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Investors, farmers guessing as shutdown delays crop reports

DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday that it must delay the release of key crop reports because of the partial government shutdown, leaving investors and farmers without vital information during an already tumultuous time for agricultural markets.

The USDA had planned to release the closely watched reports Jan. 11 but said that even if the shutdown ended immediately, the agency's staff wouldn't have time to release the reports as scheduled. Congressional leaders met with President Donald Trump on Friday but there were no indications the shutdown would end soon.

"The longer it goes on, the more distorted our reference points get," said grain market analyst Todd Hultman, of Omaha-based agriculture market data provider DTN. "It's a lot of guesswork."

The reports detail the size of the 2018 harvests of corn, soybean, wheat and other crops and give an early estimate for what farmers will plant in the upcoming season. Depending on the estimates, the price of the commodities can rise or fall as they show the current supply and forecast how many acres will be devoted to different crops in the coming months.

The government shutdown has now forced the delay of such reports for two weeks, and uncertainty about the commodity supply will only grow as more time elapses, Hultman said. USDA reports provide the foundation for understanding the U.S. agricultural industry, and because they also estimate farm production in other countries, they are essential for understanding global crop markets.

Although the government is still releasing some information, such as the Labor Department's monthly jobs report , the USDA hasn't released key reports since Dec. 22. This includes the closely watched World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report and information about specific crops, such as winter wheat and canola seedings.

The lack of information comes amid the uncertainty of trade with China, where tariffs led to an abrupt drop in U.S. agricultural exports to the country. There were indications that China was beginning to resume at least limited purchases of U.S. crops, but because of the government shutdown it's unclear what's happening.

"We certainly don't want to be in the dark and miss any big changes like that," Hultman said.

University of Illinois professor Todd Hubbs, who studies agricultural commodity markets, said he finds the report delays especially frustrating because he thinks they could confirm a belief that the U.S. soybean crop was smaller than earlier forecast. If true, that information would mean a smaller supply and could raise soybean prices, helping farmers who have struggled with low prices worsened by the trade dispute with China.

Until the USDA releases its information, investors and farmers can't be certain about where they stand, he said.

"Those kinds of numbers are fundamental," Hubbs said. "When the USDA produces the numbers, they are the numbers. They move markets."

Pelosi doesn't want to talk impeachment, but some Dems do

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had only been in office for a few hours when a handful of Democrats defied her persistent calls not to begin the new Congress by talking about impeachment.

Just after Pelosi was sworn in Thursday, longtime Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Al Green of Texas introduced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. That evening, newly elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan riled up a supportive crowd by calling the president a profanity and predicting that he will be removed from office.

Tension over impeachment is likely to be a persistent thorn for Pelosi, who will have to balance between a small, vocal group of the most liberal members of her caucus, who want to see Trump removed immediately, and the majority of her members who want to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to finish. Pelosi purposely avoided — and encouraged most fellow Democrats to avoid — any talk of impeachment during the election, believing there could be backlash from voters.

While many Democrats might favor impeachment, those calling for it now are largely outliers. Most Democratic lawmakers listened to Pelosi and campaigned on kitchen table issues such as health care and jobs and prefer to keep them at the forefront of the party's focus.

Still, it will be hard for Pelosi to quiet some of those on her left flank who see their new majority as a direct challenge to Trump.

"Impeachment is on the table," Sherman said. "You can't take it off the table."

The division delights Republicans, who have used impeachment calls to fire up their base of voters. Trump was eager to immediately seize on the topic, asking in a tweet Friday, "How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong."

Speaking later Friday to reporters in the Rose Garden, Trump said he thought Tlaib's comments were "disgraceful" and she "dishonored herself."

Tlaib, who represents liberal Detroit, exclaimed at an event late Thursday that Democrats were going to "impeach the mother------." She didn't back down Friday, tweeting that "I will always speak truth to power." She added the hashtag, "#unapologeticallyMe."

Her spokesman, Denzel McCampbell, said in a statement that Tlaib, one of only two Muslim women in Congress, "was elected to shake up Washington" and will not stay silent.

"The congresswoman absolutely believes he needs to be impeached. She ran and won by making this very clear to the voters in her district," McCampbell said.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the new head of the Republican conference, denounced the comments. It's "a level of vitriol that's not good for this country," Cheney said.

Pelosi said Friday at an MSNBC town hall that the House shouldn't move to impeach Trump without more facts. She said, as she has many times before, that impeachment is "divisive" and she wants the new Democratic majority to be unified.

On Tlaib's language, Pelosi said she doesn't like it and wouldn't use it. But she also said that it's no worse than things Trump has said, adding that she wouldn't censor her colleagues.

Top Democrats have supported Pelosi's approach to impeachment, with House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler also saying that it is a divisive, even traumatic, process that should only be done with Republican support. Both Nadler and Pelosi were in Congress when the Republican-led House impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Sherman and Green forced votes to impeach Trump in 2017 and 2018, but the Republican House blocked those resolutions twice, with the help of many Democrats who said the effort was premature.

Even if the House should approve articles of impeachment — very unlikely at present — a two-thirds-majority vote to convict Trump in the Republican-led Senate and remove him from office would seem out of the question, barring new revelations or a dramatic decline in the president's political support.

Many Democrats on Friday distanced themselves from Tlaib's words. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he doesn't think "comments like these particularly help." House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the comments were "inappropriate" and go against efforts to reclaim civility.

Other Democrats were more forgiving, even if they disagreed.

"I think some of our new members probably don't realize that you are always on, that when you are a member of Congress, there's always someone listening," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly said the comments were just "red meat" for Tlaib's supporters.

"I think it's a forgivable sin, an outburst of exuberance with her and her supporters, and I think we all need to move on," he said. "It doesn't reflect the caucus, and I'm sure upon reflection, she might choose other words to describe her feelings."

Alex Slitz, Lexington Herald-Leader 

Wandale Robinson, pictured here during a preseason scrimmage, had 41 offensive touchdowns as a senior at Western Hills High School in Frankfort, Kentucky.

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star file photo 

Sen. Ben Sasse talks with reporters after speaking at a Lincoln Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Country Club of Lincoln in November. 

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Former Lincoln fire chief, building and safety director dies

A former Lincoln fire chief and director of the city's building and safety department who served under nine mayors has died.

Michael L. Merwick died Dec. 30 at age 76.

“He had lived his life working to help build and better his community,” Lincoln Fire and Rescue said in an obituary for Merwick posted on social media.

Then-Mayor Helen Boosalis tapped her 35-year-old administrative assistant, Merwick, to temporarily lead Lincoln Fire and Rescue in 1980 following the retirement of Fire Chief Dallas Johnson, according to newspaper records. He had previously been a firefighter and fire inspector for the city.

It was an unusual path to the top for a fire chief, noted former Chief John Huff, who Merwick promoted up the ranks from firefighter to assistant chief in 1992.

Merwick stayed with the department through 1999, an unusually long tenure as a fire chief, Huff said.

As chief, Merwick quickly established programs to get firefighters out of the stations and into the community, such as the smoke detector giveaway program the department continues today, Huff said.

The department's federally funded Urban Search and Rescue team was established in 1993, and Merwick helped the fire department achieve international accreditation in 1997 at a time when that was nearly unheard-of for fire service agencies, Huff said.

Those are some of Merwick's lasting achievements as chief, said Huff, who served as fire chief from 2011 to 2015.

He was innovative and politically savvy, and put the department on the cutting edge in many ways because he saw "things from a much higher altitude," Huff said.

But one of Merwick's greatest assets was his willingness to credit his crews for the department's accomplishments before himself.

"What he didn’t say is, 'I facilitated everything,'” Huff said.

What would be a 46-year career in service to the city continued when Mayor Don Wesely appointed Merwick to lead the Building and Safety Department in 1999.

He led that department until December 2008, when incoming Mayor Chris Beutler appointed his own department director.

Huff and Merwick regularly met for lunch, and Merwick would always fight for the bill, Huff said.

“Mike’s greatest love in retirement was his family, friends and enjoying life on the acreage where he and his wife (Lou Ann) had lived for 38 years,” the obituary said.

Merwick is survived by his wife, four children, 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

A service to celebrate Merwick's life will be held Jan. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Lincoln Firefighter's Reception Hall, 241 Victory Lane.

Carolyn Kaster