KCUR-FM: Frank Morris | KBIA

KCUR-FM: Frank Morris

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.

Morris grew up in rural Kansas listening to KHCC, spun records at KJHK throughout college at the University of Kansas, and cut his teeth in journalism as an intern for Kansas Public Radio, in the Kansas statehouse.

Updated at 8:30 p.m. ET

The state of Missouri is suing China for that country's handling of the coronavirus outbreak. It's the first such lawsuit brought by a state, and it relies on an unusual interpretation of federal law.

Fast-moving viruses come with a cruel twist.

They tend to hammer hardest at people on the front lines of defense, making the rest of us that much more vulnerable.

Truckers, warehouse workers and cargo handlers, all in a vast network, find themselves one endless day after the next getting food, medicine and, yes, toilet paper to customers.

The complex supply logistics of our 21st-century world face a gathering storm even as reliance on those supply chains becomes more critical in the worst public health crisis in generations.

Kansas City’s tourism business has stopped on a dime.

Normally at this time of year, Kansas City limo companies would be busy hauling visitors to basketball games or conventions. Rob Hadi, who drives for Pesh Limousine, says business has cratered in response to the coronavirus.

“We are not getting any calls," says Hadi. "Everything is canceled, groups, a bunch of conventions coming in this weekend and Overland Park. They're all canceling,” says Hadi.

Not to mention the Big 12 Tournament, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Planet Comicon.

Remote rural towns are a good place to be early in a pandemic, according to epidemiologists, but that flips as the people in those towns begin to get sick.

Fredonia, Kansas, and other rural towns tend to be more spread out, lowering the chances that people are in close enough contact to catch the novel coronavirus.

“I always say it’s a hundred miles from anywhere,” quips Cassie Edson, with the Wilson County Health Department. “It’s a hundred miles from Wichita, a hundred miles to Joplin, a hundred miles to Tulsa.”

Remote rural towns are a good place to be early in a pandemic, as they tend to be more spread out, which potentially means fewer chances to catch a bug. Remote rural areas are also, by definition, way removed from major seaports, airports and often even big highways. So it generally takes longer for new viruses to show up in tiny towns, like Fredonia, Kan.

"I always say it's a hundred miles from anywhere," says Cassie Edson, with the Wilson County Health Department. "It's a hundred miles from Wichita, a hundred miles to Joplin, a hundred miles to Tulsa."

Former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 60% to 34% in the Missouri Democratic presidential primary.

Both campaigns made stops in Missouri ahead of Tuesday's vote. At a rally in St. Louis, Sanders pitched himself as a more progressive candidate who would push for expanding health care to every American and pass gun control measures. Biden made the case at a rally in Kansas City that he could unite the party and bring in Republican voters.

Near-record precipitation last year has set the stage for renewed flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries, according to a forecast released Thursday.

In 2019, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries raged through towns and farms for months.  Forecaster Kevin Low at the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center said this year could be just as bad.

No more waiting, Kansas City: The Chiefs are Super Bowl champions again, and it’s time to party.

The Kansas City Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl in Miami, giving Kansas City a moment of relative unity in a divisive time for the country. But the good feelings are tempered for Native Americans, some of whom find the imagery surrounding the team racist and demeaning.

Union Station is festooned with banners and signs honoring the Chiefs. Cheery fans filled the historic train station over the weekend, trading phones to take pictures of each other’s families.

Lots of people in Kansas City are ramping up for the AFC Championship game on Sunday. If the Chiefs win, they’ll play in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. Some area business are betting on a win, one they hope will trigger a shopping frenzy.

It’s easy to spot team logos around town. Season ticket-holder Greg O’Neal has about a dozen of them on his SUV alone.

“I’ve got six Chiefs flags, I got three Chiefs arrows, Chief’s name and another helmet,” chuckles O’Neal, who’s also wearing a Chiefs cap. “You can see me coming a mile away.”

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Kansas City is a city of roads — the metropolitan area has long held claim to the highest number of highway miles per capita, which has made it a city of drivers.

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Midwestern farmers are coming off a year of catastrophic flooding, high bankruptcies and billions in federal bailouts.

Over the past decade, the number of newspaper reporters has dropped by half. But in Johnson County, Kansas, one news site is bucking the trend, adding reporters and subscribers.

The Shawnee Mission Post, which covers about a quarter-million people from a small house on a tree-lined street in Prairie Village is on track to triple the size of its newsroom by embracing the much-maligned paywall.

A tentative agreement easing trade restrictions with China seems like great news for farmers, who’ve been pummeled by the trade war. Some farmers, though, are skeptical. They worry that ag exports will suffer for years, and they've got history to back them up.

Prices for the corn and soybeans started rising last week, on rumors of a possible trade deal. Good news for Tom Kreisel, who farms near tiny Houstonia, Missouri.

“The last couple of days, they'd been up,” says Kreisel. “But they had took a nosedive before that, so we need to make that back.”

The Prospect Avenue MAX bus line that begins running on Monday will charge no fares for the first three months. The $56 million system built with federal grants and local matching funds features faster, more comfortable buses with wifi, and heated concrete benches at the stops.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said making the service available at no charge is a step toward zero fare transit city-wide.

A roving work of art has sparked a lot of thought about the nature of walls this year, especially among those who live near the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Walking Wall" is a 100-ton art installation that’s been blocking traffic and building friendships as it moved toward the Bloch Building at the museum.

On Wednesday, it goes inside — and stops.

Trucks and trains aren’t carrying as much as they did just a few months ago, and haulers are cutting back on orders for new trucks and rail cars. Despite this slump, Kansas City’s logistics industry is pushing ahead with an enormous expansion of warehouse space and other regional distribution hubs.

Rail traffic is down substantially from last year. Carloads are down by about 7%. Coal is down more than 14%, and metallic ores and metals are down even more.  

Most farmers haven't had a single good year since President Trump took office, and Trump’s policies on trade, immigration and ethanol are part of the problem.

Yet farmers, who broadly supported Trump in 2016, are sticking with him as the impeachment inquiry moves forward.

“You see everyone circling their wagons now, and the farm community is no different in that,” says John Herath, the news director at Farm Journal.

This June the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plan to move two of its research agencies out of Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area. Most of the people working at the agencies have since quit, leaving gaping holes in critical divisions. Researchers warn that the agency upheaval will starve farmers, policymakers and ultimately consumers out of the best possible information about food and the business of growing it.

Some in the art world are protesting the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art because of a tenuous connection to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

(This story was updated at 5:15 p.m.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans Thursday to move headquarters of two large research agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area, promising the region more than 550 research jobs.

A couple of federal agencies you probably haven’t heard of keep track of what farmers grow, what Americans eat and how the country’s entire food system operates. And the Trump Administration wants them out Washington, D.C. — and maybe in the Kansas City area.

Having a criminal record can make it hard to find a job, and a place to live. Missouri allows some offenses to be erased from a person’s record, or expunged, years after an offender has finished serving his or her sentence, but it’s a tricky process.

The catastrophic flooding in Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas last month caused more than $12 billion in damage, by one estimate.  But much more is at stake as the flood waters recede.

Small, rural towns are damaged … and dying.

Even communities with a lot going for them have taken a beating. Lynch, Nebraska, for instance, a remote village near the South Dakota line, with only about 200 residents.

For many decades now, the only beer you could buy in Kansas grocery and convenience stores was limited to 3.2 percent alcohol.

But on Monday, that 3.2 beer became a thing of the past.

"It's a big step for the groceries and the state of Kansas," says Dennis Toney, an executive with Ball's Food Stores. "We've all wanted this for quite some time."

Kansas is one of the last states to do away with this Depression-era alcohol, which looks likely to soon die out altogether.

The "long shadow of Prohibition"

For many decades now, the only beer you could buy in Kansas grocery and convenience stores was limited to 3.2% alcohol. 

But on Monday, that 3.2 beer will be a thing of the past.

“It's a big step for the groceries and the state of Kansas,” says Dennis Toney, an executive with Ball’s Food Stores. “We’ve all wanted this for quite some time.”

Kansas is one of the last states to do away with this Depression-era alcohol, which looks likely to soon die out altogether.

The threat of major new flooding on the Missouri River is receding this week, but the stage is set for further disaster as the usual spring flood season dawns in the coming weeks.

Last week's flooding left billions of dollars of destruction in its wake.

“This is just a prelude of what’s to come. I can only remember one other flood in early spring like this,” said Bob Baker, who has been farming in the river bottoms just west of Weston, Missouri, all his life. “I think we’re in for a long summer.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he misses Kansas and would like to go back into business in the state someday. But at the Road to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Overland Park Monday, the former congressman was cagey about his future in public office.

The annual conference gives business people a chance to rub elbows with potential funders in government, foundations and the private sector. Pompeo said it’s no coincidence that this year’s summit was in his home state.

Protesters withstood single-digit temperatures on the steps of City Hall Monday to share horror stories about landlords kicking their families out after a serious illness or being left with no safe, permanent housing options after an eviction. KC Tenants, a new group advocating for tenants' rights, intends to make housing a central issue in the upcoming mayoral election.

“Housing needs to be the next mayor’s airport,” said activist Tiana Caldwell to cheers of approval.

The water we drink is protected by federal rules, which are at the crux of a long-running fight over how far upstream that protection extends.

“Agriculture is land and water. When you’ve got control of the water, you’ve got control of the land,” said Blake Roderick with the National Waterways Conference.

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