May 17, 2020 9:44 PM

US Sen. Sasse criticized for jokes in Fremont graduation speech

Posted May 17, 2020 9:44 PM

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse's attempt at humor during a speech at a Nebraska high school's online commencement - which included jokes about students' fitness and psychologists and also blamed China for the coronavirus outbreak - drew strong criticism.

The Republican senator's speech on Saturday was panned by a Fremont High School board member and his Democratic opponent in the November election. Sasse's spokesman, James Wegmann, told the Omaha World-Herald Sunday the senator was joking during the graduation speech.

Sasse said during the speech "95% of all gainfully employed psychologists - and I'm serious there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed -- their job is really just to help people forget high school ... If you're headed to college, do not - do not - major in psychology. That part's not a joke."

Sasse, who was unshaven and wore a loosened red tie and white dress shirt, also said that in life, the graduates would at times be asked to climb giant ropes. "If you don't get that joke, talk to your mom and dad. Back in the day when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym all the time."

Sasse suggested that the graduates would remember their senior years at their future reunions as "that time when China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper."

Near the end of the speech, Sasse mixed in some serious encouragement for students with another shot at China.

"Nobody knows exactly how we're going to beat this thing, but you know what, we're Americans, we're Nebraskans, we've got grit and we're going to beat this thing," he said. "We will bring the economy back. We are going to beat the virus ... We're going to have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it." he said.

Fremont school board member Michael Petersen called on Sasse to apologize. On his public Facebook page, Petersen said, "You deserved better than the graduation remarks from Senator Ben Sasse. The racism, implying that our graduates are fat and lazy, disparaging teachers, and attacking the mental health profession are despicable."

Sasse graduated from Fremont High School in 1990 and also was president of Midland University there before running for the Senate. He is running for a second term in the Senate and in November he'll face Omaha Democrat Chris Janicek, who also criticized the speech.

"It's hard for me to believe that a U.S. senator would make remarks like he did in that speech," said Janicek. "Ridiculing mental health care specialists, suggesting that the graduates are lazy slackers and using the platform to blame China for the pandemic we have now is beyond reprehensible."

Wegmann, Sasse's spokesman, responded to the criticism Sunday.

"Like he said in the video greeting, Ben's proud of each of the graduates - and he believes their generation is tough enough to help lead us through the bumpy economic times ahead. It's ridiculous that some politically addicted folks are complaining about Ben calling out China in a joke. He's said this for months, because it's true: The Chinese Communist Party's coronavirus coverup wasted time that could have contained the spread - those lies cost innocent lives in China and around the world. Pretending graduates are too fragile to hear the truth is silly," Wegmann said.

Continue Reading North Platte Post
May 17, 2020 9:44 PM
Pandemic casualty: JC Penney to close 240 stores

NEW YORK (AP) — J.C. Penney will close almost 30% of its 846 stores as part of a restructuring under bankruptcy protection. The ailing department store said Monday that it plans to close about 192 stores by February 2021, and then 50 additional stores in the year after that.

That would leave the company with just over 600 locations. J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy reorganization on Friday, making it the biggest retailer to do since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to shut down all stores.

The company has not released a list of stores that will close.

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NEW YORK (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has pushed troubled department store chain J.C. Penney into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

It is the fourth major retailer to meet that fate. Texas-based Penney said late Friday it will be reducing its store count and will be disclosing details and timing in the next few weeks.

It currently operates 850 stores and employs nearly 90,000 workers. It said that it received $900 million in financing to help it operate during the restructuring. Penney joins luxury department store chain Neiman Marcus and J.Crew in filing for bankruptcy reorganization. Others are expected to follow. Still many experts are pessimistic about Penney’s long-term survival.

Check the Post for additional details, as they become available on how the bankruptcy impacts local stores.

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U.S. retail sales tumbled by a record 16.4% from March to April as business shutdowns caused by the coronavirus kept shoppers away, threatened stores across the country and weighed down a sinking economy.

The Commerce Department’s report on retail purchases showed a sector that has collapsed so quickly that sales over the past 12 months are down a crippling 21.6%. The sharpest drops from March to April were at clothiers, electronics stores, furniture stores and restaurants.

A long-standing migration of consumers toward online purchases is accelerating, with that segment posting a 8.4% monthly gain. Measured year over year, online sales surged 21.6%.