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It’s A Gray Area: When it comes to our failings, pick a card

Yes, our great country has some problems. But there is nothing going on today that could not be addressed and resolved by good proactive leadership. In this case, I define leadership as identifying and addressing a problem area from a human and economic approach, basing a resolution upon what would work best for our country, and its people as a whole, and standing up for that resolution. That is what Winston Churchill did on numerous occasions, but I do not see any leaders of that caliber in our country at all. Not even one!

A big problem is that our political system so strongly encourages short-term, special-interest thinking, such that elected officials are not concerned about the future, they are only concerned about the next election. In addition, in this political environment, if elected officials take a public position about 10 issues, and the average voters agree with them on seven and are undecided about another two, but disagree with them on the last one, the voters often will crucify the officeholder on that final issue at the next election.

Of course, this strongly encourages our officeholders not to take positions at all, or to increase their political safety if they do by being more partisan. And this also has the effect of more propositions being placed on the state ballots on issues that really should be decided by the legislatures, because the political “leaders” are afraid to touch them.

Of course we, our children, our grandchildren and our country, are paying a big price for this state of affairs. For example, let’s look at this recent budget “crisis.” Our elected officials in Washington were playing “brinksmanship” with our economic stability and future as a country. But during this entire process did you see any elected official working with others of a different philosophy for the good of the country? I didn’t.


So what was the result? This is my understanding of Washington’s “resolution” of our country’s budget problems — taking off eight zeros from the country’s budget and putting the situation into the perspective of an average American family’s budget. Last year this family earned $21,617. But it spent $34,560, which in turn added $12,943 to its credit card debt, and which brought its total outstanding credit card debt to $135,616. So in response to this crisis, the family reduced its budgeted spending for next year by $385.

Furthermore, did you notice that other proposed “resolutions” were almost as bad as the final result? Most of the proposals were to reduce the budget deficit by a few trillion dollars within the next 10 years. That would, of course, mean that the pain of the budget cuts would be postponed until a time in which our present elected officials were safely out of office.

The answer is, no! What we must do is to be pro-active and reduce the deficits now!

Unfortunately, we have no leadership in virtually any other area either. Where? Pick a card, any card. Our schools are failing our students. Bringing competition back into our schools would turn the situation around, but we can’t do this because the teachers’ unions are against competition, and politicians are afraid to oppose the unions.


Our health-care system is literally in the process of falling apart. The reemergence of competition would bring back its traditional excellence, but we can’t do that because medical insurance companies and big government are against competition, and politicians are afraid to stand it their way.

Our present immigration system is hurting virtually everyone in sight both from a financial and human standpoint. But some powerful Republicans like the status quo because they profit by the cheap labor, and some powerful Democrats also like the status quo because it brings many people into the country who will eventually vote for Democrats. So nothing changes.

Our income-tax system is enormously expensive in costs of compliance, enforcement and fraud, as well as indisputably inequitable. But most members of Congress are unalterably opposed to changing it, because they now reap huge political advantages from being able to give out tax breaks to many powerful and wealthy constituents.

Drug prohibition continues to be unimaginably expensive in financial, criminal and human terms. But big government, law enforcement agencies and the prison guards unions would lose huge amounts of money and power if even parts of it were to be repealed.

Low-impact automobile collisions continue to result in law suits that fill up our courthouses, and at the same time reduce and delay compensation to those who are injured. But the plaintiff’s attorneys are opposed to any changes, and they are politically powerful.

Governments at all levels continue to grow and over-regulate, both of which result in higher taxes and fewer resources being spent on people in need and on our infrastructure, which is crumbling. Fortunately, many people are beginning to understand that governments do not generate wealth, only the private sector does that. But government officials don’t want to lose any of their accumulated powers, and public employees’ unions are opposed to any reductions because they would reduce money to their members.

Examples of this last position are blatantly seen today by the signs posted all around Costa Mesa by the public employees’ unions that say “Cancel the Layoffs.” What they are really saying is that “I want mine, and I don’t care about economic reality or anything else.”

Obviously, this is just a summary. If you want more thorough discussions, all of these issues have been addressed previously in this column, and can be found at, keywords “Gray Area.” Together we must find candidates with some fortitude and give them the political cover they need to address these critical issues pro-actively. Why is this our responsibility? Because fundamentally it is our government, and if it isn’t working, we have no one to blame but ourselves.


JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs” (Temple University Press, 2011), and can be contacted at