighted another revelation that many Republicans have seized upon this week — a New York Times report that Schiff got an early account of concerns by the whistleblower who filed a complaint about the president’s activities.

Republicans have also cited a letter that a trio of senior Senate Democrats sent to Ukrainian prosecutors.

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In that letter, the senators expressed concern about a New York Times report that Ukraine was effectively freezing various investigations related to the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Ukraine was allegedly doing so because it was worried that such investigations could jeopardize U.S. military aid.

Some Republicans have characterized the correspondence as evidence that Democrats were themselves seeking dirt on Trump from foreign countries.

“For the Democrats to have outrage, it’s selective,” Bacon said. “They were doing the same things.”

Democrats say the letter simply shows that they were worried that Trump would do exactly what he did — use military aid to pressure Ukraine’s leaders into helping him politically.

Bacon also said House Democrats are acting unfairly by moving forward with an impeachment inquiry without a formal vote. Such a vote would start a process that gives Republicans more rights, he said.

But Bacon added that he would vote against the impeachment inquiry because he doesn’t think the president has broken any laws.

“It’s wrong, but it’s not necessarily a law being broken,” he said.

Other Nebraska Republicans have tried to turn the discussion away from impeachment, citing the need to address farm policy or the pending trade deal known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“We need to calmly and rationally assess the facts, and not give in to a politically driven frenzy,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said in a statement Thursday. “I’m focused on working with President Trump on issues that are important to Nebraskans, such as relief to ethanol producers and our agricultural communities, and passage of the USMCA.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said that the Justice Department hasn’t found a violation of the law by the president and that Congress needs “less drama, more work.”

And Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., describes impeachment as a distraction from important issues.

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Iowa Republicans, have criticized the House impeachment push.

But Grassley did issue a statement early this week standing up for the rights of the whistleblower in the case. Grassley said that person appears to have followed the laws and ought to be protected.

“No one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first and carefully following up on the facts,” he said. “Uninformed speculation wielded by politicians or media commentators as a partisan weapon is counterproductive and doesn’t serve the country.”

Ten Commandments, LGBTQ, hypernationalism in final draft of social studies standards

Students would be encouraged to look at history from multiple perspectives under a final draft of new Nebraska social studies standards released this week.

Several words and phrases appear in the draft that aren’t in the existing state standards, including LGBTQ, the Ten Commandments, Brexit, Apple Pay and hypernationalism.

Members of the State Board of Education will consider approving the standards next month.

The draft standards, written by a group of Nebraska educators, reflect what students should know about, and be able to do, in history, government, civics, geography and economics.

School districts must within a year adopt the standards or their own of equal or greater rigor. The state does not dictate curriculum — the courses, materials and lessons for teaching the standards. That is developed by local districts.

The new words and phrases are listed as examples to help teachers develop lessons around the standards.

While the current standards, adopted in 2012, encourage examining history from different perspectives, the importance of understanding different points of view is weaved throughout the latest draft, with examples to emphasize the point.

The draft standards specify that marginalized groups, another new phrase, may view historical events differently.

The draft mentions, for example, the perspectives of religious, racial and ethnic groups, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people and Native American nations.

LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or, in some usages, questioning.

Cory Epler, chief academic officer in the Nebraska Department of Education, said the increased emphasis reflects the department’s commitment to equity.

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Epler said students should have an opportunity to see themselves in the standards.

The standards, he said, should also “create a window for students to see other students.”

Native American tribes in Nebraska receive greater attention, particularly the history of their forced removal and relocation from other states to Nebraska.

Fourth graders, for instance, would identify key events in American history that shaped or were shaped by Nebraskans. Examples include the Ponca Trail of Tears, the Santee Exile and Winnebago Removal, and Native American boarding schools.

The Ponca Trail of Tears is mentioned in the current standards, but the Santee Exile and Winnebago Removal are new, as is the mention of boarding schools.

References to the tribes specify that their nations are sovereign, addressing a concern expressed by some tribal leaders that students don’t always understand the concept of sovereignty.

Harris Payne, the department’s director of social studies, credited tribal advocates for providing input that led to those additions.

The draft standards also include the addition of Will Brown as an example of a Nebraskan important to the state’s past.

Brown was a black man lynched in a 1919 race riot in one of Omaha’s darkest episodes.

During the riot, thousands of white people stormed the courthouse, set it on fire, lynched Brown and desecrated his body. They tried to hang the mayor when he attempted to stop them.

The standards mention immigration as a topic for examination.

Students would evaluate the impact of people, events and ideas, including various cultures and ethnic groups, on the U.S.

Students would “explain reasons for historical and present day migrations to and within the United States.”

Third graders would learn flag etiquette. The standards also reference the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case West Virginia v. Barnette, in which the court said students couldn’t be forced to salute the flag.

Fourth graders would learn about Nebraska state government and the unicameral Legislature.

In fifth grade, students would “investigate and summarize” contributions that resulted in the foundation and formation of the U.S. constitutional government.

As examples, the standards note early state constitutions, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and tribal constitutions.

Students would identify the structure and function of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

They would examine the “unique nature of the creation of the United States leading to a nation based upon personal freedom, inalienable rights and democratic ideals.”

Economics lessons would put greater emphasis on financial literacy, addressing topics ranging from using a debit card or Apple Pay to world trade.

The Ten Commandments appears in a section dealing with the foundations, structures and functions of governmental institutions.

Under the standards, sixth-grade students would identify the development of written laws . The commandments are among the examples given, in addition to the Code of Hammurabi, Greek democracy, Axumite, Confucius and Indian deities.

Brexit — the United Kingdom’s scheduled withdrawal from the European Union pursuant to a 2016 referendum — appears in a section that calls on high school students to analyze the impact of trade policies such as tariffs and quotas . It suggests that students could research the North American Free Trade Agreement and Brexit.

The term hypernationalism is listed as a topic of exploration in high school.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it as extreme or excessive nationalism. The word appears in a section where students would “examine the spread of cultural traits and the potential benefits and challenges of cultural diffusion, economic development and globalization.”

Socialism, injected into the national political scene by the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is dealt with in a manner similar to that in the existing standards.

It appears in seventh grade and high school standards as one of several economic systems to be compared and contrasted, along with traditional, market, communist, feudal and caste systems.

The standards do not characterize whether socialism is a good or bad government policy.

Payne said the standards emphasize inquiry, looking at social studies as “a verb instead of a noun.”

The standards also aim to give kids the skills and practices to prepare them for civic life and to be engaged citizens, he said.

“They should not only understand the jury system, and how our courts ... (are) set up, but they should also be able to serve on a jury and think critically about the information presented to them on juries and be able to make an informed judgment,” he said.

Google: Papillion is a go for $600 million data center — Sarpy County's 8th

Google has confirmed that it will build a $600 million data center in Papillion, give a $100,000 grant to a local school district and create at least 30 permanent jobs. 

Those details follow a more general, nationwide announcement earlier this year that the tech company planned to invest $13 billion in 2019 for major expansions in 14 states, including Nebraska.

At the time, a map on Google’s website indicated that the Nebraska facility would be built somewhere in the Omaha area, but the company wouldn’t release any further specifics about what had been mysteriously referred to locally as Project Wizard.

Google spokesman Dan Harbeke confirmed to The World-Herald this week that affordable power and available land were among factors that drew the company to the 275 acres near Nebraska Highway 50 and Schram Road.

He called the area a “hub for tech activity.”

“We’re excited to be a part of that,” he said.

Indeed, that pocket of Sarpy County has been a magnet in recent years for other industrial operations and data centers.

Neighbors include data centers for Travelers Insurance and the still-under-construction Facebook complex.

Also in Sarpy County are data centers for Fidelity, LightEdge Solutions, Tierpoint (two centers) and Yahoo.

Google’s data center will be the eighth in Sarpy County.

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A study conducted for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that most of those are large in-house operations for companies that serve national or international markets. The LightEdge and two Tierpoint centers serve more of a local market.

Google also has a major presence in Iowa, with more than 450 employees in Council Bluffs, Harbeke said. He said the Bluffs is currently home to Google’s largest global data center, an investment of more than $2.5 billion.

Asked about job creation in Sarpy County, Harbeke said Google is “committed to at least 30” full-time, permanent positions. They’ll be staffing a data center that delivers tools and resources that connect Internet users to search results, YouTube videos, Gmail and other apps.

In addition, Harbeke, Google’s regional head of external affairs, anticipates that hundreds of construction-type jobs will be created during the 18 to 24 months he anticipates it will take to build the center. He said construction work is already underway.

Among the permanent jobs at the Sarpy center, Harbeke said, will be data technicians, people to maintain electrical and heating and air conditioning systems, and security personnel.

“Data centers are very secure facilities,” he said.

Harbeke and other Google representatives were scheduled to join local, state and federal government officials Friday at a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future data center.

Business leaders were also invited.

David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber , said the Google presence is not only about real estate development and jobs.

He said the tech giant elevates education and quality of life in its host communities.

“Our Silicon Prairie is stronger because of Google,” he said.

Andrew Rainbolt, executive director of the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp., which helped to put together the deal, said Friday’s reveal was the “culmination of years of collaboration, numerous community partners working together to bring Google to our community.”

The World-Herald reported in late 2018 that the giant land tract northwest of Highway 50 and Schram Road was poised to get a new data center.

Documents and local officials used the code name Project Wizard to describe it.

Rainbolt’s organization acted as the frontman for the applicant, which went by Fireball Group LLC.

While keeping the company’s name under wraps, Papillion officials gave various approvals. Records early on showed that roughly 100 to 200 employees would be on-site during the main shift, as opposed to the “at least 30” that Harbeke said in this week’s interview.

Rainbolt said this week that judging from past data center projects, he expects Google to provide more than the 30 permanent jobs.

Early records also showed that administrative space as well as data center structures were to rise on the former farmland. Landscaping was planned, including to buffer the side facing the Omaha National Cemetery.

Concerns were raised during the Papillion Planning Board approval process, as some public officials wondered whether the area was nearing a data center saturation point.

Papillion Mayor David Black said then that the city was equipped and eager for the additional data center.

Rainbolt at the time quoted the chamber-requested UNL research that showed data centers so far having a positive local impact. He said for every 10,000 square feet of data center, there is a $10.6 million economic impact during construction.

Others have argued that visible, well-traveled corridors might be more suited for businesses with more public interaction.


The groundbreaking fro Google's data center. 

State records show that the Google project applied for Tier 2 large data center tax incentives that became available under a 2012 legislative bill. The component offers a 10% state tax credit on investments.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement this week that the state’s low-cost power grid and central location have also helped lure data centers.

“Attracting investment from a global powerhouse like Google underscores our state’s hospitable, business-friendly climate,” he said.

Google’s Harbeke declined to disclose various other details, including size of the planned data center. He said Google often plans for growth, though he didn’t have a timeline for future development or a number for future jobs.

According to Papillion records, Project Wizard earlier this year obtained a building permit for a two-story, 281,792-square-foot data center, valued at $18.5 million, on a 260-acre site. The applicant put the total value of the proposed work — including labor and materials but not landscaping, site work or land cost — at $280 million.

Harbeke declined for competitive reasons to say whether more phases might be planned.

Earlier, in the push to seek approvals for the project, a chamber official said Project Wizard probably would be built in phases similar to the nearby Facebook data center.

When fully built, Rainbolt said, the hulking Facebook data center operation is expected to span between 2.5 million and 3 million square feet.

This year, Google hit its 10-year anniversary of the opening of its Bluffs data center near Lake Manawa and marked that milestone by dividing $1 million among five nonprofits. Google’s second Bluffs data center, at Southlands, opened in 2013.

Harbeke said that while the company is “incredibly proud” of the Iowa facilities, Google wants to meet growing demand for its technology services by diversifying geographically.

This year’s expansion projects will mean that Google has a physical presence in 24 states, and data centers in 13 communities, including Papillion. Harbeke said geographic diversity is key to continuity of service and to spread risk across those facilities.

Harbeke said Google’s investment is not limited to physical facilities.

The company, for example, plans to award a $100,000 grant to the Springfield Platteview Community Schools to support continued growth and development of computer science and STEM programs.

And on Nov. 13, the company’s Grow with Google program plans to host digital workshops at the South Omaha Library. Google staff teach free hands-on workshops covering topics such as Digital Skills for Everyday Tasks and Using Data to Drive Growth.

“We are committed to being good neighbors and creating opportunities for the communities we call home,” Harbeke said.

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Grace: Nebraska woman raised as an only child finds six more siblings ... in Ireland

Mary Shannon was raised as an only child in Omaha. But the 70-year-old Nebraskan learned that she’s actually the oldest of 10.

Adopted from Ireland in 1952, Mary began connecting the dots of her past years ago. In 1987, a paper trail led to her birth mother and two siblings, a half brother and half sister, all in Ireland. A DNA test this past spring put Mary in touch with the rest of her blood relatives: six living siblings out of seven children of her now-deceased biological father. She got to meet them in Ireland in July.

The reunion of sorts was joyous for Mary; her husband, Ted; and their daughter Elizabeth. Mary saw physical likenesses and felt instantly wrapped into a big clan, which was something she never felt growing up as the only daughter of a now-deceased Omaha couple.

And while her parents in Omaha were Irish descendants — her father’s surname was Houlehan — Mary felt much closer to her Irish roots after meeting the half siblings from her birth father’s side.

Reunions with previously unknown family members, particularly in adoption cases, can be a Pandora’s box of heartache and questions. Who did what and why? How to navigate these new relationships?

Mary went into this open-eyed and eager, hoping for new connections to blood relatives with whom she could visit, talk and share. She was also mindful that even though she, born in Dublin in 1949, had come first, she was still a newcomer. It’s why she turned down an invitation to return to Ireland this month for two newfound nieces’ back-to-back weddings. She did not want to distract from the brides.

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Mary did not go to these new relatives in Ireland with a list of questions about her father or her siblings’ lives or 1950s Ireland. That was an era when unwed expectant women were hidden and punished, where birth fathers may never have known and where the offspring of the unmarried couples were quietly raised in institutions or adopted out of the country. News stories and a BBC documentary from the past couple of years paint a grim picture of what that life was like.

Even if Mary had come with notebook in hand, she’s not sure how far she would have gotten, as anyone from a big family knows. Focus is spread thin. Guests get swept into a tide of jokes and stories and half-finished sentences.

Mary does know enough of her own story anyway. It goes like this:

Mary’s birth mother, Mary Shelly, was a 24-year-old single woman in Dublin who had come from Tipperary to Ireland’s largest city for opportunity. She came of age during a time when Ireland was becoming its own country, eventually free of British rule.

But the entity that exerted tremendous influence over Irish society was the Roman Catholic Church. Its strict dictates on sex meant punishing consequences for women, in particular. Contraception was illegal. Abortion was illegal. Getting pregnant outside marriage was seen as a sin, a terrible shame that often left teens and young women alone.

One refuge were women’s homes, were funded by the government and church, that provided care for unwed mothers and their offspring.

It’s not totally clear what all Mary Shelly experienced. A Dublin institution called St. Patrick’s took her in. On July 10, 1949, Mary gave birth to a baby girl. She named her Bridget.

Mary tended to Bridget while she lived at the unwed mothers’ home for the next year. When Mary moved out of St. Patrick’s to clean houses and make it on her own, she continued visiting Bridget every week. A friend told Mary that she had to let Bridget go, reasoning that the child would have a better life in America.

Mary said goodbye to her child, buried the heartache and started anew. She married John Henneberry. She had two more children: a son and daughter. She never told anyone about Bridget.

Bridget was 3½ when she came to America by plane with a nurse. Mary Houlehan of Omaha met them in New York City on Christmas Eve. Houlehan took the child home to Omaha, where husband Charles was waiting. The couple had been told that they were too old to adopt locally. Mary was 40; Charles was 49.

Blond-haired, blue-eyed Bridget, with a dusting of freckles across her face, spoke only French, which is what the nuns at St. Patrick’s spoke. The Houlehans gave Bridget a new name: Mary.

Growing up in Omaha, Mary knew that she was adopted from Ireland. Her Omaha mother had said Mary’s birth parents were killed in an accident.

Mary remembers a happy childhood growing up in midtown Omaha’s Morton Meadows neighborhood. She attended Holy Cross and Mercy High and earned a teaching degree at Wayne State College. She married Ted Shannon, a chemist who first worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and later the Army Corps of Engineers.

Mary taught at a couple of Catholic grade schools in Omaha, and then she and Ted moved out of state for his job. They settled back in Omaha, where they raised three children and Mary worked for the Millard Public Schools. The couple retired about a dozen years ago in Springfield.

Because Mary was under the assumption that her birth parents were dead, she did not seek them out. Because her mother was particularly sensitive to the adoption, she did not ask. But then her father slipped her some adoption documents, including a birth certificate and her original Irish passport. And Mary began to probe.

She sent a letter to St. Patrick’s orphanage in Dublin in 1987, two years after it had closed. But her letter made it to Mary’s birth mother, Mary Henneberry, who wanted to meet her long-lost daughter. Months later, the Shannon family flew to Ireland. Mary from Omaha met Mary from Kildare. The reunion was joyous for child and mother and less so, Mary Shannon said, for her newfound half siblings, who were in shock.

Mary’s birth mother told her that every time she watched American TV, she was looking for, hoping for, a familiar face. Her “Bridget.”

Over the years, contact between mother and daughter grew less frequent until it finally stopped. Mary Shannon said her half siblings didn’t alert her soon enough to her birth mother’s Alzheimer’s disease and didn’t tell her about her mother’s death until after it happened in 2013.

Mary Shannon figured that the trail ended there. Mary Henneberry had told her that her birth father, Thomas Behan, had died. This marked the second time a mother had lied to her. Behan was then very much alive. He died in 2001.

Then, in March, Mary’s daughter Elizabeth, a math tutor and mother of three in Lincoln, was beginning to get “hits,” or matches, on her Ancestry.com profile.

Elizabeth Renard and husband, Scott, had gotten each other the kits for Christmas in 2017. Scott, who was adopted, wanted to know more about his background. Elizabeth was curious, too. The first matches that came up were all people she knew. It took 15 months for Elizabeth to hear about Martin in Ireland. Ancestry.com said Martin Behan was a first or second cousin. Elizabeth called her mom.

“Are we related to any Behans?”


Elizabeth, left, and Scott Renard of Lincoln submitted DNA samples. Elizabeth’s came back with a match for a long-lost relative in Ireland. This opened the door for her mother, Mary Shannon, to find six siblings she previously did not know existed.

Elizabeth messaged new cousin Martin: Know a Thomas Behan? Martin messaged back: He was my grandfather.

Breakthrough! Phone calls and texts and messages came next, and Mary suddenly realized that she had a whole tribe of siblings.

Stories and details poured in. Mary learned that Thomas Behan never knew that his old girlfriend had been pregnant. Behan married a woman called “Bridey,” a nickname for Mary’s name at birth: Bridget. The two had seven children: John, Mary, Thomas, Ann, Martin, Bernadette and Freddie. Mary Behan had died, and some siblings saw the news of Nebraska Mary as somewhat providential.

Mary and Ted Shannon and Elizabeth Renard booked flights to Dublin. They went in late July.

The Nebraskans said they felt right at home, “like we had been there forever,” Ted said. “Even the dog liked us!”


Mary Shannon, left, with husband Ted, visited Ireland in July to meet Mary’s six living siblings on her birth father’s side of the family.

Elizabeth said it was unnerving at first. She remembered the chilly reception in 1987 when she was just 12. Now 44, she said that this time, these relatives were strangers until suddenly it all clicked with resemblances and stories and warmth.

Elizabeth could see a change within her mother, who seemed deeply contented, joyful, happy.

Mary Shannon said it’s true: She closed a loop from her past. And she has plenty of new birthdays to celebrate.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “It's still sort of new. You don’t think of yourself as being one of 10 kids.”

You have to read these stories about amazing local parents