Shape up or ship out: A travelogue from the Rhine

6 At first glance it appeared to be a floating nursing home, except all the patients were ambulatory. It was in fact, a Viking cruise down the Rhine River. I am a member of a certain age demographic that takes river cruises. We got a cheapo deal with a galley slave cabin on the Swan Deck. That means when you look out the porthole, you see the bottoms of water fowl.

Here is the Captain’s Log of floating through Germany. We had one prior trip on a large cruise ship with 5,000 of our closest strangers. The river cruise has only 195 fellow travelers which is preferable to a floating city. On the smaller boat you actually get to know some of your fellow sailors.

We traveled all night on the Dead Eye Flight to Amsterdam. Not much had changed since my last visit 50 years ago except for some new signs. Apparently, some visitors to Amsterdam have to be reminded of their manners. One sign said “No Public Peeing. It’s illegal” with a stick figure relieving himself. Another sign said “Don’t buy drugs from street dealers. The drugs can be poisoned.” Marijuana is highly legal in Amsterdam, but the government wants a cut of the revenue. Despite the signs, the streets smelled like 1968.

I went on an academic fact finding mission to the Red Light district to see if the ladies had changed their sales methods. Fifty years ago, hookers sat in the windows looking bored. In 2023, the granddaughters of those original hookers sat in the windows looking bored playing with their iPhones. I suspect the cooties remained the same.

Back on the boat while consuming adult beverages we were treated to a passenger karaoke chorus singing “How Deep is Your Love” and “Memories” from “Cats.” The horror. The horror.
We sailed into Cologne making the mandatory visit to the Cathedral which was impressive and cold. My wife, Lani, went to see a palace. I went to see the Ludwig Modern Art Museum. The museum’s overall collection was quite good. Unfortunately, for reasons only known to the curator, about half the museum’s walls were dedicated to a special exhibit by someone named Ursula. I like weird. I almost always find weird to be good. Ursula demonstrated that weird can be bad. I became trapped on a floor that was all Ursula all the time. For a few soul freezing moments it appeared I would never get out of Ursula Land.

Next port of call was Koblenz. We wandered into the excellent Hannelore Bar starring a one-man band alternating singing and playing a saxophone. When we walked in he was singing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” followed up by “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Until you can say you have heard these songs sung with a Bavarian accent, you cannot truly say you have lived. It was a peppy and cheerful place, far from home.

Shipboard is a challenge to self-control. There are 24-hour-a-day German pastries next to the free coffee. I failed miserably. Germans know their baked goods. They are delicious. (The pastries, not the Germans themselves). What mortal can resist apple strudel and coffee? Weight gain abounds. Each day featured a piano player tickling the ivories for our listening pleasure. One selection was the theme from the “Titanic,” seemingly an awkward choice for a cruise boat. I kept waiting to hear “Just Call Me Angel in the Morning” from “The Poseidon Adventure” but it didn’t happen.

Our ship’s social director was unfailingly polite and competent. However, in a World War II context, I would not have wanted him to be the commandant of my POW camp.

There are many locks on the Rhine. We passed the first one at night. The ship bounced sideways waking me up. At the time I did not realize it was a lock. I suspected an ice berg. The rest of the night I got up periodically to put my feet on the floor to see if it was wet and time to abandon ship. The floor remained dry.

Lani had an unhappy experience with a crab cake. It resulted in her breaking her 40+ year no vomit streak. It reminded me of when Seinfeld looked for the Black & White Cookie and tossed his cookies. Bigly sad. She did recover after a day. I went solo into Strasbourg, France, which has bounced like a ping pong ball between Germany and France for centuries. Now there is not even a sign on the bridge when you pass from Germany into France. Strasbourg supplied an excellent parade with weirdly dressed marching bands celebrating the end of winter. Bikers playing drums. Skeletons dancing. Dinosaurs prancing. Ghosts passing out candy to the kinder. It was groovy.

The procedure to go home was finely tuned and heavily Germanic. If you miss a check point, you stay in Europe. Our flight was out of Basel, Switzerland. Luggage had to be in the hallway by 3 a.m. On the van to airport at 4:30 a.m. Flight leaves at 6:30 a.m. It was not a night conducive to unfettered sleeping. However, all is well that ends well. We would go on Viking again.

Is 65 the new middle age?

5 I recently attended a “sprinkle,” and, no, it was not raining.

A sprinkle, I now know, is a small baby shower for a mother-to-be who already has at least one bundle of joy at home but who still needs a few little things for the new member of the family. This is especially true if the new arrival is a different gender than earlier kiddos.

I was, as far as I could discern, the oldest guest at the sprinkle. The honoree and her friends, most of whom were in some stage of pregnancy from undetectable to bursting at the seams, oohed and ahhed at all the sweet baby clothes and cuddly toys, and as the mother of three, the whole thing triggered all sorts of warm memories for me.

That said, the young mothers and mothers-to-be attending the sprinkle seemed at the time like a booming generational representation, but, in fact, it is my generation and those just behind me that are booming.
If life falls into 3 different stages — one’s individual childhood, the period when we have children, and when our children have children, it is the last group that is growing, not the first or second.

There are numbers to prove it.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States is joining the growing number of nations with significantly aging populations. Japan has the world’s oldest population with one out of every four people 65 or over, and some European nations, notably France, Spain, Germany and Italy, are fast heading in that direction.

Census data report that in 1900, a mere 4% of Americans were 65 or over. Currently, about 56 million Americans, or nearly 17% of us, are 65 or over, and projections are that we will reach the Japanese statistic of one in every four people by 2060.

High quality food coupled with a better understanding of nutrition as well as accessible health care have produced seniors who are healthy and active, with some on second or even third careers, playing tennis, and generally enjoying life in ways prior senior generations did not. We are living much longer than Americans of the past, with a life expectancy of around 76.

The babies coming to the mothers at the sprinkle can expect to reach 74 for the boys and 80 for girls. This is two decades longer than most Americans lived in the 1960s.

Clearly, old age is not what it used to be, but all this good news comes with bumps in the road. Younger working Americans are paying into Social Security for today’s pensioners, the same situation that pushed France to raise its retirement age from 62 to 64, causing riots in the streets.

Politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, are terrified to discuss this issue in public, but those chickens will come home to roost eventually.
In addition, not all seniors are healthy and playing tennis. Millions of us are in declining health with few options for care and profoundly lonely.

The precarious nature of old age is why Americans are concerned about the two geriatric frontrunners for President of the United States in 2024. Should we actually elect a leader staring down 80?
Old age is a concept, just like youth. It is also a fact. Just as we have begun to rethink what constitutes adulthood — is it age, physical size, or maturity of the human brain, we need to consider what constitutes old age.

The world is shifting around us, and it is time we figure out how to use all our human resources both appropriately and fairly.

Advisors can help package, market your business

18How challenging can selling a business be? On the surface, the prospect appears simple. First, you have a business and want to sell it, then you share that information and wait for a buyer. But the reality is both more complicated and more nuanced. Using a broker takes the pressure off you so you can focus on your business operations.

Few business owners understand everything involved in selling a business. Even fewer have the time in their busy schedules to manage the process. That's why working with a professional business advisor can help you sell your business with ease and confidence.

Have All Necessary Documents

To begin the process of selling your business, you need to gather all the appropriate documents for your advisor. You'll need to show the history and the potential growth of the company. Items to include are: tax returns, all leases and contracts, YTD financials, vendor and supplier information, current inventory, accounts receivable aging.

This information provides insight, allowing the advisor to create a potential buyer profile. It can also show the potential buyer their benefits.

Market Your Business

The next step is to determine how to best reach the right buyers for your business. There are many avenues a business advisor can use to successfully market a business for sale. This can range from using buyer lists or posting on digital platforms. Strategic research about other companies in the same industry will offer insight into the types of buyers you want to target; individual or expansion buyers who want to merge their businesses or acquire new ones.

Essential to the marketing process is only sharing information as needed for each stage of the process to potential buyers. The process begins with a 100% confidential advertisement to pique interest. Then targeted advertising efforts and outreach targeted toward buyer databases. Once a potential buyer expresses interest and signs an NDA, you can share a limited package of summary financials. The timing of the release of certain details is a successful strategy to keep the buyer intrigued.

Submit Your Paperwork

The final stage of due diligence involves releasing the last of the financial information once an offer letter of intent has been accepted by both parties. This is when you release full details like property information, bank statements, payroll reports, employee lists, job descriptions, and a full inventory. The bank will also order tax transcripts from the IRS directly.

Once you submit the paperwork and all parties sign off, you can celebrate the successful sale of your business and prepare for your next stage — whether it is a new challenge, retirement, or something else.
Business advisors can walk you through every step of the selling process. They can help you determine the market value of your business, assist you in gathering your assets and financial documents, find a buyer, work with the professionals such as wealth managers, accountants, attorneys, lenders, inspectors, and appraisers, and finish the sale. After all, you want the best price with the best terms for your years of hard work and effort.

Using an advisor and having all your paperwork in order can only help maximize the profit on your business sale.
Editor’s note: Ashley Kelsey is a Business Broker at Transworld Business Advisors of Eastern North Carolina.

Blue Cross Bill makes good sense

4 How often do the majority and minority leaders of any legislative chamber in America agree on a significant policy change? You can probably count those occasions on your fingers without putting down your coffee cup.

But one such example is unfolding right now in our state capital. Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) and Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham) are two primary sponsors of House Bill 346, which would loosen some state controls on the operations of Blue Cross NC. Bell and Reives are also, respectively, the majority and minority leaders of the North Carolina House.
Critics of the bill argue it represents a back-door attempt to transfer the value of the nonprofit health insurer into private hands.

Back in the late 1990s, some of these critics helped block a major effort to convert Blue Cross into a for-profit entity. The result was a 1998 law that requires the proceeds of any such sale to private owners to flow into a charitable foundation.

That was my position in 1998, too. While Blue Cross NC had by then become a fully taxed entity, much of its assets had been accrued during an earlier period when it benefitted from sizable tax breaks and other state assistance. If it were sold to private firms or shareholders, who would the buyers pay? Surely not themselves, the state, or the former executives or directors of the nonprofit.

It seemed prudent at the time to require any such for-profit conversion to result in an independent foundation dedicated to the health and wellbeing of North Carolinians.
It remains the prudent policy today. The bill Bell, Reives, and dozens of other state lawmakers are sponsoring this session wouldn’t change it. If the leaders of Blue Cross NC decide to sell, the proceeds will go to a foundation. Where I differ from the critics is that I see House Bill 346 as making a sale less likely.

Right now, Blue Cross is the dominant player in North Carolina’s market for private health plans. Indeed, it’s the only insurer selling policies in all 100 counties.

But health care is undergoing rapid change. Both federal legislation and industry trends have created increasing returns to scale. Local hospitals and other providers are merging, becoming parts of national chains. Insurers are also scaling up, in part to compete for the business of employers who operate across the country.

Among other benefits, these scaled-up companies can invest productively in new technologies, massive databases, artificial intelligence, and other lines of business that enhance their ability to control insurance premiums and promote wellness.

Generally speaking, however, the insurers don’t make investments directly, which would quickly run up against state-imposed caps on the investment of their assets.
Instead, they are organized as holding companies that own both the tightly regulated insurance company as well as affiliated subsidiaries.

Under current law, Blue Cross NC can’t do that. Moreover, as a “hospital service corporation” under state law, it faces not only a 10% cap on how much of its assets can be invested in non-insurance ventures but also an automatic trigger to convert to a for-profit company if it ever sold a significant interest in such a venture.

House Bill 346 would permit it to reorganize as a nonprofit holding company that would continue to own the nonprofit Blue Cross insurer as well as other affiliated companies and investments. The bill also stipulates that no current executives receive equity-based compensation from any subsidiaries created by the holding company and that any subsequent sale of Blue Cross would still put all the proceeds of that sale — from all lines of business — into a foundation.

The way I see it, the critics are mistaken about the bill. It would reduce the probability that some out-of-state entity will end up owning and controlling North Carolina’s largest health insurer.

That’s one of the reasons both Republican and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have lined up behind it. They see it the same way.

Editor's note: John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history (

Congressman addresses rights, privacy concerns

5What would the Founding Fathers think if they were here today?

In my opinion, it wouldn’t be self-driving cars or the internet that would surprise them the most. I think it would be the size of our government.

The entire executive branch used to fit inside of the White House. Yet today, executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards and commissions fill hundreds of buildings with millions of bureaucrats constantly seeking to expand their power.

Our government is meant to be responsive to the people. Our system of checks and balances was not set up to have un-elected bureaucrats making laws and rules that impact the everyday lives of you and your family.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden presented his budget to Congress. This reckless budget will grow the size of government even further and proposes trillions in new spending and higher taxes for you and families across the country. It will further increase our national debt and your cost of living — at a time when we suffer a $31 trillion debt and an inflation crisis.

This radical budget spends $16.5 billion on the climate and $3 billion for gender equity, yet just $40 million to combat the fentanyl crisis that is killing thousands of Americans. It also contains a staggering $1.9 billion to fund the ATF — directly declaring war on your Second Amendment rights.

I was proud to introduce a resolution last week to prevent the ATF from enforcing an unconstitutional pistol brace rule that targets law-abiding citizens and combat wounded veterans. As this bill is considered by the House, I will continue to support efforts to defend your constitutional rights, just as I continue my work to expand school safety and mental health.

In the Energy and Commerce Committee last week, I had the opportunity to question the CEO of TikTok and express my concerns with the social media app. As a parent, I'm very concerned about the ways in which social media companies impact our children’s behaviors and mental health. While many might consider TikTok to be just another video-sharing app, in reality it’s likely it has been functioning as a massive Chinese Communist Party surveillance program — and it is all in the palm of your hand.

As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, I have serious concerns about the opportunities TikTok gives the CCP to access non-public sensitive data from our military families.

I asked the TikTok CEO if the company can access other devices on your home Wi-Fi to collect data. He could not give me a straight answer. It should concern every American that his answer wasn’t “No.” I look forward to further addressing the threat this app presents to our national security in order to create a strong national data privacy standard that will put you back in charge of your data.

From reckless spending, to threatening your constitutional rights, to refusing to stand up to the Chinese Community Party, the Biden administration is a threat to the freedoms you hold so dear.

As your Congressman, I never stop working to solve problems facing you and your family.

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