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, “,"  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.

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.

The curse of Silent Sam

04 imagesTrigger warning. If you are easily offended by anything, kindly skip this column and go directly to the cross word puzzle. Today will have something everyone can find offensive. Let me count the ways of those who will find this stain on world lit objectionable — fans of Silent Sam, enemies of Silent Sam, feminists, Dook fan and, most importantly, UNC Tar Heel basketball fans. If you fit into any of these categories, this column is not for you. It is my position that the Ol’ Roy and the Tar Heels’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good and Very Bad Season is a direct result of the curse of Silent Sam. Allow me to retort.

 Unless you have been living under a rock, and admittedly many Tar Heel basketball fans wish they were living under a rock, UNC’s round ball team is having less than its usual stellar season. I attribute this to the events of Aug. 20, 2018, when a mob tore down the statue of Silent Sam on McCorkle Place at UNC. Already the folks that tore down the statue are offended because I called them a mob. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Sam bit the dust and the troubles began in earnest.

 A bit of history of Sam. Sam was erected on the campus of UNC in 1913 by the Daughters of the Confederacy as a monument to UNC students who fought in the Civil War. At the dedication of Sam, Julian Carr gave a speech that included “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a Negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because on the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady…” If this statement doesn’t offend you, may God have mercy upon your soul, because I don’t.

Sam more or less stood around for the next 100 years. Like the Sphinx, he don’t say nothing. When I arrived on campus in 1970, as part of the official new student campus orientation tour, we were told he was called Silent Sam because when a virgin walked by he would fire his rifle. He never fired his rifle. We all laughed because this was way before the #MeToo movement. Herein, feminists are invited to be offended. So Sam’s name comes from a stupid joke. People who appreciate good jokes are herein invited to be offended.

 Toward the end of the 2010, protests about Sam gathered steam. The University managed to spend almost $400,000 protecting Sam from attack and vandalism in the 2017-2018 school year. Fun fact — in-state undergraduate tuition and fees for that academic year at UNC was about $9,000. Forty-three students could have received full scholarships to UNC for the cost of protecting Sam that year. Drums kept getting louder, and eventually, a mob pulled down Sam. Having worked as a lawyer for 40+ years, I do not believe in vigilante justice. The offense that Sam gave as a symbol of the Confederacy and slavery is understandable. The remedy the mob took in tearing him down is not. The legal system is supposed to deal with issues, not street violence.

 Having said that, the rule of law took a mighty strange turn after Sam went into storage in a “secure undisclosed location,” possibly with Dick Cheney. The UNC Board of Governors, ironically abbreviated as BOG, followed Dean Wormer’s advice and made a double secret deal with the Sons of the Confederacy. The BOG agreed to a settlement with the SOC to give them Sam and pay them $2.5 million dollars to give Sam a new home. Fun fact — that $2.5 million would have funded 277 in-state scholarships. As a spineless sweetner, the BOG paid the SOC $74,999 as a bribe not to come on the UNC campuses to demonstrate for five years. Apparently the BOG forgot Congressman C.C. Pinckey’s famous 1797 statement “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” Upon seeing the light of day, the BOG’s double secret settlement was roundly criticized and ultimately set aside by the same judge who originally approved it. Fifty-two thousand dollars of the $2.5 million was paid to the SOC’s attorney, and the SOC gets to keep the $74,999 in tribute to leave UNC alone. That $127,000 is gone with the wind, along with the 14 in-state scholarships it could have funded.

So what does this have to do with the Tar Heels’ basketball team? Sam has put a curse on the team. Sports curses are real. The Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1918 and didn’t win another World Series for 84 years. The Chicago Cubs evicted Murphy the Goat from game four of the World Series, which led to a 108-year absence from winning the World Series. The Heels have lost a series of heart breakers due to last-second miracle shots by their opponents. It’s the curse of Silent Sam expanding the goal for our opponents to the size of a hula hoop and shrinking UNC’s goal to the size of pin heads. Nothing else can explain what has happened in our winter of discontent.

 What is the remedy? Bring in the three witches from “Macbeth” to lay on an anti curse? Send Sam and the members of the spineless BOG on a long cruise on the good ship Corona Princess? Melt Sam down into commemorative coins and give half to the Sam protestors and half to the Sons of the Confederacy to sell to raise money for their respective causes? Pay the Dook refs more than Dook pays them?

 Some problems don’t have answers. But this losing of incredibly close games by the Tar Heels has just naturally got to stop. Mob rule versus double secret Spineless Board of Governors rule? Choose your poison. Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

Using mayoral position for personal gain

05 Colvins buildingDear Thomas Batson, Jeremy Fiebig, Gordon Johnson, Tiffany Ketchum, George Turner, Henry Tyson and Liz Varnadoe,

I recently read an article printed in the Feb. 5-11 issue of Up and Coming Weekly, “Six to one. Mayor wins. Fayetteville loses!” It describes how the current mayor of Fayetteville, Mr. Mitch Colvin, made significant changes to the exterior of his building, the old Kress building, located downtown. These changes were made without adhering to the Certificate of Appropriateness guidelines.

This has a serious consequence, as I see it, in that you, the Historic Resources Commission, would allow this to happen. The guidelines now become moot. What is the purpose of having those guidelines if you won’t adhere to them? After all, a 6-to-1 vote by the Commission allowing Colvin’s changes says that you would rather not even consider the guidelines put into place to protect downtown Fayetteville’s appearance that would apply to any business owner who operates in a building downtown, not just someone in a leadership position. Bruce Arnold, owner of Rude Awakening coffee shop, pointed out that the changes to the Kress building violated the COA guidelines. He voted against approval as each of you could have and should have voted, yet he was made a victim by pointing out the violation. This is appalling and shows a true lack of leadership on your part.

Why have this Commission? As for actions of leadership for a personal benefit, is this another case of being handed the keys to the Ferrari just after obtaining one’s driver’s license? A similar situation with downtown property will come up again with business owners who may want to make changes to suit their personal tastes.

Rick Bryant, Fayetteville citizen

Sunshine on a cloudy day

03 HandcuffsDonald Trump ignited one of his now expected and frequent firestorms last week by pardoning or commuting the sentences of 11 mostly celebrity felons, some of whose crimes shocked the nation when they occurred.  Most stunning, at least to this writer, was the commutation handed to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat. Blagojevich went to federal prison for proposing to sell former Senator Barack Obama’s US Senate seat when Obama was elected president, an effort graphically and profanely caught on tape. Blagojevich and Trump knew each other from the former governor’s stint on Trump’s reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and share an obvious fondness for poufy hairdos. 

Another lucky recipient of Trump’s forgiveness was former Fayetteville police officer Bernard Kerik, who once served as New York City’s police commissioner and was considered for U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.  He also worked as Rudy Giuliani’s chauffeur and bodyguard. Kerik was serving time for tax fraud among other charges when Trump swooped in to spring from the federal pokey. Plucking Blagojevich and Kerik out of their convictions indicates that Trump is untroubled by public corruption.
Trump’s use of his magic pen in these and other surprising moments of presidential forgiveness pleases some Americans, notably those who benefit from it, and horrifies and outrages others.  It also continues Trump’s relentless and unprecedented drive toward authoritarian leadership unmatched by any other American President.  Not even Richard Nixon attempted to change our fundamental balance of power so aggressively.

Perhaps most importantly, if inadvertently, Trump’s pardons and commutations spotlight our nation’s enormous and deeply troubled criminal justice system. Our nation incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, at this moment approximately two million people, most of whom languish in state prison systems.  Roughly thirty-six thousand people are in North Carolina prisons, another nineteen thousand in local N.C. jails, and another eleven thousand in federal facilities in our state.

One reason for our state and national mass incarceration is a sentencing system that piles on sentences for various offenses, often non-violent ones. This stems from “tough on crime” efforts in the 1970s.  A person convicted of multiple offenses at one time or over time stands to spend years in prison, although the laws may subsequently be changed.  In addition, our parole systems are often ineffective with parole officers too overburdened to make contact with parolees.  In addition, a minor parole violation — a missed court date, perhaps — can trigger long-term re-imprisonment.  North Carolina currently has about twelve thousand people on parole and a whopping eighty-one thousand on probation.

Conversations are ongoing in North Carolina and in other states, as well, about the need for bail reform.  Many people arrested for low-level criminal offenses, and some serious felonies, are unable to come up with resources to meet bail set by the court and find themselves waiting behind bars for months and sometimes years for their cases to be resolved.  People with similar charges but more resources do not face the same situation, which means the bail system is inherently discriminatory.
Trump’s seemingly random use of his magic get-out-of-jail-free pen garners headlines and creates much consternation, but it affects only a handful of the millions incarcerated in our nation.  That we lead the world in this sad statistic is deeply troubling.  The United States and North Carolina are overdue for a criminal justice system makeover both to reduce the staggering costs of incarceration and the human toll it takes on those in the system, their families and the people who work within the struggling system.

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