Navy to Commission Littoral Combat Ship Charleston on Saturday

The Navy will commission its newest Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS), the future USS Charleston (LCS 18), during a 10 a.m. ceremony Saturday, March 2, at Columbus Street Terminal in Charleston, South Carolina.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina will deliver the commissioning ceremony’s principal address. Charlotte Riley, wife of former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, is the ship’s sponsor. The ceremony will be highlighted by a time-honored Navy tradition when Mrs. Riley gives the first order to “man our ship and bring her to life!”

“The future USS Charleston is proof of what the teamwork of all of our people – civilian, contractor and military – can accomplish together,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “This ship will extend the maneuverability and lethality of our fleet to confront the many challenges of a complex world, from maintaining the sea lanes to countering instability to maintaining our edge against renewed great power competition.”

The name Charleston has a long and storied history in the U.S. Navy. The first Navy ship to bear the name Charleston was a row galley that defended the coast of South Carolina during the Quasi-War with France. The second Charleston (C-2) was a protected cruiser that received the surrender of Guam during the Spanish-American War. The third Charleston (C-22) was a St. Louis-class protected cruiser that performed escort and troop transport duties in World War I. The next Charleston (PG-51) was an Erie-class patrol gunboat that earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one battle star for her service in the northern Pacific during World War II. The fifth Charleston (AKA-113/LKA-113) was an amphibious cargo ship that served during the Vietnam War.

The future USS Charleston is a fast, agile, focused-mission platform designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation. It is designed to defeat asymmetric “anti-access” threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines and fast surface craft. The ship will be homeported in San Diego, Calif.

The LCS class consists of two variants, the Freedom variant and the Independence variant, designed and built by two industry teams. The Freedom variant team is led by Lockheed Martin, Marinette, Wis., (for the odd-numbered hulls). The Independence variant team is led by Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., (for LCS 6 and the subsequent even-numbered hulls).

The ceremony, using hashtag #USSCharleston, can be viewed Saturday morning on the Navy Live blog.

Vacant properties plague struggling U.S. cities

Despite a drop in numbers across much of the United States since the recession, vacant and abandoned properties continue to dog struggling postindustrial cities, tearing apart neighborhoods with growing intensity, according to a report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Since the 1990s, vacancies have become more widespread in cities such as DetroitCleveland, and St. Louis, former industrial powerhouses known as legacy cities, researcher Alan Mallach writes in the Policy Focus Report The Empty House Next Door: Understanding and Reducing Vacancy and Hypervacancy in the United StatesThese vacancies are driving property values down, hurting cities’ financial health, and contributing to higher crime rates. At the same time, cities have had some success with strategies to rehabilitate, selectively demolish, and reuse vacant properties as new housing or green space.

The report analyzes U.S. Census and Postal Service data for 15 legacy cities — ten large and five small — as well as for magnet cities such as San Francisco and Boston, and Sunbelt cities such as Phoenix and Dallas. The report focuses especially on two indicators: hypervacancy, the condition in which at least one in five properties sits vacant, and so-called “other vacancies,” a Census term for properties sitting unused and not for sale or rent — effectively abandoned.

A few decades ago, hypervacancy was limited to a handful of neighborhoods but now characterizes large swaths of many cities. In 2015, more than 49 percent of Census tracts in Flint, Michigan, 46 percent of tracts in Detroit, and 42 percent of tracts in Gary, Indiana, suffered from extreme hypervacancy, with more than a quarter of units vacant in each tract.

At such levels of vacancy, “the market effectively ceases to function,” Mallach writes in the report. “Houses sell, if they sell at all, only to investors at rock bottom prices while the neighborhoods become areas of concentrated poverty, unemployment, and health problems.”

Meanwhile, the number of units that are effectively abandoned has increased by 2.1 million units nationally, from 3.7 million in 2005 to 5.8 million in 2016, an increase roughly equal to five times the entire housing stock of San Francisco. These properties represent less than a third of all vacant properties in magnet and Sunbelt cities, but about half of all vacancies in large legacy cities and roughly two-thirds of vacancies in the smaller legacy cities, which face the greatest economic challenges, as detailed in the report Revitalizing America’s Smaller Legacy Cities.

The Empty House Next Door describes barriers to addressing vacancies, including cumbersome property tax foreclosure processes, and state laws and bank practices that lead to thousands of properties being stuck in foreclosure limbo.  Legal tools including “spot blight” eminent domain, vacant property receivership, and land banking have helped communities gain control of abandoned properties in some cities, but are unavailable or under-utilized in others.

Some cities have pursued strategies to promote reuse of vacant property. In Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio, collaborative public-private efforts have combined strategic demolition with rehabilitation to make refurbished homes available to new buyers at affordable prices. Baltimore uses receivership to place vacant properties in the hands of for-profit and nonprofit developers in targeted areas with market potential, putting 1,300 units back to use since 2010.

In neighborhoods with less redevelopment potential, cities have converted vacant properties into green space. Cleveland, for example, published a catalog of potential green uses for vacant land and worked with a nonprofit partner to make $500,000 in grants to 56 small parks, rain gardens, and agricultural projects. In Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has pioneered an inexpensive, low-maintenance approach to greening more than 7,000 vacant lots.

With inspiration from these successes, the report recommends that cities collect better data on vacancies, remove legal impediments to reuse, adopt and use strong legal tools, use public strategies to overcome obstacles to market-driven reuse, make greening a long-term strategy, and balance demolition with rehabilitation as part of a larger strategy for revival.

The Equality Hypocrites are at it again.

You know those hippy throwbacks who think it would be cool if everyone was “equal” like the Constitution guarantees? Just a heads up, the guarantee is for equal access to succeed, not a guarantee for equal success.

This president can’t seem to grasp that truth. He has a hard time grasping many truths. And now, he’s given illegals, yes, the people who came here by breaking the law, a leg up over hard-working, tax-paying Americans.

One of the first in-your-face insults was him pushing states to give in-state tuition to illegals. And once again for clarity… these people are here illegally, breaking the law, and not paying taxes. It just shows his disdain for the American way of life. Veterans can’t even get the same privileges. They have to live in a state for the state’s designated residency period before they are considered a resident who qualifies for in state tuition. Maybe they should renounce their citizenship and run up from south of the border into the arms of California Governor Jerry Brown who recently told all illegals (and anyone thinking about coming to America illegally) to come to California they were welcome here! And Governor Brown won by big numbers in California, they deserve him!

Mr. Obama has opened previously closed military bases (remember, they were too costly to keep open). He flew in medical supplies with staff to treat the recent influx of Illegals coming across the border. This was a “humanitarian act” according to Mr. Obama. Wouldn’t it also have been a humanitarian act to reopen bases to help our vets? But it appears President Obama wouldn’t think of flying in medical personal to help our vets to shorten the time it takes them to get help because of the costs. Really Mr. President? Do you disrespect us that much? I guess you really do believe Americans are stupid.

Mr. Obama, you send Eric Holder into Ferguson to threateningly suggest that there is much more going on there behind the scenes with the police than actually is. How about you send him in to the VA with threats and a guarantee that many will lose their jobs if they don’t get their act together?

Remember when you told us that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would not pay for abortions? Remember that? Remember you said there was no money in there for illegals to get healthcare? Not to mention all that “keep your doctor,” “cheaper rates,” “better policies,” you know the “Obama bucket-o-lies” bit.

So then we find that there actually is money for abortions in Obamacare in the form of the morning after pill, abortions for “emergency reasons,” “rape and incest.” Mr. Prez, I know you have a word problem, but abortion is abortion. And when the government pays for them that is taxpayer money not yours.

Now you have given 5+ million illegals the ability to take more American jobs and drain the system. Let’s do this at a Sesame Street level so you can understand. You see, once the “illegals” feel free to roam about the country, employers will be able to hire them, and still at a lesser rate than their American counterparts. The jobs they leave open will be back-filled by more people coming over the border because the president will not do anything to secure the borders any more than they are today.

He claims that Republicans wouldn’t sign an immigration bill that included the hiring of over 30 thousand more border patrol personnel. Nice try! Would you have given those new border patrol agents the same “rules of engagement” the current border patrol has? Because if that was the plan, then they would be just as useless as you’ve made the current border patrol. Our poor border patrol agents have their hands tied so badly that even they say they should just stay home.

The president’s claims on “deportation numbers” are bogus. He is counting only those that are caught and released at the border. His numbers are dismal for deporting those here in jail or living in the shadows.

Read more at TheRealSide

#MeToo Leader Allegedly Paid Off A Man She Sexually Assaulted


by Rob Shimshock

A leader of the #MeToo movement allegedly paid off her own sexual assault victim after accusing film producer Harvey Weinstein of a 1997 rape in October 2017.

Italian director and actress Asia Argento, one of Weinstein’s first public accusers, apparently paid actor and musician Jimmy Bennett $380,000 in exchange for his agreement not to sue her after she allegedly sexually assaulted him in 2013, The New York Times reported Sunday. Argento was 37 years old and Bennett was 17 years old at the time of the incident.

“We hope nothing like this ever happens to you again,” Argento’s lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, wrote in an April letter to Argento. “You are a powerful and inspiring creator and it is a miserable condition of life that you live among shitty individuals who’ve preyed on both your strengths and your weaknesses.”

Bennett’s own lawyer, Gordon Sattro, described a “sexual battery” perpetrated by Argento on Bennett that affected both the musician’s mental health and income, in a November letter he sent to lawyer Richard Hofstetter, who was then representing Argento.

Bennett asked Argento for $3.5 million in damages for lost wages, emotional distress, battery and assault. The actor had made over $2.7 million in the five years leading up to the alleged 2013 incident, but he has since earned an average of $60,000 per year.

Argento obtained the copyright for a May 9, 2013 photo from Bennett featuring the two of them lying in bed as part of the parties’ agreement. The New York Times obtained access to this photo via an encrypted email from an anonymous party.

Bennett cannot sue Argento for sexual assault, as per the parties’ agreement, however, Goldberg told Argento that the musician could publicly address the claims.

“In the coming days, Jimmy will continue doing what he has been doing over the past months and years, focusing on his music,” Sattro told The New York Times.

Argento did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The New York Times. Her late boyfriend, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, committed suicide in June.

IRA Claims Responsibility For Bombs Found In London, Glasgow

The IRA claimed responsibility for four letter bombs found in London and Glasgow Tuesday, telling police there is a fifth explosive that has yet to be found.

The four devices arrived at three buildings in London and the University of Glasgow on March 5 and 6, CNN reported. Police issued a statement saying the devices resembled those used by “dissident groups associated with Northern-Ireland related terrorism,” and that police opened a line of inquiry into that possibility.

The IRA first claimed responsibility by contacting a local news station in Northern Ireland on Monday, with police confirming that the caller used a code word common in the IRA, according to CNN. The mail bombs also sported Irish stamps and postmarks, according to The Irish Times.

“This was a reckless and cowardly attack on the entire community. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the people who carried out this act,” Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said. “We must work together to reject those isolated groups who would discard the accomplishments of the peace process for all communities on these islands for their own narrow objectives. Their futile agenda will not succeed.”

The individual who claimed responsibility specified that three devices had been sent to commercial targets and the remaining two were sent to British army recruitment centers, according to The Telegraph. One of those devices remains unaccounted for.

Authorities in the U.K. have contacted businesses with instructions on how to address any explosive devices they receive.

4 Major Military Events That Happened On Christmas

On Christmas Day every year, many Americans relax and enjoy time with their families. For many of our troops, though, it can be a day of sacrifice and hardship.Over the history of the U.S., several big military actions have taken place on December 25. Here are four noteworthy ones.

1776: Washington’s Famous Crossing of the Delaware

The winter of 1776 didn’t start as a good one for Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army. They suffered many defeats in the first few months of the American Revolution and had been pushed out of New York and New Jersey into Pennsylvania. For the troops, morale was low.

Washington needed to renew faith in the battle for independence, so he decided to surprise the Hessians – German troops hired by the British – who were stationed in Trenton, New Jersey. He figured that doing so after the enemy’s Christmas celebrations would find them groggy and unprepared for a fight, especially as a terrible winter storm was brewing.

So late Christmas night, Washington and his troops hopped in boats and waded across the icy Delaware River to test his theory – and he was right. At dawn on Dec. 26, about 2,400 frozen Continentals pushed into Trenton, and they did indeed surprise the enemy, who surrendered within an hour and a half.

The mission, which became known as the Battle of Trenton, was of huge significance to the Continental Army’s cause. Not only did it raise the troops’ spirits, but it revived the hope of the colonists, who were beginning to think their battle for independence wasn’t feasible.

1864: The First Battle of Fort Fisher

For most of the Civil War, North Carolina’s Fort Fisher saw very little combat. But that changed on Christmas 1864, when the Union decided it wanted to capture the last port the Confederates held on the Atlantic Ocean.

It was a debacle for the Union.

First, the Union tried to pack a warship with explosives and blow up the fort’s walls — but that didn’t work. It just blew up their ship and alerted the Confederates of an imminent attack. So on Christmas Eve, the Union tried again, bombarding the fort with heavy gunfire, most of which fell short or missed its target.

On Christmas morning, Union commanders decided to shell an area north of the fort so troops could land and come ashore. But when they did, more disappointment followed — the fort’s heavy artillery was completely unscathed, so that was a no-go, too. It was only then that the Union ordered troops to retreat.

While the first Battle of Fort Fisher was a massive failure for the Union, the second wasn’t. In mid-January 1865, Union troops were finally able to capture the fort, effectively cutting the Confederates off from global trade and supplies. The Civil War ended three months later.

1972: Operation Linebacker II in North Vietnam

American troops were in the middle of the biggest bombing mission in military history during the Christmas season of 1972. The air campaign, called Operation Linebacker II, has largely been considered the action that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

President Richard Nixon ordered the bombings to begin on Dec. 18 after North Vietnamese delegates walked out on peace talks. Nicknamed the “11 Days of Christmas,” the operation consisted of 11 successive days of raids by B-52 Stratofortress bombers flown in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

The only day that both sides got a reprieve was Christmas, when troops were given a 36-hour break to celebrate. During that time, Nixon ordered the North Vietnamese to return to the bargaining table. The North Vietnamese refused, so the bombings continued until Dec. 29, when they agreed to resume peace talks.

In 11 days, Linebacker II dropped 15,000 tons of bombs via 729 U.S. Air Force sorties involving about 12,000 airmen. Defense Department records show the raids destroyed or damaged 1,600 structures, 500 rail targets, 10 airfields and 80 percent of North Vietnam’s electric-generating capacity. Fifteen U.S. B-52s were also destroyed in the process, killing 35 men and leading to the capture of nearly 40 American prisoners of war.

The resumed peace talks that came from the campaign led to the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973. The U.S. ended its involvement in the war soon after, but the last American troops wouldn’t leave the country for another two years.

1896: “Stars and Stripes Forever” is Written

While this wasn’t exactly a military action, it’s definitely a symbol of America’s military might.

John Philip Sousa, who grew up during the Civil War, was a talented musician who became a long-time director of the U.S. Marine Band. Known as the “March King,” he was a rock star of his time, eventually starting his own band in 1892.

On Christmas Day 1896, while crossing the Atlantic on his way home from a European vacation, Sousa’s lasting legacy came to him. He said the notes for “Stars and Stripes Forever” were born out of homesickness and fond memories of his time as the Marine Band’s leader.

The iconic song officially became America’s national march in 1987.

So this holiday season, while you’re enjoying leave, family, friends and feasts, think of some of your fellow troops, past and present, who had to forgo their holidays for the greater good of the country.  While you’re at it, you might even want to put on “Stars and Stripes Forever” in their honor.

Have a great holiday season, everybody!

Four Reasons You’ll Pay More At The Pump This Summer


by Robert Donachie

A combination of geopolitical events, environmental regulations, and rising demand will beset U.S. commuters with higher-than-average gas prices this summer.

Pump prices typically rise during the summer months as Americans take to the open roads for vacation trips. Currently, the national average price for gasoline is about $2.80 a gallon — a sharp uptick from $2.40 during the same time in 2017. Almost half of all gas stations across the country are selling gas at $2.76 a gallon or higher, and 17 percent of stations are selling at $3.01 or higher, according to a May 4 Axios report. Pump prices are expected to climb even higher in the coming months.

Four main factors are driving prices: OPEC, Venezuela’s economic collapse, environmental regulations and higher demand.

After several years of falling oil prices, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, more commonly known as OPEC, reached an agreement with Russia two years ago to limit global oil production. Their deal has proven largely successful. Global oil prices have risen from around $30 a barrel in January 2016 to over $65 today.

Venezuela sits atop the greatest oil reserves in the world, but socialism has a way of complicating the easiest of jobs. Once an oil exporting behemoth, the South American country has watched production screech to a halt as the rest of its economy shutters. Output fell by 100,000 barrels a day in February. Production has reached its lowest point in 70 years, according to The Central University of Venezuela. The situation has aided OPEC’s goal in cutting global production.

Non-geopolitical factors will also lead to higher prices this summer. State and federal regulations require the use of summer-grade gasoline, which is more expensive to manufacture. These environmental rules obligate refineries to switch to a cleaner, higher-priced form of gasoline every summer compared to the winter season. Additionally, the summer months are indicative of travel season. Thousands of American families will be driving and flying across the country, consuming more gas and driving demand.

There are fears in President Donald Trump’s administration that costly gas prices will hamper the economic gains made in the past year. GOP-led tax cuts have boosted growth, but pain at the pump could stymie economic progress. In fact, Trump took to social media to voice ire at OPEC for manipulating prices:

Watch: New “Rivalry” Trailer for Cars 3

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez, with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!

Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3 opens in theaters in 3D June 16!

Olympic Medal Winners Face a Tax Hit

In his third Olympic Performance, Michael Phelps won a total of six medals: four gold and two silver. His performances in the thirtieth Olympiad is sure to bring big financial awards, but his performances are also going to cost him.

Every American who won a medal in the London Olympics will receive cash rewards from the U.S Olympic Committee. Each gold medal winner will receive $25,000, each silver medal winner will receive $15,000 and each bronze medal winner will receive $10,000 respectively. This means when Michael Phelps returns to the states, he will be collecting a healthy $130,000 from the USOC.

Phelps with his record breaking 19th Olympic Medal

However, Phelps will also be taxed for each medal he received. For each gold medal, Phelps will have to pay the IRS approximately $9,000, for each gold, $5,400 for each silver, and if he would have earned a bronze, $3,500.

Soon after stories surfaced about U.S. Olympic athletes facing deep financial hardship, some Washington politicians have offered and supported a bill that would offer the athletes a reprieve.

Republican law makers led by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown introduced a bill named Olympic Tax Exemption Act last week. The bill has already gained the support of President Barack Obama.

“Our young athletes endure years of grueling training and make enormous sacrifices so they can represent our country on the national stage and make us proud. Our thanks should not come in the form of a giant tax bill from the IRS.” Brown said when asked about the bill.

Follow Me on Twitter @chrisenloe.

AMAC Explains How Social Security Survivor Benefits Work

As an answer to a question posed in a letter to the editor, the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) published an explanation of how survivor benefits work for widows and widowers.

Widower Seeking Answers About Social Security

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

As a widower, you could have started receiving a survivor benefit from your wife at 60 years of age, though it would have been reduced by about 28.5% for claiming early. But you haven’t really lost those benefits because you can still claim them, and they won’t be reduced as much now because you’d be claiming closer to your widower’s full retirement age (FRA) of 66. In your specific case, your “widower FRA” is 4 months earlier than your normal FRA of 66 plus 4 months, because a survivor’s FRA is determined by subtracting 2 years from their actual birth date. Since you were born in 1956, Social Security uses 1954 as the date to determine your FRA for survivor benefits.

Since you are now 62 (turning 63 soon), you have a choice to collect either your own benefit or your survivor benefit, and which one you should choose depends upon which one would be highest when it reaches maximum. Your survivor benefit will reach its maximum when you reach your widower FRA; your own benefit will reach its maximum at age 70. You might choose to collect your survivor benefit first and allow your own benefit to grow until you are 70 when it would be about 29% more than it would be at your normal FRA. Or, if your survivor benefit at your widower FRA would be more, you could choose to take your own benefit until your survivor benefit reaches maximum at your widower FRA.

But there is one catch you should consider. Any time Social Security benefits of any kind are taken before one’s full retirement age and you continue to work, you will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings test.” That means if your earnings from working exceed the annual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019), Social Security will take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, and they’ll withhold that from future benefits until they recover what you owe. Once you reach your normal full retirement age the earnings limit goes away, and you can earn as much as you like without penalty. For clarity, when you reach your normal full retirement age they will recompute your benefit and give you time credit for any month’s benefits withheld, which will increase your benefit slightly allowing you to recover some (or eventually all) of the withheld benefits. But exceeding the annual earnings limit before your reach your normal FRA will cause you to lose current benefits for some number of months.

Provided that your finances, your health and your expected longevity allow it, and provided that your own benefit at age 70 will be more than your survivor benefit, you may want to consider a strategy of postponing your own benefit, and also delaying your claim for the survivor benefit until it reaches maximum at your widower’s FRA. Then at your widower’s FRA (66) you could claim 100% of your survivor benefit, while allowing your own benefit to grow to maximum at age 70. In this way you would avoid any lost benefits from exceeding the earnings limit, you would collect the maximum survivor benefit between your FRA and age 70, and at that time switch to your own higher benefit for the rest of your life. This, of course, is but one of several scenarios you have available to you being dually-entitled to both survivor benefits and your own Social Security retirement benefit.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity.