Opposition Growing Against Natural Gas Pipeline To Supply Beaver County Cracker Plant

Dec 3, 2018 – BEAVER, PA. (KDKA) — Some pipelines in the region have ruptured, causing massive explosions. Others under construction, like the Mariner East pipeline, have been slapped with hundreds of violations for spills.

Now, opposition is growing for another pipeline to supply the cracker plant in Beaver County.

With the sprawling $6 billion plant under construction on the banks of the Ohio River, Shell Oil promises to bring thousands of jobs and economic vitality back to the county.

The mammoth plant also, however, brings safety and environmental concerns, including the proposed pipeline that will bring it natural gas.

“There’s never been a pipeline that never leaked. That’s a fact. Every pipeline leaks sooner or later, and some of them, as we just saw in Center Township, they explode,” Bob Schmetzer, of Aliquppa, said.

New natural gas pipelines are criss-crossing the state, and the Energy Transfer Company gas line exploded less than a week into its operation. The fact that the explosion was caused by shifting ground doesn’t inspire confidence in homeowners like Rachel Meyer.

“We certainly know that this past year with the rains, we’ve seen a lot of landslides, and it looks like that was the reason that that happened. So, you know, it’s scary that there wasn’t more preparation and understanding that that could have been something that would happen,” Meyer said.

The cracker plant will need a continual supply of ethane gas to crack or transform into plastics. Shell is proposing the two-legged, 97-mile Falcon Pipeline to bring the gas from Washington County, Ohio and West Virginia.

But it will need to cross streams and wetlands like the Beaver County Conservation District and the headwaters and water line of the Ambridge reservoir that supplies more than 6 million gallons of water per day to people in Allegheny and Beaver counties.

Residents like Bob Schmetzer worry about pollution and spills contaminating the water supply.

“This needs another route. Stay out of the watershed. Take it around. Do what you have to do, but don’t come through here and jeopardize 100,000 people and a whole economy,” he said.

For its part, Shell says it has spent two years working with landowners and engineers to put establish pipeline route, taking into account environmental concerns and planning safeguards for streams and water sources.

In a statement, the company said: “Shell executed numerous environmental studies and intends to take other steps to avoid or minimize any potential environmental impacts that could arise as a result of construction and operation of the Falcon Pipeline. Protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of communities where we operate is Shell’s top priority.”

Still, the Ambridge Water Authority opposes the route and the state Department of Environmental Protection has sent the oil giant a “technical deficiency letter” withholding construction permits at this time.

The cracker plant is already employing thousands of construction workers and promises to be an economic boon to Beaver County, but folks in the region say that should not come at the expense of the environment or their safety.

Continue reading Opposition Growing Against Natural Gas Pipeline To Supply Beaver County Cracker Plant

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Impact of GM Lordstown Shutdown Will Be Felt for Many Years


New Chevy Cruze models at Lordstown 

By Jordyn Grzelewski

The Youngstown Vindicator

jgrzelewski@vindy.com

LORDSTOWN, Dec 2, 2018 – Michelle Ripple has experienced the ups and downs of the General Motors Lordstown plant her entire life.

Her father worked at the plant for more than 40 years; she’s worked there for 18. The 49-year-old mother of three works as a carpet retainer installer.

Like many in the Mahoning Valley, the plant has been an integral part of her family’s history and ability to earn a living. Extended family members have worked there, too, over the years. At family gatherings, these were the people who Ripple could talk to about her work, knowing they would get it.

So when Ripple, of Hubbard, was called into a packed meeting at the plant Monday morning – where workers learned that GM will cease production of the Chevrolet Cruze and indefinitely idle the plant beginning March 1 – the news packed a punch.

“[I was] shocked,” said Ripple. “I just stood there like a mummy, not moving.”

She tried to shield her youngest daughter from the news, but the 14-year-old couldn’t miss the nonstop news coverage or talk at her school.

“She’s very emotional,” said Ripple. Her daughter is worried about what will happen with the family’s finances; Ripple assures her they will survive.

Ripple knows this is true – but that doesn’t mean she knows what to do next. She’s weighing her options as March 1 looms. The uncertainty is hard, for her and other Lordstown workers who shared their stories this week.

But despite the grim news, many expressed hope that this isn’t the end of the plant. They’re staving off that thought, at least for now.

That would be too much.

“I’ll have hope until the very end,” Ripple said.

GM PRIDE

It wasn’t clear at the time, but General Motors came to the Valley at an opportune moment.

The plant’s first car – a Chevy Impala – rolled off the assembly line April 28, 1966. A little more than a decade later, the Valley would be brought to its knees by the collapse of the steel industry.

Over a several-year period, steel mills across the Valley shuttered, beginning with the sudden and devastating closure of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.’s Campbell Works. The announcement came Sept. 19, 1977 – a date now remembered as Black Monday. Just like that, thousands of jobs went up in smoke. Thousands more steel jobs disappeared in the next few years.

But at least the Valley had GM.

“That was all happening from 1977 to 1980, and at the same time, General Motors was expanding,” said Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. “They had opened the plant in 1966. They added a van assembly plant in the 1970s, and a metal fabricating plant after that.

“So just as the dust was starting to settle … you had 12,000 people employed in the Lordstown complex at General Motors. General Motors took on an even greater significance in the local economy,” Lawson said. “I think it’s critical that the plant was there and employing that many people.”

Employment at the plant has dropped since its peak in the 1980s – two years ago, there were about 4,500 workers there. Now, after two shift layoffs, there are about 1,500.

Through it all, the Valley has maintained a sense of pride in the Lordstown complex and the vehicles it produces, from the Impala to the Chevy Cavalier to the Cruze, which the plant started producing in 2010.

“Any time a community has an employer that large that creates products sold throughout the country and even across country boundaries, people identify with that product,” said Lawson. “You see that definitely in terms of brand loyalty for General Motors – not just the autoworkers and their families because of the discounts, but I think other people have bought GM because they considered it an important part of our economy.”

The shutdown of the plant, then, will have an impact beyond job and revenue losses.

“It will affect Trumbull County’s budget quite a bit – and yes, it’s going to have a very negative impact on our perception of ourself and our self-worth, much as [the collapse of the steel industry] did 35 years ago,” Lawson said.

INDIRECT IMPACT

The economic losses, too, will be significant, economists say.

Experts note that beyond the estimated 1,600 workers expected to be impacted at the plant and other local companies GM contracts with, the effect of the shutdown will ripple across other companies in the plant’s supply chain, into other industries and to communities beyond the Valley.

“The main concern is, beyond the 1,600 or so good-paying jobs that will potentially be lost at General Motors Lordstown, are the indirect jobs that will be affected,” said A.J. Sumell, an economics professor at Youngstown State University. “It’s what, in economics, we call the multiplier effect.”

So, how large is that multiplier?

“It’s particularly large with an employer like a car manufacturer, because you don’t have just the indirect jobs in the service industry, like restaurants and hotels and those businesses where the employees at GM Lordstown would have been spending money,” Sumell said. “There’s a greater impact because of all the jobs that are directly dependent on GM Lordstown – the suppliers of GM Lordstown.”

OTHER COMPANIES

Locally, there are several companies that are directly tied to the plant. Lordstown Seating Systems, which makes seats for the Cruze, reported it would lay off 83 employees earlier this year after GM announced it was cutting the Lordstown plant’s second shift.

A company representative declined to comment Friday on the impact of the plant halting production next year.

Jamestown Industries, which supplies the plant with front and rear bumper covers for the Cruze from its plant in Youngstown, said last week that recent attempts at diversification put the company in a better position to weather the idling of the plant.

“In 2015, we started the process to diversify to insulate ourselves from some of the variability that’s in the automotive industry,” said Lawrence Long, vice president of development for Jamestown. “So while there is uncertainty with regard to the Lordstown plant, we are confident that we will make it through this tough time.”

As for potential layoffs at Jamestown’s Youngstown plant, Long said, “We don’t know for sure how it will impact our workforce. We’re working hard to make sure we keep our workforce intact.”

Jose Arroyo, United Steelworkers business representative for this area, was not as optimistic about the future of Comprehensive Logistics/Source Providers in Austintown, which does logistics and warehousing for GM Lordstown.

With the previous layoffs at the plant, Source Providers laid off more than 350 people, Arroyo said; about 180 employees remain.

“Obviously, the prospects aren’t good, considering GM is Comprehensive Logistics’ only customer,” said Arroyo. “As General Motors goes, so goes Comprehensive Logistics [and subsidiaries] Source Providers and Falcon Transport. We’re extremely concerned, and we’re waiting to hear more from the company.”

Arroyo is also hearing concern from other companies whose workers he represents, such as aluminum and steel companies.

“Everybody is kind of holding their breath right now and hoping the talks with General Motors will end up in a new vehicle or retooling of the plant,” he said.

BUSINESS IMPACT

The impact will be felt by small businesses with less direct, but still significant, ties to the plant.

Our Place Diner in Lordstown is owned and operated by a family with deep GM Lordstown ties.

“My dad retired from GM after 30 years. My brother was laid off with the second shift. My husband was laid off with the third shift,” said Jackie Woodward, whose father owns the diner. “We are just like everybody in this town.”

The impact of the plant on their family’s business is significant.

“A lot of the business in this town relies on the traffic from General Motors and the companies that supply General Motors,” Woodward said. “There are not a lot of people who live in this town. So every business in this town relies on this.”

As for what the future holds for Our Place Diner, Woodward said they are taking it one day at a time and holding out hope.

“We have employees who rely on us. There are customers that won’t be impacted by GM, and you hope to stay open for everybody that needs a place to stop and eat,” she said.

As for how this ripple across the local economy will play out, Sumell said it will take years for the full effect to be realized. And as for what that impact will be, he cited research indicating that lost manufacturing jobs result in other job losses.

“Studies on similar situations have suggested that about three additional jobs [for every lost manufacturing job] would be lost over the course of years – which would put the total in the range of 7,000 or 8,000 jobs lost,” he said.

As a percentage of the Valley’s total workforce of about 220,000, that is fairly significant, he said – and he noted that it would accelerate a long-running trend of the Valley’s employment declining each year.

SILVER LINING?

The good news is that the Valley’s economy is more diversified today than it was back in the 1970s when the steel industry went under – and that trend likely will continue.

“We are much more diversified, which is an outcome of a sad situation – but it’s almost a silver lining of a sad situation,” Sumell said. “Because we’ve lost so many jobs in manufacturing already, we have a relative increase in jobs outside of manufacturing, which are generally less susceptible to massive layoffs.”

In the future, it’s more likely that employment will be spread across a variety of companies – for example, a brand-new, state-of-the-art energy center in Lordstown that cost $1 billion to build employs about 20 people, who earn good wages.

“We’ve become so much more automated, within manufacturing, that there is no single, dominant employer or single, dominant industry in most cities,” Sumell said. “The silver lining to that is, if you have [that] instead of just one dominant employer, or one dominant industry in a city, you have, naturally, a more diversified economy.”

He added: “We are in a better position, today, to deal with this type of blow than we were 40 years ago.”

Who that might not benefit is the GM Lordstown workers who are facing layoffs and an uncertain future. For many, it will be a question of retirement or moving or investing time and money into training for a new career. As Sumell notes, that’s often easier said than done.

But if there is any upshot, it may be that the Valley’s past economic woes have prepared it for this moment.

“We have been dealing with economic devastation for the past 40 years in this area,” Sumell said. “There is a sense of resiliency that is naturally built into our fabric in this community. So I’m confident we will be able to not just survive as a community, but to grow and to become a stronger community in the future.”

Continue reading Impact of GM Lordstown Shutdown Will Be Felt for Many Years

On the Ground with the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign

The Campaign continues to organize. The message: ‘it will be the poor and dispossessed of this nation that will save us from self destruction.’
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Nov 28, 2018 – On Tuesday every other month Yvonne Newkirk rises at 3:30 A.M. to catch a 5 A.M. Philadelphia bus that takes her three-and-a-half hours northwest to a medium/maximum security prison in Muncy, Pennsylvania, where she visits her daughter, imprisoned for life without parole.

When Newkirk arrived for her mid-September visit, she discovered that the food vending machines, which she and other families rely on for sustenance during the 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM visiting hours, were empty. No other accommodations were made for food, and prison authorities told the families that may be the case for the next three months.

“They said it was a health issue, because of drugs entering the prisons statewide, something unsanitary in the machines,” Newkirk said. “But then a guard ate a Kit-Kat bar in front of us. It was a punishment.”

Newkirk was addressing a “Poor People’s Hearing in Harrisburg,” on November 1, part of the Pennsylvania’s ongoing efforts related to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival. The national grassroots campaign led by poor people in 40 states aims to change a distorted narrative that villainizes and criminalizes low-income people in the United States.

“The ‘No Food Policy’ is really hard on diabetics, the elderly, children, and those on medications,” said Newkirk. “Quite a few inmates are advising family members not to visit.”

The goal of the Poor People’s Hearings is to provide a platform for people afflicted with poverty to tell their own stories about the burdens that come with being poor.

In 2013 Jennina Gorman lost her five children after fleeing domestic violence. What was supposed to be a few weeks of foster care to allow her to deal with a roach infestation has turned into five years of spinning her wheels in an absurd bureaucratic rabbit hole. Adding insult to injury, her wages are garnished to pay for the foster care of her children, and though she says she has toed all their lines, she’s about to lose two of her children to adoption.

“The Court has refused to acknowledge my children’s Native heritage and the protections granted to us by The Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Gorman. “My children have a right to live with their family. I will never stop fighting for my children, I will never stop fighting for my family.”

Both Gorman, who is a member of Put People First! PA, and Newkirk, who is a member of Coalition Against Death by Incarceration, have found a political home in the growing alliance of organizations and individuals that comprise the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign. Newkirk is working against policies that as she puts it, “test the very fiber of life, decrease human rights, and lower the dignity of some and the health of others.”

Also speaking at the hearing was Borja Gutiérrez, co-chair and political education coordinator for the Campaign. He summarized the gains of the group’s “Phase I,” which saw 1,500 people participate in six weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience actions at the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Seventy-six people were arrested.

Those actions gave people a “greater unity, shared experience and sense of purpose,” Gutiérrez said. “We gained knowledge of what is possible, and a new imagination of what could and should be.”

In the future, the campaign will build on these strengths, organizers, say by, engaging in deep dive organizing, mobilizing, base-building, and outreach.

“We’re establishing real bonds with the communities that we live in, leaving behind the shallow tactics of traditional, transactional politics,” Gutiérrez explained. “We are working to build a new America with the people, instead of without them.”

Key issues Gutiérrez lists are lack of living wages, healthcare, affordable housing, clean water and access to healthy food, voting rights, and gerrymandering, immigration, family unity and equitable justice. Political education grounds the contemporary moment in historic worker struggles.

Chapter co-chair Nijmie Zakkiyyah Dzurinko spoke of how people in the past have overcome “divide-and-conquer” strategies. “There’s a ton of history in Pennsylvania including the presence of the Underground Railroad, organizing in coal country and Mother Jones.”

The organizers say the 2018 midterms will be the last election cycle in which their issues are not meaningfully addressed.

Tammy Rojas is a full time worker, living paycheck to paycheck and receiving Medicaid.

“Between the hoops we have to jump through to get Medicaid and keep it along with the constant cuts to it, we, the poor and dispossessed, are suffering” she testified. She detailed the adverse health effects that she herself has experienced due to neglect, inconsistency of care, and added stress of being subject to a dehumanizing process in which accidental administrative mistakes result in lapses of coverage. Rojas told the hearing, which was streamed online, about her advanced periodontal disease, a painfully inflamed foot, and an untreated autoimmune disease.

“By introducing me to this campaign they have saved my life,” Rojas said of the campaign.” I truly believe with all my heart and soul that it will be the poor and dispossessed of this nation that will save us from self destruction.”

Dzurinko agrees. In her view, unless things change the poor of today preview the position of the middle class tomorrow.

“The poor and dispossessed have the least stake in the status quo and the most understanding of the depth of the issues we face,” Dzurinko said.

The chapter is planning an organizing tour for the coming year focused on Northern Pennsylvania.

[Frances Madeson is a Santa Fe-based freelance journalist and the author of the comic novel Cooperative Village.]

Insight Reviews: Millennials vs a Shredded Safety Net

Kids today are getting the short end of the stick

Whether it’s Lena Dunham’s character on “Girls” networking her way to an e-book gig, or Donald Glover’s character on “Atlanta” hustling to get paid as a hip-hop promoter, success may be incremental and slow in coming, but forward momentum ultimately rules the day. The reality of the millennial experience is far less promising, and the stakes are higher.


“MILLENNIALS AND THE MOMENTS THAT MADE US: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE US FROM 1982 — PRESENT”
By Shaun Scott
Zero Books ($25.95).

In “Millennials and the Moments That Made Us: A Cultural History of the U.S. From 1982-Present,” author Shaun Scott argues that the millennial experience is best explained in the context of neoliberalism, the economic policy of deregulation and entitlement diminishment that came to prominence in the form of Reaganomics and has continued, in various iterations, ever since.

Criticism of neoliberal policies is often derided as insufficiently respectful of the notion that publicly beneficial institutions, such as schools and hospitals, are better when they are run by the market principals that guide for-profit businesses. What that derision often fails to address is how previous generations prospered under the guiding principle it replaced.

From 1945 to 1973, a “Keynesian consensus” of organized labor, government and big business “created a state largely committed to social welfare,” Mr. Scott writes. The long-term and lasting effects of prevalent deregulation, he argues, is more akin to a rigging of the game in favor of big business. It yields an economic landscape on which CEOs get windfall bonuses while teachers have to pay for their own classroom materials.

Having lived in the shadow of this economic structure the longest, millennials are disproportionately affected by it.

Still, accusations of entitlement, privilege and laziness are lobbed at millennials, to the point that this flavor of criticism has become a staple of mainstream cultural discourse.

Enter the phrase “Millennials are killing” into any search engine and auto-fill will give you a litany of the services, institutions and products that millennials’ habits and circumstances are somehow ruining for everybody else. These accusations are as inaccurate as they are unfair, Mr. Scott argues.

“It is Baby Boomers, and not Millennials, who are far and away the most entitled generation in American history,” he writes. They benefit “by virtue of being born during a federal policy of full employment” and “have come to expect Social Security payments that are many times greater than if they invested the Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks in U.S. Treasury bonds or high-performing index funds.”

Put simply, baby boomers enjoy more benefits than they earned. Moreover, millennials are financing these entitlements with benefits taken from their own paychecks.

Mr. Scott takes no issue with these entitlements. Rather, he points out that given the constant questioning of the future efficacy of Social Security entitlements, millennials are paying for benefits that they may not get to enjoy themselves.

“Millennials and the Moments That Made Us” tackles the social policies and world events that have shaped the living conditions of millennials and the cultural touchstones that have reflected those conditions from a variety of angles. Mr. Scott, a writer based in Seattle whose work has appeared in outlets as wide-ranging as Sports Illustrated and the socialist quarterly magazine Jacobin, offers a clear-eyed refutation of the stereotypes foisted upon millennials.

He is unapologetic about his biases, which, in the context of his survey, bolster his arguments. He is living the experience.

“My frame-of-reference as an author is that of a Black Millennial and a democratic socialist,” he writes. Mr. Scott writes with compassion for a generation that is widely dismissed as unserious, even as it is tasked with meeting the unrealistic expectations placed upon it by previous generations and trying to fix its own future with a box full of broken tools.

Mr. Scott casts a wide net but writes insightfully about everything from the “weapons-grade male entitlement” of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to the gentrifying effect of fast-growing tech companies.

He finds Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” particularly illustrative and prophetic. “It reflects widely on an economy where one of the fastest growing professions among Millennials is in-home caregiving: a job that is as physically demanding as it is emotionally taxing,” he writes.

By fusing the demographic research of Neil Howe and William Strauss, who are credited with coining the term “Millennial,” with humane cultural criticism in the vein of the late Mark Fisher, Mr. Scott avoids writing a book-length list of grievances and, instead, offers a text that is comprehensive, accessible and enlightening, although he ultimately undersells the pervasiveness of these cultural conditions, which effect every generation, across classes, by limiting his scope to their effects on millennials.

Mr. Scott offers potential remediation in his “Millennial Agenda,” a 10-point plan that includes ideas like changing the minimum age to run for president from 35 to 25, federal election reform and federal wage reform. For politicians to engage millennials as a political force, they must understand and engage with their needs on a more material level.

They would be wise to do so. Any change, Mr. Scott argues, will require an increase in civic engagement. “Because when we fight, we win,” he writes.

Ian Thomas is a Beaver County freelance writer.

Democratic Socialists descend on Pittsburgh for first-ever Rust Belt conference

Triblive.com
Aug. 7, 2018 – Representatives from about two dozen Democratic Socialists of America chapters – around 150 “comrades” – will gather in Pittsburgh from Aug. 10 to Aug. 12 for the political organization’s first-ever Rust Belt Conference.

The chapters will meet amid a surge in interest and new membership in the national group, which received a significant boost from PittsbWes Venteicherurgh when DSA candidates Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato won state House Democratic primaries in May.

“We’re kind of central in the Rust Belt, and we’re also a big vibrant chapter that’s been doing work that other chapters are looking it,” said Adam Shuck, a member of the group’s coordinating committee.

The Pittsburgh chapter’s membership has exploded to 800 people since it was fully formed in May 2017, driven by the popularity of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, Shuck said.

The group’s members mounted a get-out-the-vote campaign that helped push Innamorato and Lee to decisive victories over incumbents Dom and Paul Costa in House districts representing parts of Pittsburgh.

“Those were early shock wins for DSA candidates,” said Shuck.

Then Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a June primary in New York, defeating establishment Democrat Joe Crowley and attracting national attention. The DSA has grown to 47,000 members nationwide from about 6,000 three years ago.

“Pittsburgh’s involvement in the primaries this year was I think very important,” said Christine Riddiough, a chairwoman of the DSA’s national steering committee. “It’s been one of the chapters that’s been really out there in the electoral arena in a way that we haven’t seen in the DSA in a very long time.”

The Pittsburgh victories underscored the power in traditional campaign activities such as knocking on doors and calling people, which Riddiough said have proven more effective than new strategies based on internet activity and advertising.

Election organizing will be among the topics discussed at the conference, along with sessions titled “Assembly line to bread line: A red history of the Rust Belt,” “Exploring anti-carceral solutions to the Rust Belt Opioid Epidemic,” “A woman’s place is in the struggle” and “Lead paint and tenants’ rights.”

Shuck said the Rust Belt Conference was born at the DSA’s national convention in 2017 in Chicago. He said he organized a meeting of Rust Belt groups at the convention, and they kept in touch through a Google group. They organized the conference through the group, planning to address issues common to post-industrial urban America, rural areas and small- to mid-sized cities.

They organized a committee to pick where they would hold the conference. Columbus and Pittsburgh submitted applications, and chapters picked Pittsburgh in a vote. Due to space limitations, the chapter had to limit attendance to about 150 people.

The conference, which is not open to the public, will be held at the Johnston Elementary School in Wilkinsburg, where the Pittsburgh chapter recently started leasing space.

The space hosts the groups monthly general meetings, which include potlucks and child care and end with a song. It also hosts many committee meetings, along with regular “gimme a brake (light)” events, in which the group replaces brake lights for free to help people avoid unnecessary police encounters.

Shuck said the conference will spotlight Pittsburgh’s “socialist sprout” program, which provides child care and education on socialist ideas.

Riddiough said the program could be adopted by more chapters to help women be able to participate and to provide education on a subject that receives little attention in schools.

The Pennsylvania GOP has taken note of the DSA’s surge in the state. The party has launched attacks on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket of Tom Wolf and John Fetterman, calling Fetterman’s advocacy for free college, single-payer health care and immigration reform “radical” and “out of touch.”

Innamorato and Lee – who face no Republican challengers – have campaigned on the same issues, along with environmental advocacy, criminal justice reform and other issues. Lee said her advocacy for those issues amounts to “common sense,” rather than ideological zeal.

Democratic Party officials have also taken note. Eileen Kelly, who became chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee in a June election, cited the DSA in an interview with WESA , telling the station that the group’s grassroots success shows “the Democratic Socialists are doing what we used to do best.”

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

Continue reading Democratic Socialists descend on Pittsburgh for first-ever Rust Belt conference

How White Supremacists Split a Quiet Rust Belt Town in PA


Outside the home of Daniel Burnside in Ulysses, Pa. Burnside is director of the National Socialist Movement. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)

 — The traffic sign that greets visitors on the south side of Ulysses, a tiny town in rural far north-central Pennsylvania, is suitably quaint — a silhouette of a horse-drawn cart reminding drivers that the Amish use the roads, too. But on the north side of town, along the main thoroughfare, is a far different display: a home dedicated to Adolf Hitler, where star-spangled banners and Nazi flags flutter side by side and wooden swastikas stand on poles.

White supremacy has had a continuous presence in Ulysses and surrounding Potter County since the Ku Klux Klan arrived a century ago, giving the town — with a population today of about 650 — improbable national significance. In the mid-2000s, it hosted the World Aryan Congress, a gathering of neo-Nazis, skinheads and Klan members.

This year, after a sting operation, federal prosecutors charged six members of an Aryan Strike Force cell with weapons and drug offenses, contending that they had plotted a suicide attack at an anti-racism protest. A terminally ill member was willing to hide a bomb in his oxygen tank and blow himself up, prosecutors said. The group had met and conducted weapons training in Ulysses.

Neo-Nazis and their opponents here say that white extremists have grown more confident — and confrontational — since the rise of Donald Trump. Two months before the 2016 presidential election, the KKK established a “24 hour Klan Line” and sent goody bags containing lollipops and fliers to hundreds of homes. “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” the message read. A regional newspaper ran Klan advertisements saying, “God bless the KKK.”

Local police said the group had not openly recruited in years.

Two weeks later, the area’s two neo-Nazi groups, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and Aryan Strike Force, held a “white unity meeting” in Ulysses to discuss their response to Trump and plan joint action. One organizer would not say when the groups had last met, simply commenting: “It’s just a good time.”

How journalists should cover white nationalists and neo-Nazis

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan examines how media organizations can effectively cover hate groups without promoting their ideas. 

Potter County is staunchly Republican and has voted Democratic once since 1888; Trump received 80 percent of the vote, tying with Herbert Hoover for the highest percentage won.

“I can tell you with certainty that since November 2016, activity has doubled, whether it’s feet on the street or money orders or people helping out,” said Daniel Burnside, 43, a woodcarver who owns the Nazi-themed home and directs the state chapter of the National Socialist Movement, a far-right group that was founded in Detroit in the mid-1970s. It has a presence in many states, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, and the NSM was among the groups taking part in the violent August 2017 rally in defense of Confederate statues in Charlottesville.

“We have meetings every 30 days,” he said. “ There’s more collaboration.”


Daniel Burnside poses for a portrait on July 7, 2018, in Galeton, Pa. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)

Burnside, who declined to say how many local residents were involved in his group, was born in Ulysses and raised there by a grandfather who he said was a Nazi sympathizer who fought in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. Burnside said his beloved grandfather drank himself to death because of the war’s impact on him.

The younger Burnside said he joined the NSM four years ago but has long harbored anti-Semitic views and is a practicing Odinist — the pagan religion Odinism is popular among some neo-Nazis. Burnside does not see Trump as a leader of the NSM cause but as a politician who amplified long-standing white-nationalist views at the right time.

“Personally, I don’t know about Trump,” he said. “You won’t necessarily see MAGA hats at an NSM meeting. We’re anti-Semitic. Something’s off about Trump with the Jews. That said, we’re strategically aligned. When Trump says something that aligns with us — close the borders, build the wall, look after your own — that’s good: We’ve been saying this for 25 years, but he has made it mainstream.”

“We’re still a white nation, and I respect that he supports that,” Burnside added. “He’s also highlighted social problems. The kids who go to bed hungry, people who can’t pay their bills, the damage being done to society.”

Joe Leschner, 38, a white restaurant manager, fled the county this year because of what he said was abuse aimed at him and his wife, Sashena, who is black, after Trump’s election.

After he discovered a KKK leaflet outside their home, Leschner organized an anti-racism gathering in Ulysses. “And these guys drove by us and gave the gun signal, like they’re going to shoot us,” he said.

One of those who Leschner said made a pistol gesture had previously been jailed for 10 years for an aggravated assault on a black man. This year he was convicted of possession of firearms he was not legally allowed to own and intent to sell drugs.

Photographs of the Leschners were circulated on VK, a Russian-run social media site, with users posting death threats, he said.

“A guy came up to us in a restaurant and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ I wanted to say something, but just couldn’t. This was where I grew up, at the restaurant where I got my first job. My wife was almost in tears,” he recalled.

“We had to leave,” said Leschner, who now runs a restaurant in Frederick, Md. “Most people aren’t racist, but there are enough that are and enough who let it happen.”

Kathleen Blee, a University of Pittsburgh sociology professor and expert on white extremism, said Ulysses came to be a nexus of such thinking as like-minded residents gravitated to one another.


Sashena and Joe Leschner fled Potter County this year because of what they said was abuse. (Joe Leschner)

“Modern white extremism is different to the KKK in the 1920s or Nazi Germany in that it is exclusively produced through small networks. It is not a mass movement,” she said. “It’s just one person recruiting another. Somebody knowing somebody. . . . You get an extremist in an area, they attract other extremists.”

Ulysses’s most famous resident may have been August Kreis III, 63, a neo-Nazi from New Jersey who moved to town in the 1990s and left about 10 years ago. Kreis made Ulysses the national headquarters of the Aryan Nations group and organized events such as the Aryan World Congress. In 2015, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison on a child-molestation conviction.

Pennsylvania has 36 racial hate groups, more than Alabama, Arkansas or Kansas, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“This area is well known for white supremacy. It’s got a rich history and the right conditions to thrive,” said Heidi Beirich of the SPLC. “It’s as significant as many areas in the South usually associated with white supremacy.”

Rural Appalachia, which includes Ulysses’s Potter County, has a wary attitude to outside forces — especially the state — that is often cited as a reason that anti-government militia groups and white extremists have prospered here. “There is also an extreme mind-your-own business approach and a belief in individual rights,” Blee said.

Months before the Leschners fled the area, another controversy erupted after a sheriff’s deputy from a neighboring county entered Burnside’s front yard and confiscated a Nazi flag. Burnside called his local police force, demanding that the deputy return the flag and record a video apology. When that did not happen, he went to state police and pursued a theft case. The 23-year-old deputy was forced to return the flag and pay damages. Local police confirmed that he was suspended and left his position shortly after the trial’s conclusion.

A chain saw at Daniel Burnside’s home with its logo modified to resemble the World War II lightning bolt insignia of the Nazi SS force. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)
Daniel Burnside carves a swastika, the ancient Eurasian religious icon that was adopted by the Nazis, into the bottom of items he makes. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)
Many locals suggested that they were more upset by the deputy’s actions than by the neo-Nazism. One man, an Army veteran who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of being branded a racist, said there was no comparison between World War II Nazis and Ulysses residents.

“World War II was a totally different time period. It’s part of history,” he said. “He can do what he wants. . . . Everyone has their own thing.”

One day recently, Burnside, accompanied by a reporter, drove around town dressed in a shirt featuring Hitler’s face as the main design. None of the locals he chatted with objected to his attire.

City council president Roy Hunt insisted that this reflected the town’s generous spirit.

“We’re a laid-back town, and we’re going to be nice to everybody,” Hunt said. “I’ve known Danny for 20 years. If you were in town and you walked around with him, you’re right, he’ll be welcome in every store. . . . If you’re nice, people will be nice to you 98 percent of the time.”

“If he were to put something up that said kill all members of a race, in my opinion that would be crossing the line, but he doesn’t have that sign up,” Hunt said.

He added that the town’s Nazi presence had been exaggerated by the news media and opposing groups.

Burnside said he serves the community. “I do fundraisers for American Legion with my artwork. Boys and Girls Clubs, regardless of race or ethnicity, I do fundraisers. . . . The only way I can help white people is by helping everyone.”

Other residents disagree about the impact of the white supremacists’ presence. As he shopped among Burnside’s carved wooden bears and eagle sculptures, some of them signed with a swastika, Tom Lee, a road construction manager, said that he supports the First Amendment and that the Nazi presence “ain’t nothing to do with me. It’s a free country.”

“After a while, you’re not what you were anymore,” he added. “It is America out here, but not in the inner cities anymore.”

William Fish, a 72-year-old carpenter, recalled as a child accompanying his mother as she delivered blankets and shoes to the shacks where black field workers lived.

“We’re not a racist town, but there are people who will turn a blind eye when they see racism happening. That’s why we have this history,” he said. “I think it has got worse since Trump, I honestly do. I also think our young people do not today share the same rotten values as older people.”

Belinda Empson, 59, said it pained her that veterans in the Memorial Day parade had to march past Nazi signs.


Main Street in Ulysses, Pa. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)

“My grandson is 8 years old and he’s already asking about the Nazi flags,” said Empson, a retired waitress. “And I don’t want to explain to my grandson what it means, what they’re about. We should have settled this stuff years ago.”

Empson said Ulysses had been divided since Trump’s victory: “I think Trump has opened the gate and said, ‘It’s okay.’ It was not a license, but a subtle, ‘It’s okay.’ I think we are seeing that now.”

“It bothers me,” she added, “because we have good people in this town.”

Wanda Shirk, 68, an English teacher who worked at a Potter County school for 28 years, joked that the town had become LGBT — “Liberty, Guns, Bible, Trump.”

“I don’t think everyone here is racist, but I think a lot are racially insensitive,” she said, “and Trump has allowed that to grow.”

Continue reading How White Supremacists Split a Quiet Rust Belt Town in PA

Debates Under the Dem Tent: An Interview With Nina Turner

June 15, 2018 – One of the principal projects that emerged from Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign was Our Revolution. Since its founding in 2016, OR has organized hundreds of local and statewide groups, endorsed scores of candidates in political races around the country, and supported a wide range of progressive campaigns. The organization could also provide key infrastructure for a Sanders 2020 run for president.

Jacobin spoke to OR President Nina Turner recently. In a wide-ranging interview, she discussed OR’s relationship with the Democratic Party, recent criticism the organization has faced, the meaning of “democratic socialism,” and the urgency of immigration reform. (Nina also spoke at the June 9 Human Rights Banquets here in Beaver County, where she received an award. It was sponsored by our Labor Council, and endorsed by PDA, Moral Monday Coalition, a number of local candidates and officials, and the Young Democrats, among others. Nearly 300 attended.

Jacobin Magazine

How does Our Revolution’s political and economic vision differ from that of the Democratic Party establishment?

Nina Turner

I can’t answer for them, but I can tell you that the mission of Our Revolution is to create a system in this country that is geared toward helping people live out their greatness. We continue to push that either through electing candidates or through issues — for example, the $15 minimum wage, and certainly Medicare For All, fit that vision for us. We need a living wage, people need tangible things in their lives to help them get closer to that and solving the medical crisis that we have in this country will go a long way.

We need to make sure we have policymakers who understand that men and women should be paid equally for the work that they do; that this [public] education system we have needs to be shored up; that we have to invest our tax dollars to ensure that a child will not be discriminated against or treated differently because of the zip code they live in. All these things are part of an economic package to lift folks in this country. Our Revolution is supporting candidates who are committed to pushing for just that.

JM

The Democratic Party establishment doesn’t necessarily share that vision. What do you think it stands for right now?

NT

At times, when people just look at the horse race, it’s “who wins.” We have two political parties in this country that just care whether their man or their woman wins, without regard for the types of policy positions they take or what they will stand up for. As for Our Revolution, any old blue just won’t do. We need people with a certain type of commitment, so that when they get these seats they will put people power towards that commitment.

If the only concern is that a Democrat wins over a Republican, without concern for what the core values are of the person who’s running under the Democratic banner, then people will get more of the same. They won’t get change.

We can use California as an example. In California, Democrats control every statewide office, they control the legislature — yet we can’t get Medicare for All passed. The nurses [union is] pushing to get this passed, along with other groups, but we can’t get it passed. That’s not a state controlled by Republicans, it’s a state that’s controlled by Democrats.

Or let’s take New York. In terms of voter access and voter rights, one of the worst states for voter rights in the country. Controlled by Democrats, but we can’t even get the legislature and the Governor and others to move policy that will create an environment where all voters matter.

So, if the calculus for the Democratic Party is only to have Democrats elected, without regard for what they stand for and what they’re going to fight for, then that’s a problem.

In 2016 we passed the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Now, what does that mean in 2018? We patted each other on the back, we were happy, we used it as a talking point — hell, I even used it as a talking point. OK, now what does that mean? Does that platform line up with how people are running? Once they win the seat, what are they doing?

Continue reading Debates Under the Dem Tent: An Interview With Nina Turner

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