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Archive for April, 2016

Today’s New York Times story about Ted Cruz selecting Carly Fiorina as his potential running mate has drawn nearly 1,800 comments.

Some are priceless…One commenter called Cruz’ gambit “the political equivalent of a student pulling a fire alarm to avoid an exam.”

Here is a sampling of other comments:

Ugly and Fat git, Boulder, CO

If Ted Cruz loses Indiana, he will pick his cabinet.

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Jack, East Coast

To the Cruz team, this is a brilliant strategy to siphon off women voters.

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kaw7, Manchester

Cruz should have borrowed Romney’s binders of women and looked a little harder.

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T3D, San Francisco

So Captain Cruz now has his First Mate on the Good Ship Titanic.

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sbmd, florida

Cruz picked Fiorina because she’s a woman with name recognition. He would have done as well if he had Lorena Bobbit!

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J. Kevin Wright, Bloomington, IN

You’ve got to admit, Cruz and Fiorina kind of deserve one another.

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SandyG, Albuquerque, NM

Like watching two cobras entwining.

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mancuroc, rochester, NY

Well, there goes the HP vote.

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John Michael Fields, Atlanta

Carly Fiorina…Cntrl Alt Delete

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Let’s finish with this…My friend Dan Margolies, editor of KCUR’s Heartland Health Monitor, told me recently he had come up with the perfect adjective to describe Cruz: Oleaginous.

If you don’t know exactly what it means, and don’t want to go to “The Free Dictionary,” just think “oleo.”

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Even though the drumbeat for a new, single-terminal KCI has been getting progressively louder, convincing Kansas City voters to approve a $1 billion bond issue for the badly needed project is going to be very difficult.

I am so afraid that once this gets on an election ballot (it shouldn’t be this year; too soon) a majority of voters are going to take the short view — that KCI is “just fine” and “it’s convenience that counts.” When instead they should be thinking about the need to accommodate a larger population down the road and future generations’ demand for and right to have a modern and comfortable airport with a bright and welcoming atmosphere.

I’m afraid the attitude of many voters will be akin to what we often see when it comes to bond and other tax proposals for school expansions and improvements — that is, many older people saying something to the effect of, “The schools are good enough as they are; besides, it isn’t going to affect me.”

We’ve got a responsibility to look ahead. Way ahead. Back when KCI opened in ’72 — three years after I arrived here from Louisville — this was a pretty sleepy metro area. What little downtown “action” that existed was focused around the Muehlebach Hotel, Municipal Auditorium, the adjacent Music Hall and the Lyric Opera. And the suburbs? Forget it…A bunch of what we now would call “historic downtown squares,” where you couldn’t find much more than a diner and a drugstore.

But look at our area now. I am continually amazed — often jolted — when I drive around the metro area and see throngs of people and extensive retail, residential and entertainment districts in every direction. I recall specifically being jolted one night last fall when I went downtown on impulse to see an early-season college basketball tournament. I never dreamed I’d have a problem getting in. I don’t even remember who was playing — I believe K-State was one of the teams — but what I came upon was incredibly long ticket lines outside Sprint Center and loud music and a cacophony of boisterous conversation emanating from some of the Power & Light District bars across Grand. I didn’t get into the arena until halftime of the first game…But you know how I felt? I wasn’t frustrated. I wasn’t put out. I was in awe that this scene was taking place in my city. More than anything, I was proud.  

You know what paved the way for Kansas City to become big time? Approval in 1967 of general obligation bonds to build the Jackson County (now Truman) Sports Complex. I wasn’t even when that proposal was presented to voters. It needed two-thirds voter approval and passed by a razor-thin margin. But I recall after then being assigned in 1971 to cover the Jackson County Courthouse how people and public officials were still busting with pride that voters had approved a tax-increase for a 100-million-dollar project. Almost unimaginable at the time. But Jackson County had somehow pulled it off, and Kansas City was on its way to being a fully credentialed big-league town.

That’s where we are today with the airport. It’s a billion-dollar project. It’s hard to imagine (even though it doesn’t involve a tax increase), and it makes some people’s heads swim. It makes some think: “Hell, no, I’m not voting for that. I’m going to be dead and gone by the time it opens. What we’ve got is good enough.”

No, it’s not good enough. Not good enough at all.

The headline on a KC Star editorial a few days ago called KCI a “functional dump,” and that’s exactly what it is. If you’ve been up there lately and waited in one of those dark, cramped, uncomfortable “bullpens” where you’re herded after going through security, you know what I’m talking about. It sucks. Its day is past.

…When KCI opened, I was absolutely mesmerized by those highly polished parquet floors. I thought it was the most stunning and distinctive airport floor covering I had ever seen. Then, a dozen years ago, I was horrified and anguished when the city removed the parquet and replaced it with blue terrazzo as part of a $285 million terminal improvement project. But you know what? It was time for the parquet to go. It had lost its luster — I grudgingly acknowledged that — and it was very difficult and costly to maintain. It just wasn’t practical. I moved on.

And now it’s time for the terrazzo to go. As well as the curving terminals, the lousy concession stands, the bullpens, the inner-ring glass walls, the haphazard security lines, the disparate baggage areas…all of it. Clear it out and let’s get on with building a new new airport. It’s time to move on.

Finally, when it comes to forward thinking, I try to never forget what former mayor and now U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver used to say from the raised dais in the 26-floor City Council Chamber. When someone would dare to think small, he would frown, put his fist down and declare:

“This is not some podunk town along I-70; this is Kansas City!”

Come on, Kansas Citians, let’s rise to this challenge and do this not only for ourselves but our children and grandchildren and future generations.

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We all know what a mess the McClatchy Co. has wedged itself into, with its ill-advised, 2006 purchase of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, which included our beloved Kansas City Star.

Saddled with $1 billion in debt after that purchase — now down to a little more than $900 million — McClatchy has been trying to scrape and cut its way to financial stability since about 2008. (That’s when the layoffs started at The Star.)

As hard as it is to imagine that another newspaper chain could be more screwed up than McClatchy, there is one: Tribune Publishing.

Tribune’s flagship is the Chicago Tribune. Its fleet of papers also includes the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Big papers all, but this chain has been a basket case since April 2007, when a real estate tycoon named Sam Zell bought what was then the Tribune Co. for $8.2 billion. Having no idea what he was doing or how to run a newspaper business, he promptly ran it into the ground. Twenty months after the purchase, the company filed for bankruptcy, listing assets of $7.6 billion and an incredible debt of $13 billion.

Now, salvation — or at least stability — just might be at hand. On Monday, Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper chain, announced that a couple of weeks ago it had submitted to Tribune an offer to buy the company for $815 million, including about $350 million in debt. The offer is for $12.25 per share, a more than 60 percent premium over Friday’s close of about $7.50. (The stock is trading at about $11.50 today.)

Gannett has more than 100 newspapers, including The Indianapolis Star, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Tennessean in Nashville, The Des Moines Register and the Detroit Free Press.

The offer of $815 million, with a per-share profit of about $5, sounds pretty good to me. (It makes me wish I owned some Tribune stock, except that I’ve been narrowly focused on New York Times stock because NYT is the strongest newspaper company around and is making a winning transition from print to digital.) 

And yet, in spite of what looks like an appealing offer, Tribune Publishing hasn’t responded to Tribune’s bid. Having been met with silence, Gannett on Monday made its offer public, in effect taking the offer directly to shareholders.

The reason Tribune’s board of directors hasn’t responded to Gannett is that Tribune is going through another top management transition, where yet another non-newspaper tycoon is trying to establish himself, as a recent Chicago Tribune story put it, as “a 21st-century media baron” whose goal is to “save the journalism industry.”

michael ferro

Michael Ferro

Standing in the way, at least temporarily, of Gannett’s proposed purchase is 49-year-old Michael Ferro, a Chicagoan who made his money in the tech industry and early this year invested $44 million in Tribune, making him the largest single shareholder. Ferro already has one strike against him on the journalistic front, having failed in his bid to turn the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago’s No. 2 paper, into a national media powerhouse. After making his big plunge in Tribune stock, he donated his roughly 40 percent stake in the Sun-Times to a charitable trust to avoid conflicts of interest with Tribune.

Ferro is currently Tribune’s “non-executive chairman,” and a story in today’s New York Times says that after a June 2 Tribune shareholders’ meeting, Ferro should control five of eight votes on the board of directors. The story goes on to say:

If Mr. Ferro….can get past June 2 without a deal, he will probably have the leeway to fully direct the process. He could choose to negotiate or perhaps he could stonewall. He could even try to take the company private himself. Who knows?

Putting an exclamation point on the clouded situation, The Times quoted a media analyst as saying, “Recent management upheaval creates numerous risks with respect to strategy and execution going forward.”

It seems to me the best thing that could happen in the coming weeks is a shareholder revolt that triggers a June 2 vote authorizing sale of the company to Gannett.

I never thought I’d be advocating a newspaper sale to Gannett, which turns its papers into the equivalent of sausage factories, but it probably would be the most favorable outcome for the papers, their employees and even Ferro, who stands to make a lot of money on a sale to Gannett.

But Ferro seems to have stars in his eyes, and if ego wins out over practicality and economics, Tribune Publishing might be in for another wild ride.

“I want to finish what I started,” Ferro told the Chicago Tribune in March.”Instead of playing golf and doing stuff, this is my project — journalism. We all want to do something great in life. Just because you made money, is that what your kids are going to remember you for? Journalism is important to save right now.”

I sure agree with that last statement, but I’d hate to see those Tribune papers end up in worse shape than they already are.

 

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One thing that really galls me is people who are too cute for their own good.

And one such operation is a marketing outfit called Blacktop Creative, which came up with and executed the ludicrous and obnoxious idea of planting 2,000 red, white and blue signs on public property and in people’s yards — without bothering to get homeowners’ permission — to promote a big fund-raiser for Children’s Mercy Hospital.

I’m sure you’ve seen these signs. They popped up Friday morning all over town, especially on major thoroughfares like Ward Parkway and State Line Road. They were — or are — around fountains, along boulevard easements, as well as in people’s yards.

I hate to give the event any mention at all, except I must in order to put this offensive, intrusive marketing program in context.

It’s some sort of celebrity event in June called Big Slick ’16, which features home-grown comedians Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Rob Riggle. (For the record, I’ve never seen any of the three and now have less interest than ever in seeing them.)

P1060217

I took this photo this morning on Ward Parkway, adjacent to Meyere Circle.

Let me reiterate what galls me about this yard-sign campaign: The creators apparently gave little or no thought to asking people if it was OK to put signs on their property. That’s pretty damn basic! Some might say it’s not a big deal, that homeowners could just pluck the signs out of the yard and throw them away, except that no one has the right to do that without permission of the owners. It’s an intrusion, a scourge on the landscape, and it is wrong.

Not only that, but putting promotional signs on public property is illegal. The biggest violator of that city ordinance is the political group Freedom Inc., which plasters its signs all over public property, primarily on the East Side, at every major election. The sign ordinance is never prosecuted, of course — it would be nearly impossible to do so — but spreading those signs all over the place is offensive and it creates a big mess that takes months to go away.

…Anyone who has extensive experience in political activism — Pat O’Neill and Steve Glorioso and even me to a lesser extent– will tell you that yard signs are a sensitive business. Guys like O’Neill, Glorioso and the late Pat Gray have put hundreds of hours of work into getting permission from Kansas City residents to place yard signs promoting their candidates and issues.

When I first saw those Big Slick signs, I wondered, mistakenly as it turned out, if they were O’Neill’s handiwork. His firm does a lot of general public relations and marketing, in addition to political marketing. My speculation was prompted in part by the fact that one of those signs turned up on a Ward Parkway corner that is one door removed from my house. A few weeks ago, I had asked my neighbor if she would allow O’Neill to put up a yard sign urging voters to renew the city earnings tax, and she agreed. It was good exposure for the campaign. But when I saw that Big Slick sign in her yard Saturday, I jumped to the conclusion that O’Neill was behind the marketing program and had taken the liberty of authorizing placement of a sign in my neighbor’s yard without checking.

Last night I sent Pat an email asking if he was the offender. He wrote back, saying: “No, I would not do something like that. I was upset at them, too… Spent yesterday pulling those signs from in front of fountains.”

I can attest that he or he and some of his associates spent time pulling up signs because Saturday evening I saw a woman removing signs from the Meyer Circle Fountain island and placing them in the trunk of her car. O’Neill moved quickly to try to minimize the problem because he knew other people would be wondering the same thing I did and that the signage could indirectly reflect poorly on him and other campaign consultants.

I can tell you this, too: O’Neill’s people will be the only ones out there collecting those signs, as they do immediately after political campaigns are over; Blacktop Creative will just let them lie and litter. Hell, Blacktop’s people don’t even remember where they put most of those signs up in the middle of the night. 

…A little more about Blacktop Creative.

In a fawning story Saturday about the Big Slick marketing program, writer Sarah Gish said the signs were the work of “Kansas City branding firm Blacktop Creative.”

Blacktop was founded in 2001 and bought by Barkley Inc., the former Barkley Evergreen & Partners, in 2010. Both firms have offices in the old TWA building on Main Street, in the Crossroads area.

I said up top they were too cute for their own good. Actually, they’re a bunch of smart asses. Their linked-in page says: “We…ride scooters. We play our music too loudly. And shoot each other with Nerf guns. But that’s because we like each other too much not to have a little fun at our own expense.”

Ho, ho, ho. Those crazy geniuses at Blacktop. They’ll do just about anything to have a good time at work, won’t they?

Of course, they really don’t want to work, do they? Because if they did, they would have gone out, knocked on doors and asked people for permission to put up their Big Slick signs.

As best I can tell from the firm’s absolutely shitty website, the president is a hip-looking guy named Shawn Polowniak.

shawn1

Polowniak

Well, Shawn, you and your crack team really made a mess of things, as far as I’m concerned. Next time you have a bright idea that involves signs on private property, BURN SOME SHOE LEATHER AND GO DOOR TO DOOR AND GET PERMISSION!

…And also, shame on Children’s Mercy Hospital officials for not having the good sense to rein in the Blacktop Creative’s “midnight riders” before they littered the Kansas City landscape late Friday and early Saturday.

Like most other people, I have a lot of admiration for Children’s Mercy Hospital, but I hope Big Slick ’16 is a big flop.

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It’s a damn shame prosecutors couldn’t come up with enough evidence to convict Jeffrey Sauerbry in the 2004 murder of Summer Shipp.

This was a case that frustrated law enforcement and the public alike because while it appeared that detectives had “solved” the case, physical evidence was nonexistent, and it all came down to the testimony of a convicted felon, Darrel Wilson, who testified that Sauerbry admitted to him in 2007 or 2008 that he had killed Shipp, then cut up her body and put it in trash bags.

It was a damn shame years before charges and trial occurred, too, because Shipp was an innocent victim. She was going door to door doing market research work in Independence when she disappeared, just vanished. It was pure luck that fisherman found her skull several years later in a body of water. Without that discovery, it is unlikely the state would have been able to charge  Sauerbry.

By that time, Sauerbry had already established himself as a craftier-than-usual criminal, having killed someone in 1998 and managing to avoid prosecution until 2012. It was after that conviction (for which, thankfully, he is serving life without parole) that the Jackson County prosecutor’s office charged him with Shipp’s murder.

I had a little history with this case because I was bureau chief in Independence in 2005 and 2006 — my last stand at The Star — when the crime was still fresh in everyone’s mind but little progress was being made on building a case. I remember there was a prime suspect — Sauerbry, the last known person to see her — but nothing solid tying him to the murder.

…It’s difficult to convict a defendant on the testimony of someone — anyone — who says the offender confessed to him or her. An added problem for prosecutors was that Wilson didn’t come forward after his conversation with Sauerbry. Apparently he just wanted the whole thing to go away. His incriminating story didn’t surface until detectives contacted him.

Still, I thought there was a good chance of gaining a conviction because of the forcefulness of Wilson’s testimony, as well as the details of his conversation with Sauerbry as the two of them were looking for dates online. At trial, when the defense attorney pressured Wilson about inconsistencies in his statements, he picked up a deposition transcript in front of him, threw it down and declared: “By God, he killed that woman. He chopped her up and put her in garbage bags.”

That reminded me of a story a former assistant prosecutor told me in the 1970s about a case he had back then, when I was covering the Jackson County Courthouse. The prosecutor, Jim Speck, said his key witness, when pressed about his eyewitness identification of the defendant, sat in the witness box and said: “It was him then, it was him today, and it will be him 20 years from now.”

That’s the kind of statement — like Wilson’s — that gets a jury’s attention.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to hold Sauerbry accountable for Summer Shipp’s senseless killing.

The only solace, as a said, is he’s in prison for life.

Finally, congratulations to Summer Shipp’s daughter Brandy for pushing relentlessly for justice for her mother. If it weren’t for her efforts, the case might have drifted into the ether.

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Ten months ago in this space, former KC Star business reporter Julius Karash predicted that The Star’s headquarters building would be going up for sale.

Congratulations, Julius, your reporting and crystal-ball instincts are as sharp as ever.

julius

Karash

Last Thursday, on Page 13A, Star reporter Mark Davis had a short story saying that McClatchy Co., The Star’s owner, was considering selling and then leasing back both the main building at 1729 Grand and the Press Pavilion a few blocks north on Oak.

Davis wrote: “A sale-leaseback provides cash to the seller and allows continued use of the property with no disruptions to operations, in this case producing and printing The Star and printing other publications. The lease agreement assures the buyer of a tenant and income.”

In theory, it’s one of those idyllic win-win deals. Everybody goes into the vault and tosses big bills in the air and lets them waft down on their heads. And with a debt of about $900 million, McClatchy could really use some cash in the vault.

But a sale-leaseback is not what Julius was predicting for the headquarters building, and I don’t trust The Star or McClatchy when management says that’s what it intends to do.

I believe McClatchy will do that with the Press Pavilion, because The Star is printing several papers there and I feel confident it’s making good money. But the three-story, brick headquarters building is another matter. Time was when about 2,000 employees worked in that building, with the printing presses whirring away in the sub-basement. Now, it’s down to several hundred employees, perhaps less than 500.

The Star doesn’t need that all that space for its editorial operation, and, as Julius pointed out in his June 2 guest post, the headquarters building is smack in the middle of the city’s hottest real estate market, the Crossroads.

“The super-charged pace of development in the Crossroads and Downtown makes 18th & Grand an attractive property,” Julius wrote. “It’s a beautiful, historic structure, built in 1909-11 and designed by Jarvis Hunt, the famous Chicago architect who also designed Kansas City’s Union Station. The site would be a great location for a business, residences or a combination of the two.”

McClatchy already has sold several of its newspapers’ headquarters buildings and others are going up for sale. And other newspaper companies are doing the same thing; those big old buildings, once so stately and symbolic of power and truth, are becoming dinosaurs.

…Not trusting anything McClatchy says, I can easily envision the day when McClatchy announces a sale-leaseback of the Press Pavilion and — surprise, surprise — also says it got an outright purchase offer on the headquarters building that was too good to turn down. And then they’ll move the remaining employees over to the Press Pavilion or rent editorial space somewhere downtown. (At least, I hope it’s downtown!)

More developments related to the future of The Kansas City Star could be forthcoming later this week. At or about the same time Publisher Tony Berg announced the proposed sale-leasebacks, he also called for an all-employee meeting Thursday morning at Union Station.

By all employees, I’m talking editorial, advertising, circulation, production — every department. During the 36-plus years I worked at The Star, I do not recall an all-employee meeting ever taking place. I have no idea what the meeting is about. I ran into a Star newsroom employee today at Costco and she said she had no idea what the subject of the meeting was. With things going the way they are with McClatchy and The Star, it’s hard to imagine that good news is coming on Thursday…As Warren Beatty’s character John McCabe tells Julie Christie’s character Constance Miller in the great Robert Altman movie McCabe & Mrs. Miller, “Money and pain. Pain and money…Money…Pain.”

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Yesterday was a great day for the newspaper industry.

For once, the industry was in the headlines in a good way — for a satirical front page The Boston Globe published presaging what a Donald Trump presidency might look like.

I’m sure many of you have seen it by now…If you’re not a Trump fan, it’s ingenious, hilarious and audacious. If you are a Trump fan, as it appears a newspaper called The Washington Times is, it’s “an odd, ambitious and detailed project  doubtless involving multiple reporters, designers and editors.”

Harrumph, harrumph…In other words, doesn’t The Boston Globe have anything more constructive for its staff to do than come up with a farcical front page tweaking Trump?

The answer, unequivocally, is this project says more about the petrifying prospect of a Trump presidency than any amount of “straight” reporting or editorial commentary could do.

The headline on the lead story blares, “DEPORTATIONS TO BEGIN.” Under it, this sub-head: “President Trump calls for tripling of ICE force; riots continue.” Under a photo of Trump speaking in front of an American flag, is a grab-quote from Trump, saying he’ll deport illegals “so fast your head will spin.”

trump front2

Lower on the page, there’s a headline that had to warm the hearts, in a skewering way, of journalists everywhere: “New libel law targets ‘absolute scum’ in press.”

An “In the News” segment down the left side of the page is led by a short story under this headline: “Bank glitch halts border wall work.

…For the record, this wasn’t the actual front page of Sunday’s Boston Globe; it was the front page of the paper’s Ideas, or opinion, section.

An editor’s note at the bottom of the page explained the very serious thinking underlying the project:

This is Donald’s Trump’s America. What you read on this page is what might happen if the GOP front-runner can put his ideas into practice, his words into action. Many Americans might find this vision appealing, but the Globe’s editorial board finds it deeply troubling.

An editorial inside the Ideas section says the satirical front “is an exercise in taking a man at his word. And his vision of America promises to be as appalling in real life as it is in black and white on the page. It is a vision that demands an active and engaged opposition. It requires an opposition as focused on denying Trump the White House as the candidate is flippant and reckless about securing it.”

Trump’s reaction, as you would expect, was derisive and dismissive. “How about that stupid Boston Globe? It’s worthless,” he said at a rally in Rochester, New York. “The whole front page is a make-believe story, which is really no different from the whole paper.”

Trump, of course, does not have sufficient sophistication to appreciate satire; he’s a hammer-and-anvil sort who blows and blusters his way forward, lurching from one crazy statement to another, only to retract half of them.

The Boston Globe provided not just its readers but the nation with a landmark piece of satire yesterday. Editorial page editors at major metropolitan papers around the country are probably looking at that and saying, “God, I wish we had done that!”

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On the subject of editorial pages, the McClatchy website is advertising job openings for two posts on The Kansas City Star editorial page. One posting is for an editorial page editor; the other for a columnist. The new hires would replace Steve Paul and Barbara Shelly, who took buyouts recently. Paul was editorial page editor; Shelly a columnist and editorial writer.

I’m sure the two remaining editorial writers, Yael Abouhalkah and Lewis Diuguid, were thrilled to hear that McClatchy intends to hire replacements for their departed colleagues. It’s good news for readers, too, of course; an editorial page produced by two people, even including someone as prolific as Abouhalkah, would have been a significant disservice to KC Star readers.

(Special thanks to former KC Star employee Jerry LaMartina for bringing the postings to my attention.)

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