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Archive for April, 2017

In a matter of hours, perhaps, we will find out if U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gets an audience with Carnac the Magnificent…uh, I mean with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

If Putin has any guts, he will meet with Tillerson, who has lambasted Russia on TV and in news conference in recent days for its apparent complicity with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the chemical attack last week that killed scores of Syrian civilians.

If he has any spine at all, he should be eager to confront Tillerson and have it out.

But Putin, whose forte is gamesmanship not leadership, will probably try to embarrass or upstage Tillerson by stiffing him. It wouldn’t surprise me if Putin made a mini-drama out of whether he will meet with Tillerson by holding out the prospect of a meeting for hours and then pulling back.

On Monday, a spokesman for Putin said a Tillerson-Putin meeting was not planned. “We have not announced any such meetings and right now there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary,”  the spokesman said.

The Russians are notoriously cagey about such things, however, so the question of a meeting is up in the air. My prediction, though, is Putin will not meet with Tillerson and will thus expose himself as a big talker when shouting across oceans but a wuss when it comes to looking in the eye a powerful international figure who is effectively calling Putin’s hand.

For the first time in a long time, as many observers have noted, America, at least for the time being, is speaking from a position of strength, instead of allowing itself to be pushed around by the fish-eyed former KGB agent.

In case you missed it, Tillerson has spoken confidently and scathingly at least twice in recent days, first on Sunday on “Face the Nation” and then Tuesday at the Group of 7 foreign ministers conference in Italy, before heading to Russia.

Here are samples of what he had to say…

Rex Tillerson on “Face the Nation”

Asked, on “Face the Nation,” if the Russians might have been involved in the chemical weapons attack, he replied:

I think the Russians have played now for some time the role of providing cover for Bashar al-Assad’s behavior. The alternative explanation that the Russians put forth is simply not plausible. Not only is it not plausible, we know from our own information and open-source information that their– their alternative explanation is simply not credible.

So there’s little question as to who was responsible for these attacks. It was Bashar al-Assad. And I think the Russians need to think more carefully about the commitment they made under the chemical weapons agreements to be the guarantor that these weapons would be seized, they would be removed, they would be destroyed. And since they are Bashar al-Assad’s ally, they would have the closest insight as to the compliance.

So regardless of whether Russia was complicit here or whether they were simply incompetent or whether they got outwitted by the Bashar al-Assad regime, you would have to ask the Russians that question.

He was even harsher at the G7 meeting in Lucca, Italy, where he read from a prepared statement to reporters and then answered a couple of questions.

In the statement, he said Russia had “failed to uphold the agreements” of 2013 when Russia agreed to guarantee that all Syrian chemical weapons would be located and destroyed.

He went on to pointedly say, “It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously or Russia has been incompetent, but this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead.” 

In answer to a reporter’s question, he said:

I think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end; but the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important, in our view, to the durability, the stability inside of a unified Syria, and its stability and durability of the outcome going forward. So that’s why we are not presupposing how that occurs, but I think it is clear that we see no further role for the Assad regime longer-term given that they have effectively given up their legitimacy with these type of attacks.

**

Whatever happens in Moscow, it is certainly gratifying to see Tillerson, a man who came from the corporate world and who has taken his time getting his feet under him in his new job, find his voice and speak out strongly on behalf of humanity.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I think Tillerson speaks with the full blessing and confidence of President Trump. There are those who contend the cruise-missile attack on Syria was ordered primarily to divert attention from the investigation into the possibility of coordination between the Kremlin and Trump’s presidential campaign. That may or may not be the case. Regardless, it would have been horrible — as it was several years ago under President Obama — for the U.S. to stand meekly aside while Assad dropped chemical bombs on Syrian civilians, creating horrifying and maddening images of human suffering.

…If you get a chance, Rex, give him hell.

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The stories of Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky — and the dead girls’ mothers evolving friendship — are compelling and deeply touching, and they certainly deserve the cascade of column inches The Star has dedicated to the cases in recent days.

But two other old, unsolved murder cases involving attractive young women continue to not only get short shrift from from The Star but also be badly mishandled.

I’m talking about the strange and tragic murders of 18-year-old Sarah DeLeon in 1989 and the 1994 slaying of 26-year-old Diana Ault.

The Star’s “centerpiece” story on Sunday was another re-examination of the Runions-Kopetsky cases, with no new information being disclosed.

Buried inside, meanwhile, on Page 4A, was a story under the two-column headline “Attorney: Client is relieved after murder charge is ’89 case dropped”

Sarah DeLeon

Unlike the Runions-Kopetsky story, the 4A story contained startling news: A first-degree murder charge pending against 48-year-old Carolyn J. Heckert in the DeLeon case was dropped Friday, and Heckert was released from custody.

…It was one of the oddest crime reports I’ve ever read. It started like this:

“An attorney for a women accused of killing a teenager nearly 30 years ago said his client is relieved to be home after nearly seven months in jail.”

Well, what a surprise. A woman who may have gotten away with murder is happy to be home! Gee, KC Star, thanks for sharing that wonderful news with us!

The story attributed reports of the dismissal to Heckert’s attorney. The reporter, Toriano Porter, a young and relatively new hand at The Star, went on to inform the readers that he had not been able to reach any members of DeLeon’s family and that the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s office declined to comment, other than to confirm the case had been dismissed.

As best I could tell from looking at local TV stations’ websites today, the judge dismissed the charge after a preliminary hearing, at which prosecutors were unable to present enough evidence to warrant binding the case over for trial. I believe all four local TV stations had the story Friday evening, and one or two had video of Heckert leaving the courthouse with an unidentified man. (See photo below.)

What happened, obviously, is The Star got beat on the story. It’s very possible The Star had lost track of the case and didn’t realize a hearing was coming up Friday. My guess is one or more Star editors and/or reporters saw the development on the Friday afternoon TV news, and Porter was quickly assigned to the story. He was only able to get part of the story, though, and slapped together the weird report that appeared online at 7:48 p.m. Friday and then ran in today’s printed edition.

 

It was big news back in October when Heckert, a longtime real estate agent who lives in Smithville, was arrested on the basis of new DNA collection and testing technology. But even then, as I reported in an October 21 blog post, not one news outlet, including The Star, had a story that adequately and clearly explained the story — which, in short, is that Heckert may have regarded DeLeon and Alt as romantic rivals. Heckert had dated Ault’s husband after he and Ault had separated, and Heckert had also dated DeLeon’s boyfriend when DeLeon and her boyfriend were broken up. The DeLeon-Ault story is one with chilling and possibly fatal overtones, and no local reporter has done it justice.

Diana Ault

My immediate beef, however, is the approach Porter took in Sunday’s story. Armed with a thimble full of information, he tried to compensate by writing a disproportionately large story. He was trying to go beyond a “murder-charge-was-dropped-yesterday” story, but he had only one side of the story — the one Heckert’s attorney gave him — and it came out trite and silly.

What the readers were left with was a 14-inch story that told them virtually nothing more than that the charge was dismissed, but possibly could be refiled later.

Having been beaten on the story — which happens — Porter should have put his tail between his legs and written it straight — “Murder charge dismissed yesterday” — and not tried to gloss over his paucity of facts.

Porter left us with this quote from the attorney:

“I’m very pleased for my client (Heckert) and very happy she can go home and be with her children. Hopefully this is behind her.”

Galling, absolutely galling.

Tomorrow morning, I hope, The Star will do the right thing and shove Toriano Porter back into the story to find out how the DeLeon and Ault families feel about this latest development…That is what the readers want to know. The hell with Heckert.

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Many of you will recall my two-part story earlier this year about David and Jennifer Beaird, the Warrenton couple whose two children were killed last Labor Day when a drunk plowed into the back of their car on I-70 in Blue Springs.

Today, I spoke with David, who was left paralyzed from the chest down, and he told me about a development in the case.

A few weeks ago, he said, the Jackson County prosecutor’s office informed him and Jennifer that prosecutors had reached a plea agreement with the defendant, 61-year-old James L. Green of Odessa. The deal, subject to the Beairds’ approval, was for a 25-year sentence, with Green having to serve a minimum of 80 percent, or 20 years.

The Beairds thought about it for a couple of days and then called the prosecutor’s office and accepted the deal.

Green, who has three prior DUI convictions, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder (murder, rather than manslaughter, because of the aggravating circumstance of intoxication) and two counts of assault. He has been in the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center since the crash.

Killed upon impact were 13-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Chloe. They were seated in the back of the Beairds’ car when Green plowed into them while they were stuck in eastbound traffic near the Adams Dairy Parkway exit. Green told police he had been looking at his phone, thumbing through his music list and that his car was on cruise control.

David and Jennifer Beaird

David said he didn’t know the exact correlation of charges and sentencing but that the deal was for a total of 25 years. He said it was his understanding Green would formally enter the plea in June, when Green is next scheduled to appear in court. (I have a call into a spokesman with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office to see if the spokesman will verify what David told me.)

Although a longer sentence might seem more appropriate, 20 years may well be a life sentence for Green. “He’s in his early 60s and in poor health,” David said.

James L. Green

Poor health would be understandable, given that he’s probably been an alcoholic for more than 25 years…His first DUI conviction came in 1991 in Jackson County. The others were in 1997 and 2009.

**

When I visited them in February, the Beairds (pronounced Beard) were planning to sell their Warrenton home and move to upstate New York, the area that was home to Jennifer’s family for many years.

They have put their home up for sale, but David, who is 40, said they were now leaning toward moving to Myrtle Beach, SC, partly because the warm climate might make life easier for him. Jennifer’s mother, Kathy Gordon, who has been living with them in Warrenton, would continue living with them wherever they go.

Jennifer, 38, is still managing the H&R Block tax preparation office in Warrenton and will continue to work long hours for the next couple of weeks, through the end of tax season. After that, the couple will focus on selling the house and preparing to move.

David said a recent trip to visits relatives in Missouri’s Bootheel served as something of an experiment on how he could negotiate logistical challenges. It went well and gave him a shot of confidence in his ability to function relatively normally “away from the comforts of home.”

Asked how he was coping overall, he said, “slow and steady.” To help pass time, he has taken up drawing and sketching.

“I try to stay real busy and not think about things,” he said.

**

Here are the links to my two earlier stories on this case.

https://jimmycsays.com/2017/02/10/a-warrenton-couple-soldiers-on-after-a-crash-in-blue-springs-that-took-their-two-children/

https://jimmycsays.com/2017/02/11/jennifer-beaird-im-running-away/

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There’s a lot going on, internationally, nationally and locally.

Let’s start with the most distant events, geographically, and draw the circle tighter…

SYRIA

It appears that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria unleashed another chemical attack on his own people…Either that, or one or both of his closest allies — Russia and Iran — did it.

Here’s an image from The New York Times that makes you want to simultaneously weep in sadness and shriek in anger…

Yes, the girl is dead.

There are much worse images from this attack, which killed dozens of people, including many children and sickened many others. If you can stand it, video is readily available that shows people totally incapacitated and struggling to breathe…some of them who may well have been drawing their last breaths.

The Trump administration blamed former President Barack Obama, saying the attack was a consequence of the last administration’s “weakness and irresolution,” specifically in the face of a chemical weapons attack that occurred after he warned Assad that if he used chemical weapons, he would face consequences for crossing “a red line.”

Sorry, but blaming the previous administration is not an adequate response to this outrage. Obama blew it, for sure, but now it’s President Trump’s problem…What will he do with it? A nation waits.

GORSUCH

The judge will be confirmed because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’s going to change the rules and allow Gorsuch’s nomination to be approved by a simple majority of 51 votes. This is — will be, if it happens — another step down the road leading away from any semblance of bipartisanship in Congress. If that is the result, I think the Democrats will prevail in the long run. It will take a few years, but I believe a majority of Americans will come around.

TESLA

Here’s one that defies imagination: The New York Times reported today that on Monday Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric-car company, surpassed Ford Motor Co. in market value and “moved within striking distance of General Motors.”

The Times said: “While G.M. and Ford may have strong profits and healthy balance sheets, Tesla offers something Wall Street loves much more: the potential for dramatic growth.”

At the close of the stock market Monday, Tesla’s market capitalization hit $48.7 billion, compared to $45.6 billion for Ford and $51.2 billion for G.M.

That was the case even though G.M. and Ford are each selling about 250,000 vehicles a month in the United States. Tesla? Well, it sold 4,000 vehicles last month.

But Musk might be more of a con man than President Trump: His goal is that by 2018 — that’s next year — Tesla will be making more than 41,000 cars a month, a ten-fold increase over current production.

I say good luck to those who see “TSLA” stock as the path to riches…I’ll be sticking with my “NYT” stock.

ROY

I was rooting for the “Zags” in Monday’s NCAA basketball finals, but I couldn’t help admire the way North Carolina coach Roy Williams pushed all the right buttons. In the first half, he gave his biggest, most intimidating player, Kennedy Meeks, a tongue lashing that made me wince as I watched in my front room. At another point, he slapped the floor so hard that his hand took on the dynamics of a basketball as it rebounded upward. What I like most about Williams is that he doesn’t try to micromanage the game, like a lot of coaches do, running up and down the sideline and yelling themselves hoarse in their efforts to be puppeteers.

One coach who does that to absolute distraction is K-State’s Bruce Weber, who scurries around like a banty rooster, making a spectacle of himself. Whether they realize it or not, coaches like Weber undercut their players because their constant yammering signals to the players that the coach has no confidence in them to make decisions and smart plays on their own.

Williams, for the most part, watches the game — usually standing — and mostly applauds good plays, claps his hands and offers words of encouragement. He doesn’t call a lot of timeouts to draw up specific plays, and, like he did Monday, he throws a shit fit when he feels he needs to get his players’ full attention.

A recent story in The Washington Post summed up for me why Williams is so successful. (His Tar Heel teams have now won three national titles.) The story quoted Carolina player Theo Pinson as saying: “He trusts his players. He doesn’t call a timeout because he wants us to go make a play. Not a lot of coaches do. They want to control that situation and draw up a play. Players go win the game. He picks his spots and puts us in the best position to win games.”

ELECTION

With 97 percent of the votes counted, all three of Kansas City’s general-obligation bond proposals appeared to be on their way to passage. Each of the three bond questions stood at more than 60 percent approval, with each needing at least 57.1 percent approval.

Voters also were approving a measure to limit Municipal Court punishment for marijuana possession to a $25 fine, as well as a one-eighth-cent sales tax for economic development on Kansas City’s East Side. (For the record, I had come out for the G.O. bonds and against the sales tax.)

Overall, it was a very good night for Kansas City. Congratulations to Mayor Sly James, City Manager Troy Schulte, the City Council and the paid consultants who engineered a winning effort.

Next on the horizon — a new, single terminal at KCI. And away we go (I hope)!

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