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A creative outlet during an outbreak
Sioux City artist Kochen shares coloring pages with self-quarantining kids amid COVID-19

SIOUX CITY -- Mark Kochen's world is filled with tiny birds sitting on humongous seats as well as city-dwelling sheep living nonchalantly next to industrial complexes.

Oh, did we mention the bunnies? The Sioux City-based artist loves to create bunnies in his incredibly detailed pieces.

"When I started making bunnies, they were fatter," Kochen explained. "Now, they're more angular, refined and better-looking."

Many of Kochen's favored subject matters -- '80s-era boomboxes, floor TV sets and elaborate landscapes -- are front-and-center in a coloring book available for purchase at Markkochen.com as well as at Sioux City Gifts, 1922 Pierce St.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

In this April 2018 file photo, artist Mark Kochen is shown in Sioux City with some of his work.

The 36 original, hand-drawn images, compiled over a span of a decade, are also being shared by Kochen on his Facebook page.

Kochen is doing this to give kids, home from school due to coronavirus concerns, something creative to work on as they self-quarantine.

Indeed, he remembered what it was like to be a kid with an overactive imagination.

"I was totally into 'Where's Waldo,' Bill Watterson's 'Calvin and Hobbes' and the work of Richard Scarry as a child," the 39-year-old Kochen said.

Well, Kochen apparently is still a kid at heart. His home studio is decorated with "Calvin and Hobbes" collectibles and, yes, 3-foot-tall bunnies do greet visitors as they enter the home he shares with his wife, Sara. 

"The secret of any artist's successful marriage is to marry someone who understands our quirks," he explained. "Sara, who is an art teacher for the Hinton Community School District, understands my quirks."

That means Kochen's inability to throw anything away.

"Hey, my coloring book comes entirely from art I've stashed away for one reason or another," he said.

And what is it like to look at illustrations that have been, literally, on the drawing board for the past decade?


Even birds need to chill for a moment. This "Tweets & Seats" image appears in Mark Kochen's coloring book.

"When I was younger, I was extremely critical of my work," Kochen said. "As I've gained experience, I see the work was better than I remember it being. Could a line be drawn straighter? Yes. Still, the idea was always there." 

In a career that combined high art -- large-scale murals and gallery-ready pieces -- and low art -- pieces turned into jigsaw puzzles and coloring books -- Kochen finds value in both.

"Puzzles and coloring books are perfect examples of popular things that are getting a resurgence," he said. "Just like vinyl records, coloring books and puzzles are back, baby!"

Which is good for kids, who are suddenly home from school.

"For the coloring book, I literally remove the color from my art," Kochen explained. "This give the audience the creative license to color it however they want to."

This is both stimulating and a bit unnerving for Kochen.


Gigantic "Say Anything" style boomboxes share space with easygoing sheep in "Boombox Henge," a colorable image by Mark Kochen.

"People share their drawings with me and the results are always surprising," he said. "If they color one of my elephants a certain shade, I'd think, wow, I'd never do it that way."

Perhaps, someday, today's youth will look at Kochen in the same way he looked at artistic idols like Richard Scarry and Bill Watterson.

Well, there is a timelessness to bunnies and sheep and Reagan-era electronics.  

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Markets see gains again

NEW YORK — Stocks scored their first back-to-back gains Wednesday since a brutal sell-off began five weeks ago, but much of an early rally faded late in the day as a last-minute dispute threatened to hold up a $2 trillion economic rescue package in Congress.

The Senate passed the measure late Wednesday.

The S&P 500 rose 1.2%, bringing its two-day gain to 10.6%. It had been up 5.1% earlier in the day as Congress moved closer to approving the plan to provide badly needed aid to an economy that has been ravaged by the coronavirus. The market is now down nearly 27% since setting a record high a month ago.

Many on Wall Street say they don't think stocks have hit bottom yet, but optimism rose after the White House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on the aid bill early Wednesday. A vote had been expected in the Senate by the end of the day, but then some lawmakers balked at the proposed bill.

GOP Senators Tim Scott, Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham demanded changes, saying the legislation as written "incentivizes layoffs" and should be altered to ensure employees don't earn more money if they're laid off than if they're working. Complicating the standoff, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he would block the bill unless the conservatives dropped their objections.

Investors were anxiously waiting for the aid in the rescue package, which lawmakers hope will help blunt the blow to the economy as businesses shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"They're hitting on all the right elements of what the U.S. economy needs during the shutdown to bridge itself to the other side to open up economic activity," said Darrell Cronk, chief investment officer of Wells Fargo Wealth and Investment Management.

But even optimists say the package provides just the second leg of three that markets need to regain lasting confidence. The Federal Reserve and other central banks are also offering tremendous aid by cutting interest rates and supporting lending markets, but investors say they need to see the number of new infections peak before they can feel comfortable knowing how deep the looming economic downturn will be.

"There's a lot of bad news, there's very little tangible good news and there's a lot of uncertainty in between," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset.

Investors are also still waiting to see the details of Washington's plan, which will include direct payments to most Americans and aid for hard-hit industries. It's unclear when the House of Representatives could vote on the plan.

"It's too early to call a bottom because there's way too much uncertainty," said Tony Rodriguez, head of fixed income strategy at Nuveen.

"The bottom implies it's not going lower, and I don't think that," he said. "For it to become a bottom, you would need to see much better news coming out on the health care side of this."

The number of known infections has leaped past 450,000 people worldwide, and more than 20,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Overall, more than 112,000 have recovered.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

With widening swaths of the economy shutting down and layoffs mounting, economists are sure a steep drop-off is coming. They're forecasting a report on Thursday will show a record number of Americans filed for unemployment benefits as layoffs sweep the country. What's unsure is how long it will last.

That uncertainty has led to wild swings in the stock market over the last month. The S&P 500 surged 9.4% Tuesday as expectations built that Washington was nearing a stimulus deal. That was a better performance than the index has turned in for 10 of the last 20 full years.

But the market has also had a couple days within the last few weeks that packed entire years' worth of losses, including one drop of 12% and another of 9.5%. The last time the S&P 500 had a back-to-back gain was Feb. 12, a week before the index set its record high.

The uncertainty has carried over even to trading within a certain day or a certain hour.

On Wednesday, for example, the S&P 500 was down as much as 1.6% before it turned decisively higher. It ended the day up 28.23 points to 2,475.56. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 495.64 points, or 2.4%, to 21,200.55. It had been up more than 1,300 points before the rally faded. The Nasdaq swung from a gain of 3.4% to a loss of 0.5% as it dropped 33.56 points to 7,384.30. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks gained 13.79 points, or 1.3%, to 1,110.34.

Boeing soared 24.3% in part on expectations that it stands to gain from the aid package brokered on Capitol Hill. Other travel-related stocks also stormed higher to recoup a fraction of their huge losses over the last month. Royal Caribbean Cruises jumped 23%, but it's still down by 68.2% for the year.

European markets ended with sizable gains. France's CAC 40 rose 4.5% and Germany's DAX rose 1.8%. Asian markets rose broadly, led by an 8% jump in Japan.

Treasury yields were mixed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 0.84% from 0.81% late Tuesday.

TGallagher / Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

Kenny Bern, 90, of Cherokee, stands in front of his home on West Willow Street on Monday. Friends from Cherokee surprised him on Sept. 23 by putting a new metal roof on his home, their thanks for all the support he's shown the local student-athletes in town through the years. Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal

Senate passes rescue package

WASHINGTON — The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

"The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt."

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that's killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: "We've anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won't need this for three months."

Underscoring the effort's sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.

Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone's lifetime, "I don't think its going to end up being such a rough patch" and anticipated the economy soaring "like a rocket ship" when it's over.

The drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states whose economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written might give workers like store clerks incentives to stay on unemployment instead of returning to their jobs since they may earn more money if they're laid off than if they're working. They settled for a failed vote to modify the provision.

Other objections floated in from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has become a prominent Democrat on the national scene as the country battles the pandemic. Cuomo, whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other, said, "I'm telling you, these numbers don't work."

Cuomo said the Senate package would send less than $4 billion to New York, far short of his estimate that the crisis will cost his state up to $15 billion over the next year. More than 280 New Yorkers have died from the virus, a death toll more than double that of any other state.

Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the need for more money for New York is “no reason to stop the step we are taking.”

Meanwhile, New York authorities mobilized to head off a potential public health disaster in the city Wednesday as U.S. deaths from the pandemic topped 1,000.

A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city's police, their ranks dwindling as more fall ill, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing. Public health officials hunted down beds and medical equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode in a matter of weeks.

Ardent liberals were restless about the bill, but top Washington Democrats assured them that additional coronavirus legislation will follow this spring and signaled that delaying the pending measure would be foolish.

The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.

Pelosi swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it "takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people."

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which will most likely pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber was unclear.

House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for Trump's signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

It includes a controversial, heavily negotiated $500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.

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Sioux City's Warming Shelter closes for season due to COVID-19 concerns

SIOUX CITY -- The Warming Shelter closed its doors for the season Wednesday due to concerns related to COVID-19.

The seasonal shelter, located at 916 Nebraska St., is normally open from Nov. 1 to April 30 every year. Its mission is to ensure that no one freezes during the coldest winter months.

"The decision (to close early) was not an easy one," Lindsay Landrum, the shelter's director, said in a statement. "This decision was made for many reasons, with the most important being the well-being and health of our staff and residents."

Given that residents live in tight quarters, it was thought that if COVID-19 hit The Warming Shelter, it would spread very quickly. Landrum told the Journal Tuesday that 87 people spent the night Monday at the shelter, up from the 60-person average she usually sees at this point in the season. She said the shelter had already used at least half of its Lysol wipe supply and that there were only a handful of masks available for shelter workers.

Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal 

Tessa Shanks, direct care counselor at The Warming Shelter, takes residents' temperatures Tuesday as they check into the shelter in Sioux City.

"There is no quarantining sites in Sioux City to assist with isolating the homeless population in order for the virus to not spread to others," Landrum said in the statement. "With this information, we had no other choice but to close for our season in order to keep our staff, their families and our residents healthy as possible."

The Warming Shelter will continue to take donations for next season, as well as for building renovation. Visit TheWarmingShelter.com to donate.

PHOTOS: Storm Lake school administrators hit the streets to give away free meals in wake of COVID-19 closure