Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Looks like I’m going to have quite a bit of company in opposing the proposed half-cent sales tax for medical research.

The Star’s Yael Abouhalkah reported yesterday that The League of Women Voters in Kansas City/Jackson/Clay/Platte counties will oppose the tax.

Abouhalkah wrote:

In an interview, president Linda Vogel Smith said the league primarily opposed using a regressive sales tax to pay for the research. She said the league thought the medical groups could get money from other sources, and public revenue should be used for “local infrastructure needs.”

That’s a heck of a blow to the tax’s prospects for passage.

The Civic Council, with its rush-job tactics and speculative foray, has run afoul of the most important women’s group in the area.

Already, by my unofficial reckoning, we’ve got about 50 percent of  the electorate — women –against the measure.

I guess the Civic Council will be calling on all manly men to stand up for translational medical research to the tune of $40 million to $50 million a year for 20 years.

(Sorry, I don’t have time to explain what translational medical research is; I’ll leave that up to the proponents.)

Guys tend to like big numbers, and we’ll just have to see if they respond well to the prospect of spending $1 billion on a shaky proposition over the next 20 years.

Another bad omen, also laid out in Abhoulkah’s story, was that the chairman of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance questioned moving ahead with the medical research tax while Jackson County’s commuter rail idea is still pending.

Kite Singleton, a well-known, retired architect, said his group did not specifically oppose the sales-tax proposal, but he stated, “This is not a time to redirect our community’s focus to another interest,” the alliance release said.

Until earlier this year, Jackson county Executive Mike Sanders had been pushing for a sales-tax proposal to build a commuter rail system. For some reason, he dropped that and now has jumped on the Civic Council bandwagon.

He probably reckons that his prospects of attaining higher office are better if he plays ball with the Civic Council and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas city, which also has endorsed the medical-research tax.

As most of you know, I registered an opposing committee, Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, on Tuesday.

Another registered opposition group (the first to file, actually) is called Citizens for Responsible Research. It is led by a personal-injury lawyer named Brad Bradshaw, who has several offices around the state. The Star has said he is based in Springfield. Bradshaw, who is also a physician, has contributed $50,000 to his campaign committee, Dave Helling reported today on The Star’s web site.

Bradshaw favors some sort of statewide tax to support medical research, and the Civic Council Sales Tax could upset his apple cart.

As of today, the Civic Council’s bandwagon seems to be losing riders, while organized opposition is mushrooming.

Now, if we can just get the Marching Cobras on our side, we’ll have a loud and energetic run-up to the election.

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I’ve been involved in a lot of political activity during my life. As a reporter at The Star, I covered many candidate and issue campaigns. Since retiring in 2006, I have done volunteer work for, and contributed financially to, several candidates, including Mike Burke, Jim Glover and an old and dear friend and idol, Charlie Wheeler.

But I had never formed a campaign committee expressly to campaign for or against a particular candidate or issue.

Until yesterday.

After jumping through the required, legal hoops — registering the committee with the Secretary of State’s office and opening a bank account (Country Club Bank) — I filed a Statement of Committee Organization with the Jackson County Election Board in Independence.

The Committee to Stop a Bad Cure has money in the bank — I contributed a whopping $500 — and is raring for action.

The goal? To help defeat what I have dubbed the Civic Council Sales Tax, a proposed half-cent sales tax for translational medical research. The proposal will be on the Nov. 5 ballot; it is the only issue on the ballot throughout Jackson County.

no-red-14956958You’re going to hear me say this over and over because it is so important: The Civic Council consists of the c.e.o.’s of the Kansas City area’s leading companies. The tax proposal amounts to the rich trying to foist on taxpayers the cost of trying to make Jackson County a leader in translational medical research…Translational research essentially amounts to converting treatment and pharmaceutical advances into business ventures.

In my opinion, private funds should pay for most or all of a speculative venture like this. But the Civic Council, apparently unable to raise funds privately, pulled an ambush: They plunked their idea for a countywide tax on the Jackson County Legislature early this months, three weeks before the deadline for putting a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The Legislature, under great pressure from the bigwigs, voted 7-2 Monday to put the measure on the ballot, with precious little opportunity for public discussion and consideration of the proposal before rushing pell mell to a public vote.


Late yesterday afternoon, I alerted The Star and the four main local TV stations about the committee filing. Within 10 minutes, an assignment editor from KSHB-TV, the NBC affiliate, was on the line asking if a cameraman could come by my house and do an interview.

A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the patio with a camera pointed at me, and less than halfway through the 10 o’clock news, voila, I was on the air asserting that the taxpayers should not have to pay the $800 million to $1 billion ($40 million to $50 million a year for 20 years) that civic leaders think it will take to make Jackson County a leader in translational medical research.

The committee name, Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, is a counterpoint to the proponents’ committee, the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures. As we all know, though, it’s really the committee to support the Civic Council Sales Tax.

The business community intends to spend at least $1 million on the sales tax campaign. The committee already has $100,000 in the bank. Among other things, they have already bought off all of the area’s leading professional political consultants — Pat Gray, Pat O’Neill, Steve Glorioso and Jeff Roe. These days, you have to cut all those guys in on the deal up front or you risk the chance of an opposing committee hiring them.

(Don’t worry, the Committee to Stop a Bad Cure has no intention of paying for political consulting services.)

As is always the case in campaigns, money will be hard to beat. But in this case, I think the proponents face a long, hard slog.

Coming out of the recession, with many people unemployed and underemployed, this is a terrible time to put a measure like this on the ballot. I think resistance to any proposed tax increase would be strong. But this one, with its nebulous goals and sky-high price tag, is going to be greeted with tremendous skepticism.

Every person, except one, whom I have talked with about the tax proposal has said they don’t like it…The friend I talked to who favors it, understandably, is a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital…CMH is one of the three main institutions, along with St. Luke’s and UMKC, that would receive the most funds from the tax proceeds.


For me, it’s a day to celebrate, as well as get down to the business of running a campaign committee.

The committee will have a web site — stopabadcure.com — (it’s not up yet but I’ve registered the domain), and I plan to have yard signs and other campaign paraphernalia, such as buttons and flyers.

I’m willing to put several thousand dollars of my own money in this effort, and I’m hoping to attract contributions from others who see this like I do.

Campaign headquarters will be Fitzpatrick manor, 1209 W. 64th Terrace, KCMO, 64113. Drop by, if you’d like, or call me at (816) 668-0156.

Finally — and here’s the hard part of the preacher’s work — if you would like to contribute financially, send checks to Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, care of my address.

I guarantee you one thing: All contributions will be put to good use.

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Let the battle begin.

In the wake of the Jackson County Legislature’s action Monday to put a proposed half-cent, Civic Council Sales Tax on the Nov. 5 ballot, the civic bigwigs are now going to be under tremendous pressure to make a case for a $40-million-dollar-a-year sales-tax increase to benefit something called “translational medical research.”

As I said last week, I think this is not a timely idea, and I will actively oppose it.

red, white, blueThis will be the only issue on the ballot in all parts of Jackson County, and it will cost county taxpayers about $1 million to conduct what amounts to a special, one-issue election. On Monday, as a concession to the county, the proponents agreed to reimburse the county for the $1 million — but ONLY IF THE MEASURE PASSES. If it loses — which I think is very likely to happen — taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

Are you angry yet?

Here’s something else to consider: The Civic Council, consisting of the c.e.o.’s of the areas largest companies, plunked this proposal on the Legislature just three weeks ago and pushed the Legislature to act by today’s deadline for placing issues on the Nov. 5 ballot. Yesterday afternoon, I ran into a well-respected, high-profile lawyer who is very attuned to political issues, and he called the measure “a rush to madness.”   

My main objections to the tax proposal are that it:

:: Is not well thought out.

:: Is based entirely on the speculative premise that “rock star researchers” will come up with pharmaceutical and other medical advances that can quickly be turned into money-generating businesses and ventures.

:: Comes at a time when many people, particularly lower-income folks, already are suffering financial distress.

:: Is a regressive tax, that is, it disproportionately hits those with lower incomes.  (Example: If a person with an annual income of $20,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes per year, the tax amounts to 10 percent of his or her income. If a person with an annual income of $100,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes, the tax amounts to 2 percent of his or her income.)

:: Comes at a time we need to rein in health-care costs, not fuel the fire.


Under a Memorandum of Understanding among the parties involved in the tax agreement, here’s how the proceeds would be divvied up:

:: 1 percent of the money — about $400,000 a year — would be paid to the state to collect the tax.

:: About $1 million a year (up to 2.5 percent of $39.6 million — the amount left after deducting the state’s fee) —  would be allocated for annual performance and fiscal audits.

:: The remaining $38.6 million in annual proceeds would be distributed as follows: 50 percent for Children’s Mercy Hospitals and clinics; 20 percent for the St. Luke’s Health System; 20 percent for UMKC; and 10 percent would go “to further economic development initiatives” of a newly created Translational Medicine Institute of Jackson County.

The last category — economic development initiatives — is particularly hazy and troublesome. What kind of economic development issues? How would those initiatives be monitored?


About 75 people attended Monday’s meeting at the courthouse annex. Although the outcome was a foregone conclusion, an air of anticipation and excitement pervaded the ground-floor legislative chamber.

That’s because everyone knows that this is a dicey issue that is sure to be hotly contested.

Before the vote, the Legislature approved some amendments to the two-page Memorandum of Understanding.

One change would add the county as a party to the memorandum. Previously, the signatories were Children’s Mercy Hospital, UMKC, Saint Luke’s Health System and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

The non-profit life sciences institute was founded primarily by the Civic Council in 2000. Its goal, according to its web site, is to “lead the recognized transformation of the Kansas City region into a nationally recognized center of excellence in life sciences research, development and commercialization.”

In its initial business plan the life sciences institute set a goal of raising $500 million in annual research expenditures at the end of ten years. $500 million a year?

I don’t know if that’s a mistake or not, but I’m pretty sure the institute has had a lot of difficulty attaining lift-off. (I had never heard of it until yesterday.) Facing that reality, someone at the Civic Council probably came up with the bright idea of trying to foist it on taxpayers.

As proposed, the tax would be levied for 20 years and would generate, with inflation, probably about $1 billion. And, of course, in about 2033, it would be back up for renewal.

Hello, grandkids (God willing). How do you like the lug we left you?


The Legislature voted 7-2 to proceed with the ballot issue. The legislators who voted “yes” were Fred Arbanas, Scott Burnett, Theresa Garza-Ruiz, Dan Tarwater, James Tindall, Dennis Waits and Crystal Williams.










Garza Ruiz





Exhibiting a distinct lack of enthusiasm, none of the seven made a stirring speech or offered inspiring words about why this tax would be good for Jackson County.

Two legislators voted “no.”

Bob Spence cast one of the “no” votes. Spence said he thought county government already had enough on its plate, including providing law enforcement, maintaining roads and bridges and tending to the parks in unincorporated Jackson County.



The other dissenter, oddly, was legislative chairman Greg Grounds, of Blue Springs, an original sponsor of the enabling legislation.

Grounds told the audience that his main objection was that county taxpayers would be stuck with the election tab, if the measure failed at the polls.



Another factor in his capitulation, almost surely, is that Blue Springs residents will vote in November on a proposed half-cent sales tax for city parks.

I think I can say this with great assurance: The Civic Council Sales Tax will go down in flames in Blue Springs.


After the meeting, I had a nice chat with Arbanas, who has been on the Legislature since the old three-judge administrative court system went by the wayside in 1973. I got to know Arbanas, a former Kansas City Chiefs tight end, in 1972 because I covered Jackson County for The Star from 1971 to 1978. It was my first “beat” assignment during my 35-year-plus career with the paper.

It was easy to tell that Arbanas was skeptical about the tax, even though he voted to put it on the ballot.

“We’ve got a big hurdle,” he told Pete Levi, former president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, when Levi walked up to thank him for his vote. “It’s going to be extremely tough,”

I asked Arbanas if he thought voter resistance to the proposal would be significant.

“Resistance to any tax at all at this point is tremendous,” he said.

Like I said, let the battle begin.

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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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Thanksgiving is still four months away, but today I’m in an appreciative mood.

Let me cite just three “blessings” that recent news stories have impressed upon me.

:: I am grateful that…Kansas City is not in Detroit’s shoes.

Once the nation’s fourth largest city, Detroit filed for bankruptcy this afternoon. In an online story, The New York Times said the city’s debt was likely to be $18 to $20 BILLION.

In 1950, Detroit’s population was 1.8 million; today it is 700,000. In addition, The Times said, tens of thousands of abandoned buildings, vacant lots and unlit streets plague the urban area.

The story went on to say that one aspect of the bankruptcy that some other cities (including Kansas City, in all likelihood) will be watching is whether Detroit will be permitted to slash pension benefits. That will be decided in bankruptcy court and perhaps beyond. In order to cut pension benefits, the court would have to override a provision in the Michigan constitution that prohibits such action.

Here in Kansas City, Mayor Sly James and the City Council have shown that they don’t have the stomach for taking on the firefighters’ union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers. The mayor and council haven’t dared to take up a citizens committee’s proposal to reduce pension benefits for current and future city employees.

So, while I’m thankful that we’re not Detroit, someday — on some mayor and council’s watch — the pension situation is going to become a crisis in Kansas City, and the citizens are going to wring their hands and shake their fists at several mayors and councils that didn’t have the guts to deal with the issue before it became a crisis.

:: I am grateful that…Vladimir Putin is not my president. 

A Russian judge has sentenced Russia’s most prominent opposition leader to five years in prison on a charge of embezzlement.


Mr. Congeniality

In another online story today, The New York Times said that “the Kremlin had made little effort to mask the political motivation of the prosecution” of Aleksei Navalny, a harsh Putin critic who aspired to political office.

Well, in Russia your dreams can get you in trouble.

Although the case against Navalny was thin and had been thrown out after an initial investigation, it was “resurrected by federal officials in Moscow,” The Times story said.

Then, when the case went to trial, it was strictly a kangaroo court. Not only did the main witness give contradictory evidence, The Times said, defense lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine him.

!!!!! No cross-examination !!!!! 

Just to make sure Navalny didn’t get a fair hearing, the judge also prohibited the defense from calling 13 witnesses.

!!!!! No defense witnesses !!!!!

About all you can do is shake your head and take comfort in the fact that we’ve got enough nuclear weapons to keep Potentate Putin in check.

Editor’s note:  Shortly after 3 a.m. today, The Times reported that Navalny had been released while his case is under appeal.  

Here’s the lead sentence from that story:

“Russia’s most prominent opposition leader was released from police custody on Friday, a day after his conviction on embezzlement charges, as the Russian authorities edged back from a decision that set off angry protests in several of Russia’s largest cities.”

Maybe the potentate has overstepped his bounds this time…

:: Bringing it closer to home, I am grateful for…the Sprint Center and the Power & Light District.

In a story last week, The Star’s Kevin Collison wrote about an astounding (as far as I’m concerned) report done by the Downtown Council, an association of downtown businesses.

Ten years ago, in 2002, the report said, 2.5 million people visited downtown.

Last year, 13.4 million people visited downtown.

Think about it: Two point five million versus thirteen point four million over a decade.

The number soared, Collison said, “thanks to the huge investment that’s occurred the past half-dozen years in such entertainment venues as the Power & Light District, Sprint Center and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.”

The story said that the Power & Light District, which opened in 2007 and 2008, was “far and away” the biggest attraction last year, drawing 9.1 million visitors.

“The Power & Light District has become the central gathering point for the city,” Collison quoted Mike Hurd, the Downtown Council’s marketing director, as saying.

We should all be grateful that Kay Barnes and her council had the guts to put their legacy on the line when they opted to take a chance on a deal with the Cordish Companies to develop the Power & Light District. (That was in Barnes’ second term, from 2003 to 2007.)

Yes, Cordish, of Baltimore, is making a bundle of money off the deal, and Kansas City residents are subsidizing the district to the tune of $10 million to $15 million a year. But any day I’ll take the 13.4 million visitors a year in exchange for the public subsidy.

The subsidy will end some day, but the visitors, I expect, will keep on coming, and Kansas City, thanks to some courageous political leadership, should continue to have a thriving downtown.

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Hey, Brother, I’ve got a favor to ask…a few, actually:

Would you stop lying to us about attacks on our embassies? Would you start telling us exactly who you are killing with these drone strikes? Would you stop harassing nonprofit organizations whose names you don’t like? Would you stop seizing the telephone records of reporters? Come to think of it, would  you stop scooping up records of all telephone calls made in the United States?

Holy shit! What the fuck? (Sorry, this is a situation, it seems to me, that calls for extreme language.)

In a May 23 post, I said, half facetiously that I was shocked and appalled at “the imploding presidency of Barack Obama.”

No longer is it half facetious; I’m completely shocked and thoroughly appalled.

Even though this all-inclusive phone-call sweep has been going on, incredibly, for seven years — before Obama became president — wouldn’t you think that a president who values civil liberties would look at that and say:

“Why are we doing this?”

I’m a lifelong Democrat, but this is a case in which I think it’s appropriate to ask, “What Ronnie do?” I’m talking about the late President Ronald Reagan, who, above all else, was a champion of civil liberties, of American being a nation where you should be able to live without government poking around in your private life.

I can’t help but think that if he were alive and Alzheimer’s free, he would look at the current government wasteland and say, “What the fuck?”

Yesterday, when I first heard about the general, phone-call-records sweep, I thought maybe my gut reaction of repulsion was an overreaction. I’d better wait, I thought, to see what my reliable political compass, The New York Times, had to say.

Thankfully, The Times affirmed my revulsion. The leading editorial in today’s Times is titled “President Obama’s Dragnet.” It is twice as long as the average editorial, and it is so strong that it appears to me it could signal an overall shift against the Obama administration.

Here’s how that editorial begins:

“Within hours of the disclosure that federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

“Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability.”

The editorial goes on to finger the Patriot Act, enacted during the Bush administration, as the basis of the last two administrations’ overreach into Americans’ lives. The Times has long railed against the Patriot Act (what a misnomer, huh?), which, today’s editorial says, “was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.”
Still, it falls, as it should, at the feet of the Commander in Chief. He knows what’s going on…So why doesn’t he use some common sense? Examine some of this stuff and say, “This doesn’t add up. Why are we doing this? Isn’t it an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion in?”
Should this nitwit know who we are calling?

Should this nitwit know who we are calling?

If we can’t rely on the President, who can we rely on? Certainly not that clown James Clapper, the national’s chief intelligence officer, who three months ago told a congressional committee that the National Security Agency was not collecting data on Americans.

Here’s how that exchange went with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat:
Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper: “No, sir.”
Wyden: “It does not?”
Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.” 
My first reaction to that is that anyone who uses the term “wittingly” should not be in any position of authority. That’s someone who’s overly impressed with himself and likes to slice and dice words, instead of being straightforward and telling the truth.
Second, the person is a nitwit. Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that Clapper is one of many nitwits in top government positions, perhaps including the Oval Office.

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Every day for the last week I’ve expected to read or hear that Fox Sports has fired or suspended Jason Whitlock for the outrageous Twitter comment he made about women and New York Knicks’ sensation Jeremy Lin.

I don’t know how he did it, but with one little tweet he managed to paint women as sexual trophies to be used and abused, and he managed to stereotype Asian men as having…well, as former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner might have put it, inadequate “packages.”

Here’s what Whitlock tweeted the night of Feb. 10, after Lin scored a career-high 38 points as the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 92-85.

“Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.”

That brought this reaction from the Asian American Journalists Association:

“Outrage doesn’t begin to describe the reaction…to your unnecessary and demeaning tweet…Let’s not pretend we don’t know to what you were referring. The attempt at humor – and we hope that is all it was – fell flat. It also exposed how some media companies fail to adequately monitor the antics of their high-profile representatives. Standards need to be applied – by you and by Fox Sports.”


Whitlock, who flamed out at The Star in August 2010, later apologized, saying in part:

“I…gave in to another part of my personality—my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature. It’s been with me since birth, a gift from my mother and honed as a child listening to my godmother’s Richard Pryor albums. I still want to be a standup comedian.”

So, it was the fault of his mother and godmother? I guess his godmother should be flogged for leaving those Richard Pryor albums lying around like loaded handguns.

Meanwhile, an ESPN editor got fired for using an ethnic slur  in a headline on ESPN.com’s mobile Web site, and an ESPN anchor was suspended for 30 days for using the same phrase during an interview about Lin with a former NBA player.

The headline posted by Anthony Federico of ESPN said, “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.”

Federico, who deserved to be fired, apologized and in an interview with the New York Daily News said: “This had nothing to do with me being cute or funny. I’m so sorry that I offended people. I’m so sorry if I offended Jeremy.”

The suspended anchor man, Max Bretos, also apologized unequivocally, saying in a tweet, “My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community.”

There you have the story, so far, of how two networks handled the same type of problem. ESPN fired one person and suspended another, while Fox Sports has remained largely silent on the matter of Whitlock’s double slur and his subsequent lame attempt to dismiss the ethnic element of it as a bad joke.

A week before Whitlock fired off his tweet, CNN suspended political analyst Roland Martin for tweets he posted during the Super Bowl.

Martin caused an uproar, particularly among gay rights groups, by tweeting that people should “smack the ish” out of any male fans of an underwear ad starring David Beckham.

He also made fun of a New England Patriots player who arrived wearing a pink jumpsuit. “He needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass,” Martin wrote.

As the Asian American Journalists Association said, “Standards need to be applied.”

I’m waiting for Fox to join ESPN and CNN in applying high standards to a sports writer who seems destined to be immature and sophomoric for life.

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Sometimes, my beloved New York Times tends to get too liberal and idealistic for my Democratic tastes.

One of the things I love about The Times is that it holds politicians to extremely high standards — as it should, of course — and seldom lowers the bar.

But in an editorial last Wednesday, The Times held President Barack Obama to an unrealistically high bar, in my opinion, when it chided him for deciding to cooperate with a super PAC called Priorities USA Action.

The Times said that Obama’s announcement “fully implicates the president, his campaign and his administration in the pollution of the political system unleashed by Citizens United and related court decisions.”

By agreeing to play ball with a super PAC, the editorial went on, Obama “gave in to the culture of the Citizens United decision that he once denounced as a ‘threat to our democracy.’ ”

The editorial ran under the headline, “Another Campaign for Sale.” The subhead said, “President Obama reverses position and joins the sleazy ‘Super PAC’ money race.”

Yes, the super PAC system is sleazy, and, yes, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 was crazy and has further tainted our elective system. And, yes, it would be great if President Obama had decided to forgo the super PAC route.

But at what cost? Everyone knows the power of money in politics…If you (or somebody supporting you) can go on TV and say your opponent is a dipstick thousands of times more than you can say the same about him (or her), you’re likely to prevail. You have to respond to negative ads, and you need just about equal resources to even try to effectively counteract them.

The Times’ editorial board thoroughly dislikes all the Republican candidates and will undoubtedly endorse Obama for re-election. So, what it was doing in this editorial, it appears to me, was calling on Obama — its candidate — to take the biggest gamble of his political life and run without super PAC support.

Two days after the editorial was published, The Times ran five letters to the editor about the editorial.

Two of the writers sided with The Times’ editorial, and three took Obama’s side.

One of those who sided with The Times, Paul Bloustein of Cincinnati, said: “President Obama is a very principled man, until he isn’t. His decision to use super PAC money in his re-election effort is hugely disappointing…fear of being a one-term president has trumped principle.”

The other writer who sided with The Times, Margaret McGirr, Greenwich, CT, said: “It doesn’t get better than this: watching the very same people who scolded Supreme Court justices for their decision on campaign finance defend setting up a super PAC.”

I agree, however, with the letter writers who said Obama was left with little choice, if he hoped to be re-elected.

Douglas J. Cocuzza of Hackettstown, NJ, said, “You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. You are forced to bring a gun or not participate in the fight.”

Also using a fight analogy, Mike Cockrill of Brooklyn said: “If you’re in a boxing match and the judge says you can use chairs, you’d be a fool not to grab a chair when your opponent comes after you with one. Later in the recovery room, you can both discuss whether the chair rule is a bad one.”

(Don’t you love that last line?)

William D. Bandes of Roseville, CA, got the last word:

“You write that President Obama is ‘telling the country that simply getting re-elected is bigger than standing on principle.’ Getting re-elected is bigger than surrender, better than handing the reins over to those who bought government by giving us Citizens United in the first place.”

To be precise, Bandes should have said “better than handing the reins over to those who are trying to buy government” because the super PAC people haven’t yet bought either the executive branch of government or both divisions of the legislative branch.

I completely agree with Bandes that this is a case where the stakes are simply too big for Obama to forgo super PAC money. I sure don’t want any of those Republican dipsticks in the White House. Do you?

What Obama needs to do is get re-elected, hope some conservative Supreme Court justices die or retire and then appoint some justices who will get the court off the errant course it’s been on under John Roberts, Anton Scalia and the dope whom Jack Danforth gave us, Clarence (Coke Can) Thomas.

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If Mitt Romney wasn’t finished as a viable presidential contender before Tuesday, he most certainly was, in my opinion, after his comments on taxes and income that day in Greenville, S.C.

Asked directly what his effective tax rate was, Romney said:

“It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything. For the past 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away.”

That was bad enough because he pays a federal tax rate much lower than most salaried workers. (For example, a married couple filing jointly pays at a rate of 25 percent tax rate for taxable income above $69,000 in wages. Obama reported paying an effective tax rate of 26 percent on his 2010 income, the majority of which came from sale of his books.)

But Romney went on to really put his foot in it.

Finishing off the comment, he said, “I get speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much.”

Not very much?

Well, according to his personal financial disclosure, from February 2010 to February 2011, Romney earned $374,327 in speaking fees.

(Unfortunately, if you only read the print version of The Kansas City Star, you wouldn’t know about the uproar over Romney’s speaking fees because it wasn’t included in The Star’s three paragraph “campaign roundup” on Page 2 Wednesday.)

In its front-page report on the story, The New York Times said that $374,000 “would, by itself, very nearly catapult most American families into the top 1 percent of the country’s earners.”

In December, The Times reported that Romney, with an estimated family fortune of $190 million to $250 million, “is among the wealthiest candidates ever to run for president.”

In that story, The Times also said that after Romney left Bain Capital, the hugely successful private equity firm he helped start, “he negotiated a retirement agreement with his former partners that has paid him a share of Bain’s profits ever since, bringing the Romney family millions of dollars in income each year and bolstering the fortune that has helped finance Mr. Romney’s political aspirations.”

The ever-prescient Times went on to say that since Mr. Romney’s payouts from Bain “have come partly from the firm’s share of profits on its customers’ investments, that income probably qualifies for the 15 percent tax rate reserved for capital gains, rather than the 35 percent that wealthy taxpayers pay on ordinary income.”

So there’s a thumbnail sketch of the man who’s going to try to beat Obama by contending that average Americans will do better under a Romney presidency than they have under Obama.

Talk about a disconnect. Voters are going to listen to that pitch, consider the source and flee into Obama’s arms.

I can’t imagine how Romney is going to be able to convince ordinary, working Americans that he should be their guy.

I’m going to predict that he’s ultimately going to lose the votes of the majority of the millions of people who don’t read newspapers, proclaim they don’t care about current events and just want to bitch about how bad Obama is. They can cover their ears and hum, but osmosis will do the job.

Immediately after Romney is nominated — if he survives the Gingrich mauling — he might match or go slightly ahead of Obama in the polls. But after that, I see him slipping steadily downhill.

I can’t remember a presidential campaign where one major candidate had so much working against him before the general-election campaign got underway.

Understandably, the Democrats are drooling.

The Times’ story on Wednesday quoted Bill Burton, a spokesman for Priorities USA Action, a “super Pac” supporting Obama as saying, “We won’t be waiting until he (Romney) reveals his returns in April to remind voters that Romney’s tax policy would keep taxes low for millionaires like himself, putting a burden on the middle class.”

If Romney is the Republican nominee, you’ll see me smiling next summer and fall…I’ll be much more worried, however, if  Obama has to run against Newt and Callista.

There’s a gal that will probably appeal to the rednecks, whose votes the Republicans can’t win without.

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The braggadocio and downright impudence of some political crooks before they are convicted often amazes me.

Take the case of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in federal prison for his conviction on 18 felony counts of corruption.

As you’ll recall, Blagojevich was charged in April 2009 with, among other things, trying to sell former U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s seat to the highest bidder after Obama was elected President.

Here’s what Blagojevich, 54, said at the time that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the charges.

“I’m saddened and hurt, but I am not surprised by the indictment. I am innocent, I now will fight in the courts to clear my name.”

Yes, he would clear his good name! He’d been slandered, don’t you know, and that could not stand.

A year later, perhaps reflecting how dismissive he was of the charges, he appeared as a contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” TV show.

Then, last year, after a federal jury convicted him of just one count — lying to the FBI — and hung up on 23 other counts, Blagojevich not only turned defiant but goaded Fitzgerald.

“The government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me,” Blagojevich said, “and on every charge but one, they could not prove that I broke any laws except one, a nebulous charge from five years ago.

“We have a prosecutor who has wasted and wanted to spend tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to take me away from my family and my home.”

Fitzgerald didn’t take the bait and simply said Blagojevich would be retried…The second trial ended in June with his conviction on 17 additional counts.

That brings us to yesterday, when U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich returned a copy of his book, which he had signed for a supporter, after he returned home from his court sentencing Wednesday in Chicago (AP photo)

And what did he say in court, at his sentencing?

“I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on all that’s happened. I’m here convicted of crimes, and I am accepting of it, acknowledge it.”

That prompted Zagel to respond, “It comes late.”

Blagojevich also said:

“I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions, words, things that I didn’t that I thought I could do.”

Now, why didn’t Blagojevich temper his comments when he was first charged and again last year after he was convicted on one count?

It goes back to the Achilles’ heel of many a figure in Greek literature — pride, hubris. Blagojevich thought he was above the law; he got a fat head because several million people voted for him and put him in the governor’s office.

He should have read some Greek tragedies; it would have better prepared him for his downfall. Then, again, maybe he did read some Greek tragedies and concluded, “That’ll never happen to me.”


You will see below that my lifelong friend Hubartos vanDrehl — the Prince of Paonia, the Mystic of the Mountains — comments on the respective hairdos of Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Trump. It is only fitting, in my opinion, that I show you a photo of Mr. vanDrehl’s inimitable ‘do…


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