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Electric Mustang part of MPH event

A lot can be learned driving the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach E electric sport-utility vehicle from Detroit to Hastings as Todd Soderquist did Wednesday in advance of Mustang Roundup X.

Soderquist, who grew up in Hastings, is a Ford Motor Co. employee and now lives in the Detroit area. He is chief engineer for the Mach E in China.

Soderquist has attended all 10 Mustang Roundups, which are held at Motorsport Park Hastings on the eastern edge of Hastings.

“It was a good experience for me to go through a long-distance trip in an electric vehicle and experience what a customer will,” he said.

Part of that experience is figuring out where there are high-speed charging stations.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

A Mach E Mustang is on display at Motorsport Park Hastings during the Mustang Roundup this weekend.

“If you pick a low-speed charging station you could be there for seven hours, versus a high-speed charger could be 30 minutes,” he said.

The Mach E has a range of 230 miles from one battery charge to the next.

Soderquist found an inconsistent charging station infrastructure along his drive. The pricing structure is even different from state to state. For instance, in Nebraska cost is based on time spent at the pump whereas in Iowa cost is based on the consumption.

He said it was contentious at the Ford Motor Co. to put the Mustang brand on a crossover utility vehicle, but doing so held the vehicle to an incredibly high standard.

“The entire team at Ford knows what Mustang means, and it’s important to them that we don’t damage the brand,” he said. “So the vehicle we’re making is significantly better than it would have been if we hadn’t called it Mustang. When you tell an engineer their part is going on a Mustang they understand what the customer emotionally wants and what value performance they want out of the vehicle, and it changes the perspective on what they deliver. It’s been good. It’s been really good for customers.”

The Mach E goes on sale at the end of this year.

It has sequential turning lights, flashing from the inside of the lighting panel to outside — just like the Mustang car.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

A 1969 Shelby Mustang 350 owned by Robert Miller of Byers, Colo., is checked in by Priscilla Andrews for the Mustang Roundup at Motorsport Park Hastings Thursday.

The Mach E Soderquist was driving went 0-60 mph in less than five seconds. He said the top GT model can do that in 3.5 seconds.

While there have been millions of miles put on test Mach E vehicles already in the Detroit area, not many people have experienced a long-distance trip.

This was the first time a Mach E was in Nebraska, he said.

“That’s why I thought this was a good opportunity for me to go through that experience and get it out here for people who would appreciate seeing it,” Soderquist said.

Mustang Roundup provides Ford representatives like Soderquist an opportunity to receive feedback from customers as well as give Mustang enthusiasts the inside scoop on what to expect from upcoming Ford performance vehicles.

He chatted with Mustang Roundup participants Thursday afternoon as they registered for the weekend-long event at the MPH clubhouse.

“It’s really important to us that we spend time with the customer,” he said.

In addition to Nebraska, Mustang Roundup drew participants from Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Wyoming and Missouri.

Spectators are encouraged to attend Mustang Roundup, which has an entrance fee. A full schedule of activities is available at racemph.com.

Whether it was at a charging station or on the highway, Soderquist said, the Mach E drew a lot of attention.

“People immediately see the horse and they’re like ‘That’s that new electric Mustang,’ ” he said of the Mustang logo. “Every time I stopped to charge, people would swarm and come ask questions. It really is pretty cool.”

A mask and parade: Jimmy Carter celebrates 96th birthday

ATLANTA — Former President Jimmy Carter marked his 96th birthday Thursday, the latest milestone for the longest-lived of the 44 men to hold the highest American office.

Carter celebrated at his home in Plains, Georgia, with his wife Rosalynn, who is 93. Photos released by the Carter Center in Atlanta showed the couple, married for more than 74 years, seated in lawn chairs at the gates of their residence and waving as local residents honored the 39th president with a parade. The procession featured golf carts and other vehicles festooned with American flags, streamers and balloons.

Both Carters wore masks as a precaution against COVID-19; the former president’s face covering was emblazoned with logos of the Atlanta Braves, the former president’s favorite Major League Baseball team, which won its first-round playoff series Thursday.

Carter, who held office from 1977-81, has largely receded from public view amid the coronavirus pandemic and his own health challenges due to a series of falls in 2019. He previously survived a dire cancer diagnosis in 2015. Yet Carter remains a quiet force in politics at home and, through his post-presidential Center, in public health and human rights advocacy around the world.

Carter on Tuesday endorsed his fellow Democrat, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, in one of two competitive Georgia U.S. Senate races this fall. Carter’s announcement aligned him with another former president, Barack Obama, and other party power brokers in backing Warnock over Democrat Matt Lieberman, whose father was the party’s 2000 nominee for vice president.

Though Carter remained neutral in Democrats’ 2020 presidential primary he fielded calls and visits from multiple candidates. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, now 93, recorded audio addresses for Democrats’ virtual national convention urging the election of nominee Joe Biden, who was a young senator from Delaware when Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976.

“Joe Biden was my first and most effective supporter in the Senate,” Carter told the convention. “For decades, he’s been my loyal and dedicated friend.”

Carter also gained new attention recently upon death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Carter is the only president since 1850 not to make a single Supreme Court nomination, but he reshaped the lower courts with a record number of nominations of women and non-white jurists, Ginsburg being the most notable.

In 1980, Carter tapped Ginsburg, then the nation’s most accomplished civil rights attorney, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered the nation’s second highest court. She was the second woman Carter nominated for the D.C. Circuit, setting her up for a promotion to Supreme Court 13 years later.

“He looked around at the federal judiciary and he said, ‘You all look like me, but that’s not how the great United States looks,’” Ginsburg said to a Fordham University Law School forum in 2016.

Perhaps most notable among Carter’s 2020 election maneuvering is the Carter Center for the first time designating the United States as a “backsliding” democracy. The Center announced after the Democratic convention that it would devote resources to ensuring free and fair U.S. elections this fall. The Carters founded the Center in 1982, two years after he lost his re-election bid to Republican Ronald Reagan.

The Center has monitored more than 110 elections in 39 countries since 1989, but it was a striking development for the institution to turn its focus to Carter’s home country, the world’s leading democratic superpower since World War II. The development comes as President Donald Trump repeatedly casts doubt on the integrity of the U.S. voting system, regularly firing off a cascade of mistruths about the voting process and asserting that the system is “rigged” against him.

As recently as a Tuesday night debate against Biden, Trump refused to say he’d accept the results and said he’d urged his supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen.”

Explaining the decision to monitor a U.S. election, a Carter Center statement said “backsliding” democracies are “often characterized by polarization, a lack of public trust, ethnic or racial divisions and injustice, and fears that election results won’t be seen as credible or could trigger violence.”

Carter has not recently addressed Trump’s statements directly and, according to a spokeswoman, is not granting interviews ahead of the election. But Carter said last September during his last annual town hall at the Carter Center that it would “be a disaster to have four more years of Trump.”

Siding with Biden over Trump isn’t surprising for a Democratic former president, but it does involve Carter ignoring one of his own recent observations about the presidency. Weeks before his 95th birthday last year, Carter alluded to the advanced ages of several candidates at the time. Trump, 74, would be the oldest president ever inaugurated for a second term. Biden, 77, would the oldest sitting president in history, reaching 82 near the end of a prospective first term.

“I hope there’s an age limit,” Carter said jovially at his town hall when asked whether he’d run again. Then he turned more serious: “If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president.”

South Heartland sees 38 new COVID-19 cases in three days

Bolstered by 38 new cases in the last three days, the calendar week-to-date positive tally for COVID-19 in the South Heartland Health District reached 65 on Thursday — and that’s with two days left to go.

That was the news Thursday night from the district health department, which tracks and reports cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, among residents of Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

The new numbers were posted to the health department’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, found on the department’s website at www.southheartlandhealth.org.

By contrast, a total of 54 new cases were reported in residents of the four-county health district for the entire calendar week of Sept. 20-26. Previous full-week totals included 53 for Sept. 13-19 and 33 for Sept. 6-12.

The 38 total new cases reported for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday pushed to 601 the cumulative tally of cases recorded in Adams County since March 18. The totals to date for the other counties are 90 for Clay, 21 for Webster and 16 for Nuckolls.

Altogether, the districtwide case tally to date stands at 728. Of that number, 563 of the patients are classified as having recovered, and 12 — all Adams County residents — have died. A total of 38 patients have spent time in a hospital in connection with a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Both new case numbers of test positivity rates have been increasing continuously for several weeks. The test positivity rate for Sept. 20-26 — that is, the total number of new cases for the week as a percentage of the total number of test results received — was 14.5%.

The district’s risk dial, which takes various factors into account to assess the threat of further spread of the viral infection across the health district, stands at 2.3 for this week. That’s approaching, but not yet at, the middle of the elevated (orange) zone in the dial.

Prior to last week, the South Heartland risk dial needle had spent only one week — back in early to mid-August — beyond the yellow zone and into the orange zone, with a risk value reading of 2.2.

Zones on the risk dial are labeled as low risk (green), moderate (yellow), elevated (orange) and severe (red).

For statistical purposes, Nebraska’s public health districts count only those COVID-19 cases that are among residents of their jurisdiction, regardless of where they might go for medical treatment.

House Democrats pass partisan COVID bill; relief talks drag

WASHINGTON — Democrats controlling the House narrowly passed a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Thursday night, a move that came as top-level talks on a smaller, potentially bipartisan measure dragged on toward an uncertain finish. An air of pessimism has largely taken over the Capitol.

The Democratic bill passed after a partisan debate by a 214-207 vote without any Republicans in support. The move puts lawmakers no closer to actually delivering aid such as more generous weekly unemployment payments, extended help for small businesses and especially troubled economic sectors such as restaurants and airlines, and another round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans.

Passage of the $2.2 trillion plan came after a burst of negotiations this week between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The Trump administration delivered concessions Wednesday, including a $400 per week pandemic jobless benefit and a markedly higher overall price tag of $1.6 trillion, but that failed to win over Pelosi.

“This isn’t half a loaf, this is the heel of the loaf,” Pelosi said in a televised interview Thursday. Pelosi spoke after the White House attacked her as “not being serious.”

The ramped-up negotiations come as challenging economic news continues to confront policymakers. The airlines are furloughing about 30,000 workers with the expiration of aid passed earlier this year, and a report Thursday showed 837,000 people claiming jobless benefits for the first time last week. Most of the economic benefits of an immediate round of COVID relief could accrue under the next administration, and failure now could mean no significant help for struggling families and businesses until February.

The vote was advertised as a way to demonstrate Democrats were making a good faith offer on coronavirus relief, but 18 Democrats abandoned the party and sentiment remains among more moderate Democrats to make more concessions and guarantee an agreement before Election Day. Republicans controlling the Senate remained divided.

Talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi were closely held and the Speaker told reporters that no deal would come on Thursday. Mnuchin’s offer of a $400 per week jobless benefit put him in the same ballpark as Democrats backing a $600 benefit. Mnuchin’s price tag of $1.6 trillion or more could drive many Republicans away, however, even as it failed to satisfy Pelosi.

“We raised our offer to $1.6 trillion,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday. “It’s one that she is is not interested in.”

Mnuchin and Pelosi spoke by phone Thursday, but the speaker was publicly dismissive of the latest White House plan. Discussions are continuing, Pelosi said.

The White House plan, offered Wednesday, gave ground with a $250 billion proposal on funding for state and local governments and backed $20 billion in help for the struggling airline industry.

Details on the White House offer were confirmed by congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door discussions.

As the talks dragged on, House leaders announced a Thursday evening vote on their scaled-back “HEROES Act,” which started out as a $3.4 trillion bill in May but is now down to $2.2 trillion after Pelosi cut back her demands for aiding state and local governments. The legislation came after party moderates openly criticized her stance.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has drawn a line in the sand and warns that Trump won’t approve legislation that approaches a $2 trillion threshold. But there’s plenty of wiggle room in numbers so large, and the revenue picture for many states is not as alarming as feared when Democrats passed more than $900 billion for state and local governments in May.

Pelosi said Thursday that the administration is still far short on aid to state and local governments and in other areas.

“Some of you have asked, ‘Isn’t something better than nothing?’ No,” Pelosi told reporters, citing the “opportunity cost” for provisions sought by Democrats but potentially lost in any rush to agreement.

At issue is a long-delayed package that would extend another round of $1,200 direct stimulus payments, restore bonus pandemic jobless benefits, speed aid to schools and extend assistance to airlines, restaurants and other struggling businesses. A landmark $2 trillion relief bill in March passed with sweeping support and is credited with helping the economy through the spring and summer, but worries are mounting that the recovery may sputter without additional relief.

Pelosi has largely assumed a hard line so far. But she’s never had a reputation for leaving large sums of money on the table and her tactical position — facing a White House and Senate controlled by Republicans — is not as strong as her demands might indicate.

The White House also seems far more eager for a deal than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Any compromise that could pass both the House and Senate is sure to alienate a large chunk of the Senate GOP. McConnell expressed support for the talks and another bill but isn’t leaning into the effort. But some of his members appear worried that the deadlock is harming their reelection bids.

“I’d like to see another rescue package. We’ve been trying for months to get there,” McConnell told reporters Thursday. “I wish them well.”

Even if Pelosi and Mnuchin were able to reach a tentative agreement on “top line” spending levels, dozens of details would need to be worked out. A particularly difficult issue, Pelosi told her colleagues earlier in the day, remains McConnell’s insistence on a liability shield for businesses fearing COVID-related lawsuits after they reopen their doors.

The latest Democratic bill would revive a $600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit and send a second round of direct payments to most individuals. It would scale back an aid package to state and local governments to a still-huge $436 billion, send $225 billion to colleges and universities and deliver another round of subsidies to businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. Airlines would get another $25 billion in aid to prevent a wave of layoffs.