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Making Dallas Even Better

Leading Off (7/20/2015)

Jordan Spieth Enters Final Round of The Open. There are only three players ahead of him. Nancy’s brother, Bill Nichols at the Dallas Morning News, can explain his positioning much better than I can. So just read this. And make sure your TV is properly tuned in by 8:20 am, when Spieth tees off.

Bernie Sanders Talks Progressive Issues In Dallas. Sanders, a Vermont independent running for president as a Democrat, brought out an estimated crowd of 7,000 for a rally on Sunday around topics like a $15 minimum wage and tax increases for the wealthy. According to the Texas Tribune, “the event appeared to be the largest held by any presidential candidate in Texas so far this election cycle.” Sanders also did some damage control, speaking out against police brutality after he stumbled in response to the “Black Lives Matter” protesters who overtook his Netroots Nation event with the former governor of Maryland on Saturday.

To Catch A Puppy Thief. A Siberian Husky puppy worth $2,850 (this is nuts) was stolen from a pet shop in North Dallas. A man walked out with the adorable little puppy Saturday night and jumped in a getaway car, but was caught fairly quickly.  The puppy was returned to the store. Stealing and reselling a puppy? Terrible. That puppy stuck in a pet shop? Also not a great feeling.

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Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund Could Run Out of Money by 2038

That’s according to credit rating agency Moody’s, as the Observer reported earlier today:

On July 9, a revised audit of the system revealed it had about $3 billion in assets, 6 percent less than was reported to the pension fund’s board in May, according to Moody’s. The asset revision was the second for the plan in 2015, which highlights the risk the fund poses to the city’s credit. As the pension system’s unfunded liabilities grow, so does the weight on the city, which is on the hook for its police and firefighters pensions.

Because of the audit revision, earlier this month the pension’s board reduced how much it expects to earn from investments in the future from from 8.5 percent to 7.25 percent. At a rate of 7 percent, Moody’s projects the pension system could be out of money by 2038.

Remember that the city is on the hook for the unfunded liability. Says Wylie H. Dallas:

The good news is that all the dirty laundry is now being aired… the bad news is that the problem is so huge that the City’s financial stability is now at risk (something else I also predicted).

We are very, very fortunate to have Lee Kleinman for Dallas, Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston working hard to address the issues. If it weren’t for their continued pressure, we would likely still be in the dark about the magnitude of the problems.

D CEO noted back in April that the city is fortunate that its other public pension fund — the Employees Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas — seems well run, favoring traditional stocks and bonds over flashy real estate:

Connecticut-born [Cheryl] Alston, who’s 49, has been executive director and chief investment officer for the fund, which covers the city’s civilian employees, since 2004. During those 10 or so years the fund has posted average returns of 8 percent a year, putting it in the top 13th percentile of 408 U.S. public pension funds, according to data compiled by research firm Wilshire Associates.

Alston says credit for that should go to her board, whose seven members all have financial expertise and support an investment approach that she describes as conservative and opportunistic. “We look at risk, return, and liquidity,” Alston explains. “A lot of investors like illiquid investments and in [the financial crisis of] ’08, that hurt them. They had to sell assets to make their payout.”

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Scrambling for Face Time With a Writer From The Economist

A few weeks ago, Terrell and Jim Falk hosted a dinner for columnist Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist magazine at their home in Dallas’ Briarwood neighborhood. Many of the 25 or so guests of the Falks—he’s president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth—were eager to get some face time with Wooldridge, who was gathering material for a column about the North Texas economy.

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Podcast: Alan Peppard of the Morning News Explains the $75-Million Rule

I’d like to thank Alan Peppard, longtime society columnist for the Dallas Morning News, for refraining from commenting in graphic detail about either Channing Tatum or Kate Upton when he stopped by the Old Monk yesterday afternoon. His (relatively) chaste stories made for an easily edited episode of EarBurner.

A few notes to elucidate the proceedings:

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Leading Off (7/17/15)

Immigrants Claim Discrimination in North Dallas. Tenants of apartments near Royal Lane and Central Expressway have been asked for U.S. identification cards when renewing their leases. Obtaining these is only possible for those who are citizens or who immigrated legally. Managers of the complex say their policy has always been to require a government-issued ID to meet their rental criteria.

Spend This Weekend With Bernie. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will host a town hall meeting at the Sheraton downtown at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Driver Hits Bicyclist, Keeps Driving. The victim was stuck in the windshield of the car for about a half-mile before, police say, 19-year-old Silverio Alaniz dumped his body in an alley and drove away. Jimmie Sines was later found and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Who Wants to Play Footgolf? You’ll never be as good as Jordan Spieth at the conventional variety, so you might as well get in on the ground floor of this new sport.

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Ask John Neely Bryan: Should Texas Fear Jade Helm?

Question: I just read on the AM radio that the Fedral Gumint is going to invade and annex Texas and make it a State. Now I don’t have any real prolem with that, but the name of this invasion is “Jade Helm,” and that was a stripper that broke my heart years ago. What’s going on here? —Luke “Possum” Hogbreath

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Leading Off (7/16/15)

Dez Bryant Finally Signs. It went right down to the wire, but the wide receiver — full name: Dez Bryant Caught the Ball! — agreed to a five-year deal worth $70 million, with $32 million of that guaranteed. Probably the only loser in this is ESPN’s Ed Werder, who would have gotten a lot more screen time during a potential Bryant holdout. But it’s the Cowboys, so I’m sure something will come up.

Jordan Spieth Atop Leaderboard At British Open. At least he was when I wrote this, at six under par through 12 holes. I hope this didn’t jinx him. (UPDATE: I might have? He’s now five under after 13.)

Mansfield Firefighter Foils Armed Robbery. After a masked man with a hunting knife pushed past Daniel Gaskey to hold up a Midlothian convenience store, the off-duty firefighter took about seven seconds to completely control the situation. He jumped the robber, disarmed him, and held him down until police arrived. “He was all worried about [running late for work], and then we found out he had intervened in an armed robbery while he was getting some coffee,” said Fire Chief Barry Bondurant.

BOBCAT ALERT. Panther Creek Estates in Frisco has a roving band of bobcats on the prowl. Word of warning: don’t name your housing development after big cats, because that is just rolling out the welcome mat. That’s the saying, right?

Deion Sanders to Appear on Lip Sync Battle Tonight. He’s taking on Justin Bieber and performing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (in blond wig) and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” Hopefully it won’t be like his school and start out with promise and then fold like a pair of pants.

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Special Report from The Open: Jordan Spieth is Having a Blast

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Greetings from the home of golf. I spent the last nine hours walking the historic Old Course in St. Andrews where The Open 2015 begins tomorrow. The majority of the time I followed Jordan Spieth during his last practice round.

The crowds appear to love Jordy (too soon?), but the five random fans I interviewed all felt he wouldn’t win. One lady from New Zealand gave me some attitude. “I don’t think he has a chance,” she said. “He’s not an interesting person. There is no drama to him. He doesn’t come from broken home or faced any real challenges in his life.”

I guess she missed The Masters, U.S. Open, and the John Deere Classic, for starters. I could say something snotty about New Zealanders, but I don’t want to waste my time.

Instead, I want to tell you the biggest gossip from the press tent.

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Poll: What Is Dallas’ Biggest Problem Right Now?

This morning’s “Leading Off” was a bit of a buzzkill, what with its news of air polluted by fracking, a rise in violent crime, and the arrival of true Texas summer heat, not to mention a tirade against Craig Holcomb. Take this along with Peter’s post yesterday about potholes, and this city just about seems on the edge of collapse.

Anyway, which issue most urgently needs to be addressed?

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Leading Off (7/14/2015)

The Barnett Shale is Off-Gassing More Greenhouse Gasses Than Previous Thought: The EPA botched its initial estimates, and as it turns out, fracking in the Barnett Shale is responsible for 64 percent of all methane in our local atmosphere. The good news: most of those emissions are the result of human errors and mechanical failures.

Let’s Put Those Increased Violent Crime Numbers in Perspective: The Dallas Morning News breaks down the much-reported 10 percent increase in violent crime. The takeaway? Glass half-full, glass half-empty. You could argue the increase reflects a return to a historical norm. And if violent crime continues at pace through the end of the year, murders will be at the same level they were 2013 and 2012, while aggravated assaults would only see a 0.4 percent increase over last year.

When Will We Finally Run Craig Holcomb Out of Town? Read Eric Nicholson’s look into the laughable bike share program in Fair Park. I mean, it couldn’t be more stupidly designed, so it will come as no surprise that the usage numbers are equally laughable. But here’s the important bit: when Nicholson tried to get the usage numbers through an open records request, he was stonewalled by the Friends of Fair Park, which operates the program. That decision to not to release the bike share numbers was then upheld in a ruling by the Texas AG.

I mean, seriously? Bike share numbers? We’re keeping those under lock-and-key? Why? Because Friends of Fair Park – which is run by Craig Holcomb, who also heads the Trinity Commons Foundation – doesn’t want more mud on his face for a program that anyone who has any idea about anything looks at for two seconds and thinks, “Good God, that is the sorriest excuse for a bike share program I have ever seen in my entire life.” I mean, seriously? How long are we going to let Holcomb meddle in the city’s business? How long are we going to let him lord over his two little fiefdoms, which happen to involve two of Dallas’ greatest civic assets – Dallas and Fair Park – both of which have languished for decades under the weight of curiously stupid ideas? For the love of all things good, Criag Holcomb, will you please just drift off into a quiet retirement and leave Dallas alone? Please. Thank you for your service. Now go away.

New Designer Drug in Town: It’s called Flakka, and it doesn’t sound like too much fun. Effects include “murderous rage, paranoia, ultra-violence, and running around screaming.” Or basically what it feels like to read about Craig Holcomb’s meddling in Dallas affairs.

It’s Finally Texas Hot: After cool temps and so much rain, we can’t really complain about DFW finally flirting with 100 degrees (heat index popped up to 109 in some places yesterday). Well, unless the AC goes out in your entire apartment complex. Then you can complain.

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Leading Off (7/13/2015)

New Criminal History Monitoring Program Introduced at DFW Airport. The TSA has chosen DFW and Logan Airport in Boston to test an FBI pilot program called “Rap Back,” which is part of the Bureau’s massive biometric identification database. Rather than relying on just a one-time background check, the Rap Back program will use the fingerprints provided when an employee starts a job to continuously scan for future “felony-level” offenses. Per the Morning News, “other types of employees, such as teachers, doctors, nurses and even Little League coaches, may eventually be scrutinized by the program.”

Standoff At Omni Hotel Ends Peacefully. A man staying at the downtown hotel barricaded himself in a room Saturday afternoon, and allegedly told a friend who brought him a drink that it would be the last time that friend saw the man alive. The friend had noticed a gun in the hotel room, and alerted hotel security. SWAT was called, and streets surrounding the hotel blocked off. Happily, the man was taken into custody without incident.

Jordan Spieth Wins Again. He beat Tom Gillis at the John Deere Classic to go in to The Open in Scotland on an even higher note.

Greg Hardy’s Suspension Reduced To Four Games. The Cowboys’ defensive end had originally been suspended 10 games after the NFL found that choking and smacking his girlfriend was against the league’s personal conduct policy. But now his 10-game sentence has been reduced to four games, equal to the punishment of Tom Brady, who is suspended for deflating some footballs.

Jac Alder’s Memorial Is Tonight. Celebrate the life and work of the late founder of Theatre Three at Dallas City Performance Hall. The parking lot under the building with be free for the event. Doors open at 5:15, and the memorial starts at 6 pm.

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Barrett Brown Gives D Magazine the Middle Finger, Leaves FrontBurner for More Fertile Greenwald Grounds

Oh, I kid. The headline here is really a joke. Let me explain. If an explanation is possible.

I wrote a story about Barrett that helped my career. (Or got me a mention on Capital New York, along with a pic of me wearing a white top hat. Same thing? No?) Barrett and I are — fair term? — friends? Anyway, he has written for some months for FrontBurner about his life behind bars. He has done so for very little compensation. Now that changes. Glenn Greenwald has agreed to pay Barrett more than we ever could to write about his incarcerated life for Greenwald’s Intercept. Here’s all you need to know.

My only comfort — and yours — is a cold one. Barrett will eventually find his way out from behind bars. But he’ll still be stuck in Dallas, due to the terms of his parole. Needing to make rent, he will hopefully see our pages as his playground. Till then, parting is such sweet sorrow.

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Leading Off (7/10/15)

Violent Crime Up in Dallas. Through the first half of 2015, the total number of murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies is up 10 percent. No one has a firm explanation for the spike, but police say they are flooding high-crime zones with more manpower to try to stem the tide.

Bush and Clinton Play Nice. Though former presidents George W. and Bill each have a family member vying to win the White House in 2016, they shared the stage last evening to celebrate the graduation of the first class of Presidential Leadership Scholars at the Bush Presidential Center:

“Last night my granddaughter spoke to me in Mandarin,” Bush said, before the crowd, and Clinton, erupted in laughter.

Sounds like it was an easy room.

Former Morning News Editor Takes UNT Gig. Bob Mong, who retired from our local daily newspaper in May, is apparently already sick of spending more time with his family. He’s been named the lone finalist for the presidency of the Dallas campus of the University of North Texas. The current president, Ronald Brown, is being promoted to run the university system’s health care programs, including the newly announced medical school in Fort Worth. I’ll always remember how Mong took the time to write me a short note of praise for a column I’d written for the group of community news sections I once ran at the DMN. He understood that it means a lot to know the guy in the big office on the other side of the building is actually reading your stuff, especially when it’s not the stuff on the front page. He was extremely kind and supportive of our team’s work — not to mention a surprisingly good softball player. Big congrats to him.

Blind Alligator Removed From the Trinity in Fort Worth. “Nuisance Alligator Hunter” is not a new Animal Planet series. It’s something someone can be licensed to do, someone like Chris Stevens, who was called in to catch a 10-foot-2-inch reptile that showed up in the river near the city’s downtown after heavy rains in June. The animal was safely moved to a nature preserve.

Lake Dallas Mayor Resigns Without Explanation. Tony Marino stepped down as the top elected official in the small Denton County city last night, just a few weeks after the shady shenanigans in which he and the city manager/police chief seemed to have engineered the ouster of a newly elected city council member who’d been critical of them. Marino’s replacement, Mike McCaleb, vowed to bring the “wounded” city back together, descending from the dais to address those in attendance:

McCaleb began to cry. “I’m a big baby, too,” he said. “My sister used to accuse me of having a bladder behind my eyes.”

Many residents laughed at his joke.

Sounds like it was an easy room.

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