Holy moly! What is going on with us?

03 MargaretSince the early 19th century, Americans have put our money where our mouths have been when it comes to education. We began with significant funding for public education for primary grades, high schools and ultimately, colleges and universities. North Carolina was way ahead of other states by founding our new nation’s first public university in 1789, an institution we know today as UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Education has never been a perfect system in our nation. It has been spotty both in accessibility and quality. Women and minorities were shut out initially, and small institutions in the hinterlands cannot compare to Harvard, Yale or UNC-Chapel Hill. Space is limited in almost all institutions, and price is always a factor.

Nevertheless, most Americans believed then and believe now that education is the great leveler and that it has the potential to lift all boats. We believe that a college education is not the only ticket to a successful and productive life but that it is definitely a boost in the right direction. The numbers bear out that belief, with college graduates consistently out-earning those with less education and enjoying more stable lives in other ways as well. 

In 2019, in an atmosphere of profoundly toxic and divisive partisan rancor, faith in the value of education has taken a hit and it, too, is along party lines. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center released study findings earlier this month about an undercurrent of public dissatisfaction — even suspicion — according to the Center, regarding higher education in our country. Fully 12% more Americans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect than agreed with that statement earlier this decade. Almost all of the negative growth is among Republicans and independents who lean Republican. Democrats and independents who lean Democratic continue to view higher education as they have in the past, and their view is “overwhelmingly positive.” 

Both Republicans and Democrats are concerned with the rising cost of higher education and with equity in the admissions process to protect qualified students from less advantaged families. Beyond those concerns, 79% of Republicans, predominantly senior citizens, worry about professors bringing their own politics to school with them while only 17% of Democrats express that concern. In addition, Republicans and Democrats have veered apart on what they see as the purpose of higher education. Both agree that higher education should prepare a student with skills and knowledge to be deployed in the workplace, but Democrats are more likely to cite personal and intellectual growth as well.

These changes in attitudes about higher education fly in the face of generations of belief that education enriches us, both individually and as a society. Increased negativity toward higher education begs the question — if we do not see higher education as valuable for our nation, what will replace it in our society? Will we be able to compete in growing economies that do stress, value and support higher education? Will we lose in a world where education attainment is an international currency?

The Pew Research Center frames the issue this way.

“This broad overview of data on views about higher education in the U.S. reveals a complex set of attitudes — a public that still sees the benefit of a college education but has grown weary about the politics and culture on colleges campuses and the value of a four-year degree that has an ever-increasing price tag.

“The partisan gaps underlying these views are reflective of our politics more broadly. From health care to the environment to immigration and foreign policy, Republicans and Democrats increasingly see the issues of the day through different lenses. But views on the nation’s educational institutions have not traditionally been politicized. Higher education faces a host of challenges in the future — controlling costs amid increasing fiscal pressures, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the jobs of the future, adapting to changing technology and responding to the country’s changing demographics. Ideological battles waged of the climate and culture on college campuses may make addressing these issues more difficult.”

Most Americans believe that education is the great leveler and that it has the potential to lift all boats. 

The blessing of gratefulness

11 GRASS IS GREENERSummer is all but gone. Yes, the heat is still hanging on, but soon we'll cross the Labor Day bridge and the pumpkin spice everything will be just ahead on the left.

These past few scorching months I've thought a lot about contentment and realized I have developed an innate ability to look at someone else’s life and notice exactly what their problems are. I even know how to fix most of them. I think or say things like, “Well, if only they would …"  and whatever follows provides the perfect hindsight they need to never have gotten themselves in the fix in the first place. I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course. 

But seriously, I've come to realize many of us have a similar problem: envy. We observe someone else's life and we begin to count their blessings. Maybe it's the cars they have in their driveway, the home they live in, the job they have, or how beautiful their kids are, and we think "Well, yeah …They only have that because they  _______________.” And then we secretly resent them for it.

If you're a Bible reader, you can find a ton of advice about the dangers of envy within its pages. Envy will kill friendships, destroy families and lure you into a pit of debt you may never climb out of. It leads to bitterness, causes stress and will keep you from experiencing the joy of living the life you've been given. There's a simple phrase that can be applied here: “If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, then water your own lawn.” 

As routines get back to normal following the go-go-go of summer, I urge you to consider this — count your blessings. Not compare your blessings. Take a serious inventory of all the good in your life. If you woke up this morning, that's one. If you woke with a bed beneath you and a roof over your head, you've already outdone many in this world. How about the clothes you put on after the warm shower? See how this works? It's a matter of counting even the smallest for what it really is — a blessing. And therein lies the path to genuine contentment.

Whether you ascribe to the Christian faith or not, you can nab some really good advice from a  talk Jesus gave — like a really early Ted Talk — which some refer to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” He drew some comparisons and correlations between envy and anxiety, talked about helping one another and the needy and even had some really practical advice on everything from anger to dealing with the bullies of the world. Check it out for yourself in the book of Matthew, chapters five and six.

Make gratefulness a thing in your life and in the lives you influence. Thank God relentlessly. Thank people, too, more than you think you should. Realize what you have, and thank God again. The payoff comes when a true sense of gratitude turns what we have into enough. 

When the selfish quest for power alienates reason

04 karlThe quest for power is probably acceptable where the aim is to better conditions for people or in some situation where correction is needed. However, when having power becomes the end in itself, reason gets thrown to the wind. Those seeking power focus so totally on gaining it that any capacity for applying reason or productive thought is alienated or put out of sight. The responses of many politicians, most media and some citizens, to the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, point to the truth in that statement.

As I start writing this column on Aug. 6, 22 innocent people have recently died as a result of the El Paso shooting and nine in Dayton. Many others were injured in these incidents. The responses by politicians, most media and a substantial portion of the American citizenry were predictable. There has been a rushed return to calls for gun control, addressing racism and eliminating white supremacy. 

We have done this dance time and again across more years than I care to remember. The one new twist is that Democrats and their cohorts now look for ways to blame every mass shooting on President Donald Trump.

I am sitting at my desk writing while listening to Joe Biden, former vice president and now a candidate for president, speaking in his role as a candidate. He went on for several minutes excoriating Trump, while in my estimation, saying nothing about how we might successfully address the plague of mass shootings. There is reporting that he has proposed an assault weapons buy-back program. Biden is not alone in this unproductive response to the scourge of mass shootings in America. Even more disturbing is that nobody in the political class, or sadly, hardly anybody else in this country, has the guts to seriously address the multitude of devastating problems that plague us as a nation.

There is a major component of our inability to solve the seemingly overwhelming problems that challenge the continued existence of our nation. We have become a nation almost devoid of connection to God. Like it or not, despite their failings and shortcomings, the founders of this nation were people of faith and started a country based on the principles of scripture and the values and the beliefs consistent with the example of Jesus and the call of God. America has just about completed the 180-degree turn from being guided in our actions by those God-given principles.

In my estimation, the destructive results of this turning show up in two primary ways. The first is that a person who is angry, filled with hate, or even mentally deranged, has no positive set of values or beliefs that constrain evil, sinful behavior. Consequently, people like these most recent shooters, whatever their unhealthy state of mind, do their choosing in a belief framework that determines a mass shooting to be acceptable. 

The second result is that when we seek to address destructive events such as a mass shooting, it is done absent of any self-examination in light of God’s principles for individual and societal living. That is, no attention is given to where we have strayed from the ways of God and how that straying might contribute to our current dreadful state of being. Further, apart from a few people praying in the safety of their homes and churches, there is no seeking of God’s direction as we deal with the crushing conditions that we face. 

I contend that if we were looking to God, we would recognize how far, as a nation, we have turned from God and his principles. We have become a nation where almost any behavior is accepted. In such a circumstance, nobody should be surprised that some would conclude that mass shootings are justified and acceptable. That is what is possible in a society that so completely turns from God.

Lacking any honest self-assessment and seeking of God’s direction, we get exactly what we are getting; politicians and others responding in ways that serve their self-interest. It s the same old solutions, with the addition of the “blame Trump” piece. It would take real guts to employ an approach that might get to the heart of the matter and produce real solutions. The obstacle is, if you get to real solutions, the mass shootings issue will go away for the 2020 presidential election. The same is the case with border security, infrastructure, reducing national deficits and debt, and so on. Democrats do not want to fix any of these issues because it would give Trump a win.

If you doubt the truth of that preceding paragraph, consider this: Democrats and their supporters have been screaming that Trump should work to unify the country. Among other actions, they said he should call out white supremacists, promote racial healing and decry hatred. In a speech this week, he did all of that. After the speech, The New York Times ran an article headlined, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.” An article by Mike Brest titled, “New York Times changes headline on Trump shooting response after presidential candidates slam them” reported as follows: “Following the outcry of condemnation, The Times then changed the headline to ‘Assailing Hate but Not Guns.’ The photo that went along with the story was also changed. The new photo is captioned, “A vigil at Horizon High School in El Paso for Javier Amir Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student who was fatally shot at a local Walmart.”

The Brest article includes statements from Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill de Blasio. They were joined by some media persons and general public members in complaining about the headline. The problem is that they do not want the president to pursue unity. His doing so would adversely impact their 2020 strategy of portraying Trump as a destructive force in America.

The point here is that we are inhabitants of a nation that was built on Judeo-Christian principles. The nation has deserted those principles. Looking to God for direction is under successful attack. In this atmosphere, people seek, by any means necessary, to gain and hold power. Because this quest for power is selfish, reason is alienated, nearly non-existent.

This alienation of reason shows through in how mass shootings are addressed. Consider the El Paso shooting. I have not been able to get access to the manifesto written by the shooter. Here is what Christina Maxouris writes in an article titled, “The El Paso shooting suspect wrote a ‘manifesto,’ police say. It was filled with anti-immigrant and racist language.”

“The writing is filled with white supremacist language and racist hatred aimed at immigrants and Latinos, and the author says he opposes ‘race mixing’ and encourages immigrants to return to their home countries.

“Some of the language of the manifesto reflects ideas from President Trump, Fox News and the modern Republican party. For example, the document warns of a ‘Hispanic invasion’ and says Democrats are using ‘open borders’ and ‘free healthcare for illegals’ to attract new voters.

“The writer cites a fear that an influential Hispanic population in Texas would make the state a ‘Democratic stronghold.’ But he says ‘the Republican Party is also terrible’ because the GOP is, in his mind, pro-corporation, which could lead to more immigration.

“The author says he’s held these beliefs for years, before Donald Trump became President.” 

In this “selfish quest for power” atmosphere, the points in that summary that resonate with millions of law-abiding Americans are disregarded, and this mass murderer is labeled racist, white supremacist and hate-filled. His chosen response to all that he viewed as unacceptable in America was horrible, and he should not have done what he did. However, reason calls us to honestly examine why this man did what he did. That includes growing up in a nation that has: nearly completed total desertion of God; implemented a moral code where almost any conduct is acceptable; moved to limit, and even threaten, the speech of those who challenge liberal orthodoxy; substantially started toward, where politically advantageous, disregarding the law in allowing people to illegally enter America and live here unimpeded while receiving health care, financial assistance and so forth. 

Reason says stopping unacceptable behavior requires being honest about why it happens. Our problem is that in a nation almost devoid of connection to God, the selfish quest for power is alienating reason.

 The founders of this nation were people of faith and started a country based on the principles of scripture and the values and the beliefs consistent with the example of Jesus and the call of God. 


Meg Larson takes the low road

02 MEg LarsonThis week, publisher Bill Bowman yields his space to Elizabeth Blevins.

Hope Mills had a banner summer. Our dam won a second prestigious award, our military recruiters were recognized as the best in the nation, four Dixie Youth ball teams won state championships and competed in the World Series, our food truck rodeo and farmers markets continue to grow, our staff played an integral role in the Cut My City campaign, Grandson’s was recognized in Our State Magazine, three sculptures were donated to the town, we formed a Hope Mills Art Council, the Hope Mills lake is once again open for recreation and our fire department achieved an ISO rating of 2, which is practically unheard of in a municipality this small.

What’s not to like about our Hope Mills community?

Well, Commissioner Meg Larson couldn’t find anything positive to say when she appeared on a WFNC local talk radio program Aug. 19. She didn’t mention any of these things. Instead, she continued her attacks on Mayor Jackie Warner while promoting her latest conspiracy theory that Warner is guilty of colluding with Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper publisher Bill Bowman to — ironically — make the town look bad.

Why would he do that? 

Larson is no stranger to conspiracy theories. In 2014, long before her stint in politics, her penchant for muckraking led her to believe former-Commissioner Bryan Marley was guilty of a conflict of interest with the town. Larson gathered information, “relevant” ordinances and general statutes and handed them off to the district attorney for investigation. Unfortunately for Larson, he didn’t agree, and Marley was exonerated based on unsubstantiated information. 

Not long after, she repeated the same process when she accused former-Commissioner Edwin Deaver of having a conflict of interest with the town. Like Marley, Deaver was exonerated. 

In 2018, the newly elected Commissioner Larson began to immediately and privately investigate long-time mayor, Jackie Warner. Larson was convinced the mayor colluded with her son, Teddy Warner, and members of Lone Survivor Foundation by scheming to sell a municipality-owned piece property to the veterans’ organization. As each allegation was investigated, no evidence was found to support such a conspiracy. Eventually the allegations were dropped. By January it was evident Larson wasn’t going to stop the harassment. She convinced the board to hire an outside investigator to determine if there was any wrongdoing by the mayor’s office. 

Larson presented the independent investigator with a three-inch binder complete with accusations, printed ordinances and general statutes she wanted him to use in framing the investigation. The investigation concluded four months later at a whopping cost to Hope Mills taxpayers of nearly $30,000 and with the full exoneration of Mayor Warner. The independent investigator delivered the results to the Board of Commissioners in late May and concluded the unfortunate circumstances were caused as a result of “rookie mistakes.” 

That was obviously the kindest thing he could say about the situation since the rookies were commissioners Larson, Mike Mitchell and Jessie Bellflowers.

After all this, one might think Larson would be deterred from antics like this and focus to creating policy for the good of Hope Mills and its residents. Not so. By July, she was again making accusations and posting ordinances and statutes, this time declaring one of the candidates for the Board of Commissioners couldn’t hold an official campaign kickoff on municipal property. Again, she was wrong. Town Attorney Dan Hartzog was tasked with making the decision. More wasted time and money. 

For most of Hope Mills, it wasn’t a surprise when Larson took to the airwaves last week and started hurling accusations and character assassinations. 

Larson began her radio tirade by explaining she ran for office two years ago because she didn’t like the decisions the previous board was making and felt they were wasting taxpayers’ money. It’s ironic since this board just wasted $30,000 on a needless investigation and spent $25,000 on a survey for a “temporary” driveway and parking lot for the golf course. 

To date, the board has appropriated a quarter of a million dollars for the Historic Preservation Committee, which has yet to produce anything for the town. Yet Larson vehemently attacks and accuses publisher Bill Bowman of writing articles “retaliating” against the board when they chose to not renew the Up & Coming Weekly newspaper Hope Mills Initiative in 2018. She continues to falsely contend that Bowman expected the town to pay $28,000 a year for “good news” articles that he wanted the board and the staff to write. 

Ridiculous. Bowman has explained the purpose and intent of the Hope Mills Initiative to Larson and the rest of the board — a point made to Larson in person on two different occasions and in print on two other different occasions. 

Larson also accused Mayor Warner of soliciting me to start a blog for the purpose of discrediting her and the board. Again, ridiculous. I posted a lengthy article on Dec. 5 explaining why I started my blog. In it, I said very clearly that Commissioner Mitchell was using social media to attack Mayor Warner, her son and various staff members. I hadn’t spoken to Jackie Warner in years, but she called me and asked that I watch a video of the meeting. I did watch the video, and I was disgusted by the behavior of Mitchell and Larson. I decided that day to start the blog. 

Larson claims the mayor objected when the board wanted to make changes to plans the previous board had already agreed upon. Warner actively encouraged this board to move forward, specifically with Phase II of the lake plan. The previous board worked with the Lake Advisory Committee to choose a design for Phase II. The plans were drafted and paid for. This board simply had to accept a bid and begin the project. Had they done so, the bulkhead and the boardwalk would have been completed prior to summer 2018. But Mitchell delayed the process multiple times, insisting they wait for the newly commissioned Comprehensive Plan. That plan wasn’t delivered to the board until July 2019, costing delays and more money. 

Larson spent more than 20 minutes on air during Cumulus WFNC’s “Morning Show” feeding red meat to disc jockey “Goldy” Goldberg, who cannot hide his disdain for Bill Bowman and Up & Coming Weekly. Larson and her accomplice, Goldberg, continue to bash and spread lies about the Hope Mills mayor and other supporting commissioners, Bill Bowman, Up & Coming Weekly, Earl Vaughan and me and other private citizens they accuse of launching a smear campaign against her with the mayor’s help. 

In mid-July Larson announced she wouldn’t seek re-election to the board and will instead support Warner’s opponent, Mike Mitchell. She could have used the radio time to expound on Mitchell’s merits and accomplishments or announce his campaign platform. Instead, she used it as another opportunity to bash and discredit Warner, who has consistently beat Mitchell in all his bids for the mayor’s seat. 

Perhaps it’s best that Larson, who has mentioned on several occasions that she’s not a politician, chose not to run again. It seems her dislike for the previous board didn’t make her any more motivated or qualified for the job. 

Truth to power! We love this town. We are media and take full responsibility for what we say and write. That’s what community newspapers do. It’s also why Goldy doesn’t have Bill Bowman on his show anymore. As Bill would say, “Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.”

Pictured: Meg Larson 


Who Knew?

03 MELANIA copyLove him or loathe him, Americans know a great deal about Donald Trump. We know about his three marriages to foreign-born and/or women who model. We know about his five children with three different mothers, and we know about his nonexistent wellness routine involving a penchant for fast food. 

We know much less about the personal lives and habits of most of the contenders for the Democratic nomination, all of whom want to oust Trump. At last Google, 24 Democrats — not all of them household names by any means — have announced the candidacies. Most of us know next to nothing about most of them — other than political positions, and probably not much of those. 

In addition, for only the second time in United States history, there is a chance that the presidential spouse might actually be a first gentleman, not a first lady. Here are three men staring at that possibility. 

The Huffington Post says Bruce Mann is the husband Elizabeth Warren refers to as “sweetie.” The presidential hopeful couple live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Bailey, their golden retriever, when they are not on the campaign trail. Married for nearly 39 years, they met at a law conference in Florida and married in 1980, after Warren proposed to Mann in a college classroom. Like his wife, Mann’s career has been as a law professor, though she got tenure at Harvard before he did. Huff Post speculates that Mann, who favors front-zip sweaters, would wear traditional suits by American designers for inaugural events.

Kamala Harris also married a fellow lawyer, Douglas Emhoff, a partner in a Los Angeles-Washington firm and a transplanted New Yorker. The two met on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. Shortly thereafter, Emhoff dropped to his knee and proposed. Harris said yes, and they celebrate their fifth anniversary this month. Harris calls Emhoff her best friend and sous chef, because they enjoy cooking together. Emhoff is Jewish, and Huff Post speculates that his holiday theme for the White House would involve multi-cultural celebrations.

Jonathan Gillibrand, whose presidential-hopeful wife, Kristen, took his name when they married in 2001, is a British national and business consultant. The couple met on a blind date. When he proposed using a snowball as a prop to hold the engagement ring, the bride-to-be almost threw the snowball at a squirrel before she realized she should open it. The couple has two sons. Huff Post speculates that he would want pints of Guinness served at the White House Christmas Party.

Huff Post forgot a fourth potential first gentleman, Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Pete Buttigieg. At 29, he is by far the youngest of the first gentleman hopefuls. At the moment, he is on leave from his job as a Montessori teacher in South Bend, Indiana, helping his husband campaign for president. The couple met four years ago and married in June of 2018, making them potentially the first same-sex couple to live in the White House. Chasten Buttigieg has been quoted as saying his priorities as first gentleman would be improving public education, access to arts education, and mental health.

Moving along, other aspects of the campaign trail are getting attention as well. 

The Huff Post also wanted to know how candidates in the crowded field are taking care of themselves — physically, mentally and spiritually. 

Cory Booker says that in the mornings he exercises, meditates and reads something not given to him by his staff.

Kamala Harris says she goes to spin cycle classes and cooks for herself, adding this. “You have to work out. … It has nothing to do with your weight. It’s about your mind.”

Kirsten Gillibrand works out in the early mornings in women-owned studios and also attends Christian worship services.

And, former Vice President Joe Biden? According to his staff, Biden stops regularly on the campaign trail for a scoop or two of ice cream, which they view as a form of self-care.

Perhaps that is why Biden remains the Democratic frontrunner.

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