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Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Run for the Los Angeles City Council or Not?

I've been considering running for the office of L.A. City Council. Why not? I would have to be better than any of the current members! I'm fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and politically independent.

One of the things Southerners learn early-on (read: "in childhood") is a saying that goes like this: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!" Loosely translated it means that if you have something, use it until it is useless in its current form, then let it transition into its "next life"; worn out t-shirts became dust rags; worn out jeans became patches for other jeans that still had life in them; broken toys either became spare parts for other toys or targets for our bb-guns. And if you grew out of clothes before they had formally expired, they were passed on to someone else who could use them, or donated to a church or the Salvation Army. I've kept this mentality throughout my life. I also firmly believe that if I'm able to do something for myself, I would be silly to pay anyone to do it for me.

I struggle to maintain my frugality, but living in L.A. doesn't make that easy. L.A. and the state of California are going a HURRY! And my frugal nature has urged me to look into local and state governmental issues. I have learned that the base pay for a City Council Member in the City of L.A. is $171,648.00 per year with automatic raises every time the county judges get a raise...not to mention the perks! To break it down, that's $14,304.00 a month, $6,731.00 every two weeks, or $3,335.00 per week! Personally, I'd be willing to do it for about half that; a mere $85,824.00 a year. Better yet, round it down to an even $85,000.00 a year. I'd be fine with that. I'd also challenge the other council members to do the same, but I won't hold my breath.

So far I've saved the City of LA $86,648.00! And if all the other fourteen council members followed suit (HAH!) it would be a combined total of almost $1.3 million...per year!

Let's talk about pay raises. According to an article by Jill Stewart in the L.A. Weekly blog, INFORMER ( on October 16, 2008, the L.A. City Council members are the highest paid in the nation; $71,648.00 ahead of New York City. The L.A. council members' raises are tied to county judges' raises, which rise annually by the average pay raise of a state employee. Steeper boosts in judges' pay have also been approved by the legislature. "As the budget balloons in Sacramento and new rounds of pay raises are granted, judicial pay raises increase steadily - far beyond jumps in the cost of living." To make matters even more interesting, "Mayor" Villaraigosa, whose salary was $223,142.00 as of November, 22, 2009, makes 30% more than City Council members. Only one council member, Dennis Zine, who receives an LAPD pension on top of his council pay, voluntarily took a modest 10% pay cut of about $18,000.

Now, about those perks...L.A. council members enjoy huge staffs as compared to council members of other large cities, eight free cars per council member, virtually string-free $100,000 personal slush funds, about $1.2 million annually for office expenses; they even have a special clause that lets them get out of any parking tickets. Some council members, Janice Hahn, Richard Alarcon, Herb Wesson and Ed Reyes, for example, employ about 20 aides - each! The council continues to fight efforts to take away its controversial slush funds that are hidden from the public in plain sight under the misleading title of General City Purposes Fund.

I figure that if I run against my current council member and win, I can save the city's taxpayers several hundred thousands of dollars annually. The first year I would only accept aforementioned $85,000.00 for my salary. I would refuse the eight cars and use my own, accepting only the federal tax deduction of $0.51 per mile for all miles used for city business. Staff member positions would be combined until I was down to  staffers, who would also be responsible for providing their own transportation. Any thing remaining in my slush fund at the end of the year would be shifted to a budget in need, as long as that's actually possible. Office equipment would be used until useless or when it became more cost-effective to replace it, and the office goal would be to go as paperless as possible. There would be no city-provided cell phones; everyone has their own already, so why would they need two? And as far as parking tickets goes, I know the rules to parking on city streets. No need to get a ticket, much less dodge the fine for one.

And all the while I would be publicly denouncing the other council members for not following suit, and encouraging their constituents to run against them until either they did or they were removed from office! After that…on to the office of L.A. City Mayor!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cancer - How It Has Affected and Is Affecting My Family

Part III – The Results Are In

    January 7th came, and the surgeon removed several axillary lymph nodes and sent them out for testing. He advised us that, barring any complications, the results should be back within three business days. But the three business days came and went, as did the fifth, seventh and tenth. My wife and sister-in-law had a running joke that results would come back negative and that she was either allergic to the convenience store coffee she drank daily or she was allergic to doing the dishes. Her oncologist, however, decided on a different approach. He decided that this most likely meant that she did have lymphoma, and that the lab was busy trying to type it. Privately, my wife had already come to the same decision. He started her on a few medications to get her ready for her chemotherapy regimen...just as a precaution. The plan was to get ahead of the treatment so that she would be ready to start as soon as the results came in. When they came in a few days later, they were proven to be correct - the lab had to run twenty-seven different tests on the nodes, which is why it had taken so much time. That's when she got the formal diagnosis.
    Her next procedure was a bone marrow biopsy - a required procedure for lymphoma patients solely for the purpose of determining the total treatment regimen. Of course the doctors and nurses told her that she would only feel a pinch and some pressure, but very little discomfort. They lied. The doctor injected her with numbing medicine, waited a few minutes, and then began to work a stainless steel tool, similar to a corkscrew without the curves, back and forth in a twisting motion in her right buttock. I was sitting at the head of the operating table letting her hold my hands and watching as they performed the procedure. When the tool made contact with her hip bone it made the sort of sound that your steak knife makes when you hit the bone in your steak by accident. As it turned out, my lovely wife has a very thick pelvic bone that was also very hard, causing this "5-minute procedure" to drag on for almost thirty minutes.
    The final procedure was to install a "port" (portable catheter) into the upper right side of her chest. This would allow nurses and other hospital staff to access her blood stream without having to put an IV into her. Since my wife has small, rolling veins, we viewed it as a very good idea. The port would allow them to take blood samples, as well as administer IV and chemo fluids without taking any chances of collapsing her veins throughout the chemo regimen. And with the results in and all the procedures done the treatment was defined; she would have chemo treatments (called "a cycle") every three weeks for a total of six to eight cycles.

Coming up...Part IV - The Next Steps

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cancer - How It Has Affected and Is Affecting My Family

Part II - Family Traditions

    Around December 20th my wife began having pains in her lower abdomenal area. She made an appointment to see her physician again and went in on the 23rd for a follow-up visit. I went with her, as I did on many occasions. The doctor stated that the pains were caused by swelling of the lymph nodes in those areas, and that her symptoms were suspicious of some type of lymphoma. The doctor wanted to order more tests, but, since it was the last day before the long Christmas weekend started, instead of sending her through the normal process, she sent her to the hospital's emergency room, that way the test results would be in her hands that same evening. She had a biopsy scheduled for January 7, 2011, and until the results were in no one, not one single doctor (she was seeing three different ones concurrently by then), would give her even a "most-likely" answer regarding her condition.
    During our lovely six-hour stay in the ER they ran more blood tests, a urinalysis, and a CT scan. The blood tests and the urinalysis results came back inconclusive, but the CT scan showed that all of her lymph nodes, as well as her spleen, were enlarged...some bigger than golf balls. The doctor, due to liablity reasons refused to give us a "probable" diagnosis, but did inform us that the it was no longer "very suspicious" of lymphoma, but was "extremely suspicious."
    We had plans to spend the next evening - Christmas Eve - at her sister's house with her family. It had already gone from a small gathering of family members to a fairly large gathering of family and close friends. Given the information that we had at the time, my wife decided that we would have "the best Christmas ever!" She also decided that, instead of "spending the evening" with the rest of her family, we would all spend the night there and open presents as a family in the morning. Of course, she never mentioned the "best Christmas ever" idea...just that it sounded like a lot of fun. The thing is, her brother and sister began to suspect that something was going on, but they refused to make any comments...just in case.
    One of the family traditions at these holiday get-togethers is to play a game of Pictionary. My wife and her sister are the "dynamic duo" of the family - an unstoppable force that has rarely ever been beaten. The one time that her brother and I beat them, a never-ending dispute started in which they denied that we won, and we, in turn, denied them. Since that time I have refused to partake in the tradition - no need to have a dispute between me and my wife! As it was Christmas Eve, my wife insisted on playing the traditional game. My sister-in-law reminded my wife that there was no way I was going to play, which would leave her brother without a good partner. My wife said, "He'll play tonight," and her sister caught on. "OK! WHAT'S GOING ON?" she my wife explained it all to her. They both agreed that she should tell her brother, and just as she started to he changed the subject and left the room.
    During the course of the game, which, for once, was a close one, my brother-in-law accused his sisters of cheating. This prompted a heated banter that ended with my wife proclaiming that this was "the last game of Pictionary EVER!" My brother-in-law proceeded to grab the die, all the drawing paper and all the pencils. He said to her, "TAKE IT BACK! TAKE IT BACK NOW!"...telling us that he knew that there was something very serious going on with her, but he wasn't ready to deal with it at the moment.

Coming up...Cancer - Part III - The Results Are In

"You look Southern."

I can understand it when someone says, "You look Chinese," or, "You look Mexican." I can understand that about almost any race of people. Not that I approve or condone those types of comments, just that I get it. I really understand it when someone says, "You look sunburned," or tired, sick, depressed, etc. But what does it mean when someone says, "You look Southern"? Yes, I’m from the South. I was born and raised in North Carolina in a little city called Gastonia, about twenty miles west of Charlotte. I try to be a "Southern gentleman" in every positive sense of the term. I have a "small-town, Southern" attitude towards life in general. But if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn't think, "He looks Southern," because, barring the Beverly Hillbillies stereotype and cartoons like Li’l Abner, Southerners don't have a look. To me, when someone says, “You look Southern,” it has a negative connotation. It’s like they’re saying that someone looks stupid; that their clothes don’t fit properly; or that they look appallingly poor. “You act Southern,” on the other hand, would be quite the compliment!

We're just normal people, no matter what color our skin is, that tend to be raised in a much stricter environment than other people. We say "yes, ma'am" and "no sir" whenever the occasion calls for it...and most occasions do. We respect our elders...without question. We call women "ma'am" (Southern for "madam") and men “sir” no matter what age they are…even the children. We say the blessing before a meal. We open doors for women…simply because we respect them, because without them, none of us would be here. Many of us have family ties to the military – mostly for patriotic reasons, but it’s also one of the ways we try to get out of our “small-town” surroundings.

One of my grandmother’s neighbors wrote and published his own book, titled We Came from Nowhere. It was written from a child’s perspective about life in the Depression-era mill villages of the South. It sums up how most of the children in our area made it through life, including all the bumps, bruises and broken bones, up until the late 1970’s. My grandmother was one of those Depression-era children that started working in a cotton mill when she was thirteen, giving at least half of her wages to her mother to help support the family. Whenever I asked her or her mother about what life was like during the Great Depression, they would say, “What Great Depression? We were poor. We didn’t notice anything different.” One of my grandfathers only made it through the third grade before he had to go to work. It’s just the way it was. Third-World countries aren’t the only ones in the world to utilize child labor, but then again, the South was a Third-World country, too.

My aunt and my mother were the first two in their family to graduate from high school. My father and uncle were the first two in their family, as well. My mother and father were the first ones in either family to attend college. My little sister even has three degrees. My grandfathers were both WWII veterans; one in the Army and one in the Navy. They were both cooks, primarily, but they both saw combat – one in the D-Day invasion of Normandy; one on the USS Colorado in the Pacific. My father served in the Marine Corps; my mother in the Army. Both I and my younger brother served in the Marine Corps, and our baby brother served in the Navy.