Are things in our great country really breaking down? Is Yogi Berra accurate when he says that “The future ain’t what it used to be”? In my opinion, the answer to these questions is no. However, at the same time, I believe our country in many ways is off the track, and we must make some fundamental changes in our attitudes and our approaches in order to get it going back in the right direction.

  Of course life is complicated, and many of our problems are complex. Of course we have scarce and finite resources, and many people, flora, fauna and fish are competing for them. And, unfortunately, it is also true that there seldom are any “solutions” for these problems.  

  But there can be “resolutions” to many problems like crime, healthcare, education, illegal immigration, campaign financing, environmental problems, drug use and abuse, our political system, dependence upon foreign oil, and even our tax system. However, now these issues are all bound up in politics, and, as people are becoming increasingly aware, politics and government are almost always simply about money. The doctrine of “sure you can reduce government spending, but just don’t touch my piece of the pie” controls virtually all governmental officials, bureaucracies and lobbyists.

  For the next year we will use this column to discuss and analyze many of today’s problem areas in straightforward terms. We will focus upon some approaches that work, and some that do not, and will discuss the reasons why. We will also make space for your feedback and questions about these approaches, so that together we can hone, fine-tune and put the wheels in motion to promulgate approaches that work.  

  As a trial judge in Orange County since 1983 and a candidate for federal office on two occasions I can tell you from my own experience that approaches that work are virtually always based upon four fundamental pillars: education, treatment and prevention, incentives that encourage people to act in a socially-responsible manner, and individual responsibility. You tell me the problem, and I will show you how these four pillars are a major part of the resolution.

  Things could be so much better in our society today. All too often our schools are failing our children, sick people are not able to find medical treatment, we lead the world in the incarceration of our people, there is no effective immigration system in place, problems with street gangs are increasing, as is fear from terrorism, and governments keep increasing in size and power, while continuing to scrounge for new and larger sources of revenue to take from us taxpayers.  

But there is also much cause for hope. This is our government, and if it is not working, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Each one of us can help us move forward by demanding excellence from our government officials, from our employees, from our children and their teachers, and, most importantly, from ourselves. No one has all of the answers, and that certainly includes me, but if we discuss the issues together openly, fully and honestly, we can really make some serious progress, and begin to give our great country a renewed sense of direction.

  Winston Churchill once commented that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. But democracy only works when we ourselves take the pains to make it work. Eschew mediocrity in our world! Set the right example! Demand accountability! Take an interest in the world around you, and help promote approaches that will help our policies and programs to work better! Foster and keep that spirit in the weeks to come as we investigate, discuss and set about to implement approaches that work. It’s going to be an interesting and productive time – and it’s going to be fun! Thank you for joining us.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)