Class War in the Keystone State

Pennsylvanians are in the middle of a class war.

It has been a less-than-dramatic event.  Instead, it’s been a protracted affair, a slow but steady, one-sided war that’s been waged for decades now, and things have gone very nicely for the ruling, upper classes, thank you very much.

This war has been waged in the open right before the eyes of the public, and the public suffers the consequences of a losing combatant.  Even though this is a class war, nobody calls it that.  Is it because there are no cops and scabs smashing through picket lines, no strikers’ heads being busted, and no jailed workers or union leaders to rally around?

Certainly that’s part of it: workers rarely strike any more.  There were only three major work stoppages (those involving 1,000 workers or more) in the entire state last year, including the multi-state Verizon strike.  No, the arena of this class war isn’t the workplace or the streets. This life-and-death struggle is something of a stealth war, fought and won during semi-annual elections and in halls of the state capitol over the crucial issues of revenue raising and spending.  The battleground is the state’s budget.

It’s the budget, stupid

As Gov. Tom Wolf enters his third year in office, he faces the same obstacle that has plagued him the previous two – a huge Republican majority of “fiscally-responsible” yokels in both houses of the General Assembly who are pledged to oppose the level of spending required to run a modern state.  As a result, Pennsylvania faces a budget deficit for the current fiscal year, as well as for 2016-17 which is against the state constitution.

Wolf’s current budget proposal attempts, to his credit, to return spending for public education to pre-Corbett levels (but without accounting for inflation).  He has chosen to limit expenditures on everything else while raising revenue through regressive taxation: personal income and general sales taxes account for 69 percent of increased revenue in this year’s budget and 62 percent in next year’s.  Another huge portion will come from still higher taxes on tobacco products.

The sales tax and the flat income tax now regularly account for 70 percent of the general revenue raised by the state.  (Visit the Pennsylvania Budget Policy Center for a detailed analysis.)  Politicians and pundits say that Pennsylvania faces an intractable “structural” debt problem, but the reasons for this situation aren’t hard to fathom and the problem is far from unsolvable.  It is now unheard-of for our state “leaders” to suggest levying taxes on those who can afford to pay.  Wealthy Pennsylvanians and corporations that make huge profits here are considered sacrosanct.  So the money has to be raised from those of us of more modest means.

Royal Dutch Shell will receive some $1.65 billion in taxpayer incentives for locating its ethane cracker plan in Beaver County.  Shell says building the complex will create thousands of jobs, and that once it is up and running it will employ 600 workers.  This is all well and good but, besides the fact that many of those jobs will be taken by people living in neighboring Ohio and West Virginia, why should Pennsylvania taxpayers subsidize a profitable corporation like Shell?

The conventional answer is that if we don’t offer incentives to the company, another state will.  Large corporations and their executives are engaged in dividing and blackmailing the country, state by state, municipality by municipality.  And yet, they’re lionized in the general and financial media as fine, upstanding citizens whose goodness and motives are not to be questioned.

The biggest beneficiaries of state and local subsidies in Pennsylvania include Alcoa ($5.7 billion from 1995 to 2016), U.S. Steel ($100 million from 1995 to 2016), BNY Mellon ($76 million from 1997 to 2016), and PPG Industries ($54.6 million since 1992).  You can track government subsidies to corporations at Good Jobs First.

Wolf is to be commended for substantially raising K-12 spending, and he proposes small increases in vital programs that had either disappeared altogether (for example, the Conservation Corps) or were receiving next to nothing to begin with (shelter for the homeless, domestic violence and rape centers, mental and behavioral health services, long-term care, help for those with intellectual disabilities, and many other county-based services).  Funding for other crucial services hasn’t fare as well.  In just one example, the failure to restore cuts to the higher education budget leaves Pennsylvania’s spending 49th in the nation!

As mentioned earlier, corporations no longer shoulder a fair share of the state’s tax burden, nor do wealthy individuals, who pay taxes at the same rate as a fast-food worker.  Corporate and business taxes now generate about 15 percent of the state’s General Fund revenue, down from 28 percent in the 1970s.  According to the Budget Policy Center, “From 1988-1989 to 2002-2003, when business tax cuts first began, taxes on corporations were, on average, 22.25% of all General Fund revenues.”

To those of us who were around in the 1960s and 1970s, Pennsylvania may not have seemed like a Utopia but at least an adequately funded safety net existed and helped people.  There was money coming in from federal programs and the state raised enough money to fulfill its obligations while balancing the budget because corporations paid higher taxes – at federal and state levels.

Taxes on corporations and wealthy people have been low for more than three decades now.  They accumulate, hoard and waste great amounts of wealth, in turn increasing their lock on political power.  Life will get better for everybody when we start taxing these people at a socially just rate.  Taxes have been low for decades at the federal level, as well as the state level, so there is no legitimate “crying poor” on the part of the wealthy and corporations.

We must demand that the corporations contribute to the general fund at rates like those in the 1970s and 1980s.  We must demand a progressive state income tax and an end to endless sales and sin tax increases.  The future of the quality of life in this state hinges on these changes.

— James Collins

Advertisements

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.

rally15

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

 

 

 

Summertime

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 pittsburgh.ail@gmail.com.  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

GOP Lockout Prevails in Budget Battle

Governor Tom Wolf gave in last week and succumbed to the GOP lockout of spending for social services and education by letting the general assembly’s GOP budget pass. Wolf gave up after almost nine months of trying to trade increased spending in exchange for regressive tax hikes and a promise to look at private liquor-store options, but the Republicans were having none of it.

GOP leaders boasted of holding the line on tax increases while shaving some $800 million from the budget compromise Wolf had agreed to back in December. And they promise more of the same for the 2016-17 budget battle – at least until they get some action on pension evisceration and liquor store privatization. Just the thought of all the missed money-making opportunities for businessmen being “wasted” in the state store system makes Republican politicians crazy with anger, as does the act of paying decent pensions to lowly public school teachers and state workers.

I wonder how many of them object to the $140,000 annual pension the disgraced Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, Michael Eakin, will get. The state’s judicial discipline court ruled that Eakin, a Republican and key player in the email scandal, “dramatically lessened public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the entire judiciary.”  Most commentators describe the emails as “lewd,” “racist,” and “sexist” – just like the majority in the General Assembly.

For his efforts, Gov. Wolf got around $200 million more for education – half of what he originally wanted – but the most cash-strapped school districts borrowed a billion dollars during the budget impasse and are stuck with $40 to $50 million in interest obligations. Human service providers are likewise in the hole.  The director of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership was reported in the P-G as saying that nonprofits will be paying debt service for years as a result of this one budget fiasco.  And the next one is only a few months away.

Get mad or stay sad

Wolf, a political neophyte, basically got played. He came into office presenting himself as a nice, reasonable guy.  But today’s conservatives eat nice guys for snacks; you’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to be serious about being tough, just to hang with them.

But the governor and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly aren’t the only softies who’ve been exposed by this GOP offensive. School boards and superintendents, and teacher’s unions – those people in the business of “teaching” the youth various lessons about life – sure failed this civics lesson: their students watched their wannabe role models whining, complaining and pleading helplessly from the sidelines.

Nonprofit agencies, charged with administering the safety net that the GOP cares so little about, mimicked to no effect the high-sounding, empty phrases of their educated cohorts. Unions, public and private, exercised no muscle and didn’t threaten to flex any on behalf of the middle class, working class, or any other class. The poorest, most disadvantaged people – the people who count most on social and human services – were left out in the cold.

So, where do we go from here? The Republicans have promised to continue blocking anything resembling a semi-humane budget.  The afore-mentioned representatives and champions of civic and civil society have shown themselves to be confused, weak, and totally incapable of countering this opposition.  This is, in part, a product of their steadfast allegiance to myths about representative democracy that haven’t applied in a long time.  This is the age of the Almighty Dollar, and everyone who’s anyone knows that at least 90 cents of every single one should go to those who are “smart” and “talented” enough to have rigged the game in their favor.

The people who need to be drawn into politics today are the people who aren’t “educated” enough to believe in bureaucracies, procedures, processes and lies. We need to hear from the people who don’t have anything to believe in – not even hope – and who don’t have anything to lose. Those who are charged with speaking in their behalf have been on a losing streak for some time now.

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

On to a Curmudgeonly New Year

The pessimist has been characterized as a person who gazes at a half-full glass and proclaims it half-empty.  But what if the glass isn’t even close to being half anything?  What if it’s damn near dry?

Take the displaced people of East Liberty and points nearby.  People use words like “renewal” and “revitalization” to describe the process but everyone knows those words mean that poor people have to go.  People with low incomes need low-cost housing, and gentrification is not about cheap housing. The historical record shows that gentrification always results in a net loss of affordable housing in the targeted neighborhood.

Being forced to move is hard for people who don’t have money.  In fact, just living in general is hard for people who don’t have money.  Maybe real urban renewal would include the creation of decent-paying jobs in the targeted neighborhood.

Maybe we could revitalize the entire region with an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour?  I bet the people pushing “revitalization” in the mainstream sense would oppose that idea: somehow, we are told, raising the wages of the least paid would hurt the standard of living of the better-off classes.  (We’re even told that higher wages for the poor would hurt the poor!)  You can’t please everybody, they say, so we should serve the good and universally-accepted cause of economic growth by  catering to the wealthy.  Makes $en$e to them.

The public gets served

I wonder if they’re still teaching the old bull crap about the social contract in Pennsylvania’s public schools?

You know how it goes. The people faithfully perform their duty by paying taxes; voting for an assembly and governor to govern them; joining the National Guard or military so that people overseas (poor people who, much like our own, are often forced to move against their will) can be told how to live like us; and, most importantly, always obeying the rules and believing the official hype. The governor and legislators are hardworking, altruistic “servants” of the aforementioned people.

And they all went to heaven in a little rowboat . . . !

As you know by now, we will not have a state budget for the New Year and, if you’re reading this blog, you know what I think about that!  Of course, the Republicans are the biggest culprits.  Under former Governor Corbett’s leadership, they shamelessly cut education and social service funding while heartlessly refusing Medicaid expansion.

What are the priorities of the public servants of the GOP?  The privatization of liquor stores (so they can break the union and sell franchises to their cronies who will be able to hire people on the cheap), pension reform for teachers and real public servants (meaning the phasing out of guaranteed benefits and adding more 401(k) chips for Wall Street to gamble with), no new taxes and more tax relief for the overburdened corporations, and a sleeper, H.R. 1538.

H.R. 1538 would protect the identities of police officers who shoot people while the investigation is pending.  The director of Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission writes:

The bill allows the release of officers’ identity only if they have been criminally charged, creating an additional requirement that names be withheld if the release of the information can “reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm to the person or property of the law enforcement officer or an immediate family member of the law enforcement officer.”

This bill would obviously undermine present and future attempts at police reform everywhere in the state.  H.R. 1538 passed the state house in November and now awaits senate action.

The minority Dems in the general assembly and Gov. Wolf want to return funding to the schools and to social services, but they want to do it through regressive taxation — they now feel too sorry for the Marcellus Shale frackers to tax them.  In fact, Wolf proposed lowering the corporate tax rate from the very start.  These guys and gals may, for the most part, truly want to serve the public; but our society is divided into the haves and the have-nots. You can seldom serve both of them simultaneously.  The Dems, both locally and nationally, haven’t understood that for a long time.

Unless they have understood and are just pretending to care about us.  After all, the Dems joined the GOP in passing an antiunion bill that was all showboating and bluster: it makes it illegal for unions to do what is already illegal — stalk, engage in harassment, and threaten to use “weapons of mass destruction.”

Maybe we’re the ones who need to learn the lesson; maybe we should stop supporting people who just keep serving someone other than us. If we want 2016 to be a year of justice, then we’ve got to find ways to make it happen without counting on the Democrats to act out fairy tale versions of an obsolete civics lesson.

Our crazy corner of the world

I no longer know what to think about the case of Anthony Mohamed.  He is the African American gentleman from Hazelwood accused of paying his cab fare with gunshots on Thanksgiving evening.  He was also alleged — by the media — to have made anti-Muslim statements to the cabbie during his ride home. This news understandably riled up the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations), and yours truly.

Now we hear that the victim of the shooting pointedly refused in court to accuse Mohamed of making such statements. Mohamed, as always, should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but not even his lawyer denied that he came out of the house leading with a rifle rather than his wallet.  Hmmm . . .  From now on, I’m staying out of it!

It’s not often I give kudos to the police, but some compliments are in order for the Pittsburgh police.  First, after the Thanksgiving shooting of the Muslim cab driver, Chief Cameron McLay met with the community at the Islamic Center to strengthen ties between the police and the local ummah. Then, earlier this week, during a shootout in Brighton Heights, police shot the armed suspect in the lower extremities, wounding rather than killing him.  Maybe it was just poor marksmanship, but I’d like to believe the police were actually trying to wound him.

Maybe 2016 will hold some positive surprises after all.  Just maybe . . .

 

— Jim Collins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give Thanks . . . for Nothing!

Just as breezily as they played chicken with the lives and livelihoods of so many men, women and children in Pennsylvania, our Democratic governor and Republican-run general assembly have decided that they can reach a budget compromise after all — and just in time for Thanksgiving.  How serendipitous!

Wolf and GOP leaders say they have the outlines of a deal and expect to seal it by the holiday.  But Thanksgiving will be too late for lots of people.  While the politicians dilly-dallied, many Pennsylvanians suffered cuts or interruption of their much-needed services. I’ll just give two examples:

  • The Community Progress Council, serving some 16,000 people annually in York County, announced it will close three weeks in November and December, laying off 250 employees.  Services affected include early childhood education programs, a women and infants supplemental nutrition program, a work-ready program for people on public assistance, rent assistance for homeless and near-homeless people, and a foster grandparent program.
  • Domestic violence centers across the state were forced to reduce services this past October: it was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

It was fortunate for the politicians that they suffered no interruption in pay or benefits, just as those with deep pockets won’t feel the pinch from this budget.  It’s interesting to note that the two sides paved the way for their cooperation by ganging up on organized labor, just like politicians of old.  No kidding. Just a few days before making his budget agreement announcement, Wolf signed a GOP bill that makes it illegal for unions to stalk, use harassment or “[threaten] to use a weapon of mass destruction”– just in case they didn’t already know.

This budget’s best feature is that it will restore to education funding most, if not all, of the crazy Corbett administration’s cuts.  But  everything is to be paid for by the common people.  Get ready for a hike in your income tax rate and an 8.25 percent sales tax in Allegheny County (9.25 percent in Philly and 7.25 percent most other places).  Property tax relief is in sight (disproportionately benefiting you-know-who), and why bother taxing those gas drilling operations that aren’t making any real money anyway?  Say what you want, but these guys really care a lot about the people who are kind of like them.

So Now What?

Suffice it to say, neither party represents the needs and interests of the broad majority of Pennsylvanians.  To some people, this is not news but it is to others.  Well, now that we all know, what should we do about it?  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have one big suggestion, the logic of which should factor into any and all future political plans: Let’s start acting like we know.

Now that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt how little they value us, when we lobby (those of us that belong to organizations that lobby) let’s not act like either party is our friend, and therefore deserving of our support in money or people power.  When they do the right thing, they’re just doing their jobs; we don’t owe them anything for that except the promise to keep an eye on them to make sure they do the right thing on the next issue.

Obviously, we should support third parties like our statewide Green Party and independent candidates who represent the interests of people (and not things like guns or outdated pieces of paper). When it makes sense to vote for a Democrat or Republican — when there really is no other option — we still vote with our eyes wide open, with the clear understanding of who owes whom what.

And we should get angry, mad angry.  This budget will serve the interests of the wealthy, the greedy, the stingy, the corrupt and the hypocrite.  As will future budgets, from now unto eternity — unless we do something.  Or do lots of things.

The happy coincidence of a budget agreement and the holiday is no cause for giving thanks, unless you happen to be a politician or one of their wealthy masters.

— Jim Collins