It's A Gray Area: Country needs us to set it on right path

Many things are not going well for us and our country. So where do we go from here? Well, as people sometimes say when playing bridge, let's review the bidding.

For every dollar the federal government spends, it is borrowing or printing 20 cents. That has put our children and grandchildren into bankruptcy. Yes, at the moment the stock market is doing fairly well and the real estate market appears to be getting stronger, but the other shoe has yet to drop.

That other shoe is this: Public employee pensions nationwide are not adequately funded. Every city and county in California, for example, is probably bankrupt because their future financial obligations are much higher than their potential sources of income.

Regarding medical care, the government says we need tens of thousands more doctors and other healthcare professionals to serve the 30 million people who will soon receive health insurance. But many health professionals today are seeing fewer MediCal and Medicare patients because the reimbursements are continually being reduced below what will sustain their medical practices.

That means that under the so-called Affordable Care Act, the newly insured will have insurance that few competent medical professionals will accept. So what good will that do?

With regard to education, many of our public schools are failing our children despite ever-increasing government spending.

Furthermore, the United States has a problem with drug abuse that is larger than any other country in the industrialized world. And at the same time, we lead the world in the incarceration of our people, both by sheer numbers as well as per capita.

So how did these situations of doom and gloom evolve? Upon analysis, I think the reason is government.

We can start with the fact that, by the very nature of our system, politicians seldom care about the future and instead care only about the next election. Thus, unlike most private concerns, politicians have a strong tendency to kick the can down the road. "Just get me elected or re-elected, and let someone else worry about the problems after I'm out of office" is a controlling factor of government. All of these spending problems were easily foreseeable, but our elected "leaders" have simply put them off.

Another point is that almost no one is protecting the taxpayers during negotiations with public employee unions. Those unions have strong vested interests in who is elected or appointed, so they spend a large amount of energy and money supporting candidates who will be beholden to them once in office. And then those same officials are the ones who thereafter decide the "appropriate" benefits that should be awarded to the members of those unions.

As a result, while very few workers today in the private sector have pensions, it is a common perk in the public sector. As a matter of fairness and financial responsibility, all public workers should have the same 401k programs that almost all private workers have. Also, employees in the California court system now enjoy 13 paid holidays per year, while no private company I am aware of has more than six.

All of this has made public workers, at all levels of government, a privileged class. This is irresponsible and must be changed.

Regarding the failed policy of drug prohibition, that is answered by two Orange County members of Congress, who each told me that most people in Washington understand that the war on drugs is not winnable, but it is eminently fundable and they are addicted to the drug war funding.

In many ways the same thing is true regarding the number of people incarcerated in our country. For example, probably the strongest political lobby groups across the country are the prison guard unions. They spend lots of money to support politicians who vote for those ever-longer prison sentences. That has resulted today in tens of thousands of people in prison in California who simply should not be there.

So where do we go from here? The answer is that we must take back our government and make it work for us instead of the politicians. Whatever happened to the concepts of responsibility, work ethic and sacrifice? Yes, we certainly need government to help with things like education, healthcare and general safety, but in almost all cases, government should be the last resort.

Thomas Jefferson said that when people are afraid of their government, that's tyranny, but when the government is afraid of the people, that's democracy. In other words, we are citizens, not subjects. But to keep it being vibrant, democracy must be a contact sport. So each one of us should make it a point to take at least one of these issues to heart and work for it.

The bad news is that, yes, many things are not going well for us or our country. But the good news is that each of us is going to help to change it. This can be done by bringing back more power — and responsibility — to the consumers and the private sector for things like healthcare and education.

In addition, you can do things like lobby your city government to abolish its permit requirements. For example, a bonded installer, who can be sued for negligence if things go wrong, is perfectly capable of installing a water heater without governmental involvement.

Also, you can help to abolish the Transportation Security Administration and leave the airport screening issues to the private airlines. The airlines obviously have a vested interest in keeping their airplanes and passengers safe, and they will accomplish those results much more efficiently, and less expensively and intrusively, than the government.

These things are not hard, but they need our involvement. With that personal involvement, we can return our country to the prosperity, equal opportunity and security that are now slipping from our grasp. We owe this to our country and to our children.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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