It is more blessed to give than to receive – and easier. Or so argues Congressman Barney Frank in a recent thank-you note to contributors, and I agree. ‘It has always seemed to me,’ he writes, ‘that when you are giving someone something, nothing more eloquent than ‘here’ is required. But expressing appreciation as a recipient is a lot harder.’

May you have much to express appreciation for tomorrow, and all the year through.

I sure do.

I appreciate, for starters, that I live in a country willing to make spending cuts to keep my taxes low. (Rejoice! For every $1 million in dividend income, you’ll save $246,000 over what you paid in 2001.) In case you missed Wednesday’s New York Times:

U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 – In one of the first signs of the effects of the ever tightening federal budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health. . . .

Listen, folks. If we don’t look out for America’s wealthy, who will? This is surely what Jesus would have done.

I am also glad we have an incoming Attorney General who in his last assignment rewrote the rules on torture.

But – abrupt shift in tone – for all the dismay that bubbles to the surface when I read the paper, and the sarcasm that inevitably rises with it, I am actually one of those ‘glass half-full’ guys – a trait never more to be indulged, I think, than on Christmas Eve.

So in that spirit . . .

1. While it’s easy to paint pretty dreadful scenarios for the next few years, financial and otherwise, I think there’s also a shot that, with Arafat gone, and people just so tired, a virtuous cycle may have begun . . . that the Palestinians and Israelis will begin one-upping each other not with acts of retaliation but of reconciliation. The implications for global security – and prosperity – would be huge.

2. While the Dow is no bargain here, given all we face and the astonishing rate at which we are going into debt to our friends overseas, that’s when you look at it in dollars. To a Canadian, the Dow is actually down from last year, and potentially more attractive – because the Canadian dollar buys about 25% more than it did in 2003. To a European, the Dow is lower still, as the dollar has fallen about 50% against the euro under this President’s stewardship. And – however much or little this may help to shore up U.S. stock prices over the next year or two – there is this: As our friends abroad become more prosperous and efficient, they will have the wealth, decades from now, to buy the shares of stock that we, by then in our seventies and eighties and nineties, will be selling to fund our retirements. If two and a quarter billion Chinese and Indians (among others) prosper, that is not only good for them – more than a third of mankind – it should be good for us, too.

3. Have you noticed? The days are getting longer!

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Religion scares me, at least when people start thinking that their God is bigger than someone else’s. But you don’t have to believe Jesus was the son of God to embrace his teachings . . . nor believe reindeer can fly to love Christmas . . . nor believe in angels to believe It’s a Wonderful Life. The trick is finding ways to make it wonderful for as many people as possible, not just the privileged few.

Suggestions welcome year-round.

Merry Christmas.

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