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Archive for November, 2016

I’ve been trying to give up pro football — what with the brain injuries and ee-long-gate-ed games (commercials, commercials, commercials!) — but, man, it’s tough to stay away from the TV when you have a game like the one last night.

At least two KC Star sportswriters called the game an “instant classic,” and who could disagree? The Chiefs, in case you somehow missed it, won the game against Denver on a last-second, overtime field goal that banged hard into the left upright and caromed to the right at a near 90-degree angle but somehow slid behind the right upright, meaning…THE KICK IS GOOD!

I alternated between watching the game — which I was convinced the Chiefs were going to lose — and doing my Spanish homework. (Patty and I take a Level 1 class Friday mornings at Second Presbyterian Church.) I gave up after the Broncos scored a touchdown with three minutes left in regulation, giving them a 24-16 lead.

With the Chiefs’ achingly anemic offense, eight points seemed impossible. So I turned off the TV and went back to translating Spanish sentences.

Then, with the intention of making sure the Chiefs had lost before going to bed, I went to the ESPN website and saw, almost disbelieving, that the game was in overtime. When I got back to the TV, Chiefs’ kicker Cairo Santos was about to kick a 37-yard field goal to tie the game at 27.

A couple of minutes later, the Broncos unwisely attempted a 62-yard field goal, which squirted low and wide left, resembling one of my snap hooks on the golf course.

That gave the Chiefs the ball near midfield, and soon enough they were in position to attempt the game-winning field goal.

Santos’ kick arched high and toward the left upright. At first I thought it was going to pass just inside the upright. Then I thought it was going to leak left. Then it straightened out. When it hit the post, I thought it bounced slightly back toward the field, in front of the right post. That would have meant it was no good because, for a kick to be good, the ball has to go through the two posts. Doesn’t matter if it falls through or caroms through; it just has to go between the posts and over the crossbar.

For a moment, even the TV announcers were confused. But then I saw that each of the referees standing under the respective posts was holding his hands upward and apart — the standard indicator that a kick is good.

Incredible!

…A lot of times when watching sporting events, I get very excited and yell and cheer and curse. With this game, though, I just sat on the edge of my chair and watched. My eyes were wide, and my mouth was open, but I didn’t utter a word.

Then, I went to kansascity.com to read the sportswriters’ tweets — which they post as a sort of running commentary throughout the game — and to see photographer David Eulitt’s photos.

Shortly before midnight, Eulitt posted this photo of Chiefs’ wide receiver Chris Conley hugging Cairo Santos. From their expressions, you wouldn’t know the Chiefs had just won the game. It’s a picture of spent emotions…And it reflects exactly how I felt.

cairos

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On this Thanksgiving Day 2016, I’m thinking about:

:: The parents of the six children killed in the school-bus crash in Chattanooga and the injured children and their families…Twenty-four-year-old Johnthony Walker should not have been anywhere near a school bus, much less in the driver’s seat.

:: Jennifer and David Beaird, the Warrenton, MO, couple whose two children were killed in the horrific, Labor Day crash on I-70 in Blue Springs. David Beaird reportedly was paralyzed from the chest down, and the couple lost 13-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Chloe. Solely responsible for upending the Beairds’ lives was a 60-year-old, drunken shithead named James Green of Odessa. Looking down at his phone and with his big, black SUV set on cruise control, he plowed into the back of the Beairds’ Hyundai Elantra while the Beairds were stopped in traffic. Green is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of assault and driving while intoxicated.

A couple of months ago, I sent a $100 contribution to a fund that had been set up for Jennifer and David. I got a handwritten response from the couple, probably written by Jennifer. It said in part: “Thank you so much for thinking of us in our darkest of times.” Yes, it’s hard to imagine a family going through times much darker…

:: Why on earth (on a lighter note) did Highwoods, the former owner of the Country Club Plaza see fit to add fireworks to the annual Plaza Lighting Ceremony? As I’ve said here before, fireworks detracts from the magic, solemnity and uniqueness of the lighting ceremony.

I am fervently hoping that tonight, with the Plaza under new ownership since early this year, we will be pleasantly surprised and — poof! — the fireworks will have gone away…Early this year after sale of the Plaza was announced, I sent a letter to Robert (Bobby) Taubman, one of the new owners (along with Dana Anderson of Lawrence), asking him to cease and desist with the fireworks. A vice president of his company, the Taubman Centers Inc., wrote back, thanking me for my letter and saying, “Please be assured that we will take your comments into serious consideration as we plan future programming.” Well, the FUTURE IS NOW, and I’ll be watching…

:: President-elect Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida…Who, I’m wondering, is going to be cooking the turkey? Melania? Ivanka? Jared Kushner? Or maybe Donald himself. Can you picture him wearing an apron bearing the words “Make American Great Again” and leaning into the oven to check on the browning of the bird? Somehow, I can picture that more readily than Melania or Ivanka striking the same pose with their long, straight hair and high heels…(I hope they’re padding around in house shoes today, instead of high heels.)

:: Gail Collins, New York Times Op-Ed columnist extraordinaire, who today had a hilarious piece titled “Carving Donald Trump.” Collins recounted that Trump once sent her a letter saying she was “a dog and a liar” and had the face of a pig. Noting his recent waffling on some of his key campaign promises, including climate control and the use of torture, Collins closed with this:

“Next year at this time, we’ll be watching President Trump pardon the Thanksgiving turkeys. Unless he reverts and winds up ordering the turkeys tortured.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone…Thanks for your readership.

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As some of you know, I’m a substitute teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District. Consequently, the closest thing I have to a supervisor is the principal at whatever school where I’m working on a given day and the school district administration.

This week, the administration came out with a controversial statement, asking staff members to “refrain from wearing safety pins or other symbols of divisive and partisan political speech while on duty — unless such activity is specifically in conjunction with District curriculum.”

Let’s start with the confusing part of that statement: Why in the world would a teacher or other staff member be wearing a safety pin for any reason related to curriculum??? Is the administration trying to make allowances for home ec teachers who might be wearing safety pins in their lapels so they can whip them off to demonstrate the marking of dress hems?

Other than that…I agree completely agree with the ban. The district’s statement correctly prefaced the request by noting that “the wearing of a safety pin as a political statement” falls into the category of free speech. While simply wearing a safety pin was not a problem in itself, the statement said, “any disruption the political statement causes in the classroom or school is a distraction in the education process.”

And that’s the rub. The district has a strong mix of students from liberal and conservative families, and the district had received “concerns and complaints regarding political connotations associated with the wearing of safety pins.”

The safety-pin movement apparently goes back to the Brexit campaign in England, when some Brexit opponents began wearing safety pins to express solidarity with people who felt threatened by the Brexit movement. In that case, the message was aimed at immigrants. But here, after Donald Trump’s election, the message was extended to other groups, including gays, lesbians, transgenders and Muslims.

The first I heard of the safety-pin business was when Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith showed up wearing one at a post-game press conference last week. I didn’t think much of it, and it didn’t create much of a controversy for a couple of reasons. First, several NFL players have chosen to make political statements this season by not standing for the National Anthem. Second, Smith’s action was not going to offend any members of the news media — they don’t care, they just want good quotes and straight answers — nor was it going to pose any distraction or disruption to those proceedings.

As a liberal, my first thought upon hearing Smith had worn a safety pin was, “Great, I guess he voted for Hillary.”

But that reaction — which I’m sure others shared — confirmed that wearing a safety pin these days is, indeed, a political statement. Anybody who contends otherwise is just not being honest about it.

For Smith to wear one at the press conference is completely different from teachers and school staff members coming to school wearing safety pins. To me, it says, “In your face, Trump lover.” I can see how some students — and parents of some students — would recoil at the gesture.

In her Page 2 column in today’s Kansas City Star, Mary Sanchez criticized the Shawnee Mission School District’s message, but — as often is the case — her message was muddled.

She started off by saying district officials “decreed that wearing a safety pin is forbidden political speech.” Not so. The district’s statement clearly said the problem was not the actual wearing of a pin but the disruption it might cause.

She also said district officials had “bungled an opportunity to emphasize what every local district seeks — physical and emotional safety for all students.”

School districts’ concern for the physical and emotional well-being of their students goes without saying. Tacking on trite and platitudinous language like that suggested by Sanchez would have been meaningless.

As it should have, the school district focused on the issue at hand and, as far as I’m concerned, handled the matter very well…The only thing I would have tacked onto the statement was: “This ban also applies to home ec teachers; they may, however, wear clothespins to mark hems.”

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Although I didn’t vote for Donald Trump and am a bit concerned about some of his early appointments to key administration posts, I’ve found myself reading and seeking out stories about this most unusual presidential transition.

From the continuous hubbub around Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan, to Trump ducking the press and sneaking out to Club 21 for dinner last week, to who has the president-elect’s ear, to Trump’s daily routine, I find every aspect of the transition fascinating. Because of Trump’s outsize personality and his “outsider” status, this is a decidedly unique period in presidential politics.

Sunday, for example, The New York Times had an insightful story about Trump’s 35-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who appears to be the single most influential person in Trump’s inner circle.

kushner

Jared Kushner with father-in-law Donald Trump

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, seems to have a sort of counterpoint personality to Trump: Where Trump is bold, brash and big — big about everything — Kushner is laid back and reflective. You can see how Kushner’s relaxed style would be calming to Trump, who undoubtedly gets worn out by the bombardment he must get from people like Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Stephen Bannon.

The Times story said: “Mr. Kushner projects a very different image from his…father-in-law. He speaks in a near-whisper, punctuated by long pauses, conveying both intimacy and awkwardness.”

And this: “Unlike most of Mr. Trump’s advisers, Mr. Kushner is unfazed by Mr. Trump’s frequent fits of anger, sitting silently rather than flinching or fighting back when he is being dressed down.”

His greatest value seems to be his ability to keep Trump positive in the face of adversity. The story opened with an anecdote about the low point of Trump’s campaign, the October weekend when the Access Hollywood recordings had been made public and many people across the country (including me) were thinking Trump’s death knell had sounded.

His inner circle — including Christie, Giuliani, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus and Kushner– had gathered at Trump Tower to discuss what to do.

Where Christie, Giuliani and Priebus were urging Trump “to express contrition,” the story said, Kushner reminded Trump “of what he had built.” Trump left the meeting for a while to greet a group of supporters in front of Trump Tower. When Trump returned to the meeting, reporting that a large group of hard-core supporters were gathered outside, Kushner said, “Those are the people who are going to elect you president. Don’t worry about the other people.”

Trump, of course, did apologize for his offensive and outlandish remarks, but Kushner’s urging that he put the incident in the context of how far he had come almost certainly buoyed his confidence that he would overcome the setback. And, as we saw, Trump continued to push doggedly ahead and then steadfastly denied all ensuing allegations made by several women who came forward with accounts of Trump having inappropriately touched or advanced on them.

A vivid example of the clout Kushner wields was the recent trap-door-like descent of Chris Christie as a candidate for a plum Cabinet post. Kushner, it seems had a score to settle with Christie. When Christie was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey in the mid 2000s, he successfully prosecuted Mr. Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations. Charles Kushner ended up going to prison.

During the presidential campaign, Kushner argued against Christies’s appointment to oversee the transition team, but Trump gave Christie the job anyway. Last week, however, according to The Times’ story, Kushner successfully urged Trump to oust Christie from that role.

**

Another dimension of Trump I find interesting is his daily, weekday routine. Yet another front-page story in the Sunday Times lent insight into that.

Trump apparently starts his day very early, about 5 a.m., by reading The New York Post and — somewhat surprisingly — The Times. Surprising because The Times campaigned against him in the news columns as well as on the editorial and Op-Ed pages, and Trump has been doing all he can to discredit and bring down the newspaper by repeatedly calling it “the failing New York Times.” (For the record, it is not failing. Although it is planning a staff reduction in the coming months, its stock price has gone up since the election.)

Trump lives on the 58th floor of the tower, amid ornate furnishings, but his office is on a corner of the 26th floor. There, The Times story said, “aides, his children and his longtime assistant, Rhona Graff, move busily in and out as he holds court behind his desk.”

You may have heard or read this: He does not use a computer or read online. On the other hand, as we well know, he’s a slave to Twitter.

It will be interesting to see how he takes to Washington D.C., where 93 percent of people who went to the polls voted for Hillary Clinton. The Times said Trump “continues to discuss with the Secret Service how much he can return on weekends to Trump Tower.”

My guess is this is going to be just as much a Big Apple as a U.S. Capitol administration.

…I don’t know how things are going to shake out, but I love watching the process unfold.

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Finally, a measure of satisfaction.

Two and a half years after 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson of Iowa drowned because of a Missouri Highway Patrol officer’s negligence and indifference, the state has agreed to pay Ellingson’s family $9 million to settle a federal civil lawsuit.

The Star’s Laura Bauer, who has been on top of this story from the beginning, reported the settlement in an online story posted this morning.

This long-running saga of the state and the officer attempting to duck responsibility has painted Missouri as a place where you don’t want to fall victim to a problem in which state employees are involved.

One thing that has galled the Ellingson family — and me — is that Gov. Jay Nixon has never offered the Ellingson family an explanation or apology.

That should have come within days, but not a word. And I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. Being a lawyer, Nixon would tend to listen to advice to keep his mouth shut because, otherwise, he might expose the state to greater liability. And keep in mind this is the same governor who, when asked if the “buck stopped” with him on the state’s response to the Ferguson, MO,  crisis two years ago, replied:

“I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time personalizing this vis-a-vis me.”

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Anthony Piercy

You know what? Sometimes, leadership means ignoring legal advice and just doing what’s right — doing what your gut tells you. It was clear in the days after the drowning that Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Piercy had catapulted Brandon out of his patrol boat — at high speed and in heavy wake — and then took his good, sweet time trying to “rescue” Brandon after he was in the water.

In a phone call with a Highway Patrol investigator within hours of the drowning, Piercy said: “I’m banged up a little bit, but I’m all right. I don’t know if I’m sore from treading water with the bastard, but I just feel spent… I thought I had run a marathon.”

You’ll notice the only thing Piercy was concerned about was how he felt. And his choice of the word “bastard” to describe Brandon made it abundantly clear how little he was concerned about having stood by — until it was too late — as a college student in his custody died in 70 feet of water.

The Star’s story today says the only person who offered an apology was retired Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Henry, who turned whistle-blower and alleged that the patrol attempted to cover up the circumstances of Brandon’s drowning. Naturally, patrol administrators turned on Henry and demoted him to corporal, but he retired before the demotion took effect.  

**

Now that the civil case has been settled, the next big question is whether Piercy will be held to account in criminal court.

Nearly a year ago, a special prosecutor — a former Ozarks area Circuit Court judge named William Seay — charged Piercy with involuntary manslaughter, a felony that carries up to seven years in prison.

The case has slogged along in mid-Missouri, with two different judges tossing it back and forth and the parties now waiting for the Missouri Supreme Court to assign a new judge.

A year and a half ago, I wrote that the Ellingsons were being subjected to what I called The Ozarks Shuffle “a little-known dance performed to distract city folk.”

With any luck, the next judge might be from somewhere other than the Ozarks (that’s what Seay indicated earlier this month, after the last judge recused himself), and we’ll finally see Piercy have to pay a price for his rash and heartless actions on May 31, 2014.

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I’m trying to look on the bright side (early) this morning…

Maybe Missouri is on a path toward regaining its bellwether status.

Some of you might not be familiar with the Missouri bellwether phenomenon.

From 1904 to 2004, Missouri voted for the winning presidential nominee, with one exception. That was in 1956, during the landslide re-election of President Dwight Eisenhower. Showing its Democratic tilt at the time, Missouri voted for Adlai Stevenson, governor of nearby Illinois.

The sound of the bell began to get faint in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president. By a margin of about 5,000 votes, Missouri went for John McCain. During that election, a lawyer from out of state was staying at our house while working on the Obama campaign. We didn’t know him; the local Democratic Party hooked us up with him and asked if we’d put him up.

My most vivid memory of him was how upset he was the morning after the election. He wanted Obama’s national campaign staff to demand a recount in Missouri, even though Obama had won the election and didn’t need Missouri.

“I know we can find 5,000 votes somewhere!” the lawyer said.

Four years later, in 2012, the bell stopped ringing. Missourians voted for Mitt Romney by a margin of more than 250,000 votes. Missouri had gone decidedly red.

This year, I thought the race between Clinton and Trump would be close in Missouri. At one time, I even thought Clinton might win. (Thank God I never predicted that in this blog! Kept my big mouth shut for once.)

Yesterday, the Republicans blew the doors off the state. At this writing, with more than 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Trump was leading Clinton by more than half a million votes.

(He also won by more than half a million votes in my home state, Kentucky, which also used to be Democratic.)

**

I’ve said several times in this space over the last few years that Republicans were on the wrong side of demographics, with the Latino, Asian and African-American vote expanding and the older-white-male vote shrinking.

Well, that theory got turned on its head in Missouri and many other states yesterday.

I don’t know exactly how this happened, but I do know one thing: Emails can be very dangerous. You not only have to be very careful before you hit the “send” button; you have to be even more careful about setting up your own email system. Clinton lost a lot of voters when that scandal surfaced a few years ago (we can now officially call it a scandal), and many of them never returned to her.

Anyway, congratulations to my Republican friends and to Donald Trump. He did it his way, and, by God, he won big. We Democrats should have been paying closer attention to those huge crowds he was drawing instead of to the pundits who were sometimes predicting an 80-percent-plus likelihood of a Clinton victory.

 

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For the dwindling number of us who like to hold the daily Kansas City Star in our hands and go through the paper leisurely, Saturday’s paper was one that had a lot to offer.

The edition was a good example of why newspapers, beat down though they are, often deliver more intellectual stimulation than the Internet.

One reason I think the print edition is more satisfying than the Internet is the juxtaposition of illuminating photos with well-written stories. Of course, photos are all over the Internet, too, but for some reason, the photo-print combination is more compelling when you’re holding the newspaper and letting the words and images settle slowly.

The importance of the image-word linkage was most evident in Saturday’s lead stories — side-by-side reports by senior political reporter Dave Helling on the final days of campaigning by Roy Blunt and Jason Kander.

Kander, a Democrat, and Blunt, the Republican incumbent, are locked in an epic battle for one of Missouri’s two U.S. Senate seats. (The other seat, held by Democrat Claire McCaskill, is not up for election this year.) Helling spent a day or two with each of the candidates last week and provided readers with an intriguing look at the approaches the two men have been taking as they near the wire.

The contrast between the two was clearly evident in the side-by-side photos taken by Star photographer Allison Long. The photo of Kander shows him talking on the phone after stepping off his campaign bus in Warrensburg. Kander’s name is printed in huge letters on the side of the bus, and in the photo his head is centered beneath those big letters.

Kander is wearing distressed jeans, a long-sleeved dress shirt and casual shoes. His left hand is on his belt buckle. The picture reflects Helling’s story of a candidate who is focused but seemingly confident and at ease.

The photo of Blunt also depicts him as composed and confident. He is standing on a stage, in a warehouse in Springfield, speaking to and pointing toward a group we cannot see. He is wearing cuffed, gray slacks, a blue or gray dress shirt and what looks to me like tan cowboy boots. Large “Roy for Missouri” signs surround him.

The opening quotes in both stories reflect the candidates’ contrasting styles as Election Day hurtles toward them. Helling quotes Kander, 35, as saying: “There is a new generation stepping forward right now. It is a generation that is more focused on ideas than on ideology.”

The words make him sound like a political science teacher smoking a pipe and exchanging high-minded thoughts with colleagues.

Blunt, on the other hand, sounds like a colonel brandishing a sabre and preparing for battle.

“Religious liberty is at stake,” he tells the warehouse crowd. “The Second Amendment is at stake. Freedom of speech is at stake. Our rights and liberties are at stake.”

With those strong beginnings, Helling effectively grabbed the readers’ attention and set the stage for an additional half-page of text on an inside page.

…Good stuff. These are the types of stories that make newspapers very relevant, even in the electronic age. And stories like those are one reason I won’t be giving up my printed edition until it isn’t printed any longer.

**

While a good news story still gets me pumped up, I am strangely indifferent about the diminution of The Star’s editorial page.

On Facebook, former editorial page writer Barb Shelly has been hammering away at Publisher Tony Berg for decimating the editorial page and making a hard right political turn in recent weeks. (The paper has endorsed at least three Missouri Republicans — Blunt in the Senate race, Josh Hawley in the attorney general’s race and Jay Ashcroft in the secretary of state’s race — who probably would not have been endorsed if Berg had not fired longtime editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah a few weeks ago.

But this is how things can go when a big, once-stable organization — any organization, not just a major metropolitan daily — has become a shadow of its former self. The Star is down to probably fewer than 500 employees, where it once employed more than 2,000. The once-pulsating newsroom, I understand, now resembles the clubhouse of a baseball team that has lost 10 in a row.

I have watched this paper lose its verve over the last decade or so, and it just isn’t coming back. All momentum is gone. And, so, while I still love to read the paper, I’m through wringing my hands. And you know what? I think a lot of readers feel the same way. Among my circle of friends, I don’t hear a lot of complaining about The Star. I used to. But many of them have canceled their print subscriptions, either because of spiraling subscription prices or the downturn in quality, or both.

Many of those who haven’t abandoned the print edition are like me: They sit down with it, read and enjoy whatever good reporting and good photography remain, and then toss it aside and get on with their day.

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