Almost firewood

18 chopped firewoodI recently added a new table to the WCLN studios. Nothing fancy. It was crafted from rough and flawed pieces of walnut boards I picked up somewhere. I decided to leave many flaws untouched and even finish it with raw steel hairpin legs as a nod to my oldest son — an artist whose chosen media was metal, before passing not long ago. Seeing the table each day has caused to me think about what craftsmanship means to me in the first place.

Like many people I know, my life is busy. My calendar would be full of gatherings of all shape and form if I dared to keep one. In fact, not acting surprised when I'm reminded of a birthday, anniversary, dance recital or social gathering I should have remembered is something I've developed into almost an art form. And as much as my wife and I are able to participate, we do. But I love to retreat, too.

More often than not, a retreat for me doesn't mean a getaway to the beach or the beautiful North Carolina mountains. Instead, it's more likely to involve an invitation for the family dog to join me on the short walk to the workshop behind our house.

In that calm respite from the busyness of daily life, I create things. Sometimes I work in the quiet with just my thoughts, and other times, I'll turn the music up to drown them out. I work with a number of materials, but wood is easily my favorite medium. The wood in my shop is comprised largely of castoffs. From exotic hardwoods to common lumber, I gather small or otherwise insignificant pieces from industries that see no need for them. To others they are scraps — one step away from firewood — but to me, each piece is a treasure.

More than a hobby, woodworking has become a reflection of the life I've been given to live. Occasionally, I'll make something on commission, but I rarely sell what I create. The whole idea changes the game. Woodworking is about seeing the individual beauty and usefulness of each piece of wood — large or small — and starting a process of preserving, preparing and giving that piece a new purpose. In short, it's about redemption.

Without the grace and redemption I found in Jesus Christ, my life would be nothing. I was probably considered a castoff by many when Jesus found me, but he saw something useful and has been preparing and preserving me since 1981, and even in the times when I feel I have nothing to offer, He assures me there is a greater purpose for my life. For every life.

Don't play politics with your portfolio

14 money puzzle WashingtonYou’re probably aware this is an election year. During the next several weeks, the candidates will discuss issues that should greatly interest you as a citizen. But as an investor, how concerned should you be with the results of the presidential and congressional elections?

Maybe not as much as you might think. At different times, the financial markets have performed well and poorly under different administrations and when different parties have controlled Congress. And after all the votes are counted, outcomes in the investment markets can be unpredictable.

Consequently, you’ll be helping yourself greatly by not making big moves in your portfolio in anticipation of new legislation or political moves down the line.

Of course, that’s not to say that nothing emerging from Washington could ever have an impact on your investment decisions.

For example, if a future president and Congress decide to change the capital gains tax rate, it could affect some of your choices, such as which stocks and stock-based mutual funds you should buy, and how long you should hold them.

Overall, though, your investment results will ultimately depend on actions you can take, including these:

• Making changes for the right reasons — While the results of an election may not be a good reason to make changes in your investment portfolio, other factors can certainly lead you to take steps in this direction. For one thing, as you get closer to retirement, you may want to shift some — though certainly not all — of your investment dollars from more growth-oriented vehicles to more conservative ones.
Conversely, if you decide, well in advance, that you might want to retire earlier than you originally thought, you may need to invest more aggressively, being aware of the increased risk involved.

• Following a long-term strategy — In pretty much all walks of life, there are no shortcuts to success — and the same is true with investing. You need to follow a long-term strategy based on your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon, and you need the patience and perseverance to keep investing in all markets — up, down and sideways.

• Avoiding mistakes — Many people think of an investment mistake as failing to “get in on the ground floor” of some company that ultimately grew to huge proportions. But it’s pretty hard to become an early investor in companies like these, many of which start out as privately held businesses without any stockholders.

Furthermore, companies with shorter track records can be much more unpredictable investments. However, you do want to avoid some real mistakes, such as chasing “hot” stocks. By the time you hear about them, they may already be cooling off, and they might not even be appropriate for your needs. Another mistake: failing to diversify your portfolio. If you only own one type of asset, such as growth stocks, you could take a big hit during a market downturn. Spreading your dollars over a wide range of investments can help lower your risk exposure. However, diversification by itself can’t guarantee a profit or protect against all losses.

After Election Day, regardless of the outcome, you can help keep your portfolio on track by not playing politics with it.

Cumberland County veterans and military families deserve leaders who will fight for them

04 Timmons Goodson headshotI owe a tremendous debt to the military. I am the proud daughter of a veteran, an Army 82nd Airborne Ranger, who was twice deployed to Vietnam. Early on in life, I learned the value of service and honor because I saw it up close in my father, who instilled those values in me. The military also became a support system that cared for my family after my father passed away and provided me with opportunities that changed the trajectory of my life. It’s because of this debt that I’ve dedicated my life to public service, giving back to my community here in Cumberland County, and why I’m running to represent North Carolina’s 8th Congressional district.

It is not fair for our country to ask for the kind of sacrifices required of our service members and their families, and then fail to uphold our promises to them. Time and time again, our leaders in Washington have failed to deliver on their promise, but I will put our military community’s needs at the forefront of my agenda.

The Veterans Affairs Department, an organization that my father depended on, currently has about 50,000 personnel vacancies. These staffing shortages make delivering quality, timely services to veterans more difficult during regular times, and has crippled the institution during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of late-September 2020, there were more than 3,000 active COVID-19 cases in the VA, with more than 3,300 deaths (including 56 employee deaths). It is absolutely unacceptable that the brave men and women who’ve risked their lives abroad are now dying at home because of failed leadership that’s kept their health care system understaffed and undersupplied.

But it’s not enough to just care for our veterans and active duty service members. Growing up with a father who was twice deployed to Vietnam, and with a mother who served as the primary caregiver, I know that when a service member serves, their family serves with them. Far too often, I meet military families who are struggling with the stress and challenges of having an active duty service member while also juggling the challenges of work responsibilities and child care needs brought on by the pandemic. Military families from all over Cumberland County need leaders who understand their struggles.

The voters of Cumberland County have my commitment that I will champion a well-staffed and well-funded Veterans Affairs department that: expands mental health services, addresses the alarming rates of suicide among our veterans, and receives COVID-19 funding that is specific to its needs. I will also always fight to make sure that our military families have access to high-quality healthcare, and that the educators of military children are well-equipped and well-trained to understand the unique experiences these children face.

It doesn’t stop there. Our veterans and military families will need a partner in the White House that respects and honors them, someone that knows from personal experience what it means to have a member of your family be deployed. We need a Commander-in-Chief that recognizes the heroism of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, not one that calls them “losers” and “suckers.” Joe Biden is the right person for the job, for this moment.

This year has been tough on everyone, but it’s been especially tough for the thousands of families in Cumberland County who have been left behind and disrespected by leaders who simply don’t care to understand their reality. I grew up right here in Cumberland County, and I know the struggles and the resilience of this community. It’s time to bring change to Washington, and for our county to be represented by leaders who keep their promises.

Pat Timmons-Goodson is a former associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. She is now running for Congress for North Carolina's 8th Congressional District.

Pictured: Patricia Timmons-Goodson

Who wins the debates?

05 podium speakersWhat is more interesting than the debates between candidates for major political offices?

Of course, it is the debate about the debates.

Some friends, well-informed and experienced in political activities, say the importance of such debates is vastly overrated. For instance, one said the recent first debate between North Carolina U.S. Senate candidates Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham was meaningless because nobody was watching.

They reminded me about the 1992 U.S. Senate televised debate between Terry Sanford and Lauch Faircloth. Most viewers agreed that Sanford won the debate with sharp authoritative responses to questions while Faircloth fumbled. But Faircloth came out on top when it counted.

Republican campaign consultant Carter Wrenn strongly disagrees. He thinks debates are critically important. Undecided voters are the key to winning elections.

To win their votes, they have to see a difference between the candidates on an issue that is important to them or on a difference in the way they handle themselves under pressure.

Wrenn is a legendary expert on developing hard-hitting campaign materials such as the ones Jesse Helms used to defeat Jim Hunt in the 1984 U.S. Senate race.

In a recent radio interview with Wrenn, I agreed with him about the importance of televised debates. Citing the 1960 presidential debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, I argued that demeanor of the candidates is a key factor.

Kennedy looked calm, cool, and collected, while Nixon was nervous, sweating, and fidgety.

A candidate who appears authoritative, courteous and nice has the edge, I said.

But Wrenn does not go along with my reasoning.

He says a debate is the place to take advantage of your opponent, to show the differences on matters important to potential supporters, to set traps and jump on the opponent who falls into one.

It is a battle, not a beauty contest, he said.

In their first debate, Tillis turned the tables on Cunningham and tried to trap him for saying that he would be hesitant taking a coronavirus vaccine if one were available by the end of the year.

Tillis called that irresponsible.

“We just heard a candidate for the U.S. Senate look into the camera and tell 10 million North Carolinians he would be hesitant to take a vaccine. I think that that’s irresponsible.”

In the next two debates Cunningham will have the opportunity to push back on the issue of irresponsibility of the Republican president’s campaign organizing coronavirus-spreading rallies in North Carolina.

These Cunningham-Tillis events are a warm-up for the presidential debates, beginning Tuesday, Sep. 29.

Wrenn took me back to his work in the Hunt-Helms race in which Helms overcame a 25% early lead by the popular Hunt. Wrenn remembers discovering inconsistencies in Hunt’s views on controversial issues. Then the campaign developed ads and debate themes in which Helms set out his positions on the then-current issues such as the Martin Luther King holiday, busing, school prayer and the Panama Canal "give away." Then Helms would ask, “Where do you stand, Jim?”

Wrenn said again that debates give candidates the opportunity to tell voters where they differ from their opponents.

Carter Wrenn and I do not agree on lots of things, but I think he wins the debate with my friends who say candidate debates do not matter.
Debates are gold mines and minefields for candidates and important for voters searching for candidates whose views and character are worthy of their support.

A woman in full

03 Ruth Bader Ginsburg official SCOTUS portrait croppedIn the days following her death, we have all been reminded of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy — championing of women’s rights in all areas of American life. By the time she arrived on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, she had already wiped more than 200 discriminatory laws — many gender-based — off the books, and she authored some of the most powerful dissenting opinions in American judicial history. She even wore a special collar on her robe when one of those dissents was coming.

Very personally for millions of American women, we now hold credit cards in our own names only because Ginsburg sued to remove formerly mandatory names of husbands and fathers. Born during the Great Depression and living well into the 21st century, it is more than fair to say Ginsburg’s steadfast and brilliant legal work changed the lives of women and families across our nation. She was an intellectual prize fighter disguised in the body of a tiny woman.

Historians will debate her legal legacy for generations, but it is important to understand that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a working wife and mother, and later grandmother, facing and knocking down the same challenges as other women of her generation. Even as a graduate of an Ivy League law school, she could not find work as an attorney because she had a young child. She was helped more than many of her contemporaries by a strong and supportive husband and enjoyed and happy 56-year marriage and remained close to her children and grandchildren until her death. In her later years, she unexpectedly became a pop icon, the notorious RBG, nicknamed after a rap singer, and she used her status to speak to generations of younger Americans.

Pundits are writing about RBG nonstop in the days since her death, but the Justice herself spoke about her life and career. It cannot be said that she did not understand exactly what she was doing and why.

On her career, Ginsburg made these observations.

“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. They just zap energy and waste time.”

“I don’t say women’s rights — I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”

“I am sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough (women on the Supreme Court)? and my answer is ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there have been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she has to do her work to the very best of her ability.”

On life in general and her life in particular, Ginsburg commented. “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

“I remember envying the boys long before I even knew the word feminism, because I liked shop better than cooking or sewing.”

“Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf. … That advice has stood me in good stead. Not simply in dealing with marriage, but in dealing with my colleagues.”

“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent her life, both public and private, making sure that “we, the people” includes all of us, men and women of all colors, backgrounds, and experiences.

Hers was a life very well lived.


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