Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

merry-christmas

The Richest Man in Town

Author’s note: I first published this piece in December, 2000. It has become a traditional Christmas column for me each year since then. Christmas blessings and new year full of success and happiness to all.

its-a-wonderful-lifeI’ve long thought It’s A Wonderful Life one of Hollywood’s finest movies. Not on technical standards, though the movie is well made. Wonderful Life is a great movie because of the messages it imparts. And though it is ubiquitous on television this time of year, do yourself a favor and buy the DVD to avoid the editing done for the tube. Avoid the colorized version like you would a root canal sans Novocain.

It is a rare person who is unfamiliar with the scene at the end of the movie, where all of George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) friends and family have gathered round him to help him through his tough spot. That scene, to me, is the essence of a successful life, of a wonderful life — having those you love and who love you surround you with comfort when you need it most.

I know from whence I speak. In September of 1998 I went completely deaf in the space of three hours one morning. I recovered my “hearing” in April of 1999 after successful cochlear implant surgery. During the seven months of my “Simon and Garfunkel” period (think “Sounds of Silence”), from September to April, and for the first few months after surgery while adjusting to the cochlear implant, I discovered how George Bailey must have felt. That very rough time was made much easier because of the support and love of my family and friends — delivered on a daily basis.

In the last scene from Wonderful Life, mentioned above, George Bailey’s brother offers a toast that goes: “To my brother George, the richest man in town.” The toast is full of irony, as George isn’t rich at all in material things. Far from it. But he is fabulously wealthy in the things that really matter in life: faith, family, and friends.

The most compelling message of Wonderful Life is why George had all those friends willing to rally around him. The answer lies in the way he lived his life. He looked out for other people, was always willing to help out, ever eager to do the right thing. He engaged in kindnesses that usually appeared trivial on the surface but meant a great deal to the people on the receiving end of them. It was the small things, the every day things, which made the difference. George Bailey didn’t change the world. But he did make it a better place, one person at a time.

I learned the importance of small kindnesses during my deafness. In those seven months there were times I would get down, dispirited and stressed. Every time that happened one of my family or friends would call (thank goodness for digital readout phones), write, stop by, send an email, or do some small thing that picked me up. It may have taken them 30 seconds and involved the most trivial of things — but it made my day, many times. In retrospect I can truthfully say that many good things came out of my seven months of total deafness. Among the foremost is my understanding that the little things can mean a lot to people in day-to-day living.

I’m not talking about the moronic “random acts of kindness” mantra of the kumbaya crowd. What I’m talking about is specifically not random. Spur of the moment perhaps, but not random. I’m talking about premeditated acts of charity and love for those we know are in need of succor. Or even for those we only suspect are in need of it. I’m talking about appreciating the importance of taking time in our busy lives to do the small things — acts of friendship, for lack of a better description — that it is so easy to put off until “tomorrow.”

Don’t do that. Tomorrow is promised to none of us, and the spirit of somebody you know may well need a lift today. At 9 a.m. on September 18, 1998, I could hear just fine. At noon I was stone-cold deaf. Tomorrow may not bring you the opportunity to help someone that today carries. While we are busy trying to do the big things in our lives, let’s not forget what George Bailey teaches us — that often we do the most important work of living just by being a friend — one person at a time.

St. Theresa of Calcutta (Mother Theresa) put it this way: “Only rarely in our lives are we called upon to do great things. But every day of our lives we are called upon to do little things with great love.” I expect that sounds hokey and maudlin, yet I know the truth of it. During my challenging times I of course appreciated the “great things” done and grand gestures made on my behalf, and there were lots of them. But it was the small, day-to-day kindness and thoughtfulness that really got me through.

Doing “little things with great love” can be a challenge, as it requires a humility that isn’t necessarily natural to us. Most of us, myself included, define a successful life in financial terms far too often. Following St. Theresa’s road will make the world better, but it’s unlikely to make you rich or famous. It probably won’t even get you noticed — except of course by the recipient of your thoughtfulness.

But there are other rewards. Standing before the Almighty on judgment day, would you rather be able to say you helped elect presidents, senators and governors, or that you helped mend someone’s spirit when that spirit was tattered? That you drove only the finest cars, or that you took the five minutes necessary to brighten an estranged friend’s heart? That all your sweaters were cashmere or that you comforted who needed it with love and laughter? That you followed the zeitgeist of the day, or followed the words of St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” These things certainly aren’t mutually exclusive, but too many do not have them prioritized properly.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us contemplate the message of the child born in Bethlehem. And as we do, let’s keep in mind the admonition of St. Theresa. Let us, by all means, do the great things that life brings to us. But let us, every day, remember to do the little things with great love. By doing so we can impact lives enormously, just as George Bailey did, one person at a time. It’s the secret to a wonderful life, and to being the richest man in town.

Bill Saracino is a member of the Editorial Board of CA Political Review.

Scout Troop’s Christmas Tree Lot Gets a Shock From DWP Fee Hike

Christmas-tree-lot-unloading-DSC_0115In Mission Hills, it’s an annual December tradition: Boy Scout Troop 104 opens a Christmas tree lot on Devonshire Street, the troop’s one big fundraiser to pay for the upcoming year’s camping trips and other activities, like volunteer work with senior citizens and the police department.

Local businesses are very supportive. Primestor, the company that owns the vacant lot just east of Sepulveda Blvd., donates the site. Andy Gump donates the fencing, portable toilets, a temporary power pole, overhead lights, and the labor to dig the holes for the posts from which the lights are suspended.

The parents of the scouts donate their time, a requirement of being in the troop. Everyone is assigned a schedule of mandatory three-hour shifts, and some put in extra hours. And, of course, the scouts volunteer at the tree lot, even the Cub Scouts.

Guess who doesn’t donate or volunteer.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Amanda Lovett, whose son Keith is a scout, is the treasurer of Troop 104. Every year for six years she has gone to the local DWP office and paid a $100 deposit, plus a $300 fee for connecting an overhead power line to the power pole that Andy Gump installed earlier, at no charge.

But this year, the DWP informed Amanda that the fee for connecting the temporary overhead line has been increased.

Guess how much.

It’s now $1,000.

LADWP’s newly hiked fee for “temporary overhead service of 200 amps or less” is posted on the utility’s website under “Construction Services.”

Of course, Boy Scout Troop 104 is not in the construction business. It’s a nonprofit that teaches kids the importance of service to others. This year the troop donated ten Christmas trees to MEND — Meet Each Need with Dignity — an organization in Pacoima that provides food, clothing and assistance to people living in poverty.

Keith showed a visitor a certificate of appreciation from MEND and talked about scouting’s emphasis on volunteer work. “Every Eagle Scout has to do an ‘Eagle project,’” he said, which involves a significant effort at “giving back” to the community.

None of that mattered to the DWP. The city-owned utility is an unregulated monopoly, merrily spending money and raising rates, and now taking the campfire marshmallows out of the mouths of Boy Scouts.

This month, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a new study of the DWP prepared by Navigant Consulting, Inc. It devotes a chapter to problems with the utility’s “governance structure,” reporting that while the DWP is overseen by the mayor, the City Council, the City Attorney and a five-member Board of Commissioners, “no single entity has enough insight into or authority over Department operations and finances to hold it fully accountable.”

A more plausible explanation is that they’re all in it together.

While you were busy getting ready for the holidays, you may have missed the Ratepayer Advocate, Fred Pickel, blessing the proposed five-year hike in water rates as “just and reasonable” a month after a consumer group called for him to be fired and Mayor Eric Garcetti responded by defending him during a radio interview.

You may have missed the Board of Commissioners voting to approve the water rate hikes, and Commission President Mel Levine declaring with relief that higher rates will protect the DWP’s bond rating. That signals Wall Street investors to keep loaning money to our city-owned utility, which already has more debt than its peers.

You may have missed reports earlier this year that LADWP salaries are as much as two and a half times the salaries of comparable jobs nationwide, and that most LADWP workers pay nothing for their health insurance.

You may have missed Mayor Garcetti and the City Council promising raises to city workers in 2017, vowing to hire 5,000 new employees, and throwing out the 2012 pension reforms that were supposed to achieve modest savings for taxpayers.

In Los Angeles, money grows on power poles.

Every year, LADWP transfers 8 percent of the power system’s gross revenues — hundreds of millions of dollars — to the city general fund, to be spent on expenses like salaries and pensions.

Next year, $56 of that money will have come from the extra $700 LADWP charged Boy Scout Troop 104 to run a wire from a nearby power pole to the Christmas tree lot.

Ebeneezer Scrooge would be impressed.

But the Grinch must be upset that he’s lost his job to a more experienced Christmas stealer.

###

The Richest Man in Town

Author’s note: I first published this piece in December, 2000. It has become my traditional Christmas column each year since then. A blessed Christmas and new year full of success and happiness to all.

I’ve long thought It’s A Wonderful Life one of the finest movies ever made. Not on technical standards, though the movie is well made. Wonderful Life is a great movie because of the messages it imparts. And though it is ubiquitous on television this time of year, do yourself a favor and buy the DVD to avoid the editing done for the tube. Avoid the colorized version like you would a root canal sans Novocain.

Wonderful lifeIt is a rare person who is unfamiliar with the scene at the end of the movie, where all of George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) friends and family have gathered round him to help him through a tough spot. That scene to me is the essence of a successful life, of a wonderful life — having those you love and who love you surround you with comfort when you need it most.

I know from whence I speak. In September of 1998 I went completely deaf in the space of three hours one morning. I recovered my “hearing” in April of 1999 after successful cochlear implant surgery. During the seven months of my “Simon and Garfunkel” period (think “Sounds of Silence” … ahem), from September to April, and for the first few months after surgery while adjusting to the cochlear implant, I discovered how George Bailey must have felt. That very rough time was made much easier because of the support and love of my family and friends — delivered on a daily basis.

In the last scene from Wonderful Life mentioned above, George Bailey’s brother offers a toast: “To my brother George, the richest man in town.” The toast is full of irony, as George isn’t rich at all in material things. Far from it. But he is fabulously wealthy in the things that really matter in life: faith, family and friends.

The most compelling message of Wonderful Life is why George had all those friends willing to rally around him. The answer lies in the way he lived his life. He looked out for other people, was always willing to help out, ever eager to do the right thing. He engaged in kindnesses that often appeared trivial on the surface but meant a great deal to the people on the receiving end of them. It was the small things, the every day things, which made the difference. George Bailey didn’t change the world. But he did make it a better place, one person at a time.

I learned the importance of small kindnesses during my deafness. In those seven months there were times I would get down, dispirited and stressed. Every time that happened — quite literally — one of my family or friends would call (thanks to digital readout phones), write, stop by, send an e-mail, or do some small thing that picked me up. It may have taken them 30 seconds and involved the most trivial of things — but it made my day, many times. Many good things have come out my seven months of deafness. Among the foremost is my understanding that the little things can mean a lot to people in day-to-day living.

I’m not talking about the moronic “random acts of kindness” mantra of the Kumbaya crowd. What I’m talking about is specifically not random. Spur of the moment perhaps, but not random. I’m talking about premeditated acts of charity and love for those we know are in need of succor. Or even for those we only suspect are in need of it. I’m talking about appreciating the importance of taking time in our busy lives to do the small things — acts of friendship, for lack of a better description — that it is so easy to put off until “tomorrow.”

Don’t do that. Tomorrow is promised to none of us, and the spirit of somebody you know may well need a lift today. At 9 a.m. on September 18, 1998, I could hear just fine. At noon I was stone, cold deaf. Tomorrow may not bring you the opportunity to help someone that today carries. While we are busy trying to do the big things in our lives, let’s not forget what George Bailey teaches us — that often we do the most important work of living just by being a friend, one person at a time.

Mother Theresa put it this way: “Only rarely in our lives are we called upon to do great things. But every day of our lives we are called upon to do little things with great love.” I expect that sounds hokey and maudlin, yet I know the truth of it. During my challenging times I of course appreciated the “great things” done and grand gestures made on my behalf. But it was the small, day-to-day kindness and thoughtfulness that really got me through.

Doing “little things with great love” can be a challenge.  It requires a humility that isn’t necessarily natural to us. Most of us, myself included, define a successful life in financial terms far too often. Following Mother Theresa’s road will make the world better, but it’s unlikely to make you rich or famous. It probably won’t even get you noticed — except of course by the recipient of your thoughtfulness.

But there are other rewards. Standing before the Almighty on judgment day, would you rather be able to say you helped elect presidents, senators and governors, or that you helped mend someone’s spirit when that spirit was tattered? That you drove only the finest cars, or that you took the five minutes necessary to brighten an estranged friend’s heart? That all your sweaters were cashmere or that you comforted those in need of a lift with love and laughter? These things aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but too many of us do not have them prioritized properly.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us contemplate the message of the child born in Bethlehem. And as we do so, let us keep in mind the admonition of Mother Theresa, who is doubtless one of His saints. Let us, by all means, do the great things that life brings to us. But let us — every day — remember to do the little things with great love. By doing so we can impact lives enormously, just as George Bailey did, one person at a time. It’s the secret to a wonderful life, and to being the richest man in town.  Merry Christmas to all.

Bill Saracino is a member of the CPR Editorial Board.

What Taxpayers Want from Santa

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

A time-tested Christmas joke describes the four stages of life: First, you believe in Santa Clause. Second, you don’t believe in Santa Clause. Third, you are Santa Claus. Fourth, you look like Santa Claus.

As they look down from their lofty perches in the State Capitol, members of the political ruling class see taxpayers as perpetually being in the third stage, supplying a never ending supply of goodies (i.e., tax revenue) to be collected by lawmakers and bureaucrats, and kept, or redistributed, as they see fit.

When taxpayers look back at the politicians, they see them in the juvenile first stage, naively believing in Santa Taxpayer who can effortlessly fulfill their every desire and whim.

Of course, taxpayers can best be described as being in the cynical second stage. They don’t believe in Santa Claus, they work hard, they understand there is no free lunch and they are wary of politicians who try to buy voter support with the money they have extracted from our wallets and pocketbooks.

However, if Santa Claus does exist, here is a list of requests that taxpayers might send to the North Pole:

  • A $39.95 toy train to go under the tree. This will be less expensive, and just as useful, as the $100 billion bullet train the governor and the Legislature want taxpayers to put in their stocking.  Based on the current estimate of costs, the dream train for “good” politicians will cost a family of four over $10,000.
  • Gas tax relief. Counting carbon penalties, Californians pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. Most working Californians, who need their cars for work, cannot afford to drive Teslas. While less expensive alternative fuel vehicles are developed, average folks on modest incomes don’t need to be faced with having to make a choice between being able to fill the gas tank or the grocery cart.
  • Time to catch our breath. In an already high tax state, where the government is running a hefty surplus, taxpayers would like to see a moratorium on tax increase proposals and on efforts to undermine Proposition 13 protections.
  • Reversal of both state and federal policies that have led to the 30 hour work week, instead of the 40 hour week, being considered the standard for full employment.
  • For those taxpayers who have reached the fourth stage of looking like Santa Clause, they wish for a normal life in retirement so they don’t to have to work late in life. That’s a big ask in California because high taxes, which allow government workers to retire comfortably, make life difficult for other seniors who aren’t so lucky.

Asking for more, such as having the politicians stop treating taxpayers like second-class citizens, might seem greedy. So Santa, if you could just deliver any of our wishes above, we would be very grateful.

P.S. There is nothing wrong with looking like Santa Claus.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

CARTOON: Christmas Shopping Spirit

Christmas Shopping

 

Angel Boligan, El Universal, Mexico City

CARTOON: Bush/Clinton 2

bush clinton

 

Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Santa Cromnibus

santa cromnibus

 

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Illegal Elves

Illegal Elves

 

Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons

Santa Camera

Santa Camera

 

John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune