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November 2008
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IT’S A GRAY AREA: No, it’s just the beginning
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 8:59 pm

Updated: Saturday, November 22, 2008 7:02 PM PST

Maybe some of you older types like me will remember watching the television police show “Dragnet,” starring Jack Webb. Then you might also recall that, after the crime was solved, they would tell us at the very end of the show that the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to a large number of years in state prison.

But, as my father used to say, that was not the end. In actuality, when you consider the big picture, it was really only the beginning. But in so many ways in our society, we do not look at or even consider the whole picture.

For example, in the matter of the perpetrators of those offenses, what is the rest of the story? What will happen to them while they are in prison, and what will they be like once they are eventually released? And incarceration is expensive.

Will the taxpayers get their money’s worth by keeping them locked up? What will happen to the perpetrators’ families and other dependents both during the time of incarceration, and afterward? Will the crime victims be better off? As we have seen in earlier columns, all of these are appropriate questions that are seldom even asked, much less answered.

That is not at all to say that people should not be put into prison, and sometimes for long periods of time. Far from it. We certainly need jails and prisons both as a deterrent and as a place for appropriate people to be removed from society for long periods of time. But we must also recognize that about 95% of the people who are sent to prison are eventually released. So we should also do our best to provide opportunities for those people to learn some skills that will reduce the chances that they will return to the antisocial conduct that put them behind bars in the first place.

In other words, in many ways we have to change our way of thinking, and we also have to change our approach.

So as a part of this shift of analysis, we must more fully consider who the people are that we are dealing with. For example, the largest mental-health facility in most counties is the local jail. Imagine the psychological damage that is daily being inflicted upon these mentally fragile people by incarcerating them for minor offenses. Fortunately, and as we will discuss in this column next week, our courts in Orange County are doing something really promising in this area.

But unfortunately, there is little political impetus in most places for the needs of the people who are incarcerated to be addressed so that they can begin to overcome or even address their problems. Wouldn’t it be better for everybody if those imprisoned could be assisted, as appropriate, with drug treatment, anger management, parenting skills, job skills, accurate medical information, and a focus upon intelligent decision-making? We should take an overall approach to this issue. Why? Because the actual goal of the criminal justice system is not to punish; it is instead to reduce crime and increase safety for everyone.

We should also take the long-run approach in many other matters as well. For example, in so many ways when we throw an item into the trash, we think that is the end of the story. But, once again, it really is only the beginning, because we must consider the entirety of the issue. Putting toxic or any other materials into landfills may be a temporary fix (out of sight, out of mind), but as we are now beginning to understand, it brings on many more long-range complications. So when we put something into a Dumpster, flush something down the toilet, or throw something out of our car window, that does not end the story. It really is only the beginning, because there are costs involved with the disposal of virtually everything. And as the old effective advertisement said: “Pay me now, or pay me later.”

And this has now grown to be a worldwide problem, because increasingly everything is connected. China and India are seeing this firsthand. And you may not be aware of this, but the air pollution that is generated in China is now being blown across the ocean here to California and beyond. In addition, places that used to accept our trash are no longer doing so. For example, for many years we shipped our nuclear waste to the deserts of Nevada and buried it there, but people in that state have now closed the door on that activity. And remember that barge of trash that kept being hauled from one country to another because no one would take it? Now more than ever all countries will be forced to confront their own long-run consumption, environmental, trash disposal and recycling issues.

Similarly, we need to adopt the same total approach with issues like education and healthcare. Receiving a diploma from an institution of higher learning is not the goal, it is actually just the beginning. The end goal is not the piece of paper, it is instead being able to learn and apply a skill, and also to comprehend and deal effectively with the complexities of our lives. In the same fashion, the goal of healthcare is not really to get over whatever ailment you happen to have at the moment. Instead the goal is to be healthy.

So in most areas, we as individuals must start taking a holistic or long range approach in our everyday lives, and even more so in government. This means that as voters we should generally be skeptical of candidates who speak mostly in sound bites. Why? Because life is much more complicated than that, and we should consider most simple approaches not as the end of the discussion, but as only the beginning.



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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IT’S A GRAY AREA: A positive world revolution
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 12:10 pm

By JAMES P. GRAY Updated: Saturday, November 15, 2008 6:42 PM PST

Recently while I was flying home from Houston, where I had been invited to speak about our nation’s failed drug policy, I had the good fortune to sit next to a Continental Airlines pilot who was going home to Ventura. And this interesting fellow had an idea that I want to pass along to you.

He suggested that our government offer a prize, or a “bounty,” for anyone who would develop a process or method that would be commercially viable to separate the hydrogen and oxygen elements from water. Then the pure hydrogen could be used as a fuel. Our government would pay anyone who would develop such a process $1 billion, or even $5 billion, and then we would donate the process to the public domain.

Imagine what would happen if something like this could be developed. I believe the more you think about it, the more you will agree that this would be one of the most profound and positive revolutions in the world since the invention of the printing press.

Of course, the separation of hydrogen and oxygen from water can be achieved now, but the cost prohibits it from being commercially viable at this point. Furthermore, it now takes more energy to separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules than is gained by eventually burning the hydrogen.

But the implications from this discovery would be far-reaching and even earthshaking. It could furnish cheap and viable energy that would come from an inexhaustible source. It would burn cleanly, with the only waste product being water vapor. Hydrogen-burning automobiles and other vehicles would soon be commonplace, with inestimable benefits to the environment. Electricity could be generated from this source of power, which would greatly reduce, or over time even eliminate, our reliance upon the burning of coal, with all of the pollutants that come with that process. And the list would go on and on.

Also, and most importantly, this development could change the face of local and world politics forever. Our country would no longer be reliant upon governments in the Middle East and other corrupt and unsavory governments around the world for their oil. The present status quo seriously strengthens them and weakens us, but this would be forever changed. Further positive results would be both to increase funds available for world trade, which would tend to strengthen both wealthy and poor countries alike, and to allow us to support world civil liberties and rights for the downtrodden without having politically to kowtow to so many repressive despots.

Hydrogen-burning plants could be installed all around the world that would convert seawater into fresh water, and this could allow presently arid regions to raise crops to feed their own people. So this new process in itself could seriously reduce tensions in many countries of the world. In fact, it could even have some beneficial influence on the “tinderbox of the world,” which is Israel and Palestine. Another result would be the reduced competition for water between farmers and migrating fish, etc.

Furthermore, consider the effect this development would have upon our balance-of-payments problem, since we would no longer be exporting billions of dollars per year to the Middle East and elsewhere for oil. This could help our country’s economy and those of most other nations to explode into unheard of productivity.

Now, I agree that this suggestion does some violence to my Libertarian principles of a smaller and less-dominant government, as well as the principle of simply allowing the marketplace to devote the necessary capital to meritorious projects.

In most circumstances, rewards in the marketplace are sufficient to promote needed advances. (”Necessity is the Mother of invention.”) But so far, even though the discovery of such a process would indisputably bring untold wealth to the discoverer, this viable process still remains elusive. So our government’s offering a large incentive or bounty might just do the trick. And providing this process for free to the world would allow new further developments and products to be generated more quickly. So I think a compromise in my personal philosophy would be acceptable.

Will our government put such a plan into operation? Maybe so; maybe not. But a private Manhattan Project-style program to develop plentiful, inexpensive and clean-burning fuel would be one of the best things that our government could do with our money. So I think we should give it a try. 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 contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his website at www.JudgeJimGray.com.

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IT’S A GRAY AREA: Government belongs to us
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 12:14 pm

It’s A Gray Area: Government belongs to us

Updated: Saturday, November 8, 2008 7:04 PM PST
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No matter how you approach the issue, when all is said and done, it’s our government, and if it is not working, it is our own fault. In today’s large and complicated world, that is a difficult mantra to accept — but we are “the People” mentioned in our Constitution, and there is no alternative than to accept this as our ultimate responsibility in our democratic republic. Fortunately, the good news is that if we persist, we will often be successful in achieving results.

In that regard, let me tell you a story. As some of you may recall, on Oct. 14, 2007, this column addressed the fact that when a person donated a minimum of $5,000 to the California Highway Patrol’s 11-99 Foundation, the donor was given both a license plate frame and an identification card about his or her membership — that (coincidentally) could be placed next to that person’s driver’s license.

Of course, the strong implication by being sent these items was that the donor would receive favorable treatment from the CHP out on the state’s highways. And I cited in the column some occasions in which that favorable treatment had actually been given.

After the column was published, I sent a copy of it to Commissioner Mike Brown of the CHP, along with a handwritten letter requesting him to investigate the situation, and hopefully cause the 11-99 Foundation to discontinue this practice. The reason for that request, of course, was that our system of justice in traffic court and everywhere else should be entirely free from even the appearance of any favoritism whatsoever.

I received no response to my letter. So a few months later in another column I reported to you that I had not received a response from Brown, and then sent him a second letter, this time accompanied by a copy of both of the columns. Again my letter was met only by silence.

But about four months thereafter I learned that the CHP had a new commissioner named Joe Farrow, so I sent a letter to him, along with an explanation of my request and a copy of both prior columns. Within three weeks, I received a telephone call from his secretary inviting me to have lunch with the new commissioner.

We had that lunch Oct. 21, and at that time Farrow told me he had personally investigated the matter, and concluded that there could indeed be the perception of favoritism in this area. So he had taken action in two ways.

First, he had issued a strong statement to all of his troops that they were not to be influenced by 11-99 Foundation membership in exercising their sound discretion about whether to issue traffic citations or anything else.

Second, he had met with the officials of the 11-99 Foundation and was successful in obtaining their promise to cease the distribution of the license plate frames and identification cards by this coming January. In addition, he had also instigated a movement to recall the license plate frames and ID cards that have already been issued.

This is government at its best, and that was the laudatory message I gave to Farrow. Responsive, responsible, professional and based upon integrity.

I also passed along to the commissioner that in my opinion the CHP was the most professional law enforcement agency in the state, and that I had initiated my request for change so that this deserved stellar reputation would not in any way be tarnished.

In addition, I told him that I felt so strongly about the goals of the 11-99 Foundation, which is to provide support for the widows and orphans of fallen CHP officers, that I wanted to make a donation to it on the spot. And I did, and was proud to do so.

Why am I writing about this experience? Because it demonstrates the fact that we can and do have an influence in our government — at all levels. In fact, if we are persistent, there is little that we cannot accomplish, at least in the long run.

Why? Because in government, like many other situations in life, familiarity does not breed contempt; it breeds access. Another way of saying this is that government is a “contact sport.” So all of us should make advocacy a regular part of our everyday lives. Our form of government depends upon it.

And in that regard, and as we have seen, persistence frequently pays off. Many elected officials have told me that when they receive individually written letters, they attach great significance and weight to them. In fact, they actually have a formula that for every personalized letter they receive, they feel that at least 35 other people in their district probably have the same views. So don’t be bashful about writing those letters.

Of course, your letters will have a great deal more chance of influencing elected officials if you actually can vote for those same officials. This means that a letter you send to your own member of Congress will be much more likely to have influence than a letter you might send to another member outside of your district. In sending that letter you will probably be wasting both your time and postage stamp.

But to take this a step further, if you can get together a group of 10 to 15 voters or more in your elected official’s district who are united and vocal about a certain issue, that would probably be so influential that the odds are overwhelming that the elected officials not only would respond to you, but they would even actually meet with you on the subject at a place of your choosing.

So that is the way we can obtain government at its best. Relationships are power and, whatever your issues are, you can and should turn your passions into that power. Why? Because if we do not have government at its best, we only have ourselves to blame.


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 website at http://www.judgejimgray.com.

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