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World powers clash, virus stirs anger at virtual UN meeting

UNITED NATIONS — Kept apart by a devastating pandemic and dispersed across the globe, world leaders convened electronically Tuesday for an unprecedented high-level meeting, where the U.N. chief exhorted them to unite and tackle the era’s towering problems: the coronavirus, the “economic calamity” it unleashed and the risk of a new Cold War between the United States and China.

As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the first virtual “general debate” of the U.N. General Assembly, the yawning gaps of politics and anger became evident. China and Iran clashed with the United States — via prerecorded videos from home — and leaders expressed frustration and anger at the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the U.N. chief has called “the number one global security threat in our world today.”

As he began his speech, the secretary-general looked out at the vast General Assembly chamber, where only one mask-wearing diplomat from each of the U.N.’s 193 member nations was allowed to sit, socially distanced from one another.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition,” Guterres said. “But it has made it more important than ever.”

While the six-day mainly virtual meeting is unique in the U.N.’s 75-year history, the speeches from leaders hit on all the conflicts, crises and divisions facing a world that Guterres said is witnessing “rising inequalities, climate catastrophe, widening societal divisions, rampant corruption.”

In his grim state of the world speech, he said “the pandemic has exploited these injustices, preyed on the most vulnerable and wiped away the progress of decades,” including sparking the first rise in poverty in 30 years.

The secretary-general called for global unity, foremost to fight the pandemic, and sharply criticized populism and nationalism for failing to contain the virus and for often making things worse.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized how “countries were left on their own” at the onset of the pandemic, stressing that “effective multilateralism requires effective multilateral institutions.” He urged rapid U.N. reforms, starting with the Security Council, the most powerful body with five veto-wielding members — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France.

By contrast, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose country has reported the second-highest coronavirus death toll after the U.S., trumpeted his focus on the economy in dealing with the pandemic.

Bolsonaro lambasted “segments of the Brazilian media” for “spreading panic” by encouraging stay-at-home orders and prioritizing public health over the economy. He’s downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and repeatedly said shutting down the economy would inflict worse hardship on people.

Guterres told the virtual audience that “too often, there has also been a disconnect between leadership and power.”

A year ago, he warned about the rising U.S.-China rivalry, saying Tuesday: “We are moving in a very dangerous direction.”

“Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities,” Guterres said. “We must avoid this at all costs.”

The rivalry between the two powers was in full display as President Donald Trump, in a very short virtual speech, urged the United Nations to hold Beijing “accountable” for failing to contain the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has killed over 200,000 Americans and nearly 1 million worldwide.

China’s ambassador rejected all accusations against Beijing as “totally baseless.”

“At this moment, the world needs more solidarity and cooperation, and not a confrontation,” U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said before introducing President Xi Jinping’s prerecorded speech. “We need to increase mutual confidence and trust, and not the spreading of political virus.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said the pandemic should be “an electric shock” to encourage more multilateral action. Otherwise, he warned, the world will be “collectively condemned to a pas de deux” by the U.S. and China in which everyone else is “reduced to being nothing but the sorry spectators of a collective impotence.”

Tensions with the U.S. also dominated a fiery speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is facing the worst COVID-19 crisis in the Middle East. He lashed out at U.S. sanctions but declared that his country will not submit to U.S. pressure.

Rouhani said the United States can’t impose negotiations or war on Iran, stressing that his country is “not a bargaining chip in U.S. elections and domestic policy.” He used the May death of Black American George Floyd under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer as a metaphor for Iran’s “own experience” with the United States.

“We instantly recognize the feet kneeling on the neck as the feet of arrogance on the neck of independent nations,” Rouhani said.

U.S.-Iran tensions have run dangerously high this year, and Trump signed an executive order this week to enforce all U.N. sanctions on Iran because it’s not complying with a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers — a move he touted in his U.N. speech but that most of the world rejects as illegal.

Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the need for multilateral cooperation against the pandemic, urging an end to “illegitimate sanctions” against his country and others that he said could boost the global economy and create jobs.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking on behalf of the African Union, said rich nations haven’t been generous enough in helping developing countries combat COVID-19, which is setting back the continent’s economy and development.

After the pandemic shut down big parts of the world in March, Guterres called for a global cease-fire to tackle it. On Tuesday, he appealed for a 100-day push by the international community, led by the Security Council, “to make this a reality by the end of the year.”

Amid widespread calls for U.N. reforms, France’s Macron said the global body itself “ran the risk of impotence.”

“Our societies have never been so interdependent,” he said. “And at the very moment when all this is happening, never have we been so out of tune, so out of alignment.”


Hartmann running for council to boost business and industry representation

Shawn Hartmann is running for the vacant Ward 4 seat on the Hastings City Council because he believes it’s important to boost representation of Hastings’ manufacturing and small business community on the council.

Hartmann, 48, of 150 E. 12th St. is vice president and chief operating officer of Hastings HVAC.

“I grew up in manufacturing in Hastings, Nebraska, working in several different local different manufacturers,” he said. “I know how important it is, and I know how hard it can be for those businesses to survive sometimes when things get rough.”

He has lived in Hastings for 30 years and in Adams County his whole life.

Not only does he represent local manufacturers, but also locally owned small businesses and retail shops.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, are owners of Avani Day Spa and Yoga Studio in downtown Hastings.

“People aren’t always aware of the importance of the small businesses, especially the ones that are downtown, but also that local manufacturers are a big part of the reason why Hastings is such a great place to live and we need to make sure we always keep them in mind when we’re making decisions that have to do with the city’s welfare,” he said. “After being on the utility board like I have been, the larger customers that are in town which make our residential utility rates a lot more affordable because we have such a good manufacturing base and they are the large customers that keep those rates down.”

When it comes to the future of the 16th Street viaduct, Hartmann is for repairing the structure, but only if it can be done economically, so that it doesn’t cripple the city financially or cause an increase in taxes to fund it.

“That being said, now that it is on the ballot, the voters will decide, and I will support that outcome whatever it may be,” he said.

Hartmann started working at HVAC in 2007. He was hired to work as a purchasing agent and worked his way up through the research and development lab, service and sales and ended up as plant manager, general manager and now vice president and chief operating officer.

He sees his role at Hastings HVAC as a benefit because he is in contact with many people in town on a regular basis.

“Personally and professionally I have acquaintances from all walks of life and Hastings and look forward to doing all I can to represent them,” he said.

He has served on the advisory Hastings Utility Board since it was created in 2017 and is the current vice chairman of the board.

He is also the current vice president of the Hastings Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors.

He is a member of the Hastings Area Manufacturers Association and Manufacturing Pathways Advisory Team.

“The main reason I’m a member of that is obviously one of the biggest issues in town is work force,” Hartmann said. “Anything we can do to make that better then I’d like to stay involved in it because not only does it help me but it helps everybody else.”

Hartmann factored in all of his commitments in deciding to running for the council.

“I don’t do anything halfway. When I made the decision to run for City Council I had already taken into account the extra time it would take and I will make time to be the best council member I can be,” he said.

Hartmann faces Robin Vodehnal in the Ward 4 council race. Ward 4 is in east Hastings.


Senate GOP plans vote on Trump's court pick before election

WASHINGTON — Votes in hand, Senate Republicans are charging ahead with plans to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat before the Nov. 3 election, launching a divisive fight over Democratic objections before a nominee is even announced.

Trump said Tuesday he will name his choice Saturday, confident of support. Democrats say it’s too close to the election, and the winner of the presidency should name the new justice. But under GOP planning, the Senate could vote Oct. 29.

“I guess we have all the votes we’re going to need,” Trump told WJBX FOX 2 in Detroit. “I think it’s going to happen.”

Republicans believe the court fight will energize voters for Trump, boosting the party and potentially deflating Democrats who cannot stop the lifetime appointment for a conservative justice . The Senate is controlled by Republicans, 53-47, with a simple majority needed for confirmation. The one remaining possible Republican holdout, Mitt Romney of Utah, said Tuesday he supports taking a vote.

Still, with early presidential voting already underway in several states, all sides are girding for a wrenching Senate battle over health care, abortion access and other big cases before the court and sure to further split the torn nation.

It is one of the quickest confirmation efforts in recent times. No court nominee in U.S. history has been considered so close to a presidential election. And it all comes as the nation is marking the grave milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a private lunch meeting Tuesday at Senate GOP campaign headquarters, several Republican senators spoke up in favor of voting before the election. None advocated a delay.

Elsewhere, as tributes poured in for Ginsburg with vigils and flowers at the court’s steps, Democrats led by presidential nominee Joe Biden vowed a tough fight. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said “we should honor her dying wish,” which was that her seat not be filled until the man who wins the presidential election is installed, in January.

But that seemed no longer an option. So far, two Republicans have said they oppose taking up a nomination at this time, but no others are in sight. Under Senate rules, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie vote.

While not all Republican senators have said they will support the eventual pick, few appear willing to stand in the way of a top party priority.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made no scheduling announcements. But hearings could start as soon as Oct. 12 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a vote in the full Senate by Oct. 29, according to a GOP aide granted anonymity to discuss deliberations.

After Trump met with conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday he told reporters he would interview other candidates and might meet with Judge Barbara Lagoa when he travels to Florida later this week. Conversations in the White House and McConnell’s office have been increasingly focused on Barrett and Lagoa, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.

Barrett, 48, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, has long been favored by conservatives. Those familiar with the process said interest inside the White House seemed to be waning for Lagoa amid concerns she did not have a proven record as a conservative jurist. Lagoa has been pushed by Florida’s governor, and aides tout her political advantages of being Hispanic and hailing from the key political battleground state.

Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after McConnell led the GOP in refusing to vote on a nominee of President Barack Obama in February 2016, long before that year’s election.

Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, dismissed that argument, saying “it was not unfair” for Republicans to refuse to consider Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland.

The Utah Republican backed up his decision by saying it’s not “written in the stars” that the court should have a liberal bent. He said Trump’s pick will tip the court to become more conservative, and he said that is appropriate “for a nation which is, if you will, center right, to have a court which reflects a center right point of view.”

At the private lunch, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said, senators advocating swift voting warned of “too many complications” if it’s delayed until after the election — presumably if Biden wins the White House or Republicans lose the Senate.

Conservative groups pushing for swift approval also argue the election result could be disputed with legal battles dragging on for weeks.

Democrats say voters should speak first, on Election Day. Biden appealed to GOP senators to “uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience” and wait until the president is chosen.

But few Republicans are willing to cross Trump. The president has criticized Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for opposing a Senate vote before elections. Trump warned they would be “very badly hurt” by voters in November.

Collins went further Tuesday saying she would vote against Trump’s pick, “not because I might not support that nominee under normal circumstances but we’re simply too close to the election.”

The parties braced for the fight ahead.

At an evening rally in Pittsburgh, Trump marveled at how important the Supreme Court is to some voters, and at his own opportunity to pick a third justice. “Can you imagine?” he asked.

“These sorts of fights bring Republicans together,” said Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., the party’s Senate campaign chairman.

At a memorial on the National Mall marking the 200,000 COVID deaths, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid tribute to Ginsburg and warned against Trump’s coming court challenge to the Affordable Care Act. “It’s a time for us to vote health,” she said.

The mounting clash over the vacant seat injects new turbulence in the presidential campaign with the nation still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and shattered economy, with millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger.

Ginsburg, 87, died Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol this week, the first woman accorded that honor. Her casket will be on view Wednesday and Thursday on the steps of the high court.

No nominee has won confirmation so quickly since Sandra Day O’Connor — with no opposition from either party — became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.


UNK 'partner' at College Park once again

After a 17-year hiatus, the University of Nebraska at Kearney plans to re-establish a presence at College Park in Grand Island.

UNK, which pulled out of College Park in 2003 amid budget cuts throughout the University of Nebraska system, announced Tuesday it once again will be offering classes there, offering convenience to commuter students from Grand Island, Hastings and the surrounding area.

College Park is located at U.S. Highway 281 and U.S. Highway 34 on the south side of Grand Island, just west of the Central Community College-Grand Island campus.

According to a news release from UNK, the university and College Park finalized an agreement earlier this month “that re-establishes the university’s presence in the center for higher education and affirms its commitment to supporting and growing the greater Grand Island area.”

“We are thrilled to once again be part of the Grand Island community. This remarkable partnership will expand UNK programming within the excellent facilities at College Park, allowing us to meet academic needs in the city and throughout the region,” said Charlie Bicak, UNK senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

UNK was one of the partner institutions when College Park opened in 1992. College Park was built to help adult learners achieve their educational goals and further develop the region’s workforce.

Under the new arrangement, UNK is leasing two classrooms and two offices that will be used by faculty and staff. The space was occupied previously by Doane University, which ended its longtime partnership with College Park in July.

The three-year contract, which can be extended for two additional three-year periods, also gives UNK access to a large auditorium, meeting room and library/media center within the 55,000-square-foot educational facility.

“Through its College Park location, UNK will work with Grand Island-area businesses and high schools, Central Community College and other community organizations to provide education and training that prepares students to begin or advance in their careers,” UNK said in its news release. “This includes academic advising, undergraduate and graduate courses, certificate programs, workshops and seminars.

Fine arts performances and community engagement activities are among the other possibilities for UNK outreach.

“Our programming will be driven by the needs of the Grand Island community,” said Peter Longo, a political science professor and associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at UNK. “We will work with our partners there to be strategic in our offerings with an ultimate goal of assuring greater access to educational opportunities for residents of the Grand Island area.”

Longo said UNK is eager to get back to College Park after a long absence.

“Many faculty of my generation, for years, taught night classes in Grand Island. We were inspired by students from the Grand Island community,” Longo said. “We are now determined to restore that educational partnership.”

The UNK release quoted L.J. McCormick, executive director of College Park, calling the agreement an investment in the Grand Island area.

“We are excited to partner with UNK to provide the much-needed programming this area needs,” McCormick said. “We are hopeful and optimistic that this will grow into a full, four-year campus for many of UNK’s degree offerings.”

Other partner institutions at College Park include CCC, the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, the Hall County Extension Office, Grand Island Little Theatre and Leadership Tomorrow.

Doane University, based in Crete, became a partner at College Park in 2003, operating what it called its Grand Island Campus there. Doane cited declining enrollment in its Grand Island courses when it closed the Grand Island Campus recently.