Sunday, October 31, 2010

The trick of current welfare system - by Judge Jim Gray

Recently the Los Angeles Times reported that $69 million in California welfare money was cashed in by recipients in places like Las Vegas and on cruise ships. Prior to that, The Times reported that people on welfare had used their state-issued ATM cards to get money at casinos, strip clubs and massage parlors.
After those revelations, there followed the usual clamors and calls for politicians to tighten up the system, and many of the politicians responded by promising that in the future the cards could no longer be used in those types of places.
But the real problem is much more fundamental.
Yes, there are people in our society who simply cannot take care of themselves, and yes they need our help. And we will give them that help in the traditional Libertarian way – not because we have to, but because we want to. That is the type of people we are.
Thus we should have a welfare system, but not the one we have today. Why? Our welfare system has probably been the worst thing that has ever happened to a large majority of the recipients because it deprives them of both their motivation and their pride.
And that keeps them mired in poverty. As evidence, simply look at the generations of people who have not broken out of the welfare system.
So how can we still have a welfare system, but at the same time increase the incentives for the recipients to break away from it? The answer is for the welfare system to provide the necessities of life, but not to provide any money to the recipients at all.
What would such a program look like? There would be dormitory living for people on welfare (with some allowances for families), group-style meals, medical care at government-sponsored clinics, passes on public transportation and provisions to provide clothing, personal hygiene materials and other similar essentials. But in return, those people who are able would be required to help around the living spaces by doing chores such as cleaning, gardening, cooking, security and general maintenance work.
As such, this system would provide for all recipients' basic needs, and that would be appropriate. But it would also inherently provide incentives to the recipients to move beyond welfare and to improve themselves, because there would be a logical and necessary stigma of being placed to live in the public facilities.
But at the same time they would live under this stigma, the recipients would also more often have the means to be able to move away from it, because the new system would always include an incentive to get some form of job and "earn the extra dollar." Recipients would be forced to contribute money for their upkeep if they received any income, but always on a "sliding scale.
Thus, for example, if welfare recipients were to earn $200 per week in a part-time job, they would contribute only $50 for their upkeep. Thus they would be able to keep at least $150 to spend upon private purchases, including car expenses, or put it away in a savings account.
Other benefits of this new system are obvious. The taxpayer money to fund this new program would much more be spent on purchasing food, clothing and shelter for the recipients, instead of so much being spent on bureaucracy, administrative expenses and fraud. And along the way, there would be a much reduced appearance of unfairness, because everyone would be treated the same.
Today there are few incentives for people to get off welfare, because if they get a job, most of what they earn is forfeited back to the government. And if young ladies want to "form their own households," all they have to do is get pregnant, either inside or outside of wedlock, and by that act they now qualify for welfare. And, in a similar fashion, if they want their monthly check to be increased, all they have to do is to have another child for that to occur.
So once again, in this situation as well as most other human experiences, incentives matter!
Far from this being heartless, this proposed program is more humane. It provides for a reasonable existence for all recipients, but it also strongly removes the curse of our present system that causes welfare to be perpetuated, and people to remain in poverty for generations, and encourages people to progress to independence.
How would this new system of welfare be implemented? Slowly. It should start with people who are newly applying for welfare, and then slowly expanded to others who are already on the program. The dormitories would have to be constructed or remodeled, and they should always be clean, cheerful, modestly attractive and, above all, safe
Thus, in this system everyone would come out ahead, at least in the long run. The welfare recipients would have their needs met, but they would also have incentives to pursue their opportunities to have a better life. The taxpayers would receive a benefit because the system would probably cost them only half of what they are now paying, and they would also have the satisfaction of knowing that their money was being better spent for more care and less fraud and bureaucracy.
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 or 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.

It's A Gray Area: It's as 'sound as the dollar' - by Judge Jim Gray

I still remember my parents commenting during the 1964 presidential election about the silliness of Barry Goldwater's recommending that we go back on the silver and gold standard for our nation's monetary system. But now I know that Sen. Goldwater was right, and had we followed his recommendations, we would be the most economically healthy country in the world today.
The problem is that as soon as a country goes away from securing its currency with gold or silver — which it actually pledges to redeem to anyone who bears its paper currency — that country can almost never resist the temptation simply to print more money to pay its obligations. The rationale is, of course, that "we are only borrowing money from ourselves," but this immediately reduces the value of the currency. And, as I read from economist Mark Skousen's book "A Tale of Two Dollars" (Investment Rarities Inc., 2010), this is what we have starkly seen in our country since the middle 1960s.
During the Revolutionary War, our fledgling government printed lots of "Continental" dollars, which resulted it them losing more than 90% of their initial value. This also gave rise to the phrase "Not worth a Continental." Having experienced this result, the Founding Fathers responded by mandating in Article I Section 10 of our Constitution that no state could "make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts."
From about 1815 until the beginning of World War I, all of the world's major currencies were on the gold and silver standard. Thus the British "pound" was literally the equivalent value of a pound of sterling silver. That also meant that inflation simply was not a problem, because before a country could print more of its currency, it had to obtain and store the equivalent amount of gold or silver to back it up.
Other than during the Civil War years when the federal government issued inflated "greenbacks" that were based only upon the "good faith and credit of the United States," our country was also on the gold and silver standard during that time. We mostly used Spanish silver coins that were called "thalers," which over time with our lax pronunciation we eventually called dollars. We also formed the practice of cutting those silver dollars into eight parts, which were soon called "pieces of eight." That is also the derivation of the term "two bits," which was what we colloquially called a quarter of a dollar.
But in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took us off the gold standard, devalued the dollar from $20 per ounce to $35 per ounce, and forced Americans to turn in their gold coins in exchange for Federal Reserve Notes of denominations of $5 and above. But we stayed on the silver standard until 1965, when the value of $1 in silver coins actually rose to about $1.29. This was caused by the inflation that resulted from the insistence of President Lyndon Johnson that we could pay for both "guns and butter" at the same time — to wit, both the "Great Society" and also the Vietnam War.
At this point many people took advantage of the disparity between the price of silver and the value of the Silver Certificate dollars by melting down the silver coins and selling the metal for a profit. In response, the federal government withdrew the Silver Certificate $1 bills, which promised they could be converted to silver, and replaced them with Federal Reserve Notes. The government also recalled all silver coins, and replaced them with coins made from nickel and other metals. Later it did the same thing when the copper in our pennies became worth more than 1 cent.
What did all of this do for the purchasing power of our money? For a comparison, in 1960 the value of a paper dollar and a silver dollar was the same. But by 2010, the purchasing power of that same paper dollar was down to 10 cents, while the purchasing power of the silver dollar had increased to $18. That means that, for example, the real price of a gallon of gasoline has actually decreased in the last 50 years, because in 1960 a dollar bought about five gallons of gas, and a silver dollar can buy more than that today!
Thus it is the irresponsibility of government in not resisting the temptation of printing more money to pay for its spending that has directly contributed to our financial instability. So yet again, and as Ronald Reagan used to say, "Government is not the answer to the problem, government is the problem."
In fairness it must be understood that no country today is still on the gold standard. Instead, like us, each one is on the "fiat" system, which basically means that businesses and private individuals are required to accept the government's currency for all transactions and the payment of debts and taxes. But, fortunately, since 1975 Americans again have been "allowed" by the government to own and invest in gold and silver coins and bullion. Thus in this time of economic uncertainty, many people have converted a large part of their investments into these precious metals.
So now our currency is once again just backed by the "full faith and credit" of the United States government, whatever that means, and it is up to each of us to do what we can to bring back the saying "sound as the dollar" to mean confidence, instead of a wry joke like with the "Continental." This is critical, because the most important way to keep our country safe and secure is to have a strong economy — and the best way for that to occur is for no spending initiatives or legislation to be passed unless they also set forth their source of funding.
For years we have pontificated to other countries that, due to the weakness of their currencies, they should "tighten their belts" and reign in their spending. Well now it is time, for the security of our country, children and grandchildren, that we take our own advice. Please remember that Libertarian thought when casting your vote Tuesday, and in all future elections.
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 or 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, October 25, 2010

As you live your life, let it be a dance - by Judge Jim Gray

As I turned "Medicare eligible" this year, I have been reflecting more and more about the time I have left on this planet. Maybe we all should — no matter how old we are. So I thought I would share some of my reflections with you. I know as you read these lines that you might think of me like Polonius, the father from Shakespeare's Hamlet who was sometimes seen as pushy with his advice ("This above all: to thine own self be true…"), but if these thoughts stimulate even just a few of you or, better yet, your children, then that is a risk I accept.

My first focus is upon some of Rick Warren's observations in "The Purpose Driven Life" about Proverbs 4:23, when he says, "Be careful how you think, (because) your life is shaped by your thoughts," and that "Change always starts first in your mind."

In so many ways, we are the captains of our own ships, and we can shape our attitudes, spirits, and thoughts to live whatever life we seek.

So what is the life we seek? Obviously that is a multifaceted question. But boiled down to its essence, all of the world's great religions express it in a similar fashion, and that is to be of service to others. For example, Jesus said: "If you love me, feed my sheep" (John 21: 15-17).

Similarly, the Dalai Lama said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; and if you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion."

There are many more examples, and if you want it presented better than I possibly could, read Henry Miller's short parable "The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder." Nevertheless, particularly with our lifestyles here in Southern California where the concept of "my yacht is bigger than your yacht" can often lure us toward a false god, it is helpful to be reminded to "keep our eyes on the real prize" of life, which is being of service to others. That is where the real gratification on this Earth lies, and we can achieve it in every part of our lives, be it at home, work, or during our leisure time. Of course we can't bring peace and compassion to the whole world, but we can help to bring them to our little corner of it.

Among the saddest things in life are, first, for a person to look back over his life when he is about to lose it and conclude that he never really lived it, and second, for a person to lose a family member without ever really having told the deceased family member that he loved him. Take positive steps to keep those tragedies from happening to you!

Along similar lines, make an effort to record your elders' stories on an audiocassette or videotape. Forget taking pictures of your vacations if you must, but be sure to capture your parents and the people of their generation telling the stories of their youth and the rest of their lives, and also capture their interactions with you, your children, and friends. This will be a priceless treasure both for you and your descendents.

And maybe you will want to do what my father did by taking those boxes of old photographs and letters that we all have and making a family heritage scrapbook of them. Most of the time, once the elder generation is gone, those pictures and letters have no meaning because we don't know the identity and stories behind them. But if they are labeled and we are told who those ancestors are and where they fit into to our history, you will be creating another priceless and lasting family treasure.

Furthermore, as your parents retire and grow older, encourage them to delve into painting, gardening, writing, baking, or some other hobby. Keep trying to find the right fit until you see their eyes light up at one of the prospects. Then every time you see or speak to them, inquire about how they are progressing, and then be sure to enjoy it with them. And then try the same approach with your spouse, your children, and even yourself. Imagine the excitement in probing into things like the worlds of geology, hummingbirds, oceanography, astronomy, other people's cultures, the life of Caesar Augustus, or whatever lights up your eyes. Like Rick Warren said, "It's never too late to start growing."

And along the way, never accept mediocrity in yourself, your children, your employees, or anyone else whom you can affect. Aristotle said that excellence is not an act, but a habit. So develop the reputation that if you are going to do any task, people can be assured that it will be done well — every time — and help your children to do the same.

I have been blessed to have the opportunity for the past three years to share my various thoughts with you in this column, and I thank the editors of The Daily Pilot for the opportunity. I originally promised the editors that I would contribute these columns for a year, but it became such a gratifying outlet for me, I simply could not stop. And I also genuinely appreciate all the emails and other responses I have received from you as the readers — both when you agree and when you disagree with me. Please keep those responses coming.

Finally I want to share part of my all-time favorite poem with you, with the hope it will have the same stimulating effect upon your lives as it has with mine. It was written by Ric Masten, is titled "Let It Be A Dance," and is shortened to read as follows:

"Let it be a dance we do.

May I have this dance with you?

Through the good times

And the bad times too,

Let it be a dance.

A child is born, the old must die,

A time for joy, a time to cry.

Take it as it passes by,

And let it be a dance.

The morning star comes out at night,

Without the dark there is no light.

But if nothing's wrong, then nothing's right.

So let it be a dance.

Let the sun shine, let it rain,

Share the laughter, bare the pain.

And round and round we go again,

So let it be a dance."

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical revue "Americans All" (Heuer Publishing), and can be contacted, or through his website at

Friday, October 15, 2010

On becoming a peacemaker - by Judge Jim Gray

One of the most gratifying things I did as a judge on the trial court in Orange County was helping people voluntarily resolve their disputes. Over the years I developed some insights into what helps increase the chances of a resolution, and what pushes people further apart. So since there are opportunities in everyone's life to help to resolve disputes, whether they are their own or those of others, I wanted to pass along to you some suggestions — and maybe in turn you can pass them along to your children.

The first thing to be aware of in trying to resolve disputes is not to promise more than you can deliver. If anything you do gets people's expectations to be unrealistically high, you will probably torpedo your chances of achieving a resolution even before you even get started. So always stay cautiously optimistic, but also stay realistic.

In addition, when you are involved in discussions in the presence of the opposing parties, never allow anyone to use what I call "poisonous words." These are words like "liar," "cheat," or "scumbag," and their use will almost always move people further from a resolution.

Similarly, as a mediator you should stress that only one person can get mad at a time during the talks. (And, of course, you can never be the one!) And if one side does get upset, allow that person to "vent" for a short while, but then make a comment like, "I understand how you feel (which will ratify but not necessarily agree with their emotions), but may we now get back to trying to alleviate the source of your frustration and resolve this dispute in a fair manner?"

And don't underestimate the power of an honest apology. Several years ago an insurance company that provided medical malpractice insurance to doctors actually encouraged their insured doctors to apologize to their patients when the outcome of a medical procedure was disappointing. That does not always mean that the doctors were admitting that they made a mistake, but if the apology for the bad result is genuine, many people will understand that their doctors did not go to medical school to hurt people, and also that they are human. Thus many people will be forgiving, accept the apology, and simply go on with their lives. Of course, this approach can apply to all kinds of disputes.

Another important thing to determine is whether this dispute is being addressed as a business decision, or one based upon emotion. If some parties would "rue the day" that they ever settled the dispute because they want to see their counsel cross-examine that jerk on the other side, or they want to be able to "tell the world" about how they have been wronged, they should go to trial. But if the dispute involves a business decision, then I can help them in a resolution.

But having said that, often just giving people the opportunity to tell their story to a neutral party, whether it is a judge or any other neutral person, can be sufficient to allow them to move on to making it a business decision. Why? Because those people will now feel that they have had "their day in court." So often mediators are in the psychotherapy or even hand-holding business. Don't shy away from it, because you will be fulfilling an important human function.

Sometimes you will be faced with what I call political decisions. For example, if the people who are the decision-makers for one side of the dispute are also the ones who made the mistake that gave rise to the dispute in the first place, those people will often hesitate to offer a settlement because then it will then look like they are acknowledging their mistake. So you as the mediator must frame the matter to look like any reasonable person under the same circumstances would have done the same thing. In that way the decision-makers will be free to provide redress without looking like they were careless, or worse.

Often mediating disputes calls for creativity both from the parties and the mediator. For example, when two people or companies that have done business with each other for awhile have a dispute, often it can be resolved by forming an agreement between them for future business at more favorable rates for the aggrieved party. That in effect will result in a victory for both sides, because not only will the business relationship be continued, but over time it will probably be strengthened, and at the same time the aggrieved party will receive some redress.

Creativity in disputes involving the "loss of face" can often be resolved by having the party who made the mistake or failed to perform make a contribution to the charity of the aggrieved party's choice. That way both sides will be seen as being caring and responsible citizens, and the dispute will also be resolved.

Of course, if you are looking for solutions to problems, you should become a mathematician. Why is that? Because almost all human disputes only have resolutions. For example, if someone ran a red light and hit your car, breaking your arm, nothing can be done to keep that injury from having occurred. Thus there is no solution to the problem, only a resolution, which frequently results in the culpable party paying money to the aggrieved one.

So at the outset of your mediations, make sure the aggrieved parties understand that all you can do is resolve the dispute by picking them up, dusting them off, and helping them to get on with their lives. That will help them to look at the situation much more realistically.

As you probably know, helping to resolve disputes is a truly gratifying thing to do, but it takes work and some insights into human nature to do it effectively. I hope that some of these tips will help you in your future efforts.

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 or 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.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let's make pot boring - by Judge Jim Gray

It is time for us to be realistic and manage the trade and usage of marijuana instead of simply moralizing about it. The honest facts are that today marijuana is the largest cash crop in California (No. 2 is grapes); with illegal dealers there are no controls whatsoever on quality, quantity, age restrictions, price or place of sale; and most of the big money goes to groups like the Mexican drug cartels, juvenile gangs and other thugs, and they don't pay taxes on any of it.

It is also a fact that the voters are ahead of the politicians on these issues. Yes, most of the vocal politicians and current law enforcement officials have taken a position against Proposition 19, but many retired law enforcement officials, who are much less subject to political considerations, are speaking out in its support.

For example, I belong to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition ( My fellow members are people like former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Deputy Steve Downing, former San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, and thousands of other former narcotics officers, prison guards, prosecutors and others, all of whom are stating the obvious that our nation's policy of marijuana prohibition is not working.

Holland's and Portugal's experience will shed light on what will happen when Proposition 19 passes. Holland decriminalized marijuana possession and use for those 16 and older in the early 1970s, and several years ago, the minister of health was quoted as saying that they have only half the marijuana usage, per capita, as we do in our country — both for adults and teenagers! "We have succeeded in making pot boring," he said.

Of course, our country glamorizes marijuana by making it illegal, and also by having such obscene profit motives in getting others to sell it to you, your neighbors and your children. And you will also note that today young adults are not selling Jim Beam bourbon or Marlboro cigarettes to each other on their high school campuses. But they are selling marijuana to each other all the time.

Proposition 19 will reduce those problems, just like it did in Portugal when they decriminalized all drugs in 2001. What were the results? The CATO Institute found that even though the drugs were legal in Portugal, usage of them did not increase. In fact it actually went down about half a percentage point. And problem drug usage was reduced by half! Why? The problem users were no longer afraid of their own government because now if they came forward, they would receive drug treatment instead of being punished.

Those findings make the alarmists in our country who say we would become a "nation of marijuana zombies" look pretty silly. In fact just ask yourself, if Proposition 19 were to pass, would you use marijuana? From my standpoint, you could give it away on street corners and bless it by every religious leader in town, and I am still not going to use marijuana (unless my medical doctor recommends it to me for some illness or disease). And most everyone else feels the same way. In fact as a practical matter, anyone who would use marijuana if Proposition 19 were to pass is probably using it already!

What do the other opponents of Proposition 19 say? Some say that we would still have an illicit market for selling marijuana to young adults if Proposition 19 were to pass, and that would be true. But when alcohol prohibition was repealed, it was no longer moonshine alcohol that was being sold to minors by people like Al Capone, it was alcohol that was mostly bought legally and then illegally transferred. The same would be true with marijuana. So that would still undercut the illegal dealers.

There are basically three other groups of opponents. The first is people who say that the cities would not be able to handle the administrative responsibilities of setting up programs for the sale of marijuana, the second is some employers who are concerned that marijuana users would be able to run rampant over the workplace, and the third is some of those who make money at medical marijuana dispensaries.

Regarding the cities not being able to set up their own systems, that really is a non-issue — they do it all of the time. And besides, one of the beauties of Proposition 19 is that it will still be illegal to sell marijuana within a city's borders (except under Proposition 215 for medical marijuana) unless that particular city expressly opts into the program. In reality what will happen is that the cities will learn from each other. So if one city tries something that is successful, others will tend to use that system, and the opposite is also true.

As to the workplace issues, Proposition 19 expressly states that it would not affect any of the current regulations of the workplace. Employers still can require drug testing as a condition of being hired, and still, just like alcohol, can test employees if they have some cause to believe the employees are impaired in the workplace.

Finally, it is true that people supplying marijuana within Proposition 19 will probably be more organized. That will very likely reduce the price of the marijuana, even after the payment of applicable taxes, which will, in turn, take the market away from both illegal sellers and also some of the medical marijuana dispensaries. That is an understandable reason for people presently operating dispensaries, but it is not a reason for the rest of us to oppose Proposition 19.

On Nov. 2 you can help us repeal the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and bring our state's largest cash crop back under the law. This is probably one of the most important elections of my lifetime, and I hope you will further look into and support Proposition 19.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed" (Temple University Press), and can be contacted at or