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Putting lipstick on the election-fraud pig

03pigPoor North Carolina is suffering yet another black eye on the national stage.

Our latest injury was suffered — and the suffering is ongoing — in the 9th Congressional District, which currently has no representation in the U.S. House of Representatives because of a tainted election four months ago. Elections officials, state courts and the House all refused to certify the election or seat the Republican vote-leader because of suspected illegal tampering with absentee ballots in Bladen and perhaps Robeson counties. The North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has ordered a new election, yet unscheduled, which is shaping up to pit a Democrat with a substantial war chest against whoever prevails among a growing field of Republican hopefuls.

The situation has been front page and TV story material for weeks, as Republicans defended their candidate — who had hired a political operative suspected of election fraud and now charged with it.

In a twist worthy of Shakespeare, the federal prosecutor son of the Republican candidate, himself a Baptist minister, testified to the Elections Board that he had warned his father about irregularities in absentee voting as early as 2016. After tearing up in the hearing one afternoon, the minister-turned-politician stunned everyone the next day by announcing there should be a new election and that he would not be a candidate. Political pundits wondered whether the former candidate was worried about possible perjury charges.

It all made for riveting news from a state that has been in the spotlight too many times for all the wrong reasons in recent years, and the sad tale confirms some unflattering facts about North Carolina political life. It exposes questionable election practices that may have been going on for years, in at least some counties, and brings up possibilities that law enforcement and prosecutors may have been asleep at the wheel at best and turning a blind eye at worst.

It suggests that some candidates want to win so badly they will cheat to do so. And make no mistake. Voter fraud in which a person tries to or does vote illegally is not in the same league as election fraud, where numerous ballots, in this case absentee ballots, are cast illegally. Some say a few ballots were cast illegally in the 9th Congressional District, some say hundreds were, and it could have been thousands. Chances are that we can never know for sure, which is why voters will get a second chance to vote in a member of Congress.

All the news about this is not bad.

Our system did work, though slowly. When problems became apparent, the Board of Elections refused to certify the questionable election, and investigations began, resulting in the indictment of the alleged mastermind and the questioning of others. The fellow in Bladen County cannot be the only person to have figured out an absentee ballot scheme, so elections officials across North Carolina are now more aware of the nefarious possibilities.

The spotlight has also shone on the ridiculously gerrymandered shape of the 9th Congressional District, which runs from Charlotte almost to the Atlantic Ocean and contains parts of nine of North Carolina’s 100 counties. That in itself is a strong argument for constraints on partisan political gerrymandering. The General Assembly has several bills addressing gerrymandering before it this session. If you care, let your legislators know that you do.

Finally, the disaster that was the 9th Congressional District election and its upcoming redo send a message to all who value the election system that has sustained our nation for nearly 250 years. This system must be guarded and valued not just by elections officials and the criminal justice system but by all citizens.

The lesson is we must all keep our eyes open during election season.

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Something is missing at Fayetteville’s new gateway

02PubThe Rowan Street bridge is coming along nicely. Before you know it, we will enjoy one of the nicest, most beautiful and longawaited gateways into Fayetteville.

The Up & Coming Weekly office is at 208 Rowan St., practically at the foot of the bridge. So, we have had a bird’s-eye view of its progress. It’s pretty impressive. The timing is near perfect, coinciding with all the exciting development and innovations happening downtown. A stadium, a hotel, apartments, office buildings and businesses will result from this more than $100 million of economic development.

It’s all good, and I’m especially excited because next door to our office is 214 Rowan St. This is a vacant 6,000-square-foot commercial building that’s for sale. It’s stubbornly waiting to be leased or sold to the first entrepreneur who has vision and insight into the opportunities and needs generated by our growing community.

How do I know this? Because I am an entrepreneur, and I own the building. When I describe the building as “stubbornly waiting,” I’m referring to my steadfast determination to put a themed, upscale but moderately priced restaurant in that location. Preferably, a brew pub.

Why? First, location. Rowan Street is going to be a gateway into Fayetteville, with upward of 50,000 vehicles passing by that location every day. It’s in a convenient proximity to Festival Park, the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, our new baseball stadium and downtown events and amenities — all of which are within an easy 5- to 10-minute walk.

Secondly, after passing all the venues mentioned above, there are no restaurants or eating establishments in the area between Hay Street, Rowan Street and Bragg Boulevard — except the Subway at the Amtrak Station.

My formal educational background is in the food and hospitality industry, and I have owned and invested in several restaurants in Raleigh and Fayetteville the past two decades, including Mash House Brewing Company on Sycamore Dairy Road. So, I can tell you with confidence that people like to eat and drink on their way to and from entertainment venues and social gatherings. Currently, there are no dining destinations on this major gateway.

Thirdly, and my favorite — parking.Yes, there are more than 100 convenient parking spaces nearby. Imagine eating, drinking, socializing and parking all in one location that is only minutes away from the exciting sights and sounds of a vibrant downtown. Yep. 214 Rowan St. will be that prestigious destination if I have anything to do with it.

Unfortunately, aspirations like this do not come without a cost. My wife and two prominent commercial real estate brokers think I’m being bullheaded and stubborn for holding off and waiting for that specific, unique brew pub/restaurant entrepreneur to occupy the location.

I’m optimistic. Besides, I want to be one of the first patrons seated on the streetside dining patio enjoying a glass of wine while listening to a concert at Festival Park or the sounds of a cheering crowd at a Fayetteville Woodpeckers baseball game.

It will happen — but only for someone with vision into what the Fayetteville community wants, needs and will support. Is that you? If not, pass this article on to a friend.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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Don’t mess with Diana

04Diana People of Earth, how are you? Yoko Ono once posed that question, but no one answered. Let’s take a shot at the same issue. Earthlings seem to be in the midst of a passel of super moons. Every time you turn around, there is a new super moon. We used to have regular moons. With social media, every time the lights go out, we seem to get a super moon.

In January we had the Super Wolf Blood Moon. In mid-February we had the Super Snow Moon. On March 21, we will get to enjoy the Rosie O’Donnell Super Moon to celebrate Rosie’s 57th birthday. All this reminds me of Andy Williams singing “Moon River.” If one thinks of Andy Williams, who can forget his one-time girlfriend Claudine Longet? In 1976, Claudine shot her thenboyfriend Olympic skier Spider Sabich. However, I digress.

All the super moons put me in mind of the mythological Diana, who was the goddess of the moon and the hunt. Let us pose the musical question: If Diana were around today, what would she think of the multitude of super moons? To answer this question, it is helpful to get forensic background information about Diana. Let us proceed.

Diana was the daughter of Jupiter and his baby mama, Latona. Jupiter was the King of the Gods. Diana’s brother, Apollo, got a concert hall named for him. Diana came from the upper 1 percent of the gods. She had a very low tax rate, in keeping with her high station. Diana was the Ivanka Trump of goddesses.

One thing about Diana — she did not like surprises. Ponder what happened to Actaeon, who was out hunting with his buddies one day on the first day of deer season.

It was noon on a sweltering day. Actaeon and pals had been out hunting with dogs all morning and were pretty tuckered out from their adventures. Acty (as his friends called him) told his buddies to sit in the shade and have some brewskis to recover for more hunting that afternoon.

The boys did not have to be asked twice. Pretty soon, everyone was getting sloshed. Acty was counting carbs, so he passed on drinking. He wandered off into the woods to take a look-see, leaving his buds behind with the Carling Black Labels. Unknown to Acty, he was in the same forest in which Diana had a cave where she would hang with her posse, the nymphs. Diana was in the process of skinny-dipping in the cool pond outside the cave when Acty blundered into the sacred circle. The nymphs shrieked, “Man in the hall!”

They tried to shield Diana’s nekkid body from the prying eyes of Acty by standing in front of Diana. However, nymphs are short, and Diana is tall. The height disparity allowed Acty to get a full gander at Diana in her birthday suit.

Diana was not amused by Acty’s ogling. She tried to reach for her bow and arrow to skewer him, but it was out of reach. Instead, she scooped up a handful of pond water and threw it in Acty’s face. She yelled if you can, that you have seen Diana naked!”

This wasn’t ordinary pond water. It was the Perrier of magic pond water.

When the water hit Acty, he started to grow antlers. His neck got longer. His hands and feet turned into hooves, and his skin became covered with brown fur. As Gomer would say, “Surprise, surprise!” Acty turned into a deer.

He freaked out and started running through the forest trying to cipher what to do next. He ended up by a lake to take a drink. He looked at his reflection and realized he had morphed into a deer. He tried to speak but encountered word retrieval problems, discovering he couldn’t talk. All he could make were deer noises. Things quickly got worse.

Who let the dogs out? About this time, his dogs caught wind of Acty and started chasing him. Acty took off running over hills and dales, not appreciating the irony that he had just been doing the same thing to Bambi’s mother a few hours earlier.

Acty’s alpha dog was Melampus. Melampus was the first canine to catch Acty and put the chomp on him. The other dogs caught up and pulled Acty down to a gruesome but chewy death. Acty’s buddies kept whooping and hollering for Acty to come watch the fun, not realizing that Acty was being turned into dog chow by his very own dogs Oh, the humanity.

Meanwhile, back at the pond, Diana was icily satisfied with Acty’s painful demise. You did not mess with Diana.

As Tony Soprano once said, “Revenge is a dish best served with cold cuts.” If Diana had been a character in the movie “Porky’s,” none of the teenage boys who spied on the girls’ shower room would have made it home for supper. They would have all been turned into venison stew in the school lunch room.

So, what have we learned today? Respect women’s space. In the #MeToo era, there are a lot of Dianas out there who won’t put up with men’s mess. Ending up as deer sausage is not a happy outcome. Ask Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, R. Kelly, Steve Wynn or Charlie Rose.

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Can government make us happy?

05Govt Is it the job of government to make you happy? While it may seem like a straightforward question, there are some important subtleties packed into those few words.

On the face of it, “no” feels like the obvious answer. Our country’s Declaration of Independence states that governments are instituted to secure our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The first section of our own state constitution uses the same language, while adding that North Carolinians are also entitled to protection of their right “to enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.”

Under our form of government, you are not entitled to be happy. Nor are you entitled to enjoy the rights of someone else’s labor. You are free to yearn, to strive, to pursue. You may reach your goals and feel happy about that. Or, you may not fully reach your goals yet derive satisfaction from the attempt and from what you gain along the way.

Governments are obligated, then, only to protect your right to pursue happiness. Simply being unhappy is not a justification for governments using coercion to transfer the fruits of other people’s labors to you.

On the other hand, the tasks governments are constitutionally authorized to do for us — ensure public safety, administer courts and finance public goods that cannot otherwise be delivered by voluntary means — are obviously related to our happiness. We pay taxes, comply with the law and otherwise give up some of our personal liberty in order to receive valuable public services. If we don’t get them, or their value is far less than the cost, that understandably makes us unhappy. As government failures increase, that unhappiness turns to anger.

Whether in Washington or in Raleigh, policymakers typically judge public policies according to objective criteria such as the pace of economic growth, changes in personal incomes, levels of educational attainment or health outcomes. Increasingly, however, some analysts are using measures of public happiness or satisfaction to evaluate what government does (or fails to do).

The technical name for what they are measuring is “subjective wellbeing.” People differ in their preferences, circumstances and definitions of a life well lived. The best way to gauge how happy or satisfied they feel is to ask them, not to make guesses based on facts external to their personal experience.

When it comes to the optimal size and scope of government, progressives and conservatives clearly disagree. In the North Carolina context, for example, progressives think our state expenditures and taxes are too low to finance necessary public services. Conservatives think North Carolina is closer to getting it right and that making state government bigger than it is now would cost more than the additional services would be worth.

I’m a conservative, and I often cite studies about economic growth to support my case. But is that really the goal? One might argue that instead of measuring North Carolina’s gross domestic product, we ought to be measuring North Carolina’s gross domestic happiness.

A few researchers have done that kind of analysis. For example, a study by Baylor University political scientist Patrick Flavin, just published in the journal Social Science Research, compared levels of state spending to levels of subjective wellbeing. He found no relationship between overall state spending and residents’ self-reported happiness. He found the same thing for major categories of state spending such as education and public assistance.

However, Flavin did find the states that spent more on true public goods — including highways, public safety, libraries and parks — tended to have higher levels of subjective wellbeing. With true public goods, it is either impossible or prohibitively costly to exclude nonpayers from benefiting from them, and consumption by one person doesn’t significantly reduce the ability of another to consume it.

Taken together with other studies showing a link between economic freedom and subjective wellbeing, I read this evidence as generally consistent with a fiscally conservative approach to public policy. Perhaps you disagree. I’m happy to talk more about it.

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Love, 21st-century style

03Love Valentine’s Day 2019 has come and gone, leaving in its wake warm and fuzzy memories and wilting red roses.

But not for everyone.

Older Americans, it seems, are increasingly striking out on their own by choice and by choices made by Mother Nature. According to data released by the Senior List, divorce is rising among Baby Boomers — people born to parents in the post-World War II years 1946-1964. For Boomers, now aged 55-73, the divorce rate has tripled. For those 50 to 65, it has merely doubled over the last few decades.

This is a contributing factor to television and online ads for dating apps targeted to seniors — ads featuring good-looking seniors smiling and chatting as they maneuver online dating and meet other attractive seniors to ride bikes or have cocktails.

The reality, however, is more complicated and less attractive. Most people between 55 and 64 are already married, and the pool of those who are not shrinks daily, as obituaries attest. Throw in various health and financial issues, and senior dating slides down the priority list.

Some states have hotter dating scenes than others, though, and the Senior List has ranked them. The top five states— Maryland, Hawaii, Connecticut, Alaska and Virginia — have relatively low but growing rates of single seniors, in the 12-13 percent range, and That means the dating pools are expanding and that senior singles have disposable incomes to enhance their social lives.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi come in last for senior dating. Their pools of single seniors are declining, though not by much, and none of them have average senior incomes above $50,000. In other words, these states have fewer eligible senior singles.

Where is North Carolina in all this senior dating data?

The Senior List puts the Tar Heel state at No. 43 with about 12 percent of our population in this demographic, which is barely growing and whose average income barely hits $50,000.

It turns out that the most successful place for single seniors to find love is not a state at all. Both women and men 55 and up have the best chance of finding love in Washington, D.C.

Could Congress possibly take credit for this?

For more information, visit www.theseniorlist.com.

The situation may not be so great for Americans on the younger end, either.

In its December 2018 cover story, “The Sex Recession,” The Atlantic reported that for all sorts of reasons, young adults are having less sex. Factors include helicopter parents, living at home into their 30s, fixations on social media, dramatically rising levels of professional and educational achievement of women, and some not generally covered in Up & Coming Weekly. The bottom line is, today’s young folks are starting later, dating less and entering fewer romantic relationships than their parents did.

It is tempting to dismiss these changes as personal situations, but they have significant implications for all of us. America’s declining birthrate is already an issue for colleges and universities, whose pool of traditional applicants is diminishing annually. Will we become a nation of old folks, like Japan and Italy?

Researchers tell us, and we know instinctively, that meaningful relationships of all kinds and at all ages make us happier and help us live longer. Chronic loneliness leads to depression and has been equated to the health risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

All of us, no matter our ages and marital status, should make a daily point of putting down our phones, peeling ourselves away from our computers and reaching out to other people. We may help someone else. We may make new friends. We may find a new and more interesting job. 

We may even find the loves of our lives.

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