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

Give it Back!

 

In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose. In the end, we get it all.       Sam Rothstein (Robert DeNiro), Martin Scorcese’s Casino

The Rivers Casino has a monopoly on legal slot machine and table game gambling in the city of Pittsburgh. Apart from traveling to the Meadows in Washington County, the much longer trip to Erie, or a drive out of state, the Pittsburgh resident bent on spending Friday’s paycheck or throwing away the rent money has nowhere to go except to the temple of vulgarity on the city’s Northside (North Shore, to the sophisticates).

It was Governor Ed Rendell who demonstrated the genius of recovering all of the revenue lost to out-of-state slime balls exploiting addicted gamblers and returning it to Pennsylvania slime balls. Through his diligence, casino gambling arrived in Pennsylvania in 2004. The days of politicians encouraging citizens’ higher sentiments are obviously far in the past. Never mind that casino gambling, like the latest public health problem, opioid abuse, or alcoholism or mental illness are symptoms of an increasingly desperate poor and working class looking for a break and an escape from the myriad disappointments of life in an era of unparallelled inequality.

My own Puritan instincts aside, the monopoly status of the Rivers Casino, like similar government-granted monopolies, awards the owners with a license to plunder. One would expect that those granted such privileges would be suitably humble and appreciative.

But not so.

Back when the Pennsylvania Gaming Board was considering license applications, gambling enterprises were falling over each other, offering juicier and juicier deals to acquire the license to steal. Each contestant promised to fulfill an urban politician’s wish list from buying the Penguins a new arena to sharing large chunks of revenue with the county and city. Backs were bent and, no doubt, some money was offered to fixers and campaign war chests. At one point, then-Mayor Tom Murphy, purposely or accidentally, asserted that the “fix” was in for one applicant, sending the Gaming Board promptly in another direction. Maybe, the “fix” was aborted; maybe, the painfully sober Mayor Murphy was simply discovering a belated sense of humor.

At any rate, the license was granted in 2006 to an applicant who quickly defaulted on a $200 million loan. Rushing in to save the day was Holdings Acquisitions Company, a new partner that now holds a controlling interest in The Rivers Casino.

Part of the original deal was an agreement that the casino owners would pony up 2% of slot machine revenue or $10 million to the city every year, whichever was larger. This would not seem that much of a burden for a business that generates about $275 million a year in slot revenue and nearly $200 million in table game revenue. To give some sense of proportion, casino gross revenue is roughly 90% of the amount of money the City of Pittsburgh collects annually for its entire operating budget.

But the Rivers Casino doesn’t want to abide by the original agreement. They are willing to pay the lower amount, but not the minimum. The casino’s legal advisors cite a glitch in the original legislation that might allow them to escape the agreed terms. Moreover, they are suing to recover $65 million in what they consider back “overpayments.” Like the other entertainment venues that rely heavily upon public largesse to make their private bucks, the casino owners are allergic to giving anything back.

But it should come as no surprise that the owners of the casino aren’t ‘giving’ neighbors. They appealed their local property tax assessment that the county initially estimated at $278 million. They subsequently took their case to court, offering their own estimate of $94 million. The judge bent over backwards and fixed the assessment at $199 million.

Nor did the casino (joining the cheap skate Steelers and Pirates) want to continue subsidizing rides to their doorsteps through the publicly-financed tunnel.

The casino owners are notoriously allergic to paying taxes. In Illinois, a sister casino has maneuvered to avoid over $4 million in property taxes over a 5 year period. Though they paid $117 million for that operation, they argue that it’s only worth $62.9 million. Amazingly, the owners cling desperately to these persistently value-losing enterprises.

Beyond cursory, minimal fact-based news stories, our lap dog media has yet to cover owner Neil Bluhm’s various endeavors, possibly because he is a big-time ‘bundler’ of Democratic Party campaign contributions.

But I have a win-win solution to both the city’s revenue problems and the casino owner’s unwanted burdens: the city should buy back the casino and operate it as a public enterprise. Using the powers of eminent domain, the city could take on all the onerous financial responsibilities currently contested by the casino owners and still accrue net revenues for tax relief, pension funding, infrastructure improvements, etc. And, of course, the current owners could be generously compensated– not at the value they claim for their property ($94 million), not at the value negotiated ($199 million), but at the full value originally assessed ($278 million). In other words, Holdings Acquisitions Company could receive payment nearly three times greater than what they argue their casino is worth!

Of course that will never happen. There is not one elected official in Allegheny County with the spine to suggest, not alone press, such a solution. Every tired,  imaginable excuse would appear: government can’t do anything right, efficiently, or profitably; the law is not clear; the gaming commission will not approve it. But we could be sure that the casino owners would get the message and they would not take their casino and leave as the sports teams always threaten extortionately.

Instead, we get the Mayor’s weak pledge to fight to keep the original deal intact. Sure, like he and his predecessor fought to squeeze revenue from the non-profit free-riders or fought to get the sports teams to live up to their development commitments. Hasn’t happened.

Greg Godels

 

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

Hope for the “Other” Pittsburgh

 

As much as Pittsburgh’s movers-and-shakers would like you to believe that the city is the “most liveable,” as much as our elites rally around the authoritative words of upper-middle-class visiting travel editors and life-style writers, the truth is that Pittsburgh is far from the urban showcase that many pretend.

Like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Pittsburgh is two cities: a glitzy urban playground with luxury housing, a burgeoning restaurant scene, abundant bike lanes, and the other amenities of the urban gentry. Standing below or apart from this superstructure of leisure and consumption is a largely silent and nearly entirely neglected majority of poor, low and modest income workers, unemployed, underemployed, fixed income retirees, and otherwise disadvantaged citizens. For Pittsburgh’s leaders, those not participating in the city’s revival represent the losers from a bygone era of manufacturing and mining, a time when Pittsburgh stood as a centerpiece of US industry. Those leaders have put that period behind them; and they would like to put the people behind them as well.

For local politicians, for foundation heads, and for corporate leaders, the way ahead is to keep the majority mollified and out of sight while courting a new urban elite. And thanks to the compliant local media, they are largely successful.

But the facts are inescapable.

Pittsburgh is an aging city with little or no population growth. The county rivals the retirement destinations like Dade County in average age and it’s getting older. One estimate places the county’s working population 55 and older at 23.8% of the work force. Those workers will retire and age the population even more. Civic leaders are not attending to that fact.

Despite the fervent efforts of numerous agencies, the population of the region has been stagnant. Diversifying the region and invigorating the economy through population growth has been proven a failure with no reasonable promise of success going forward. Civic leaders are not attending to that fact.

Incomes for most county residents are on the decline. According to a report from the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (TRWIB) cited in the Post-Gazette, average income of the bottom 99% fell by 4% between 2001 and 2012. The average county income fell to $41,876 in 2012 (roughly $20/hour). Those making $20/hour or less account for 57.5% of the workforce, a figure classified as “low wage, low skilled” according to Vera Krofcheck, chief strategy officer for TRWIB. She adds that Allegheny County consistently has a higher density of low wage jobs than its peer regions. Moreover, they are concentrated in the under $15.00/hour range with 34.43% of the work force earning between $8 and $15/hour.

The fact that UPMC will agree to take its 62,000 employees to this threshold by 2021 hardly inspires a celebration of “livability.” Civic leaders are not attending to these facts.

It takes little imagination to recognize that the life opportunities for most Pittsburghers are limited– home ownership or rent, reliable transportation, adequate health insurance, higher education, and even modest amenities are barely in reach without multiple jobs or significant indebtedness for 60% of the population saddled with “low wage” employment. Civic leaders are not attending to this fact.

As they have in the past, our elites continue to find resources to fuel the uber-city, the entertainment and cultural playgrounds, the hip amenities, and upper-middle-class oases secure from the urban underclasses. But the needs of the many, the long suffering residents of the diverse residential neighborhoods, go unattended. The streets go unpaved, the playgrounds deteriorate and go unsupervised, the homeless struggle, the mentally ill are criminalized, the schools are underfunded, and a laundry list of other urgent needs are simply ignored. Nothing underscores the obscene misplacement of priorities like the naked fact that Pittsburgh is spawning 10,000 new accommodations at a time when the authorities acknowledge a 21,000 shortfall of so-called affordable housing. Estimates are that a mere 3% of the 10,000 are “affordable” — the rest are market-rate (luxury).

Of course the market has yet to speak on the rationality of the frenzied luxury build out. Smart money says that it will fizzle.

When pressed on strengthening the neighborhoods– public sector jobs, day care centers, youth activity and job training facilities, mental health and senior services, etc.– our leaders plead poverty and preach austerity. When 40% of the property in Pittsburgh goes untaxed largely from non-profit tax exemption, when private projects are excused from tax liabilities, and when new revenues are generated through consumption and flat taxes that overly burden low and moderate income people, it is difficult to challenge the austerity hawks. While the leaders manage to generously offer tax abatement and infrastructure support for developers’ needs, they are remarkably tight-fisted when it comes to the peoples’ needs.

We undoubtedly need a peoples’ agenda to shift priorities from the unfettered courtship of the “New Pittsburgh” to the neighborhoods and the majority of people who populate them. But even more we desperately need people determined to wrest civic leadership from the institutional Democratic Party, the governmental bureaucracies, the university technocrats, and the corporate and foundation leaders who have brought us to this unhappy moment. Well intentioned people in and outside of this nexus who believe that cooperation and dialogue solely within these circles will produce adequate change are living in fantasy land. Officialese, spoken with expressions of sincerity and sobriety, mask the inertia of those personally shielded from the harsh realities of inequality, poverty, and insecurity.

Its going to take all of us…”, “There are a lot of good people working on a lot of fronts…” “Hopefully, we’re going to see some innovative activity…”, “…we’re working every day to find the solutions we so desperately need”, “We need data sources to make informed public policy decisions”, “…the future of our city depends on figuring out ways to solve these problems”, “What’s the best way for the New Pittsburgh?”, “Now we are asking ourselves if in the next several decades we can produce a city that is equitable and livable.”

This is just a sample of the vacuous, uninspiring comments of several prominent leaders participating in a recent internet forum concerning one of the city’s more acute problems. There are no solutions here, only soothing balm for those neglected. If we settle for words and promises from the mis-leaders, we will have only the mis-leaders, their words, and their promises a decade from now.

Our local politicians proudly describe themselves as “progressives,” a term that fell into common usage when the Clintonites and their supporters ran away from the term “liberal” decades ago. I thought of them when I read a recent Harpers article written by Thomas Frank (Nor A Lender Be, April, 2016). He sought words to capture the feeble, self-serving poverty road-shows sponsored by the Clinton Foundation:

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-credentialed American technocrats, while the objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

I believe this aptly describes the local task forces, forums, study groups, and other exhibitions of hand-wringing and earnestness that leave the challenges that face most Pittsburghers untouched. We must push these mis-leaders aside or replace them if we ever hope to reconfigure our priorities.

–Greg Godels

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

 

 

Why Don’t They Care?

Harrisburg is paralyzed.

The budget stalemate between Governor Tom Wolf and the GOP- controlled legislature is heading into an unconscionable fourth month with no end in sight, surpassing the spectacle of Republican-engineered federal government shutdowns aimed at damaging the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Unlike the federal shutdowns, our local variety has no one clear villain but two: the governor and the legislature. To his credit, Wolf wants to restore education funding cut by former Gov. Tom Corbett and company; to his discredit, he wants to do it largely through regressive taxation.  The Republicans score points by opposing these new taxes, as well as any talk of taxing someone who can afford to be taxed.  They needn’t worry about that second point when it comes to Wolf, despite all of the overblown hype about his modest proposal to tax frackers.  And he’d offset that tax by lowering the overall corporate income tax rate.

Wolf loses more points by vetoing emergency spending bills while Republican members of state’s congressional delegation  — the big brothers and sisters of the people who slashed our education budget in the first place — appear reasonable by urging him to at least release federal funds already appropriated by Congress and dispensed to the state.

In the mean time, Meals on Wheels workers take voluntary pay cuts, pre-school and after-school programs for disadvantaged children are closing, payments for foster children are being held up, our less well-off schools and human service organizations are pushed to the brink . . .  There’s no end to the suffering and the worst awaits us, as there is no sign that an agreement on how to screw the poor and working people is imminent.

Why don’t they care?  Our political class are cheapskates when it comes to social spending, but both parties are now borrowing money to keep their legislative caucuses functioning.  Borrowed money has to be repaid with interest — the trap that many strapped school districts and nonprofits are falling into — but those profits will go into the coffers of the worthy wealthy — the bankers — who are , after all, just providing an honest if unchristian service.

So, why don’t they care?  Maybe it’s because the pain is being felt by the people who are supposed to feel it.  And why aren’t local news stations using this occasion to loudly publicize and track the debacle in Harrisburg?  Maybe it’s because the right people — the beautiful people, the ones who can afford to be polite and “reasonable” — aren’t feeling a thing.

Harrisburg is paralyzed but so are we.  There is no cry of outrage.

Western Beaver County school superintendent Rob Postupac noted that if there was suddenly no high school football on Friday nights, “you’d hear a cry so loud” that “something would happen pretty quick.” He’s probably right.

Rather than ask why they don’t care, perhaps the proper question is this: why should they care if we don’t care?

— Jim Collins