Summertime is here, bringing with it the end of the school year, vacations n’at, festivals, and outdoor activities of all kinds. Still, the living’s not necessarily any easier for a lot of people.  In fact, late summer and early fall will most likely bring a replay of the misery experienced by public school districts, human-service organizations, and low-income and otherwise unfortunate people during our recent nine-month Pennsylvania budget stalemate of 2015-16.

A new state budget is due on July first, and the battle lines are pretty much drawn: the Republicans who control both houses of the Assembly say “no” to any spending or tax increases; the governor and Democratic caucus say “yes” to increased spending, “why not?” to tax increases on ordinary people, and “okay, no” to tax increases on our wealthiest citizens — including corporations (which are sometimes people and sometimes not).

It looks like significant change will only come from below and outside the traditional corridors of power.  Real “political revolution,” anyone?

Imperialist origins of Memorial Day

Summer is bracketed by two major holidays, Memorial Day on the last Monday in May and Labor Day in early September. First proclaimed in 1868 as Decoration Day to honor those who died fighting in the Civil War, Memorial Day didn’t gain widespread recognition until after World War I, when its purpose was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in any war.  The former Confederate states had refused to recognize it until then.

All the patriotic bombast since then has been about honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve “our freedoms.” Of course, all of the major US wars after the Civil War up until that time were of the colonialist (think Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War) or imperialist (The Great War) variety.  The only “freedoms” preserved were the international rights of the powerful to take from those less powerful.

The pattern of US military action for imperialist ends – which picked up pace after the Second World War – has only intensified since the end of the Cold War. What ever happened to wars to end all wars?

We act locally, even as we always think globally. A sorely-needed local anti-imperialist voice came into being last fall, the Pittsburgh Anti-Imperialist League (PAIL).  PAIL has thus far sponsored two timely forums: a discussion on the Middle East with local peace activists and D.C.-based organizer Eugene Puryear; and a lecture on Cuba’s international solidarity in Africa by Cuban academic Felipe de Jesus Perez Cruz.

Get in touch with PAIL to see what else they’re up to at  On Facebook, they’re pghail.

Offensive words

 Would you be offended by the following words?

“Be just: the unjust never prosper. Be valiant.  Keep your word, even to your enemies”

Well, you should be, according to Quaker Valley school district officials.  Those words are attributed to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and therefore deemed “offensive.”  They were somehow slipped into the yearbook by a student.  Those darn kids!  It seems that a quote by Hitler and one by Stalin – although neither was as graceful or chivalrous as al-Baghdadi’s –  also made it past the adult censors.

I confess that if the only thing I knew about al-Baghdadi was that quote, I’d recommend him for the Nobel Peace Prize.  After all, President Obama won the prize on hot air alone shortly after being elected to his first term.  But school officials don’t see it that way.  Quaker Valley is offering refunds to any unsuspecting student who doesn’t want to know what their classmates really think.  Or even that they think at all.  Would somebody please just put on “God Bless America” and pass me a ‘burger or a dog?

I’m reminded of the elite “uproar” over comedian Larry Wilmore’s comments about Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Alluding to the honorable art of drone warfare, Wilmore compared the president to NBA sharpshooter Steph Curry: “Both of you like raining down bombs from long distances.”

As for words not spoken, Obama is the first US president with the courage to visit Hiroshima and says that he is in favor of nuclear disarmament, but he refused to apologize for President Truman’s decision to rain nuclear death down on Japan.

Hmm, Bad men sometimes say good things, while good men sometimes say nothing.  And sometimes popular artists – like comedians – hit the nail on the head better than any news commentator.  Maybe high school seniors understand a few things about words that their would-be censors do not. And as for the censors, their actions tell us a lot more about them than their words.

Solidarity . . . , whatever!

The CWA/IBEW strike against Verizon is over.  It’s a pretty good contract for these times, or so I’ve heard and read, so that’s good news. The six-week strike was the largest in the US since a 2011 strike – against Verizon.  If nothing else, the CWA is demonstrating that it is still possible to exercise the right to strike.

Solidarity used to go hand-in-hand with labor strikes – working people stood firmly and instinctively with striking workers. It was understood that you didn’t cross picket lines, were friendly and respectful to picketing workers, and offered words and sounds (like your car horn) of encouragement.  During the recent strike, I found that I was always the first – and often the only – person to honk and gesture in solidarity with striking CWA red shirts, who usually seemed surprised by my support.

In fact, every picket site I came across was more relaxed, and more sparsely attended, than a Republican polling site in the ghetto on election day. I saw in the P-G that there were some 4,000 Verizon strikers in the Pittsburgh area and was embarrassed to see the CWA citing 600 people turning out at a downtown rally as an example of solidarity.  Six hundred people!?  It sounds like not even the strikers were in solidarity with themselves!

Still, the strike is over and considered a win, so supporters of labor should all celebrate along with the Verizon workers.  And let’s brace ourselves for a long, hot summer of struggle . . . but also fun.  Next time, we’ll talk music news.

— James Collins


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