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.

I’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 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. 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 those 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.

Congressional Maps Favor Democrats as California Completes Redistricting

WASHINGTON — The process wasn’t always pretty, but California’s redistricting commission has finalized its new map of the state’s congressional districts, largely sparing the Bay Area of major changes and overall favoring Democrats in the state.

The political boundaries that will dictate representation for the next 10 years will be officially transmitted to the secretary of state by the Dec. 27 deadline, paving the way for candidates to make final decisions about their futures by the March 11 filing deadline. The commission voted unanimously to approve its maps late Monday night.

The vote came after months of intense activity by the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents. The group decided to set out to draw the map from scratch rather than base its drafts on existing boundaries, causing a lengthy process that required many different proposals and changes based on public input that continued up to the last hours before maps were approved.

The decennial process is dictated by the results of the U.S. Census, which were delayed by the pandemic and litigation, shortening the window in which the commission could draw maps. Ultimately, California’s population grew at a slower rate than the nation, costing the state one of its 53 seats in Congress and forcing changes to the map.

The lost seat will essentially come from the Los Angeles area, where population growth in the state was slowest, specifically near Long Beach. The impact of losing the seat, however, will be mitigated by the retirement the lawmakers who represent the area, Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach and Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles.

In the Bay Area, there will be some changes, though none that fundamentally jeopardize incumbents. Most of the changes reflect population shifts, including increasing diversity. The commission found it had legal obligations to draw districts with strong Latino populations in the Central Valley and South Bay, as well as Asian American communities in Silicon Valley. Ultimately 12 lawmakers will represent significant portions of the Bay Area, up from 10 in the current map.

The area of Richmond and Vallejo will be a new seat in the area, which will be the likely landing place for Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, whose current Walnut Grove north state district has been largely broken up among neighboring districts. Garamendi announced his candidacy in the district shortly after the commission approved the maps.

In the South Bay, Fremont Rep. Ro Khanna’s district with a high population of Asian American voters remains largely intact, but neighboring Silicon Valley districts will see some changes. Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s San Jose district expanded significantly south to include agricultural and Latino communities south of Gilroy in San Benito and parts of Salinas. Central Coast Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, will also join the Bay Area delegation, as his district anchored by Monterey will expand to include some of South San Jose.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

USC Student ‘Diversity’ Senator Under Fire for Tweet Threatening to Kill Zionists

A student “diversity” representative at the University of Southern California is under fire for a series of explosive tweets, including one that threatened to kill “every motherf–ing Zionist.”

Yasmeen Mashayekh, a “diversity, equity and inclusion” senator to the Viterbi Graduate Student Association posted the now-deleted tweet in May, according to Fox News.

The USC student has a history of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel tweets including one from June that said: “If you are not for the complete destruction of Israel and the occupation forces then you’re anti-Palestinian,” according to Fox.

She has also tweeted her support for Hamas, whose military wing is considered a terrorist organization. In May, Mashayekh tweeted “Yes I f–king love hamas now stfu,” Fox said.

“Zionists are going to f–king pay,” she reportedly said in a tweet on June 21.

Mashayekh doubled down on her tweets on a podcast by Palestine in America on Dec. 2, saying she feels no obligation to apologize.

More than 60 current and former USC faculty members drafted a letter to the school’s leadership, calling on them to “publicly and explicitly rebuke Yasmeen Mashayekh for her offensive behavior and to distance USC from her hateful statements.”

Click here to read the full article at NYPost

California Redistricting Commissioner Misses Key Meetings

On the day California’s independent redistricting commission approved and released to the public long-awaited draft political maps, one of the panel’s 14 members was missing for the bulk of the key meeting.

Commissioners spent seven hours on Nov. 10 reworking draft legislative, congressional and board of equalization lines that, once finalized, will be used for the next decade. Antonio Le Mons, a No Party Preference commissioner from Studio City who now has a Rancho Mirage address, logged on late and didn’t participate in the process, video recordings and transcripts show. But before voting to approve the draft lines, he congratulated his fellow commissioners for the accomplishment.

“I’m very proud to have been a part of this process with my fellow commissioners,” he said. “This has been quite a journey in the heart of a pandemic, and I think we should all feel very good.”

This wasn’t the first time Le Mons logged on late or missed a meeting before important deadlines. The commission has marked Le Mons absent for roll call in 16 of 44 hearings since October, as members met for marathon line-drawing sessions. Commissioners have until Dec. 27 to send certified maps to Secretary of State Shirley Weber before they’re used in 2022 statewide elections.

Sometimes, as happened on Nov. 10, Le Mons was marked absent during roll call before arriving late. The commission, according to spokesperson Fredy Ceja, records attendance only to establish a quorum at the start of a meeting.

The nonpartisan panel comprises five Republicans, five Democrats and four No Party Preference voters selected during a lengthy process that began in 2019. Commissioners are charged with drawing lines using census data that “provide fair representation for all Californians” under ballot measures voters approved in 2008 and 2010 to strip the Legislature of redistricting power.

Le Mons’ commissioner profile outlines 25 years of nonprofit and private sector leadership. He’s listed as the chief operating officer of the Skid Row Housing Trust, a Los Angeles-based organization that helps homeless, disabled and poor people, along with those struggling with drug addictions, to find permanent shelter. Le Mons is also, according to his commissioner biography, a former member of the California Assn. of Marriage and Family Therapists. He now runs a personal coaching and consulting firm.

He is also a co-star on streaming channel Fox Soul’s “The House,” a show that premiered Oct. 8 and focuses on Black LGBTQ issues. It’s unclear when filming began or if it coincided with commission responsibilities.

Most commissioners have missed a meeting, and some more than one, though it’s difficult to determine how many under the commission’s record-keeping system. Certain members also participate more than others, and many turn off their cameras during meetings. Republican commissioner Derric Taylor was marked absent for nearly as many meetings — 14 — as Le Mons over the last few months. Ceja said Taylor started a new assignment with additional responsibilities in his role at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Ceja said he did not know why Le Mons had missed meetings.

Click here to read the full article at LA Times

California Democrats Embrace Tough-On-Crime Rhetoric

“It is time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city … come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement … and less tolerant of all the bulls—t that has destroyed our city.”

“We need to … ensure that those who commit crime are held to account and that no one gets a free pass.”

“The need for a system that can … alert law enforcement to vehicles associated with violent crime, in real time, has never been more apparent.”

“Once we had the issue of a lot of folks coming to Melrose to do crime, we said, ‘We have to hit this with everything we have,’ so we put in some extra funding.”

“I will not wait out this holiday season and let these organized groups continue to believe they can prey on California shoppers and retailers with no repercussions.”

These Tuesday comments did not come from Fox News commentators or even California conservatives. They came from California Democrats — San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks, respectively — signaling a definitive shift in the party’s approach to crime ahead of the 2022 elections.

Case in point were the politicians’ Tuesday announcements:

The tough-on-crime rhetoric comes amid a sea of sobering statistics: Oakland police on Monday announced they’re investigating the 131st homicide of the year — the city’s highest total in a decade. And a Tuesday report from the Public Policy Institute of California found that homicides, aggravated assaults and violent and property crime rates in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco are all up in 2021 compared to last year.

Also cracking down on crime is the state Employment Development Department, which announced Tuesday that it has suspended payments on certain disability insurance claims and is subjecting medical and health providers to increased vetting to halt “a recent move by organized criminal elements to file false disability insurance claims.” The department, which has already confirmed paying at least $20 billion worth of fraudulent claims, said its actions would help prevent “further fraud” but could result in longer wait times for legitimate claimants.

This article originally appeared on CalMatters

Mayor Breed Wants to Flood Tenderloin With Police To Confront Drug Dealers — And Those Using Drugs

Mayor London Breed wants to significantly boost the police presence in the Tenderloin over the next few months as part of a public safety blitz, which includes a crackdown on those who are selling drugs — and those who are using them — in the long-troubled neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Breed called for increased funding for police overtime to help pay for the move, which includes tackling the resale of stolen goods. She told residents last week that she believes policing is an “important tool” to address some of the neighborhood’s woes, which include widespread drug dealing, a surge in fatal overdoses and a spike in gun violence.

“It’s time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city … come(s) to an end,” Breed said at a news conference in City Hall on Tuesday, flanked by department heads and Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Ahsha Safaí. “It comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bulls— that destroyed our city.”

The Department of Emergency Management will lead the two- to three-month intervention that officials hope will result in more sustainable changes. Increased spending for police overtime is just one component of the plan, which will also focus on basic infrastructure needs like more cleaning, public toilets and streetlights.

But the push for more officers will likely draw the most attention, landing amid a national reckoning over the role of police in vulnerable communities. It also marks a shift in messaging from the Breed administration, which for the past year has focused on creating programs that remove law enforcement from interactions with those struggling with homelessness, mental health issues and drug use.

Breed’s public safety plan comes as the Tenderloin continues to grab national headlines and the mayor feels heat to get the city’s spiraling homelessness and overdoses crisis under control. It also lands a day after the mayor announced a plan to rein in the school board. Both initiatives could score her political points, but have also sparked criticism.

The mayor’s office said overtime pay will also be used for other priorities, such as deterring retail theft in Union Square. Breed also introduced legislation Tuesday, co-sponsored by Safaí, to tackle reselling of stolen goods on the streets by prohibiting street vending in existing “problematic” areas such as UN Plaza and requiring vendors to post approved permits.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

Beware of California’s Obscene Budget Surplus

Here’s a cautionary tale for California politicians who think voters will forever tolerate rising taxes as Sacramento swims in budget surpluses.

In 1978, virtually every political institution in California opposed Proposition 13, including big business, labor, local governments, and education advocates. Then voters stunned the elite political class by enacting the iconic tax-cutting initiative, a constitutional amendment that legislators couldn’t touch, by nearly a two-thirds vote.

The passage of Proposition 13 was driven by both fear and anger. The fear that motivated voters to the polls is easy to understand. Although unthinkable today — thanks to the security provided by Prop. 13 — in the mid-70s homeowners were literally being driven out of their homes by high property taxes. Howard Jarvis himself witnessed a despondent widow plead her case at the public counter in the L.A. County Assessor’s office where, regrettably, she collapsed and died of a heart attack.

The terrible fear of losing one’s home, even if the mortgage had been fully paid, was matched only by anger. If citizens believe today’s political environment is divisive, it was more so leading up to the election in June of 1978. Even those who cared little for politics rose up in rage after opening their annual property tax bills.

Part of that anger was driven by Governor Jerry Brown’s admission that California was sitting on a massive surplus. It was so large that California’s treasurer at the time, Jesse Unruh, labeled it as “obscene.” To Californians, the sight of government sitting on wads of cash while homeowners were losing their homes due to excessive taxation was just more gasoline on the fire.

Click here to read the full article on the San Gabriel Tribune

What About Rebate Checks? Democrats Want to Spend California’s Surplus on Infrastructure

State lawmakers want to use a projected $31 billion surplus to fuel an infrastructure boom, a tactic that could reduce the amount Californians might see in any rebate checks this year – if they happen at all.

The state expects to have so much money it risks exceeding a state spending threshold called the Gann Limit. If it does, it must send more money to schools and some money back to taxpayers through rebates.

Top Democratic lawmakers who control the budget process in Sacramento said they intend to reduce the amount they exceed the limit in part by spending a big chunk of the projected surplus on infrastructure.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, who runs the Assembly Budget Committee, said he wants to spend a “significant portion” of the surplus on infrastructure, including $10 billion for school facilities and $10 billion for transportation projects.

That would, in theory, mean lawmakers wouldn’t have to send as much money back to taxpayers in the form of rebate checks, though they could still send stimulus checks anyway, regardless of whether they exceed the state spending limit. Stimulus checks are still on the table, said Ting, D-San Francisco, depending feedback lawmakers receive from their constituents.

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Although he expects rebates to be discussed in budget negotiations, Sen. Scott Wiener said he thinks the state needs to prioritize infrastructure spending.

“We’ll have some critical needs around infrastructure that need to be prioritized,” the San Francisco Democrat said. “If you’re sending rebates back instead of bolstering water systems and addressing sea level rise… you’re still shortchanging taxpayers.”

Assemblyman Vince Fong, the top Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee, said he supports spending surplus money on infrastructure, but said the budget should also include tax relief.

“There needs to be infrastructure investment in water storage and at our ports, but we have to realize our businesses are overtaxed,” the Bakersfield Republican said. “We have to look at providing permanent tax relief.”

State budget spending on infrastructure will be on top of billions in federal infrastructure money recently approved by President Joe Biden, which U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the Sacramento Press Club on Thursday will fund a range of different projects.

“We’re talking about roads and bridges, we’re talking about rail, transit, buses, talking about ports, and airports, talking about water and internet access,” Buttigieg said.

Ting said he wants lawmakers to use the state surplus for drought resilience projects and broadband expansion to communities without reliable internet access. He also called for more spending on housing and homeless aid.

Wiener, who chairs the Senate’s Housing Committee, said he also supports spending more on housing and homeless programs.

Senate leaders say they hope to build on targeted tax relief programs such as the California Earned Income Tax Credit, known as CalEITC, the Child Tax Credit, and Small Business Relief.

This is the second year in a row California revenues have come close to triggering Gann Limit requirements. Senate Democrats have yet to name specific proposals for next year’s budget, but in a set of early goals said they’d like to consider reforms to “modernize the Gann Limit while respecting original intent.”

In a statement, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley and chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said the state’s surplus should be used to built a more equitable economy.

“Moving toward an equitable economy for all requires increased investments in affordable housing, our essential workforce, infrastructure at schools and colleges and protecting the climate,” Skinner said. “Fortunately, we have the opportunity to make such investments while we continue supporting small businesses and those Californians still struggling.”

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, criticized what he said were Democratic efforts to evade rebates under the Gann Limit in the past.

Nielsen, vice chair of the Senate Budget Committee, expressed skepticism about Democrats’ plans to “modernize” the Gann Limit.

“Their intent is not to revise and reform it,” he said. “Their intent is to destroy it.”

Nielsen said the state’s surplus should be spent on infrastructure to prevent forest fires and the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County to supply water during droughts. Lawmakers also need to make public safety a priority in next year’s budget, he said, noting recent “smash-and-grab” robberies affecting retail.

Expanding the state’s low-income health insurance program to more undocumented immigrants will also be up for consideration. Currently, the program excludes undocumented people ages 27-49. Ting said he supports expanding it to everyone, but it isn’t clear yet that there will be enough money to do it in the next budget.

Lawmakers’ overarching goal is to ensure regular people feel the benefits of the strong economy that has netted the state such a windfall of cash, Ting told reporters at a press conference.

“The budget remains strong, yet if you talk to individual Californians they are very pessimistic and don’t feel the benefits,” he said.

Click here to read the full article at Fresno Bee

President Biden’s Job Approval Sinking On Inflation, Crime and COVID: POLL

President Joe Biden is facing significant skepticism from the American public, with his job approval rating lagging across a range of major issues, including new lows for his handling of crime, gun violence and the economic recovery, a new ABC/Ipsos poll finds.

As the White House confronts rising and widespread concern about inflation, Americans are especially negative on how the Biden administration is managing this issue.

More than two-thirds of Americans (69%) disapprove of how Biden is handling inflation (only 28% approve) while more than half (57%) disapprove of his handling of the economic recovery. Partisan splits for inflation show expected negativity in Republican views (94% disapproving), but the survey also reveals weaknesses from Biden’s own party with only a slim majority of Democrats (54%) approving. Biden’s orbit is also hemorrhaging independent voters, with 71% disapproving of his handling of inflation.

MORE: Social spending plan will help ease pain from record-breaking inflation: White House

he ABC/Ipsos poll, which was conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, reveals these rocky ratings for Biden at a time when the bulk of Americans name inflation and paying everyday bills as a top concern. Concern about inflation has eclipsed worry about the coronavirus pandemic, according to recent polls from Monmouth and AP-NORC, as Republicans continuously spotlight rising prices at the gas pump and the grocery store as a key issue for the upcoming midterm elections — likely to be a referendum on Biden’s performance.

These low job assessments in areas of high public concern have led to a new low in Biden’s overall approval rating, measured by FiveThirtyEight at 43%.

Click here to read the full article at Yahoo! News

Crooks Steal 40 Firearms From Gun Shop As California Crime Wave Continues To Surge

Crooks made off with nearly 40 firearms during a smash-and-grab burglary at a California gun shop early Thursday morning, a report said.

The suspects shattered the front door glass at Whitten Sales just after midnight and stole the guns that were kept in a safe at the store, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing Garden Grove Police Lt. Mario Martinez.

The owner of the business tipped off police to the burglar after seeing a suspect on surveillance footage, the report said.

By the time police arrived, the thieves were gone. Police said they fled in two BMWs.

The burglar comes amid a rash of smash-and-grab robberies in Southern California that have targeted high-end retailers.

Click here to read the full post at New York Post