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Malleable politicians: As American as apple pie

04 N1405P66004CWe have come to a point in America where the overwhelming majority of politicians will say whatever they conclude will get them elected. The responsibility for this condition is not limited to politicians. Much of the blame rests with citizens.

A Google search for malleable yields this definition: “(of a metal or other material) able to be hammered or pressed permanently out of shape without breaking or cracking.” That is a reasonable characterization of the vast majority of American politicians. There are some exceptions, but they are few and far between. A prime example of how this malleable condition plays out with American politicians shows through in Mike Bloomberg’s response to outrage regarding his support for stop-and-frisk during his three terms as mayor of New York (2002-2013).

A Google search for “Stop-and-Frisk New York” gives this information: “‘Stop, question and frisk’ is an NYPD policy wherein police will detain and question pedestrians, and potentially search them, if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the pedestrian in question ‘committed, is committing, or is about to commit a felony or a Penal Law misdemeanor.’” This policy was substantially employed by New York police during the time that Rudy Giuliani was mayor of the city (1994-2001). Crime in the city had started a very noticeable decline, beginning in 1991. The decline escalated during the Giuliani era. In great part, he credited stop-and-frisk for that decline. There are those who adamantly disagree with Giuliani’s assessment.

Giuliani was mayor throughout most of the 1990s and the following is from an article titled, “What Reduced Crime in New York City”, on the National Bureau of Economic Research website:

During the 1990s, crime rates in New York City dropped dramatically, even more than in the United States as a whole. Violent crime declined by more than 56 percent in the City, compared to about 28 percent in the nation as whole. Property crimes tumbled by about 65 percent, but fell only 26 percent nationally.

Bloomberg followed Giuliani as mayor and continued the policy over the course of his 12 years. Crime rates kept falling. However, many more stops were made on an annual basis than had been the case under Giuliani. This from an article titled “Stop and frisk gets renewed attention in Bloomberg candidacy’” by Regina Garcia Cano and Jennifer Peltz, appearing February 16, 2020:

The New York Police Department began increasing its emphasis on stop and frisk in the mid-1990s, when Republican Rudy Giuliani was mayor. But stops soared under Bloomberg – who held office as a Republican and later an independent — rising from about 97,000 stops in 2002 to a high of about 685,000 in 2011. There were fewer than 13,500 stops last year, according to NYPD data.

Over 80% of the people stopped during the surge of stop and frisk were black or Latino.

The surge in stops under Bloomberg, and the continued high percentage of those stopped being black or Latino, generated strong opposition to the program. Recognizing the depth of opposition, when Bloomberg was moving toward announcing his run for the presidency, he started apologizing for his support of stop-and-frisk. His first stop was a predominately African American mega church in Brooklyn, New York. This from an article by Devan Cole and Cristina Alesci titled “‘I was wrong’: Bloomberg sorry for ‘Stop and Frisk’ in about-face apology ahead of potential presidential bid”:

“Now hindsight is 20/20. But as crime continued to come down as we reduced stops and as it continued to come down during the next administration to its credit, I now see that we could and should have acted sooner. And acted faster to cut the stops. I wish we had. And I’m sorry that we didn’t,” Bloomberg said.

“But I can’t change history, however today I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

In the months since his apology before that congregation, Bloomberg has repeatedly apologized in several settings. The fact of life is that, to be elected president, any Democrat will need to substantially win the black vote in the primaries and general election. Given the impact of stop-and-frisk on blacks, Bloomberg needs to separate from his 12 year full-throated support of the program. That full-throated support shows through in a recently released recording of Bloomberg talking about the why and how of it. This from an article by Julia Musto titled “Trump: Bloomberg’s ‘stop and frisk’ policy sparked a ‘revolution’ in NYC, Giuliani was a ‘far better’ mayor”:

“Ninety-five percent of murders- murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops,” he said. “They are male, minorities, 16-25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city (inaudible). And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of people that are getting killed.”

Bloomberg also said urban crime-fighting required cities to “spend the money” and “put a lot of cops in the streets,” particularly in “minority neighborhoods,” where he said the crime is. He also acknowledged the “unintended consequences” of the policy.

“So one of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” Bloomberg is heard saying on the recording. “Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them... And then they start... ‘Oh I don’t want to get caught.’ So they don’t bring the gun. They still have a gun, but they leave it at home.”

I would contend that the quote above reflects Bloomberg’s strongly held position regarding stop-and-frisk. However, now that he is running for president, he proves malleable and does what the vast majority of politicians do; abandons a strongly held position even when there is a reasonable argument for the position that is being abandoned. Without doubt, the way Bloomberg said what is reported above is inflammatory, offensive, and deserving of a bunch of other negative labels. However, there is some sense to be made of his core points.

Let the record be clear: I cannot think of a scenario where I would vote for Bloomberg for any office…definitely not for president of this country. The challenge is to put that aside and honestly consider the facts of what he says: Crime is highest in minority neighborhoods; police should be more concentrated in high crime areas; male minorities commit crimes at an alarming rate; crime in New York did decrease substantially with stop-and-frisk in place; the possibility of unintended consequences should not automatically prevent taking an action.

Faced with an election-threatening public response, most politicians do what Bloomberg is doing regarding stop-and-frisk. They give in to the public will; no matter that there is substance and reason in the politician’s position regarding an issue. The public’s contribution to this response from politicians is that, in general, Americans no longer deal well with hearing and processing any truth that does not fit with their desires or personal self-interest. That’s why we have deficits and debt out of control, a Social Security System going broke, a health care system in shambles, illegal immigration flourishing, a Congress that is impotent…and that is just for starters.

We better find a lot more politicians with common sense and a backbone; while we, at the same time, find what it takes to deal with uncomfortable truth.

This, that and the other

03 01 WeinsteinHollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s historic convictions in New York last week on charges of sexual assault and rape continue to resonate among women across the United States and in other nations as well. It is the latest in a string of high-profile cases in which powerful men either lost their top-tier positions and attendant mega salaries or were convicted of sexual offenses or both. Think Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Les Moonves, Matt Lauer and on and on and on. Weinstein’s convictions add more fuel to the raging fire of the #MeToo movement, birthed by women no longer willing to tolerate sexual misconduct and assault in their workplaces.

Make no mistake.

It takes serious courage for victims of such behavior to come forward. They rightly fear loss of employment, maybe even loss of a whole career. Some fear for their physical safety. Some fear what others — family, friends, people they do not know — will say. “You should not have gone to his hotel room,” “your dress was too short,” “you had too much to drink,” “you wanted your job too badly.”

In addition, psychological professionals acknowledge the reality of “survivor’s  guilt” for sexual misconduct victims and others who have been abused in some way. “What did I do to cause this?” “Why did I keep quiet for two days, two months, two years, 20 years?” “Why did I remain in some sort of work or personal relationship with my abuser?”  
We will never know how many women continue to struggle with, and quietly endure, such conduct. What we do know is that what #MeToo has made breathtakingly clear is that “no” means exactly that — regardless of the context in which it is said. The New York District Attorney in Weinstein’s cases put it this way. “Rape is rape, whether it is committed by a stranger in a dark alley or by an intimate partner in a relationship. … This is the new landscape for sexual assault survivors in America.”
  
My guess is that Harvey Weinstein and other serial abusers wish they had learned that truth long before their well-deserved falls from the heights of money and power.

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03 02 debateA longtime neighbor, a true Southern lady, would have described last week’s Democratic debate as a “pluperfect mess.” She would have been right. A debate, it was not. A shouting match, it was, leaving CBS anchors Norah O’Donall and Gayle King at their wits’ end as they struggled to moderate the chaos and control the hollering candidates. Democrats, both candidates and voters, need to get a grip on all this sooner, not later. I can think of two words that might light a fire under Democrats to stop shouting and come together.

George McGovern.
 
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03 03 N1905P66005CHere is what North Carolina voters told pollsters from Elon University and several newspapers across our state just before North Carolina’s maiden voyage into Super Tuesday.

The deep and acrimonious political divide in our country is affecting our everyday lives. Two-thirds of us say partisan divisions make our lives uncomfortable at times.
Most of us support voter IDs at the polls.

Health issues loom large with most of us giving the U.S. health care system a grade of C.

Beneath that, more than three-fourths of us are satisfied with our health insurance.

At the same time, we say that government should be more involved with paying for health care.

Less than half of us believe our economy has improved since Donald Trump assumed the presidency.

More than two-thirds of us believe that finding housing is difficult for families earning less than $50,000 a year, and there is overwhelming
support for raising our state’s and our nation’s minimum wage.

It will be interesting to see if and how these professed opinions play out in voting booths all across our state.

No access to spare tire

16 spare tireWalt Brinker, 1966 West Point graduate, retired US Army infantry lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War veteran, retired civilian project manager, instructor at FTCC, and Eastover resident, has provided well over 2,000 free-of-charge roadside assists as a hobby. With experience from these assists he wrote a book, “Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns,” for the everyday motorist. He also set up a website, “roadsidesurvival.com,"  to help individuals, driver education teachers and law enforcement. This vignette captures one of his many assists along with lessons:

On July 11, 2014, as I was descending from a high level at the large parking garage at Duke Medical Center, I spotted an older Chevrolet pickup with a flat left rear tire and a family standing around. The 40-something year old male driver, whom I’ll call “Willie," looked at my car as I stopped and rolled down my right-side window and asked him, “What do you need?” He replied, “I need air." Turns out his tire had gone flat while his family was in the hospital. He asked if I could pump up his flat tire, and I agreed to. I asked him whether he had a spare tire and would prefer me to mount it. I showed him the plug in the pickup’s rear bumper, which would need to be unlocked with his ignition key and removed in order to insert the segmented shafts to engage the spare’s lowering mechanism. He showed me his ignition key, which was missing ¾ inch off its tip, so it would not unlock the plug. I asked him how he started his engine with that key. He replied, “I have to jimmy it to make it work.”

I also offered to use my jack and other tools to remove his flat tire, find and plug its leak and reflate it. Willie replied that one of his children had a medical disorder that likely would cause him to become upset during such a delay. So I used my compressor to reinflate Willie’s flat tire. I reminded Willie that he needed to get his tire fixed right away, since it soon would be flat again. Smiles, handshakes, lots of thank-yous and we departed.

Walt’s tips:
• Don’t set yourself up to fail, especially with a family in tow: Bad ignition key that would barely start the engine and would not permit access to the spare tire. Cost to replace an older vehicle’s key: $8-$10.
• Without access to the spare tire, it’s just like not having one.
• Stowing a 12-volt compressor permits re-inflating low and flat tires with slow leaks — and spare tires that have gone flat.

Houston (Astros), you have a problem! FTCC, you don’t.

02 FTCCTrojansI love sports. I specifically love baseball. After coaching 13 years, visiting The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and graduating from umpiring school in Austin, Texas, the game of baseball, with all its characters, history and traditions, is about as genuinely American as you can get. The excitement, anticipation, and sights and sounds of attending the season’s opening game never really leaves you. 

Now, for the first time this season, as I climbed the stairs to the top row of stadium bleachers and set my eyes on the bright green freshly cut grass embracing the newly raked infield soil of the baseball diamond, the joy and memories of experiencing America’s favorite pastime nostalgically rushed over me. That, my friends, was the feeling I had this weekend watching Joe Riddle III threw out the first pitch of Fayetteville Technical Community College’s second season opener in its new home at J.P. Riddle Stadium, Trojan Field. The stadium was built in the mid-80s through the generosity and benevolence of longtime Fayetteville resident, successful businessman and famed developer, the late J.P. Riddle Sr. and the Riddle family.

After three generations of baseball clubs — the Fayetteville Generals, the Cape Fear Crocs and the Fayetteville SwampDogs — the stadium was gifted to FTCC by Cumberland County commissioners as a sports and event complex to further the education, development and lifelong learning preparedness of FTCC students. There is little doubt the county commissioners’ decision was based on the assurance that the Riddle legacy and this valuable county recreational asset would both be maintained and utilized to the maximum benefit and enjoyment of the community. This decision was brilliant.

FTCC’s president, Dr. Larry Keen, and his competent and dedicated staff have displayed great vision and leadership. FTCC has an impeccable track record of academic success along with a reputation for unparalleled attention to detail and an exceptional commitment to excellence with every program the college engages in or develops. Again, FTCC has delivered. Trojan Field is beautiful, clean and well-manicured and will definitely be a proud showplace when it hosts thousands of out-of-town visitors during the season.

FTCC’s master plan includes opening up Trojan Field to outside commercial events as well as for use of local events like festivals, fundraisers and concerts. Congratulations to FTCC, and good luck to the Trojans. We look forward to supporting the team and spending time at Trojan Field.

Since we are talking baseball, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Astros’ sign-stealing/cheating scandal. Notice the media have dropped the adjective “alleged” when reporting on this unfortunate situation. Here’s what is bugging me. Little League opening day is right around the corner in April. At the Kiwanis Honeycutt Recreation Center, over 400 children will take to the baseball field. How many teams will be donning Astros uniforms? It’s a tough subject and situation to explain to a child, and, unfortunately, it is not going away any time soon — if ever. The Major League Baseball Houston Astros are cheaters, and baseball fans have long memories. Without a doubt, the Astros will have to deal with the realities that resulted from their bad behavior and tarnished reputations. Baseball fans can be unforgiving, and they have already been demonstrating their displeasure at spring training with a barrage of boos and jeers every time the Astros take the field or step up to the plate. And, rightfully so.

The MLB already had to issue stern warnings and penalties for pitchers who intentionally try to hit Astros batters. A serious situation? You bet. It is rumored that opposing teams are already strategizing to send their most expendable hurlers to the mound knowing that once the deed is done, they will be expelled from the game. Crazy, huh? Not only has the scandal tarnished the game, but many innocent lives have been destroyed —  not to mention the young aspiring careers that have vanished.

On the surface, there seems to be very little the Astros can do about it. Many have called for the MLB to revoke their 2017 World Series title. I agree with that. However, I doubt it will happen. Even if it did, it would not solve the dilemma. They are still cheaters and that won’t get them back into the good graces of the fans or baseball community, but I do have an idea that could be a possible solution and may start the healing process to get that crippled Astros ball club back into the good graces of the nation.

The Astros should publicly admit their wrongdoing and apologize to the baseball community. Then, they should voluntarily give up the 2017 World Series title and trophy. If they man up now, admit the wrongdoing and acknowledge how such a sinister act hurt the game of baseball by sacrificing the title, I have little doubt that over time, the fans and the baseball community would see the honor, sacrifice and dignity of such an action. Lesson learned. And, we all can be pretty confident it won’t ever happen again. I fear that unless this sincere action is taken, the Houston Astros’ reputation and brand have been damaged beyond repair.

Think about it. Anyone can make a mistake and ask forgiveness, but once you’re branded an unrelenting cheater, it’s a hard moniker to lose and it will make the Astros vulnerable to years of boos and jeers. The only way out is for them to do the right thing — now — or live with the consequences.

 We are thankful that all FTCC sports programs put an emphasis on character development. Let’s play ball!

Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.
 

Women may need to take extra steps to reach financial security

06 Financial advisorInternational Women’s Day 2020 is observed on March 8. This special day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Yet, women still face gender barriers as they seek to achieve their financial goals.

How can you address these challenges?

To begin with, you need to be awareof what you’re up against. The wage gap between men and women has closed somewhat, but it hasn’t disappeared. Full-time female employees earn about 82% of what men earn, according to the Census Bureau. Over a 40-year career, a woman who worked full time would lose, on average, more than $400,000 because of this wage gap, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Furthermore, a woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.5; for a 65-year-old man, the comparable figure is 84. Those two-and-a-half years can amount to a lot more living expenses.

Plus, by taking time off from the workplace to raise children and care for elderly family members, women often end up with lower balances in their 401(k)s and IRAs than men.

So, what can you do to help eventhe playing field, in terms of building adequate resources for retirement? Here are a few suggestions:

• Contribute as much as possible to your retirement plans. During your working years, put in as much as you can afford to your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Most people don’t come anywhere near the 401(k) contribution limit, which, in 2020, is $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re 50 or older, and you might not be able to reach it, either, but strive to do the best you can. And every time your salary increases, bump up your annual contribution. If you are able to “max out” on your 401(k), you may still be able to contribute to an IRA.

If your income exceeds certain limits, you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA, which offers tax-free withdrawals of earnings if you meet certain conditions, but you may still be able to fund a traditional IRA, although the tax deductibility may be reduced or eliminated.

• Use Social Security wisely. You can start taking Social Security as early as 62, but your checks can be larger if you wait until your full retirement age, which will likely be between 66 and 67. And if you’re married, you may be able to choose between claiming your own benefits or receiving 50% of your spouse’s benefits, which could help you if your spouse has considerably higher earnings. Your spouse does not lose any benefits if you choose this route.

• Look for every opportunity to save and invest. As mentioned above, women often lose out on some retirement savings when they take time away from the workforce to raise families and eventually become caregivers for elderly parents. But even if you aren’t working full time, it doesn’t mean you have no chance to boost your retirement savings. If you can do any paid work, whether it’s part time or as a consultant, you can contribute to an IRA — and you should.

It’s not easy to overcome the structural disadvantages women face when seeking to reach financial security. Taking advantage of the savings and investment possibilities available can help.

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