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Sen. Ben Sasse calls on Trump to reconsider Syria decision, cites past Kurdish help with ISIS

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse wants President Donald Trump to reconsider his Syria policy after pulling back American troops and effectively clearing the way for Turkey’s ongoing military offensive against the Kurds.

The Nebraska senator was among the first Republicans to question the president’s move earlier this week, saying it would result in the slaughter of American allies, including women and children.

Sasse issued a fresh statement Thursday citing past Kurdish help battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“The Kurds — including many of the few remaining Christians in Syria — stood alongside the U.S. in our fight against ISIS, and they’re still guarding thousands of dangerous ISIS prisoners right now,” he said. “(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is a bad guy, and I continue to hope our President reconsiders this decision.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., provided a written statement expressing concern about Turkey’s actions and praising the Kurds as invaluable partners against the Islamic State. But he did not fault Trump for the situation.

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And Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., declined to say whether he supports the troop pullback.

“America cannot keep fighting other people’s wars — but we must proceed with great caution in exiting this messy neighborhood to prevent the horror of ISIS 2.0, potential Turkish over-aggression and a destabilization that endangers religious minorities,” Fortenberry said in a statement.

He has offered a resolution that would express the sense that U.S. assistance to minority communities in the area be combined with a plan for local security.

State Sen. Kate Bolz, meanwhile, stated plainly that she is against the withdrawal. Bolz recently announced that she’s seeking to challenge Fortenberry in 2020.

She said in a statement that the decision to withdraw is a morally indefensible abandonment of the Kurds, one that will destabilize the region and possibly allow the Islamic State to reestablish a foothold in northern Syria.

“I stand with Republican and Democratic leaders in opposition to withdrawal,” Bolz said. “The Kurds fought valiantly as our allies and defeated America’s number one enemy, Islamic extremists.”

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., noted that he worked with Kurds while serving in Iraq and said they are among the United States’ most trusted allies.

“We have an obligation to be very thoughtful about how we press forward with them,” he said.

The Omaha-area congressman said some U.S. military presence is needed in Syria and pointed to the rise of the Islamic State after American troops left Iraq under President Barack Obama.

But Bacon also said Trump is correct in his assessment that many Americans are weary of war.

“I think we’ve learned a minimal presence is needed, but it’s going to take some convincing for the American people,” he said.

Bacon faces several potential Democratic challengers next year, Ann Ashford and Kara Eastman among them.

Ashford released a statement referring to the withdrawal as “a frightening new low” for the Trump administration.

“The Kurds are now left to be massacred by the Turks, while the American people watch and can do nothing to stop it,” she said. “I think Congressman Bacon, a retired Air Force General, needs to condemn this decision by the White House, and if it’s not too late, do something to stop this.”

Eastman objected to Trump’s decision as well, saying it will result in the deaths of innocents.

“I would not have pulled the troops, no, because I believe that we are endangering the lives of our allies,” she told The World-Herald.

Eastman called for more resources at the State Department and said the Trump administration has practiced dysfunctional diplomacy in pursuit of a haphazard foreign policy.

“We should all be terrified by the way that the president is acting,” she said.

Bacon responded by saying that it’s a complicated situation and that simply condemning the troop withdrawal ignores the reality on the ground — that an attack by Turkey was imminent and the small number of U.S. troops there were vulnerable.

“We have 50 troops there,” he said. “What are you going to do, leave them in the middle of that?”

But Bacon did criticize Trump for his words and tone, saying the president is making a mistake by not taking a harder line with Turkey and declaring that the U.S. will back the Kurds.

Bacon has joined a group of Capitol Hill colleagues offering legislation that would punish Turkey with economic sanctions.

Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa said in a statement that the administration’s foreign policy is being “conducted by tweet,” which is undermining credibility with allies in the region.

“The U.S. is a leader in countering terrorism and violent extremism,” she said. “Outsourcing these efforts to others in the region is shirking our responsibility and ability to ensure our own national and international security.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has said that America cannot abandon the Kurds.

“It’s in America’s interest to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and to maintain peace and security in the region — I’m troubled this departure will take us further from that goal,” she wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said this week that he has some concerns about protecting allies in the region and that American support for Kurds should continue. But he also highlighted Trump’s position as a presidential candidate.

“President Trump campaigned on ending wars and won,” he said in a statement. “As president, he is the commander-in-chief with the authority to make this decision.”

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Benson to see 'wave of new development' with wine seller, apartments, offices

The Benson area’s main commercial drag and surrounding streets are seeing a growth spurt as more housing, offices and retailers are moving to the eclectic neighborhood.

“We’re seeing another wave of new development and investment,” said City Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents the community that dates back to 1887, when Erastus Benson bought and platted the land.

As with many older pockets of town, Benson had lost business and residential zest to the metro area’s suburbs before resurging about a decade ago. Festersen points to public infrastructure investment and formation of a business and improvement district as helping to usher in hip music, cool venues and restaurants.

Professional offices started to multiply and increase daytime traffic. The housing market and apartments are “gaining traction,” Festersen said. “Lots of people are moving there and want to live there.”

Here are some projects that continue the evolution:

  • An almost $1.7 million redevelopment at 6121 Maple St. will transform a vacant one-story building into event space. A soon-to-be-built second floor will be a restaurant and bar open to the public. An outdoor patio is planned, too. Developer Pilar LLC, buoyed by $241,000 in tax-increment financing, anticipates a spring 2020 opening.
  • Construction could start in December on what developer Aaron Moser of Sage Capital Real Estate calls Benson’s new “west gateway.” The $14 million, 97-apartment building at 6152 Military Ave. is dubbed The Mill, a nod to the site’s past as a flour mill. The five-story structure with first-floor parking awaits City Council approval for about $2 million in TIF.
  • A stand-alone building at 6767 Maple St. has undergone a roughly $400,000 transformation into a headhunter agency called Cordova. The business, working with TACKarchitects, opened there in September. Owner Gabe Romero expects to employ up to 14 people in the office, which finds executives and sales and tech professionals for employers.
  • In a former guitar store at 6061 Maple St., a new wine retail spot serving small food dishes is scheduled to open by November. Owners Rob Rutar and David Yoshitomo are calling their place ElevenEleven Wine Sellers. Rutar said that the project was a total renovation of the space and that the décor will honor the history of the building and of Benson.
  • A secondhand store at 5920 Maple St. is being rehabilitated for use as office and retail space. Developers Adam Watson and Steve and Seth Elken bought the 6,000-square-foot building that until June housed a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. Watson said he will know better the investment amount after he secures up to two tenants.
  • Four structures — all a century old and spanning a total of about 90,000 square feet — are about to go on the market, opening up for development what once was St. James Orphanage at 60th Street and Military Avenue.

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The Archdiocese of Omaha is selling the property known today as the Sheehan Center for a price still to be determined, Deacon Tim McNeil said.

In November, offices and services offered at the campus will move to 111th and Blondo Streets.

Festersen said he hopes that talks with the archdiocese and area residents will create a new vision for the campus. “It is large and represents a new opportunity,” he said.

Changing Omaha: More than 50 stories of local development projects in the works

A relatively unknown street in Benson, and all its mystique, is on display

A long and little-known block called Bensonhurst, created about a century ago, today has 85 houses diverse in style and size and with huge backyards and storied residents.

Indeed, the block is so long that, years ago, kids living on one end were assigned to one grade school, while those on the other end went to another.

People early on dubbed the uninterrupted stretch of 58th Street from the Northwest Radial to Pratt Street “banker’s row” because of the investor and finance types who built the area with covenants to ensure that it would be extraordinary.

This weekend, that eclectic neighborhood will be the feature of the annual Restoration Exchange Omaha tour, an event designed to showcase older housing stock and creative preservation.

Visitors on the tour will get to see the twins — a pair of Queen Anne-style look-alike residences built in 1908 for two sisters. (One of the homes was featured last year on the HGTV series “House Hunters.”)


A pair of almost identical Queen Anne-style homes, built for two sisters in 1908, will be part of the Restoration Exchange Omaha tour on North 58th Street this weekend. There are 85 homes of varying size and style on that long stretch of 58th.

They will get to see the curious little Prairie-style house that in 1953 was a murder scene, the spot where a physician and his wife were killed at random by a Navy veteran suffering from a mental breakdown.

Also among the 10 houses on the walk-through tour is a brick bungalow once owned by the widow of a Swanson TV dinner executive that is now the residence of Lori and Jack Hubbell.

The Hubbells are proud to show off their Craftsman-style house erected in 1923 — including the unique artifacts they’ve collected from around the world, the big garage rare for its time period and the oversized courtyard Lori describes as a “private park in your backyard.”

But the couple are just as excited for visitors to catch an inside peek at an aging neighborhood they say collectively remains close-knit, preserved and financially within reach for many.

“For the most part, these are affordable homes,” Lori Hubbell said. She quipped: “You might call us the proletariat tour.”

Nicole Malone, an Omaha architect who helps organize the tours, said Restoration Exchange Omaha aims to educate, invigorate and advocate for old and historic properties. “Because all these places have a story.”

Bensonhurst surfaced as a contender for the 15th annual tour thanks to a poke by Christine and Joe Watson, whose 58th Street cottage-style house has a backyard that’s a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Residents like the Watsons and Hubbells, who agree to open their homes for the tour, get an REO membership and a binder of photos, newspaper clips and research pertaining to their home.

Beth Feltus

Malone said this year’s research, conducted largely by REO volunteer Beth Feltus, is the most extensive so far.

Feltus, whose day job deals with insurance benefits, combed decades of records to understand the property that was originally part of John H. Creighton’s farmland. Eventually, the land was sold to Imogen A. Benson, who, with husband Erastus and partners, carved out Bensonhurst, an addition to the village of Benson.

During her research, Feltus uncovered editions of the 58th Street News — a newspaper produced by a small group of neighborhood girls ages 12 and under.

The summer project was dreamed up by Elizabeth Otte’s mom as a way to keep neighborhood kids busy. It stretched four summers, 1958 through 1961, before high school activities and commitments distracted staff from their reporter notepads.

While the young journalists covered lighter fare — a deer spotted in the Draney yard; a sleepwalking-related fall at 2935 N. 58th — they also documented trends, family connections and news that boosted Feltus’ research.

One story published the results of the reporters’ door-to-door survey that found diverse immigrant roots yet similarities among neighbors.

“Here everyone is American,” the piece said.

Another story revealed details of a trip taken by a resident alderman. Then-City Councilman Warren Swigart (of 3328 N. 58th) flew on his own dime, the paper reported, to learn about Kansas City’s infrastructure.

Yvonne Carlson Wagner, now 72, was assistant editor for the 58th Street News and recalled a memorable story about the street’s history.

Editor-in-Chief Otte, now 74, went on to become a lawyer and judge in Iowa. She fondly recalls how the neighborhood kids identified houses on the street by the names of families who lived in them, the Kaufmans, the Carlsons, Corbaleys, McKinneys.

“You felt like you knew people all along the block and they knew you,” Otte said in an interview this week. “Maybe it was like that in every neighborhood … I just know it was a comfortable place to grow up.”


Lori Hubbell, president of the Bensonhurst Neighborhood Association, in the courtyard in her backyard that she says is like a “private park.”

For Lori Hubbell, who serves as president of the Bensonhurst Neighborhood Association and is also a real estate agent, that feeling of community remains a hallmark of her neighborhood as she knows it today.

Residents have changed to include musicians, attorneys, yoga instructors, a traveling physician, a news editor.

But when she turns into Bensonhurst and its colorful canopy of trees lining the streets, Hubbell said, stress fades.

“And everything is OK with the world.”

Omaha streets and how they got their names

More outages possible as winds topping 70 mph move southward

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Gusts topping freeway speed raked the San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday after California's biggest utility shut off electricity to almost 2 million people — about the population of Nebraska — for fear that high winds in the forecast could bring down power lines and spark deadly wildfires.

The fire danger that led Pacific Gas & Electric to turn out the lights over a large section of Northern and Central California was expected to shift to Southern California as raging winds moved down the state. Major utilities in Los Angeles and San Diego warned that they might need to cut off power to about a half-million people.

Unprecedented in scope, the deliberate outages that started Wednesday forced schools and businesses to close and otherwise disrupted life, bringing criticism down on PG&E from the governor and ordinary customers alike.

PG&E cast the blackouts as a matter of public safety, aimed at preventing the kind of blazes that have killed scores of people in recent years, destroyed thousands of homes and run up tens of billions of dollars in claims that drove the utility into bankruptcy.

The shut-offs could be just a glimpse of what lies ahead for California as climate change contributes to more ferocious blazes and longer fire seasons.

"It's just kind of scary. It feels worse than Y2K. We don't know how long," Tianna Pasche of Oakland said before her area was powered down. "My two kids, their school situation keeps moving every second. It's not clear if we need to pack for a week and go out of town or what to do. So I'm just trying to make sure we have water, food, charging stations and gas."

But she added: "If it saves a life, I'm not going to complain about it."

On Wednesday, PG&E cut power to millions in an area that spanned the Bay Area, the wine country north of San Francisco, the agricultural Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills, where a fire blamed on PG&E transmission lines killed 85 people last year and all but incinerated the town of Paradise. The city of San Francisco itself was not in the shut-off zone.

Wind gusts Wednesday night and Thursday morning peaked above 70 mph in the Bay Area.

The shut-offs did not eliminate fires altogether: An overnight blaze in the blacked-out East Bay town of Moraga, population 16,000, prompted authorities to evacuate an upscale development of about 100 homes. Many people gathered in a Safeway parking lot in the middle of the night until they could see that the flames were out.

By Thursday, PG&E had restored power to some areas, reducing the number of people in the dark to about 1.5 million at one point. But the fire danger from strong winds appeared to be shifting toward the southern part of the state.

Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric warned that they might cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers across an area that includes Los Angeles.

As for PG&E's territory, the utility warned that customers might have to do without power for days after the winds subside because "every inch" of the system must be inspected by helicopters and thousands of workers on the ground and declared safe before the grid is reactivated.

Ahead of the outages, Californians rushed to stock up on flashlights, coolers, gasoline and cash.

The University of California, Berkeley canceled classes for a second day Thursday because the campus had no electricity.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said PG&E should have been working on making its power system sturdier and more weatherproof.

"They're in bankruptcy due to their terrible management going back decades," he said. "They've created these conditions. It was unnecessary."