“ARE WE HAVING A DISCUSSION?”
I am not a fan of politics. Often politicians engage in appeals to our fears and other emotions and our more base instincts. But I am a fan of addressing the issues of our day. So on two occasions in the last eleven years I took an unpaid leave of absence from my duties as a trial judge and ran for partisan offices. The first time was as a Republican running for Congress against Bob Dornan and Loretta Sanchez, and the second was as a Libertarian running for U.S. Senate against Bill Jones and Barbara Boxer. The first time I ran to win; the second I was so concerned about the direction our country was headed, I ran just to be a part of the discussion about the issues.
In neither election was I successful in my goals. So now I tell my friends that “I am not a politician, and I have the votes to prove it.”
Among other things, I learned from my experiences that most people do not really involve themselves in the election process. I also learned that money is much too important in that process, and, of course, most of the money is provided by special interests. And they want something in return for their “investment.” I also learned that in politics, reality is completely irrelevant – it is only the voters’ perception of reality that matters.
But I still continue to have a desire to discuss issues. So I approached the editors of this newspaper and volunteered to write a weekly column for a year to discuss different problems, and propose resolutions to them. They agreed, and now we are half-way through the year – this is the 26th edition of our weekly column.
So how are we doing? The response and feedback to the columns have been okay, but not overwhelming. I certainly do not have all of the answers, but I have thought quite a bit about these various subjects, and want to stimulate others to think about them as well. Because when it comes down to it, simply voting is not a victory. What we need is people who are voting after familiarizing themselves with the issues. So are we having a discussion?
The two columns that generated the most responses were my recommendation that we convert to the Metric System, and that the 11-99 Foundation that supports dependents for fallen CHP officers eliminate the practice of providing license plate frames and wallet identification cards to its donors, with the implication that the donors will be given favorable treatment from the CHP on traffic citations.
Concerning the Metric System, most people were in favor, except one person who saw it as a conspiracy to take away our individuality. Representative comments were that “Are Americans too ignorant or lazy to embrace new ideas? I say let’s get on with it,” and “The success of the US is often to be found in its willingness to upgrade existing conditions.” One person even recommended we go “hard metric” right away, that is not to have a transition period, because it would be less expensive. One even (humorously?) recommended we also utilize a ten-hour clock. But I was also gently chastised by one reader who said that the “term ‘centigrade’ has been obsolete for almost 60 years. The official term is ‘Celsius.’” (That means that I have been in error about this since I was three years old.)
The 11-99 Foundation column received some of the expected responses, such as “Shame on this judge for writing such an editorial without a shred of evidence proving any kind of favoritism,” and telling me to “get your facts straight before insulting all CHP officers.” There were others from current or retired CHP officers who wrote in support, such as one that said “I wrote tickets to several drivers racing one time together with their Lambo’s with 11-99 license plate frames and badges, and the corrupt leadership at my office had all of them voided.”
One of those officers was unintentionally supportive when he said “The 11-99 Foundation frowns upon its donors from seeking favoritism. I have seen them revoke membership from individuals who recklessly use this charities’ good intentions just to avoid a citation. Does it ever happen? Sure. Is it a guaranty? No.” Another officer provided the sobering comment that “I have stopped a number of judges and every single one made it a point to tell me they were a judge.” (I am forwarding that comment on to the California Judges Association for its information and possible action.)
There was even a local police officer that discussed the law of unintended consequences when he said that he and some of his fellow officers did not particularly like the CHP, so sometimes they tended to give more citations to cars that had the 11-99 Foundation license plate frames.
This last comment from a current CHP officer closely matches my own experience: “On almost all of my traffic stops I was looking for a reason to not give a citation. It’s amazing how often people made this difficult. (But) I do think the license plate frames are a little much and should be discontinued.”
Finally, I sent a personal letter to Commissioner Mike Brown of the CHP, along with a copy of my original column and requested his thoughts. So far there has been no response of any kind, which, unfortunately, says more than he would probably want. But I will give him another chance to defend the practice by sending him a copy of today’s column.
The column about Restorative Justice received comments that can be divided into two categories. The first is from people who see that prisons do not rehabilitate anybody, but some rehabilitative programs actually do work. Some of those people provided first-hand experience. So they agreed with the quote in my column that “We should reserve prison space for people we are afraid of, and not for people we are mad at.” The second group was deeply concerned about having drug rehabilitation facilities in their own neighborhoods. (This is a genuine issue that, in my view, requires a balance. People who have drug problems but are trying to return to mainstream life need to live in mainstream environments. On the other hand, too much can be too much.)
The column about trying to revitalize tourism in the United States similarly drew two types of comments. One group was concise and said things like “It’s the Threat, Stupid!” The other group called the threat of terrorism “baloney,” and told me not to pull my punches. (I never said and I do not feel that the threat from terrorists is not significant. I simply would respond to that threat differently than our government is.)
Concerning my critique upon the failure of our welfare system and our minimum wage laws, many people said that my “logic was severely flawed,” and that “Everyone should have the right and opportunity to earn a living wage. In reality, such laws are a major positive force in every Western society.” (Not surprisingly because it is such an emotional issue, none of the critics of my suggestions even addressed the fact that every time we raise the minimum wage, lots of people lose their jobs. And that is probably true in every Western society. Nor did they address my conclusion that these programs actually contribute to the increase of poverty, instead of its reduction.) But everyone appreciated my attack on the welfare system for the wealthy.
The most notable comment about the Happy New Year column about prosperity and choice, which centered upon the federal government relinquishing much of its accumulated power back to local governments and individuals, was “We do have federalism in this country. Local governments do what the feds don’t control.” (That’s the point, it should be the other way around!)
After discussing the increasing problem of childhood obesity, one man suggested we follow the lead of Brazil by planting public areas with fruit and nut trees, which, he said, would provide “a delicious way to fight obesity.” And the column about resolving our nation’s healthcare problem by encouraging Medical Savings Accounts drew the discouraging but accurate comment from a medical doctor that “We are often forced to opt for a less optimal treatment in favor of the insurer’s profit margin.”
The column about illegal immigration drew numbers of responses like: “Take off your rose-colored glasses. People come here and learn quickly how to get free services and food stamps,” (I agree, but they mostly do come here originally to work.) and “No amnesty. Legal immigrants first!” (I only mentioned that we would discuss amnesty after we installed a system that utilized fool-proof identification cards, which drew this comment:) “You’re not naïve enough to actually believe that a ‘tamper-proof’ ID card is possible, are you?” (Yes, I think it can be done based upon the iris in a person’s eye.)
In response to the column that government impedes business, one man responded that he agreed that beauticians and barbers should not be required to get a license, but went on to ask “why should lawyers be protected with licenses from the competition of others who want to lawyer?” (I agree, and there is actually a movement in that direction.) The column about citizens’ rights and responsibilities, and the lack of support for our Veterans generated no comments to speak of. That was discouraging.
One response I am sure many of you agreed with was “Shorter please! Be honest, how many of you actually read the judge’s comments?” I acknowledge many of the columns were longer than I originally intended (including this one), but it is difficult to address and give suggestions about how to resolve complex and multifaceted problems in only 800 words. So I appreciate your sticking with me!
In the weeks of the scheduled year that remain, this column will address issues about how we can improve our public schools through competition; that the biggest threat to our national security is our dependence upon foreign oil, and what we can and must do about it; a suggestion to scrap the Internal Revenue Service and instigate either a national sales tax or what is called the FAIR tax; how we should address mental illness; the critical importance of the Separation of Church and State; why we should revitalize the Hemp industry; and numbers of others.
Throughout this time, I again ask everyone to remember that none of these issues has a “solution.” Life cannot be made to be perfect, and neither are any of my proposals – or anybody else’s. The problems only have “resolutions,” which attempt to do what is best for the maximum number of people, while still protecting minority interests.
The fact remains that this is OUR government. That means that the things that are not going well today are our responsibility. And what we need is leadership. In my view, we still have the Jeffersons, Washingtons, Lincolns and Martin Luther Kings living in our society today. But we must find them and support them.
Unfortunately, people can be manipulated and misled. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but it is true. That means that we must rely upon our democratic institutions, and upon dedicated and public-spirited leaders, who need our active support and guidance.
So please contemplate these and the other issues of our day, and join our discussion. This can be done either publicly at DailyPilot.com, or privately with me at the e-mail address given below. I will respond to all e-mail messages. Good government begins with our active involvement.
James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, and can be reached at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.