25 January 2016

Welfare Drug Tests: A Tale of Whose Ox is Gored

There is bipartison support in the West Virginia Legislature for a proposal that welfare recipients be drug tested upon a “reasonable suspicion.”

This is NOT because these people are poor and have zero support in the Legislature.  One legislator has called it “a compassionate approach.”  Let’s start by acknowledging that State money should not be spent on illegal drugs.  It’s offends the people of West Virginia.

But in fact, this proposal is FAR to timid.   The proposal doesn’t really touch the drug trade.  It’s highly moral, but ineffective as written.  We can do better.

About 2,000 welfare (TANF) recipients will be affected. Let’s take a scientific wild guess that this group spends 10% on illegal drugs.  That’s the equivalent of 200 welfare checks going to criminals.  It is right that we intercept that money.

But the state has 65,000 employees.  If they are much more law abiding than TANF recipients, we can take another scientific wild guess that only 1% of their state money goes to criminals.  But if that’s so, that’s the equivalent of 650 much larger paychecks going to drug dealers.  If we are going to honestly attack the drug trade, let’s really attack it.  The State is the biggest employer in West Virginia.  The U.S. Government is number two.  And U.S. employees make 75% more than people in private industry doing similar jobs. Might we not find that this largely law abiding group is responsible for far more drug profits than welfare people?  Surely, we can find reasonable suspicion on some government employees. 

And that includes the Legislature.

This is a moral issue.  West Virginians don’t want people passing laws who are whacked out on drugs.  In 1974, during a legislative session, I was in the bar of the Daniel Boone Hotel.  There was a quorum of the West Virginia Senate there, most of whom were intoxicated.  In 2015, what is their drug of choice?  We have only to test to find out.  They have nothing to fear.

Only a druggie has anything to fear from a drug test.  One would think that people would be happy to be tested and to take a firm stand against drugs.  All that is required of any citizen is that he or she follow the law.

So how about it?

Or is the truth that we really ARE picking on poor people -- just because we can?


22 January 2016

The Church, the Emergency Responders and the Snowy Night

Right  now, lots of people are working for all of us, bad though the weather may be.  911 dispatchers, firefighters, EMS people, police officers, water operators, road crews all are on a 12 on/12 off schedule.  A meditation from me was recently published by the West Virginia Region of the  Christian  Church (Disciples of Christ):

from Roger Curry, Diaconal Minister for the Region…

A fire engine passes your church during worship. They are on their way to a fire. How does the congregation react?

Well, the siren and the air horns are LOUD. You might have to pause the service for a few seconds until the din dies down. It’s no more than a minor inconvenience.

Is that it?

May it shouldn’t be.

Years ago, I worked as a paramedic at a busy station. Often, I worked on Sunday. Rescue 20 was located near a large Methodist Church. We had to drive up a side street to the church to turn onto Main Street. Often, we wondered aloud what the people in the service were thinking.

The partner I usually worked with was something of a philosopher. He wondered if the people in the church paused to pray for the person we were going after or for us. And sometimes, he said, hey, they’re in church, but so are we.

The Emergency Services - Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services, and Police Departments - live the spirit of James:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
James 2:14 - 17, NASB

These people serve all of mankind. They occasionally are in fear when they do it, but they’ll seldom tell anyone about it. Listen on Youtube to the phone messages left by responders on the way to the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Lots of them told their families that they may not survive this call, and that they loved them. And many did not survive. But, knowing that, they still ran into the burning buildings.

This happens on a smaller scale every day. The police officer runs the risk of being shot or having a car wreck. EMS people face diseases, car wrecks and when they are flight medics, they face air crashes. Firefighters risk their lives with fire, and with confined space rescues. When a firefighter enters a burning building, usually the smoke is so thick that s/he’s blind. They’ll only see a faint glow across the room and know where to aim the nozzle. They search for victims by touch and if they need to get out of the building, all they can do is follow the hose. If you are watching a fire and the chauffeurs all start blowing their air horns, that’s the signal that the fire is going badly and for everybody to get out of the building. Then they run a “PAR,” meaning that they have to make sure everybody got out.

They particularly fear emergency calls at a church.  A fire in a church  is bad.  They are usually unoccupied, so they are not noticed until they extend.  And a church offers big, open spaces for a fire to extend rapidly.

Many emergency responders do not attend church. Most work at least two jobs - we don’t pay these people very well at all. Some of them, the volunteers, do the work for free.

That does not mean that they are not followers of the Christ of all crises.  How can they not be? I’m thinking of things I’ve seen, things my friends have seen and things my son - a firefighter-paramedic - has seen. But I cannot write them down here. Stephen King would find them too upsetting and too disgusting for one of his horror novels. But we as a society, and we as a church, are content with letting these emergency servants deal with what we cannot even think about. Their “day at the office” is not our “day at the office.”

What can we as a church, we as true Disciples of Christ do?

The answer isn’t hard. As a church, we need to do what we have done since the Apostles last saw Jesus in the flesh – Pray. And reach out. When that fire engine passes the church during service, someone is in trouble. They are no doubt waiting and hoping to hear the sounds of sirens, which mean that someone is putting themselves in danger to help.

Somewhere, I heard a prayer:

The sounds of a siren.
Someone’s in trouble.
God have mercy.
The sounds of a siren.
Help is on the way.
Thanks be to God.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to pause in the service for that prayer or something like it.

Reach out. There are lots of ways to do that  Remember that the people are on duty 24/7/365. Through Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, through floods and snow, police are out patrolling. In fire and rescue stations, the trucks stand in a quiet garage with their doors open, helmets on the seats and a coat on the door. Day or night, when a call is dispatched, in less than a minute, you can see the lights go on, the doors go up and the first truck “bust the doors.”

Do you ever visit these people? Actually, they are very nice and they LIKE visitors. They like people to express an interest in them and in what they do. They are proud people. These are caring people. And so seldom does anyone they help ever thank them. I still remember that 30 years ago, our station getting a card from a patient. I even remember his name, Leroy from Chicago. Leroy rolled his semi- over a hill and was badly injured and trapped in the truck. His letter was so heartfelt and so unusual that we all still remember it.

It’s sad that this is so rare. A few years ago, a huge 1920's country club building caught on fire late one evening. It was in an area served by a volunteer fire department. Ultimately, it went to four alarms and ten fire departments were working. Several firefighters were hurt, one seriously when a wall collapsed. The volunteers were there till late the next morning. What do they most remember about that fire? That nobody thanked them.

It doesn’t take much. A “Thank you,” or “We’re glad you’re on the job,” goes a long way. On a hot afternoon, when you see a police officer directing traffic you might ask, What would Jesus do? Well, he might stop at the convenience store and drop off a bottle of iced tea to the officer. At a winter DUI checkpoint, I’ve seen police officers act like kids on Christmas when someone drops off a tray of coffee from McDonald’s.

Invite these people into the house of the Lord. Those who travel the streets need to know where they can go to the bathroom or maybe get a cup of coffee. In the Middle Ages, a church was a sanctuary. There’s no reason it cannot be now. Call the Chief of the Department and offer. It will be appreciated.

When you have a special service or a dinner, go down to your local fire station or rescue station, and tell them that they are welcome. Tell the police officer assigned to that part of town that they are welcome. And then make them FEEL welcome. All you have to do is provide a parking place for the fire trucks in case they need to leave in a hurry. (Warning: These are young and very active people. They burn a lot of calories.)

And keep reaching out. Give these people your time. Time to know you. Time to see that you are on their side and that you appreciate them. Time to listen as they s-l-o-w-l-y begin to open up to you. The emergency  responders are a special group of “the least of these” whom Christ told us to care for.

By and large, these people follow the dictates of some religion. Many are Christian, many follow Jesus the Christ. If you doubt that, go to one of their service funerals. At the end of a service funeral, the service of the Last Alarm is conducted, sometimes called “the Last Call.” You can find lots of examples on Youtube. The dispatchers clear a radio frequency, and announce that this is the Last Call for Paramedic Mary Jones. The dispatcher calls her on the radio: “Dispatch to Unit342.” Silence. “Dispatch to Unit 342." Silence. “This is the Last Call for Unit 342, Paramedic Mary Jones. She does not answer. She is now serving the Lord. We love you, Mary.”  And then, turn and look at the people who are in uniform. And you will see God.


07 January 2016

What gun "debate'?

This so-called debate about guns goes around and around, with everyone repeating ad nauseum every quaint aphorism which we already have heard.  It’s become like the old “Queen For A. Day,” where an applause meter determined the winner.  Nobody seems willing to sit down and talk.  That included Congress.  The President.  The NRA.  Gun people.  Anti-gun people.  Churches.  You.  Me.  

I have to wonder, what you Lyndon Johnson have done.  To him, results were what counted, and results meant lasting compromise.  Some of the compromises he straw-bossed still exist today.  (Remember Medicare?)

Can we begin by acknowledging the sincerity of those against us?  Not that they are right, just that they are sincere.

The President doesn’t like guns.  He genuinely believes that restrictions on guns will do more good than harm.  He does not present this as a being competing interests and he doesn’t say how he figures that the interests compare.  He - and Mayor Bloomberg, and other “liberals” - do not see the issue as a mommy-government protecting people who cannot protect themselves or as a plot to take away the rights of the people.

That may be the effect, but they don’t see it that way.  Can we at least acknowledge that?

The NRA and pro-gun people genuinely see this as a matter of the rights of a free people to protect themselves.  They believe that the same or less restrictions on gun will do more good than harm.  They do not present this as a being competing interests and they do not say how they figure that the interests compare.  They don’t want anarchy, school shootings or anybody to be shot when they are minding their own business.

That may be the effect, but they don’t see it that way.  Can we at least acknowledge that?

Both positions are based on fear.  Fear is good.  Fear is built into us genetically.  It’s how to respond that people disagree on.

“The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  Wrong.   But AN answer to a bad guy with a gun MAY BE a good guy with a gun.  It totally depends on the circumstances.  When is a good guy with a gun not the answer?  What are the numbers?

“The police will protect us.”  Well, they will try. Not perfectly.  How often do the police fail to protect us?  What are the numbers.  

If firearms are in homes and in law-abiding citizens holsters, the people are more secure from one standpoint.  They are less secure from another standpoint.   What are the numbers?  What are we willing to risk as a society?  And are we willing to let people make up their own minds?  

Gun people - like me - keep beating ourselves up over stupid shit.  West Virginia will probably pass a right to carry concealed without any license.  Any way you look at it, that is terminally stupid.  It's as bad a putting a chainsaw in my hand and tell me to go a-timbering.  I'll return with at least one limb missing.  We want to see firearms at gunshows.  Hell, I like gunshows.  There’s one in Morgantown this weekend, and I plan to go.  Most people who have tables at gunshows sell guns.  Only some have a Federal Firearms License.  Duh. You go to a gun show to sell guns to strangers.  You should have an FFL.  What’s the big deal?  When I buy or sell a gun to someone I know or make or receive a gift, it’s a hobby, not a business.  Is it hard to understand the difference?

Gun people - like me - hold onto the notion of how great a 100 round magazine or a 50 round mag or a 30 round mag.  Pure stupidity.  We do so because the anti-gun people want no semi-automatic weapons or very small magazines.  We are ALL unwilling to say, well 15 or 20 should be about it.  Then, we’ll be “weak.”  That’s not weak - that’s called a compromise.

Until we are willing to sit down and quit demonizing each other, nothing will get solved.