Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Canada has the right idea - by Judge Jim Gray

This past weekend I joined about 2,000 other people at a convention called Freedom Fest in Las Vegas. In many ways it was intensely discouraging. In many other even more important ways, it was encouraging and exhilarating.

The discouraging part dealt with our present economy and the forecasts for the immediate future. Many seemingly knowledgeable people stated forcibly that we cannot have a sustainable economic recovery with such large government spending and deficits and no gain in job creation. At the moment, our government spending is at the rate of about 39% of the gross national product. In addition, this year we are running a deficit of about $1.35 trillion, with estimates that next year it will be three to four times that number.

Simply stated, this government spending will put our economy and probably the world into a depression.

As a result, I came home and sold all of my mutual funds. At the moment they are not a good investment. Our own government underscores that fact, because it is making it increasingly difficult to move our assets out of the country. For decades we looked with disapproval at the governments of Third World countries that had adopted regulations punishing people for moving their assets abroad, but now our government is doing the very same thing. Most discouraging!

Furthermore, we heard that our government is trying to convert our nation's financial advisors and securities brokers into policemen. Under the so-called Patriot Act, which has been heartily embraced by the Obama administration, it is a crime for financial counselors to see something in our financial patterns that "even appears suspicious" without reporting it to the federal authorities. And, according to many of the counselors, this has little to do with terrorism or even drug money laundering, and instead it simply has to do with possible avoidance of taxes. This is the depth to which our government now has fallen.

So in the face of all of this reality, how could I emerge optimistic? Because it was reaffirmed, again and again, that freedom works! The free enterprise system, buttressed by private property rights, a fair and just judicial system for all, and a smaller, less intrusive, and less expensive government, can and will bring us out of these problems! These are what have made our country strong and great throughout our history, and they will do it again!

Canada is a magnificent example of this. Most of us think of Canada as being socialist, and it certainly still is in its health-care system. Furthermore Canada richly deserved that label in its entirety until the late 1990s. Between 1976 and 1995, the percentage of Canada's deficits went up from 35% to a full 78% of its GNP, government spending reached up to 53% of the nation's GNP, and welfare payments increased from 5% of the budget in 1980 to 10% in 1991. So all of this resulted in the Wall Street Journal running an article Jan. 12, 1995, that called Canada an honorary member of the Third World because of the weakness of (what the newspaper called) the Canadian Peso.

The article triggered enormous reforms in Canada. In view of the reality that one-third of every dollar paid in taxes was being spent simply on interest payments on the national deficit, concerned citizens and the media went over the heads of the politicians and sent their message directly to the people that the deficits must be strongly reduced. And the best way to accomplish this was to reduce government spending, and to stimulate the economy by reducing taxes. The people listened and responded.

As a result of pressure for these basic changes from the voters, within a few years all of the political parties in Canada were in favor of reducing the deficit — including the Liberal Party and the Socialist Party! The only debates were what spending and which taxes to reduce — and how much. Thus, since 1997 the federal workforce has been reduced by 14%, and all taxes have been reduced as well, including income, sales, capital gains and estate taxes. This combination of actions has reduced the spending of the Canadian government from 53% to about 39.7% in 2008. Our level is about 39%, but estimates are that by two years from now ours will be even higher, and theirs even lower.

Contrary to the warnings of the critics, even though government spending and taxes were materially reduced, government revenues remained the same. As a result, Canada now has one of the strongest economies in the world. The recession we have experienced in our country was appreciably milder and shorter in Canada, its job market has been strong, and its real estate has held its value. Canada's fiscal deficit for this year is projected to be about $33 billion, which, at less than 3% of its GDP, is considered manageable. On the other hand, our estimated federal deficit is $1.35 trillion, or about 9.2% of our GDP. But nevertheless there was much optimism at Freedom Fest because we know we can learn from our mistakes and from Canada's example, and we can turn things around by returning to our roots.

So basically we have two choices: We can either view these present circumstances with despair, or we can view them as a challenge. Most of the participants at the conference were not really worried about our future because throughout our history Americans have always risen to a challenge. In other words, all we need to do to regain our strength and our dreams is simply to repress our self-pitying and resentful sides, and return to being Americans. And I know that we will!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at jimpgray@sbcglobal.net or http://www.judgejimgray.com. Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Look to Mexican example of crime prevention - by Judge Jim Gray

A crime prevention program being used in Mexico has reduced rape by 26%, family violence 34%, house burglary 22% and robbery 30%. These results are all the more impressive because the state of Sonora, just south of Arizona, is home to three violent drug cartels, and violent crime is increasing almost everywhere else around that country.

The program was founded by Santiago Roel, and when it was adopted by the state's governor they announced together that it would decrease the offenses they specified by 25%. In doing this, the program focused upon results or outcomes, which means crime statistics. But it did not measure all crimes, just the ones they specified, and it also measured the areas, days of the week, and even time of day in which those crimes were committed. So in effect they were able to produce a statistical profile of each selected crime.

Next, the program members formed a team with public officials and the police, and shared their findings, after which they implemented the doctrine of "focus, measure and decide." That means that the team members focused upon only the specified crimes so that they did not misspend their energy, measured the current statistics about just those crimes, and then decided the best approach to take for the prevention of those crimes. Once they reached that point, they only allowed themselves the option of making one of three decisions, which was to go ahead, re-think their conclusions, or ask for more information.

In most jurisdictions, police are trained only to be reactive, which means that they respond to reports of crimes, investigate them, and then locate and help to prosecute the offenders. In other words, those police are "fighting crime." But with this different approach, the police were trained to think preventively, and then to share the information they received where it would do the most good, which is with the potential victims in the most vulnerable areas.

They then added the media as members of the team, because it's the best way to share information with potential victims. And when the statistics were published widely by the media in those specific areas for all to see, the potential victims became the final members of the team.

In addition, the media became so interested in receiving so much current and accurate data, they soon started interviewing victims and seeking out their own crime prevention specialists, and publishing additional findings and recommendations.

After the media published the raw statistics for about a month, the manner of publishing was simplified to be much more readable and easily understood. The statistics were published in the form of one traffic light for each crime: red if the crime continued at the same level or greater than when the program began, green if it were reduced by the stated goal of 25% or more, and yellow if it were in between those two levels.

Family violence was the first area to result in a green light because family violence and rape can be decreased extensively with accurate information. For example, about 40% of all rapists are actually family members or "friends." Once that information was disseminated, potential victims began to see the warning signs for themselves and their family members much earlier and more clearly, and then they naturally took preventive actions.

The most valuable resource in crime prevention is information, and in most cases it has already been compiled. Thus this information is mostly available for free. One of the things the crime information showed them was that about 30% of the automobile thefts were committed in the parking lots of shopping malls. So when this information was published, both mall managers and the police increased security measures at shopping malls, and the drivers of the vehicles took additional preventive measures as well, all of which resulted in the number of automobile thefts being materially reduced.

Actually, people make decisions about crime prevention all the time, so this program simply sought to provide them with more accurate information which, in turn, helped them make more effective decisions. But unfortunately, today's world often works against providing accurate information. That is true because many public officials tend to hide information unless it contains good news.

In addition, many public officials consider the media to be their enemy when the news is not favorable, so making the media a part of their team is something they do not take to naturally. And finally, most public officials naturally shrink away from publicly setting difficult goals. So publishing a goal of a 25% reduction in specified crimes was not something they would naturally do.

But this program has demonstrably produced a material decrease in crimes, and no one can argue that this is a positive outcome. Without much difficulty, we could implement similar programs in our neighborhoods, and probably experience the same positive results.

You can learn more about Roel's "Applied Chaos Theory and Complex System Theory" by visiting http://www.prominix.com. And then perhaps you yourself can talk to your mayors, city council members and chiefs of police, because crime reduction is everybody's business.


JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at jimpgray@sbcglobal.net or http://www.judgejimgray.com. Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beginning to see the light - by Judge Jim Gray

News flash! On June 22, the Chicago Sun-Times published an editorial recommending a radical change in our nation's drug policy. The editorial began by saying: "When will we accept that America's war on drugs is over – we lost – and it's time to get real about our drug laws?" Then the editorial continued: "Medical marijuana should be legalized. Pot more generally should be decriminalized. And the carnage in our streets and in Mexico begs that we rethink our nation's approach to the sale and use of more serious drugs as well."

People around the world and institutions like the Sun-Times are beginning to see the light, because the evidence of the failure of our policy of drug prohibition is all around us. Another of those institutions is the NAACP, whose president announced on this past June 29 that: "We are joining a growing number of medical professionals, labor organizations, law enforcement authorities, local municipalities, and approximately 56% of the public in saying that it is time to decriminalize the use of marijuana."

Why is all of this happening? Well, among other things more people are beginning to understand that many of the problems with youth gangs, such as shootings, drug sales, and even the recruitment of young people to that dead-end lifestyle, are directly traced to drug prohibition. Police can disrupt the drug trafficking of gangs only to a limited degree, but, they like Al Capone and other such thugs in the alcohol distribution business before them, can only really be put out of that lucrative business by a pronounced change in policy.

Prison overcrowding? We have filled our prisons with young men and women who have committed drug-related crimes – which the Sun-Times rightfully calls "a shameful waste of human potential and the taxpayers' money" – but, just like holding a bucket under a waterfall fills up lots of buckets with water, that act can do nothing to shut off the flow.

Foreign policy? In Mexico, where President Calderon has been waging his own war on drugs, the killing and corruption still continue to increase. The Sun-Times addresses those realities and cites the concern of many that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state because of them. Only the repeal of drug prohibition has the chance of saving our neighbor to the south from that fate.

So if all of these facts are becoming clear, why has this failed policy been allowed to continue? Because traditionally many people have harbored the idea that this policy, "for all of its defects," will keep drugs away from our children. But the bitter truth is that drug prohibition has made drugs stronger, cheaper and more available to our kids than any other system ever would have.

In addition to these other self-inflicted wounds, prohibition has materially increased cases of accidental drug overdose, unregulated drug poisoning, gang shootings, the killing of police and innocent victims caught in the crossfire, and AIDS infections and hepatitis contracted from dirty needles. And since we will never run out of people who are willing to take risks for selling small quantities of drugs for large amounts of money, the most effective way we can bring peace back to our streets, neighborhoods, and schools is to repeal the fundamental cause of the disruption, which is drug prohibition.

Furthermore, there are only so many resources allocated to the criminal justice system, so the "tougher" we get on drug crimes, literally the "softer" we get on the prosecution of everything else. Thus with a change away from drug prohibition, our law enforcement agencies will be able to divert scarce resources back to the underfunded investigation and prosecution of other crimes like robbery, rape, murder and fraud.

But there is even more! Today our country exports more cash to other countries because of the sales of illicit drugs than anything else, except oil. Forget all of our purchases of Toyota automobiles and Sony television sets, the bigger cash outflow is brought about by illegal drugs. And by the way, think of the reduced violence the repeal of drug prohibition will bring to countries like Colombia, Afghanistan, Thailand, Bolivia, Mexico and Nigeria, as well as the accompanying loss of profits and power to the drug lords and cartels there that today are thriving under our present policy!

Finally, the laws of drug prohibition have also resulted in a virtual prohibition of medical research on addiction and related problems. But with the recent liberalization of attitudes, medical science has begun to learn more about the properties of many of these presently illicit drugs. For example, in addition to its other perceived benefits, there is some indication that medical marijuana can also be helpful for autistic children. (For more information, please visit http://www.UF4A.org.)

You can help in this inevitable movement by supporting the "Tax and Regulate Cannabis Act of 2010," which will be on the November ballot and which would treat marijuana like alcohol for adults. Its most effective result will be to make marijuana less available for children than it is today by tightening the laws against selling or furnishing marijuana to people under the age of 21. (Of course today the illegal marijuana dealers don't ask for I.D.) And this measure expressly will not affect existing laws about driving under the influence or behavior in the workplace. Of course, it will also have the side benefit of taxing our state's largest cash crop, which will help our state's balance of payments problems.

Ironically, my generation of the 1960s has supported the punishment of our children's youthful drug indiscretions that takes away their freedoms, dignity, reputations, hope, Pell grants and otherwise bright futures for doing the very same thing that many of them did at the same age! Ask yourselves, do you think that incarceration would have helped the lives and careers of Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama – or the Olympic career of swimmer Michael Phelps? No, although marijuana certainly has its harms, the most harmful thing connected to marijuana today is jail. You can help us in November to reduce many of those harms.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010). He can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net, or through his website at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.