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The first contests of the 2020 Presidential election season, in Iowa and New Hampshire, have come and gone. What had been a crowded and remarkably diverse field of candidates has been sharply winnowed, with only a handful of folks remaining – all of them Caucasian.
The irony is almost painful, seeing that the Democrats generally present themselves as a “big tent” party, concerned with inclusion, in sharp contrast to the largely older-white-male composition of the Republicans. This contrast was well-displayed during the impeachment proceedings, but now seems to have been lost.
This may seem inevitable, as after all only one person can survive through the coming slog and gain the nomination. All the others will fall by the wayside, like failed chefs on a Food Network competition, folding up their utensils in their aprons and gamely walking to the exit… leaving the victor alone to somehow carry the hopes of all their various groups of supporters into the general election.
It’s also ironic to see all these individuals each trying to convince us that they alone can defeat Donald “I Alone Can Fix It” Trump. In one sense, they might all be correct – if the Democrats can put aside their internal differences, overcome Republican voter suppression, disinformation, and discouragement tactics, and get enough people to turn out the polls, any one of them could win.
But in another sense, I think none of them can win alone. They each carry some kind of baggage (real or contrived), or have vulnerabilities and soft spots that Trump and his campaign will repeatedly and mercilessly inflate, exploit, and attack.
Furthermore, the level of rancor and mistrust that has developed between the camps, so early in the process, does not bode well for the Democrats’ ability to wage a unified general election campaign. The way things are going, there will be enough disaffected voters from one side or other to depress turnout and hand the election – and the fate of our democracy – over to Trump.
I think that there is a way out of the problem for the Democrats – but it requires a severe case of “thinking out of the box.”

Somehow, they – we – have to get past the notion of “winner take all.” The model that the primary process is based on is predicated on the notion that the person who can eradicate his or her opponents will be the best candidate in the general election, and will make the best President. Maybe that has worked in the past, maybe not, I’ll let historians argue about that. But in our present situation, I don’t think that’s useful anymore.
If the country is to hold together, in the face of the coming demographic, environmental, and socioeconomic changes, we don’t have to fall into some lockstep “unity” – we have to get better at being different together.
I would like to see the Democrats find a way to model cooperation and coexistence. I want to see a team.
They should figure out how to distribute power among their various factions – corporatist to socialist and everything inbetween – in such a way that everyone feels that their concerns are taken seriously, and that they have a stake in the success of the entire enterprise. In short, they should embrace, rather than try to deny, their diversity.

Jesus re the death penalty…

Why must we wait

Why must we wait
Until our bloodstreams merge
On sidewalks and pavements
In hallways and classrooms
In the streets of pulverized cities
To see that all thse streams are the same

Why can we only flow together
Into puddles and gutters
Spattered across walls
Soaked into clothing
Filling up bathtubs
Circling the drains of tiled rooms

Why must we be shattered
Before we can be swept up together
Why must we decay
In the unmarked mass grave
Before we can greet the sun
As fields of flowers

A hosteler’s prayer

A hosteler’s prayer

I would speak to the One Who Listens
I would speak the Ones Who Bring Things About
I would speak to those who have brought me here

In the quiet moments of this morning
I have awakened in this room full of strangers
Whose tongues I do not know
Whose stories I have not heard
Whose hearts I have not seen

I ask that we may become friends
I ask that we may help each other
I ask that we may learn from each other
I ask that we may delight in our differences
And hold fast to our common bondsYy–YYYy

Like me, they are all on a journey
Some of them are fleeing great pain and unspeakable loss
I ask that they find comfort
I ask that their wounds be healed

Some of them are seeking adventure and discovery
I ask that they be safe
I ask that they find joy and awe and wonder
In the world you have set before us

Some of them are in search of knowledge and wisdom
I ask that they find what feeds their minds
I ask that their souls be nourished

Some of them are here… just to be here
I ask that this place will enrich their spirits
And that their spirits will enrich this place

Some of them are here because they are tired and worn
From the weight of their work in the world
I ask that they be refreshed, that they should find new strength
I ask that their burdens be lightened

Some are looking for work
To find their calling, their way in the world
To support their families, to make their contributions
That only they can make
I ask that they find the doors of opportunity open
I ask that they find their paths clear
I ask that they find satisfaction and fulfillment in their labors

Some are searching for love or companionship
To fill that gap in their lives, the hole in their hearts
I ask that their loneliness should end
Whether by the touch of another caring heart
Or the discovery of the strength of solitude

Whatever our journeys may be
I ask we may have the health and the strength
The wisdom, the vision, and the courage
To take each next step

I thank you for this place where I have slept
Bless those who have made it possible
Bless those who keep it running
Bless those who keep it clean

Bless the next head that rests upon this pillow
Bless the next heart that finds its rest here
Bless the next body that walks through these do

Here for You

Here for You
By Blind Peanut Nicholson

I can lend you an ear
I can give you a hand
I can offer a shoulder
That understands

We can share our minds
We can share our hearts
We can share our arms
Perhaps other parts

I can dry your tears
I can cover your back
Take whatever you need
If there’s something you lack

From my head to my toe
Whatever I can do
I want you to know
That I’m here for you

The Peace and Justice Files: KIDS THESE DAYS

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler fled the US on January 19, and is now working with a refugee assistance group near Belgrade, Serbia.)

How many times recently have you heard someone say, or seen a post on social media, something like this?

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, sit indecently, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Sound familiar?

It should – it’s attributed to Socrates.

Seems that dissing the younger generation as being lazy good-for-nothings has been a hobby for grumpy old folks for a long, long time. “In my day…we respected our elders, we did what we were told…”

No, you didn’t.

You were just as much a mixture of delightful angel and pain-in-the-butt snotnose as I or anyone else was. You’ve just forgotten.

And the world back then was not as trouble-free as you seem to remember it being. We were just ignorant.

In fact, let me suggest that the very first time you hear a phrase like “what is wrong with kids these days” pass your lips, you should immediately make a note to have yourself checked for the onset of senile dementia. It’s a sure sign that your brain is starting to calcify.

For the last several months, it has been my privilege and pleasure to meet, hang out with, and get to know some truly phenomenal young people. They are knowledgeable about the world and connected to it in ways that are unimaginable to those of us who maybe perhaps had a foreign “pen pal“ or two or grew up watching the occasional travel documentary on PBS.

Emilia (not her real name) and her partner Helga (ditto) and I were talking recently here in Belgrade – I was interested in knowing where their activism and engagement had come from. Was it a product of education, of familial values, of religious belief, of watching the news? Emilia spoke instead of how travel had given her the opportunity to meet and interact with people from other countries. “After a while,” she said, in a phrase that struck me deeply, “every country has a face.” An earthquake in Peru, say, is no longer just some remote geological event – it happens 20 kilometers from the home of your friend Maria, whom you met on a hiking trip in Vermont, and with whom you stay in touch on Instagram.

Other volunteers here have told me similar stories. Sometimes thhad the money, sometimes they worked for it, sometimes they found their way one step at a time, but the ability to personally witness other parts of the world, and see our fellow humans as just that – humans – has done something to their hearts and souls, something that I think needs to happen to as many people as possible.

So next time you see one of these newspaper opinion pieces about all the problems with Millennials, take it with a good-sized portion of salt – and if you are a Millennial, don’t let anyone else try to tell you who you really are.


(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the USA on January 19, and is now in Belgrade, Serbia, helping with refugee assistance.)

First off, I’d like to thank the folks who responded to last month’s survey request, regarding how well we as a nation are fulfilling the goals set forth by the Founders in the Preamble to the Constitution. I could use a few more responses, though. Please stop by and let me know what you think. (So far, the results are not exactly encouraging…)

Now then:

Through a very useful website called, I found out about a fairly new NGO called BelgrAID, based in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade (also called Beograd, depending on your language). These folks cook nutritious daily meals for a group of refugees from various countries, about 800-1000 young men who are housed in a former Yugoslav army base in the nearby city of Obrenovac. They also provide help to other vulnerable communities here in Belgrade, and transport personal care supplies to various camps across Serbia.

They. Are. Amazing.

I find myself among an ever-changing gaggle of a couple of dozen competent, energetic, idealistic, practical, and motivated young people, from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, America, and other countries. (A group of awesome Portuguese Girl Scouts came through recently from Lisbon.) German, Spanish, English, Italian, and other tongues fill the air. There are also a handful of neighborhood dogs that we have adopted – or rather who have adopted us – and who provide amusement and comfort that more than makes up for the times they eat our socks.

Some of these folks are long-term, dedicated volunteers. Others are students or workers taking some time during their summer holidays to be of service. Others are travelers and adventurers, combining their wanderlusts with a desire to make a difference.

Why are they here?

I spent an afternoon talking to a young woman named Carolina, from the Bay Area of California.  She had been on vacation in Greece, and fell into a conversation with an older woman who had been spending time in the Greek Islands dealing with the huge influx of refugees last fall.

“Oh,” she remembered thinking: “I have to do that.”

Clear. Obvious. No-brainer.

They are here because there is work to be done, and human needs to be filled. Pure and simple.

So I have met some of these men, these Farsi and Benghalis and Pashtuns, and shared some meals and conversations with them. They are tanners and aircraft mechanics, would-be accountants and experienced managers. They tear up when they hear emotional pop songs from their homelands. They meet, talk, and play soccer and basketball these young, free, strong Western women, but they always act as impeccable gentlemen towards them, even though you can see the longing and loneliness in their eyes.

In a few days, I’ll get to go meet some refugee kids in one of the other camps, perform for them, and maybe introduce some of them to the old-fashioned tin can stilts I’ve been making in my spare time. If you’d like to know more about supporting BelgrAID, or my work here in particular, drop me a note at  Thanks.

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?



A beach it was indeed – but like no beach he had ever seen.
For this is the shore that has no condominiums,
Where suntan lotion never sells. No brochure
Advertises that view, no agent (save Stavros) offers package deals –
And there is no romance to be found there, nor souvenirs for sale.

There must have been light, for he realized he could see –
But there was neither sun nor color. He took a handful of sand,
And watched it run between his fingers, black as coal.
He looked around, and saw his group arrayed about him,
Slowly coming to their senses. He stood quickly in their midst.

“My friends,” he said, “do not fear. Unless I miss my guess,
We have been spared that arduous trek
Once trod by Hercules and Orpheus, Dante and Aeneas.
Instead, our friend Stavros has sent us off in style
And let us take – shall we say – the express rather than the local.”

At this they heard a cry, and looking up, saw white-haired Stavros –
Standing, it seemed, upon a tall and distant cliff –
Though he might also have been in a hot-air balloon,
So little of him could they see as they strained to hear his words.
“Good to see you all made it through!” be called.

“I apologize for the nature of your trip, but I know your time is precious
And so I could not accompany you down the long and ancient way.
Remain where you are, and be not afraid – your presence
May cause some commotion amongst the shades,
But your escort will arrive shortly. Check your pockets – and again, farewell!”

Their wallets – gone. Passports – gone. Watches, cell phones,
All had disappeared – save for three gold coins, and several Milk-Bones,
Their pockets had been emptied. Alarmed, they looked to McAdoo,
Who had answers at the ready. “No photography allowed,” he said,
“And down here, believe me, reception is lousy anyway.”

“Your personal possessions are of no further use,” said a voice.
“As you already know, you can’t take it with you.” They turned as one,
And saw – a man? A boy? An ancient, long beard and all?
His form shifted, sometimes radiating youth, sometimes sallow age,
Sometimes both at once. Only his eyes remained constant.

“Upon your return to the upper sphere, your goods shall be restored,”
He said. “In the meantime, rest assured that they are protected
More securely than any vault on Earth could ever promise.”
“We thank you,” said McAdoo, and all the others added their assent.
“Where are we, and if it is permitted, may we ask who you are?”

“I may have had a name once,” he said, with something like a smile.
“But here no one ever asks for it, and in truth I do not miss it.
Here I am but one of many guides for the newly arrived,
Whom I escort to the shore you see before you, the banks
Of the Dark River – for that is where you are.”

And now their eyes had adjusted, they looked shoreward once again
And became aware of movement along the river’s edge.
Indeed, there was nothing but movement,
For the entire shore was densely packed with jostling shades
So tightly crowded that they seemed to overlap.

As a field of wheat ripples in the warm Midwestern breeze,
So did waves of motion play across that ghostly mass.
But there was no sound, no cries of “Hey! Watch it, buddy!”
Nor polite whispers of apology, as spirit nudged against spirit,
Slowly swaying along the obsidian shore.

“They do not yet know,” said their Guide. “They are as dreamers,
Or babies newly born, or surgical patients emerging
From Morpheus’ painfree embrace. As you are discovering now,
Other senses come into play here, senses deadened
Under the weight of flesh and air, senses that must be learned anew.”

He gestured to them to follow, and turned toward the shore.
“Stay close,” he said to them. “Answer no question, make no comment.
Be as they are – still, quiet, and patient. I will make a way for you.
Oh – but do guard your pockets.” So saying he walked ahead,
turning now and then to check their progress.

When young boys break into an abandoned house,
Their imaginations filling each room with dread,
They advance in a clump down the creaky hallways, not daring to breathe,
Their flashlights swinging wildly at every wooden creak,
Jumping out of their skins at the sight of the dead man’s cat.

So how did they manage, these mortal though powerful men,
Advancing through real and actual ghosts to that most final of shores?
I would like to tell you that they kept their cool,
Facing these specters with the same kind of bravado
They used on conference calls with investors.

And they tried their best, in truth they did,
But each one felt his knees give way, his heart race,
Felt fear like he had never felt – save McAdoo,
Who was too busy looking at the faces of the shades
To think about the fear he felt within.

“Oh Guide,” he said, sotto voce, so as to not disturb,
“How long have these shades been here, how recently have they died?”
“Depends,” said his companion, with a hint of surprise at the question,
“Some have only arrived this very instant, some have stood here
For much, much longer. Do you seek someone?”

“Oh – no,” said quick-thinking McAdoo. “My parents died
Some time ago, and I am certain that in this great crowd
Even were they present, I should never find them here.”
“Just so,” said the Guide. “A shade could wait here for millennia,
As passes Earthly time – but never know the difference.”

“Remember,” he said, “this is Eternity’s shore you stand upon,
The boundary between your time and timelessness. You still retain
Your sense of Time’s flow – but to such as I the truth is clear,
That all that happens or will happen there has happened.
Not everyone is willing or able to make this crossing.”

And now a great horn sounds, and the companions jump as one,
Sending ripples throughout the assembled ghostly horde.
“Fear not,” says the Guide, reaching out to steady them,
And to calm their quivering shoulders.
“That is the sound of the Ferry arriving – look, and see if you can see.”

From the dark grey fog, across the dark grey waves,
Their eyes discern an enormous shape emerge. A ferry – or a cruise ship,
Indeed, a ship much like to those they saw upon the Aegean waves,
But with a mountain’s bulk and height. A mountain, or a mountain range,
Perhaps, peak piled onto peak – but made all of black glass.


Let me process these developments
The arc of the story has changed
Gotta write a whole new narrative
The plot points got all rearranged

Let me run this by the writers
See if we can set up that shot
Let me run it by the sponsors
See if they’ll buy another spot

I’m the showrunner now
Ever since you spun me off
A full reboot, try another route
Get the fans back on the bus

We had a long run, but the plot got stale
The old chemistry was gone
In-universe, things turned for the worse
It was time for some one to move on

No way to go back for a prequel
Without finding a whole new cast
Change the locations, try a new style
Ratings were slipping fast

But I’m the showrunner now
Now that you’ve left the team
To pursue your solo projects
Now that you’ve split the scene

I’m the showrunner now
A new season in the works
Got some surprises up my sleeve
New cliffs to hang, new tears to jerk