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Hastings Outdoor Show looks forward to spring
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With several inches of snowfall this weekend, Peg Schafer of Aurora imagined herself in warmer weather while attending the Hastings Outdoor Show on the Adams County Fairgrounds.

“It’s really fun to look at all the different types of campers,” she said. “It gets me excited for spring.”

Schafer bought a recreational vehicle last week at Dykeman’s Camper Place, but came to the show to look at other options with a friend, Dianne Botsch of Doniphan.

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to go together,” Schafer said. “We really want to go the state parks around Nebraska.”

Botsch said she and her husband enjoy hiking and being in nature, activities among the few not disrupted by the pandemic that has limited other aspects of life. Camping avoids crowded areas and allows for social distancing.

“We just want to go to the state parks and get off the beaten path,” Botsch said.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Shelby and Brian Banning of Juniata explore the kitchen and living space of a camper at the Hastings Outdoor Show Saturday at the Adams County Fairgrounds.

RVs of all sizes and with various options from Dykeman’s Camper Place in Hastings were on display at the show. All-terrain vehicles were shown by Powerhouse Motors and Sports in Hastings. Sweet Enterprises in Kearney brought golf carts, and LCL Truck Equipment in Hastings displayed grills and accessories.

Schafer and her husband used to own an RV but sold it about five years ago. With her upcoming retirement in May and her husband’s recent retirement, Schafer said, she is looking forward to some traveling and wanted to have accommodations to invite her children and grandchildren along.

For Schafer, an important option was the outdoor kitchen, which allows access to the stove and refrigerator from a side panel.

“I can start cooking without disturbing anyone sleeping inside,” she said.

To display the various options in the fifth wheels and travel trailers up for sale, Dykeman’s Camper Place opened each up so customers could walk through and test the specifics themselves.

“It lets us demonstrate what the camper would look like when it’s set up,” said manager Wade Dykeman.

Wade said his family often traveled via camper while he was growing up. Now, it’s become a family business.

“It’s a fun hobby to get families and friends out,” he said. “It’s a great, fun and affordable adventure.”

Despite the snowfall, manager Brad Dykeman said there was a steady flow of people attending the show.

“Thank you to everybody who did come out,” he said. “To be able to still have a show is awesome.”

The Boss visits Geographic Center to shoot Jeep Super Bowl commercial
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LEBANON, Kan. — The Geographic Center of the United States is at the center of the ReUnited States of America.

The chapel there, which is part of the monument at the center of the lower 48 states — outside of Lebanon, Kansas — was featured heavily in a two-minute commercial with Bruce Springsteen for Jeep during Super Bowl LV.

In his voiceover, Springsteen uses the U.S. Center Chapel as a symbol for unity. He encourages Americans to meet in “the middle,” which happens to be the title of the commercial.

The Boss also appears in the commercial, entering the tiny chapel and sitting on one of its pews, lighting a candle.

“There’s a chapel in Kansas standing on the exact center of the lower 48,” Springsteen said. “It never closes. All are more than welcome to come meet here, in the middle.”

This screen shot from Jeep’s “The Middle” Super Bowl commercial shows Bruce Springsteen in Lebanon, Kan.

Olivier Francois, global chief marketing officer for Jeep’s parent company Stellantis, said in a news release that “ ‘The Middle’ is a celebration of the Jeep brand’s 80-year anniversary and, more timely, it is a call to all Americans to come together and seek common ground as we look collectively to the road ahead.”

Springsteen wrote and produced the original score for the ad with frequent collaborator Ron Aniello.

Aside from the chapel, the commercial also includes rural and urban landscapes.

“It’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately,” Springsteen says in the ad. “Between red and blue. Between servant and citizen. Between our freedom and our fear. Now, fear has never been the best of who we are. And as for freedom, it’s not the property of just the fortunate few; it belongs to us all, whoever you are, wherever you’re from. It’s what connects us and we need that connection. We need the middle. We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground. So we can get there. We can make it to the mountaintop, through the desert and we will cross this divide. Our light has always found its way through the darkness and there’s hope on the road up ahead.”

As Springsteen drives a 1980 Jeep CJ-5 east on Kansas Highway 191, back to U.S. Highway 281, the words “To the ReUnited States of America,” appear around a map with a star on the geographic center.

A 1965 Willys Jeep CJ-5 also appears in the ad.

The commercial was shot over five days in late January.

A fact sheet states that in addition to the U.S. Center Chapel, the motel, porch and landscape that appear were shot in the Lebanon area. Portions of the ad — for additional landscapes — also were shot in Oronoque, Kansas; Golden, Colorado; Denver; and Hastings.

Just as the chapel played heavily in the commercial, Hastings and south central Nebraska were part of the production.

Hastings’ Lochland Country Club posted on its Facebook page Sunday afternoon that it catered several meals down to the shoot.

Senate Republicans back Trump on eve of impeachment trial
Donald Trump’s defenders in the Senate are rallying around the former president before his impeachment trial, dismissing it as a waste of time and arguing the former president’s fiery speech before the Capitol insurrection does not make him responsible for the violence of Jan. 6
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WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s defenders in the Senate on Sunday rallied around the former president before his impeachment trial, dismissing it as a waste of time and arguing that the former president’s fiery speech before the U.S. Capitol insurrection does not make him responsible for the violence of Jan. 6.

“If being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no,” said Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, making clear his belief that Trump should and will be acquitted. Asked if Congress could consider other punishment, such as censure, Wicker said the Democratic-led House had that option earlier but rejected it in favor of impeaching him.

“That ship has sailed,” he said.

The Senate is set to launch the impeachment trial Tuesday to consider the charge that Trump’s fighting words to protesters at a Capitol rally as well as weeks of falsehoods about a stolen and rigged presidential election provoked a mob to storm the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the melee, including a police officer.

Many senators including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell immediately denounced the violence and pointed a finger of blame at Trump. Following the riot, Wicker said Americans “will not stand for this kind of attack on the rule of law” and without naming names, said “we must prosecute” those who undermine democracy.

But with Trump now gone from the presidency, Republicans have shown little political appetite to take further action, such as an impeachment conviction that could lead to barring him from running for future office. Those partisan divisions appear to be hardening ahead of Trump’s trial, a sign of his continuing grip on the GOP.

On Sunday, Wicker described Trump’s impeachment trial as a “meaningless messaging partisan exercise.” When asked if Trump’s conduct should be more deserving of impeachment than President Bill Clinton’s, whom Wicker voted to impeach, he said: “I’m not conceding that the President Trump incited an insurrection.” Clinton’s impeachment, in 1998, was sparked by his false denial in a deposition of a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky dismissed Trump’s trial as a farce with “zero chance of conviction,” describing Trump’s words to protesters to “fight like hell” as Congress was voting to ratify Joe Biden’s presidential victory as “figurative” speech.

“If we’re going to criminalize speech, and somehow impeach everybody who says, ‘Go fight to hear your voices heard,’ I mean really we ought to impeach Chuck Schumer then,” Paul said, referring to the now Democratic Senate majority leader and his criticisms of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. “He went to the Supreme Court, stood in front of the Supreme Court and said specifically, ‘Hey Gorsuch, Hey Kavanaugh, you’ve unleashed a whirlwind. And you’re going to pay the price.’”

Paul noted that Chief Justice John Roberts had declined to preside over this week’s impeachment proceeding because Trump was no longer president. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont will preside over the trial as Senate president pro tempore.

“It is a farce, it is unconstitutional. But more than anything it’s unwise, and going to divide the country,” Paul said.

Last month, Paul forced a vote to set aside the trial as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, which legal experts say is disputable. But the vote suggested the near impossibility in reaching a conviction in a Senate where Democrats hold 50 seats but a two-thirds vote — or 67 senators — would be needed to convict Trump.

Forty-four Republican senators sided with Paul and voted to oppose holding an impeachment trial at all. Five Republican senators joined with Democrats to reject Paul’s motion: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Some Republicans have said the vote doesn’t “bind” them into voting a particular way on conviction, with Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana saying Sunday he would listen carefully to the evidence. But even Trump’s sharper GOP critics on Sunday acknowledged the widely expected outcome.

“You did have 45 Republican senators vote to suggest that they didn’t think it was appropriate to conduct a trial, so you can infer how likely it is that those folks will vote to convict,” said Toomey, who has made clear he believes Trump committed “impeachable offenses.”

“I still think the best outcome would have been for the president to resign” before he left office, he said. “Obviously he chose not to do that.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s ardent defenders, said he believes Trump’s actions were wrong and “he’s going to have a place in history for all of this,” but insisted it’s not the Senate’s job to judge.

“It’s not a question of how the trial ends, it’s a question of when it ends,” Graham said. “Republicans are going to view this as an unconstitutional exercise, and the only question is, will they call witnesses, how long does the trial take? But the outcome is really not in doubt.”

Wicker spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Paul was on “Fox News Sunday,” Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Graham was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Weary postal workers hope Biden will bring new tone, change
Weary postal workers recovering from the holiday surge are hoping the new president will bring a new tone
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PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Postal Service’s stretch of challenges didn’t end with the November general election and tens of millions of mail-in votes. The pandemic-depleted workforce fell further into a hole during the holiday rush, leading to long hours and a mountain of delayed mail.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has vowed to make improvements after facing withering criticism and calls for his removal for his actions that slowed delivery of mail before the election. Some critics hoped President Joe Biden would fire DeJoy, but a president can’t do that. Instead, Biden could and likely will use appointments to reshape the Board of Governors, which meets Tuesday for the first time since his election.

It’s unclear how swiftly Biden’s administration will move. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on upcoming appointments.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said he’s hoping for some “bold appointments” by Biden.

“We want a Board of Governors that understands fundamentally this is not called the United States Postal Business,” he said. “It’s not a profit-making business. It’s here to serve the people.”

A change in tone, at the least, would be welcomed by postal workers after former President Donald Trump called the Postal Service “a joke” last year in criticizing business practices that led to a growing operating deficit.

Despite the pandemic, on-time rates for first-class mail topped 90% for most of the year until DeJoy took office in June and began instituting changes that raised concerns about the delivery of mail-in election ballots. Workers decried DeJoy for limiting overtime and late or extra trips, resulting in delayed mail, and the dismantling of sorting machines ahead of the election.

All told, the Postal Service successfully delivered more than 130 million ballots to and from voters during the general election.

But by the time Christmas arrived, it had gotten so bad that more than a third of first-class mail was late, a dismal performance, even though DeJoy had backtracked on some of his changes by then.

At the holiday peak, tractor-trailers chock full of mail were left idling outside some postal-sorting facilities across the country because there was no room inside. Packages and letters piled up in distribution hubs. Delays grew by days, and then weeks.

A number of factors contributed to the nightmare.

Americans were using the Postal Service at unprecedented level because of the pandemic. Overtime couldn’t make up for the impact of postal workers’ COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines. Commercial flights that transport mail operated on reduced schedules. And FedEx and UPS dumped packages on the Postal Service when they reached their limit.

“At Christmastime, you could barely move in the facility,” said Scott Adams, local president of the American Postal Workers Union in Portland, Maine. “Aisles were blocked with mail.”

Jay Geller said it took 30 days for a birthday card mailed after Christmas from his mother-in-law in Iowa to reach her 8-year-old grandson at his home in Cleveland. And don’t get him started on the homemade scones from Minnesota, which were late and inedible.

“By the time they arrived, they were hard as rocks and smushed flat,” he said.

Terri Hayes experienced “Christmas in January” when many of her packages arrived late in Medina, Ohio. The last gift to arrive was a necklace and charm sent by a friend in Maryland on Dec. 5. It arrived on Jan. 28.

She sympathizes with overworked postal workers but also worries about more important items, like bills, being delayed.

“I just wish that they would put things back to the way they were when it worked,” Hayes said. “Put the sorting machines back. Let them work the overtime hours.”

The Postal Service contends it has now returned to “pre-peak” conditions, and DeJoy and six members of the board said they’ve learned from the election and the record holiday season in which more than 1.1 billion packages were delivered. The postmaster general and board are working on a 10-year plan that will include improvements.

“We must confidently plan for our future — which we believe is bright for the Postal Service and for America,” they said in a statement.

Critics have called for DeJoy to be fired. And Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, wants Biden to fire the entire Postal Service Board of Governors for what he called dereliction of duty.

The Board of Governors, which selects the postmaster general, is currently made up of Trump appointees. The vice chair resigned in protest over the Trump administration’s actions. That leaves a chairperson, Robert Duncan, who is a former Republican National Committee chair, along with three other Republican members and two Democratic members.

If Biden fills all vacancies, then Democratic members would hold a majority, though the board is officially bipartisan. No party may hold more than five seats on the nine-member board.

The postmaster general and deputy postmaster general vote on some but not all issues brought before the board.

Dimondstein said the recent announcement of more than 10,000 more permanent jobs in distribution hubs is a down payment on addressing problems. DeJoy has to come around to further changes to improve service and morale, he said.

“He’s either going to do right by the people of the country. Or he needs to go,” Dimondstein said.