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Koch affiliation with proposed law college program at Nebraska worries some UNL professors

A program proposed for the University of Nebraska College of Law would receive backing from the Charles Koch Foundation, which some faculty members consider troubling.

The program, approved this week by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, is called the Governance and Technology Center. It would study how emerging technology affects the law, how that technology is regulated and what challenges it creates for society and the law.

The NU Board of Regents and the State Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education still must approve the center.

The Koch Foundation has encountered criticism through the years for trying to influence hiring, curriculum, research or other elements of the programs it has funded.

A small national organization has sprouted called UnKoch My Campus.

The Koch Foundation is connected to the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and the late David. They have been known for supporting free enterprise, hands-off capitalism and generally libertarian and conservative causes. Their donations — many millions of dollars — have gone to K-12 education, higher education, politics, foreign policy and other areas over the years.

Richard Moberly, dean of the law college, said he has received guarantees that the foundation would not exert influence over the program.

Moberly said the days of the Koch Foundation attaching strings to its academic donations are in the past. The foundation, he said, has gained a “healthy respect” for the norms of higher education.

“The university will not enter an agreement with anyone without assurances that there won’t be outside influence,” Moberly said. The UNL Colleges of Engineering and Business are expected to collaborate on work at the center. Documents describe the gift as $5.5 million from three donors over five years.

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The associate professor in the law college who is expected to oversee the program, Justin “Gus” Hurwitz, agreed that the foundation will not interfere.


hat is 100% my understanding, absolutely,” Hurwitz said. “It’s an awesome program. ... I’m optimistic that this will be reputationally very beneficial to the university.”

Some UNL professors are less convinced.

“Anytime you hear the name Koch, you get a little bit leery,” said John Bender, a professor in the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The proposal has passed the UNL Academic Planning Committee, a group of faculty members and administrators. Bender is on that committee.

English faculty member Julia Schleck said it’s her understanding that other members of that committee expressed concern, too. Schleck, a leader of the state’s and UNL’s chapters of the American Association of University Professors, said the Kochs are “well-known within academia.”

At a forum this week at UNL, she asked the NU system’s lead presidential candidate, Walter “Ted” Carter, about his view of private donations influencing researchfindings.

Carter, the former head of the U.S. Naval Academy, said research has to be aimed at seeking truth. He said attempts to influence research outcomes with private money are unacceptable. At the Naval Academy, he said, if someone tried to do that, “We said, ‘No, thank you. Keep your money.’ ”

Schleck said the AAUP got its start early last century because of private donors’ influence on academic programs. The AAUP advocates for academic freedom and tenure, which protects professors from being fired for their speech or research findings.

The Koch Foundation has supported programs at dozens of American colleges through the years, including Creighton University’s Institute for Economic Inquiry.

Hurwitz said the Koch Foundation has also supported programs at Ohio State, Duke, Stanford, Arizona State and many other institutions. He called himself a “classical liberal,” which he defined as valuing individual liberties, among other things.

Kevin Hanrahan, head of the UNL Faculty Senate, said he raised some questions about academic freedom and the Koch gift with the Academic Planning Committee. The committee evidently was satisfied because it recently approved the plan.

“I’m at ease with it if they’re at ease with it,” Hanrahan said.

Based on his review of the foundation, Hanrahan said, “there have been some issues three or four years ago” with the Koch Foundation and academic freedom, but not recently.

A reporter’s phone calls to the Charles Koch Foundation were neither answered nor returned.

Samantha Parsons, campaign director for UnKoch My Campus, said she believes that problems with the foundation continue.

“Koch has not stopped putting problematic terms in their gift agreements,” she said. “They’re just not as explicit” as they were in the past.

Students at George Mason University sued their school for records associated with the Koch contract, Parsons said. The students lost in a lower court and have appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, she said.

“We have universities reaching out to us once a week with concerns,” she said. “So I do not buy that they’ve turned over a new leaf.”

At Utah State two years ago, she said, a board of Koch-affiliated officials controlled the hiring of the center’s executive.

Check out nearly 100 stunning photos of Nebraska

Long-simmering anger at Iran boils over in protests in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — The shoes are coming off again in Iraq.

In years past, Iraqis have beaten their shoes against portraits of Saddam Hussein in a sign of anger and insult.

In 2008, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at a ducking President George W. Bush during a press conference to vent his outrage at the U.S.-led invasion.

Now protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square are using their shoes again — slapping them against banners depicting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

More violent demonstrations of their fury have erupted in southern Iraq, where protesters have torched the headquarters of parties and militias linked to Iran and thrown firebombs at an Iranian Consulate.

The anti-government protests that have convulsed Iraq in the past month are fueled by economic grievances and are mainly directed at Iraq's own political leaders. But they have also exposed long-simmering resentment at Iran's influence in the country, with protesters targeting Shiite political parties and militias with close ties to Tehran.

The uprising in Iraq, and similar anti-government protests underway in Lebanon, pose a threat to key Iranian allies at a time when Tehran is under mounting pressure from U.S. sanctions.

"There's a lack of respect. They act like they are the sons of this country and we are beneath them," said Hassanein Ali, 35, who is from the Shiite holy city of Karbala but came to Baghdad to protest. "I feel like the Iranian Embassy controls the government and they are the ones repressing the demonstrators. I want Iran to leave."

That the protesters are mainly from Shiite areas undermines Iran's claim to be a champion of Shiites, who are a majority in Iraq and Iran but a frequently oppressed minority in the wider Muslim world.

"This has embarrassed Shiite leaders close to Iran," said Wathiq al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based analyst. "After these demonstrations, Iran may lose Iraq by losing the Shiite street."

In Tahrir Square, protesters have brandished crossed-out pictures of Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran's regional military interventions who has helped direct the response to the rallies. Demonstrators have beaten the posters with their shoes in a replay of scenes from the ouster of Saddam 16 years ago.

As in many cultures, shoes are regarded as inherently dirty in Arab countries.

Last week in Baghdad, a version of the Iranian flag was painted on the pavement with a swastika on it so protesters could walk on the image.

On Sunday night in Karbala, protesters climbed the walls of the Iranian Consulate by the light of burning tires as the crowd chanted, "The people want the fall of the regime," one of the main slogans from the 2011 Arab Spring. Security forces dispersed the protest, killing at least three people and wounding almost 20.

The protest came less than a week after masked men suspected of links to the security forces opened fire on a demonstration in the same city, killing at least 18 people.


Many protesters blame Iran and its allies for deadly violence in the southern city of Basra last year and during a wave of protests in early October, in which Iraqsecurity forces killed almost 150 people in less than a week, with snipers shooting protesters in the head and chest.

The spontaneous protests resumed on Oct. 25 and have only grown in recent days, with tens of thousands of people packing central Baghdad and holding rallies in cities across the Shiite south. The protesters have blocked roads and ports and have clashed with security forces on bridges leading to Baghdad's Green Zone, the seat of power. More than 110 people have been killed since the demonstrations resumed.

The grievances go way back. Iran, which fought a devastating war with Iraq in the 1980s, emerged as a major power broker after the American invasion of Iraq, supporting Shiite Islamist parties and militias that have dominated the country since then.

Iran also supports many of the militias that mobilized in 2014 to battle the Islamic State, gaining outsize influence as the militias fought along with security forces and U.S. troops to defeat the extremists. Those militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have since grown into a powerful political faction.

"People make a direct connection between the failure and the corruption of the Shia political establishment, both politicians and some clerics, and the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs," said Maria Fantappie, an expert on Iraq at the Brussels-based Crisis Group, a global think tank.

There has been a "drastic change" in the perception of the Popular Mobilization Forces, with many protesters viewing them as an instrument of repression, she said.


Lebanon has also seen huge demonstrations in recent weeks against its ruling elite and government, which is dominated by allies of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group. They included, for the first time, protests in Shiite-majority communities seen as Hezbollah strongholds.

But there, the response has been different. Lebanese security forces have acted with restraint. Hezbollah and its allies have expressed sympathy for the protesters' demands and have called for the quick formation of a new government after the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week. But they have also cast aspersions on the protesters, alleging that the U.S. and other Western powers are manipulating them.

Iran's allies in Iraq appear to have adopted a similar response.

Iraqi President Barham Salih, a member of a Kurdish party close to Iran, said he will approve early elections once a new electoral law is enacted. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, another veteran politician, has expressed support for the protesters but urged them to reopen roads so life can get back to normal.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader of one of Iraq's most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias, said this week that the U.S. and other nations are working to "incite strife and chaos."

The Trump administration, which has expressed support for the protests in Iraq, could inadvertently aid that narrative by linking the protests to its own efforts to curb Iran's influence. That could provoke a similar backlash against the U.S., which still has thousands of troops in Iraq and is widely seen as having meddled in the country's affairs.

Political leaders in Iraq and Lebanon have yet to offer concrete proposals to meet protesters' demands. The process of forming a new government in either country would take months, and without fundamental change would leave the samepolitical factions in power.

Iran's allies appear to be betting that as the weeks and months go by, the public will grow frustrated at disruptions to daily life and the protests will gradually fizzle out.

Saddam Mohsen, a Baghdad resident, said the closure of three central bridges after clashes has worsened the city's already terrible traffic, causing "huge problems."

"Shutting down three bridges means shutting down half of Baghdad," he said.

Ringleader testifies about origins of illegal labor scheme in O'Neill

LINCOLN — The ringleader of a service that had once provided undocumented workers for companies in the O'Neill area testified Thursday that one of the firms, a tomato greenhouse, first suggested that he set up such a company.

Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado said that two secretaries from the greenhouse first approached him around 2013 at the Mexican restaurant he owned in O'Neill and complained about their difficulty in finding workers to pick and sort tomatoes in the humid greenhouse.

They told him, he said, that they needed someone in the "middle" between their company and the federal government to provide workers, which he understood to mean illegal immigrants.

At a subsequent meeting, Sanchez-Delgado said, "they explained how much I was going to be paid and how much I was going to make."

The business flourished for several years in a labor-short region of rural Nebraska, providing up to 60 workers for the greenhouse and dozens of others to hog confinements and other businesses until a raid in August 2018 by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. 

Wiretapped phone calls, played in court Thursday, revealed that in the weeks before the raid, Sanchez-Delgado and a secretary at the greenhouse were growing more anxious about the day when "there's not going to be any Mexicans" to fill the jobs.

"One day, ICE will pick us all up," Sanchez-Delgado said. 

His testimony highlighted the fourth day of the federal trial of three people, all customers or friends of Sanchez-Delgado. They are charged with participating in the conspiracy to harbor illegal workers, or launder money for the multimillion businesses headed by the man known as "Pablo" in O'Neill.

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He, along with members of his family, were among 130 people detained in the ICE raid in O'Neill. Only three contested their arrests: Atkinson businessman John Good; John Glidden, the manager of hog confinement operations in Ainsworth and Long Pine; and Mayra Jimenez, a secretary at the greenhouse.

Sanchez-Delgado, a Mexican national who had lived in O'Neill for 15 years, has pleaded guilty and faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He agreed, as part of a plea deal, to testify for prosecutors. His testimony Thursday is key to prosecutors' allegations that the trio knew he was providing illegal workers and they were active assistants in the scheme.

Among testimony Thursday:

» A state liquor regulator said that Good had registered in 2007 as the sole owner and manager of the Mexican restaurant run by Sanchez-Delgado and his wife in O'Neill even though, according to Sanchez-Delgado, Good never worked an hour in the La Herradura or took any pay.

Sanchez-Delgado testified that he knew he and his wife couldn't obtain a liquor license because they were in the country illegally. Testifying somberly in Spanish through an interpreter, he described Good as a "great friend" who had not only obtained the liquor license for them, but had sold them vehicles and kept his name on the deed of their home in O'Neill.

» Glidden, according to Sanchez-Delgado, had to realize that he was getting illegal workers for his hog barns after one of the employees said he'd just obtained paperwork to become a legal U.S. citizen. 

"Did (Glidden) ever ask you to verify the (immigration) status of your workers?" federal prosecutor Lesely Woods asked. "No," responded Sanchez-Delgado. 

Jurors were shown a transcript of a wire-tapped conversation between Sanchez-Delgado and one of his provided employees in which the worker is encouraged to "put in more hours," and on weekends. Others, Sanchez-Delgado said, are working 130-140 hours per week.

Sanchez-Delgado later said that while his workers toiled more hours than the legal employees of the hog barns, the overtime was voluntary. 

» In one wire-tapped phone call, Jimenez, the tomato greenhouse secretary, expressed heightened anxiety that an ICE raid was imminent, and that the greenhouse will have to close. In another call, Good suggested that Sanchez-Delgado just shut down his restaurant for a while and post an "on vacation" sign if he suspected a raid was coming.

But testimony came to a halt shortly after Sanchez-Delgado testified that the idea of creating a company to provide illegal workers had been suggested by Jimenez, who was interpreting for another secretary then working at the greenhouse named "Marilou."

That prompted one of the defense attorneys, Dave Domina, to ask for a mistrial.

Domina said that "Marilou" — whose last name was not revealed in court and who was not indicted after the ICE raid — had not been revealed to defense attorneys as a possible co-conspirator, and thus defense lawyers were prevented from questioning her prior to the trial and preparing for her role.

Woods, the lead federal prosecutor, disputed that Marilou was a surprise, saying that she had been mentioned in pre-trial statements provided by Sanchez-Delgado. Marilou, she added, could be a co-conspirator without being indicted.

After more argument, U.S. District Judge John Gerrard ruled that the mistrial motion was "premature" and that the trial should continue.

Notable crime news of 2019

Army Corps to clear about 40 acres of trees around Zorinsky Lake Park, despite objections

Trees around the perimeter of Zorinsky Lake Park will be cut down over the next few years as a result of a directive from Washington.

The 30-foot corridor is expected to total about 40 acres of trees.

The plan by the Army Corps of Engineers has angered some property owners, while others welcome it.

The federal government owns the land where the lake, built for flood control, is situated. The City of Omaha operates and maintains the park.

The trees are being removed to better delineate the park’s boundaries.

A number of homeowners around the lake say they are stunned by the decision. The loss of trees around the park will irreparably harm their views, they say, as well as lower their property values, damage habitat and alter the natural qualities of a park that the public has come to love.

“When you step onto those trails, it’s almost like being in another world; it’s very majestic and natural,” said Mickey Decock, whose home abuts the park. “I don’t understand why they would rush to cut down trees. This isn’t just about our property and how this affects us. It affects everybody.”


The Army Corps of Engineers will remove a corridor of trees around Zorinsky Lake, despite objections from property owners such as Steve Decock of Omaha.

Neighboring landowners said they only learned about the plans in September. The contract for tree removal has been awarded, and removal is expected to start at the end of November or early December, according to the corps.

The primary reason for the tree removal is to prevent unauthorized uses of the parkland, said David Sobczyk, project manager at the corps. For the most part, those unauthorized uses are fences that extend onto park property, he said. But they also include some retaining walls, treehouses, birdbaths, benches and gardens that some property owners have installed since the park opened in 1993.

“It’s public land,” Sobczyk said. “We can’t allow anything to happen on that property for the sole benefit of any private entity.”


The Army Corps of Engineers is removing a corridor of trees, including these hedge apple trees around Zorinsky Lake, despite property owners' objections.

The first contract calls for 1 mile to be cleared between 156th and 168th Streets by April. Dreamscapes, a company based in Enid, Oklahoma, is being paid $254,250 for the work. Stumps will be ground to 6 inches below the soil surface, and mixed grasses will be planted in the clearings.

Sobczyk estimates that the entire project will take two to four years. About 70% of the perimeter will need tree removal. Based on the first mile, the entire project could cost between $1 million and $2 million.

That seems like an excessive amount of tax dollars to spend because treehouses and birdbaths have been installed on parkland, said homeowner Eric Watts, who would lose a buffer of evergreens and mature shade trees.

“Why doesn’t (the corps) go to people and say, ‘Get rid of your garden, get rid of your treehouse?’ ” he asked. “I think everybody would go along with that rather than lose the trees.”

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Sobczyk said a corps contractor has counted about 250 possible “encroachments” onto federal property.

One reason for the high number may that the boundary fence around the park doesn’t run along the actual boundary but sits 3 to 5 feet inside the park, and sometimes more.

Not everyone opposes the project.


The Army Corps of Engineers will remove a corridor of trees around Zorinsky Lake, despite objections from property owners, including Mickey Decock, Steve Decock, Eric Watts and Nancy Scheufele. Along some stretches of this trail, the trees will be removed.

Homeowner Joel Alperson said the view from his home has deteriorated as years of uncontrolled growth has taken place. He and a neighbor have paid for tree trimming and other maintenance along their property line because trees, shrubs and grasses encroached onto their land.

“From my standpoint, the growth and vegetation has been largely uncontrolled,” he said. “If they don’t do this, I can’t imagine how the city will be able to operate around the lake.”

Mark Underwood also welcomes the tree removal for many reasons: Dead trees are a fire hazard, limbs drop into the family’s yard and a prowler even scaled a tree to get into their yard. The thicket behind their yard is a place where people drink and some people go to the bathroom.

“I’d be in favor of restoring this area to tall grass prairie, (which is) as beneficial to other species of wildlife as woodlands are to others,” he said.

Under the contract the city has with the corps, the city is responsible for maintaining the perimeter.

The clearing of a 30-foot-wide corridor around the 10-mile perimeter of the park will make it possible for the Parks and Recreation Department to mow and maintain the boundary, federal and local officials say.

And, according to Omaha Parks Director Brook Bench, the change will create a new amenity at the heavily used park — a grassy corridor for horseback riding, snowshoeing, mountain biking, jogging and dog walking.

Bench said the additional mowing the city will have to do won’t be an added expense for the Parks Department. The department has a caretaker who lives at Zorinsky, and mowing the perimeter will be added to his duties, Bench said. The city plans to mow the corridor every 30 days, he said.

The 1,000-acre park includes a 255-acre lake, with the rest of the land being a mix of woods, grassy areas and park amenities. More than 380 properties ring the park, Sobczyk said.


The Army Corps of Engineers will remove a corridor of trees around Zorinsky Lake, despite objections from property owners including Mickey Decock, left, Steve Decock, center, and Nancy Scheufele, right.

According to a corps map, only a few short stretches of the park’s paved trails might have trees removed. Much more affected will be footpaths through the perimeter woods that provide a shaded, tranquil route for runners and walkers. And while the tree removal will create a grassy strip for hiking and biking, it will be an area exposed to the sun and directly along the backyards of homeowners.

That, too, concerns property owners like Watts.

“We’re worried about the privacy aspect,” he said, if the thick wall of evergreens behind his home is replaced by bikers, hikers and horses.

Decock said the tree removal will also be detrimental to the nearby Bauermeister Prairie, one of the few native prairies in the Omaha metro area.


The Army Corps of Engineers will remove a corridor of trees around Zorinsky Lake, despite objections from property owners, including Mickey Decock, Steve Decock, Eric Watts and Nancy Scheufele. Along some stretches of this trail, the trees will be removed.

Zorinsky is the first of more than a dozen federally owned dam sites in Nebraska where tree removal will take place, Sobczyk said. Others include Wehrspann and Standing Bear Lakes in Omaha and Holmes Lake in Lincoln. Sobczyk said Zorinsky was picked to be first because of the dense housing around it.

While some type of boundary protection is required by corps regulation, the 30-foot width is based on several factors. The city’s tractor can mow 15 feet at a time, so the width of the strip will allow the caretaker to mow the strip in an up-and-back trip. It will also allow the city to get heavy equipment into the corridor to remove problem trees.

“Our stance is, if the corps is going to do this, make it so that we can maintain it,” Bench said.

Sobczyk said the national impetus for better maintenance of 600-plus federal dam sites began after significant problems developed elsewhere. At Rough River Lake in Kentucky, a developer built an unauthorized subdivision on federal land around a dam. Homes have also encroached onto federal land at Gavins Point Dam in Nebraska and Table Rock Lake in Missouri, he said.

It’s not clear, based on national corps regulations, that tree removal is required to delineate a boundary.

A corps document published in the spring calls for the agency to be proactive in protecting its boundaries but notes that the agency could also use public education, signs, fences and boundary markers.

Reece Nelson, a natural resources specialist at the corps, said those other methods haven’t proven effective at Zorinsky. Additionally, they don’t provide the access needed to maintain the park and protect adjacent private property from damage from falling trees.

Watts said he and his neighbors paid 50% more for the lots their homes sit on because the land abuts the park and provides nice views, habitat and privacy.


The Army Corps of Engineers will remove a corridor of trees around Zorinsky Lake recreation area, despite objections from property owners such as Eric Watts.

“Everybody I’ve talked to assumes it will lower their property values,” he said. “Our trees come right up to our line, and that’s a value.”

Decock said the city and corps need to be more thoughtful about what’s being done.

“Some of these trees may be 70 years old,” she said. “They are beautiful and functional and home to lots of critters. This isn’t like mowing grass that will come back. I will never live to see these trees come back.”

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