Archive for November, 2014

I have always loved the Thanksgiving Day Kansas City Star. It is the biggest, fattest paper of the year, and when I was a reporter, I always wanted to have a story in that edition, preferably on A1 or the front of the Local section.

As usual, this year’s edition offers a variety of interesting things that will improve the quality of your lives and enhance your Thanksgiving Day…I think.

Let’s start with the paper itself…

A Load of Thanks

Today’s paper weighed in at an even five pounds, most of it advertising sections. If you combine advertising and circulation revenue, today’s paper probably generated more than $1 million.

The Star’s debt-ridden owner, McClatchy Corp., based in Sacramento, is very grateful.

Wishing and Hoping

A Republican member of the Missouri House of Representatives — Noel Torpey of Independence — is planning to lead the charge for ethics reform in the Missouri General Assembly. Missouri, in case you didn’t know, has the loosest ethics laws — virtually none — in the nation. There are no restrictions on gifts from lobbyists; lawmakers can accept campaign donations of any size; they can become lobbyists the day they leave office; and — and this I didn’t know — legislative staffers can work as paid political consultants during the legislative session. Just in case Noel’s bill doesn’t fly, some people (led by a Democratic strategist) have already prepared an initiative petition that would go to the voters in two years.

It hurts me deeply to say I don’t have confidence in our Republican-dominated legislature, but I think it’s odds-on that we’ll be voting on the initiative ballot measure.  

Nice Touch

Former Royals player Billy Butler took out a full-page ad in today’s Star, expressing gratitude for his 10-year run — more than any other current Royal has logged. “Thank you for the amazing ride!” was the headline on the ad. Above a photo of Billy, his wife Katie and their two daughters was a paragraph, which ended with this: “There will always be a part of us that will #BEROYAL.”

We all hope you have great success — and find acceptable barbecue — in Oakland, Billy.

Visit What? 

The business page featured an article on Ronnie Burt, the new president of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association. But the headline said, “Head of Visit KC marks progress.” Not recognizing the term “Visit KC,” used as a proper noun, I almost didn’t read the story. Turns out the Convention & Visitors Association has changed its name.

Hmmm. What was wrong with the original name — Convention & Visitors Bureau? That’s what it is, after all, a bureau, the division of the city that promotes tourism. I don’t think I’m the only person who’s going to find the new name confusing and problematic.

Killer Bags

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has demanded that Takata, the Japanese supplier of poorly designed and potentially dangerous air bags, expand its recall of cars with faulty bags. Takata has resisted expanding the recall beyond the hot and humid areas where its air-bag inflators are thought to become more volatile. 

I’ve already sworn off GM products because of the company’s 10-year cover-up of faulty ignition switches, but I don’t know how I’m going to put a personal dent in Takata’s business.

It Was Just a Murder…Whatever

Finally, Glenn E. Rice reported that a 37-year-old Kansas Citian named Christopher S. Deboe has been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a man he accused of sleeping with his wife, while he — Deboe — was in prison. (He recently got out.) After the shooting, Deboe called 911 and dutifully reported, “Somebody just got shot.” (Note the passive voice.) The call taker then asked a follow-up question, to which Deboe replied: “Yeah, this guy just came in whatever, he had a gun whatever, we started fighting.”

Happy Thanksgiving, Christopher! And good luck in the future, wherever you go and whatever you do. 



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What a scoop for George Stephanopoulos and ABC News — getting an exclusive hour-long interview, no questions barred and no conditions — with Officer Darren Wilson.

I’m sure journalists all around the country, maybe the world, are tipping their hats to the former Bill Clinton adviser who jumped from politics to news after Clinton was elected to a second term in 1996.

I recall many journalists saying that Stephanopoulos’ had no qualifications for the move to journalism, and I, too, was very skeptical. That’s the way we hard-core, veteran news people are — suspicious of those who jump to the head of the line without having paid their dues.


But, by God, Stephanopoulos has certainly proved himself. He is a solid news person, both as an analyst and an anchor. No one is questioning his bona fides now.

…From the excerpts of the interview I have seen, Stephanopolous did a great job.

I was particularly impressed by Stephanopolous’ pointed question to Wilson about why he didn’t simply stay in the patrol car when Brown ran from the officer after Wilson had shot him in the thumb.

Wilson paused for a second and looked a little taken aback before answering: “My job is not just to sit and wait. I have to see where this guy goes.”

“So you thought it was your duty to give chase?” Stephanopoulos said.

“Yes it was. That’s what we were trained to do.”

I don’t know about that. I understand (but don’t necessarily agree with) law enforcement’s training of officers to shoot to kill, but I seriously doubt that they are trained to give hot pursuit after a fight and when the officer is no longer in danger.

Back-up support was on the way (and in fact arrived moments after the fatal shots were fired), and Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson (who, by the way, lied about what happened) wouldn’t have gotten very far before being apprehended. This isn’t deer hunting, after all, where you chase down the wounded prey, finish the job and toss the animal in the back of the pick-up.

So, why jump out of the car, pursue Brown and likely provoke (as occurred) further escalation? 

Well, we all know why: Wilson had made a mess of the confrontation from the get-go, and by the time Brown took off running, Wilson was really pissed off and incapable of self-restraint. His mindset had been honed by being a small-town cop in a city where the cops were accustomed to running roughshod over young black men and imposing their wills.

…As I said yesterday, I do believe, considering all the evidence, that Wilson was justified in fatally shooting Brown, but only because Wilson let his emotions get the better of him and didn’t opt for discretion. When Brown stopped running and turned back toward Wilson and came at him menacingly, he made a terrible decision and a fatal mistake.

As I said in the previous post, I think a guy named Josh from New Jersey got it exactly right in a comment he posted on a New York Times story this morning.

Here it is again:

“What the courts and grand jury fail to address is the context of interaction that led to young man’s death. Any adult in a position of power who interacts with adolescents in today’s world needs to have a skill set that includes a tremendous amount of empathy and restraint. And for adolescents, essentially every adult represents someone in a position of authority. If you happen to be in law enforcement, consider that to be a position of particular importance and also one that requires tremendous skills in being able to talk with people, especially the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our society (which includes adolescents). I have no doubt that a more skilled, engaging, and community-connected officer in Ferguson would have had a completely different interaction with Michael Brown on August 9. The question as to whether there are officers like that in Ferguson and beyond is one that needs to be asked now and going forward.”

Amen, brother Josh. Amen.



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No true bill. No charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Case closed.

It’s a wrap, at least as far as St. Louis County law enforcement is concerned…What the U.S. attorney general’s office may or may not do is another matter. If the a.g. also determines that Wilson broke no laws when he fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, people can be more comfortable with the county grand jury’s decision.

As most of you know, soon after the Aug. 9 shooting I jumped to the conclusion that Wilson had unlawfully shot Brown. It sounded like manslaughter to me. I was one of millions who jumped to that conclusion.

But tonight, as I was listening to St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch recite key points of testimony and evidence, one point in particular rocked me like a thunderclap.

Some of Brown’s blood was found 23 feet past the point where his body ended up.

That means as he had been heading away from Wilson, he decided to turn around and come back toward the officer.

I had not heard that before. It could well be a piece of evidence that did not come out until tonight. In any event, it is, to me, profoundly important.

It is even more significant — conclusive, in my view — when combined with the fact that autopsies showed that none of the bullets that struck Brown hit him from behind.

Clearly, what happened is that after a brief tug of war over the officer’s weapon inside his patrol car, and after Wilson had already fired one or two shots (neither of which seriously wounded Brown, apparently), Brown started running away.

And had he kept on running, he might well have lived to tell the story.

But this young man, who was still full of himself after having stolen some cigarillos in a store and roughed up a store clerk, made the worst decision of his life: He reversed course and went back toward Wilson.

Some witnesses said he “charged” at Wilson. The fact that the fatal wound was a bullet to the top of the head strongly indicates he was moving toward Wilson with his head down. That would support the testimony that he “charged” toward Wilson.

I wish the people who were poised for protest out on the streets of Ferguson would have stayed home and listened to McCulloch’s presentation instead of heading to the streets. Most of them probably wouldn’t have taken to the streets.

As McCulloch said, the physical evidence doesn’t lie and it doesn’t change (assuming it is gathered professionally and correctly).

There was a movie out last year — a good one — about legendary background rock-n-roll singers. It was called “20 Feet from Stardom.”

Twenty-three feet is also a real short distance. If Brown had been thinking about survival instead of further confrontation, and if he hadn’t turned back toward an officer with an already-smoking gun…well, he probably would have been plea bargaining over the theft of those cigarillos.

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Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you to consider:

You have a child, let’s say a ninth-grader, who has significant psychological problems. You’re well off enough that you can take your child to Yale University Child Study Center for an extensive assessment.

The Yale therapists and doctors come up with a three-part plan: your child should take medication for some of his problems, he should get extensive special education support and he should have ongoing expert consultation.

Which of the following responses would you likely choose?

:: Yes, let’s proceed with all parts of that plan.

:: Let me think about it, maybe get another opinion, and I’ll get back with you.

:: Nah. I think we’ll just keep going along like we have been.

I would think the vast majority of parents would select option one, a small percentage would go with two, and less than one percent would go with three.


Nancy Lanza

Well, according to a study released in recent days, Nancy Lanza, the mother of Adam Lanza, opted for No. 3 a few years before Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

And not only did Nancy Lanza decide against treatment for her son, she maintained an arsenal of unsecured weapons and ammunition and continued to cultivate his interest in guns and shooting. In fact, one of her last indulgences was to give him a Christmas gift card to buy a weapon.

He didn’t get a chance to buy another weapon and apparently didn’t need to, for on Dec. 14, 2012, he went on the rampage that took the lives of 20 children and six staff members.

His mother didn’t act, even though, at the end, the two were communicating by email. He hadn’t seen his father in two years. Also, in addition to his mental problems, he apparently suffered from anorexia — he was 6 feet tall and weighed 112 pounds — and, in the words of a doctor who helped write the new report, he had become “disconnected not just from other people, but from his own body.”

What can you say to all of that?

You can say this, for sure: Nancy Lanza — whom Adam shot to death just before departing for the school — was a totally irresponsible parent. She did her son, herself and the world a terrible disservice by not getting him professional help…not to mention rethinking the wisdom of having a bunch of unsecured weapons around the house.

The new report was the subject of news stories in many papers on Saturday, including The New York Times. The Times’ story said the 114-page report was produced by a panel convened by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate. Officials who worked on the report spoke at a news conference on Friday.

The Times quoted Dr. Harold Schwartz, chief psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, as saying of Adam Lanza:

“It’s not that his mental illness was a predisposing factor in this tragedy. It was his untreated mental illness that was a predisposing factor.”

That is a chilling assessment, isn’t it? Certainly, some people who have been getting treatment for mental illness have gone over the edge and killed innocent people, but obviously the chances of a disturbed person acting out on his deranged impulses are much reduced if he is getting good, professional treatment.

The authors of the report went a step further, however; they also faulted the school system for failing to adequately monitor Adam Lanza’s educational and emotional progress. School system administrators’ decision to let him receive his education in a “homebound” environment increased his sense of isolation and made him more prone to the violence that he fantasized about online, the report said.

Dr. Julian Ford, another author of the report, said: “He was losing a sense of other people as human beings.”

In a sense, Nancy Lanza and school system administrators laid the foundation for Adam Lanza’s irrational boil-over. The price that was paid for the failure to get him the psychological and educational support that he desperately needed was mind boggling.

Let’s hope that some other parents who have been minimizing the extent of their children’s problems and rationalizing their decisions not to get them professional help will read about this report and heed its sobering lessons.

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For years, Gov. Jay Nixon was able to hide in his office, push papers around and mostly ride the fence and try to avoid making political enemies. And then came Ferguson.

He was weak and fairly ineffectual in his response to the initial violence and demonstrations in Ferguson, and now, as the nation awaits the grand jury’s verdict in the Michael Brown case, Nixon is looking even worse.

This morning, an appalling St. Louis Post-Dispatch story was posted on the Kansas City Star’s website.

The story started out like this:

“On a Monday night conference call with journalists from around the country to discuss his state-of-emergency declaration in Ferguson, Gov. Jay Nixon was asked: ‘Does the buck ultimately stop with you?’

“He answered, in part:

” ‘We’re, um, you know, it uh, it uh, you know, our goal here is to, is to, you know, keep the peace and allow folks’ voices to, uh, uh, to be heard. Um, and in that balance, I’m attempting, you know I am, using the resources we have to marshal to be predictable, uh, for both those pillars. I, I don’t, I’m more … I, I have to say I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time personalizing this vis-a-vis me.’ ”

“He continued: ‘I’m trying to make sure that, uh, um, that, that we move forward in a predictable, peaceful manner that plans for all contingencies that might occur so that people of a disparate group of opinions and actions can, can be heard while at the same time the property and, and persons, personal, persons of people in the St. Louis region are protected. So, that, I mean, uh, I’d, I’d prefer not to be a commentator on it.’ ”

“I’d prefer not to be a commentator on it….” Huh?

“…vis-a-vis me.” What?

Appropriately, the national and, in some cases, international press skewered Nixon for that performance. Yesterday, the governor held another news conference in St. Louis, and by then Nixon was able to put together a few cogent sentences.

In his second run at the who’s-in-charge question, Nixon said. “You’re governor…The buck always stops with me. But it’s important to note it’s a team effort.”

Even that wording is tortured — “You’re governor” —  and it makes you (me?) want to call a cab and have him immediately shipped back to his hometown of De Soto, MO.

Come to think of it, maybe the fact that he’s from a town of 6,400 people (it’s south of St. Louis) is part of the problem. I don’t think Nixon was ever ready for the big time; he somehow managed to slink his way up the ladder.

And now, here he is, looking like a fool at a time when we desperately need our top elected official to project confidence and leadership. His weakness doesn’t necessarily mean that Ferguson — and perhaps a wider area — is in for more trouble than it would have been with a governor who projected at least the appearance of leadership. But it certainly doesn’t project an air of control and decisiveness.

Fortunately, it appears that a proven, tested leader is on the way to the governor’s office in 2017. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill made her intentions pretty clear recently when she refused to support Sen. Harry Reid’s bid to become Senate minority leader.

She explained her position on that by saying: “I think this (election) was a message from the American people. Our party got walloped, and I think they’re saying need to change what we’re doing. I think change starts leadership, that’s just common sense, it’s not complicated.”

Now, that didn’t necessarily take a lot of courage, in light of the fact that she has been thinking about running for governor for some time, but, still, that’s a strong stand to take against business as usual.


As regrettable as the entire Ferguson affair has been, we can be grateful that it has helped clarify the highest level of Missouri’s political landscape:

It has exposed Nixon as completely in over his head, and it also helped expose Attorney General Chris Koster, another Democratic imposter, as a first-degree opportunist. (The New York Times finished him off as a serious 2016 gubernatorial contender when, in a recent investigative story, it depicted Koster as a pawn of special interests.)

If things continue to go in the direction they are headed, Missouri will have, in about two years, the first strong governor we have had since Mel Carnahan, who died in an October 2000 plane crash, three months before the end of his second term as governor.

Of course, even if McCaskill is elected, it doesn’t mean that better times are on the way for Missouri. After all, a Neanderthal, rural-dominated General Assembly appears to be glacierized in Jefferson City.

The road to visionary government in the Show-Me State remains long and narrow.

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Every few months, I get together with Dan Margolies, a former KC Star reporter who now is health editor at KCUR-FM, and we talk about a wide array of subjects. Journalism is always among them.

Earlier this evening, we met at 75th Street Brewery, and at one point Dan asked me what I had thought about KC Star reporter Judy L. Thomas’ jailhouse interviews with F. Glenn Miller Jr., the avowed white supremacist who earlier this year killed three people outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom care center.

Miller is in a Johnson County detention center, and Thomas interviewed him several times by phone. The conversations resulted in a lengthy story that led The Star’s front page on Sunday.


It was fortuitous that Dan brought up the Miller story because when I had opened the paper yesterday, I zeroed in on that story. I had instant misgivings about it but read most of it anyway. I even toyed with the idea of writing a post about it yesterday, but I let the thought pass.

But Dan’s question made me refocus and reflect on the story because it goes to the heart of an issue that journalists struggle with periodically. The issue is the news-worthiness of jailhouse interviews with screwball killers — often serial killers — whose depraved actions cannot be justified or rationalized in any sane way.

I told Dan that, in general, I did not see any significant value in such stories, and I said that was how I essentially felt about the Miller story. He agreed, saying that whatever Miller had to say would not serve any useful purpose or open any new window on the murders.

One reason that I am not unequivocally opposed to such stories, however, is that many years ago, I wrote a similar story myself after getting a jailhouse interview with a Kansas City serial killer. I don’t recall if I got any positive feedback on that story, but I remember that I was quite proud of it. More about that in a minute, but back to Thomas’ story…

The seminal quote that Thomas got from Miller also served as the main headline for the story: “Every Jew in the world knows my name now.”

Along with everything else Miller told Thomas, that statement serves just one purpose — to advance Miller’s goal of calling attention to himself and the “cause” that prompted him to kill three people, none of whom, as it turned out, was Jewish.

Reinforcing his worthlessness as a human being, Miller said that while he regretted killing 14-year-old Reat Underwood — “the young white boy,” as he called him — he had nothing to say to Reat’s family.

Now there’s a guy whose story you long to hear, huh?


I noted that I don’t believe stories like the one about Miller have value in general.

But there is another side of the issue. And that is that enterprising reporters, like Thomas, will always seek interviews with serial killers and other perpetrators of shocking crimes simply because the reporters want to know what was going on in the minds of the criminals and because they firmly believe that the interviews will help “advance” the story in some way, even if it is difficult to express exactly how.

The desire to get “the other side of the story” — that is, the perpetrator’s side — courses through reporters’ bloodstreams. It is hard to resist that pull, and that’s true not only for reporters. Most editors also want “the scoop,” even though it is incumbent on the editors to weigh very carefully whether such a story serves the public interest.

It is apparent that Thomas’ editor — and undoubtedly Thomas herself — struggled with that question. Thomas’ story devoted several paragraphs to rationalizing why the story merited publication.

The justifying began even before the “jump,” that is before the story left the front page and continued inside the “A” section. In the fourth paragraph, Thomas paraphrased Leonard Zeskind, president of the Kansas City-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, as saying the public needed to pay attention to “those who promote racist and violent views to understand what motivates them and to prevent future tragedies.”

The justifying continued several paragraphs later, when Thomas quoted Zeskind as saying:

“Learning about them (white supremacists) is our responsibility so that we may be better equipped to tackle this ongoing problem. Ignoring it, quarantining it, shutting our eyes, closing our ears, hasn’t stopped any Nazi killers. Opening our eyes, joining with others, taking public stands against racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry of the type displayed by Glenn Miller for decades is the best guarantee of building a truly open, democratic society.”

Well, that is very eloquently stated, but I just don’t see how giving Glenn Miller a platform to express his twisted, ridiculous views — or to recount how he advanced on innocent people and shot them — helps advance a democratic society. I mean, how helpful is it to hear racists explain why they think black people are inferior to whites? Is there any additional insight to be gained by hearing from people like that? I’m pretty sure NOT!


And yet, as I said earlier, many years ago I interviewed a serial killer and wrote a story that was in the same vein as that of Judy Thomas.

The subject of my story was a guy named William Turney Stitt, who had fatally stabbed two women, for no apparent reason, a year apart. The story ran on the front page of The Kansas City Times (then the morning edition of The Star) on Thursday, June 21, 1973.

Stitt killed one woman, 19-year-old Gloria Schuler, after spotting her in a self-service laundry at 39th and Washington, a block west of Broadway. While Schuler’s husband was in the restroom, Stitt parked his car, ran inside and stabbed Schuler several times with a kitchen knife he was carrying. He fled, and, then, when Schuler’s husband got back to her, she said (and these words made a lifelong impression on me) “Some son of a bitch stabbed me.”

Those were her last words.

A year earlier, Stitt fatally stabbed a woman named Joan R. Merritt after running her car off Westport Road in Independence.

Clearly, William Turney Stitt was a no-good son of a bitch. But I wanted to know what was behind his impulse to kill those women and why he had done so. (He previously had served eight-plus years in a military disciplinary barracks for strangling a prostitute in Germany in 1956.)

He provided me with the answer to why he had done what he did: He had a “destructive fantasy” that was intertwined with thoughts of sexual aggression.  I also reported that a psychiatrist at Western Missouri Mental Health Center had diagnosed him with a “personality disorder of longstanding nature.”

…So, did my story serve the public interest more than Judy Thomas’ story? Hard to say, isn’t it? Certainly, the families of Stitt’s three victims didn’t give a shit what was going through Stitt’s mind when he stabbed, or strangled, the women. And I doubt that my story shed any light on the subject of longstanding personality disorder.

But, like Thomas, I was determined to find out what the hell that goofball was thinking.

And the editors turned me loose.


Before the advent of The Star’s electronic library, in the early ’90s, The Star maintained staff by-lined stories in distinctive, dull-gold, business-size envelopes that were stacked vertically in dozens of metal file drawers on the third floor of The Star building at 18th and Grand.

The librarians had a surgically precise method of folding those stories so that very long stories folded up like road maps and fit snugly into those gold envelopes.

I tell you all that because, as you can see below, the story about William Stitt is one that I kept (one of only about 20) when the librarians gave each of us our by-line files after the electronic library was in place.

So, you see, I have a hard time being extremely critical of Judy Thomas and her Glenn Miller story. Who knows? She might even clip that story out with a pair of scissors and put it in an envelope to show people decades from now.




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Here are a few things to think about while we wait for the temperature to get back in the 50s. (I’ve got a bad case of golf withdrawal!)

:: It’s hard for me to see how something good is going to come of the Kemper Arena/American Royal situation. Yes, the arena is a singular design and is very eye-catching from a distance, but the closer you get the less appealing the building becomes.

First, it’s in a giant hole; that’s why they call it the Bottoms. As I’ve said before, I never did like going to Kemper Arena. You frequently had to slosh through gravelly areas, and sometimes mud, to get to the arena, and the interior was colorless and unwelcoming.

So, tear it down for all I care. On the other hand, the American Royal bigwigs, like Mariner Kemper and Neal Patterson, are asking for the city to pony up $30 million for a new building at the site, as well as $1 million a year in additional support for 30 years.

The city has countered with $20 million for the new building and $1 million in annual operating subsidy for 20 years.

The American Royal is a big name in our community, and it pulls at our nostalgic heartstrings. But the event itself has been sliding downhill for many years.

While Kemper Arena and the American Royal beckon us down memory lane, Sprint Center and the Power & Light District sound the call of the present and future.

Maybe the city should just demolish Kemper Arena and see if anyone comes up with a plan they think will pay for itself, without city subsidy.

:: What a weird case, that fatal shooting on Wednesday outside a municipal parking lot at 11th and Oak. A man named Jai T. Scott was shot to death after he dropped his wife off at City Hall and then got into an argument with a 24-year-old man who kicked one of Scott’s car tires. Yes, kicked the tire of his car. I have no idea what triggered the disagreement — maybe it was a “disrespect” thing — but if somebody kicks my car tire, I’m going to smile and say, “Sorry, I hope you didn’t scuff your shoe.”

It just doesn’t pay to go to battle with strangers who give you a hard time. Out there on the streets, anger runneth amok.

:: Another ridiculous, but farther-reaching, set of events resulted in the drive-by shooting of Angel Hooper at 106th and Blue Ridge. It all started the morning or afternoon of Oct. 17 when two women met to fight at 72nd and Indiana. Apparently the fight didn’t settle it, then some boyfriends got involved and the next thing you know a completely innocent 6-year-old girl lay dead outside a convenience store. It sounds like the police did an excellent job of putting the puzzle together; now a 19-year-old man and a 21-year-old man are charged with second-degree murder.

(Pop quiz: What do those two events appear to have in common? This…”Don’t even think of fucking with me, mother fucker!”)

:: Yael Abouhalkah of The Star sounded the death knell today for Mayor Sly James’ proposal to cut the maximum property-tax-abatement rate to 50 percent for redevelopment projects. Instead of 100 percent.

Curiously, I couldn’t find a news story about James’ proposal in The Star’s electronic library, which makes me wonder how big a deal he made of it in the first place. I did find an editorial written about it — probably by Abouhalkah — on Oct. 14, but nothing in the news columns.

At any rate, the developers and the development attorneys — who provide lots and lots of campaign funds for City Council candidates, including current council members — stomped on it like it was an irritating cockroach.

Longtime development lawyer Jerry Riffel, a former councilman who started out years ago as a Legal Aid attorney, I’m pretty sure, called the plan a “simplistic approach.”

Downtown Council president Bill Dietrich said the plan “sends a strong negative message” to prospective developers.

So, down the drain does this proposal flow.

It sounds to me like the mayor was never fully committed to it, that he just wagged his finger in the air to see how strong the wind was blowing.

Too bad, because he’s never been in a stronger position to push for a shake-up of the status quo. He’s extremely popular and will be re-elected next year in a landslide. He could have drawn a line in cement on this issue, and the public would have backed him all the way.

I’m guessing that he’s looking farther down the road, thinking about what he might run for after his second term as mayor. “Hmmm,” he must be thinking. “I’ll probably be needing the development crowd in the future.”

I wish he would have stifled that thought and shown some guts.

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The signs are that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson isn’t going to be indicted in the slaying of Michael Brown.

Gov. Jay Nixon and top law enforcement officers are mounting an all-hands-on-deck preparedness plan for when the St. Louis County grand jury returns its verdict, which could be in a matter of days.

It’s a damn shame that Ferguson and the St. Louis area will almost certainly be subjected to more rancor and possible violence. None of it had to happen, and wouldn’t have, if Officer Wilson had only approached Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson in a professional manner on Aug. 9.

“Young men, for your own safety, please get out of the street.”

That’s what Wilson should have said, or something like it. But, no, he was part of Ferguson’s Caucasian Cowboy Patrol and undoubtedly used to barking commands and trying to intimidate young black men.

So, his admonition to Brown and Johnson was, “Get the fuck on the sidewalk!”

Nice start to a citizen-police encounter.

And it ended, as we know, with the cops leaving the young man’s body in a pool of blood for hours while they “investigated” the crime scene.


In Wilson’s defense, of course, a lot more information about the nature of the encounter has emerged. For example, Brown apparently reached inside the door of the patrol car and grabbed Wilson’s gun. We know from the video of the convenience store robbery minutes earlier that Brown was full of himself — and maybe under the influence — when he roughed up the convenience store owner and marched away triumphantly with a box of cigarillos that he had appropriated.

We can safely assume that Brown was cocky and feeling invincible when Wilson cut loose verbally on him and Johnson.

What ensued was a clash between a high-handed, arrogant young police officer and an agitated member of a racial group that had long been relegated to second-class status in a white-governed city.

Thankfully, because of what unfolded that August day and all that has occurred since, things are changing in Ferguson and maybe other suburban cities like it.

In my first post on this subject, I predicted that Wilson would be charged with voluntary manslaughter and that he would be convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. I do hope, however, that as more of these “cop-shooting-unarmed-people cases” come under closer public scrutiny, political leaders and law enforcement agencies will start asking why law enforcement’s first reaction should be to shoot to kill at the first sign of possible bodily harm.


Years ago, when I was living on East 56th Street, the cops one day entered a house on the corner of 56th and Main and shot to death a very troubled young man who was standing in the family living room holding a knife. The cops told him to drop the knife; he didn’t; and they shot.

The young man’s mother, who had called police, was outside. The cops came out and, I guess, told her they had shot her son. Instead of getting help, she got a funeral for her son.

I have never gotten over that incident. It was crystal clear to me and the other neighbors that the cops easily could have defused the situation by backing out of the living room. The boy was not between them and the door, and the cops could have called for back-up and simply waited a few minutes. About the worst that could have happened was the kid would have knifed himself. If he’d come running out of the house, toward them, brandishing the knife, then they could have fired away.

But the mindset that day, as well as on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, was confrontation…

“He could hurt me!”

That’s where the thinking has to change…

Yes, he could hurt me, but if I present him with an alternative where no one has to die, maybe he will take it.

Let’s get to talking along those lines.

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Quick follow-up on Sprint…with a parallel story about The Kansas City Star.

It turns out, according to a story posted the kansascity.com website today that Sprint’s workforce reduction this fall will actually come in at about 3,700 people, not the 2,700 the company indicated earlier.

Two days ago, on Monday, Marcelo Claure, Sprint’s new c.e.o., said that Sprint would reduce its workforce by an additional 2,000 people, over and above 687 people whom it downsized in October. Today, however, the company acknowledged that the 687-figure had actually mushroomed to about 1,700, putting the October-to-end-of-the-year cuts at about 3,700.

KC Star business reporter Mark Davis paraphrased Sprint spokesman Doug Duvall as saying that Sprint was offering voluntary buyouts to reach at least part of the 2,000 jobs left to be cut. If that didn’t get the job done, so to speak, layoffs would follow.

Davis also reported that employment in the Kansas City area will end this week at about 6,800, where it had been 7,500 earlier this year.

To put all this in perspective, The Star ran a chart on Monday, showing that in January 2007 — less than eigh0t years ago — Sprint had about 65,000 employees. In mid-September, the number was down to 33,000. Take away the new 3,700 and the company will have slightly less than 30,000 employees by the end of this year.

Of course, Sprint isn’t the only major Kansas City company taking the gas as a result of circumstances in and out of its control.

About the same time that Sprint had 65,000 employees, The Star had more than 2,000 employees. That’s now down to well under 1,000.

I’m betting now that The Star will be around, as a company called The Kansas City Star, longer than Sprint Corp. I think the Japanese company SoftBank, which owns 80 percent of Sprint, will probably offload at some point.

Among other tangents of a Sprint unraveling, I think we can look for the Sprint Center to get a name change within the next few years.



And what’s the deal with this fellow Claure, a reputed Miami billionaire who reportedly has moved, or is moving, his family to the Kansas City area as part of his effort to revive Sprint?

Claure’s main push since taking over three months ago has been to oversee a goal (or, more likely, implement a SoftBank demand) that Sprint reduce its annual budget by $1.5 billion.

It looks to me like Inspector Claure is a glorified hatchet man. I expect him and his family to be back on South Beach within a year.

There’s another KC Star corollary here…Not long after Capital Cities Inc. bought the employee-owned paper in 1977, Jim Hale, the man whom Cap Cities sent in as publisher, hired a guy named Gerald Garcia as executive editor. Like Hale, Garcia hailed from Texas, as I recall. Garcia walked around the newsroom with a perverse, snarling, grin pasted on one side of his face.

One day, Garcia summoned 20 or more highly paid employees in a conference room — most of them had made a lot of money in the $2-for-$1 stock sale — and told them they were finished. Just like that…pack up, it’s time to go.

Not long after that, Garcia left the paper and went off to points unknown. The executioner’s job was finished, too.

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I wonder what is going to become of Sprint Corp., which now is down to — or getting to — about half of its one-time high number of about 63,000 employees.

What’s going to happen with that ugly, sprawling campus out by Town Center?

What is SoftBank Corp., the Japanese company that owns 80 percent of Sprint, going to do with this property, which is looking more and more like deadwood?

If you’ve been watching, more bad news surfaced about Sprint yesterday and today. Although Sprint’s total number of customers was up at the end of the third quarter (Sept. 30), it lost 336,000 prime customers, those who sign contracts. In addition, Marcelo Claure, Sprint’s new c.e.o. (as of three months ago), said Sprint would lay off 2,000 more employees, over and above a recently announced 687-person layoff.

Today, not surprisingly, investors hammered Sprint’s stock price, knocking it down by more than 18 percent before the market closed. (The company’s stock is down by more than 50 percent for the year.)

A positive step that Claure announced, in my opinion, was the reopening of a customer-service call center call at Sprint headquarters in Overland Park. He decided that was a good move, he said, after listening to customer service calls and determined that Sprint had “offshored” too much of the customer support business.

To me, that’s another way of saying he heard too many conversations where U.S. customers were having difficulty communicating effectively with non-native English speakers. That might sound politically incorrect, but, tell me, how many times have you called a big company’s customer service center and hoped that a native English speaker would take your call?

So, that’s a good move, and I hope it helps improve company fortunes.

To me, however, the biggest step that Claure could take would be to overhaul Sprint’s retail stores and how they serve customers.

The problems I encountered at those stores eventually ran me off as a Sprint customer.

For many years, I was part of our “family plan” and proudly told people I supported the “hometown company.” But with every visit to a retail store (I usually went to Ward Parkway) I found it increasingly difficult to get a satisfactory result. Every time I went in, it seemed, I saw a completely different cast of customer service reps.

And I never liked the front-desk check-in, where a rep would enter your name and problem and then add you to the electronic queue, which you would then sit and painfully watch on monitors suspended from the ceiling. It always took a long time, and then, when my name would be called, more often than not I got a rep who was either overly ebullient or completely bored.

It all came to a head about a year and a half ago, when I took in a recently purchased, low-end phone that gave me very poor reception. I had been in earlier with the same complaint and another rep had suggested that I call another Sprint division and ask to be sent an antenna system. Always game for an attempted fix, I did that, but the antenna system didn’t help.

So, there I was back at the store with the same problem I’d had a few weeks earlier. I told the rep I wanted a new phone. Sorry, he informed me, I had had the phone for more than 30 days and they couldn’t do an exchange. I tried to reason with the fellow, but it became clear that not only couldn’t they do an exchange, they absolutely wouldn’t.

Finally, totally frustrated, I told the guy, “I want a divorce. How much is it going to cost me?

Slightly curling one side of his face, he went into his computer to find the answer.

“Three hundred dollars,” he said.

“Done,” I said. “Cut me out of the family plan.”

I then walked over to the Verizon store about 50 yards away and was immediately and professionally assisted by a young man, who, I believe, was a manager or co-manager. No general check in and no looking for my name on a monitor, like I was being sorted and chuted in a customer-service bull pen.

I didn’t have to sign a contract, but I did have to buy a new phone, which I am paying off as part of my monthly bill. The phone I bought was an LG flip model, which serves my purposes just fine. Reception is good, and on the few occasions I have had to return to a Verizon retail store, someone has approached me within about a minute and either addressed the problem then and there or advised me to stand by for a few minutes.

Yes, I am paying a lot more per month than if I had stayed with the Sprint family plan. But, you know, sometimes family members have to go in different directions. My wife Patty thought I was crazy to bolt, and I have explained to her several times that cellphone peace of mind was more important to me than the money. And that’s all I have to say about that.

So, I strongly suggest that Marcelo Claure look deeper into the customer service issue and revamp his retail operation. He could start by following Verizon’s lead.

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