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Biden: 'United States is back'

MILDENHALL, England — President Joe Biden opened the first overseas trip of his term Wednesday with a declaration that "the United States is back" as he seeks to reassert the nation on the world stage and steady European allies deeply shaken by his predecessor.

Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip in sweeping terms, believing the West must publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. It is an open repudiation of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who scorned alliances and withdrew from a global climate change agreement that Biden has since rejoined.

The president's first stop was a visit with U.S. troops and their families at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, where he laid out his mission for the trip.

"We're going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and issues that matter the most to our future," he said. "That we're committed to leading with strength, defending our values, and delivering for our people."

The challenges awaiting Biden overseas were clear as the president and the audience wore masks — a reminder of the pandemic that is still raging around much of the world even as its threat recedes within the United States.

After addressing the troops, Biden and first lady Jill Biden flew to Cornwall Airport Newquay, then traveled by car to Tregenna Castle in St. Ives, where they are staying until Sunday.

Building toward his trip-ending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden will aim to reassure European capitals that the United States can once again be counted on as a dependable partner to thwart Moscow's aggression both on their eastern front and their internet battlefields.

The trip will be far more about messaging than specific actions or deals. And the paramount priority for Biden is to convince the world that his Democratic administration is not just a fleeting deviation in the trajectory of an American foreign policy that many allies fear irrevocably drifted toward a more transactional outlook under Trump.

"The trip, at its core, will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Biden's foreign policy," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, "to rally the world's democracies to tackle the great challenges of our time."

Biden's to-do list is ambitious.

In their face-to-face sit-down in Geneva, Biden wants to privately pressure Putin to end myriad provocations, including cybersecurity attacks on American businesses by Russian-based hackers, the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and repeated overt and covert efforts by the Kremlin to interfere in U.S. elections.

Biden is also looking to rally allies on their COVID-19 response and to urge them to coalesce around a strategy to check emerging economic and national security competitor China even as the U.S. expresses concern about Europe's economic links to Moscow. Biden also wants to nudge outlying allies, including Australia, to make more aggressive commitments to the worldwide effort to curb global warming.

The week-plus journey is a big moment for Biden, who traveled the world for decades as vice president and as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has now stepped off Air Force One onto international soil as commander in chief. He will face world leaders still grappling with the virus and rattled by four years of Trump's inward-looking foreign policy and moves that strained longtime alliances as the Republican former president made overtures to strongmen.

The president first attends a summit of the Group of Seven leaders in the U.K., and then visits Brussels for a NATO summit and a meeting with the heads of the European Union. The trip comes at a moment when Europeans have diminished expectations for what they can expect of U.S. leadership on the foreign stage.

The sequencing of the trip is deliberate: Biden consulting with Western European allies for much of a week as a show of unity before his summit with Putin.

He holds a sitdown Thursday with British Prime Minster Boris Johnson a day ahead of the G-7 summit to be held above the craggy cliffs of Cornwall overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

There are several potential areas of tension as Biden meets world leaders. On climate change, the U.S. is aiming to regain its credibility after Trump pulled the country back from the fight against global warming. Biden could also feel pressure on trade, an issue to which he's yet to give much attention. And with the United States well supplied with COVID-19 vaccines yet struggling to persuade some of its own citizens to use it, leaders whose inoculation campaigns have been slower have been pressuring Biden to share more surplus around the globe.

Another central focus will be China. Biden and the other G-7 leaders will announce an infrastructure financing program for developing countries that is meant to compete directly with Beijing's Belt-and-Road Initiative. But not every European power has viewed China in as harsh a light as Biden, who has painted the rivalry with the techno-security state as the defining competition for the 21st century.

Biden is also scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while in Brussels, a face-to-face meeting between two leaders who have had many fraught moments in their relationship over the years.

The trip finale will be Biden's meeting with Putin.


Local
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‘Get on the Bus’
United Way of Siouxland celebrates 100 years of giving as agency launches new campaign

SIOUX CITY -- “Get on the Bus” is the theme for United Way of Siouxland’s 100th year campaign.

The nonprofit kicked off its multimillion-dollar campaign Wednesday at Pearl Street Park in downtown Sioux City. The event featured a brightly painted bus to celebrate the theme and various speakers praising the work done thus far and the work still to do.

Caitlin Yamada, Sioux City Journal 

Lisa Bertrand, Kellee Kriese and Paul Connor speak with Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg during the United Way of Siouxland 100-year kickoff celebration on Wednesday.

United Way of Siouxland was incorporated on Oct. 20, 1921, as The Federation of Charities and Social Agencies of Sioux City to raise funds for 15 Sioux City agencies.

“200 volunteers in the Sioux City area who left their officers and hit the streets to raise money,” United Way of Siouxland President Heather Hennings recalled.

The first year’s campaign raised over $125,000. Last year, United Way of Siouxland raised over $3.2 million, with the funds benefiting over 80 local programs.

Hennings said the organization has raised $132 million in the last 100 years. While the money is impressive, it is more impressive to think about the generations of impact, she said.

Caitlin Yamada, Sioux City Journal 

Leadership members of United Way of Siouxland enter the 100-year celebration on a bus decorated in this year's theme. The kickoff event took place Wednesday.

Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg attended the event and praised the work to improve lives through health, education and financial stability.

“Thanks to the United Way, generations of Siouxlanders in need have been given chances to thrive,” he said.

Campaign chairs Chad Jensen, Kellee Kriese, and Paul Connor with Tyson Fresh Meats are leading the charge for this year’s campaign.

For the last two years, the committee has worked to plan the special year.

“This is such a wonderful organization and we are so happy to be a part of this celebration,” Kriese said. “We are inviting everyone to Get on the Bus with us and help impact lives for the next 100 years.”

Kriese and Connor announced the Tyson Fresh Meats team has set a goal to raise a total of $500,000 for this year’s United Way drive. The Tyson leadership has committed $100,000 prior to Wednesday’s kickoff.

Connor and Kriese encouraged the community to make this year one of record-breaking generosity.

There are two main ways people in Siouxland can “Get on the Bus.” First is to volunteer in the community. Hennings said the organization is partnering with VolunteerSiouxland to give agencies a specific page to post their opportunities.

The second way to give is by donating money during the annual campaign or to the United Way of Siouxland endowment fund.

“Giving $100 to United Way of Siouxland will help 10 people struggling with mental health issues get group therapy,” Hennings said. “It will also ensure that three children receive 12 books from the Imagination Library program to help them prepare for kindergarten. This money does so much good for our community and we cannot thank Siouxland enough for their support.”


Govt-and-politics
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UPDATED: Woodbury County board moves to devote $15.6M in COVID relief funds to cover higher jail costs

SIOUX CITY — After almost two hours of heated discussion, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to devote $15.6 million of the county's COVID relief funds to cover higher-than-expected construction costs for the proposed Law Enforcement Center.

Board chair Rocky De Witt said the board was at a crossroads. 

Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center Authority 

The proposed Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center is shown in this rendering provided May 13, 2021, by the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center Authority.

"I don't think we have a choice," he said during their weekly meeting Tuesday. He said it is unprecedented times and a new building is necessary.

But community members said there were other choices, such as rejecting both bids and waiting for material prices to decrease.

The board agreed to provide funding to the new LEC, including but not limited to the CARES relief funding from the federal government. 

The county is slated to receive around $20 million over the next two years from the stimulus law, which includes payments to state and local governments to help cover costs and budget shortfalls related to the pandemic.

Over 40 citizens attended Tuesday's meeting, with some expressing concerns regarding the LEC project and allocating the federal relief funds.

Construction on the project was originally set to begin earlier this year, but was delayed by the rising costs of building materials, triggered by a disruption in supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guidelines for the use of the federal funding were expanded to include capital improvements designed to mitigate virus spread, as well as provide mental health services, according to an executive summary provided to the board.

A new HVAC system, a mental health office, three padded cells, and six isolation or exam rooms are aspects of the project that county officials said could fit the guidelines.

The original estimate for the main phase of the jail construction was $43 million. The low bid of nearly $58.4 million from Lincoln, Nebraska-based Hausmann Construction represents a 36 percent increase in cost, said Kenny Kenny Schmitz, the county building services director.

The American Rescue Plan Act funds would be divided into two payments: $10 million of the 2021 fiscal recovery funds allocated and $5.576 million of the 2022 fiscal recovery funds.

Individuals from the public asked the board to reconsider allocating the funding.

Ernie Colt, a business representative for North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the entire project should halt and the project should be rebid in hopes the cost will come down to a "feasible level." He said there is no plan if the funding is not approved by the government.

"We wouldn't do this for any other project," he said.

Others in the audience agreed. Dean Bradham, organizer with the Local 33 plumbers and steamfitters union, said the county has not proceeded with any other project that has gone over budget.

He said the costs will go down if the county waits to proceed with the project. He said there needs to be a break.

"We can maintain it for another year," he said. "This is unprecedented times, we have unprecedented prices going on."

The board voted unanimously to allocate this year's portion of the CARES funds, or find alternative funding for the project.

Despite the possibility of having to repay the $15 million to the federal government, the board felt there were no other options.

County finance director Dennis Butler said the county has about $5 million in reserves, but the other $10 million would have to come from somewhere else.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

De Witt

De Witt said the county is preparing multiple backup funding sources, such as selling the county’s 184-acre farm. Based on current market conditions, officials have estimated the farm could fetch $1.5 to $2 million at a public auction. 

After receiving confirmation from the county that money is guaranteed, the LEC Authority met on Wednesday to discuss the two general contractor bids it received. Sioux City-based W.A. Klinger Construction bid $59.3 million for the work, about $900,000 more than the low bid from Hausmann Construction, which has an office in Norfolk, Nebraska.

By the end of the meeting, the Authority board decided to delay its decision until Monday. A meeting will be held at 1 p.m. to approve one of the bids or reject both of them.

The Authority, a joint city-county entity, has two options: accept the low bid, or reject both bids and rebid at a later date.

Authority member Dan Moore, a Sioux City councilman, asked the vote to be delayed until Monday to give him an opportunity to bring the information to other council members.

He said Colt and others have brought different concerns to his attention that he wants more time to consider and discuss.

“I just want to make sure we can answer to the taxpayers, we can answer to ourselves ... we did the best we could with what we knew,” Moore said.

Feedback from contractors and community members received during the Tuesday night board of supervisors meeting said the project needs to be put on hold and the bids need to be rejected.

The authority is required by Iowa law to accept the lowest responsive and responsible bid. Iowa does not have a local preference law.

If the bids are rejected, Shane Albrecht of the Baker Group said the authority is not required to make any changes to the plans, but the bidding process has to be completely restarted.

There are a few items of the projects that could be removed to lower the cost, Albrecht said. He said there are about $1.3 million worth of items that could possibly be eliminated.

Albrecht estimated it would take three months to restart the bid process.

Possible downsides that were voiced during the meeting regarding rebidding included:

- A further increase of costs;

- A challenge to find workforce due to a labor shortage; and

- An increase in cost for the prefabricated jail cells the authority approved in May.

Indiana-based Pauly Jail Building Company, the low bidder for the jail cells, has not been given a letter of intent or funds to assemble the cells, Albrecht said. Due to the bond, the jail cells are under the general contractor contract. Albrecht said if the Authority decided to rebid, there is a possibility the price of the cells could increase.


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