Archive for October, 2018

The Star has a tremendous “true crime” series going on its front pages this week, and if you haven’t been reading it, I suggest you start now.

The series began Sunday and will continue through Friday in the print edition. If you’re like me, though, and can’t stop reading it, you can read all six installments on The Star’s website.

Robert J. Gross, in a 2017 booking mug shot

It’s about a 67-year-old Kansas City man named Robert J. Gross, who has been linked to four sexually motivated killings between 1979 and 2016. He has not been charged in any of the killings, although it appears Platte County authorities are considering charging him in the 2016 murder of 52-year-old Ying Li, who worked in the massage business.

Gross is also suspected of killing an aunt, from whom he inherited money.

The lead reporter and writer on the series is Ian Cummings, a young reporter who has been with The Star only a few years. The second and third bylines on all six parts are longtime KC Star police reporters Glenn Rice and Tony Rizzo.

I have nothing but unequivocal praise for the series, hauntingly titled “Stalk. Murder. Repeat.”

What concerns me, though, is whether KC area residents are paying much attention. I haven’t heard one person talking about the series. At my house, neither my wife Patty nor daughter Brooks has said a word about it, and I know they’re not reading it.

At lunch today with two people with deep backgrounds in writing and reporting — one a former KC Star colleague, the other a freelance writer who has worked for newspapers in the past — I got blank looks when I asked if they had been reading the series. “I’ve heard about it,” the former colleague said after a pause.

Their reaction surprised me, partly because both have digital subscriptions to The Star.

And that — the digital dimension — is where I’ve been focusing my reflecting on how much impact the series is having.

Janet Manuel, pictured when she was a nursing student in the 1970s. Gross assaulted her but didn’t kill her.

This is the kind of series that, 20 to 25 years ago, before U.S. newspaper circulation began nosediving, would have been a blockbuster in any major city. People would have been waiting for their papers in their yards and in their pajamas to get the next installment. The newspaper might have had to print thousands of extra copies each day to keep up with demand. And it certainly would have consolidated the stories in a separate press run — to be sold separately — in the days or weeks following publication.

But now we’re in the give-me-the-news-quick era and the troubling times when a lot of people can’t stay focused on a friend’s or relative’s two-minute story.

Many people still read books, of course, but not many people sit down with their daily papers — or what remains of them — and give them a good read.

In addition, most people reading online are doing so on the phone, which is not accommodating to long stories.

…I hope I’m wrong and people are reading the shit out of this series and, like me, are in awe of the exhaustive reporting and investment of time and energy it took to assemble it.

(To give you an idea of how hard the reporters had to dig, the Kansas City Police Department, which investigated all four of the sex- or revenge-related murders, refused to cooperate with the reporters, as did the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has prosecuted Gross for crimes other than murder. The reporters got loads of information, however, from retired detectives and other sources, such as relatives and friends of murder victims and victims who survived assaults by Gross.)


If, as I suspect, this series is not being widely read, it would be a damn shame. I would love to know — but probably never will — how many computer “hits” the series ends up getting. In the end, that will tell the readership story. If the number of hits the series gets is deemed disappointing by KC Star and McClatchy Co. management (and if it doesn’t win any significant journalistic prizes), editors will be less likely to commission such stories in the future.

And if that turns out to be the case, we the public will be the ones losing out, because it will mean the trend toward shallower, less resounding stories keeps gaining steam.

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It’s been clear for some time now that the quality of Jackson County government has been going downhill.

Two examples:

:: The county executive who preceded the current county executive is headed to federal prison.

:: A legislator who formerly played for the Chiefs, Fred Arbanas, held office for 42 years and had a golf course named after him.

But now, instead of going downhill, I’m beginning to think Jackson County government has just about hit bottom. (I say “just about” because as we’ve seen with President Trump, just when you think he’s hit rock bottom, he shovels out another sub-basement.)

What I’m talking about specifically are the proposed Jackson County Charter amendments on next Tuesday’s election ballot.

In May, the nine-member County Legislature, headed by Scott Burnett (who has been on the Legislature 20 years) voted to put seven proposed Charter amendments before the voters. Despite minimal coverage in The Star, I’ve been aware that some amendments would be on the ballot…but I didn’t realize until today how bad they are.

What opened my eyes was the lead editorial in today’s Kansas City Star. The headline was, “Here’s how to vote to improve Jackson County government.”

Painstakingly, the editorial writer — whoever it was — went through each of the seven proposals and attempted to separate the wheat from the chaff. In the end, The Star recommends a “yes” vote on four of the proposals and a “no” vote on the other three.

Scott Burnett

The problem is the proposals contain so many contradictions, so much self-interest and such a lack of specifics that none of them merits approval. Where The Star recommends “yes” on some and “no” on others, I’m recommending an emphatic NO across the board.

While some of the proposals contain redeeming and positive features — such as term limits for all elected county officials — the proposals as a whole would further bloat an already-out-of-control government and would increase the power of the Legislature at the expense of the county executive.

I’ve got to hand it to the Legislature on timing: They are proposing beefing up their own power at a time when the current county executive, former KC Royals’ second-baseman Frank White appears to be inept and out of his depth.

…But I ask you, which of these would you rather have:

A high-profile county executive whose strengths and shortcomings are on full display most of the time or…nine county legislators with even more power than they currently have and who, largely because of a diminished press, are able to skulk around and operate in relative anonymity?

We’ve had good country executives in the past, including the late George Lehr, the first county executive under Charter government, and Katheryn Shields, and we will have more in the future. The framers of the Charter, which voters approved in 1971 and took effect two years later, had it right when they decided to vest a disproportionate amount of power with the county executive. Similarly, most municipal governments have a “strong-mayor” form of government (Kansas City being an exception) so that accountability is concentrated rather than dispersed.

With these proposed Charter amendments, the legislators are hoping that with a weak county executive in office, voters will opt to flip the balance of power. I say: Don’t fall for it!

The way to proceed is to vote all seven questions down and not approve anything until the Legislature comes back with something better than gobbledygook aimed at increasing its own power.


Now, let’s get to some specifics:

Question 1

Among other things, this proposal would take away the county executive’s line-item veto authority, which, in turn, would mean the executive would not be able to veto “pork barrel” projects inserted by individual legislators. It would also raise the salary for legislators by a whopping 43 percent — from $34,881 a year to $49,908. Did I mention that legislators work part time?

Naturally, though, the legislators didn’t see fit to tell voters how much of a raise they’d be getting; the ballot language just says Question 1 will “provide a salary increase for members of the County Legislature.”

The only bone the legislators threw voters in this smelly concoction is a two-term limit on legislative terms.

Maddeningly, though, the term-limit bell would not ring until next Jan. 1, giving current legislators the opportunity to serve eight more years.

Question  2

Among other things, this proposal would restrict the county executive’s ability to hire consultants without legislative approval. As compensation for the shakedown, though, the Legislature would kindly increase the executive’s salary by 9 percent — from $145,350 to $158,848.

(Again, of course, the amount is not spelled out in the ballot language; all it says is Question 2 will “provide a salary increase for the County Executive.”)

Question 3

This proposal would shift oversight of the jail from the county executive to the sheriff…This sounds good on its face, but I remember the days when the jail was run by the sheriff — before 1973 — and it was mostly a debacle.

It also would limit the sheriff to three four-year terms and would raise the sheriff’s salary by 53 percent — from $103,771 to $158,848…I don’t know about you, but that kind of pay increase makes me wonder if Sheriff Darryl Forte has photos of some legislators in compromising situations.

Question 4

This would give the prosecutor control over the COMBAT anti-drug sales tax…which is good because no one except those distributing that money have ever understood where most of it has been going.

The measure would also limit the prosecutor to three four-year terms and raise the prosecutor’s salary from $133,432 to $158,848, or 19 percent.

(If you’re wondering where the magical $158,848 figure came from, that’s what Missouri Appeals Court judges make.)


I could go on, but I think you get the drift: While some of these questions contain appealing elements, voters are being asked to consume a tray of turds before getting the main course.

Waiter, take this shit back!

(NOTE: I strongly suggest that everyone read and study the sample ballot before going to the polls or voting absentee. It’s long and complicated and challenging. You can see the Kansas City sample ballot here.)


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On the heels of Tuesday’s post about the hazardous situation on I-435 before and after Chiefs’ games (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Royals’ games), I exchanged emails with a relatively high-profile police department official.

I initiated the contact because of my concern about this situation. The officer — whom I’m not going to identify because he responded to me as a friend and acquaintance — had an interesting and constructive suggestion.

If you’ll recall, I suggested two steps: First, MoDOT should put more electronic traffic-control signs on I-435 and, second, KCPD should have more officers and vehicles, with flashing lights, on the highway before and after games.

The officer said he liked my ideas but noted that finances are very tight for both MoDOT and the police department. With that in mind, he suggested the Chiefs should have a role in improving traffic control outside the stadium.

“Wouldn’t it be neat,” he wrote, “if they entered into an initiative to help supplement some costs of this?”

For me, that was an “ah ha” moment.

The answer is, “Of course!”

What can be more important to the Chiefs than doing all they can to ensure their fans arriving at games safely? If — God forbid — we should have another fatality on I-435 before another game this year, or even next year, attendance could be affected.

At left is the KCPD police van that crashed into a car being driven by 17-year-old Chandan Rajanna on I-435 last Sunday. Rajanna was killed and his father and sister seriously injured. The white SUV at right was one of the vehicles involved in the chain-reaction collision near the Stadium Drive exit.

I wrote back to the officer, broaching the possibility of Police Chief Rick Smith approaching Chiefs’ brass, perhaps owner Clark Hunt,  about the prospect of the team helping finance safety improvements.

The officer said he didn’t think that would be appropriate and explained why:

“Typically, when it comes to supplemental employment we wait to be approached by a business rather than solicit that business to contribute. That helps to avoid any perception that we are coercing or bullying any business to hire us for supplemental employment.”

On the other hand, the officer said, it would be appropriate for MoDOT to approach the Chiefs about a cost-sharing strategy.


I think that’s a great idea…And I would take it a step further. The one individual who is best suited to bring KCPD, Kansas City Chiefs and Department of Transportation officials to the table in a collaborative effort is Mayor Sly James.

As we all know and have seen, James is strong willed and gets things done. Last year alone, his exhortation helped get voters to approve construction of a new airport and an $800-million, general-obligation bond issue for infrastructure improvements. Surely, he could find a way to bring about critical, potentially life-saving improvements to Interstate 435 on game days.

…I don’t have a relationship with Sly — not even sure he knows who I am. But I just put in the mail a letter urging him to make game-day traffic improvement a top priority. This needs to get done.

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Here’s the casualty toll in two KC Chiefs, traffic-related crashes on or near I-435 during the last 13 months:

Three dead; two people with serious brain injuries; a sixth person in critical condition.

Is it time for MODOT and the KCPD to take significant new steps to better control traffic on I-435 in the hours before and after Chiefs’ and Royals’ games?


Here are the circumstances that have made I-435 a most dangerous place to be before and after events at the Sports Complex:

:: Most people headed to games are in a hurry to get there. Among other things, they’re thinking about how far they’ll have to park from the stadium and how long the lines will be to get through the metal detectors.

:: Because of the amount of traffic, however, everyone has to slow down, and traffic starts to back up.

:: Then, many people behind the back-up — a lot of them racing to get to the game and thinking about the delays they’ll face inside the stadium — are approaching too fast and not paying close enough attention to the traffic flow in front of them.

The result, all too often, is a belated jamming of the brakes and a rear-end, chain-reaction collision.

Chandan Rajanna, left

In all likelihood, those circumstances were involved in the death Sunday of 17-year-old Chandan Rajanna, a Shawnee Mission South senior. And they were factors in his 81-year-old father, Krishna Rajanna, ending up in critical condition, and his sister Lisa Allen suffering a brain injury that, according to The Star, was so serious that family members “are not sure about her recovery.” (The three were on their way to the Chiefs-Bengals game.)

A related factor — frustration at the pace of traffic after a Chiefs’ game — was at work in September 2017, when Terry A. Gray of Independence drove his pickup 90 miles an hour down the 23rd Street ramp and triggered a chain-reaction crash that left two people dead and another with a serious brain injury. (Gray had not been at the game but later told police he was frustrated by the slowdown on I-435.)

Samantha Raudales

The dead in that case were 3-year-old Ryan Hampel of Independence and 16-year-old Samantha Raudales of Shawnee. Samantha’s father, Edwin Raudales-Flores, suffered the brain injury.

Regular readers will recall I wrote several posts about that case and that Gray, 51, died of cancer before he could be held to account on felony charges stemming from the crash.


Regular readers also know what a stickler I am when it comes to lawful and careful driving. (For the record, my customary 5-miles-under-the-limit-pace drives Patty and Brooks crazy, and often Patty won’t let me drive when we go out — except after she’s had her wine.)

But even as slowly as I drive and as watchful as I am, I came close to being involved in a crash after becoming enmeshed in hurry-up/slow-down traffic before a Royals’ game earlier this year.

I wasn’t going to the game, as I recall, just heading north on 435, and I was driving 55 or so. I got momentarily distracted by cars speeding past me, and suddenly came upon a slowdown just south of the Stadium Drive exit, where Sunday’s crash took place. I had to brake fairly hard and then looked into the rear-view mirror to see if anyone was going to hit me. Got a break there.

I was irritated for my lack of foresight in that incident, and I could see how easily a crash could occur.


So, what can be done?

First, I think MODOT should put more electronic traffic-control signs on I-435, especially northbound. I’d like to see several portable, roadside signs a quarter-mile or so apart. And the slow-down warning should be flashing, not just steadily lit.

Second, KCPD should put a lot of personnel and vehicles, with emergency lights flashing, out on I-435 in the hours before and after games. Flashing police lights are the fastest and surest way to control traffic flow. And the police can do it in such a way that people would actually get into the stadium faster because there would be less stopping, starting and merging. If it costs more money to get more police out there, so be it; taxpayers will just have to foot the bill.

Relative to the second point, I’ve seen how beautifully an abundant police and flashing-lights presence can control traffic at one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the Kentucky Derby. I usually go to the track by way of Interstate 264, Louisville’s “inner loop.” After the Derby, when 150,000 people are leaving the track about the same time, scores of police vehicles are positioned along I-264 and at entrance ramps.

Every time I go to the Derby, I’m amazed at how smoothly and safely the traffic moves along that interstate…It can be done here. It should be done here…before anyone else dies or has his or her brain dislodged on account of I-435, game-day traffic.

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The 2019 Kansas City mayor turn took another sharp turn early this morning.

Oddly, the turn didn’t take place in Kansas City but in downtown Lawrence, KS, where Councilman Quinton Lucas, who teaches at the University of Kansas School of Law, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

About 11:30 p.m. Thursday, a Lawrence police officer approached Lucas’ car, which was parked on Eighth Street, about a block from Massachusetts Street, Lawrence’s main drag.

Lucas may have been asleep at the wheel. I don’t know if the car was running, but I assume it was because if it wasn’t, he probably could not have been charged. Obviously, a vehicle that is running is more dangerous than one that is not.

This morning, Lucas issued a statement on Facebook, saying…

“Last evening, I attended a university event and a post event gathering. I consumed alcohol. At 10:45 p.m., I decided to leave. When I got to my car I decided that I was not prepared to safely drive home to Kansas City. I decided to behave responsibly and wait in my car until it was safe to drive. Apparently, while waiting, I dozed off. I never moved or attempted to drive my car.

“The car was legally parked in a metered parking spot. I never moved my car, never shifted a gear, never released my parking break, and never attempted to move the car in any manner.”

After being booked into the Douglas County Jail, Lucas was released on a $750 bond.

Lucas is one of nine candidates in the mayor’s race, but, obviously, this incident could dramatically change things.

“If he’s found guilty, I think it would doom his campaign,” Clinton Adams, an East Side civic and political activist told me in a phone conversation.

Quinton Lucas

Although Lucas had not established himself as a front runner in the mayor’s race, I wrote recently he was probably the most eloquent and charismatic candidate in the race and was “the kind of candidate who could make big strides in a short time.”

Indicative of his potential up-side, Lucas had been perhaps the candidate most likely to get the support of the black political organization Freedom Inc. With a large number of candidates dividing the vote citywide, Freedom’s endorsement could be crucial to getting a candidate past the April primary and into the June general election. Freedom will deliver thousands of votes for whomever it endorses. No other political organization can come close in terms of producing votes for a particular candidate.

If Lucas is found guilty of D.U.I., it would be very difficult for him to be competitive in the mayor’s race. He would be better off seeking a second term as councilman from the 3rd District at-large and using the next four years to repair the damage and restore his image.

I believe he would be able to bounce back from a D.U.I. conviction — maybe not in this election cycle, but certainly by 2023.

One of his strongest areas of qualification is his educational background. After graduating from the highly regarded Barstow School in south Kansas City, he got his undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Then he went to Cornell Law School, in upstate New York, getting his degree in 2009.

If Lucas should withdraw from the race, it would seemingly bolster the prospects of City Council members Scott Taylor, the leading fund-raiser, and Jolie Justus, who got back in the race after Jason Kander bowed out recently because of depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

Clinton Adams, who has close ties to the Freedom Inc. board, said that if Lucas withdrew, it would improve Taylor’s chances of getting Freedom’s backing.

A major factor working in Taylor’s favor, as far as Adams is concerned, is his $13-million  “Revive the East Side” proposal, which the City Council is now considering.

The measure, which last week was advanced by a City Council committee, calls for establishment of a $10-million home improvement fund for repair and rehabilitation and $3 million to preserve or reconstruct dangerous buildings. It would also create a tax credit for employers who hire within the investment area.

Taylor’s plan also has drawn praise from another influential  East Side activist with close ties to Freedom. In a letter to the editor in Thursday’s Kansas City Star, Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League, said Taylor’s plan would be a big stop toward “creating one Kansas city where all communities thrive and everyone prospers.”

While he might have a good shot at Freedom’s endorsement, however, Taylor would not be assured of it. Like many other people, Adams is concerned about Taylor’s close alignment with developers and development-related entities. Developers and lawyers who represent them have contributed a significant amount of Taylor’s $350,000-plus campaign treasury.

“He’s never seen an (tax) incentive he didn’t like,” Adams said.

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Thanks to the generosity of our good friend Tom Russell, an assistant professor at the UMKC School of Dentistry, Patty and I attended a fund-raiser last Saturday for Historic Kansas City Foundation.

The event, at Union Station, was called “Moveable Feast: A night out with Hemingway.”

Among other things, guests got to go on trolley rides that toured some of the places Hemingway frequented when he was a cub reporter at The Star from October 1917 to April 1918. One of those places, of course, was the former Kansas City Star building that was sold last year and is now being redeveloped into commercial and retail space.

Before we left the event, someone stopped by our table and gave each of us a gift bag, which contained, among other things, Steve Paul’s book “Hemingway at Eighteen” and a book of Hemingway quotations.

I didn’t go through all the items in the bag, however, and yesterday Patty reached into mine and pulled out a wonderful piece of Kansas City Star history. It’s a Star “style sheet” from around Hemingway’s time. The 8 1/2-by-14 sheet sets out the dos and don’ts that Star reporters needed to adhere to when writing their stories.

Later, The Star updated and expanded the “style sheet” into a “style book,” which new reporters might still be given. I don’t have my style book any more, but I’m sure the current version includes some of the tenets contained in the style sheet that was in use when Hemingway was here.

I thought many of you would be interested in hearing about some of the points that were in that old style sheet, which looked like this…

(The red marks are mine.)

Only one paragraph — the first — is general; everything else is very specific. That first paragraph says…

Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.

If you’ve read any Hemingway, you know he took to heart at least the first three sentences. Consider, for example, the opening lines of one of Hemingway’s best short stories, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

“Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?” Macomber asked.

“I’ll have a gimlet,” Robert Wilson told him.

“I‟ll have a gimlet too. I need something,” Macomber‟s wife said.

“I suppose it‟s the thing to do,” Macomber agreed. “Tell him to make three gimlets.”

Within those concise sentences, we learn two important things that make us want to read more: First, something out of the ordinary happened earlier, and, second, whatever it was was disturbing enough to make Macomber’s wife “need something” to drink.


Now, here are some of the more specific rules of writing the style sheet lays out.

:: Watch your sequence of tenses. “He said he knew the truth,” not “He said he knows the truth.”

:: Eliminate every superfluous word as “Funeral services will be at 2 o’clock Tuesday,” not “The funeral services will be held at the hour of 2 o’clock on Tuesday.”

:: “The police tried to find her husband,” not tried to locate her husband. To locate, used as a transitive verb, means to establish.

:: “He was ill in February,” not “He was ill during February.” During February would mean every fraction of a second of the month’s time.

:: Say “She was born in Ireland and came to Jackson County in 1874,” not “but came to Jackson County.” She didn’t come here to make amends for being born in Ireland. This is common abuse of the conjunction.

:: Don’t say “He had his leg cut off in an accident.” He wouldn’t have had it done for anything.

:: “He suffered a broken leg in a fall,” not “He broke his leg in a fall.” He didn’t break the leg, the fall did. Say a leg, not his leg, because presumably the man has two legs.

:: Say Chinese, not Chinamen.

:: The man was sentenced to be hanged,” not to be hung.

:: “He was eager to go,” not “anxious to go.” You are anxious about a friend who is ill.

:: A long quotation without introducing the speaker makes a poor lead…and is bad at any time. Break into the quotation as soon as you can, thus: “I should prefer,” the speaker said, “to let the reader know who I am as soon as possible.”

:: “The voters will choose among the several candidates,” not “between the several.” “Choose between two candidates” is correct.

:: “He died of heart disease,” not “heart failure” — everybody dies of “heart failure.”

:: Don’t say: “Three men put in an appearance.” Just let them “appear.”

:: You expect a record, not anticipate it. But you can anticipate some legal action…

:: “Portion” in almost all cases refers to food. “Portion” of an estate is correct, however.

:: Say “crippled boy,” but not “a cripple.”

:: Resolutions are adopted, not passed. Bills are passed and laws are enacted. The house or senate passed a bill; congress or the legislature enacted a law.


Finally, here is one of my favorites because, when I arrived at The Star in 1969, the rule was still in place:

“Motor car is preferred but automobile is not incorrect.”

Before I walked through the doors at 1729 Grand, I had been talking about “cars” — not “motor cars” — all my life.

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You could see this coming from 1,000 miles away: President Trump looking for any way to give Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman a pass on the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

For six days after Khashoggi’s disappearance, Trump said nothing, not a word. On Day Seven he started in with the equivocating verbiage he always goes to when something looks bad but it’s in his interest to avert his gaze. Then came reports yesterday that the Saudis were working to come up with a “fall guy” theory that would attempt to distance bin Salman from the dirty deed.

And today, in a phone conversation with Trump, that’s exactly what bin Salman did. He again strongly denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and suggested people outside of his control were responsible. Trump, who is dead set on selling hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to the Saudis, engorged the cover story.

“It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers — who knows?” Trump said.

Trump wants to believe despots like bin Salman and others because he would like to be one.

Never mind  the overwhelming evidence that Khashoggi’s murder was a carefully and clinically planned operation, including:

— That bin Salman had every reason to be pissed off at Khashoggi, who had dared to write persistently and critically about the Crown Prince before leaving his homeland and relocating to the Washington D.C. area last year.

— That American intelligence agencies had previously intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and then detain him.

— That two planes carrying 15 Saudi agents, including a forensics expert, flew to Istanbul on Oct. 2, went directly to the consulate and later that day flew back to Saudi Arabia.

— That the Turks had the consulate bugged and reportedly have audio, and maybe even video, of Khashoggi being beaten and killed in the consulate.

But the Crown Prince, who at 33 is inexperienced at high-level skullduggery outside his country’s boundaries, badly underestimated how most world leaders would react. Instead of shrugs, what he got was international outrage.

As for Trump, what he got today from several New York Times’ readers regarding his “rogue killers” theory was sardonic dismissal.

Here’s a sampling of reader comments on the story:

:: Roberta, from Virginia: “Rogue killers?? Well, there’s the cover he’ll hide under. Maybe it was that 400 lb guy in NJ…It has never been so humiliating to be an American.”

:: Mac, from Ruther Glen, VA: “Watch out!! Rogue killers have taken over Saudi diplomatic missions everywhere!!! No one is safe.”

:: Derek Martin, from Pittsburgh, PA: “I wonder what Trump would be saying if the victim had been one of his pals from Fox News?”


Reading The Times’ story, I soon thought about the distinctive hear-no-evil/see-no-evil-themed sculpture that stands outside the Kansas City Police Department’s communications building. The bronze sculpture, which has been at 12th and Locust about 25 years, depicts a businessman standing on a briefcase, with a big shoe in his mouth, his fingers tightly planted in his ears and a tie flapping across his eyes.

I’ve always loved the whimsy of that statue and admired city officials’ courage in displaying it so prominently.

The sculptor, Terry Allen, called the work “Modern Communication.” In a 2013 interview with KCUR’s Laura Spencer, Allen, who lives in Santa Fe, NM, said he wasn’t thinking along the lines of “hear no evil, see no evil” when he created the work. The idea that was motivating him, he said, was “how we block communication.”

Little did Terry Allen know back then that well into the 21st Century we’d have a president, symbolically at least, has his fingers firmly planted in his ears and his long red tie flapping across his eyes.

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Having grown up in Louisville and getting my education there, I don’t have a strong connection to the University of Kansas. But over the years, I’ve grown to love going over for football and women’s basketball games and getting more familiar with the enchanting town of Lawrence.

As many times as I’ve been there, however, I’d never really spent significant time in the heart of the campus. It always seemed a bit intimidating — ascending what looks, below from the east, like a mountain and trying to sort out which numbered streets yield access to the guts of the campus.

The tallest building on campus, seven-story Fraser Hall, has always loomed alluringly for me as I’ve approached Lawrence on I-70. Once I spot that stone bulwark in the distance, flags flying from the top, I feel a rush…I’m almost there! The fun and exhilaration of being in a big-time college town is just minutes away!

Until yesterday, though, I’d never been inside Fraser Hall, nor, for that matter, any of the other buildings along Jayhawk Boulevard, i.e., “Main Street KU.”

What took me to Lawrence yesterday was a determination to buy a suit at Weaver’s, Ninth and Mass — the best damn department store in the world, as far as I’m concerned.

I was in no rush on this mission, however, having the luxury of the entire afternoon to do my business. So, when I spotted Fraser Hall, through a misting ran, looming on the horizon, I determined this would be the day I explored the campus.

First, though, I parked on Vermont, a block west of Massachusetts, and had lunch at the widely known — and justifiably so — WheatFields bakery. It was a short walk to Weaver’s, where I spent $500 on a navy, Revelino suit and a pair of Peter Millar pants. (That’s more than I would have paid in Kansas City, but, what the hell — I was caught up in the exuberance of a fall day in Lawrence.)

Once back in the car, I headed south on Vermont, looking for a street to take me west, up the big hill to campus center. I turned on a numbered street that had a significant amount of traffic — I think it was 12th — and began the ascent. Pretty soon I was at the dead-end intersection of Jayhawk Boulevard, amid a sea of foot traffic and a nonstop flow of belching, crimson and blue buses carrying students from one place to another.

A friendly lady at a traffic-control booth adjacent to Fraser Hall directed me to a nearby parking lot, cheerily announcing,
“It’s free today!”

Once liberated from the car, I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d been magically deposited on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. The street was boiling with energy. Some students were scurrying about, others were just hanging out. And all the while, the buses rolled along in what seemed like a continuous, mobilized  procession…I couldn’t imagine Michigan Avenue carrying any more buses than what I was seeing.

As I walked, I took in the buildings — most of them stone and some with deep-red terra cotta trim.

From there…well, it’s time to let the pictures tell the story…

One of the many “Crimson and Blue” buses transporting students and others

In front of the Kansas Union building

From outside, the student union is not very imposing. But it is actually massive. The main entrance (here) is on the fourth level. Because the campus sits on a big hill, there are three levels below, in addition to the two above the entry level.

Just the kind of scene you would expect in a student union building

The vast bookstore is on the second level of the student union building.

This is Smith Hall, which houses the religious studies school.

The Oread hotel, at the north end of Jayhawk Blvd.

Dyche Hall, which houses the university’s Natural History Museum

A serene setting along otherwise busy Jayhawk Boulevard — Danforth Chapel

Lippincott Hall was the first home of the university’s first law school. Now it houses the study abroad program, the Applied English Center and the Wilcox Classical Museum of antiquities.

Imposing Fraser Hall towers above Jayhawk Boulevard and the nearby building. It houses the schools of psychology, sociology and anthropology.

Consisting mostly of classrooms, Fraser was named in honor of John Fraser, KU’s second chancellor, who served from 1867 to 1874.

From its seventh-floor top, Fraser affords spectacular views of the campus and the surrounding area. At left is the Campanile — bell tower. (Its bells chime every fifteen minutes from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.) At right, of course, is Memorial Stadium.

Lookin north on Jayhawk Boulevard, toward The Oread. That’s Dyche Hall on the left; the Kansas Union just north of it; Danforth Chapel at near right and Spooner Hall, right middle.

And so ended a memorable day on a bustling little street brimming with life. If you haven’t been there, I urge you to go. I guarantee you’ll love it.

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What reportedly has happened to journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi is shocking beyond measure.

Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian who had been living in the Washington D.C. area after leaving his homeland in September 2017, is believed to have been killed by a team of Saudi agents who flew in from Saudi Arabia and lay in wait for Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Jamal Khashoggi

Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was murdered at the consulate and that his body was dismembered and then taken elsewhere. One of the members of the Saudi team that carried out the apparent execution was a forensics expert.

If Khashoggi is dead, his murder was carefully planned and meticulously carried out.

Khashoggi, 59, had earned the wrath of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman by writing articles critical of bin Salman’s repression of activists and dissidents.

Video obtained by the Turkish government shows Khashoggi entering the consulate at 1:14 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2 — he went there to obtain papers that would clear the way for him to marry his Turkish fiancee —  but it does not show him leaving.

Khashoggi entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday, Oct. 2.

He has not been seen since. Saudi officials contend Khashoggi exited, not long after he entered, through another door. They have offered no surveillance footage or evidence to corroborate that claim, however. In addition, where Saudi officials initially said they would invite Turkish investigators to search the consulate, but they are now delaying.

Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, told The Associated Press, “If the story the Saudis are telling, that he just walked out…they ought to have facts and documents and evidence and tapes to back that up.”

Hiatt added that the “idea of a government luring one of its own citizens onto its own diplomatic property in a foreign country to murder him for the peaceful expression of his views would be unimaginable.”

Although, the murder, if that’s what it was, is shocking, the political circumstances that enabled it are perfectly understandable.

Partly responsible for setting an enabling atmosphere has been Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who has steadily moved Turkey toward authoritarianism the last eight years (Patty and I were there in 2010) and has jailed tens of thousands of dissidents and many reporters.

Also responsible for the “anything goes” atmosphere on the world stage is U.S. President Donald Trump, who has exhibited a keen disinterest in world affairs that do not help him advance his goals as president.

Mohammed bin Salman

He has also slathered praise on bin Salman, calling him “a great guy,” and after scores of Saudi businessmen and royal family members were detained and relieved of their assets in late 2017, Trump tweeted: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. They know exactly what they are doing.”

Beyond that, Trump has called the free press “the enemy of the people” and has shown little concern about Khashoggi’s disappearance. He said nothing about it at all until Monday. Then, on Tuesday, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, he said,“I know nothing right now. I know what everybody else knows – nothing.”

The Post’s Dana Milbank noted that with his tepid response, Trump sounded like “just another passive consumer of Fox News,” despite having at his fingertips “a vast intelligence apparatus.”

Today, finally, Trump called Khashoggi’s disappearance “a very bad situation.”


This case is a terrible development for journalism and democracy. “If Jamal was murdered,” contributing columnist Asli Aydintasbas wrote in the Post, “it sends chills down the spine of every activist, journalist and dissident around the world.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization based in New York, reports that already this year 43 journalists have been murdered world-wide, compared to 46 during all of 2017.

At a higher level, the Khashoggi case is another step toward the disintegration of global order.

In his column, Aydintasbas said world order is “not about running the world according to Amnesty International” but about preserving “norms and rules established after two costly world wars.”

When global order ebbs, he said, lawlessness and disrespect for sovereignty set in.

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It’s always cause for celebration when someone from the conservative ranks sees the light and joins “the angry mob” snapping at President Trump’s heels.

And so today we raise a glass to Max Boot, a noted author, columnist and military historian who has not only bailed on the Republican Party but says that as currently constituted the party needs to be “burned to the ground.”

Max Boot

Boot, 49, announced his defection in a Washington Post column bearing Monday’s date and titled “The dark side of American conservatism has taken over.”

The column was adapted from Boot’s new book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” so I presume he made his decision before the Kavanaugh debacle.

Boot explained his decision to bolt in particularly searing language that laid out the case against the goofy, hateful brand of conservatism that seems to hold sway outside urban areas, college towns and the states of California and Massachusetts. (And, yes, I realize that means most residents of the vast majority of the American landscape have lost perspective, but, unfortunately, is the state of the nation.)

Boot says:

Upon closer examination, it’s obvious that the history of modern conservative is permeated with racism, extremism, conspiracy-mongering, isolationism and know-nothingism. I disagree with progressives who argue that these disfigurations define the totality of conservatism; conservatives have also espoused high-minded principles that I still believe in, and the bigotry on the right appeared to be ameliorating in recent decades. But there has always been a dark underside to conservatism that I chose for most of my life to ignore.

Clearly, the dark underside has subsumed the good parts. Boot traces the rise of Republican extremism partly to Barry Goldwater, who won only only six states in the 1964 presidential race against Lyndon Johnson. Despite the trouncing, Goldwater’s extremism took root with many people and is now “embedded in the DNA of the modern conservative movement,” according to Boot, who goes on to say…

In 1964, the GOP ceased to be the party of Lincoln and became the party of Southern whites. As I now look back with the clarity of hindsight, I am convinced that coded racial appeals had at least as much, if not more, to do with the electoral success of the modern Republican Party than all of the domestic and foreign policy proposals crafted by well-intentioned analysts like me. This is what liberals have been saying for decades. I never believed them. Now I do, because Trump won by making the racist appeal, hitherto relatively subtle, obvious even to someone such as me who used to be in denial.

Extremism was ushered forward, Boot says, by Fox News, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and the tea party movement. The whipped cream on this perverse dessert, of course, is Donald Trump, who, Boot says, defines the Republican Party, “with his depiction of Democrats as America-hating, criminal-coddling traitors, his vilification of the press as the ‘enemy of the people,’ and his ugly invective against Mexicans and Muslims.”

In sum, according to Boot, “the extremism that many Republicans of goodwill had been trying to push to the fringe of their party is now its governing ideology.”

If and when the current Republican Party is “burned to the ground,” Boot says, moderates can start to rebuild a new center-right party from the ashes. But that, he says, “will require undoing the work of decades, not just of the past two years.”

…Thanks Max, I needed that.

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