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October 2008
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IT’S A GRAY AREA: Dear Mr. President By JAMES P. GRAY
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 4:18 pm

If you could have a dinner conversation with our next president, what would you want to discuss? I asked myself that question and, after some reflection, decided I would share the following thoughts with him.

Mr. President, all of us are naturally concerned about our economy, but we are optimistic at heart and know that eventually “This too shall pass.” But my deeper concern is that we will overreact to this financial crisis and stray from the economic framework that made us strong. That framework is based on the principles of the Free Market and the individual accountability that is inherently contained therein, as well as appropriate anti-trust laws and some regulating forces.

But please be mindful that government interference in the marketplace originally led to the problems we are facing. For example, the Savings and Loan Scandal was caused by the government’s FSLIC insuring bad loans, which meant that big mistakes and “oversights” would not result in big losses for the offenders. Why? Because the government could always be counted on to bail them out.

The same thing occurred with this present mortgage banking mess, which was made possible by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the government protections behind them. This situation shielded offenders from being forced to take responsibility for their own malfeasance. And this combined with multitudes of government “supervisors” who were lazy, sloppy and asleep at the switch to cause the problems.

So we don’t need more regulations. What we need is more diligence and accountability. So please guard against an overreaction to these recent problems and an over-correction that would take us to a more minute and all-encompassing bureaucracy, and a further suffocation of our entrepreneurial efforts.

Which, Mr. President, brings me to my next point. Please tell us that you will empower a nonpartisan agency like the General Accounting Office with sufficient investigative powers to supervise our government to detect small economic, ethical and human rights problems before they become large ones. Then mandate that organization to report its findings directly to you, and also to the news media. Being proactive instead of reactive in these areas will not only go a long way in ferreting out and blunting future problems, but also regenerate a faith and trust in government that has understandably been missing for decades.

Next, and all importantly, please tell Congress and the American people that you will veto all spending measures passed by Congress if they contain even one appropriation that you do not believe is appropriate, until such time as Congress delegates to you the power of the Line Item Veto. And then carry out that threat! This is one reform that President Reagan was unsuccessful in passing, but you can and must cause it to occur.

We now understand that, as a political reality, individual members of Congress are simply forced to show the voters back home that they are active in procuring federal funding for lots of pet projects in their districts. This was made abundantly clear when, even in the moment of dire economic crisis, members of Congress wouldn’t pass the so-called “bailout package” until they appropriated an extra $135 billion for their local projects. So let them continue to earn their “political points” back home by continuing this practice. You can be the “heavy” or the “bad guy” and veto this non-essential spending for the good of the country. Let Congress blame you - you can take it!

And then there is the difficult question of Iraq. Mr. President, I want to be clear. Before all of this happened, I took the public position that if we put ground troops in Iraq without the substantial assistance of the world community, it would be the biggest mistake of my lifetime. Nothing has happened since that time to change my mind. But we are now in Iraq, and we must address our present options and, for these purposes, put the past aside. So simply pulling out of Iraq at this point would for many reasons be another major mistake.

Instead, what we should do is two-fold. First, we should send as many private American contractors home as soon as we reasonably can. Then we should give their jobs to Iraqi contractors who should establish new contracts with and then be paid by the Iraqi government. Second, we should require the Iraqi government to pay a fairly small amount of money for each day that each American soldier remains on duty in that country.

That two-fold approach will accomplish three noteworthy benefits. First, it is a simple fact of life that people more appreciate and value the things that they pay for instead of the things that are given to them. Second, both economically and politically these small payments will encourage a reduction in our troops to the smallest levels that will still be sufficient to do the remaining tasks at hand. And third, of course, this will help in at least a small way with our balance of payments problems. Considering their resumed exportation of oil, the Iraqi government should be able to take on these financial obligations, and everyone, especially Iraq, will be better off if this occurs.

Thank you for your time, Mr. President. Regardless of the politics of this past election, all Americans wish you good health, wisdom and fortitude as you guide our fragile experiment in democracy forward for the next four years. And if you ever feel that there is anything I can do to help you in this effort, you can always count on me.



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. He may be contacted at his website, judgejimgray.com.

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IT’S A GRAY AREA: The subtle nuances words have
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 1:06 am

Updated: Saturday, October 11, 2008 6:43 PM PDT

Consider this: When we think, we really think only in words or something else that can be written, like musical notes, or mathematical or chemical equations. That means that if some people do not understand the shades of meaning between one word and another, they will be limited in their ability to understand concepts and options in everyday life.

Does this make any difference? I think it makes a great deal of difference. For example, I heard that there are more dialects in the world that have no difference in their languages between the words for “stranger” and for “enemy.” That means as a practical matter that anyone who is a stranger to those people is automatically their enemy. This in turn has probably resulted in lots of needless waste, fighting and lost opportunities.

Even people who do seemingly understand the shades of meaning among words often get too lazy in selecting the most appropriate one for their situation. For example, in my courtroom in many of what we call auto v. auto cases, most attorneys lazily fall back on the tired word “accident” to describe what occurred. But maybe this wasn’t really an accident. What if one of the drivers had been driving under the influence of alcohol or another mind-altering substance, or maybe were involved in some form of reckless driving? Then it could be concluded that this was not accidental, but intentional.

Think about it. What other words could a plaintiff’s attorney use instead of the word “accident” to set the tone for his attempt for a more serious recovery? How about the words “impact,” “collision,” “striking,” “careening into,” “slamming together” or “smash up”? Or from a defendant’s perspective in trying more to downplay the incident, the attorney could, when appropriate, use words like “bump,” “touching,” “grazing,” “coming together” or “coming into contact.”

Another example that everyone should be aware of is that there is a world of difference between the words “solve” and “resolve.” Most of us in the court system realize that you can only find “solutions” for things like mathematical equations. But problems involving human conduct mostly do not have solutions, only resolutions.

Therefore, when people lose an arm because of a defective piece of equipment, nothing can be done to “solve” that problem. Nothing will bring back their arms. All we can do is try to “resolve” the problem, usually by paying them some amount of money. Would most people prefer to forgo the payment and have their arm back? Absolutely yes. That would solve the problem, but that is simply not an option. So all we are left with is a proposed resolution.

The same thing is true regarding almost all other problems we encounter in our everyday lives. There are no solutions, as such. Only resolutions. But if people cannot understand the difference, or shades of meaning, between the two words, those people will unnecessarily submit themselves to extra pressure and frustrations by trying to solve an unsolvable problem.

The same analysis can be utilized for virtually any problem you may be involved with. People with a strong vocabulary understand more nuances, concepts and options. And those are the people who usually get ahead in life.

Look at the issue this way. If you can only discern the colors red, green, blue, yellow and black, you are going to be genuinely at a disadvantage when confronted by a person who, in addition to your colors, can also see, understand, appreciate and describe vermilion, turquoise, cobalt blue and magenta.

So do not lose the opportunity to work to increase your and your child’s vocabularies. This can be done by using vocabulary flash cards, playing word games like “Scrabble” or by simply going through the dictionary with your child, looking at a descriptive picture of a word, and trying to figure out what the word is.

In addition, parents should lose no opportunities to discuss with their children the shades of meaning among different words. (I use the word “among” instead of “between” because the latter compares only two objects, and the former compares more than two.) As another example, there is a difference between the phrase “Mary may climb a tree” and “Mary can climb a tree.” The first discusses permission, and the second discusses ability. There are similar nuances between the words “infer” and “imply,” “courtesy” and “respect” and taking a “risk” as opposed to a “gamble.”

A big distinction to be discussed with children for many reasons is the definition of what a “friend” is. Someone who encourages your child to ditch school, shoplift a CD from a store, smoke marijuana or speak disrespectfully to a teacher, parent, or anyone else is not a friend. Why? Because a friend has your child’s best interest at heart. So someone who would encourage such antisocial behavior may be an acquaintance, or former friend, but not actually a friend.

So we think in words. That means that people’s vocabularies limit or broaden their ability to understand and deal with the world around them. Therefore, a strong vocabulary will not only be helpful for your children on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or on the high school debate team, it will also make a significant difference in how successful they will be in business, their social relationships and almost anything else.

And besides, when it comes down to it, becoming aware of the shades of meaning among words is actually fun. Try it and you’ll see.

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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Addiction is a medical problem (59)
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 11:11 am

Addiction is a medical problem (59)

I was gratified to see that the editorial board of the Daily Pilot endorsed Proposition 5, which is the Non-Violent Offender’s Rehabilitation Act, with the headline “Prison is for drug dealers, not customers.”

They are right, and I commend them for their insight and sophistication.

As I have said in previous columns, it makes as much sense to me to put the gifted actor Robert Downey Jr. in jail for his cocaine addiction, and he certainly seems to have one, as it would to have put Betty Ford in jail for her addiction to alcohol.

Drug addictions are medical problems, and they are better addressed by health-care professionals than by policemen.

But if Robert Downey Jr., Betty Ford, or you or I drive a motor vehicle while impaired by any of these drugs, or engage in any other offense while under the influence, bring them to the criminal justice system.

What’s the difference?

Because now by their actions these people are putting our safety at risk. So the answer is to hold people accountable for what they do, but not for what they put into their bodies.

In my mind, most of the people who support Proposition 5 on the ballot this November agree with that fundamental concept.

Face it: You or I could come home any evening and drink 10 martinis and, if we are 21 or older, we would not be violating the law.

Obviously this would not be a healthy thing for us to do, but as long as we are not putting anyone else’s safety at risk, society wisely has left those problems to be addressed by drug education and treatment.

Why have we not done the same thing with regard to people who use other mind-altering and sometimes addictive substances?

Our great country now leads the world in the incarceration of its people.

And a large number of them are in custody only because they either possessed or were under the influence of some illicit drug.

In fact, a ridiculously high number of people are put back into custody only because they were found to have been possessing or using drugs while on parole.

That is an enormous waste of time, tax money and lives.

And it doesn’t begin to address the many families who are placed onto welfare or children into foster care because their parents and breadwinners are taken away for such things as smoking marijuana or using other drugs.

Proposition 5 will go a long way in giving us judges more discretion to place these people into treatment programs instead of jail. Honestly, they should not be in court or jail in the first place simply for the usage of drugs.

Former arch-conservative Republican Assemblyman Pat Nolan from Glendale used to favor putting lots of people in prison for all kinds of reasons until he was himself convicted of an election fraud and sentenced to prison.

But now he is quoted as saying that there are many too many people in prison who should not be there.

And then he goes on to say that “We should reserve our prison space for people we are afraid of, not people we’re mad at.”

Our jails and prisons are hugely expensive, and all are seriously overcrowded, so I suggest we listen to people like Nolan.

So who is opposed to Proposition 5?

Many good people who have been led to believe incarceration is the answer to these problems.

We all need to take it upon ourselves to spread the word that this approach simply doesn’t work.

Of course, people who are in the prison construction business, and people who are in the prison guard’s union are also against Proposition 5, but that opposition is logically governed by their own economic self-interest.

And I acknowledge that some of my fellow judges are also against Proposition 5 as well.

But for the most part they are still of the belief that drug abuse is a problem that should be first addressed by the police, and then the abusers should be forced into treatment after being placed into one of our drug courts.

So for various reasons they do not want to give up that power over non-violent offenders.

But since drug courts are really expensive to administer, wouldn’t it be better to spend these scarce resources on the drug-addicted people who are actually causing harm to others, and leave those who aren’t harming anybody else alone?

But there is another group that has formally expressed opposition that I hope will, upon reflection, reconsider its point of view. And that is the City Council of Newport Beach.

As best I understand it, the council members are fearful that if Proposition 5 passes then more non-violent drug offenders might possibly come to their city for treatment. I request them to look inward and see if they would really trade having people actually lose their liberty and be sent to prison on the off chance that they might otherwise wind up in a sober-living facility in Newport. That is not to say that there should not be a limit to the numbers of people in treatment in any particular location, but do they really feel that this is the right way to keep those numbers down?

So I encourage you to support Proposition 5. It provides additional funding and other resources for drug treatment. It will reduce the number of non-violent drug offenders in our jails and prisons, and it also give judges more discretion to “call the shots” in determining how these drug users should be handled. And, yes, it will reduce the penalties for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

But most importantly, it will also help judges and other health-care professionals to attack the disease of addiction head on, and thereby reduce crime and the expenses to the taxpayer. And along the way it will also allow us to devote more money and prosecutorial attention to address the actions of the violent offenders who are causing so much harm to us all.


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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