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March 2008
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Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 12:51 pm

                                    “LET’S REVITALIZE OUR HEMP INDUSTRY!”  (35)

            “Hemp” is the name that is commonly used for the industrial (non-drug) usage of the cannabis plant, which is otherwise known as marijuana.  The use of cannabis for hemp products literally goes back thousands of years, to the degree that the ancient Greek word for “canvas” was the same word as “cannabis.”  In addition, hemp was also found in pottery shards that were used more than 10,000 years ago in China and Japan, and was also used in those regions for clothes, shoes, ropes and an early form of paper.

            The stalk of the cannabis or marijuana plant has no THC content whatsoever, which is to say that it has no mind-altering properties at all.  In fact, you could get as much of a “high” from smoking the stalk of the marijuana plant as you could from smoking the newspaper you now are reading.  In addition, today’s agriculturalists can cross-pollinate the entire plant to reduce its THC level virtually to zero.  Nevertheless, because it is still considered to be marijuana, it is still illegal to grow hemp in our country.

But that has not always been true.  During colonial times hemp was used for large numbers of products.  For example, the sails used on the USS Constitution (or “Old Ironsides”) were made from hemp, and several of the drafts of the Declaration of Independence were printed on parchment made from this same natural substance.  Hemp was also used back then in the making of rope, textiles, and gunny sacks, and was even used as money from 1631 until the early 1800s.

            Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and numbers of other famous planters had large numbers of acres planted in hemp, and Benjamin Franklin was one of the most active hemp paper merchants.  In fact hemp was so useful, the first laws in the colonies addressing cannabis actually required the various townships to grow a certain amount of hemp, based upon the size of their populations.

            The December 1941 edition of Popular Mechanics said that Henry Ford grew hemp on his estate, and that he had made some “plastic” cars that were composed mostly of hemp, wheat straw and sisal.  In addition, it is believed that Rudolph Diesel invented the engine that bears his name to run on a variety of fuels, especially those based upon vegetable and seed oils like those found in hemp.

            Today hemp can be used in thousands of commercial products.  The fibers can be used for clothing like shirts and dresses, and for backpacks, shoes, sandals, wallets, hats, bedspreads, thermal insulation, animal bedding, mulch for vegetation and an almost unlimited number of other similar products.  It can also be blended with silk, linen or cotton to make fine quality garments.  Napoleon used hemp extensively for uniforms for his foot soldiers because of its low cost and durability, and the emperors of China frequently had it blended with silk to make their fine garments.

Hemp fibers also have many uses in the manufacture of such things as rope, twine, packaging material, paper products, plywood and carpets.  Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz use biocomposites made mostly from hemp fibers in the manufacture of interior panels for some of their automobiles, and the fibers are also used today in Europe and China to strengthen cement.

            Hemp seeds themselves are a significant food source, since they are highly nutritious and contain beneficial omega fatty acids, amino acids and minerals.  As a result, they are now commercially available in cereals, frozen waffles, hemp tofu, and nut butter.  In fact my wife recently purchased some nutritious hemp granola for me at Trader Joe’s, and it tasted quite good!  It can also be used as a non-dairy milk product similar to soymilk, and as a non-dairy hemp “ice cream.”

            The oil from the hemp seed has additional uses as lip balms, soaps and moisturizing agents for creams.  In addition, since the hemp seed oil dries when exposed to the air, it makes a fine oil-based paint that is similar to linseed oil.

            If you want to learn more, simply put the word “hemp” into a search engine on the internet, and you will be amazed at the positive things you find.  But if those uses for hemp do not persuade you in themselves, try these facts.  Hemp is one of the earth’s fastest-growing plants, it requires little or no pesticides, and it replenishes the soil with nutrients and nitrogen.  In 1916, USDA Bulletin No. 404 stated that one acre of hemp over time produces the same amount of paper pulp as 4.1 acres of trees.  And, of course, it takes about 20 years to grow the trees, but it takes only one season of 120 to 180 days to grow the hemp.  Furthermore, one can obtain about 250 percent more fiber per acre from hemp than from cotton, and about 600 percent more than from flax.  And, since it is so fast growing, hemp produces more energy per acre for biodiesel or alcohol fuel than corn, sugar, flax or any other crop.

            So why is hemp not being manufactured and used by our merchants for these products?  Well, actually it is.  But under today’s federal laws, the hemp must be imported from countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Romania, and China.  So, since even the countries of the European Union can grow hemp under special licenses, the United States is now the only industrialized country in the world in which it is illegal to grow hemp. This situation has been so profitable for Canada that it experienced a 300 percent growth in hempseed products in 2007 alone. 

            Our government’s hypocrisy in saying hemp should continue to be prohibited is dramatically demonstrated by a 14-minute movie produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1942 called “Hemp for Victory.”  During World War II hemp was used extensively for military uniforms, canvas, rope and other products.  But when our supplies of hemp and jute in the Philippines and Indonesia were cut off by the Japanese, the United States Government appealed through this film to all “patriotic” farmers to grow hemp. 

So with pictures of our nation’s flags waiving in the breeze and our troops preparing for battle, and accompanied by the strains of songs like “Anchors Aweigh,” our farmers were instructed how and where to plant hemp, and how best to harvest it.  After all, we needed “Hemp for light-duty fire hoses,” for “thread for shoes for millions of American soldiers,” for “parachute webbing for our paratroopers,” for supplying the “34,000 feet of rope for each of our United States Navy ships,” and for “countless uses on ship and shore.”  “Hemp for mooring our ships!”  “Hemp for tow lines!”  “Hemp for Victory!”

            But after the war, hemp again in the eyes of the government went back to being a prohibited substance without any practical usage of any kind.

            So please help us get away from this hypocrisy and economic stupidity by convincing our government to pass a law like the following:  “Any cannabis plant that has a THC content of 0.3 percent or less is legal to cultivate, harvest, possess and sell in the United States of America.”  Of course, anything with a THC content above 0.3 percent would continue to be governed by whatever laws and regulations are in place for marijuana.

            That new law would in itself allow these plants, seeds and fibers to be raised, harvested and used without any more state interference than now exists for raising any other products.  And that act alone would reclaim an enormously profitable industry for our farmers, manufacturers, merchants and consumers. 

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It – A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001), and can be reached at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.                 

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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 3:25 pm

                        FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE DEATH PENALTY  (34)

            In last week’s column we discussed the five traditional rationales for the implementation of the death penalty.  But there are additional important facts that also affect the discussion. 

One of those facts that is almost unknown by the general population is the financial cost of death penalty cases.  The estimates are that it costs the taxpayer at least seven times the amount of money to have a death penalty trial, along with all of the accompanying appeals and writs of habeas corpus proceedings, than it would cost to try, convict, conduct the appeals for and actually keep the offenders in prison for the rest of their lives!  People do not understand this fact.  The cost of the extra investigators, attorneys, jury selection, court reporter’s transcripts and extra procedural safeguards is staggering! 

Why is this process so complicated and expensive?  As Justice Sims wrote in a concurring opinion in Bennett v. Superior Court, 146 Cal.App.4th 344, 418 (2006), as a practical matter there really are four distinct trials in death penalty cases.  The first is a trial (almost always with a jury) that addresses the possible guilt of the offender.  The second trial decides the penalty of death or life without possibility of parole (LWOP) if the offender is convicted.  Then the third trial is of the jurors in the case who arrived at those first two decisions in order to see if any of them was involved in any form of misconduct, such as telling other jurors about their own personal experiences in life. 

The fourth trial confronts the trial attorneys who were involved in the case.  The prosecutors are “tried” to see if they presented their arguments unfairly or too emotionally, and the defense attorneys are “tried” to see if by chance they did not afford the offender the effective assistance of counsel on any material issue.  These trials usually take place in habeas corpus proceedings in federal courts after the state appeals have finally run their course.  At this time the defense is also entitled to virtually every scrap of paper prepared by any law enforcement officer that ever had anything to do with any of the witnesses in the case.

How has this situation been allowed to get so extreme?  Well, first of all we are a compassionate society, and we seem to be institutionally unwilling to allow anyone to be executed unless all avenues of innocence and mitigation have been explored. 

Secondly, some people are so radically opposed to the death penalty that they have become zealous in their dedication to an exhaustive defense, or even to delay just for the sake of delay.  For them it is a question of morality.  Therefore no approach is too extreme if it has even the slightest hope of delaying the final outcome.  And in actuality some of these seemingly extreme arguments have been successful in the past in obtaining a reprieve down to an LWOP, or even an exoneration of the underlying offense.

As a result and also as a practical matter, all cases involving the death penalty have become expensive beyond belief, and are delayed well beyond reason.  In fact, I was the judge on the Preliminary Hearing in the death penalty case of a man named Teofilo Medina, who was proved in my court to have robbed four ARCO Mini Marts and thereafter to have killed the non-resisting clerks by shooting them in the back of the head at point-blank range.  In short, he was a bad man. 

But my hearing took place in 1987, and he was eventually convicted and sentenced to death in 1988.  He has now been on Death Row for almost 20 years, and he has seven attorneys still actively working on his appeal. 

This is not at all an exception.  Remember Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the “Night Stalker?”  He was convicted in 1989 of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries.  His first appeal went directly to the California Supreme Court, as is required by law.  This is an enormous expenditure of resources.  In fact, the Supreme Court’s statistics show that it spends about 20 percent of its time just on death penalty appeals.  But even so, Ramirez’ appeal was not heard until June of 2006, which was 17 years after his conviction.  Even though the appeal was decided about 60 days later, if his remaining appeals and writs are heard within the average time schedule of additional writs and appeals, his convictions will not be final until the year 2114 at the earliest.

And at least Ramirez has appointed appellate counsel.  Currently only two of 17 inmates sentenced to death in the year 2002 have had attorneys appointed for their automatic appeals, and none sentenced in 2003 or thereafter have had any appointed at all.  As a result, there are presently 88 inmates on Death Row who have still not had counsel appointed for them, and none of them to my knowledge have the funds to hire attorneys themselves. 

Why is there such a problem finding attorneys to represent these people?  Because one must be experienced in this specialized field, and those professionals can make a great deal more money on other matters than what the state will pay them on these death penalty cases.  In addition it is often emotionally draining work.  So the numbers of attorneys willing to accept the appointment is declining, and the number of unrepresented sentenced prisoners continues to increase.

But there are many other serious problems in addition to the financial ones.  Although about 60 percent of the general population continues to voice support for the death penalty, more and more of those who are required to impose it are withdrawing their support.  That includes prosecutors, juries, judges and prison officials.  As such, the numbers of death penalty convictions nationwide dropped from 317 in 1996 to only 128 in 2005.  And this withdrawal of support also includes medical doctors, who are increasingly seeing their participation in the death penalty as a violation of their Hippocratic Oath.

Another large issue that must be considered with regard to the death penalty is both fairness as well as the appearance of fairness based upon things like racial disparities.  Statistics show that the death penalty is invoked a great deal more often when the defendant is a non-white, or when the victim is white.  In addition, although the U.S. Supreme Court held only a few years ago that it was unconstitutional to execute juveniles, people are increasingly concerned that we are executing people who are mentally retarded. 

Additional problems are seen when either the prosecutors or the judge on the case are up for election in the near future.  Are the decisions about life or death being made for legal reasons, or for political ones?  Many people are having second thoughts about these things and are beginning to believe that this is something that a civilized society should not be involved with. 

We are also more frequently seeing the phenomenon of the families of the victims speaking out publicly against the execution of the convicted perpetrator.  One of these is a man named Bud Welch, whose daughter died at the hands of Timothy McVeigh in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.  As Mr. Welch continued to think about the situation he stated publicly that he had come to two realizations.  The first was that even after McVeigh would be dead that he himself would still not actually feel any better.  And the second was that he decided that all of this rage and hatred against McVeigh in the name of his daughter was hardly a fitting tribute to her memory. 

Finally, there is the question of making a mistake.  With the development of DNA evidence that is considered to be more than 99.9 percent reliable, programs like the “Innocence Project” have shown that more than 200 inmates have been falsely convicted for crimes they did not commit.  And that includes 15 defendants that were sentenced to death.  Of course, in many ways that can be turned into an argument in favor of future death penalty sentences where DNA evidence would be used to obtain the conviction.  But increasingly people have been questioning the death penalty because of its inability to correct mistakes. 

We are human, and we can make mistakes.  The largest number of false convictions are based upon false eyewitness identifications.  Others come for various reasons based upon false confessions by the defendants or unreasonable appeals to the emotions of the jurors.  So an increasing number of people are concluding that for many or all of the reasons that have been presented here it is unworthy for an enlightened society to involve itself in the killing of criminal defendants.      

In that regard, recently the legislature of the State of New Jersey passed legislation that was signed by the governor repealing the death penalty, which makes it the first state in several decades to do so.  But several other states have imposed a moratorium upon its utilization until all of these issues can be studied further.  In fact, this position has become so prevalent around the world that no country that imposes the death penalty is actually qualified to join the European Union.

So whether you believe that the death penalty is appropriate or not in theory, I believe the facts show unmistakably that the system is dysfunctional and that the laws are not working as intended.  And as a practical reality, in today’s real world they cannot be made to work.

Accordingly, I have personally concluded that the families of the victims would be better served by its repeal; the huge amount of tax money would be better spent on improving our roads or paying the salaries of our police and firefighters; both the trial and appellate courts could better devote their resources and energies to address numbers of other issues in our society that are crying out for attention; and our country could rejoin most of the rest of the civilized world by repealing this practice.  One way or the other everyone will benefit, because the system we have today is neither swift nor sure. 

So based upon my experience and observations, that is what I think.  But what you think is more important, because the decision belongs to you.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.


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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 1:45 pm

                        “FACING FACTS ON THE DEATH PENALTY”  (33A)

The death penalty is certainly an emotional issue that affects many people in numbers of different ways.  So in today’s column I will address head on most of the common arguments that are used in favor of the death penalty, as well as some facts about and responses to them.  Then next week I will suggest some additional facts and arguments that should also be considered as we all decide how best to proceed in this critical and emotional area.  Of course and as always, I encourage your comments and responses to whatever I say.

            Typically the proponents of the death penalty present five justifications for its implementation.  They are that this is the appropriate punishment for the offender of such a serious crime, rightful societal vengeance (often cited as an “eye for an eye”), reducing to zero the chances that the offender will return to society, deterrence against future violations by other offenders, and closure for the families of the victims.

The first issue I will discuss is the possibility of the offenders returning to society.  When a person is convicted of a “special circumstance” murder, the only two sentences allowed under the law in California are the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole, otherwise known as “LWOP.”  In times past a person receiving a “life” sentence could still be paroled, but now if an offender receives an LWOP, that is simply not possible under the law without a pardon from the Governor, which is politically quite unlikely.  Furthermore, to my knowledge no one serving such a sentence has ever escaped from prison.  As a result, this is probably no longer a reason for the death penalty to be invoked.

            With regard to the issue of closure for the families of the victims, consider that California has had only 15 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.  But as of this time there are more than 660 convicted offenders on death row.  30 of those offenders have been there for more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20 years, and 408 for longer than 10 years.  The last two people executed were Clarence Ray Allen and Stanley “Tookey” Williams, both of whom were executed about 26 years after their offenses were committed.  As a result, “closure” for the families, if it comes at all, comes after keeping the books open for decades.

            So not only does the death penalty not bring closure, it actually keeps the families of the victims on an emotional roller coaster.  Because of the appeals and occasional re-trials, the families are forced to relive the grisly details of their loved-one’s death, over and over again.  To me this is actually using the grieving families as bit-players in a long-continuing political drama.  And when it comes down to it, does it furnish much satisfaction to see the object of one’s hatred simply go to sleep when hooked up to a needle?  So for all of these reasons, maybe what we are doing is the opposite of closure for those victimized people.

            In addition, since it is deemed by many people to be an “insult” to the memory of the deceased victim not to invoke the maximum punishment, there is a perceived obligation to seek the death penalty regardless of the costs, either human or financial.  But if the maximum punishment were to be a sentence to life without the possibility of parole, the families would be more likely to be satisfied with that result and go on with their lives.

            Well then, what about deterrence against future offenders?  Probably the only circumstances in which deterrence would be a factor would be offenses like murder for hire (both for the people paying for the deed to be done and for the killers themselves), murder after laying in wait, kidnapping in which the victim is killed, multiple murders or murders while already serving an LWOP sentence, and offenses like treason.  Most of those involve situations in which the acts are usually planned and well thought out in advance. 

But the large majority of offenses for which the death penalty is imposed are for offenses that are not that way.  That is to say, most burglars and robbers do not plan in advance to kill anybody, but things get out of control and people are killed as a result.  And the offenders that do make prior plans are often involved in heavily emotional situations like being jilted lovers, or people of that kind, so they are not focusing upon deterrence anyway.  Those realities, coupled with the fact that most offenders never feel that they will ever be caught at all, negate the effects of deterrence for most offenses. 

            One more fact enters into this equation as well.  As a practical matter, if a person knows that he has committed an offense that would qualify him for the death penalty, that person tends to feel with some justification that he has nothing more to lose.  That belief in turn results in that person killing the witnesses to the offense to keep them from testifying against him, and also killing the police officers that attempt to arrest him.  So in effect, what we end up with is the opposite of deterrence.


            With regard to the punishment of the offender, I have no particular wisdom to suggest to you other than saying that in many ways serving a sentence of life without the possibility of ever being released would in many ways be a more severe sentence for most offenders than actually being executed. 

            That leaves the issue of societal vengeance.  Of course, this is a complicated and multifaceted issue.  On the one hand, there has been an historical and even biblical rationale that the proper penalty for wrongly taking the life of another is to forfeit one’s own life.  But on the other hand, people argue that it is hard to justify our country as being the world’s champion of human rights if it is so at odds with much of the rest of the world on the issue of capital punishment. 

For example, since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978, no fewer than 60 other countries have chosen to abolish it.  Although there are dozens of countries that still have the death penalty on the books, only six of those countries, including the United States of America, are responsible for 90 percent of all of the executions.  The other five are China, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Sudan.  As such we are keeping pretty lowly company in the area of human rights.

            So that is a short discussion about the traditional arguments in favor of invoking the death penalty.  I realize that this can be an emotional subject, and that many of you may feel that people who present information like this are “bleeding heart liberals.”  But I have been a trial court judge here in Orange County since I was appointed by Governor Deukmejian at the end of 1983, and I wanted to share with you the facts as I have seen and observed them. 

This is important because in the final analysis whether we continue with the death penalty is up to you as the voters, and not up to us as judges.  Next week we will discuss additional factors that I hope you consider before coming to or modifying your own conclusions.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 11:18 pm

                        “A STITCH IN TIME SAVES KIDS”  (32)

Sometimes the court system doesn’t do what the community expects, and even has a right to expect.  For example, it would seem to be fundamental that the Juvenile Court would try to gather as much overall information as it could about the conditions of its juvenile subjects so that it could address their medical, psychological and behavioral problems before they resulted in serious threats to the child’s future.  But this has not been the situation.

In my view, we should test for everything that might reasonably be a factor in non-performance the very first time a child enters the juvenile court system.  That means we should research and test for things like dyslexia, vision and hearing problems, domestic violence, school truancy, physical handicaps, substance abuse, gang involvement, sexual abuse, prior disciplinary problems, and virtually anything else that might be adversely affecting the kids’ positive and beneficial development.   

Why?  Because the earlier we can diagnosis problems in children, the earlier we can address them and keep them from becoming permanent impediments to the children’s future.  For example, most juvenile court officers agree that at least 15 percent of the children that enter the juvenile court system suffer from dyslexia.  That means that the kids naturally start to think that they are mentally slow or worse. 

So what happens then?  The kids start sitting in the back of the school classroom, and not paying attention to their studies.  Why does this occur?  They develop the syndrome that “they can’t learn anyway, so why bother?”  So soon they start getting into minor troubles at school and elsewhere, and eventually that broadens into more serious difficulties.

But once their dyslexia is diagnosed they learn that they really are not dumb or even slow after all.  Instead they see that they have a medical condition that can be addressed and overcome without all that much difficulty.  And then good things start to happen.

So the earlier we diagnose these various conditions, the fewer problems the children will have, and the safer all of the rest of us will be.  In other words, under a program of early diagnosis and treatment, everyone wins.  As such, the phrase “A stitch in time saves nine” is undeniably true with children.

Actually Orange County has recently become a pilot program for the State of California, with some money being earmarked to help our kids in matters of this kind.  And I am happy to report that last week all of the judges of the Juvenile Court voted unanimously that if we can obtain these funds, they will be spent for the universal screening of kids the first time they come into the system.  Then before a juvenile court judge issues a disposition order about how to handle juvenile offenders, that judge will have a laundry list of conditions that the subject has been screened for, and the results from that screening. 

So then what do we do?  Well, the court system can undertake some remedial action, including drug treatment, non-violent dispute resolution and individual and family counseling.  But for almost all learning disabilities, school districts are required by law to spend the resources necessary to address the special needs of our children once they have been diagnosed. 

So the courts can call these problems to the attention of the school districts and demand remedial action.  Of course, the problem is that the schools typically do not want these diagnoses to take place, because then they will be legally responsible to do something to address them.  But that should not stop this action from taking place.

Personally, I am sympathetic with the school districts.  It has been really easy for Congress and the state legislature to pass “unfunded mandates” that require agencies like the school districts to do lots of good things, without at the same time providing them with the resources to carry out the required tasks.  In my view, conceptually it is much more appropriate for the agencies that decide the work should be done actually to pay for it themselves.  That way, if they spend their own money they tend to get more “bang for the buck.” 

Unfortunately the way it is now, the schools are required to do so much with so little that they naturally tend to delay or even avoid the implementation of some of this remedial work, even if it is legally required.  This has in turn resulted in numbers of parents engaging in expensive litigation that has eventually resulted in court ordered compliance.  But one way or another we must understand that the opportunity to be pro-active in diagnosing and addressing the problems areas of our children at the earliest possible moment must not be missed. 

A few years ago the Orange County Probation Department discovered that a full 50 percent of all of the juvenile crime in our county was being perpetrated by only 8 percent of the offenders.  So it implemented a pro-active program that it called the 8 Percent Solution.   

The probation department learned that if a child satisfied three of four criteria, that child was soon likely to be involved in some serious criminal activity.  The four criteria were that the child had a disrupted family, had problems in school, had substance abuse problems, and was involved in pre-delinquent behavior, such as gang ties, running away from home or stealing. 

But once the child was diagnosed as being an “8 percenter,” the probation department provided services not only for that child, but for the child’s entire family.  The rationale was that we should not wait for the child’s siblings to become involved in anti-social behavior as well.  Instead, we should provide counseling services, school tutoring, drug treatment and other services for the entire family and head off the anti-social behavior.  And the probation department found that by taking this pro-active approach, the number of repeat arrests was reduced by more than half.  I think everyone will agree that those were wonderful results.

I am convinced that the same results can be obtained if we become more pro-active with all of the children that come into the juvenile court system.  And we can begin this program by diagnosing each kid for potential problem areas at the child’s first contact with the system, and then working together to address those conditions.  Not only will this reduce the emotional misery of lost young lives, but it will also substantially reduce the amount of crime in our communities, and the financial cost of the criminal justice system itself.

So I think this is truly worth doing.  What do you think?

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Wearing the Robe, the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be reached at JimPGray@sbcGlobal.net, or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 10:41 pm



            In my view, the most dangerous threat to our safety and security is not the possibility of being invaded by another country, or even the terrorist actions of any of the world’s radical elements.  Instead, the greatest threat facing the safety of our country is a weak national economy. 


            Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Ottoman Empire were really not conquered by external forces.  Instead, they overspent themselves to death and spread themselves too thin.  That is a major lesson in history, and the Government of the United States of America has not learned that lesson.


            For example, the total revenues or tax collections for the federal government in 2007 was about $2,500 billion, but the total expenditures by the federal government were about $3,200 billion.  So our government had a budget deficit in this past year alone of $

700 billion!


            To that we add the existing national debt of about $10,000 billion, which requires an annual debt service or interest payment of more than $350 billion.  That is almost a billion dollars every day we make just in interest payments!  At this point, we are making those interest payments both by borrowing the money from other countries, and by printing extra money – which contributes directly to inflation.  So now can you see why the value of our dollar is declining?


            If this balance sheet were to be applied to any private business, that business would be in bankruptcy.  No non-governmental enterprise could possibly survive such red ink.  But our government continues to deepen the hole we are in.  Among other things, this recent tax cut results in our government borrowing even more money just so that it can give that money back to the lower-earning population.  Politically that may be smart; but additional borrowing adds even more to inflation, which will hurt virtually everyone.


            So all unproductive expenditures of the federal government must be eliminated, as a matter of our nation’s security!  How can this be done?  Well, we as taxpayers and voters must demand – now – that our government return to fiscal responsibility.  In every respect, big and small. 


For example, recently I received a really expensive brochure “Report to the District” from Congressman John Campbell, naturally prepared at taxpayer expense.  You probably received one too.  Okay, fine – all congressional representatives do it.  But that is no excuse.  It had to have cost a lot of taxpayer money.  So I sent him a letter and suggested that, if such a report was necessary at all, it be provided in the form of a simple and inexpensive letter.  To his credit he wrote back personally and said that I would never again see such a mailing from him.  (I took this as a positive sign, but maybe that means I am simply off his mailing list.)


But otherwise it is up to us all to monitor all of our government’s spending.  If military bases are still open that are not needed for security purposes, let’s close them.  We still are supporting about 1,000 military bases in about 30 countries all around the world, even apart from those in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Are all of them necessary?  Let’s be sensible, for once, and stop paying for things we do not need!


We have already discussed in an earlier column how we can reduce unnecessary government agencies and their spending by passing “Sunset laws” that would require each federal agency to justify its own existence every seven years or be disbanded.  What have you as concerned readers and taxpayers done to discuss this proposal with your elected representatives?  Come on, our future and that of our children and country is at stake.  This is serious stuff!


Every line item in our federal budget must be scrutinized as publicly as possible, and the size of the federal bureaucracy must be reduced.  This will materially reduce government spending.  Government does not in itself produce wealth.  Instead it detracts from it.


Look at the island country of Singapore.  It has a population of only 5 million people, no natural resources, and is only 700 square kilometers in size.  But Singapore has put a competitive economic plan into operation, to the degree that this small country is now the 17th wealthiest economy in the world!  For all of its lack of resources, it has a growth rate of 7 percent per year and an unemployment rate of only about 1.7 percent.  The United States, on the contrary, has a growth rate of only 1.5 percent, and even that is declining, and an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.


We can and must do better!  We can regain our economic strength without withdrawing from our military and other obligations.  But we must have a change in thinking and a change in approach.  And it begins with us.  You and I must cause that change to take place!


To be honest, I am now 63 years old, and our economic troubles will probably not affect me personally all that much.  But it is my generation that has been borrowing all of that money.  And it will be our children’s generation and that of our grandchildren that will be forced to face the effects of our irresponsibility and pay it back. 


At the very least this is embarrassing, and at worst it is criminal.  Please join with me in taking notice of these problems right away, helping to change our country’s course and leaving our descendents a better life than they are now facing.  I think it is a matter of honor.


James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It,” and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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