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'Phase one' of new trade deal with China is promising, experts say, but much uncertainty remains

WASHINGTON — China is on the cusp of buying so much American corn and soybeans that the nation’s farmers should invest in more land and bigger tractors.

That’s what President Donald Trump suggested this week as he touted “phase one” of a new trade deal with China.

Trump signed the agreement in a White House ceremony surrounded by dignitaries and lawmakers, including several from Nebraska and Iowa.

But while Midlands officials celebrated the announcement, experts indicated farmers might want to hold off a bit on any shopping sprees.

“On paper it looks really good,” Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau senior economist, said Thursday. “We’ll just have to see how these things sort and shift their way out over the next six months to a year.”

Rempe shared a preliminary analysis of the deal that reflects the economic stakes for heavily agricultural states such as Nebraska and Iowa. The report says China was buying an average of $25 billion in U.S. agricultural products annually between 2014 and 2017. After the trade tensions started, however, that number fell to about $13 billion.

The farm group has estimated that up to a billion dollars a year in Nebraska farm revenue has been lost to the trade disputes, a figure that doesn’t factor in federal offset payments.

Now China says it will bump its purchases of U.S. farm products to as high as $40 billion annually under phase one.

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“The agreement, then, should mean a return to levels of trade seen prior to the dispute, plus some,” according to the farm bureau’s report.

But the report also cites uncertainty around whether those amounts will be met and which commodities will see the increased sales.

It points out that the agreement does not actually lift retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports and notes that while the U.S.-China dispute has raged, other suppliers have made inroads into the Chinese market.

Nebraska producers will have to work to reestablish their relationships with customers. All of that uncertainty is reflected in the fact that futures markets have hardly shot to the moon in the wake of the deal signing.

“The market’s had some skepticism about it,” Rempe acknowledged.

Other Nebraska economists agreed that those with money in the game are taking this announcement with a healthy dash of salt.

John Beghin, chair of international trade at the Clayton Yeutter Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said there’s a lot to like in the deal for Midlands producers.

The deal is thorough and ambitious and includes the easing of nontariff barriers such as age limits on cattle, he said. But the eye-popping purchase estimates are just a goal for now.

“Markets don’t seem to believe right now that something big just happened,” Beghin said.

There’s no doubt phase one is welcome news and it comes paired with another positive trade development — Senate approval of a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

“We’ve been going in the wrong direction for two years on trade,” said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss. “These are good signals.”

Overall, the U.S. economy has been growing at a decent clip, but trade issues have dragged down the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, Goss said.

While not making producers whole, offset payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have mitigated the pain for farmers.

“Absent the $16 billion of agricultural support payments in 2019, agriculture would be hurting a lot worse than it is,” Goss said.

Goss said the expectations for this year have been GDP growth of about 1.5% to 2%, but the positive trade developments could add another 1% or more in Nebraska.

“That’s a lot,” Goss said. “That’s assuming that we don’t get any surprises.”

The impact would be that large, he said, because of the add-on effects for related businesses — from those selling heavy equipment to fertilizer companies. But he also cautioned against expecting record-breaking results.

“Even with this agreement, in phase one, we will still not be back to 2013 net farm income,” Goss said.

Another way to put it, from that preliminary Farm Bureau report:

“The deal should lead to increased agricultural trade for U.S. producers, but it’s probably best left to farmers and ranchers to determine whether they will need to buy larger tractors.”

Nebraska and Iowa’s members of Congress

Photos: Nebraska and Iowa's members of Congress

Under new rules, iowa dems will release three sets of caucus results

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party will report three sets of results from the party's presidential caucuses. And there is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner.

Each set of results will represent a different stage of the caucuses. The new rules for the Feb. 3 contest were mandated by the Democratic National Committee in a bid to make the process more transparent.

In the past, Iowa Democrats reported only one set of results: the number of state convention delegates won by each candidate through the caucus process. Democrats choose their party's eventual White House nominee based on national convention delegates, and the state delegates are used to determine those totals in Iowa.

The Associated Press will declare a winner in Iowa based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins. The AP will also report all three results.

Q: What results will Iowa Democrats release out of the caucuses?

A: There will be three sets of results: tallies of the "first alignment" of caucusgoers, their "final alignment" and the total number of "state delegate equivalents" each candidate receives.

This is the first time the party has made public the first and final alignment results.

Q: What do those categories mean, and how will the results be determined?

A: Caucuses are different from primaries. In a primary, voters go to the polls, cast their ballots and leave. At a caucus, voters gather at local precincts and declare support for their chosen candidate — then some have an opportunity to switch sides.

In Iowa, voters arriving at their caucus site will fill out a card that lists their first choice. Those results will be tabulated and will determine the results of the "first alignment."

But that's not the end of the night. Caucusgoers whose first-choice candidate fails to get at least 15% of the vote can switch their support to a different candidate. The threshold can be higher at some precincts. If voters don't choose another candidate, their vote won't count in the final alignment. They can choose "uncommitted" — but that choice gets reported only if it, too, gets at least 15% of the vote.

The results of this stage will be tabulated to determine the caucuses' "final alignment." Only candidates who receive at least 15% of the vote at that precinct — the so-called viable candidates — will be counted in the final alignment. Nonviable candidates get zero votes in the final alignment.

There's one more step. The final alignment votes are then used to calculate the number of state convention delegates awarded to each candidate. The party calls these state delegate equivalents, because they represent the number of delegates each candidate will have at the party's state convention in June. That, in turn, determines how many national convention delegates each candidate receives.

Iowa will award 41 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, based on the results of the party caucuses.

Q: Who will the AP declare the winner of the Iowa caucuses?

A: The AP will declare the winner of the Iowa caucuses based on the number of state delegate equivalents each candidate receives.

That's because Democrats choose their overall nominee based on delegates. The other results will provide valuable insights into the process and the strength of the various candidates, but the state delegate equivalents have the most direct bearing on the metric Democrats use to pick their nominee.

Iowa and national Democratic Party figures also emphasize that this is the number to watch.

Q: Could different candidates top each of the three categories of results?

A: Yes. For example, Candidate A could beat Candidate B in the first alignment voting. But Candidate B could get more support from voters who initially voted for nonviable candidates. After those voters switch to a different candidate, Candidate B could end up with the most votes in the final alignment.

The final alignment votes are used to calculate the state delegate equivalents, so the results should be similar. However, in a very close race, it is mathematically possible to have different winners there, too.

Q: Why are Democrats making this change?

A: The new rules were mandated by the DNC as part of a package of changes sought by Bernie Sanders following his loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries. The changes were designed to make the caucus system more transparent and to make sure that even the lowest-performing candidates get credit for all the votes they receive.

And it's not just Iowa that is affected by the changes. The Nevada Democratic caucuses on Feb. 22 will also report three sets of results.

Day of rituals, revelations as trial of Trump begins
Agency says administration violated law by holding up Ukraine aid; Senate will hear case starting Tuesday

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday formally convened to consider articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager, began by reading aloud the two articles in the well of the U.S. Senate, the start of the pomp and ceremony of a trial to determine whether Trump should be removed from office.

The presentation of articles got underway hours after a nonpartisan government watchdog agency said the Trump administration violated federal law by withholding congressionally approved aid to Ukraine last summer — an action at the heart of the impeachment effort.

The law "does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Thursday morning.

The agency report says that while Congress makes laws, including those deciding how public money is spent, "the president is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called the report a "bombshell legal opinion" that "demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine."

The House impeached the president last month for abusing his office and obstructing Congress' investigation, arguing that he withheld about $400 million in aid and a White House meeting with Trump in hopes of getting Ukraine's president to announce an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Biden's son.

Republicans stressed that the GAO report said the administration's Office of Management and Budget, not the president, broke the law. The office is within the executive office of the president.

"I think we're going to hear some more about it, but I don't think that changes anything," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

At midday Thursday, seven House Democrats who will act as impeachment managers walked across the Capitol to serve as de facto prosecutors in the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. They include Schiff and Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California, Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Jason Crow of Colorado, Val Demmings of Florida and Sylvia Garcia of Texas.

After the ceremonial walk, Schiff read the articles in front of the full Senate, with members of both parties watching from their desks. Under the rules, senators are not allowed to speak during the trial.

The proceedings got underway amid dramatically heightened security on Capitol Hill. Reporters who can normally roam much of the Capitol in order to speak with senators were barricaded behind rope lines, changes imposed by the Senate sergeant-at-arms and Senate Republican leadership that will allow lawmakers to escape being questioned by the media.

Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the longest-serving Senate Republican, swore in Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial. Roberts then administered the oath to all senators present.

The Senate then recessed for the day. It will start the trial in earnest on Tuesday. From then on, the Senate is required to meet Monday through Saturday at 1 p.m. to hear the case.

Sixty-seven votes are required in order to convict the president and remove him from office. No Senate Republicans have indicated publicly that they're apt to join the 47 Senate Democrats to vote to convict, all but ensuring that the president will remain in office.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian police announced Thursday that they had opened an investigation into new allegations that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch came under illegal surveillance by Trump loyalists before she was recalled from her post.

The announcement followed the release by Democrats of documents showing Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, communicating about her movements. Parnas has said Trump and Giuliani were both aware of his activities.

Ukraine also said it would look into reports that Russian hackers gained access to computers of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, presumably in an effort to uncover embarrassing information about Biden, Trump's possible rival in 2020. Biden's son Hunter was a director for Burisma, and Trump was impeached, in part, for pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens. Ukrainian officials say there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said new information from Parnas should be admitted to the Senate trial, a likely point of friction between the two parties.

"Every day new incriminating information comes forward," she said. "That only speaks very clearly to the need for the Senate to enter the documentation into their discussion."

Parnas is under indictment in the Southern District of New York for unrelated matters and his lawyer has suggested that he wants immunity in that case, a factor Republicans have already brought up.

Cornyn said he doesn't know if Parnas is credible and said it is up to the House managers whether to request to call him as a witness.

"I don't know, he looks kind of like a seamy, shady character to me," Cornyn said.

'A different kind of church': Historic north Omaha church envisioned as new community center

She knows it needs work.

Step inside the soaring sanctuary space of the former church on the corner of 24th and Wirt Streets and try not to wince at the damage wrought by time, water and benign neglect.

There’s a now-patched hole in the roof, sheets of plaster peeling off the walls and rows of pews collapsing like a deck of cards. There’s mold blooming on walls and piles of raccoon poop in the choir loft upstairs.

Katrina Adams, the new owner of the building formerly known as the Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth and, prior to that, Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church, is undaunted.

OK, she’s a little daunted, but still determined.


Katrina Adams is silhouetted in front of stained-glass windows in the former Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth.

“I am energized, and at the same time terrified, because it is a huge undertaking,” she said.

Adams bought the north Omaha church with the stately white columns, brick façade, dome and stained-glass windows last May. Its neoclassical architecture and deep ties to the community have led to designations on the National Register of Historic Places and as a City of Omaha local landmark.

As a kid growing up at 24th and Parker Streets, Adams knew it as the popcorn ball church — parishioners used to sell the treats as a fundraiser for roof repairs and other projects.

Now, she has big plans to bring the nearly 110-year-old building into the 21st century and transform it into a new kind of neighborhood gathering place: a community center.

“It was designed as a church, but I feel like what I want to create is a different kind of church,” she said. “So maybe it’s not grounded in religion so much as it is community. It’s still a place for fellowship, it’s still a place for hope and faith and connection to something bigger than oneself.”

If she can pull off the repairs and renovation — hopefully funded through a capital campaign and restoration grants — Adams could tap into a wave of renewal percolating on North 24th Street, the historic heart of north Omaha.

“I think there’s a lot of places in the city that have had a rebirth,” said Eric Crawford, CEO of the Heart Ministry Center at 24th and Binney Streets. “Why not 24th Street and north Omaha as well?”

A study of neighborhood housing and transportation needs, called Forever North, is underway. New businesses and social spots are opening up in other parts of the corridor, including TBC Shop, the shop and headquarters for world champion boxer Terence “Bud” Crawford; artist space Culxr House; and the Grown Folks private social club.

(An open house that will include updates on the Forever North project is scheduled for Tuesday at the Heart Ministry Center, from 4 to 7 p.m.)


The former Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth is marked by its stately white columns, brick façade, dome and stained-glass windows.

Other developments include the $2.4 million Fair Deal Village Marketplace, the Union for Contemporary Art and the new $5.8 million Heart Ministry Center, which houses a food pantry, walk-in clinic and other social service programs.

“North 24th Street is experiencing really a renaissance,” said LaVonya Goodwin, president of the North 24th Street Business Improvement District and co-owner of Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop across the street from the old church. “This is the history of this area. … You could get every need met on 24th Street and that’s what we want to refurbish and bring back, and it’s happening.”

Goodwin counted three restoration projects for local landmarks that are expected to get off the ground in 2020: the church; her family’s barbershop, which has been described as “Omaha’s Black City Hall”; and the Carnation Ballroom, a onetime music venue where legends like Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry and B.B. King reportedly played.

It’s not millionaire developers spearheading these projects, but regular people bent on improving their neighborhood, Goodwin said. The corridor still needs more businesses, too, so residents don’t have to leave the area to shop or eat out, she said.

“It’s feasible as the small guy,” she said. “You just have to work at it.”

Read the '24th & Glory' series on civil rights and Omaha's greatest generation of athletes

Adams, a program manager at the Omaha Community Foundation, had been cultivating a seed of an idea for a while: a community hub that could connect nonprofits, local businesses and the residents of north Omaha, largely people of color.

“How do we explore what’s possible like other communities do, like Atlanta and Washington, D.C.?” she said. “We lose a lot of young, brilliant leaders of color because we lack some of the things that larger cities with different populations have.

“We do have amazing artists, historians, we have these resources, it’s just how do we leverage them? How do we amplify our voices? If it’s not going to be built for us, then we have to build it for ourselves.”

The church at 24th and Wirt has sat empty for years. The growing list of repairs for the roof and other parts of the aging building had overwhelmed the small congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth, which belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pastor Frank Parker could not be reached for comment.

The church has a long history that has often reflected the racial tensions of Omaha. It was designed by prominent local architect Frederick Henninger, who was most likely inspired by the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition held nearby on the site of what is now Kountze Park. It opened in 1910 as North Presbyterian Church, according to Adam Fletcher Sasse, who runs northomahahistory.com.

As the white congregants of North Presbyterian moved out of north Omaha, the church attempted to integrate two congregations, white and black, in the 1950s. It became Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church. The congregation eventually became predominantly black again, Calvin Memorial merged and moved and the Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth took over the building in 1992, Sasse wrote on his site.


Owner Katrina Adams has plans to turn the former Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth into a community center. “It’s still a place for fellowship, it’s still a place for hope and faith and connection to something bigger than oneself,” she said.

With the help of an investor she declined to name, Adams was able to purchase the 20,000-square-foot building for $90,000 through a limited liability company.

With renovations, she imagines what she calls the POC (people of color) Collaborative Community Resource Center as a mix of Do Space, the tech library at 72nd and Dodge; a small business incubator; and a community engagement area with space for classes, art exhibits and back-office support for entrepreneurs or nonprofit leaders who need help with accounting or IT.

The church’s large chapel area could become configurable flex space, screening movies one night and hosting a pop-up shop or voter registration event the next. The church’s commercial kitchen — now splattered with grease from fish fries past — could be used for cooking classes or community meal prep sessions.

Adams is talking to people in the community to see what holes need to be filled. This is a project she wants to create with the community, not force upon them.

Katrina Adams

“It’s really about building something that serves all of us,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know me. I have to do the same legwork and community-building and trust-building type things.”

Ashley Kuhn is a board member for POC Collaborative and the president of Blair Freeman, a construction and real estate firm that will tackle the renovations of the church. She said the building is structurally sound — it just needs a lot of updates and cosmetic work.

The space inside is sprawling, with areas once used for worship, offices, meals, Sunday school and more. There are still vestiges of its former life inside — an old organ, sewing tables and prayer books.

“It is daunting when you look at a project like this that’s been decaying so long, but the bones are so good,” Kuhn said. “This is a dream project for someone who likes historic buildings.”

Kyle Keith lives behind the church and said Adams beat him to the punch — he’s been talking about buying it since he was a little kid. But he’s happy to see someone with new plans for it, and he’s joined the board of POC Collaborative at Adams’ urging.

“Finally, we’re going to see some life on this part of 24th Street,” he said.

Photos: Scenes of North Omaha