State of Emergency: GOP at Large

So now Donald Trump — acting at times as tyrant-in-training, others as distractor-in-chief – has qualitatively changed the idea of the presidency as a “bully pit.”  Much of the nation sits on edge awaiting Trump’s next tweet, feeding his insatiable ego while he rants on and on, careening from one topic to the next.  Meanwhile, the congressional majority of Republican crazies is taking advantage of their numbers, moving to abolish Obamacare and such governmental frills as the departments of education and environmental protection – as well as such annoyances as financial and business regulations that (feebly) protect the interests of the increasingly hapless citizen-consumer.

Collective bargaining is in their sites as well, not to mention a nation’s right to choose: Trump and his GOP Congress want to cut off funding to any international women’s health or family planning entity that disseminates any information whatsoever about contraception or abortion.  And the list just goes on and on.  These are reactionary times.

Here in the Pennsylvania, the party of Know Nothings is also making hay while the sun shines on them.  Their response to the massive Women’s March is to use their majority in both houses of the General Assembly to ram through the senate – without any public hearings — a bill rolling back abortion rights in the never-ending effort to put women back in their places. A version of this bill passed in the house last year and the Republicans have the necessary votes to override Governor Wolf’s promised veto this year. Every senator from southwestern Pennsylvania voted for this reactionary legislation.

“Illegal” immigrants should, of course, stay in their place as well – which isn’t in our state.  The legislative GOP has promised to withhold whatever funding they can from cities and municipalities that advertise their willingness to offer sanctuary to “illegal” people.

And union rights are also on their early radar, the senate having passed a bill – under the guise of “paycheck protection” – forbidding public sector unions from automatically deducting PAC contributions from members.

As for Governor Wolf’s most recent, modestly liberal budget proposal?  Dead on arrival, say majority leaders in both houses of the Assembly.

On the warpath

Have I missed anything?  You bet!  it’s quite a challenge to list all of the attacks regular people face from these reactionaries.  If you’re for it, they’re probably against it.  Put succinctly, the US ruling class – filthy rich capitalists swimming in record wealth and luxury – is on the attack, with the President of the United States and the Republican Party leading the charge.

Our only choice is to fight back.  It’s nice to see all the people who weren’t upset at President Obama for his record number of deportations or timidity in the face of racist cop killings, catch the spirit of outrage.  I put even more stock in the fresh innocence of youth: the Pittsburgh Public School students who staged a strike over the appointment of an education secretary who’s never set foot inside a public school; or the Lower Merion High School basketball team that has been taking a very public stand in support of Muslims, immigrants and refugees.

Let the protests continue: at airports, town hall meetings, federal buildings, city halls, sporting events, awards show, wherever.

We have no choice except to fight back but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight to win.  The potentially powerful voice of organized labor remains largely silent and on the sidelines. Labor needs to begin organizing workplaces like it’s 1929 – because it could damn well be that bad before long.

Politically, labor should have no trouble joining with other progressive forces in calling for a fair tax structure.  Here in Pennsylvania, the governor is continually hamstrung in his efforts to pass a budget that adequately funds schools and addresses social concerns.  There just isn’t enough money coming into the General Fund and the only “acceptable” source of new revenue is the working-class, low- and middle-income taxpayer: Democratic governors continually raise the flat income tax rate, stick it to the unfortunate tobacco addict, and come up with new ways to cash in on monopolized gambling, largely taking advantage of the poor working stiff who’s looking for a quick windfall.

More than 70 percent of revenue in the current state budget comes from two regressive taxes – income and sales.  Corporate income taxes account for just eight percent of revenue, with other business taxes accounting for another seven percent.  In the 1970s, corporate taxes accounted for 28 percent of the General Fund, and the corporate rate averaged 22.25 percent from 1988 to 2003 before corporate contributions to the public good really started to fall (Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center).

We should demand a dramatic reversal of this trend from every state legislator (and the governor) – no ifs, ands or buts.  Corporations should pay their fair share of taxes, as should wealthy individuals; therefore, the state income tax should be progressive and not flat.

These are the things for which we should be willing to go on the warpath.

— James Collins


The Beautiful Struggle

Just one day after the inauguration of a man who was amazed that it would rain on such an auspicious occasion, Americans turned out against him in the largest one-day demonstration the nation has ever seen.  In fact, people were protesting on Inauguration Day, they were protesting long before, and they’ve been protesting ever since – bigly.

(Even as I write this on a Saturday night, spontaneous demonstrations are breaking out at US airports in support of foreign detainees affected by the Trump executive order on immigration.)

The millions of people who turned out for the Washington, D.C. Women’s March and its sister demonstrations were protesting about more than women’s issues, front and center though they may have been.  This unpopular President has made enemies of every interest group and demographic that has experienced some social progress over the years – minorities, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants –and he relished the notoriety.

As unpopular, unpredictable and reactionary as Trump is, let’s not forget that he is supported by an economically and socially conservative, rabidly right-wing Republican majority in both houses of Congress.  And our own once “Blue” state is solidly in the grip of a backward GOP that controls both chambers of the legislature, effectively rendering Gov. Tom Wolf impotent.  Donald Trump is merely the culmination, the inevitable consequence, of a national politics that has been tilting to the right for decades and given us the current GOP dominance at the state and federal levels.

An effective resistance must recognize this and oppose not just Trump – an easy target, after all – and deal with all of the right-wing crazies and their political vehicle, the Republican Party.  The demonstrators who showed up in Philadelphia for the strategy session between Trump and Republicans in Congress are a hopeful sign of this understanding.


Opportunity in crisis

The key to social and political progress is whether the American people can build unity between those on the left of the political spectrum – so-called progressives – and those in the middle, the people who consider themselves to be liberal, “reasonable” and nonconfrontational.  We are lucky to have Trump as a lightning rod, a figure so vulgar and open in his enthusiasm for mean, nasty policies that even middle-of-the-roaders are appalled.  He is the biggest recruiter for center-left unity.

Trump’s lack of experience, extreme narcissism and strong-man pretentions do not endear him to members of his party.  When the going gets tough for Trump and his popularity plummets further, there is reason to expect that huge segments of the GOP will desert him.  The movement that we are building should encourage and exploit these splits, and our movement should be aggressive and not defensive.  For example, rather than merely oppose the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act or demand its restoration, we should call for the creation of a modern, long overdue single-payer health care system.

Such a call will only be pie in the sky if we can’t do two things in the coming years. First, we must expose and discredit the forces behind the GOP – the social nuts like the Tea Party and the evangelicals, and especially the businessmen and women who are bloated with power and money – and relegate it to the trash can of history once and for all.  Then, we must wean ourselves from our dependence on a Democratic Party that is, when it comes to economic policy, the mere flip side of the GOP.  We need to build our own independent political vehicles that do not rely on the money of rich people, who will never support the kind of policies that we need – policies that put the well-being of all the people before the profits and well-being of the wealthy few.

It will not be easy to build the unity and political clarity necessary to achieve these goals.  But it is not impossible.  Trump has barely been in office a week and millions of people are nervous, restless, ready to act.  Powerful forces – or potentially powerful forces – have yet to leap into the fray, especially organized labor.

As we continue our beautiful struggle, we will learn: we will learn who our real enemies are; we will learn that progress does not come easy; we will learn something of our own mettle; we will recognize those who share our common interests; we will learn to trust each other.

We will learn the meaning of the word solidarity!

— James Collins




Red Dawn in Pennsylvania

It’s been three weeks since the election and I still encounter so many people who can’t believe that Pennsylvania, like most of the rest of the country, is a “red” state. In 2016 Pennsylvania finally voted for a Republican presidential candidate, even if by the slimmest of margins.  Just as maddening for Democrats, Katie McGinty lost the senatorial race to rightwing nut Pat Toomey by a similar margin.

But it doesn’t end there: our congressional delegation has 13 Republicans to five Dems, and the GOP increased its already considerable margin in the General Assembly; they now have a 122 to 81 advantage in the house and a veto-sustaining 34 to 16 margin in the state senate. We’re going to be seeing red a lot for the next two years.

Liberal commentators – insulated elitists that many of them are – have been blaming the white working class, or non college-educated whites, for the nationwide debacle.  I’m tired of hearing all the snide “Pennsyltucky” comments: they’re not funny and, as the polling data is showing, not very accurate.  A lot of college-educated people pulled the lever for Trump and other down-ballot Republicans, including the highly educated union members in the two teachers unions.

No, lack of education wasn’t the problem.  Stevie Wonder captured the mood of voters of all races and genders decades ago when he sang:“We are sick and tired of hearing your song/Telling how you are changing right from wrong/’Cause if you really want to hear our view/you haven’t done nothin.’”

Anyone trying to come up with an electoral strategy to reverse national and local GOP dominance should study the 1988 Jesse Jackson campaign for president.

A working-class problem?

Perhaps the “problem” with those workers – especially the white ones – is a problem of leadership: no leadership and misleadership. With only 11 percent of all eligible employees belonging to unions – 6.7 percent in the private sector – it’s safe to say that most workers have no organic political leaders.  They have to find them where they can, among politicians, religious leaders and celebrities.  There’s not a lot of political clarity or wisdom to be found from Kanye West, Angelina Jolie or someone from the cast of Duck Dynasty.

But looking to one’s obvious leaders — trade union officials — doesn’t offer much better. Take, for example, the inane remarks of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.  After attributing Hillary Clinton’s defeat, at least in part, to sexism, she reaches this conclusion: “So I think we’re never really ever going to understand it.”

Okay then, she’s not familiar with feminist theory. Even worse, Weingarten goes on to say that Bernie Sanders, who has been in Congress since 1992 and whose record is an open book, “was never tested or vetted by anyone, and frankly we have no idea whether he would have actually been able to get through this crucible.”

By “anyone,” Weingarten means anyone in the Democratic Party power structure – the very same people who find unions and union leaders like Weingarten contemptible. Our nation’s labor leaders have no independent political vision.  It’s embarrassing to see how slavish they are in serving Democrats who reciprocate by giving very little in return. Labor would be better off eschewing electoral politics altogether and concentrating on organizing and representing workers.

It would be great to see this kind of leadership replaced by one that has vision and true dedication to their membership and the working class in general, and that is a matter that must ultimately be settled by working men and women. But in the meantime, we need aspiring political leaders who understand the value of creating or being a part of broad movements for change.  And that type of leader can come from anywhere, not necessarily labor. Back in the 1980’s, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was such a leader.

Hope through struggle

Unlike Barack Obama’s Hope/Change thing, Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive” slogan was tied to a history of participation in grassroots movements and a vision of creating a new movement — a Rainbow Coalition — to achieve goals that mainstream politicians and commentators saw as either unreasonable or unachievable.  His platform called for affirmative action, passing the ERA, cutting defense spending, a foreign policy based on respect for self-determination, immigrant rights, civil rights, single-payer health care, reversing the Reagan tax cuts for the rich, ending the so-called war on drugs, free community college for all, support for family farmers, reparations for the descendants of slaves, and more.

To achieve these objectives, Jackson believed in coalition building — fusing existing movements into a Rainbow Coalition of common interests. He visibly fought for his platform before his first presidential run in 1984, between the 1984 and 1988 campaigns, as well as during the latter campaign.

Jackson won 11 primaries or caucuses – in places like Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Georgia, Mississippi and Vermont, where he had the endorsement of then Burlington mayor Bernie Sanders. He had strong finishes in several others and his campaign registered 2 million new voters.  Needless to say, many of his supporters were white working class folks; he even won some endorsements from majority-white union locals.

Jackson’s big weakness was his considerable ego and willingness to compromise with Democratic Party power brokers at the expense of his Rainbow Coalition, which never developed the capacity to function effectively without him.  He ended up getting it backwards, and we’re all the worse off for it.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  The potential power of coalitions based on common interest was demonstrated.  Nor should we place all of the blame on Jackson: he was indeed a charismatic figure, but it’s not his fault that our nation’s culture, political and otherwise, is so enamored with charisma.

We still need to build and sustain powerful mass movements; if we are to succeed in electing politicians who will serve our people’s needs, they need to be tied to and pushed by masses of people.

Crying over the defeat of Hillary Clinton — a (possibly) good person who is certainly not beholden to people like us, but instead to ultra-rich ruling-class powers — is a waste of time.  Scapegoating white workers misleads people who are already confused.  We need to build strong movements — in labor, among oppressed people of all races, genders and colors — from which strong leaders — not just a leader — can emerge to serve our interests.

As bad as things seem to be, the future is unwritten.  But it’s past time to write off people like the Clintons, who haven’t done nothin.’

— Coleman Saint James






The Morning After

There was a lot of talk among Democrats and their fellow travelers before the general election about the crisis in the GOP. Donald Trump – outlandish, buffoonish and downright unelectable – had, by winning the party’s nomination, led the Republican Party to drink from the waters that it had so terribly polluted.  He had taken the party’s possibly cynical embrace of rightwing crazies like Tea Partiers, creationists and anti-choicers to its logical conclusion: implosion.

 But who’s in crisis now? Whose party is in danger of, if not implosion, then sliding into a period of weak and floundering opposition to the know-nothing GOP juggernaut that is now firmly in control of things?

If the Democrats can’t even defeat a candidate like Donald Trump, can they ever be expected to retake the White House or regain a majority in either or both houses of Congress? Will our citizens ever be freed from the tyranny of state governments run by ignorant Republicans hell bent on destroying all that is public and not profitable?

We’re at the long receiving end of the so-called Reagan “revolution,” my friends, a decades-long realignment of political forces and economic priorities. It’s been a long time since Democrats could count on unorganized white workers to vote for them – maybe because it’s been a long time since the Democrats have done anything for anybody because they’re workers.  Black, Latino, and women workers benefit from civil rights policies, which the Democrats are still willing to support, so they still support Democrats but not as workers.

As for organized workers, it’s long past time for labor to stop busting their asses for the Democrats who only repay them with support for economic policies that must have folks like John L. Lewis, Phil Murray and even FDR spinning in their graves.

Occupy the political space

For the past decade or so, liberal Dems have staked their fortunes and future on demographic changes that their naïve, if well meaning, policy wonks have termed “cultural.” Culture is somehow interwoven with “identity,” and everybody has to be identified.  She’s not just a woman; she’s an Afro-Asian with a hint of Scotch-Irish woman!  Once everyone is correctly identified, we can come up with the algorithm for optimum “diversity.”

The word diversity is now spoken as if there’s some magic in its very utterance. It might come as a surprise to some people to learn that this has always been a diverse country, made up of people of many different races, from many different places, who have had many different experiences. And here’s a tidbit about “minorities:” people who have been excluded aren’t concerned about diversity – they want inclusion and fairness.  Inclusion might refer to the right to a decent education, good-paying job and a nice house or apartment to live in.  An example of fairness would be not being shot by police under circumstances that white citizens would survive.

The Occupy movement was on the right track when it said that there are those making money, and then there are the rest of us. The ninety-nine percent includes people of all races, genders, nationalities, religions and ages.  Once upon a time, they were called members of the working class and the middle class.  We don’t use that working-class term much anymore, except to disparage (some of) the people who voted for Donald Trump.  I suggest we start using that word again to describe the people who, well . . . work.  Then we might want to rethink what it really means to be in the middle.

On this “morning after” an election where we learned just how cuckoo our political system has become, I suggest we save some of our vitriol for Trump voters and give it to the Democrats who haven’t really been for the working people for a very long time. It’s time to stop supporting smooth, cynical, venal politicians who don’t give a rat’s ass about common people once the election season is over.

I wrote earlier that the ruling class – even elites in the Republican Party – had lined up behind Hillary Clinton, and so they had. But now the GOP controls the entire federal government and the majority of state governments as well, and you can bet that that’s just fine with this same ruling class.  Their interests will be well served by a billionaire landlord who believes in lowering taxes on corporations and the rich, while lowering the boom on the rest of us.

And so I suggest, once again, in the words of the immortal Joe Hill: Don’t waste time mourning; organize! Let’s make the next four years very uncomfortable for Trump and the GOP.

— James Collins

Millionaire versus Billionaire: The Final Frontier?

This year’s presidential contest, now thankfully heading into the final stretch of campaigning, makes one wonder how much longer the American people will tolerate a political system of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich. No matter your political affiliation, ideology or beliefs, it’s likely that both major party candidates strike you as being mucho unsavory.

Of course Donald Trump is the worst. An unhinged egomaniac with few equals, Trump could be called a fraud if he didn’t actually believe his every boast.  Nevertheless, he’s not to be trusted.  Rather than serve as president of the United States, I would think it’s still not to late to either hospitalize him (involuntarily, of course) or incarcerate him for something along the order of business fraud or tax evasion.  Yes, he’s that crazy and that corrupt, and it speaks to our rigged socioeconomic and political systems that a man like him is allowed to get wealthy at the expense of others.

Many people call Trump a fascist and maybe he would become our dictator-for-life under the right circumstances. But he reminds me more of Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time prime minister of Italy who dominated Italian politics for most of the 1990s and the beginning of this century.  A billionaire who, like Trump, adores the limelight (albeit in a much raunchier fashion), Berlusconi flaunted his wealth while claiming to be a man of the people and his nation’s salvation: the name of his political party translates as “Go Italy” in English.

For years, numerous corruption charges failed to stick and Berlusconi became the longest-serving prime minister in post-war Italy.  Finally, the Eurozone crisis weakened him enough in 2011 to politically do him in for good – we hope.

That would be the best possible outcome of a Trump presidency: the man’s policies would surely bring about an economic and social crisis of mammoth proportions, leading to his ignominious downfall as well as (again, we hope) an end to the long-standing aforementioned setup of-for-and-by the rich.

As for Hillary Clinton, we all know she’ll lie at the drop of a hat. The email scandal demonstrates just what your parents told you about liars: after the first fib, they just keep telling more and more, even after they’ve been caught. We know just how venal she is, too, her profitable speechifying and the pay-to-play scandal being just two examples.  As for the business of scamming people, we’ve heard about Trump University but what about Laureate International Universities?

It seems that Bill Clinton was paid somewhere between $16 and $17 million to act as “honorary chancellor” of this for-profit chain of secondary schools from 2010 to 2015.

Suffice it to say that Laureate has a crushing debt load, still managed to generously contribute to the Clinton Foundation, disdains the trappings of ordinary universities (curriculum, syllabi, degrees, grades) and admitted to the Security and Exchange Commission that it has “weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting.”

Trust Hillary (or anybody named Clinton)?  I don’t think so.

Ruling-class consensus

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this election is that the ruling class is lining up solidly behind one candidate – Hillary Clinton. With a majority of the country’s money- and power-brokers supporting her, which proverbial angel dancing on her shoulders and whispering in her ears, do you think Hillary Clinton is going to listen to: the one advocating debt relief for students, justice for the harassed and incarcerated, a fairer tax structure, etc.; or the advocate of the continuation of trickle-down lite?

And almost certainly, a Clinton II presidency would do nothing to change our government’s aggressive, neo-imperialist foreign policy.

Our senatorial race in Pennsylvania also epitomizes the current situation: millionaire GOP incumbent Pat Toomey is facing off against millionaire Democrat Katie McGinty.  McGinty wins by default over a man who would do away with the increasingly symbolic corporate income tax. However, both campaigns have been absolutely masterful at pointing out the upper-class shenanigans of the other.  Katie McGinty might have working-class roots, but her track record makes her promise to champion the “middle class” hard to believe.

It’s a sad situation. Whether you hold your nose when you go to the polls and vote for a Democrat, or cast a ballot for a third party candidate like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, you know the outcome is going to be less than optimal for those of us who want international peace, an end to institutional racism and sexism, progress toward economic equality, and real action on climate change. Therefore, when the election is over it will be good to remember and heed the words of Joe Hill:

“Don’t waste time mourning.  Organize.”

— James Collins

Millionaire vs. Billionaire

Tuesday’s primary election results bring us closer to the inevitable November match-up: Hillary “Corporate” Clinton versus Donald Trump, the idiot billionaire.  With the Pennsylvania primary more than a month away, those of us sane enough to oppose Trump or any candidate of the GOP are urged – almost expected – to close ranks behind Clinton in a show of “unity” and a nod to “reality” or the “real world.” But it’s precisely the accepted lamestream version of reality that should be opposed.

Sanders’ opposition to the power of the big corporations and the wealthy has been consistent throughout his political career. Why should he give up now with delegate-rich states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, Wisconsin, New York and California on the horizon?  The contest isn’t over until June, or until Clinton wins a majority of delegates.

The pundits respond that since Sanders can never win against Clinton in places with substantial numbers of black voters – because Hillary just loves black folks and they adore and trust her – he may as well hang it up now so that Clinton can concentrate her fire on Trump and the Republicans.

But some of us have noted the cynical paternalism at the heart of this argument and alleged love affair, which saw the Clintons appoint and befriend a few successful African Americans, while publicly maligning – as well as locking up and denying social benefits to – huge masses of black folk. You remember: they called it crime and welfare “reform.”  And many more in the middle were squeezed by a Clinton recovery characterized by a low-wage jobs market.

Corporate Black Caucus

Despite all the pathetic antebellum-preacher-style pandering of Rep. John Lewis, neither he nor the Corporate . . . er, uh, Congressional Black Caucus opposed President Bill when he was getting his neoliberal agenda on, back in the 1990s. Instead of criticizing Sanders for being too white (as if it’s his fault that his home state is 95 percent white) or not being where John Lewis was when he got his head split open (as if John Lewis’ particular freedom ride was the only place to be in the 1960s), Lewis and the CBC should have been closing ranks with an independent congressman named Bernie Sanders.

Back in 1988, during his first run for Congress, Sanders – white and from Vermont though he may have been – supported Jesse Jackson for president.  Sanders lost but made it to Congress two years later.  In 1992, Clinton swept into office – destroying the incumbent George H.W. Bush – and the historically progressive Black Caucus swelled from 25 to 38 members.  Looking good, right?

Wrong. Clinton did what all the Republican presidents since 1971 hadn’t – he tamed the CBC and tamed them good, while keeping the black vote for the Democrats.  Lewis – and probably a few other CBC members – almost wanted to commit suicide over deciding to support Obama over Hillary in 2008, but does he shed tears for the millions and millions of black people who have languished in prisons, substandard housing, abandoned schools and otherwise suffered for lack of a humane safety net?

Sanders has been consistent over the years. He has the common sense (not so common these days), integrity and decency that deserves any progressive person’s vote. If he were president, he’d most likely listen to his black allies rather than try to co-opt them.  Sanders has the money and the organization to keep fighting, so he should.  The longer he fights, the longer we’re spared the sickening spectacle of Hillary Millionaire vs. Donald Billionaire, and the longer we keep talking about economic justice.

Yes, Trump is a proto-fascist and it would behoove us to do everything possible to stop him in November. But it’s not November yet: on April 26, why not vote for Sanders?

And three cheers for the young people, who have sense enough to support Sanders for all the right reasons. These are the same people, more or less, who gave us Occupy Wall Street, and before that the anti-globalization movement.  Young people today are tolerant; love children, animals and the earth; and they hate war.  They’re often criticized for their lack of intellectual rigor in the policy and endgame-forecasting arenas, but I humbly suggest that we older folks take a look around and ask ourselves what our efforts, sincere as they are, have gotten us.  I’m ready to follow the youth.

Lest we forget

There’s still no state budget and at this point, it’s safe to say that we’re experiencing a GOP-spearheaded lockout of social spending – keeping money from us that is really ours. This money has already been collected, banked and allocated, but it can’t be spent because the GOP opposes a return to pre-Corbett spending levels.  As a result, people have suffered.

I still haven’t heard any accounts or allegations of actual deaths that were caused by the crisis, but I don’t believe it. One of Governor Wolf’s line-item vetoes affected funding for close to 80 hospitals, including 13 critical access facilities, located mostly in rural areas and serving a high percentage of people on Medicaid.  No possible harm there.

Meanwhile, the wealthy continue to benefit from low income and corporate state taxes, while consumption and income taxes for regular people keep going up. And the Department of Education helpfully issues guidelines on how to shut your school district down.

Unions in this state and country used to know how to battle a lockout. If they still do, they might consider sharing that expertise with people and communities who don’t know how to organize a fight back.  Who knows, maybe forcefully aligning itself with community interests might help reverse the failing fortunes of Pennsylvania labor.  Maybe?

James Collins

Chicken Hawks

What strange days these are.

The terrible hawks of war are soaring higher and higher, leaving in their wake unimaginable death, suffering and destruction, while the chickens keep returning home to roost.  And these chickens are increasingly macabre, defying our every expectation and upping the pervasive paranoia that is the psychological background to life in our war-and-police state.

When one speaks of those chickens roosting, most Americans will think of the Paris and San Bernadino terrorist attacks, situations where Westerners are targeted by rightwing Islamic extremists.  But what about our own local Pittsburgh chicken, aka Anthony Mohamed, who allegedly shot a Muslim immigrant taxi driver in Hazelwood on Thanksgiving after questioning the cabbie’s nationality and making anti-ISIS statements.

Mohamed, of course, is a Muslim surname and Anthony Mohamed is African American!  These are strange days, indeed — days pregnant with menace and foreboding.

Sticks and Stones

Our nation’s “War on Terror” is exceeded in length only by the undeclared Cold War on communism and the centuries-long assault on Native-born Americans.  Just like during the Cold War, today there is no respect for democratic ideals or tolerance of differences of opinion in important matters.

The leading GOP candidates for president  exercise their “right” to freedom of speech by employing the most dangerous, demagogic rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants:

Donald Trump would require all Muslims in the US to register in a national database, bring back waterboarding and spying on mosques, and would close them if he thought they were “radicalizing” people ; Marco Rubio declares that we’re in a “clash of civilizations” and there “is no middle ground;” Ben Carson announces that he could never support a Muslim for president unless the candidate  denounced sharia, the ethical legal and moral code of traditional Islam. (How about all Christian candidates denouncing Deuteronomy?)

Meanwhile Jeb Bush, channeling Bill Clinton, says that all of the above nonsense is “just wrong.”  But when asked about admitting some of those desperate Syrian refugees (made homeless by US war policy and regime change) to the United States, Jeb expressed a preference for Christian Syrians.

This rhetoric of ignorance and hate by our political leaders supports similar speech — and actions — by more ordinary citizens.  Business owners across the country are declaring “Muslim Free Zones,” perhaps the most whacky subset being a slew of gun shop-shooting ranges across the South and Southwest.  One idiot shot himself while guarding such an establishment from nonexistent besiegers.

The most interesting and frightening to me, however, is the Florida gun merchant who displays his “Muslim Free Zone” message to the backdrop of a giant Confederate flag.  Here the “rights” to discriminate against Muslims and African Americans come together in an airtight expression of white, Christian “pride.”

Winter in America?

The flying of the Confederate flag is a first amendment thing to some, tied to the wounded pride and heritage of supporters of a long-lost cause.  These people are saying in no uncertain times that I, my relatives and racial kinspeople should be working for them from sunup to sundown, forever and ever. The penalty for slacking is whipping; the wages of running away are mutilation or death.

I doubt if, in their mind, there’s an Anthony Mohamed exception. One imagines our Confederate gun-nut congratulating him on his eager deed before sending him back into the fields to toil —  at gunpoint.

However deranged Anthony Mohamed may be — whether one is speaking clinically or colloquially — his actions take place in a larger context.  He was influenced by loud Islamophobia, just as the murderer at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston was influenced by pervasive Confederate nostalgia.

And the shooters in Paris and San Bernadino are influenced by a context of international events that don’t cast the United States very favorably in the eyes of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people.  When we callously sow death and destruction overseas, can we expect to reap peace and tranquility at home?

It’s a mean season right now, it’s “winter in America” if you ask me. More and more, the oppressed and working people are adopting the hateful values and attitudes of the oppressor. And in that type of environment,  who can distinguish friend from foe, lion from lamb, and peace from justice?

And make no mistake about it: before there can be peace, there must be justice — both at home and abroad — or at the least the hope that there will be some day.  In these times, they — our rulers — are tossing us very few bones in that direction.

It is up to us, instead, to speak up, stand up and oppose this madness of war, police-state justice, imperialism, Islamophobia and racism.  We have to create a new atmosphere of hope — hope for a brighter day when war will not be the answer to everything.  Anti-American extremists will not only continue to exist but will flourish as long as our foreign policy of crude imperial domination continues.

— Jim Collins