Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary
Columnist

What I would ask Gen. Petraeus

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS - U.S. General David Petraeus, with his wife Holly seated behind him, testifies at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in this June 29, 2010 file photo.

Here’s the question I would like to ask former CIA director David H. Petraeus: Was the affair worth it?

As you probably know, Petraeus handed in his resignation after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, a married, military reservist and author of his biography, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”

The whole affair (pun intended) makes me wonder why people risk so much, including, in many cases, their livelihood?

“Power and success give people a sense of invulnerability,” Mira Kirshenbaum, clinical director of the Chestnut Hill Institute in Boston said in a USA Today story. “A lot of guys like Petraeus have worked awfully hard, and yes, they have a lot to show for it, but day-to-day mostly what they face is more hard work. Where’s the big reward? An affair can seem like a long-deserved perk.”

The Petraeus scandal could also engulf the career of Gen. John R. Allen, who is faced with questions about his e-mail exchanges with a Florida woman whose complaint sparked the FBI probe that led to Petraeus’s resignation, Bloomberg News reports. (The woman, Jill Kelley, complained to a FBI friend that she was getting harassing e-mails telling her to stay away from Petraeus, a friend of the family. The FBI traced those e-mails to Broadwell, exposing the affair.) The Pentagon’s inspector general is reviewing thousands of pages of documents from the Allen-Kelly exchanges turned over to the FBI.

Earlier this week, Gen. William “Kip” Ward, former head of U.S. Africa Command, was demoted after he was accused of spending thousands of dollars on lavish travel and other unauthorized expenses, the Pentagon said Tuesday, reported the Associated Press.

Retiring as a three-star general will cost Ward about $30,000 a year in retirement pay, giving him close to $208,802 a year rather than the $236,650 he would receive as a four-star general, according to the Associated Press.

The AP says a report detailed lengthy stays at swank hotels for Ward, his wife and his staff members. Ward also has been ordered to repay the government $82,000.

But not in the headlines are regular folks who behave badly on their jobs and end up getting fired. They text while driving a bus or train. They steal from their company. They inflate their expense accounts.

Do these people ever stop and think how much their actions will cost them in the long run?

Never mind.

Of course they don’t.

Black Thursday

Black Thursday is now the new Black Friday.

Major retailers, arguing that they are bowing to the wishes of their customers, are continuing a trend that largely began last year by opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day.

“There’s a segment of the population who wants to drop their drumstick and immediately pick up a door-buster,” Brian Hanover, a spokesman for Sears told The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai.

“Our customers kept telling us they wanted more flexible Black Friday shopping hours.”

A recent survey by CouponCabin.com found that nearly a third of U.S. adults think Black Friday starts too early now, compared with past years.

Nonetheless, as I wrote in my column on Wednesday, consumers have proved time after time that there are no boundaries for their addiction to shopping for sales. If the stores open, they will come. Because they come, the stores will continue to open.

This Week’s Color of Money Question: What do you think of the new Black Thursday? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “ Black Thursday” in the subject line.

Pricey Pot

Matthew Yglesias of Slate had an interesting personal finance angle on the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

Don’t expect to get your pot cheap, he writes.

Yglesias reports that the states hope to raise revenue from taxes and licensing fees.

“When a commodity is cheap, the main driver of the retail price is often excise taxes,” he writes. “And state governments have good reason to want to tax marijuana consumption. Most credible analysis indicates that pot doesn’t pose health risks as serious as those associated with alcohol or tobacco, but dependency is still a real issue and inhaling smoke is still bad for you, so the standard case for sin taxes to promote good health applies.”

Fiscal Cliff

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “ Now that the election is over, how are you feeling about your finances?”

Here are some of your responses.

“After this election (we voted for the President, by the way), we are ready and willing to pay a higher tax bite, if that’s what it takes to help this country out of its doldrums,” wrote Susan Hicks of San Antonio, Tex. “We are retired, living on several small pensions and my Social Security check, but with a good lump sum in our retirement accounts for travel, emergencies and health care. I think we will be okay. This is what we saved for.”

Frank Blasingame of Fort Washington, Md., would like people to stop calling the pending fiscal changes a fiscal cliff.

“Allowing . . .the Bush tax cuts to expire, is not a cliff but a slope,” he wrote. “The American people are not going to see a large tax increase and spending cut in January, as so many of you continue to state or imply. Look at the facts and deal with things as they are, not as the fear that so many seek to instill in the people for their own gain.”

“I am reevaluating my budget and cutting spending in anticipation of paying higher taxes,” said Sandra Wade of Chapin, S.C. “If investments decline as a result of the fiscal cliff, my retirement fund won’t grow, and I’ll have less to contribute to it. I am not confident in the economy and wonder if I will be able to retire as planned in eight years.”

Upcoming Events

On Saturday, Nov. 17, I will be speaking at a personal financial seminar “Dollars & Sense: 21 Days to Financial Freedom” hosted by the Arlington Chapter of the Links. Come learn what it really means to go green. The free event is from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Nannie J. Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson St., Alexandria, Va. Space is limited; so reserve your place by sending an e-mail to arlinks10@gmail.com by Friday, Nov. 16. For more information, go to www.arlingtonlinksinc.org.

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

 
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