Friday, April 29, 2011

Hungry and abused animals, disappearing species, the unsanitary conditions in which chickens and cows and pigs are slaughtered, the poaching of game animals and the hatred of wolves are as much a sign of the sinful nature of humans as any.

“God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.”
The Book of Genesis
                I am excited because I have been asked to bless the animals being cared for and about at the Cheyenne Animal Shelter. Animals need blessing. It’s a tough world for them. They are too often abused, hungry, horded and poached. Entire species are sacrificed for a few more barrels of oil. One should never walk by an animal without saying a quiet prayer.
            The Blessing of the Animals has become a ritual event in many communities. It is often conducted in respect to the memory and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis is “the patron saint of animals.” He took the Bible seriously enough to believe when God entrusted the care of the animals to humans, we were given a sacred responsibility for their well-being.
            A book telling of the Saint’s works is entitled The Little Flowers of St. Francis, in Italian the Fioretti. Included is a story with meaning for those who continue to wage political war on God’s beloved wolves. Long ago in the Italian village where Francis lived, there was a terrifying wolf who preyed on humans and animals alike. Caring for both animals and the humans of the village, Francis undertook to convert both. When he happened upon the ferocious wolf, the young priest called the animal “brother” and with the sign of the cross commanded the wolf to change his ways.

"Brother Wolf,” Francis said respectfully, “you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you but brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” Francis led the wolf into the town, and made peace between the people and the wild beast. Each would agree to acknowledge the right of the other to exist as part of God’s creation. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk agreed to feed the wolf. For his part, the wolf would no longer prey on them or their flocks. As a demonstration of the acceptance of the animal as a part of the life of the village, Francis blessed the wolf as he had blessed the people before.
            For much the same reason, we bless the animals amongst us. We do so in order to raise awareness of their special status among the Creation of God. They were as central to God’s hope for the world as we. Hungry and abused animals, disappearing species, the unsanitary conditions in which chickens and cows and pigs are slaughtered, the poaching of game animals and the hatred of wolves are as much a sign of the sinful nature of humans as any.
            Know that the blessing of the animals is as much about us as it is them. It’s an occasion for humans to consider our sacred responsibility to care for and protect the most vulnerable of God’s creation. It is likewise a chance for the people of Cheyenne to thank the Animal Shelter for undertaking our community’s responsibility to provide for the abandoned and orphaned animals among us. Our blessing is for them as well as the animals entrusted to them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

If you or a parent is planning on Social Security and Medicaid within the next 10 years, you need to pay attention to the mounting threat.

I fear the American people are being set up for a huge raid on Social Security and Medicare by those who would prefer to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. The only way they can afford to do that is to persuade us there must be huge cuts in what they call “entitlements.”  When we oppose that, they say we aren’t serious about cutting the deficit.
They have borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for tax cuts and wars and now say something has to be done to cut benefits because as Senator Enzi says, It’s one of those amazing trust funds that the United States has that has no money in it, it has IOU’s.” And whose fault is that?
This morning’s blog is a letter written to Sen. Enzi by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. These are facts you need to know.

The Honorable Mike Enzi
379a Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Enzi,
You were quoted on the NPR news show Power Breakfast saying “Anybody who is saying that Social Security is in good shape is making a political statement that they don’t want to handle it during their term in office... It’s one of those amazing trust funds that the United States has that has no money in it, it has IOU’s in it and that should worry everybody” in reference to the bonds that make up the Social Security Trust Fund.
Thankfully, there is little cause for worry. The government sold U.S. government bonds to the Trust Fund, just as it sells bonds to individuals and private corporations every day of the week. Just as with any funds used to purchase bonds, the money is borrowed by the government, but repaid at the end of the term of the bond. As long as the law is followed and the bonds are repaid on schedule, there is no reason to worry about the Social Security Trust Fund. In fact the Social Security trustees report clearly shows that Social Security will remain fully solvent through 2037 and will be able to pay roughly 80 percent of scheduled benefits from then on even if no changes are ever made.
While it would be unacceptable to have benefits drop by more than 20 percent, Congress has more than a quarter century to prepare for this situation. The projected shortfall is substantial, but nonetheless considerably smaller than other budgetary changes we have seen in recent years. For example, it is more than 20 percent less, measured as a share of GDP, than the increase in annual defense spending than we have seen from 2000 to 2010.
I hope that you will be careful to present the situation more accurately in future public statements. If you would like any additional background on the program, I would be happy to assist you.
Best Regards,
Dean Baker-Co-Director
Center for Economic and Policy Research

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Should Congressional Salaries be means-tested? Why should a person worth 50 million dollars receive a government check for public service?

Can you imagine a job where you get to set your own salary and benefits using somebody else’s money? All the employer knows about your job performance is what you tell them in press releases and self-serving speeches. Not one dime of your earnings is in any way dependent on your performance or outcomes. And your employer is even willing to borrow from China to make the payroll.
It’s good work if you can get it! There are only 535 such jobs in the entire country. Wyoming has been allocated only three of those jobs.
As those three join the other 532 in deciding whether elderly folks will have Medicaid or children at Head Start will have a place to go to school, you should look at what they pocket. It starts with their salary. A member of Congress receives $174,000 dollars a year. That is 2 ½ times the median income of Wyoming families and more than 90% of the earnings of those who vote (or not). I don’t know what raises you’ve seen in the last decade but members of Congress have used your money to give themselves a 30% pay increase. Here is the chart that shows how they have hiked their pay.

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Salary is only part of the story. The benefits are eye opening. Members of Congress participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program along with federal workers. However, members of Congress receive additional medical benefits beyond those available to regular federal employees.

For an annual payment of $503, (.003 of their salary) members receive routine care from the Office of the Attending Physician in the Capitol including physicals and other examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists.

In addition, current members receive medical and emergency dental care at military hospitals and clinics. Outpatient care is free if it's performed at facilities such as Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia. Retiring members continue receiving health care for a contribution much smaller than you and I are required to make under COBRA or other plans.
And the Congressional trough is a pretty good place to be when it’s time to retire. In addition to Social Security, they receive a hefty pension. According to the Congressional Research Service, the average annual pension for a retired member of Congress after serving only FIVE years was $35,952.  Members and their staffs receive a larger retirement benefit than other federal employees and become eligible for a retirement annuity at a younger age and with fewer years of service. They contribute only 1.3 percent with the bulk of the retirement benefit's cost picked up by the employer, i.e. you.
On top of all that some members get free housing by turning their plush DC office into a condominium of sorts!
Now what’s really curious about this enhanced salary and benefit package is that nearly all of the Members of Congress pocketing these public dollars are already millionaires. It was reported last week that Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is the 7th wealthiest member of the US House with a net worth of almost 50 million dollars.
I have an idea. In that same budget where she and her colleagues propose to end Medicare and severely cut social programs in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy…how about a provision to means test congressional salaries? Programs for the poor are limited by one's income, why not programs for wealthy public servants. Why should a person worth 50 million dollars receive a government check for public service?
As the Bible says, “To whom much has been given much is expected.” During a time when Congress is deciding who else and how much of a sacrifice Americans must make, you’d think they could set an example. To whom much has been give, at least a little bit more could be expected during these tough times.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rodger McDaniel is the Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church.
This is an excerpt from a speech he gave to the Laramie County Democratic Party
I now understand political involvement is a part of living out my faith. Matthew Pistono has written a book about his life, growing up in Lander and taking a journey that led him to Tibet and from his Catholic upbringing to Buddhism and how he understands the confluence of faith and political activism. The book has helped me to understand where faith intersects with politics.
“Politics and spirituality emerge from the commitment to strive for enlightenment so that one may be beneficial to others. Social activism is one and the same with spiritual practice. There is no separation so long as the commitment to benefit all beings never wavers. Bodhisattvas teach by example, not by quoting scripture.”
There was a time when one could involve herself or himself in politics without endangering their soul, in fact there was time when political involvement enhanced one’s soul.
In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy first walked with disenfranchised farm workers in Delano, California to learn their story and to see what he could do to bring hardworking people some justice. Robert Kennedy came to the Mississippi Delta and brought back images of poverty and hunger that shocked the nation. Bobby taught the value of hope in the face of despair. Something happened inside of people when they saw this wealthy son of an aristocrat sitting on a porch with the poorest of the poor, his face grimaced as he looked at American children with swollen bellies. Bobby Kennedy made the plight of the poor a spiritual issue, a guttural faith issue in America. He gave hope to the hopeless.
When he died so did that. When he died, the Democratic Party and politics in general saw what Robert Frost saw. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveller, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.”
Ah...the undergrowth...when Frost chose that word it meant something to his readers. They knew places where you could not see the forest for the trees, where shrubs and saplings and bushes grew so thick under the trees one could not see to the other side. Where one must choose a path without knowing where it leads.
In today’s virtual world the term undergrowth has acquired a new reference point. It’s the 24 hour news cycle, the internet, twitter, facebook, email, FOX News, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity…it’s the creation of a virtual reality that not only conceals the truth in the undergrowth but makes the truth entirely irrelevant to the choices we make. We find ourselves in a world where politics and spiritual pursuits have little apparent relationship.
I grew up in a blue collar home. My dad was an underground miner in Leadville when I was born. Later we moved to Cheyenne where he got a job as a milk man and a truck driver. He was a Teamster. His parents were itinerant farm workers who survived the dust bowl in west Texas. My mother worked her life as a cook and waitress.
My earliest memory of any discussion about politics was my parents telling me about FDR. They believed the President of the United States, FDR, actually cared about how they lived. They really thought he spoke to them, listened to them, and laid awake at night worrying about their hunger, their children, and their lives.
That’s what we’ve lost in the undergrowth of a world more concerned with messages and spin and talking points than with people. That’s what we have to work to regain if politics is to become the honorable pursuit it once was.

Monday, April 25, 2011

“Here lies the mighty gentleman who rose to such heights of valor that death itself did not triumph over his life; he did not esteem the world for he was a frightening threat to the world…"

Rodger McDaniel is the Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church
in Cheyenne. This is an excerpt from yesterday’s sermon.

They say your whole life pass before your eyes in the instant before death. One psychologist described this phenomenon as a brief overview of your life. Not the mundane hours that would end up on the proverbial cutting room floor, but the few glowing or tragic memories that you've never been able to forget.
Luke records that moment as Jesus languished on the cross. “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
In these last few moments Jesus’ life passed before his eyes. Between the moments when he cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and the last moments before death overtook him and Jesus commended his own spirit into his Father’s hands…in those brief moments, what did Jesus see?
When all we know about someone is what we read in their biography or one their grave stone, we are purposely denied a glimpse of the mundane. The epitaph of Don Quixote reads: “Here lies the mighty gentleman who rose to such heights of valor that death itself did not triumph over his life; he did not esteem the world for he was a frightening threat to the world…for it was his great good fortune to live as a madman and to die sane.”
These words are appropriate for the tomb in which Jesus lay for three days before this morning. Those words allow us to imagine the parts of his life passing before his eyes those last moments. Can you imagine knowing, as did Jesus, your impending death is not the end. Think of how that would affect the highlight reel of your life. The Gospel is a highlight reel of the life of the man on the cross. Close your eyes and let some of the images of his life pass before your eyes.
His baptism in the Jordan River. The 40 days in the wilderness. Wandering along the banks of the Sea of Galilee turning fishermen into fishers of men’s souls. Confronting demons. Confronting chief priests, scribes, Pharisees and Romans emperors. Speaking hard truths to those who did not want to hear them. Times spent caring for those who were rejected by even the religious folk. Saving that woman from stoning by simply suggesting he who is without sin should cast the first stone.  
Jesus may have died on Friday with all of those images passing before his eyes but he awoke on Sunday with visions of the future firmly printed on his mind. And us? Can we proclaim such a certainty of belief in God’s power to restore life that when we see a brother who is hungry we give him food, or see a sister thirsty we give her something to drink, meet strangers and welcome them, see those who are naked and give them the shirt off our own back, learn of one who is sick and take care of them, know of those in prison and visit.’ 
Can we be so recklessly curious about Jesus to go beyond studying his life and his teachings to be a genuine follower? In this culture that would be so counter-cultural as to make us appear to live as madmen and women but Jesus assures us we will be remembered as sane…and compassionate and caring…and as Christians.
And perhaps we will earn a gravestone etched with the words, “Here lies the mighty gentleman who rose to such heights of valor that death itself did not triumph over his life; he did not esteem the world for he was a frightening threat to the world.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why are hard working middle class conservatives providing political cover for greedy gazzillionaires?

I don’t get it. Maybe someone can help me to understand.  Why are hard working middle class conservatives providing political cover for greedy gazzillionaires? What’s up with that?
I understand most of them are Republicans and instinct is to defend Republican proposals. We are wired with “default” reactions. Recent science concludes our brains predispose us to being liberals or conservatives years before we are old enough to vote. Harvard researchers have isolated a gene, DRD4, causing us to embrace certain political beliefs.
Dr. John Alford of Rice University concludes there’s a genetic component causing some to react more strongly than others to perceived threats. Those tend to be the conservatives. Alford asks, “If conservatives genetically respond differently to stimuli than do liberals will “facts” matter at all in today’s political debates?”  Dr. Alford says there’s a limit to genetic thought control however. He believes political views are about 40-50% nature. Difficult as it may be for facts to penetrate, it is therefore possible.
Look at some facts middle class conservatives sidestep to their own detriment. I’m not talking about the tax rates of the rich but rather the ungodly rich, the folks Jesus spoke about. Truly I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus used the camel as metaphor because the camel was the largest animal roaming Israel. I am using the term “rich” to refer to the largest bank account holders roaming American politics.
Since 1992 (yes, I have included Clinton years as well as Bush) the income of the wealthiest Americans has increased by 392%. At the same time, their lobbyists have wired the tax code to achieve a 37% cut in their taxes. If you made 50 or a hundred thousand dollars a year during that period, your tax rate stayed pretty much the same. You need better lobbyists because those bringing home 500,000 dollars to a million saw their tax rates cut in half.
The  “Bush tax cuts” middle class conservatives find sacred (which Obama campaigned against and then caved for) benefit only those camels who’ll find it difficult passing through the eye of any form of subjective scrutiny. Those cuts provide an average $146,000 annual tax savings to each of the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans.
So when Wyoming’s congresswoman says America doesn’t have a taxing problem, who is she speaking for? Not you. There’s only one way our federal budget can afford to give some folks those kinds of tax breaks. Someone else has to pick up the slack. That’s where you and I come in.
While the “eye of the needle” crowd can afford health care for themselves and their aging parents and education for their children, you and I have to plan on Medicare. Our children will continue to run up massive student loan debt to get a competitive education. While they have to decide which of their several homes in which to “summer” middle class folks will continue working multiple jobs to pay the mortgage, if they can get one in the world created by Wall Street excesses. While their stock portfolio is enhanced by higher oil prices, you and I will run up credit card debt filling our tanks.
So tell me my middle class conservative friends, what’s in it for you? What’s in it for your aging parents or the future of your children? Our brains may be wired differently but our futures are intertwined and regardless of genetics, we have more in common as middle class neighbors than as political adversaries.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bibles and Beers! Interested?

Highlands Presbyterian is starting an outreach ministry to engage people who may not be in traditional pews on traditional days but have an abiding interest to understand their relationship with the Divine and with one another.
The church is one of the oldest living models of globalization. Its presence is more ubiquitous than Coca Cola or Chinese restaurants. For some, it is everywhere but for others it is nowhere!
Over more than 20 centuries, the church has passed through transformations and reformations. One thing is certain. With all the current forces at work on the souls of human beings, the church of the next generation will look considerably different than it does today.
Churches expend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to grow. We wring our hands at board meetings and attend special seminars. We design programs and think about new ways to use music and technology. We advertise, evangelicize, and sanitize. And yet the fastest growing segment of the faith is the group that calls themselves “unaffiliated.” Church folk bemoan the fact that these people are not in the sanctuary on Sunday with their children. They don’t follow our idea of church. Yet I know many to be morally upstanding, conscientious parents who support good causes, giving time and money to their community. Many of them are interested in spiritual development.
Recently I facebooked an inquiry. What kind of a spiritual gathering would you take time to attend? Surprisingly in spite of this generation’s technological savvy and all their twittering, texting and social networking, many said they would opt for some good old time hospitality. Some churches have responded to the virtual age by using technology such as PDA’s to question preachers during the service and virtual churches allowing congregants to continue sitting at their computer to “worship” on Sunday mornings.

But the folks who responded to me were looking for time to sit around a circle with friends, enjoying a soft drink or even a beer as they grew their spiritual sensibilities. They wanted a respite from the electronics that characterize their days. As you think about it, they are seeking to return to the days of the early church when people gathered in a hospitable setting, shared a meal and wine and talked, prayed and enjoyed one another.

So we are going to give it a try. Beginning May 16th, Highlands will sponsor a weekly happy hour called “Beers and Bibles.” Anyone (21 years and older!) interested is welcome. Bring an open mind, a desire to listen and learn and enough money to pick up your own tab. We’ll meet at 5:30 till 6:30 at Uncle Charlie’s.  I know this may not be for everybody, but then I know of no single spiritual experience that is.

Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. He has a Law Degree from the
University of Wyoming and a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He may be contacted at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No legislator ever LOST votes by beating up on an agency or its employees. Accordingly, I could not last week’s good news go unnoticed.

It is rare that a citizen calls the governor to say, “You know, I just wanted to let you know what a great job those state employees are doing!” No legislator ever LOST votes by beating up on an agency or its employees. Accordingly, I could not last week’s good news go unnoticed.
Having been a part of the hard work of state government to address the problems of crime and addiction these last eight years, I found some of last week’s news exceptional. We learned from a national study Wyoming has the next to the lowest rate in the nation of criminal offenders returning to prison. Wyoming’s rate of recidivism for offenders who were released in 2004 and rearrested, re-convicted or returned to prison by 2007 was 24.8 percent. Only Oregon at 22.8 percent had a lower rate than Wyoming. The national average is over 40%.
The Wyoming Department of Corrections has some of the most enlightened leadership of any state corrections agency in the nation. DOC Director Bob Lampert and his deputy Steve Lindly have been visionary in their approach to corrections reform. They understand prison sentences alone do not cure addiction nor do they change criminal behavior. They have employed research-based practices to improve rehabilitation services for inmates.
People may like the idea of harsher, mandatory, lengthy sentences but they don’t like to pay what it costs. Nor do they benefit from higher rates of recidivism which serve only to threaten public safety. Director Lampert and his staff have given communities a reason for a “spring of hope.”

They understand DOC cannot do it alone and that success in their business requires successes in the jurisdiction of other state agencies ranging from education, to juvenile justice and child welfare, to job training and health. Lampert and Lindly and other DOC staff have been partners with several state agencies and the courts to assure quality services through intensive supervised probation and community mental health centers.

Bob and Steve have been faithful partners in continuing work to expand and improve the state’s effective drug court program. Bob has served as chair of the Governor’s Advisory Board on Substance Abuse and Violent Crime. Under his leadership that Board has made significant contributions as strong advocates for improved outcomes. Lampert has chaired the effective work of the Wyoming Health Information Network in integrating agency data so that policymakers are enabled to see not just their part of the world but the outcomes achieved from the work of multiple agencies. In that position Bob has led the way in pioneering effective multi-agency programs to improve the lives of citizens of the state.

The results of the recidivism study demonstrate the success of their work. Like everything else from reducing child abuse and other crimes, to improving the high school graduation rates, criminal recidivism rates are the product of integrated efforts. No single agency can do it alone because the problems are fundamentally systemic in nature. But the necessary collaboration is counter-cultural in government at any level. That is where Wyoming has indeed benefited from the leadership at the Wyoming Department of Corrections.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lummis says the country doesn’t have “a tax problem, it has a spending problem.” “Well, I’ve heard it before, but it sounds like uncommon sense.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.’ Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.
From Washington last week came an “epoch of incredulity” in a continuing “age of foolishness.” More than Dickens, an observer might think rather of “Alice in Wonderland.” Certainly, Congresswoman Lummis gets what Alice called, “Curiouser and curiouser” explaining her vote for this budget. Lummis says the country doesn’t have “a tax problem, it has a spending problem.” Alice’s Mock Turtle understood this line of reasoning better than I. “Well, I’ve heard it before, but it sounds like uncommon sense.”
Even more cuiouser and uncommon sense are the words of Lummis’ guru Paul Ryan.  “The spending spree is over,” Congressman Ryan said. “We cannot keep spending money we don’t have.” Unless, he might add, those dollars are used to pay for tax cuts for people who do not need them! Well, said Alice, “I've often seen a cat without a grin; but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever say in my life!” 
I am unsure whether Lummis is a cat without a grin or a grin without a cat as she and her colleagues spend trillions of dollars to pay for reduced tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans while talking about the need to reduce the deficit. They propose to do that by eviscerating Medicare. They will end Medicare and replace it with a coupon of declining value allowing seniors to go hat in hand to an insurance company in the hopes they can then afford coverage we all know they cannot now afford.

Lummis was 11 years old when Congress created the Medicaid program. She might be excused if she doesn’t remember what it was like for seniors before 1965, though one of her Wyoming peers sent me this email after Lummis voted to end Medicare. "When I was in high school in 1965, before Medicare and Medicaid, my pastor took several of us every Sunday to visit the elderly in the county "poor farm." I remember grey people, in grey beds with grey covers, with trays of congealed grey food, eager for the voice or the touch of a stupid teenager who cared enough to come sing to them and say hello and hold their hand.”
This is more than politics and economics. It’s about moral responsibility. The Catholic Church Conference of Bishops says it well, “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fair!

Grey people in grey beds with grey food while GE and other wealthy-beyond-your-imagination Americans enjoy tax breaks. That’s what America looks like through Lummis and Ryan’s rear view mirror. But as much damage as it does, their vision doesn’t even add up to a balanced budget. As Alice would say, “Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is -- oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!”

Monday, April 18, 2011

What matters to you so much you would march into a crowd of your peers knowing they disagree with you?

Rodger McDaniel is the Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church
in Cheyenne. This is an excerpt from yesterday’s sermon.

The Gospel tells several stories of Holy Week. One is of betrayal but it was not only Judas who would betray Jesus. Another is of death but that one has a hopeful ending. The overarching story is of one who believed so strongly in God’s vision for the world that he was willing to die for those beliefs. That is where I find meaning in Palm Sunday. It’s not in the fickle crowds who are wildly waving palm branches in anticipation this is the new King David who slaughtered his own of thousands while Saul could only kill his thousands. It’s not our fickleness that is being celebrated but his courage.
The man riding on the back of that donkey knows what lies ahead. The parade into Jerusalem is his death march. Still he rides through a crowd he knows will abandon him. By Thursday night of that last week, even his disciples will go to sleep rather than pray with him.
What matters to you so much you would march into a crowd of your peers knowing they disagree with you? What cause matters so much you’d write a letter to the editor or your congressman, organize a rally, give a speech…put your reputation on the line? Ideas, issues, causes matter to each of us but is there anything that matters to you so much that you’d risk your reputation, your friendships, your acceptance among friends and colleagues?
Many in that first Palm Sunday crowd had been there three years earlier, listening when Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. They had heard his words. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 45Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Apparently, they didn’t think he meant it anymore than today’s politicians who proclaim hopes for peace mean it. Their disappointment must have been palpable when they realized Jesus actually meant it. Unlike King David, Jesus was meek, humble, hungry for justice and bestowing God’s blessings not on military victories but on the peacemakers.
Then the Palm Sunday crowd turned ugly. In John’s Gospel: Pilate went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 40They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Barabbas was a bandit. From then Pilate tried to release Jesus, but the people cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’  13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement. 14He said, ‘Here is your King!’ 15They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’
Think about it. Crowds like to hear the words of Jesus. They like it his quotes about justice, peace, humility. We are comfortable with theologies of hope. But we want leaders like David, victorious, willing to live by the sword and to die by the sword, who are strong not humble, unjust when the times call for injustice. We like a hopeful faith but we need someone who is tough enough, flawed enough to protect us from the insecurities of the times.
We love it when our leaders talk like Jesus but deep down where our insecurities dwell, we want them to act like David.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A public dialogue about ending the War on Drugs starts with an agreement on why some are illega

Part 6 – It’s time to negotiate an end to the war on drugs!
If we are going to have a public dialogue about ending the War on Drugs lets start with an agreement on why some are illegal in the first place. In spite of the great harm done by use of alcohol and nicotine, they are legal and their use promoted through millions of dollars in ads as well as public policy and tax laws. The war on drugs is therefore limited to enacting laws against the use of only certain harmful substances, e.g. marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy, and LSD.
Most of these drugs have been illegal for so long we have forgotten why. Just why is the use of certain mind altering substances made illegal under state and federal criminal law? I “Binged” that question and found some answers. has the usual list.
1.      They are addictive and sometimes can be lethal.
2.      They are found to be harmful both physically and mentally and are dangerous to our health. They can damage brain, heart and other important organs and are particularly harmful to young people whose brains are yet developing.
3.      Drugs hinder our ability to make good decisions. Users do poorly in school, on the job, in family relationships and often engage in criminal conduct as a direct result of their drug use.
4.      People harm others when they use drugs.
5.      Once a person is addicted it is very difficult to stop taking drugs.
You may want to add to that list but my guess is that most additions will fall neatly into one of the five on that list. Everything on the list is accurate. Illegal drugs are addictive, health threatening, cognitive impairing, a source of crime and other chaos and heartache. Once a person migrates from use to abuse and on to addiction, it is difficult to treat the disease.
There is no argument but that illicit drugs impose huge personal and financial losses on us. According to the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, “The trafficking and abuse of drugs in the United States affect nearly all aspects of our lives. The economic cost alone is immense, estimated at nearly $215 billion. The damage caused by drug abuse and addiction is reflected in an overburdened justice system, a strained healthcare system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction.”
It is certainly logical that laws would be enacted in an attempt to reduce the negative impacts of drug use. Yet, if that’s why certain drugs are illegal, why are alcohol and nicotine not? They are clearly as addictive and lethal. They also damage the brain and other important organs and are particularly harmful to young people whose brains are yet developing. Alcohol in particular hinders our ability to make good choices and causes chaos and leads to criminal behavior. Anyone who is addicted to either nicotine or alcohol will testify to how difficult it is to quit.
The health care costs from tobacco caused illnesses are nearly 100 billion dollars a year. With all the debate about the costs of Medicaid, legislators seem to ignore the fact that tobacco users run up more than 30 billion dollars in Medicaid claims alone.
Alcohol is the drug most frequently used by 12 to 17 year-olds-and the one that causes the most negative health consequences. Twenty-five to forty percent of all patients in U.S. general hospital beds (not in maternity or intensive care) are being treated for complications of alcohol-related problems. (Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University). Annual health care expenditures for alcohol-related problems amount to $22.5 billion. The total cost of alcohol-related problems is $175.9 billion a year (compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems). Cite: Economic costs of substance abuse, 1995. Dorothy P. Rice. Proceedings of the Association of American Physicians 111(2): 119-125. 1999.
Data gathered by the nation’s drug czar is used to demonstrate more deaths are caused by illegal drugs than by alcohol. But the difference between 38,371 drug related funerals and 23,199 brought about by alcohol abuse seems a thin reed on which to support laws making one drug legal and the others criminal.
So…why some and not the others? Is it all politics? Any scientific or public policy justifications?  How does this dichotomy impact our ability to enforce other drug laws?
Help me out? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Part 5 – It’s time to negotiate an end to the war on drugs!

Addiction is a disease. I am not speaking of experimentation with drugs nor even abuse. When people first use illicit drugs, they are making a choice to experiment or even abuse the substance. True, some may have a genetic predisposition to addiction but early use is always a choice, a bad choice at that.
Some but not all of those who choose to use will become addicted as a result of continued use. Most do not. Most experiment but at some point discontinue the use because of negative impacts. However, for others, there comes a time when continued use actually rewires the brain’s circuitry resulting in what we call addiction.
 At that point a person has an unnatural compulsion to find, obtain and use drugs despite all the negative consequences. This is the person who is placed on probation for a crime and ordered not to use but does so in spite of a threatened prison sentence. We are talking about the parent who knows the next time he or she uses, the court will take their children away…and still uses.
These are people whose brain scans demonstrate a significant change in the way their brain functions as a result of continued, excessive drug use. We are now talking about addicts.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a primary, chronic, neuro-biologic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. Addiction is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following:
·        Impaired control over drug use
·        Compulsive use
·        Continued use despite harm
·        Cravings
The War on Drugs has seldom distinguished itself by using the science to develop public policy. Indeed the science and the mountains of helpful research is overlooked or obscured by conflicting public policies and popular notions. The science is largely ignored not only by the legal system but even the clinicians. Yet the science is absolute.
This has seriously impaired the ability of the country to effectively meet the challenges of drug addiction. Why? If lawmakers or judges view the addict as someone who should just say no or as character flawed person, the conclusions they reach about the war on drugs is skewed. If a person engages in harmful drug use because they simply make bad choices and have no concern for the well-being of others, punishment is the appropriate penalty. More and harsher laws can be seen as the best recourse. Spending more millions on building prisons is then a sensible policy.
But if that person is addicted, i.e. has a brain disease, what sentencing alternatives should be used? How should that reality change the way the person is supervised on probation? What clinical practices should be employed?
The courts are not alone in failing to recognize the science. Some clinicians fail to use all the tools available to treat their patients because of their own prejudices against, for example, the use of effective prescription drugs or virtual therapy, or other best practices denying their clients the best chance at recovery.
What if the science is correct? What if we could wipe the slate clean and start over knowing what we know now rather than continuing to impose practices based on what we didn’t know about the science when the War was declared? What then would be the best policy? What laws, sentencing practices and treatment regimes would make sense? Let’s begin there.
Please share your thoughts.