Friday, November 26, 2010

It always comes back to values - by Judge Jim Gray

After the recent election was over, one of my friends confided to me that in the final analysis that he was unable to vote in favor of Proposition 19, which would have treated marijuana like alcohol for adults. The reason was that marijuana is harmful, especially to children, and if the initiative passed it would be yet one more compromise and retreat away from our value system.

I really understand his concerns.

Almost everywhere we look today, we seem to be losing ground in what is healthy about our way of life. The examples are familiar to us all, such as the managers of the city of Bell and other cities ostensibly manipulating the finances so as to pay themselves unconscionable salaries and benefits, professional baseball players taking steroids, young people valuing their membership in juvenile gangs more than obtaining an education, and many more. So now we "legalize" marijuana, thus allowing additional moral backsliding and decay? For many people, this was simply too much, and they registered their protest at the polls.

My response is that we should follow the advice of Confucius, who said, "The first rule in being a wise leader is that you must first define the problem."

So in that regard, we must remember that marijuana itself is not the problem, nor is it city finances, steroids, or even gangs. Those are just the symptoms. The problems — and the resolutions — are presented by the way we deal with these matters, and promoting viable alternatives to those harmful choices.

That is where values come into play. We must change the direction of the political landscape to favor programs that work, regardless of what today's so-called political wisdom would have us believe.

So what works? Basically four things: education, treatment and prevention, positive financial incentives, and individual responsibility.

So how can each of us help to change the direction of our country? The first part of the question is answered by the old saying that "the world is run by those who show up." And the remainder of the question is answered by saying that all we have to do is again become Americans! Rekindle the "can do" spirit at every level of our society by rewarding success, stigmatizing laziness and "entitlements," be open and available for scrutiny in almost every public thing we do, and focus upon things that work.

We can start this change of direction by opening our minds to viable alternatives, and by getting away from being so "politically correct" and having an almost automatic unreceptively to any recommendations from people we generally do not politically agree with, whether it is President Obama on one side of the political spectrum, or Sarah Palin on the other. That change will allow us to expand our focus, explore new approaches and rejuvenate successful old ones.

For example, the "political wisdom" for the last several decades has resulted in the mindless incarceration of too many people. Thus for decades politicians have built prisons and cut "liberal do-gooding" programs for drug treatment and children's performing arts, support groups for recently-paroled felons, and things like "midnight basketball" leagues, which provide many young men and women with an opportunity to channel their energies into productive efforts instead of being involved in "midnight mischief." These preventive programs work and thereby reduce crime as well as lost productivity, money and lives. But there is no political muscle behind them, and you and I simply must change that.

We should also stop blindly impugning the motives of people with whom we don't always agree. For example, the overwhelming majority of people, including Tea Party enthusiasts, who believe we should regain control of our nation's borders, are not racist; those who disagree with some of the positions of the government of Israel are not anti-Semitic; and those who fear terrorists are not anti-Muslim.

In addition, we should be more sophisticated and follow the advice we learned from "Deep Throat" during the Watergate era, which is to "follow the money." So, for example, when discussing the deteriorated condition of our public school systems, we should look at who has a vested interest in the perpetuation of the status quo, which, yes, includes the teachers' unions. Then we should listen to and assess their stated positions with that fact clearly in mind.

The same approach should be followed as to those who desire to have a perpetuation of big government. These are often a lot of wealthy people who are making money from government, such as with lucrative contracts, tax breaks and even subsidies for not planting crops.

Thus, whenever I read an op-ed piece in a magazine or newspaper, I first skip down to the bottom of the column and see who the authors are, and where their "bread is being buttered." In other words, I ask myself the question, what's in it for them? Everyone's opinion should be assessed by asking that question, and that certainly includes me as well.

So who is speaking for the benefit of society as a whole? In my view, it is those people who argue for greater liberty. That means less governmental intrusion and interference. Understand that it is the economically and politically powerful people who almost always control government, so the less governmental intrusion and power, the greater the good for the greater number.

The bottom line is that liberty works! The soul of the United States, and what has made it great — and even exceptional — is not our government, it is our freedoms. So when we put our values back where they belong, which is to emphasize Freedom and Liberty, buttressed by the implementation of programs that emphasize education, prevention and treatment, positive financial incentives, and individual responsibility, we will once again be Americans. And then the other things will fall back into place.

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

The spirit that moves them at Vanguard - by Judge Jim Gray

We have a real gem in our midst, which is Vanguard University of Southern California, and everyone should be aware and proud of it. As I hope you know, this four-year Christian university, which has an enrollment of 1,457 undergraduates and 703 postgraduates, is located on Fair Street and Newport Boulevard, and is just across from the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. And a gem? How about being named to the top five best baccalaureate small colleges in the West by U.S. News & World Report for each of the last three years?

My association with Vanguard began when I was asked about five or six years ago by my now-friend Elizabeth Leonard to speak to her sociology class about drug policy. Since then, I have been back at least 10 times to speak to other classes and forums about various topics, one of which included a rabbi friend of mine talking about the Jewish faith. I have always found the students to be bright, inquisitive, questioning and engaging.

As a result of these talks, I noticed Vanguard's performing arts programs, beginning with the music program under James Melton. In a word: superb! The musicians and singers are as talented, well-instructed and sophisticated as any I have seen, and they have performed recently at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, as well as in China, Europe, South Korea and Canada. But don't just take my word for it; you can hear them for yourself at their Christmas concerts either at the Performing Arts Center Nov. 30, or at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church on Dec. 3. Both concerts begin at 8 p.m., and I will be deeply surprised if you are not as impressed as I am.

My wife, Grace, and I have also mostly been blown away by Vanguard's drama department. We went first to see their performance of "Life Without Parole," which was written by VUSC Professor Warren Boody and is based upon Elizabeth Leonard's doctoral thesis, "Convicted Survivors." The story centers around women who were so abused by their husbands or boyfriends that they eventually resorted to violence and even murder to make it stop. Obviously, these women must be held accountable for their actions, and the play does not imply anything to the contrary, but it will impress you that the situation of abuse also must be heavily taken into consideration by both society and the court system.

That play was so compelling, and was also so well directed and performed, that we immediately signed up for season tickets, and I recommend you do the same. The most recent performance was of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," and it brought tears to my eyes. The next performance will be "It's A Wonderful Life," and I expect it will have the same effect.

I could go on and describe the other achievements of these professors and students, such as the fact that Vanguard has an amazingly high acceptance rate at quality medical schools around the country. But the fundamental thing that truly sets this university apart is the spirit of almost everyone involved. Yes, like almost all students who begin their college experience, these students are innately idealistic, but this university gives many of them both the tools and the inspiration to carry that idealism on through the rest of their lives.

For example, some of Vanguard's recent graduates have dedicated their lives to helping to provide employment and education to war-affected women in Northern Uganda. In that pursuit they founded "Krochet Kids," which has taught these women to make unique and uplifting types of caps which have been exported all around the world, to the degree that their beanies are now sold in Nordstrom. This program has been so successful that the Ford Motor Co.'s program "The People's Fleet" awarded the Ugandan workers a new car.

Another program in Uganda that was initiated by graduates of Vanguard is called "31 Bits." The name comes from The Bible's Proverbs Chapter 31, which tell a story about a woman providing for her family. The "bits" refers to the scraps of paper that are used to make beads, which are in turn used to decorate jewelry and shoes. 31 Bits now employs 60 women and sells products like its "Ugandals" online, at Seed People's Market at "The Camp" in Costa Mesa, and through a partnership with Reef Sandals.

Other VUSC grads have founded an orphanage! It goes on and on. But when you are exposed to this wonderful temple of higher learning, you will start taking results like these in stride. Why? Because you will see that there is a passion for humanity that is rampant on this campus, and it is unlike anything I have ever seen outside of the Peace Corps.

For example, the recently released feature film, "Sin by Silence," was created by a VUSC graduate filmmaker who came back to the school only to teach as an adjunct professor. But when she was started accompanying Elizabeth Leonard on her visits to a women's prison, the stories about some of the inmates having been beaten by their husbands was so compelling that she simply had to document it to the world.

As set forth in its website, Vanguard's stated purpose is to "pursue knowledge, cultivate character, deepen Christian faith, and equip each student for a life of leadership and service." Every university has a stated purpose like that, but I hope you join me in congratulating and being involved with one that literally puts its stated purpose into lasting practice. Vanguard University of Southern California, you have every right to be proud of what you stand for, and what you are doing. Well done!

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