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Archive for January, 2021

It’s all good news today, readers.

Let the celebrating begin tonight and continue all day tomorrow. For all the world, it feels like New Year’s Eve. Can’t you just feel a giant weight being raised from the nation’s collective shoulders?

I started feeling the winds of change this evening as I was reading some of today’s headlines. Consider these stories, for starters…

:: My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell, a big-time Trump backer and devotee of “the-election-was-stolen” school of thought, said Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and other retailers were dropping his products. Isn’t it pathetic when a con man can become a celebrity? And, what got into Royals’ announcer Ryan Lefebvre when he agreed to pitch this goofball’s pillows?

:: Georgia election officials certified the victories of Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. They will be sworn in tomorrow by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Avril Haines

:: During her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Avril D. Haines, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, said she would release an unclassified report on the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. (The Trump administration wouldn’t give it to the Senate.) As a bonus, Haines also condemned waterboarding, saying: “I believe that waterboarding is, in fact, torture…And all those techniques that use cruel and inhuman treatment are unlawful.”

:: Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken told senators that he would appoint a chief diversity officer to help oversee and insure the State Department had “a workforce that looks like the country it represents.”

:: Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, told senators:  “I can assure you that the cybersecurity of our nation will be one of my highest priorities because…the threat is real and the threat is every day, and we have to do a much better job than we are doing now.”

:: Defense secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III said he would act to stamp out extremism in the military. “We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It has no place in the military of the United States of America.”

Lloyd J. Austin III

:: Even outgoing Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got in on the shifting tide, telling senators that “we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation.”

:: After a four-year hiatus, Hollywood stars and noted performers are stepping back under the White House arc lights. Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks will perform at the inauguration, and several others, including Tom Hanks, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen and Lin-Manuel Miranda, will appear on a prime-time inaugural special called “Celebrating America.”

:: A tear ran down Biden’s cheek as he prepared to depart his home state of Delaware for Washington. He told supporters, “When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.”

Of all things, a tear. From an incoming president who has a heart.

I tell you, after a long period of mourning, it’s a great day to be an American!

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We still have five more days of “Trump time,” making it too early to start celebrating Joe Biden’s inauguration. And, besides, who knows what the hell might happen between now and the inauguration?

So while we’re waiting for what we hope will be a “peaceful transfer of power,” let’s dial down and enjoy three memorable oldies.

For this installment, I’ve selected songs that sprang from three teams of powerhouse musical figures — The Lettermen and composer Jerome Kern; Paul Anka and conductor and record producer Don Costa; and Percy Faith and arranger and conductor Hugo Winterhalter.

**

First up is The Lettermen’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” an achingly beautiful song released in 1961.

No wonder this song has endured: The music was written by the great Jerome Kern, whom Wikipedia calls “one of the most important American theater composers of the early 20th century.” Kern wrote more than 700 songs, which were used in more than 100 stage works.

He wrote “The Way You Look Tonight” for the 1936 movie Swing Time, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In the movie, Astaire sang the song to Rogers while she was washing her hair in an adjacent room. Astaire’s recording reached the top of the pop music charts in 1936, and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year.

The lyrics were written by Dorothy Fields, who said: “The first time Jerry played that melody for me, I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”

The Lettermen’s version was released in 1961 and went to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was The Lettermen’s second biggest hit, after “When I Fall in Love,” which made it to the top, also in 1961.

Here it is, a song that never gets old…

**

“Put Your Head on My Shoulder” — Paul Anka

Anka, a Canadian by birth, wrote the words and music to this song and released it in 1959. It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind only Bobby Darrin’s “Mack the Knife.”

The lyrics go a long way toward making this song irresistible…

Put your lips next to mine, dear
Won’t you kiss me once, baby?
Just a kiss goodnight, maybe
You and I will fall in love

…but it’s the arrangement, with lilting guitar chords interspersed throughout, that makes it soar.

The arranger was Don Costa, who, when Anka came along, was working for ABC-Paramount Records. Their first song together was “Diana,” which Anka recorded when he was just 15. “Diana,” released in 1957, went to No. 2.

Costa went on to work with such stars as Frank Sinatra, Sara Vaughan and Tony Bennett.

Costa died of a heart attack in 1983 at age 57. Anka, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1990, is still living. He would be 80 in July.

**

“Theme from A Summer Place” — Percy Faith and his Orchestra

This song was written by Max Steiner, with lyrics by Mack Discant, for the for the 1959 film A Summer Place, starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. (When I saw that movie at age 13, I thought it was the greatest movie ever made and Troy Donahue was the best actor who ever lived.)

Released as a single before the film came out, the song was not an immediate hit. It didn’t break into the Billboard Hot 100 until mid-January 1960. Six weeks later, it went to No. 1 and stayed there for nine consecutive weeks — a record at the time.

The song earned Faith a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1961. It was the first movie theme and the first instrumental to win that award.

Like Anka with “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Theme from a Summer Place” benefited from the touch of a great arranger and conductor, Hugo Winterhalter.

After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, Winterhalter taught school for several years before turning professional during the mid-1930s, serving as a sideman and arranger for Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and other band leaders.

Some of the singers he arranged songs for included Dinah Shore, Billy Eckstine, Perry Como and Harry Belafonte.

Winterhalter died from cancer in Greenwich, CT, on Sept. 17, 1973. He was 64. He had a son, Hugo Francis Winterhalter, who was killed in Vietnam on December 29, 1966.

Faith died in 1976 at age 67.

On this snowy winter’s day in early 2021, here’s “Theme from a Summer Place,” in memory of Percy Faith and Hugo Winterhalter, two musicians who made the world a better place.

P.S. Minutes after I posted this, our 32-year-old son Charlie, an amateur musician and Oldies aficionado, told me The Lettermen did a cover version of “Theme From a Summer Place.” I listened to it, but…it isn’t in the same league with Percy Faith’s original. I won’t link to it, but you can check it out on YouTube if you’re inclined.     

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For the first time in more than 20 years, today’s Kansas City Star did not contain the image and slogan of its founder.

Since a 1998 redesign, William Rockhill Nelson’s imperious mugshot and condescending slogan — “A Paper for the People” — had appeared on The Star’s masthead. (The masthead is the copy block at the bottom of the Opinion page, which lists the paper’s top executives.)

But after an expansive examination of its coverage of Black people and institutions over the decades — shortcomings laid bare in a remarkable series of stories last month — Star editor and president Mike Fannin decided it was time for the paper to formally distance itself from Nelson.

The new masthead is bare, but much, much better.

News of Fannin’s decision was reported in a Sunday story at the top of Page A4. In the story, development reporter Kevin Hardy wrote about the connection between Nelson and Kansas City’s most infamous racist, real estate developer J.C. Nichols.

Nelson was 40 years older than Nichols and schooled him in real estate development.

As Hardy said, both men were visionaries but also avowed segregationists. Besides leading The Star, Nelson built homes, many for Star employees, on land north of Brush Creek and south of the site of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the museum board was the next institution to review its linkage to Nelson.)

The residential developments of both men came with racially restrictive covenants — the only difference being that Nelson’s covenants expired after a period of years, while those of Nichols did not.

(As a side note, I live in a Nichols-developed neighborhood, Romanelli West, near Meyer Circle. A few years ago when I was president of our homes association, I found once, to my horror, that language prohibiting Blacks and Jews from owning homes in the neighborhood remained in deed restrictions on our website. Years earlier, the Missouri General Assembly had passed a bill banning the restrictions and language, but somehow it had not been excised from our records. I had the deed restrictions pulled immediately.)

In his story, Hardy quoted Fannin, Star editor, as saying Nelson’s slogan was “lofty but ultimately dishonest.”

“The Star was not ‘A Paper for the People’ through much of its history,” Fannin said. “It was a paper for only some people, namely white people. Those values don’t square at all with The Star newsroom of today.”

**

After 140 years of celebrating W.R. Nelson, The Star is now consigning him to his proper place in history.

He may be turning over in his grave, but who cares?

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Here’s a question a lot of people have these days: How did the U.S. of A. come to have the most fertile ground for cultivating irrationality?

We’ve always had the best soil for agriculture, which helped make us a great nation, but the cultivation needle has begun tilting more toward irrationality the last decade or so.

How did that happen? I wish I could give you the answer, and I’d like to hear your thoughts. I guess technology is a big factor, with crazy people being able to disseminate crazy notions to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people almost instantly. But that can’t be all of it.

I don’t know…What I do know is that Wednesday’s sacking of the U.S. Capitol was the most disturbing evidence yet that, as a country, we are whipping out a way disproportionate amount of inanity.

Let’s take three specific examples.

First, there’s this guy, whom I call Viking Man.

Jacob A. Chansley, a.k.a. Jake Angeli, was arrested this morning (Saturday) in Phoenix and is charged with three federal crimes — knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

My first thought is I could understand dressing up like that if it was for Halloween or a Visigoth-themed party, but why in the world would you don such an outfit for a political demonstration?

Before being arrested, Chansley gave an interview to NBC News and gloated about how the mob infiltrated the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to flee. He said: “The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.”

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Next in our line-up demented thinkers is former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

In an interview Wednesday evening with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, Palin suggested that Antifa, the far-left organization, was behind the raid on the Capitol. With her usual circuitous reasoning and grammatical stumbles, she said…

“But Martha, keep in mind, we don’t know who all were the instigators in this, these horrible things that happened today. I think a lot of it is the Antifa folks. I’ve been sent pictures of the same characters, whom were captured on images today storming the Capitol, as had been in protests on the other side of politics earlier in the summer. So I don’t know, there’s a lot of questions out there, and I wish that we could trust the media to do its job to do the research and report who all these people are.”

If the police were looking for people to arrest, by her reasoning, I guess it should have been the known leaders of Antifa, whoever and wherever they are, and the members of the media who were covering the riot.

**

That brings us to one of the unluckiest and most mixed-up people in the mob: Ashli Babbitt.

Babbitt, of course, was the 35-year-old Air Force veteran whom Capitol Police fatally shot as she attempted to leap through a broken window of a door leading to the House Majority Leader’s lobby.

It is a terrible thing that she died, but she was not a martyr, as those who sympathize with Wednesday’s insurrection contend. Rather, she was a misguided hothead.

To see that she was a hothead, all you have to do is look at the one minute, 38 second Twitter rant she posted two years ago. (Today’s Washington Post story about Babbitt linked to it.)

One of the most amazing things about that rant is she recorded it while driving! God forbid what might have happened if someone had cut in front of her while she was recording.

Proof of her distorted thought processes is in a sign on the door of a pool supply company she operated with her husband in a San Diego suburb. (The Post’s story, linked above, includes a photo of the sign.)

The sign describes the pool company as a “Mask Free Autonomous Zone Better Known as America.”

The last words on the sign are…

“Tyranny, lawlessness, disrespect and hate for your fellow man will not be tolerated.”

…Like I said up top, how in the world did we become the most fertile ground for irrationality?

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To quote the best lyricist of all time, Oscar Hammerstein II: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ”

That’s how I felt after waking up, turning on the radio and hearing that the Rev. Ralph Warnock had won and Jon Ossoff was on the way to winning in Georgia.

Shortly after getting that great news, I began assembling election-related quotes that I picked up from a variety of places, including MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Here are some of the best I came up with…

Michael Steele

Michael Steele, former Republican Party chairman and a senior advisor on the Lincoln Project: “Today will be the day, in my view, if this goes forward as planned, where Republican senators — I don’t care if it’s 13 or just one — stands up and objects to the duly confirmed election of Joe Biden, it will be sealing the Republican Party inside the tomb that Donald Trump has created for them. And that’s, at the end of the day, their truth.”

Astead W. Herndon, The New York Times: “…Mr. Warnock’s journey from Black pastor to Black senator is an exercise…of faith: It’s a belief that American politics can change from the inside, that the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters can see themselves represented in Congress. That there is room to push the country forward within its institutions, rather than diagnosing its problems from outside.”

Karen Tumulty

Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post: “To Trump, the party of Lincoln was a rental vehicle, one that he took for a joyride and is getting ready to turn back in, with trash jammed under the seats and stains covering the upholstery. Also, the tank is empty, and there’s a crack in the windshield.”

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, Georgia state Democratic Party chairwoman, who was sworn into Congress this week: “This election was not about Donald Trump. This was about people on the ground realizing that if they show up en masse they can overcome the voter suppression and we can win Georgia.”

Lisa Lerer and Richard Fausset, The New York Times: “The victory on Wednesday morning by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who becomes the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from the South, confirmed that Georgia’s metamorphosis from conservative bastion to battleground state was complete. The changing demographics are likely to reshape the political dynamics of this Deep South state for a generation.”

Timothy Bella and Tim Elfrink, The Washington Post: “Black voters…delivered in a big way on Tuesday, both in urban and rural districts. In Fulton County, the state’s most populous county and where a substantial share of voters are Black, more in-person voters showed up on Tuesday than on Election Day in November.”

Josh Billinson

Josh Billinson, Twitter habitue: “Jon Ossoff winning a Senate seat at 33 would set an impossible standard for nice Jewish boys everywhere and the mothers who ask what they’re going to do with their lives.”

Jon Ossoff: “Georgia, thank you so much for the confidence that you’ve placed in me. I am honored, honored, by your support, by your confidence, by your trust…and I will look forward to serving you in the United States Senate with integrity, with humility, with honor and getting things done for the people of Georgia. Thank you so much.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York: “It feels like a brand new day.”

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the most thrilling things for those of us in, or who have been in, the news business is seeing a major scoop or a big takeout on a subject of keen interest.

Just four days into 2021, we’ve seen one of each — one on the national level and one locally.

Let’s go national first.

:: You know a story is big when The New York Times strips it across the top of the front page. The story I’m talking about, of course, was The Washington Post’s great scoop of President Trump’s attempt to browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his attorney into magically turning around enough votes from the Nov. 3 election to give Trump the win over President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia.

The hour-long call between Trump and Raffensperger is full of jaw-dropping quotes from Trump, such as: “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”

“Give me a break”??? It would be unbelievable, except that it’s Trump talking.

The reporter responsible for bringing the call to public attention, who got an audio recording of the complete call, was Amy Gardner, a WaPo reporter whose name I’d never heard before yesterday.

Amy Gardner

Gardner joined The Post in 2005. She first reported on the Virginia suburbs, before moving up to national reporting. Among other things, she covered the 2010 midterm elections and the 2012 battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Then she became an editor and spent five years doing that. In 2018 she returned to national political reporting.

I’ll be eager to read about how Gardner got that scoop, when the story behind the story comes out. All I can deduce at this point is that she must have at least one very good source in Georgia.

What we know is that Trump initiated the call to Raffensperger about 2:40 p.m. Saturday. Officials in the secretary of state’s office recorded it, but Raffensperger told his advisers he didn’t want to release a transcript or a recording unless the president attacked state officials or misrepresented what had been discussed. On Sunday morning, Trump unleashed a Twitter attack on Raffensperger, and Raffensperger quickly counter punched by giving the green light to release the recording.

Somehow, Gardner got the nod to be the first to get the recording.

More often than not, The New York Times beats The Post on big stories about Trump, primarily through the reporting skills of White House reporter Maggie Haberman, but this time The Post got the jump. (In a Nov. 8 profile of Haberman, NYT media columnist Ben Smith wrote that Haberman “lives rent-free in Donald Trump’s head, all over the front page of The New York Times.”)

An October 2020 story about Gardner on the George Washington University website quoted her as saying: “You have to be hungry and have an appetite for news. I find myself driven by this hunger to get a story, to beat the competitors, to signal to the sources that I’m the one who’s on it and who knows it best.”

On Sunday, she was definitely “on it,” and reporters everywhere (except maybe Maggie Haberman) are cheering from the grandstand.

::

Two local reporters had a hell of a story in the Sunday Kansas City Star. KCUR reporter and editor Dan Margolies — who I’m proud to say is a friend as well as a former colleague — and investigative Star reporter Steve Vockrodt collaborated on a disgusting but devastating story about a down-and-dirty former KCK police detective named Roger Golubski.

Dan Margolies

Steve Vockrodt

Golubski was a disgrace to law enforcement for more than 35 years. From Margolies’ and Vockrodt’s story, it appears Golubski spent much more time raping women and pressuring others into having sex in return for going easy on their relatives than he did at investigating cases. He’s also the person mostly responsible for sending Lamont McIntyre to prison for 23 years for two murders he did not commit.

The most amazing part of this story to me was that, from all appearances, at least three former police chiefs — Ron Miller, Rick Armstrong and Terry Ziegler — knew what Golubski was doing but didn’t have the guts to call him out. They simply averted their gaze.

One of those chiefs, Ziegler, who retired in September 2019, was a former partner of Golubski. On one occasion when Golubski went inside a house and allegedly raped a woman, Ziegler waited outside in their police car.

Another chief, Armstrong, was asked in a 2012 deposition if Golubski had fathered children by women who were involved in drugs or prostitution. He gave this halting answer: “I did not have any knowledge that he was involved in illegal activity with — regard his personal relationships.”

In a Sunday commentary, KC Star editorial writer Melinda Henneberger said the department presented Golubski with “a platinum-plated gift” when he retired in 2010: silence about his corrupt career.

Margolies and Vockrodt spent months combing through records and interviewing people, and they were rewarded with a front-page story that publicly shamed a terrible cop who worked for a department that has never looked very good and now looks much worse.

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If 2020 was bad from the standpoint of driving many of us to stay put in our homes for much of the year, it was worse on the streets of many American cities, including Kansas City.

Much worse.

Back in March, after people started realizing how bad Covid-19 was promising to be, I thought one positive byproduct of it would be that, with more people staying home, there would be less crime overall and fewer murders in particular.

On March 23, I sent Sgt. Jake Becchina, a KCPD public affairs officer, an email asking if crime had decreased in the previous few weeks. He wrote back saying: “We have some analysts looking at some data as it corresponds to crime being up or down associated with the coronavirus conditions….In the meantime, I would say that I think it’s too early to tell for sure if there has been an appreciable difference. My sense, in what I’ve seen, (is) there has been little difference.”

He said homicides were up (but not by a lot at that point), as were non-fatal shootings.

A month later, on May 25, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by Officer Derek Chauvin, and after that the homicide rate surged here and elsewhere.

When it all came to a smoking, blazing end on Dec. 31, Kansas City had a record 180 homicides for 2020. That it was a record wasn’t even close. The previous high was 155 in 2017.

But KC had plenty of company in the record-homicide category. Take, for example, my hometown of Louisville, KY. Before last year, the most homicides it had experienced in a given year was 117 in 2016. When 2020 came to a close, it had recorded 173 homicides…and it is a smaller urban area than Kansas City.

I guess we can take solace in the fact that Kansas City is not Memphis…That city, with a population of about 651,000 people (compared to slightly less than 500,000 in KC), had a whopping 332 homicides. That was more than 100 higher than the previous record of 228 in 2016.

In some other big cities where the homicide rates had been falling in recent years, the needle jumped back up. Chicago, for example, was down to 495 homicides in 2019, but the number jumped to 769 in 2020. Another very big city, Houston, went from 280 homicides in 2019 to slightly more than 400 last year.

So, what has caused these big spikes in homicides? Theories abound.

Michael-Sean Spence, director of community safety initiatives for the national nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that Covid-19 was a factor in that it disrupted critical services and programs that traditionally connect people in low-income communities with what they need. He also cited a huge increase in firearms sales during the pandemic…The theory being, I suppose, that if more people are buying guns, more guns are getting stolen and finding their way to the streets.

The founder of a Louisville nonprofit that tracks gun violence and supports victims, Christopher 2X, offered another theory on how the pandemic has increased, rather than reduced, the homicide rate.

Christopher 2X

2X told the Courier-Journal that young people involved in shootings had told him that with people staying closer to home, assailants had more opportunities to find their targets to seek revenge and settle disputes. “Sadly so, but that’s what the young ones are talking about,” 2X said. “Not being in community centers, not being in schools means it’s easier for someone to find who they’re looking for.”

Besides Covid-19, the other major factor that undoubtedly contributed to the murderous upswing in many cities were the protests and social unrest that came on the heels of George Floyd’s murder.

In a September commentary in The Washington Post, Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said that violent crime tends to increase during periods of social unrest, especially over police brutality.

“We saw this during the urban unrest of the 1960s and again five years ago amid the protests against police violence in Ferguson, Mo., Chicago, New York and elsewhere,” Rosenfeld said. “When tensions flare between the police and the communities they serve — especially disadvantaged communities of color — ‘police legitimacy’ suffers. And if trust and confidence in the police fall far enough, street justice replaces law enforcement, and rates of violence increase.”

Richard Rosenfeld

Rosenfeld said bringing violent crime under would be a two-step process. The first, he said, is “subduing the pandemic.” The second is bringing about police reform, which, Rosenfeld said, “would help restore confidence in the legitimacy of law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

He concluded with this…

“The Black Lives Matter movement has shined a bright light on police violence. The urgent task now is to convert protest ideals into workable public policy. That effort in turn will require more effective mechanisms, both inside and outside police departments, to hold officers accountable for violations of their training, agency policy and criminal law.”

Let’s hope that in 2021 we can at least accomplish step No. 1, subdue the pandemic.

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