Beaver County Blue

Progressive Democrats of America – PA 12th CD Chapter

Our Metro Area Faces a Critical Challenge in the Area of Liberty and Justice for All

Posted by carldavidson on January 18, 2015

Disturbing data: Pittsburgh must get to work on racial disparities

By the Post Gazette Editorial Board

Jan 18, 2015 – When Larry E. Davis says there are wide racial disparities in Pittsburgh that translate into broad and significant disadvantages for local African-Americans, he’s not giving an opinion. He is summarizing 137 pages of alarming statistics.

The report, “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics 2015: Differences and Disparities,” was released Tuesday by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems, where Mr. Davis is both director of the center and dean of the university’s School of Social Work.

The compilation paints a bleak picture of the economic, educational, health and social realities conspiring to limit opportunities for black residents. Perhaps even worse, it demonstrates — based on a comparable 2007 report — that circumstances of black Pittsburghers have not improved.

Some key findings:

• The household income for black families in Pittsburgh was just 49 percent of white families between 2007 and 2011 — $21,800 versus $44,600. That far exceeds the gap nationwide.

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Rep. Keith Rothfus Votes Against Disabled Americans

Posted by randyshannon on January 7, 2015

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

‘Hostage-Takers': Republicans Go After Social Security on Very First Day

Advocacy groups vow to fight back against what they believe is a preliminary “stealth attack” that portends a wider assault on a program that makes survival possible for millions of vulnerable Americans

Defenders of Social Security worry that if history is a guide, this latest “stealth attack” on the program’s solvency signals the “groundwork is being laid in advance” by the Republican Party for a larger attack on the program as a whole. (Photo: File)

As Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik immediately remarked: “Well, that didn’t take long.”

An attack by the Republican Party on the nation’s Social Security program took less than one full working day. Included in a new set of rules passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday was a new measure making it more difficult to move funds between separate accounts maintained by the Social Security Administration. A seemingly technical provision on the surface, critics says it puts millions of disabled and elderly Americans at risk and sets the stage for further attacks aimed at the wider program.

“The GOP is inventing a Social Security crisis that will threaten benefits for millions and put our most vulnerable at risk.” —Sen. Elizabeth WarrenAccording to Hiltzik:

The rule hampers an otherwise routine reallocation of Social Security payroll tax income from the old-age program to the disability program. Such a reallocation, in either direction, has taken place 11 times since 1968, according to Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But it’s especially urgent now, because the disability program’s trust fund is expected to run dry as early as next year. At that point, disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%. Reallocating the income, however, would keep both the old-age and disability programs solvent until at least 2033, giving Congress plenty of time to assess the programs’ needs and work out a long-term fix.

The procedural rule enacted by the House Republican caucus prohibits the reallocation unless it’s accompanied by “benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of the combined trust funds,” as paraphrased by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.In practical terms, the advocacy committee says, that makes the reallocation impossible; it mandates either benefit cuts across the board, which aren’t politically palatable, or a payroll tax increase, which isn’t palatable to the GOP.

In response to approval of the new rule, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) chastised Republicans in the House.

“The GOP is inventing a Social Security crisis that will threaten benefits for millions and put our most vulnerable at risk,” Warren fumed via her Twitter account. “This is ridiculous. 233k people in MA receive Social Security disability benefits that could be threatened by these political games.”

“All of these divide-and-conquer strategies are intended to turn Americans against each other so that all of their benefits can be cut.” —Nancy Altman & Eric Kingson, Social Security Works

Advocacy groups like AARP and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare expressed outrage.

“It is difficult to believe that there is any purpose to this unprecedented change to House rules other than to cut benefits for Americans who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security, and rely on their Social Security benefits, including disability, in order to survive,” said Max Richtman, president of the NCPSSM, who also sent a letter to Congress expressing his concerns.

According to Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, authors of the book Social Security Works! and members of the advocacy group of the same name, what would otherwise have been the “dry, mundane exercise” of adopting new rules in the House was “turned into a stealth attack on America’s working families.”

Like previous “stealth attacks” on Social Security, write Altman and Kingson, the small rule change shows “the groundwork is being laid in advance” for a larger attack on the program as a whole and described the tactics of Republicans determined to destroy the program, regardless of the costs, as “hostage-taking.” In their analysis, the GOP ploy involves playing disparate groups within the system off one another with the ultimate goal of drastically reducing the program for everyone—current and future beneficiaries alike. They write:

One of the strengths of Social Security is its universality.  It is based on the principle that we are stronger together.  It is an old tactic of the program’s opponents to seek to divide and conquer.  They seek to turn young against old by falsely claiming that too much is being spent on the old.  They seek to turn African Americans against whites with the preposterous claim that Social Security is unfair to blacks.  (We document and refute these and many other claims in our new book).  This time they seek to drive a wedge between retired workers and disabled workers by claiming that reallocation helps the disabled at the expense of the old – another preposterous claim.  All of these divide-and-conquer strategies are intended to turn Americans against each other so that all of their benefits can be cut.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also condemned the rule, calling it not only contentious, but dangerous. “Re-allocation has never been controversial, but detractors working to privatize Social Security will do anything to manufacture a crisis out of a routine administrative function,” Brown said in a statement. “Re-allocation is a routine housekeeping matter that has been used 11 times, including four times under Ronald Reagan. Modest re-allocation of payroll taxes would ensure solvency of both trust funds until 2033. But if House Republicans block reallocation, insurance for disabled Americans, veterans, and children could face severe cuts once the trust fund is exhausted in 2016.”

For their part, Altman and Kingson said groups like Social Security Works and their allies will take this signal from the Republican Party and use it to re-energize their campaign to strengthen, not destroy, what they consider the single most successful social program in the nation’s history.

“If senior, disability, workers, women’s, veterans, civil rights, faith-based and other groups stand together – as they have in opposition to privatization and recent benefit cut proposals,” they concluded, “this stealth effort to pull apart our Social Security will be defeated. And if citizens from around the country let their representatives know that it’s time to expand Social Security to address the nation’s retirement income crisis, not cut it, all of us will be better off.”

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Pittsburgh’s Mayor Supports Chief McLay’s Embrace of Anti-Racism Message

Posted by carldavidson on January 4, 2015

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay on New Year’s Eve, holding a sign offered by the local activist group What’s Up?! Pittsburgh. The photo was widely circulated on social media. What’s Up?! Pittsburgh

City police union president objects to chief’s appearance in social media and effect on officer morale

By Michael A. Fuoco
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jan 4, 2015 Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was at home with his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve when he glanced at his smartphone and saw a Facebook posting of a photograph of Police Chief Cameron McLay holding a sign reading “I resolve to challenge racism @ work. # end white silence.”

“I thought, ‘What a great way to begin the new year,’ ” the mayor said, and he showed his girlfriend the photo. It had been taken by activists from What’s Up?! Pittsburgh, who approached the chief in a coffee shop during the city’s First Night festivities and asked him pose with their sign.

So pleased was Mayor Peduto with his new police chief’s action that he quickly posted the photograph on his own Facebook account, adding his support to restoring trust between the police bureau and the communities it serves, a stated goal of Chief McLay.

“I thought there was very little chance for someone to say this was the wrong message to send,” Mr. Peduto recounted Saturday.

He was wrong.

The photo, which continues to be shared on social media, has drawn cheers from numerous groups and individuals, but Fraternal Order of Police President Howard McQuillan isn’t among them.

KDKA-TV quoted him Friday as saying the photo amounted to the chief labeling the police force as racist. And in an email to the chief, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Officer McQuillan wrote that the chief’s actions raised “serious concerns. … By Mayor Peduto labeling us ‘corrupt and mediocre’ and now our current Chief insinuating that we are now racist, merely by the color of our skin and the nature of our profession, I say enough is enough!”

Moreover, Officer McQuillan accused the chief of violating the bureau’s social media policy and of being “hypocritical” for disciplining two officers who violated it.

In response, Chief McLay sent an email to the entire bureau Friday with the subject line “Race and Police” in which he apologized “if any of my PBP family was offended,” adding “I saw no indictment of police or anyone else in this sign.”

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Posted in African-Americans, Pittsburgh, Racism, Solidarity | Leave a Comment »

Pittsburgh: Worker Coalitions and Organizing around Public Transit

Posted by carldavidson on December 27, 2014

By Alicia Williamson

USW.org

Dec 27, 2014 – I first got involved in transit-related activism in 2010 through my support for organized labor. A major public funding gap threatened the solvency of Pittsburgh’s public mass transit system, and—in line with so many recent attacks we’ve seen on public-sector unions—the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) was taking the brunt of the blame for the projected 30% cut.

The myth of the “overpaid” bus driver as an excuse and scapegoat for draconian government austerity measures was hardly unique to Pittsburgh (see, for example, Oregon, Madison, and New York). The gross exaggeration in such accounts of the $100K-per-year driver is beside the point.

It’s a line of classist rhetoric that depends upon invoking a sense of meritocratic rage against decent compensation for workers who are perceived to be “unskilled.” Most frustratingly, it shows how easily workers can be divided against one another in a climate where most accept neoliberal economic scarcity as a given.

Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) was founded as a coalition of riders and drivers to fight rampant layoffs, service cuts, fare hikes, and privatization while building solidarity among the working people who operate and use transit. Indeed, public transit is essential to Pittsburgh’s urban labor force, and over half of all workers in the city’s major employment centers use it for their daily commute, accounting for 86% of all ridership. Service cuts were tantamount to job losses not only for drivers but also for many riders. And yet, the same riders often did not see union drivers as allies in the fight to save their service, lower their fares, and improve the system as a whole.

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Posted in mass transit, Pittsburgh | Leave a Comment »

Agencies of Social Change Often Wear a Clerical Collar

Posted by carldavidson on December 21, 2014

Faith making a difference in Aliquippa

Resurrecting Aliquippa: Faith

Kevin Lorenzi/The Times: Chris Ingram speaks to a church gathering at a "Black Lives Matter" service Dec. 14 at New Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Aliquippa.

By Tom Davidson

Beaver County Times

 tdavidson@timesonline.com |

ALIQUIPPA — Beyond the facts and figures in the sheaf of 150 pages that is the city’s Act 47 recovery plan are the people who live and do business here.

They’ve endured decades of economic downturns and slow decay since the industrial lifeblood of the community — Jones & Laughlin Steel and its successors — left with the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

But the city’s people have leaned on another institution, one that many say is even tougher than steel: their churches and what springs forth within them, namely their faith. Despite the city’s financial woes, it has a strong spiritual foundation, and scores of people of all faiths are working to help the city resurrect itself.

"We see united … clergy like we’ve never seen before" crossing congregational and racial boundaries to unite for the city’s common good, said Rich Liptak, pastor of Wildwood Chapel in Hopewell Township, just across the border from Aliquippa.

"There’s genuine love and care for each other. It’s been great," he said.

More than 300 people attended a September service billed as Aliquippa Celebrates Faith, and for five years, each Saturday morning, a group of clergy has gathered to pray at various places in the city, Liptak said. He remembers times when there would be a shooting or stabbing on a Friday night, and the next morning they’d gather to pray near the scene of the crime.

But in the five years, the Saturday group has prayed in every neighborhood of the city, and it’s made a difference. After a stretch of more than a decade where there was at least one homicide each year in Aliquippa, the city saw a 16-month stretch in 2012 and 2013 without a murder, Liptak said.

"We see answer to prayer," he said.

He himself been a witness to the demise of the mills and the jobs they provided. His father, uncle and grandfather were all steelworkers. "It’s been a slow spiral downward" is how he puts it.

Liptak has listened to people longing for the mills to come back since they were shuttered. But the mills haven’t come back, and for 30 years, the city has been stuck in the state’s Act 47 program for financially distressed communities. The city’s latest recovery plan was approved earlier this year, and city officials are working to exit the program and foster a renaissance in town.

"I think we’re poised for improvement," Liptak said. He serves as president of the Greater Aliquippa Ministerial Association, a vibrant group of pastors who work together to make a difference in Aliquippa.

Making an impact

There are also groups including Aliquippa Impact that work to help youth.

Steve Rossi, executive director of Aliquippa Impact, said its main aim is to "foster tangible hope to youth" in the city.

"It’s not just spiritual in nature; it’s practical," Rossi said.

Aliquippa Impact has an after-school program at Linmar Terrace, a one-on-one mentoring program, a city camp, arts education and several summer programs for youth in the city. They try to teach kids what they can do themselves to ensure they have a bright future, Rossi said.

"A lot of it is common-sense stuff," he said. "We want you (the youth they serve) to own it."

The youth in the city are full of potential, he said, and they try to teach kids that they have the answers to the problems they face.

Many of the people involved with Aliquippa Impact, including Rossi, aren’t Aliquippa natives. They came to serve and not to "fix Aliquippa," he said, but to help the people there "fix themselves."

"It is a long-haul ministry," he said, with the long-term goal being that the kids served now will one day be a part of the ministry’s leadership.

A big part of it is "just showing up" to be there for the kids. "We can go so far through love," Rossi said. "It brings hope to families."

Offering coffee — and hope

Another group that’s active in Aliquippa is Uncommon Grounds, a coffee shop and ministry program based on Franklin Avenue downtown that was founded in 2005 by Church Army evangelist John Stanley, an Australian who has since returned to his native land.

The ministry lives on, thanks to Herb Bailey, whose first impression of Aliquippa differed from the persistent negative perceptions of the city that are common in Beaver County.

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Posted in Aliquippa, Community, Organizing, Solidarity | Leave a Comment »

PA Top Court: Wal-Mart Must Pay $188 Million in Workers’ Class Action Suit

Posted by carldavidson on December 17, 2014

From Reuters

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Wal-Mart Stores Inc to pay $188 million to employees who had sued the retailer for failing to compensate them for rest breaks and all hours worked.

Wal-Mart said on Tuesday that it might appeal the decision, which upheld lower court rulings, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Monday’s ruling on the class-action lawsuit will reduce Wal-Mart’s earnings for the quarter ending on Jan. 31 by 6 cents a share, the company said in a securities filing. That amounts to roughly 4 percent of its profit forecast of $1.46 to $1.56 for the period. Family of Ohio man shot and killed in Walmart sue company, police

Wal-Mart shares were up 0.5 percent at $84.39 in midday New York Stock Exchange trading.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a 2007 lower court ruling in favor of the workers, who said Wal-Mart failed to pay them for all hours worked and prevented them from taking full meal and rest breaks.

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Posted in labor, Low Wage workers | Leave a Comment »

Memo to Tom Wolf and Harrisburg: An Eye-Opening Description of Pennsylvania’s Failed School Funding System

Posted by carldavidson on December 14, 2014

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post

Dec 11, 2014 – Many school reformers today like to say that “money doesn’t matter” in making schools work and that holding students and teachers more “accountable”   — largely through standardized test scores — is what is needed.

Certainly a great deal of money can be used poorly but that is not the same thing as money doesn’t matter. It is, however, a good mantra for people who want to ignore the severe and consequential funding inequities that persist in the U.S. public education system across the United States.

According to this 2013 report on school funding by the Education Law Center:

    In fiscal year 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, state governments, on average, funded 43.5 percent, or $259.8 billion, of the total amount spent on public education. School districts and other local sources were responsible, on average, for almost 44 percent of all public school spending or $261.6 billion. The federal government, on average, provided almost 13 percent of the total revenue received by public schools, or $75.9 billion.

With most of the money coming from state and local sources, disparities are inevitable, especially because in most places local sources are dependent on property taxes, meaning that poor areas have less money to spend on schools. Federal money given to low-income areas doesn’t close the gap.

So how inequitable can school funding be within a single state? Let’s look at one of the most troubled in this respect, Pennsylvania.

Here’s some testimony from Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, given to a public hearing of the Basic Education Funding Commission in Pennsylvania about school funding:

    Pennsylvania’s system of funding schools is a failure by every criterion: equity, adequacy, predictability, fairness. Too many students in too many schools are unable to meet state standards of what children should know and be able to do. Too few are going on to college or are prepared for well paying jobs. No one is responsible to calculate how much it will cost districts to provide the necessary instruction and support. The inequity of the system is glaring: the amount of public resources spent on preparing a child to succeed in the adult world varies from $9,000 to $27,000 a year, which is a quarter of a million dollars difference over a school career from K to 12th grade. But it is not only unfair to children, it is unfair to taxpayers where the tax burden can vary from the equivalent of 8 to 36 equalized mills of tax effort for homes with the same value. And in the ultimate insult, the districts bearing the highest tax burdens frequently have less dollars to spend on their students than districts with tax burdens half the amount.

    The reasons for these multiple failures are simple:

    1. Too few state dollars result in too high reliance on local dollars;
    2. The system does not take into account how much it costs to educate children.
    3. State dollars are distributed on a basis which does not reflect the tax effort of the district.

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Posted in Education, Harrisburg, Youth and students | Leave a Comment »

Progressive Democrats in Congress Oppose Gov’t Funding Deal

Posted by randyshannon on December 11, 2014

Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Statement on Government Funding Deal

keith ellisonWASHINGTON-Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), released the following statement ahead of a House Rules Committee hearing on a deal to partially fund the government through September of next year.

“We support a government funding bill that invests in creating jobs and American families. Unfortunately, the CROmnibus fails to do that.

“Republicans, who learned nothing from the financial crisis of 2008, included a provision that allows Wall Street to engage in some of the same risky practices that crashed the world economy. The short-term funding of the Department of Homeland Security sets up another government shutdown battle in February and is motivated by Republicans who refuse to fix our broken immigration system.  Continuing cuts to education and environmental protections while spending billions on endless wars is the wrong priority for American families.  Sneaking in last minute provisions, like turning our democracy into an auction house by raising campaign contribution limits, is the wrong way to govern.

“Republicans are once again using a potential crisis with the federal budget to hurt working families. The Progressive Caucus stands with the American people and opposes the bill.”

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Gov-elect Wolf Appoints John Hanger Sec’y for Policy and Planning

Posted by randyshannon on December 10, 2014

December 10, 2014

Randy Shannon

Its hard not to get a little hopeful about the incoming administration of Governor Tom Wolf. He has appointed John Hanger, an opponent in the primary that we supported, as the Governor’s Secretary for Policy and Planning.

John Hanger certainly has a lot of connections among progressives in PA. He visited Beaver County as a guest of our Progressive Democrats of America chapter and he walked the picket line downtown with UPMC workers early this year.

What we need to do now is work for a hike in the PA minimum wage, protection of our water, expansion of medical care, and boosting our educational sector. While doing that we must find some good candidates to run in our local legislative districts. Wolf and Hanger will have a hard time getting a lot done with the right wing dominating the PA Republican Party.

tom-wolfGovernor-elect Wolf announces key staff

December 10, 2014 by Wolf Transition Press

York, PA – Governor-elect Tom Wolf today announced key staff that will join him in the Office of the Governor. Wolf announced that John Hanger will serve as secretary of planning and policy, Mary Isenhour will serve as secretary of legislative affairs, and Obra S. Kernodle IV will serve as deputy chief of staff and director, Office of Public Liaison.

“I am proud to announce that John, Mary, and Obra will be joining my staff in the governor’s office,” said Governor-elect Tom Wolf. “As governor, I intend to get things done on behalf of all the people of Pennsylvania. These senior members of my team will be key to this mission because they are seasoned and have deep relationships on both sides of the aisle. I look forward to working with them to move our commonwealth forward.”

John Hanger – Secretary of Planning and Policy

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, John Hanger came to America in 1970 as an immigrant from Ireland. After graduating from Duke University in 1979, where he majored in Public Policy and History, John attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and then became a legal services attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

John was appointed as the Public Advocate for customers of Philadelphia’s municipal utilities prior to being nominated by Governor Casey as a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. John served as commissioner at PUC from 1993 to 1998, where he expanded low-income and energy conservation programs and led efforts to restructure Pennsylvania’s electricity and gas industries.

From 1998 to 2008, John was the president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and then served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from 2008 to 2011. Since then, John has been an attorney at Eckert Seamans. John resides in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Mary Isenhour – Secretary of Legislative Affairs

Mary Isenhour began her career as a staffer in the Kansas House of Representatives, where from 1991 to 1995, Mary was chief of staff to the Democratic Leader. It was here where Mary worked across party lines to advance legislation that improved the lives of the citizens of Kansas.

In this role, Mary worked with leadership and committee members to develop and implement committee and floor strategies, and she worked on developing legislative strategy and building coalitions that resulted in legislation in numerous areas. Mary also served as liaison between the Leader and other elected officials, agencies, and political entities.

From 1995 to 1999, Mary served as a national political director for the Washington, D.C. based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and from 1999 to 2003, Mary served as executive director of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC). Following her time at HDCC, Mary served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and as state director for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign.

Mary owns a consulting firm and served as senior strategist to Tom Wolf for Governor. Currently, Mary is co-chair of Governor-elect Wolf’s Inaugural Committee.

Obra S. Kernodle IV – Deputy Chief of Staff and Director, Office of Public Liaison

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Obra S. Kernodle IV is a graduate of Roman Catholic High School. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Education from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in 2002.

Before serving in his current position as senior advisor for Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s transition team, Obra played a key role on the Wolf campaign as both deputy campaign manager and political director.

Before joining the Wolf for Governor campaign, Obra worked in Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s Administration as deputy of legislative affairs, helping to coordinate the city’s Actual Value Initiative. In 2012, Obra was part of President Obama’s reelection effort as the Pennsylvania southeast political director. Obra previously served as the political director for both Mayor Nutter’s 2011 reelection bid and District Attorney Seth Williams’ race in 2009.

http://www.wolftransitionpa.com/

Posted in elections | 1 Comment »

Bernie Sanders Lays Out Economic Agenda

Posted by carldavidson on December 8, 2014

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, laying out his new 12-point plan for rebuilding the middle class. Steve Kornacki speaks to Sanders about his efforts to make his party more progressive as he considers a bid for president.

Posted in 2016 Election, Banks, Congressional Progressive Caucus, Organizing, Wall Street | Leave a Comment »

 
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