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I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl of Kansas City civic leaders, but I think their push for a 20-year, half-cent sales tax to go toward medical research is a bad idea right now.

Civic and educational leaders, including Donald J. Hall Sr. of Hallmark Cards and UMKC chancellor Leo Morton, are urging the Jackson County Legislature to approve a measure for the Nov. 5 ballot that would raise the sales tax in Kansas City, Jackson County, to almost 9 percent.

The legislature could vote on the measure at its meeting next Monday. The legislature has until the end of the month — a week from Saturday — to approve the measure.

Kansas City area residents first learned about this on Aug. 8, when The Star’s Mike Hendricks and Alan Bavley had a front-page story, laying out the details.

In a nutshell, the tax would generate about $40 million a year. Half the proceeds would go to Children’s Mercy Hospital; St. Luke’s Health System and UMKC would each get 20 percent; and the remaining 10 percent — $400,000 a year — “would go to further economic initiatives, such as helping train research assistants at the Metropolitan Community Colleges,” according to The Star.

A couple of the big selling points that proponents will harp on are that:

:: The bulk of the money will go toward “translational research,” which, essentially, means “translating” scientific discoveries into drugs, procedures and devices that will quickly help patients.

:: This is an opportunity “to bring in rock star researchers who can develop a product that can be turned into a start-up company,” according to a researcher whom The Star’s story quoted.

***

no-red-14956958This is going to be a well-planned and well-financed campaign. Political consultant Steve Glorioso has been hired, probably along with running mate Pat Gray, to sell the campaign to the public. The Civic Council (consisting of the chief executives of the largest companies in the area) and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City will provide the muscle and money.

From here on out, I’m just going to call this the Civic Council Sales Tax.

The Civic Council already has this proposal moving down the tracks, and it’s going to be hard to stop. The only way it’s going to be defeated is if a majority of voters take a look at it and, like me, scratch their heads and say, “Why?”

***

Here are some of the reasons I think the Civic Council Sales Tax is a bad idea at this time.

1) At something like 8.3 or 8.4 percent in Kansas City, Jackson County, the sales tax is plenty high. It’s a regressive tax, which disproportionately hits people with lower incomes. As a Kansas City resident named Don Biggs said in an Aug. 20 letter to the editor: “Enough is enough.”

2) The ballot language will say the tax would be imposed for 20 years, but fat chance of it ending then. Jackson County’s quarter-cent COMBAT tax (Community Backed Anti-drug Tax), initially approved in 1989, was to be collected for seven years. Voters re-approved it in 1996, 2003 and 2009…Once enacted, sales taxes tend to become as stationary as redwoods in California.

3) The county would be levying and collecting this tax. Almost any tax that comes through Jackson County is, to me, suspect. (COMBAT?) Also, this is the same county that thoroughly botched the property reappraisal process this year and had to pull the plug on increased (and erroneous) property assessments for thousands and thousands of homeowners. The debacle cost the assessment director his job. County Executive Mike Sanders got off without too much egg on his face, partly because this was the first big, embarrassing mistake the county made on his watch. (By the way, Sanders is a big proponent of the Civic Council Sales Tax.)

4) Kansas City already has one humongous health-care research institution, the Stowers Institute on Volker Boulevard. They’ve got a bunch of “rock star researchers” over there, but I sure haven’t heard about any revolutionary, make-you-stand-on-your-head discoveries that have changed the course of medicine.

5) I would bet that a majority of Civic Council members and Chamber of Commerce board members Kansas residents. In a sense, they want to impose the tax on Missouri residents. Do we want Kansans, who enjoy the city’s major cultural and sporting facilities virtually tax free, calling the shots on our side of the line?

6) When I look at the sky-high medical-service charges that go through my Medicare account and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield supplemental plan, I think that the most pressing priority is health-care reform.

I’m talkin’ REFORM, as in bringing charges DOWN to something approaching a reasonable, logical level.

How in the world would “rock star researchers” help bring down costs? Won’t happen, right? All they would do is add fuel to the health-care rocket ship.

I encourage you, then, Jackson County residents, to do as I plan to do: Vote “No” on the Civic Council Sales Tax.

Correction: It’s Donald Hall Jr. who’s out front for the sales tax.

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Because you have been such supportive and loyal readers, today I’m going to give you a chance to make some money.

There’s a golden egg out there, and I want all my friends — personal and digital — to get a piece of it.

It’s called New York Times stock. (NYT on the New York Stock Exchange.)

Most of you have heard, I’m sure, about the two big newspaper sales the last week or so. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is buying the Washington Post for $250 million, and The Times announced last week that it will sell The Boston Globe and a couple of other properties for $70 million.

Now, The Times took a terrible loss on the sale of the New England Media Group, having bought The Globe and other New England newspaper properties for $1.1 BILLION in 1991. A real bath. However, The Times has been able to absorb that and other “strong headwinds,” as the stock analysts like to say, and it is standing strong today.

With the sale of the Post, The Times will be the last of the big, family controlled newspapers. The Ochs-Sulzberger family has owned or controlled the paper since 1896, and it continues to control the paper through a dual-class stock structure.

BRAZIL-MEDIA-IAPA-SULZBERGER

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

Sale of the Post immediately raised the specter, in journalistic and business circles, of a potential sale of The New York Times Co. A company spokesman said as recently as yesterday that the family has no interest in selling the paper. The only slightly worrisome thing to me is that the company does not appear to have in place a clear-cut plan regarding who might succeed the fourth generation leader, 61-year-old Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

(As a side note, I don’t think that either of Sulzberger Jr.’s children, Annie Sulzberger and Arthur Gregg Sulzberger — who was The Times’ Kansas City correspondent a couple of years ago — is a likely candidate to take over. She’s not interested, and he didn’t strike me as if he’d be interested in becoming a titan of anything.)

But keeping in mind that a sale is always possible, here’s a little background that should help explain why owning (or buying) New York Times stock seems like a really good deal and potential moneymaker.

While the $250 million that Bezos is paying for the Post sounds like a steal, it is actually a handsome price, relative to other newspaper sales in recent years.

bezos

Jeff Bezos

On a Web site called Business Insider, reporter Jennifer Saba of Reuters said that Bezos may have paid more than four times what the Post’s financial results suggest the paper is worth.

Stick with me, now, as I dip into a little financial speak…Saba said the average sale of a metro U.S. newspaper has brought a valuation of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2  times earnings before interest, taxes depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Saba said a Morningstar analyst had estimated the Post had an EBITDA of $15 million last year, meaning that its realistic sale value was $59.5 million to $76.5 million. (That’s $17 million multiplied by 3 1/2 and 4 1/2).

Saba wrote:

Such a large premium, which essentially pays for intangible assets like the brand name, may mean that any future sellers of prestigious newspapers will raise their price expectations. Other major newspapers that are in the sights of potential buyers include the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Analysts and bankers said that when it came to newspapers such as the Washington Post, the usual financial metrics did not apply. The price, as in the case of other trophy assets like sports teams, depended on what a buyer was willing to pay.

So, here’s the Washington Post, essentially a regional newspaper — albeit a great one with a remarkable history — selling for 17 times its 2012 EBITDA.

What does that mean for The New York Times, a national newspaper with the highest name identity of any newspaper and the best news-gathering team on earth?

Saba said that if The New York Times commanded a similar premium (17 times EBITDA), it could be worth nearly $5 billion. (The Times Co.’s current market value is $1.8 billion, she said.)

Yes, it’s a thicket of numbers and what-ifs, but here’s how I see it:

Times stock is selling at about $12 a share today. That’s up 49 percent over a year ago. In fairness, it’s also down 7.6 percent over the last five years. But I’m thinking about now and next year and the year after that. I’ve owned a significant amount of NYT stock for a couple of years, and after the sale of the Post, selling NYT stock is out of the question for me.

Just guessing here, but I think that if somebody like billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg went to Arthur Sulzberger saying he was interested in buying the paper, he’d have to start at about $20 a share just to get Sulzberger’s attention. Recall what Saba said: A trophy asset is worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay.

Let’s see, at $20 a share, that would be a 66 percent premium over today’s stock price of $12…That’s a 66 percent profit for stockholders, before taxes.

To appropriate a 1969 line from the Friends of Distinction, “Can you dig it?”

***

Editor’s note: Julius Karash, a good friend and former KC Star business reporter, sent me an e-mail today, putting the demise of the print-journalism business in perspective…He said:

“If you write something about the sale of the Washington Post and The Boston Globe, it might be interesting to note that Capital Cities Communications shelled out $125 million when it acquired The Kansas City Star Co. way back in 1977…According to a CPI (consumer price index) calculator I found at inflationdata.com, that would amount to $481.65 million in 2013 dollars.”

Today, The Star would be lucky to draw a bid of about $20 million, in my opinion.

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The Star, you might have noticed, has embarked this week on something the paper has never done before, to the best of my knowledge — run a series of stories on the Web site before running the entire series in print.

The series is called “Becoming George Brett,” and it commemorates the 40th anniversary of Brett’s first game as a Royal.

I like the way The Star has done this, and the stories are terrific. Obviously, The Star is dispensing the series this way to entice people to sign up for digital subscriptions. That’s where the future appears to lie for major metropolitan dailies, and Star editors know that there’s no more enticing product than K.C.’s No. 1 sports figure. (Golfer Tom Watson would be No. 2, of course.)

The series is not an unequivocal home run, however, in my opinion. There are pluses and minuses.

Some of the pluses:

:: The first segment, which ran in print on Monday as well as online, was authored by sports columnist Sam Mellinger, who got a considerable amount of Brett’s time, including a walk with the former star and his dogs. (Along the way, a woman walker recognized Brett and gushed, “Love those Royals. Thank you, George!”)

sam

Mellinger

Mellinger did an excellent job of blending the present with the past — how, when Brett was called up from Omaha, he thought a player with whom he was grilling hamburgers was being called up.

:: Lots of photographs and video pieces, including interviews with Brett, augment the stories.

Minuses:

:: To me, the flip-flopping between print and online is a bit confusing. The series promo box, which runs every day, has said from the outset that the series can be seen on kansascity.com. And yet Monday’s kick-off piece ran in print and online, but the Tuesday through Friday stories apparently are running online only.

:: The stories are not assembled coherently and in order on the Web site. Every entry, whether it’s photos or text, is under the “Becoming George Brett” banner, so you have to poke around to find the main stories. They should be assembled as Part I, Part II, Part III, etc…Surely The Star can fix that by tomorrow. Get on it, you computer nerds!

What with this being The Star’s first big series to be tailored so prominently for the Web, it’s not surprising that a few glitches crept in. Overall, though, it’s a thorough and well-packaged series. The readers should be eating it up.

***

While we’re talking baseball, here are a couple of other quick observations.

:: Royals’ TV broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre turned a crafty phrase near the end of Sunday’s game against the White Sox, which the Royals won 4-2. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Royals’ reliever Luke Hochevar struck out White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers to end the inning.

ryan

Lefebvre

As Strike Three was called, Lefebvre said, “He (Hochevar) just carved up Flowers — one petal at a time.”

His poor partner, commentator Rex Hudler, didn’t chuckle or say a word. Heads up, Rex!

:: On their Web site, the Royals are promoting a new wrinkle — GordoNation.

The promo says that Royals All-Star outfielder Alex Gordon is looking for fans to join a new seating section in left field.

The promo sets the hook with a simple challenge: “Do you have what it takes to be a part of GordoNation?”

Of course, I do…Count me in!

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God dang there were some good stories in my two favorite papers the last couple of days.

Good stories get me excited…Can you tell?

First, The Star

:: Feature writer Don Bradley had an outstanding front-page story about America’s favorite road, Route 66, in Monday’s paper.

People from Europe, Australia and Asia — as well as the U.S. — are expected to converge on Joplin later this week for the “Route 66 International Festival.” It’s the first time the festival has been in Missouri.

I had no idea that the sense of adventure and nostalgia associated with the road had captured the imagination of people overseas, too.

routeThe story was accompanied by a graphic (compliments of Dave Eames) highlighted by images of old travel guides and two maps. One map showed the route from St. Louis down through the southwest part of the state — Rolla, Springfield, Carthage — to Joplin. The other traced the length of the road from Chicago to the Los Angeles area.

Bradley conveyed some excellent information, such as that 85 percent of the original highway, which has been decommissioned, is still in use as city streets and state and county roads.

“These days,” Bradley wrote, “you just have to work a little harder to get your kicks on Route 66.”

…One caveat about the story: The editors chose to run a couple of lame file photos on the “jump.” Too cheap to send a photographer out for a day or two to get some fresh, good photos.

P.S. A little background on Bradley…As a young man, he was a “runner” at The Star, delivering parcels from one department to another. One of the offices where he stopped regularly was that of the late Jim Hale, the first Star publisher after the paper was purchased by publicly traded Capital Cities (later Capital Cities/ABC, Inc.) in 1977. Bradley would chat regularly with Hale’s secretary, June Dacus, and told her of his dream of becoming a reporter. Dacus put in a good word for Bradley with Hale, and pretty soon Bradley found himself working in the second-floor newsroom.)

:: In the first of several stories The Star will run this week commemorating the 40th anniversary of George Brett’s first game with as a Kansas City Royal, columnist Sam Mellinger wrote about Brett’s call-up from Omaha and his first game as a Royal in 1973. (The Royals beat the White Sox in Chicago, and Brett got one hit in four times at bat.)

This story was 62 column inches long, enough to cover about 3/4 of a page. But it read like it was 30 inches. When I reached the end, I couldn’t believe I had read the whole thing, and I looked back to see if maybe I had skipped a column along the way…When a reporter can write a story that reads that fast, he’s really done a great job.

***

On to The Sunday New York Times

carolineI almost never read the SundayStyles section, although I should, but the cover story about Caroline Kennedy caught my eye and I dove in. In addition to 39 inches of rich, interesting information about Kennedy, whom President Obama has appointed to be the new ambassador to Japan, the story included compelling photos of Kennedy at various stages of her life, including when she was a teenager.

Two of the most interesting glimpses Kennedy that reporter Jacob Bernstein gave the readers were that Kennedy rides the subway in New York and socializes with people all across the political spectrum, including conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch.

***

Having been hooked by the Styles section, I proceeded to read two other excellent stories in the section…

:: Matteson Perry, a Los Angeles-based screen writer wrote about his romance with a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” One of her distinguishing and most alluring features was that she had a tattoo of a phoenix covering the left side of her torso…(Yes, Perry got to explore the tattoo and more.) The story was the latest in a series titled “Modern Love.”

Here’s how Perry summarized the make-up of an MPDG:

pixieThough often perky, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl will be troubled as well. She straddles the narrow line between quirky and crazy, mysterious and strange, sexy and slutty; she is perfectly imperfect. And that imperfection is the key, because a Manic Pixie Dream Girl must be messed up enough to need saving, so the powerless guy can do something heroic in the third act.

(Can we identify with that, fellas?)

The story of the romance, Perry said, was “one I stole from the movies.” Of course, the affair turned sour.

So our story ended, not with credits rolling to freeze our relationship in eternal bliss, but with crying and the division of possessions. (I kept the dining room chairs; she kept the old-timey typewriters.)

P.S. Perry is working on his first book, a collection of dating stories…I’ll be pre-ordering that book.

:: I finish with another fascinating “love” story — about a 59-year-old novelist, Joyce Maynard, and a 61-year-old lawyer, Jim Barringer, who teamed up on Match.com. Each was divorced with three grown children.

barringer

Barringer and Maynard…New York Times photo

The story — part of The Times’ “Vows” series — explored their contrasting personalities: He, patient, wry and brilliant; she, a person who lives “with lots of speed and soul.”

They were married on July 6 in a meadow in Harrisville, N.H. The bride and groom wrote their own vows. Part of Ms. Maynard’s vows went like this:

I love it that in your eyes, I am the babe of the universe, although that calls your eyesight into question…So long as I can walk, I will dance with you. I will bake you apple pies and never wear flannel nightgowns.

Let’s hope that this union fulfills the hope and promise we so often see at the end of a movie.

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Well, now we’re talking…

The Star came out yesterday with an editorial endorsing a single-terminal airport.

Mincing no words, the editorial began:

“Building a modern, fully functional airport is a high priority for the Kansas City area, residents and many local companies.

“Here’s one clear vision of what a new Kansas City International Airport would feature: a single terminal with convenient passenger drop-off zones, efficient security lines, quick walks to gates, and a wider variety of desirable restaurants and shops.”

The editorial is great news for backers of a new terminal, which is estimated to cost upwards of $1 billion.

Voters will be asked to approve revenue bonds to finance construction, and, despite the waning power of print, The Star still leads the way on community issues. I worked for The Star, as many of you know, for nearly 37 years, and it has always looked out for what is in the best interests of the public. It’s a non-vested-interest institution that the vast majority of area residents trust, even if they don’t like the paper’s left-tilting political endorsements.

So, the “Save KCI” crowd just caught a bad break: They are now in for a likely losing battle against the Chamber of Commerce, the Civic Council, the Aviation Department, the airlines, the political consultants (who stand to make big bucks off the campaign), KC Star jackhammer editorial writer Yael Abhoulkah…and, of course, the very influential JimmyCsays.

A 24-member panel appointed by Mayor Sly James is holding hearings and meetings on the issue, and you can expect this to be a slow process. That’s partly because a lot of people are wedded to the hopelessly archaic and sentimental idea that the three-terminal set-up — with its dark, vapid, curving concourses — is the best airport layout ever invented. “By God, it’s ours, and you can’t take it from is,” might as well be their schoolyard campaign slogan.

So, the powers that be — no dummies at shaping public opinion — will wait out the brunt of the opposition and will chip away at educating the electorate. going education.

The Star’s editorial now has this project poised to lift off, eventually.

P1020617

LAX…A single terminal KCI could have concourses that look something like this…”Hey, Mom, it’s bright in here, and there are plenty of places to buy souvenirs and eat!”

Wisely, The Star isn’t swallowing whole the $1.2 billion plan proposed by the Aviation Department. In the editorial, the paper encouraged the study panel to “investigate other ideas that have been proposed to ‘save’ the current KCI and especially its convenient passenger drop-off feature.”

The Star also said the cost estimate needs to be trimmed. Many opponents are shrieking about the price tag and saying that it’s a big waste of money and would detract from, and perhaps supersede, other high-dollar projects, such as repairing streets and bridges and upgrading the antiquated water and sewer system.

The Star parried that groundless objection by explaining:

“In reality, Kansas City already has a solid list of projects aimed at improving public services, and all are being done with dollars that would never be spent to build a better KCI.”

In other words, not all the project are being financed from a single fund, with various projects competing against one another for financing.

Consider:

— The water and sewer upgrades are being financed in large part by the water and sewer rates that the city high-handedly jacked up a year or so ago, when it went to monthly bills instead of bi-monthly…with the monthly bills being about the same as the bi-monthly bills had been.  (Those bills are headed ever higher, by the way.)

— Street and bridge repairs come out of general operating funds and the city’s capital improvements sales tax.

— Two other voter-approved sales taxes are paying for fire and police department improvements, including new facilities.

Don’t let the whiners intimidate you with their squawking refrain, “We can’t afford it!”

Yes, we can. This is a big city and it takes big bucks to keep a big city humming.

I feel a lot more confident today than I did yesterday. I can almost hear the humming of the power tools at work on a new, single terminal in Platte County, MO.

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When we cheer our new, much-improved downtown — as we have every right to do — we cannot do so unreservedly.

We already knew that because taxpayer dollars are underwriting the Power & Light District to the tune of about $10 million a year, and that number apparently is headed higher before it will come back down and finally go away.

But The Star’s Kevin Collison reinforced the reservations about downtown redevelopment on Sunday with a close look at the dramatic loss of jobs and the sharp upswing in vacant office space downtown.

Collison’s A1 story said that while attractions like the P&L District and the Sprint and Kauffman centers have prompted “more people to live and play downtown,” it’s a different story on the business front. “U.S. Census data shows that from 2001 to 2011…greater downtown lost 19.6 perrcent of its private employees,” Collison reported. “That’s 16,237 fewer private jobs.”

Reflecting the decline in jobs, Collison continued, the vacancy rate for Class A and B office space stood at 27 percent in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 19 percent for the same quarter 10 years ago.

Those are striking statistics, I’m sure you’ll agree. Collison said part of the problem is that downtown has lost employees and businesses to the Kansas suburbs and to the Country Club Plaza. To see the impending impact of the Plaza, all you have to do is look at the Plaza Vista project that is coming together on the Plaza’s west side. That will be the new Kansas City area home of the Polsinelli law firm, which currently has big presences on the Plaza and downtown.

Collison quoted one developer, Tim Schaffer of RED Brokerage, as saying that despite the high vacancy rate, downtown needs more modern office space.

Some of the highest vacancy rates are in some of the oldest buildings, including One Kansas City Place, Town Pavilion and City Center Square, all of which were built in the 1970s and 1980s. In other words, it’s kind of like our airport situation: We’ve got an airport that is convenient and manageable, but it is not appealing to many users, to the airlines and to the government, which has to provide an overabundance of security employees because of the dated three-terminal set-up.

Just as with the airport, we need to kick into high gear on new or rehabbed downtown office buildings. It’s going to require some developers to stick their necks out and bet on the future of downtown.

I’m betting on it…but, then, that’s easy for me to say because I’m not putting any money on the table.

Nevertheless, here’s the main reason I’m betting on it. Collison quoted Bill Dietrich, president of the Downtown Council, as saying…

“We are trying to change attitudes that have developed over 30-plus years…But the enhancements in downtown have saved downtown. It would have been a lost cause and we’re poised to recover.”

p&lHe’s absolutely right. Think of what downtown would be like if we still had the nasty bars on 12th and Main streets, the windowless massage parlors on 14th and the crumbling sidewalks on Baltimore at 12th. Think of what downtown would be like without the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Sprint Center, the Power & Light District and the new H&R Bloch building.

Without those changes, there is no way we could lay claim to being “a great city.” We would be bathed in shame and ignominy. We would be an apple rotting from the inside out…I, for one, would have been tempted to bail to another midwestern city that was on the move, like Denver or Indianapolis. (I don’t know if I could have talked Patty into it, but I believe I would have given it a major effort.)

But with the Sprint Center packing people in for concerts and basketball tournaments; the Kauffman Center filling up for symphony and opera performances; and the P&L bars, restaurants and stores serving up energy and excitement, we are in pretty good shape; we can take a lot of pride in our transformed downtown.

We just need a young version of Larry Bridges, or a few people like him. Remember? Bridges’ goal was simple: All he wanted to do was build tall buildings. It helped, of course, that he had the late Frank Morgan’s money behind him.

So, it’s not like snapping your fingers. We need people with money…people with money and vision. Then, we would really take off.

Oh, and give me that new airport terminal, too.

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Here’s a truism from Newspaper Reading 101….from which I took a “withdrew passing” grade:

If you read the paper with a close eye and an open mind, you will almost always stumble upon something that sticks with you, at least for a day or two.

Reading the paper the last few days — with no agenda and no axe to grind — I have culled the following odds and ends, which struck a chord with me. See if you agree.

:: Headline at the top of Tuesday’s sports page: “The Royals’ joy of six.”

The “joy of six” headline — a play on the 1972 book “The Joy of Sex” — is the most overworked headline in journalism, seen primarily on the sports pages.

The morning after the Chicago Bulls won their sixth NBA championship (1998), the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, MN, used that headline in letters that covered about half of the sports front. I was at the newspaper’s offices at the time for a conference, and even the newspaper’s editor at the time, Walker Lundy, was aghast. “Could you have made the headline any bigger,” Lundy sarcastically asked the sports editor at the morning news meeting.

:: Notable quote: “Somebody once asked me if our officers have a quota they have to meet regarding tickets. And I told them no, they can write as many as they like.”

That from Police Chief John Simmons of Mission, KS, where ticket writing pays for a lot of the city’s bills.

:: Patty, Brooks and I were at the Royals game on Sunday afternoon, when Patty pointed to I-70 and said, “I wonder why the traffic is backed up on the interstate?”

Frame from YouTube video

Frame from YouTube video

The lady is observant — could have been a reporter, but she comes from a line of entrepreneurs (thank God).

In Wednesday’s paper, police reporter Christine Vendel reported the whole thing. A group of about 40 motorcyclists blocked traffic while videotaping each other performing various stunts. One biker was arrested after he crashed into the back of a police car on U.S. 40, while the officer was trying to pull over a truck containing several people who were recording the stunts.

Those bikers rank very high in the “lacking grey cells” category, and some of them undoubtedly are going to lose all their grey cells when they fly out of the saddle.

:: “Wreck leads to fatal shots” — Page A7 headline in Tuesday’s paper

OK, I want to know more about that…Tell me what happened?

A minor wreck in which a moving car struck a parked car occurred Saturday night on Kansas City’s East side. On one of the streets, either College Avenue or 58th Terrace, two large outdoor parties were taking place. The driver of the car that struck the parked car was related to one of the two men who were subsequently shot to death.

Got it. So what happened after the wreck? Well, this quote from Police Capt. Tye Grant says about all we need to know:

“Things went downhill from there.”

:: Those baseball guys love to tag nicknames on each other. The Royals’ first-round draft choice, a 6 foot, 4 inch shortstop named Hunter Dozier, was at Kauffman Stadium for Monday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers and got to meet the Royals players and coaches. 

In the course of the day and evening, somebody tagged him “Bull”…as in Bull Dozier. Now that’s a nickname.

:: Kevin Collison, The Star’s outstanding development reporter, wrote in Tuesday’s Star Business Weekly about the controversial proposal to build a new $1.2 billion terminal at KCI.

As you know, I firmly believe we need a new terminal, if for no other reason than we deserve a lot better than what we’ve got with those three enormous funeral parlors grouped together off I-29.

Collison

Collison

Amid the hysterical war of words taking place on this issue (see “Letters to the Editor), Collison called for “a clear-eyed, thoughtful discussion about the future of KCI.”

“The answer,” he said, “is probably somewhere between the Aviation Department’s billion-dollar vision and the knee-jerk, populist reaction of the current ‘Save KCI’ petition drive.”

I’m willing to take a deep breath and consider that.

(By the way, because of the issue’s importance and the amount of money involved, hysteria might be the appropriate tone for this conversation…My late father, quoting from some philosopher or wiseacre, used to tell me, “If you can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, you probably don’t understand the issue.”)

:: When a reporter or columnist gets “hot,” he or she often becomes the rage, and you start seeing their stuff everywhere.

And so it is with David Carr, The New York Times media columnist, who has been smoking hot the last few years. He even was the focus of a 2011 documentary movie, “Page One: Inside The New York Times.”

David Carr

David Carr

But no columnist can hit it out of the park every week. Carr’s most recent column, which The Star picked up on Tuesday, was a goofy piece about two Hollywood gossip columnists — Nikki Finke and Sharon Waxman — who have been flailing away at each other on their respective Web sites. (The battle kind of reminds me of my days on active duty in the Army Reserve, when we would go at each other with padded “pugil sticks.”)

Here’s my point: There can’t be more than a couple of hundred people in KC who know or care about the Finke-Waxman face-off. So, why is it in The Star? And, why, even, was it on the front page of Monday’s New York Times business section?

It was in The Times because Carr is Carr, and he can write about whatever he wants, and The Times will run it in his usual spot — on the front page of the Monday business section.

The Star picked it up because…well, a big, fat hole was sitting there on the “Business Forum” page of Tuesday’s business section, and something had to fill it. So, why not the red-hot David Carr?

***

Editor’s Note: This is my 300th post since starting JimmyCsays in March 2010. It’s been a great run of three years and three months. Thanks for your patronage. I hope to remain “At the juncture of journalism and daily life in Kansas City” for at least 3 1/4 more years. 

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You’ve got to give the Kansas City Royals credit: Just when frustrated fans were gathering for an attack on the bastion at One Royal Way (Kauffman Stadium), the team made the boldest, most awe-inspiring move in its history by persuading George Brett to take up a place in the team’s dugout.

As soon as I heard the news on sports-talk radio yesterday, I excitedly pulled out my cell phone and called my wife Patty. Of course, being a working woman who is supporting me in retirement and blogging, she didn’t pick up. That dulled my excitement just a touch.

But the prospect of the greatest Royal of all time — ever loquacious and ever pumped up — putting down his golf clubs, grabbing his chewing tobacco and heading to the clubhouse was absolutely thrilling to me. I was there (at least I think I was) the August night in 1980 when Brett stood on second base, having just reached the .400 hitting plateau — arms raised, helmet in hand, basking in the standing ovation being extended by enthralled fans at Kauffman Stadium.

I was watching on TV when he came up to bat — the most memorable Royals at-bat of all time, in my opinion — against the Yankees’ flame-throwing reliever Goose Gossage in the 1980 American League playoffs and, unbelievably, smashed a home run to right field on a high, inside fastball that was traveling about 1,000 miles an hour.

So, when I heard that George was returning to the dugout, it was clear that this was something really special, something that could make all fans feel good again, even though the team had lost eight straight games and 19 of its last 23 going into last night’s game against the Cardinals in St. Louis.

…Allow me to digress her for just a moment. I hate the Cardinals and I don’t much like St. Louis because of the Cardinals. When I was growing up in Louisville, KY, they almost always beat my beloved (at the time) Cincinnati Reds, since moving to Kansas City in 1969, I’ve had to watch our cross-state rivals win pennants and world championships several times, while we wallowed in the post-1985 ineptitude and frustration of our Royals. I console myself by saying it’s easy to be a Cardinals fan, but it makes you tough being a Royals fan. We have true grit!

***

The lead-up to last night’s (and this morning’s) game was fascinating and fixating.

At a press conference, Brett explained why he decided to accept the challenge now of becoming the Royals interim hitting coach:

“This thing has been offered to me before, but my kids were young. I had three young boys. I retired from baseball. Right now, I have two kids in college, and one is a senior in high school. I’m not missing them growing up any more. It’s summer time, and it’s time for me to go to work.”

Summer and baseball called…and he answered. How can you resist a guy that thinks like that?

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Brett with Alex Gordon before thursday night’s game

Later in the afternoon, there he was standing beside Billy Butler outside the cage at batting practice; there he was joyfully and playfully embracing every Royal he happened across as the team went through warm-ups; and, finally, just before the game, there he was in the dugout, chewing that cud and wearing a look of steely determination.

He still looks every bit the part of a baseball player, just worn and weathered at age 60, but rugged and intent. Did I mention that look in the eyes? “Get outta my way,” it screams, “because I’m comin’ through you if you don’t!”

Fast forward to the top of the ninth inning…Royals down 2 to 1; Cardinals apparently pretty sure the Royals don’t have a win in them. So sure that they send out a relief pitcher with an earned run average of more than 10 runs per nine innings. But the Cardinals must have forgotten that George Brett was in the dugout and they must not have paid any attention to the fact that Brett had spent a lot of time during the game talking to right fielder Jeff Francoeur, a clubhouse leader but who has been keenly disappointing at the plate the last two years.

On the second pitch, Francoeur drilled a ball deep to left — gone! a few feet over the wall, enough to tie the game.

A camera homed in on Brett, who was standing at the top of the dugout, holding onto the protective netting. You could read his lips. “YES!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, neck muscles bulging and that protruding in his cheek.

As most everyone in KC now knows, the Royals went on to win the game 4-2 after a long rain delay. The game ended at 3:14 a.m.

They long wait didn’t bother the Royals at all. They were on Cloud 9.

“There’s not a person in here who cares that it’s 3:30 in the morning,” Francouer said in the locker room. “It feels like 10 o’clock for us.”

And as far as we fans were concerned, Brett was back, the Royals had won, and summer lay ahead in Kansas City.

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While we wait for the Royals to resume their “win-now” season, there’s a lot of news to distract us.

I’m talking about news that all of us need to know, but which we’re not getting from The Star because it has blinders on to just about anything that isn’t local and isn’t produced by its parent chain, McClatchy Newspapers.

With the gloom and rain this morning, I had plenty of time to read Monday’s New York Times, and I want to call your attention to several interesting stories, none of which you would know about if you were reading The Star.

:: Because Congress is so polarized the Affordable Care Act probably won’t be getting needed amendments. 

The lead story in today’s NYT,  written Jonathan Weisman and Robert Pear, said that virtually no law “as sprawling and consequential” as the Affordable Care Act has passed without changes known as “technical corrections,” aimed at making sweeping laws more manageable. Not so with the Affordable Care Act, Weisman and Pear said.

“Republicans simply want to see the entire law go away and will not take part in adjusting it,” the reporters wrote. “Democrats are petrified of reopening a politically charged law that threatens to derail careers as the Republicans once again seize on it before an election year.

“As a result a landmark law that almost everyone agrees has flaws is likely to take effect unchanged.”

:: An aide who has totally gained President Obama’s ear during just the last three years is White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, 42.

Among other things, Obama relies on her for advice on judicial nominations, and she coordinated his response to the Boston Marathon bombings.

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Ruemmler

An inside-the-A-section story by Jackie Calmes said that Ruemmler helped shape the major speech that Obama gave last Thursday, announcing new limits on the use of armed drones and asserting again that he wanted to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

When Obama went to Boston after the bombings in mid-April, Ruemmler went along at Obama’s request. “She came with us because there was information coming in, and he wanted one filter,” an Obama deputy chief of staff was quoted as saying. “He wanted Kathy.”

:: A dangerously wide gap has formed between the American people and their armed forces.

An Op-Ed piece by Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, and David M. Kennedy, a retired history professor, said that the gap began forming after the government’s decision 40 years ago to drop the draft and go to a professional, all-volunteer force.

“For nearly two generations,” Eikenberry and Kennedy said, “No American has been obligated to join up, and few do. Less than .5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.”

The two men contend that “somehow, soldier and citizen must once again be brought to stand side by side.”

They suggest reinstating a draft lottery: “Americans neither need nor want a vast conscript force, but a lottery that populated part of the ranks with draftees would reintroduce the notion of service as civic obligation.”

:: Houston officials are considering razing the Astrodome, nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of the World after it opened in 1965.

The reason? To provide 1,600 parking spaces for the 2017 Super Bowl, to which Houston recently won the rights.

Jere Longman, a native of southern Louisiana, wrote a first-person story about the Astrodome and its lasting importance to Houston. Demolishing the Astrodome, he wrote, would be a desecration.

“Demolition would be a failure of civic imagination, a betrayal of Houston’s greatness as a city of swaggering ambition, of dreamers who dispensed with zoning laws and any restraint on possibility.”

Longman said that despite the signs of neglect (it was closed in 2008), the Astrodome “continues to summon a city’s innovative past and futuristic promise.”

“By contrast,” Longman said, “Reliant Stadium next door is a dull football arena, designed with all the imagination of a hangar to park a blimp.”

:: This last one might not qualify as “need-to-know” news, but it sure caught my attention.

Staff member Sam Roberts reported that officials with New York hospitals are expecting an upswing in births in late July and early August — nine months after residents stranded in their homes without electricity. You get the picture, don’t you: People had a lot of time on their hands, and a lot couples reached out, literally, to each other.

One couple that is expecting is 34-year-old Rachel DeGregorio, who has a doctoral degree in neuroscience, and her 33-year-old husband Scott, a radiologist. A baby boy, whom they plan to name Jack, is due July 24.

“I have documented the day Jack was conceived,” Rachel was quoted as saying. “We had sex three times.”

All I can say to that is that for just one day I’d like to be 33 again and have a horny girlfriend during a power outage.

***

P.S. At this writing, shortly after 11 pm. Monday, I see on kansascity.com that Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger has awakened from his long spring nap.

After virtually ignoring the Royals’ three-week-long, downward spiral, Mellinger tonight posted a column (which will be in the morning’s printed edition), saying, “Someone’s got to go.”

He says, among other things:

“The personalities best equipped for leadership may be (Jeff) Francoeur and (Mike) Moustakas, but each have been bad enough that they’re part of the discussion about what needs to change. Along with those two, hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David, (Manager Ned) Yost and Chris Getz could all be sacrifices in an effort to refocus a group that shouldn’t be nearly this bad. If things don’t improve, it won’t be long before owner David Glass looks at (General Manager Dayton) Moore.”

Sam’s in there with too little too late, but at least he — unlike a lot of the sports radio talk-show hosts — has called for heads to roll.

Best analogy I can think of is that when a machine stops working properly, you change out some of the parts to try to get it running pretty well again. You don’t let it continue to go clunk, clunk, clunk.

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One of the most interesting and talented public officials I covered during my years at The Star was William L. Kimsey, who was Jackson County revenue director for several years in the mid-1970s.

Kimsey was a young, up-and-coming accountant, and I was a young and up-and-coming (well, young, anyway) reporter, assigned to the courthouse from 1971 to 1978.

Kimsey had a lot more ambition and brains than I did. He went on to become chief operating officer at the world-wide accounting firm, Ernst & Young. Meanwhile, I went on to ascend, after 26 years of reporting, to the dizzying position of assignment editor and KCK bureau chief.

Anyway, Kimsey, who well understood the warp and woof of politics and its requisite demands of people whose jobs depended on impressing the voters, had a stock saying whenever bad news broke at the courthouse.

With a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, he would declare, “I’m shocked and appalled.”

You couldnt’ go wrong, he knew, with “shocked and appalled.” It captured the appropriate reaction when things were falling apart.

With that long lead-in, readers, I’ve got to tell you that I’m absolutely, devastatingly shocked and appalled at two things:

:: The way The Star is (not) handling the spiral of the Kansas City Royals and the imploding presidency of Barack Obama.

***

First, the Royals. They’ve lost five of their last six games and are a game below .500 and four games out of first-place. Only two players in the lineup are significant threats to opposing pitchers — Alex Gordon and Billy Butler.

It looks like the same old story for the Royals: Sliding backward into Memorial Day and headed for oblivion by July 4. And yet, at The Star, only Royals’ beat writer Bob Dutton seems to realize how dire the situation is.

In his Tuesday morning report on Monday’s game, Dutton wrote: “The Royals, right now, are flat-lining after Monday’s depressing 6-5 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. This makes four straight one-run losses; 10 losses overall in the last 14 games…”

But the beat writer can’t swing the cudgel by himself…He needs the heavy lifters — the columnists — to bring proper urgency and impact to bear.

That’s where The Star’s only current sports columnist comes in. Except that Sam Mellinger, who early on showed signs of carrying a sharp knife, is looking like a very dull blade.

Today’s column, for instance, was a treatise explaining how Kauffman Stadium actually is a hitter’s park instead of a pitcher’s park. His column before that, on Monday, was a feature about a T-Bones bullpen catcher who survived cancer. Nice piece, but it came the day after the Oakland A’s completed a three-game sweep of the Royals.

Couldn’t the T-Bones feature have held a few days? And shouldn’t Mellinger have had his eye on the balls that Royals hitters were swinging at but not hitting?

Maybe sports editor Jeff Rosen has told Mellinger he wants him to be more feature oriented and that the much-heralded, new-columnist hire from St. Louis — Vahe Gregorian — will take up the role of “hard hitter” after he goes to work (can’t be soon enough). If that’s the case, a big audience of frustrated Royals’ fans awaits, and Vaghe, with his vast sportswriting experience at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, could easily leapfrog Mellinger.

If Gregorian comes in timid, however, the Royals could well go slipping down that old familiar tube with little more than a protesting whimper from 18th and Grand.

***

I doubt that this has ever happened before: liberal columnist Maureen Dowd and conservative columnist George Will writing about the same subject and taking the same line of attack, on the same day.

That’s the case, though, on the Op-Ed page of today’s Star.

The headline on Will’s column is “Obama’s Incredibly Shrinking Presidency.”

The headline on Dowd’s is “From One-Time Messiah to Sad Sack.”

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Will

Will wrote about Obama’s “trifecta” of scandals — Benghazi, the IRS and the seizure of Associated Press phone records. Another situation threatening to join the scandal ranks, he suggested, is “Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius soliciting, from corporations in industries HHS regulates, funds…to educate Americans about…Obamacare.”

(It takes a lot of ellipses to quote Will because he writes kind of like a buzzard — circling, circling, before arriving at his destination.)

As usual, though, Will compromises his credibility by baring one of his wacky ideas. Today, it’s the mirage, in his opinion, of global warming. Will contends that global-warming believers have no way of accounting for an “inexplicable 16-year pause” in its effects. What a scientist, that guy…

Dowd takes a different tack. She says that as a candidate, Obama “was romanticized as the pristine relief from Clinton scandals.” But as president, she adds, Obama’s “pure personal life did not exempt him from running a government awash in old-school screw-ups.”

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Dowd

She contrasts Obama’s dilemma with past scandals that enveloped Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“The Clintons have emerged stronger on the back end of their scandals,” Dowd wrote. “…Americans have already priced in the imperfections of the Clintons.”

“Who knows?” she said. “If Washington keeps imploding, Hillary may run in 2016 on restoring honor to the White House.”

A wicked line, wouldn’t you agree, from the woman whom President George Bush II dubbed “The Cobra”?

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