Category Archives: Politics

Foundation for the General Welfare

What counts as “work”? Or a “job”?

The usual conception of a “job” implies activities that create value for someone else – one’s employer. For doing this, one gets paid… and the employer makes profit by making sure that payment is less than the value of the work.

Many activities, though, that demand time and effort, and that do in fact create value for society, but not for an employer, are not recognized as “jobs.” As social theorist Riane Eisler has pointed out, our economic systems “fail to value and support the most essential human work: the so-called ‘women’s work’ of caring and caregiving.” This includes the work – usually full-time, if not 24/7 – of caring for oneself, one’s family, one’s community, and one’s environment.

In the present debate on healthcare, for instance, conservatives who are trying to dismantle sections of the social safety net are fond of saying that those who may lose Medicaid coverage “can always get jobs,” as White House spokescreature Kellyanne Conway recently stated.

general welfare

Well, okay then.

I propose the establishment of a quasi-governmental foundation, to be called the Foundation for the General Welfare. (As in “promote the general welfare,” one of the stated goals of the United States of America.) This foundation would be funded initially by the government and, increasingly over time, by private donations.

It would hire people, and pay them a living wage to do what they have to do.

This foundation would, for example, hire the chronically ill who do not have insurance. Their job description would be simple: to participate in treatment for their illnesses, and get better if possible. Full insurance would be among the benefits – in fact, it would be the same Federal employee package now enjoyed by our Congresscritters.

This foundation would hire single unemployed parents, especially teenage moms. Their job description: to raise their kids and take care of their households.

This foundation would hire adults who are caregivers for their parents. Their job description: keep their parents as safe, comfortable, and happy as possible.

Get the idea?

Notes for a Manifesto

The mere removal of Donald Trump from office through impeachment as per Article 2 of the Constitution, or even simply relieving him of his Presidential duties as per the 25th Amendment, would be insufficient remedy.

  • The flawed electoral system that allowed him to assume the most powerful elected office on the planet would still be there.
  • The corrupt socio-political-economic system that produced him and made him a “success” would still be there.
  • The cynical power brokers who thought it would be a good idea to install him as President would still be there.
  • The greedy, shortsighted economic interests that thought his Presidency would be a good thing for their bottom lines would still be there.
  • The ideologically driven right-wing media/propaganda system that deceived and beguiled Americans into supporting him would still be there.
  • The deliberately-crippled educational system that produced the people that either supported him or apathetically stayed away from voting would still be there.

They could do it all again. And next time it could be even worse.

They must all be repaired, reformed, transformed, replaced, or demolished.

National Anthem (revised)

Oh say can you see
In the morning’s stark glare
What a horrid mistake
We have loosed upon the world?
At whose hair and broad ties
We can do naught but stare
On the TV each night
As each headline is unfurled?
And his raucous mad blare
As he punches the air
Gives proof if you look
That the man’s not all there
How long will that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the deceived, ruled by the depraved?

PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: HEAVY THOUGHTS ABOUT LEITKULTUR

(My column for May 2017)

I have “gone to ground” for the time being in Krefeld, a city of about 225,000, near Düsseldorf in western Germany. I am staying with my cousin and his wife while I figure out what’s supposed to happen next.

Cities like Krefeld throughout Germany have become the endpoints for the journeys of many conflict-displaced refugees (“Flüchtlinge” in German) – around 3500, I am told. There is also a much larger number of economic migrants who have come looking for work, some of whom have set up businesses. Turkish barbershops, convenience stores (“Kiosks”), and pizzerias are everywhere; the latter frequently also serve “Döner,” a halal variation of the Greek gyros.

Döner has become so popular in Germany – as has, say, Mexican food in the US – that one could almost say it’s become part of the culture.

And as you might guess, that kind of development bothers some people.

The German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, set off a bit of a stir here recently with an op-ed in which he attempted to articulate some basic values of what Germans call “Leitkultur.” This word means “leading culture” or “guiding culture” – though sometimes it gets translated as “dominant culture.”

Minister de Maiziere’s essay generally makes unsurprising and not-particularly controversial points about the important roles played by history, philosophy, and the arts in the shaping of modern German society, and the value of hard work and education. (He gives special shoutouts to Bach and Goethe, for example, though not Nietzche or Wagner.) But a couple of his suggested principles seem specifically intended to be direct swipes at certain aspects of Muslim culture. “We are an open society. We show our face. We are not Burka,” he writes.

To this last point, the Gruenen Jugend, the youth wing of the Green Party, responded curtly: “We are not Lederhosen, either.” De Maizere’s piece has drawn similar scoffs and critiques from other politicians and organizations. (If you’d like to explore further, I suggest the English-language website Deutsche Welle, which has many articles on this topic.)

My cousin thinks that the whole kerfuffle is a pre-electoral stunt – there are state elections coming soon, and Federal ones in the fall – and the discussion will wither away thereafter. He’s probably right. Issues of culture and identity are hot buttons, after all, guaranteed to touch a nerve and bring out the voters. But it’s a critical discussion that should not just be kept alive, but expanded.

Part of de Maizere’s problem, I think, is that in stopping at the national level he fails to take the next logical step. He writes, “We remain, non-negotiably, part of the West, proud Europeans, and enlightened patriots,” but it doesn’t occur to him that there might be another layer, a global “Leitweltkultur” if you will, a set of common human values that can guide the relationships between nations, cultures, and individuals alike. This would include not just the already largely acknowledged values of human rights and mutual respect, but a clearer articulation of the rights – and responsibilities – of both “hosts” and “guests.” In the unsettled times to come, as more people are uprooted by cultural and climactic unrest, this will become increasingly important.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re about to go grocery shopping. We’ll pick up some currywurst, maybe… perhaps some hummus and falafel… After all, it’s all good.

SPEAK LOCALLY – WITH A GLOBAL VOICE

The problems that we face – such as climate change, inequality, and the resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism – are global in scope and nature. We may feel isolated in our local struggles, but it is a very powerful thing to realize, as I have in the course of my travels, that there are quite literally billions across the planet who are waging similar struggles, feeling similar feelings, and seeking similar solutions. So when you speak locally, use that global voice, knowing that you are not alone.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: WHEREIN I CALL FOR THE NEXT REPUBLIC

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the United States on January 19, and is headed towards the Eastern Mediterranean to help with refugee assistance. He’s taking a few stops along the way…)

Lage Vuursche, The Netherlands:

In the course of the years, I have had relationships with a number of cars… most of which have ended badly. My dear early-model Honda Civic took me cross-country twice, but eventually dissolved in winter road salt. My little Ford Festiva hydroplaned on the Northeast Extension on the way home from a demonstration in Philly in 2000, bouncing off a concrete divider while Don Henley was singing “End of the Innocence.” And my Hyundai Elantra… well, it got to the point where we just couldn’t afford the upkeep anymore – and then I realized that I didn’t really need it anyway.

Governments are kinda like that. For one reason or another, you have to get a new one every once in a while. They wear out, or break, or some calamity comes along and makes them unusable, or the cost of maintaining them becomes unsustainable.

I’d like to suggest that we are at that point.

I’ve been in The Hague for the last few days. Yesterday, my walk to the MC Escher Museum (highly recommended, by the way) took me past the US Embassy. Unlike most of the other embassies – indeed, unlike the Dutch Parliament or the royal residences – ours stood behind a high iron fence, ensconced between police command centers, foreboding and unwelcoming, more like a prison or fortress than anything else.

Something about that hit me hard. The day before, I had encountered a demonstration by some Sudanese folks, pressing for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes but not arrested… and I had of course spent the morning getting caught up on the news, reading about gas attacks and retaliatory bombings.

Looking at the flag over the embassy, I felt a wave of grief and shame washing over me. I sat down at the base of a nearby statue and gave myself permission to let it out.

I bawled like a child.

A couple of passing pedestrians check in on me, to make sure I was OK. A few minutes later, a couple of local policemen arrived, very kind, understanding, and sympathetic. We spoke for a while, and I gathered up my psyche and went on my way.

And that’s when it hit me.

It’s time to call for the Next American Republic. This one is broken, worn out, obsolete, and too expensive to maintain – and furthermore, it has been vandalized and tampered with, its safety mechanisms and pollution controls deliberately disabled.

Of course, we can’t go to a new government dealer, or even get a certified “pre-owned” Republic for a replacement. We’ll have to build it ourselves. We can use some of the old parts, maybe, the ones that still work – but before we get to that, we have some design work to do.

So let loose your creative imaginations, your highest ideals, your most fervent hopes:

What features would you like to see… in your Next Republic?


(Send me your ideas at skip.mendler@gmail.com, or post them on Twitter with hashtag #NextRepublic, or reply in comments below.)

I’M AFRAID OF THE PRESIDENT

I’M AFRAID OF THE PRESIDENT
(with apologies to David Bowie)

Donny’s in the White House
No sense at the wheel
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
He doesn’t need anyone
He doesn’t even pretend
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
Donny’s in America

[CHORUS]

I’m afraid of the President
I’m afraid of his words
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t
I’m afraid of the President
Donny’s in America
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

Donny’s got his own plane
Donny wants to meet with the Kochs
Donny wants to grab ya
Donny thinks it’s all a joke
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
Donny’s in America
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

[CHORUS]

I’m afraid of the President
Uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh

Donny’s in the white house
Donny wants to hang out with stars
Donny combs his hair
And Donny wants nookie in cars
Donny’s in America, uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh
I’m afraid of Americans

God please help America
God please help America

[CHORUS]

Yeah, I’m afraid of the President
I’m afraid of his world
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t
I’m afraid of the President

Donny’s an American
Donny’s an American
Donny’s an American, uh-uh-uh uh, uh, uh-uh uh-uh-uh