Beaver County Blue

Progressive Democrats of America – PA 12th CD Chapter

GOP Smash-And-Burn Tax Plan Does Nothing for Workers

Posted by carldavidson on October 31, 2017

Leo Gerard

President, USW
OurFuture.org

Oct 27, 2017 – Congressional Republicans are selling a trickle-down tax scam times two. It’s the same old snake oil, with double hype and no cure.

A single statistic explains it all: one percent of Americans – that is the tiny, exclusive club of billionaires and millionaires – get 80 percent of the gain from this tax con. Eighty percent!

But that’s not all! To pay for that unneeded and unwarranted red-ribbon wrapped gift to the uber wealthy, Republicans are slashing and burning $5 trillion in programs cherished by workers, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Look at the statistic in reverse, and it seems worse: 99 percent of Americans will get only 20 percent of the benefit from this GOP tax scam. That’s not tax reform. That’s tax defraud.

Republican tax hucksters claim the uber rich will share. It’s the trickle down effect, they say, the 99 percent will get some trickle down.

It’s a trick. Zilch ever comes down. It’s nothing more than fake tax reform first deployed by voodoo-economics Reagan. There’s a basic question about this flim-flammery: Why do workers always get stuck depending on second-hand benefits? Real tax reform would put the rich in that position for once. Workers would get the big tax breaks and the fat cats could wait to see if any coins trickled up to jingle in their pockets.

House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed Republicans’ primary objective in messing with the tax code is to help the middle class, not the wealthy. Well, there’s a simple way to do that:  Give 99 percent of the tax breaks directly to the 99 percent.

The Republican charlatans hawking this new tax scam are asserting the pure malarkey that it provides two, count them TWO, trickle-down benefits. In addition to the tried-and-false fairytale that the rich will share with the rest after collecting their tax bounty, there’s the additional myth that corporations will redistribute downward some of their big fat tax scam bonuses.

A corporate tax break isn’t some sort of Wall Street baptism that will convert CEOs into believers in the concept of paying workers a fair share of the profit their labor creates.

Corporations have gotten tax breaks before and haven’t done that. And they’ve got plenty of cash to share with workers right now and don’t do it. Instead, they spend corporate money to push up CEO pay. Over the past nine years, corporations have shelled out nearly $4 trillion to buy back their own stock, a ploy that raises stock prices and, right along with them, CEO compensation. Worker pay, meanwhile, flat-lined.

In addition to all of that cash, U.S. corporations are currently sitting on another nearly $2 trillion. But CEOs and corporate boards aren’t sharing any of that with their beleaguered workers, who have struggled with stagnant wages for nearly three decades.

Still, last week, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, insisted that the massive corporate tax cut, from 35 percent down to 20 percent, will not trickle, but instead will shower down on workers in the form of pay raises ranging from $4,000 to $9,000 a year.

Booyah! Happy days are here again! With the median wage at $849 per week or $44,148 a year, that would be pay hikes ranging from 9 percent to 20 percent! Unprecedented!

Or, more likely, unrealistic.

Dishonest, incompetent, and absurd” is what Larry Summers called it. Summers was Treasury Secretary for President Bill Clinton and director of the National Economic Council for President Barack Obama.

Jason Furman, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School who once held Hassett’s title at the  Council of Economic Advisers, called Hassett’s findings “implausible,”  “outside the mainstream” and “far-fetched.”

Frank Lysy, retired from a career at the World Bank, including as its chief economist, agreed that Hassett’s projection was absurd.

Hassett based his findings on unpublished studies by authors who neglected to suffer peer review and projected results with all the clueless positivity of Pollyanna. Meanwhile, Lysy noted, Hassett failed to account for actual experience. That would be the huge corporate tax cuts provided in Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Between 1986 and 1988, the top corporate tax rate dropped from 46 percent to 34 percent, but real wages fell by close to 6 percent between 1986 and 1990.

Thus many economists’ dim assessment of Hassett’s promises.

The other gob-smacking bunkum claim about the Republican tax scam is that it will gin up the economy, and, as a result, the federal government will receive even more tax money. So, in their alternative facts world, cutting taxes on the rich and corporations will not cause deficits. It will result in the government rolling in coin, like a pirate in a treasure trove. That’s the claim, and they’re sticking to it. Like their hero Karl Rove said, “We create our own reality.”

Here’s Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, for example: “This tax plan will be deficit reducing.”

If the Pennsylvania politician truly believes that’s the case, it’s not clear why he voted for a budget that would cut $473 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid. If reducing the tax rate for the rich and corporations really would shrink the deficit, Republicans should be adding money to fund Medicare and Medicaid.

While cutting taxes on the rich won’t really boost the economy, it will increase income inequality. Makes sense, right? Give the richest 1 percenters 80 percent of the gains and the remaining 99 percent only 20 percent and the rich are going to get richer faster.

Economist Thomas Piketty, whose work focuses on wealth and income inequality and who wrote the best seller “Capital in the Twenty First Century,” found in his research no correlation between tax cuts for the rich and economic growth in industrialized countries since the 1970s. He did find, however, that the rich got much richer in countries like the United States that slashed tax rates for the 1 percent than in countries like France and Germany that did not.

This Republican tax scam is a case of the adage that former President George W. Bush once famously bungled: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Republicans, like P. T. Barnum, think workers are fools who can be continually conned. But they aren’t. They’ve been duped too many times to believe this new GOP scam will serve anyone but the rich.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Manufacturing Fuels Growth of Robotics in Central Pennsylvania

Posted by carldavidson on October 28, 2017

Testing Robot at Pennsylvania Precision Cast Parts

By Kim Hart
Axios

Oct 11, 2017, YORK, Pa. — For decades, Rust Belt cities have been seen as decaying manufacturing centers struggling to reinvent themselves. Now, central Pennsylvania — comprised of the smaller cities of York, Lancaster and Harrisburg — is trying to leverage its long history of manufacturing as the foundation for a vibrant robotics hub.

Why it matters: President Trump made dwindling manufacturing jobs a big theme of the presidential election, blaming globalization for the losses. Now many fear that artificial intelligence-infused technologies and robots will kill even more legacy jobs. Some small and mid-sized cities are looking to use their mechanical backgrounds to their advantage.

Why we care: I visited these three cities as part of the “Rise of the Rest” tour led by Steve Case’s firm Revolution, which aims to draw attention to the cities between the coasts that don’t have the same access to capital and reputation for innovation as Silicon Valley, New York or Boston. Pennsylvania got about 1% of the nation’s venture capital last year, a number Case would like to see increase.

By the numbers: Today there are around 12 million manufacturing jobs nationwide, compared to 17 million manufacturing jobs in 2000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In the York area, 20% of the labor force works in manufacturing — twice the Pennsylvania and national average.

Factory history: The area has a long heritage of factories that crank out both sweets and pretzels. It’s known as the “Snack Capital” — it’s home to Hershey, Utz, York Peppermint Patties and Snyder’s of Hanover. And it’s a big producer of machinery, with Harley Davidson, BAE (which makes tanks) and Voith (which makes hydro turbines) all located here.

Pivot to robotics: A skilled workforce that knows how to work with their hands and tinker with machines is a great fit for building robots, says John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, which is working on deploying “collaborative robots” (or “cobots”). He believes robots will work alongside humans rather than displace them completely.

The problem: Not enough workers — because people just aren’t enthusiastic about going into manufacturing. “There’s not a skills gap in manufacturing, there’s an interest gap,” McElligott said.

So he set out to nudge the next generation of workers in that direction by opening The Fortress, a robotics and artificial intelligence center in York that also houses a coding and robotics bootcamp.
He expects a “silver wave” of retiring baby boomer manufacturing workers — and their machinery expertise will be needed to train the next generation of robot-builders. Read the rest of this entry »

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PA 12th Congressional District in Contention

Posted by randyshannon on July 17, 2017

Pittsburgh City Paper

 FRIDAY, JULY 14, 2017

Democrats have a rural problem in Southwestern Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district

Posted By  on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 2:52 PM

CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO

  • CP photo by Ryan Deto

On July 12, a group of left-leaning protesters rallied outside of U.S. Congressman Keith Rothfus’ (R-Sewickley) office in Ross Township. They were some 15 members strong, and they hooted and hollered for an hour, expressing displeasure with their representative for failing to hold a town halland his support of the Republicans’ attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We are here to keep the momentum going and show how [Rothfus] is not representing us,” said Michelle Raab of PA 12 Progressives, the group that organized the protest.

PA 12 Progressives has been demonstrating outside of Rothfus’ North Hills office every Wednesday for months and has even started to attract Republican counter-protesters. On July 12, three counter-protesters held signs reading “Drain the Swamp” and “Support Trump,” but they were overwhelmed by the energy coming from the PA 12 progressives, who even had a truck clad in protest signs drive by every few minutes to garner more attention.

While the group’s energy in suburban Allegheny County is starting to shift the traditionally Republican area’s support from red to blue, it’s the fight outside of suburbia that Rothfus opponents may want to focus more energy on.

When Rothfus won re-election in 2014, he received 60 percent of the vote in the Allegheny County section of his district, which includes wealthy northern Pittsburgh suburbs like Fox Chapel, Franklin Park and Pine Township. In 2016, he received 59 percent. While modest, this shift fits into the nationwide trend of upper-income suburban areas increasing their support for Democrats.

But outside of Allegheny County, Rothfus has been increasing his support which could render any suburban shift moot. The 12th District includes parts of six Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, stretching from Ellwood City to Somerset. Every county in the 12th District outside of Allegheny has become more Republican since Rothfus took office, but none as much as the Cambria County section.

In 2012, Rothfus lost the Cambria County section to former Rep. Mark Critz (D-Johnstown), only receiving 37 percent of the vote there, even though he won the district that year. In 2014, Rothfus won Cambria County with 56 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger Erin McClelland, and in 2016, increased his Cambria County margin receiving 65 percent of the vote. In just four years, Rothfus gained more than 27 percentage points against Democratic rivals and swung Cambria County from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican.

Mary Lou Davis, of the liberal-leaning, grassroots group Indivisible Johnstown, says this shift will make flipping the 12th District a difficult task. “We are as red as we can get right now,” she says.

Davis explains that Cambria County was never “quite as liberal” as Pennsylvania Democratic strongholds, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, even though it remained in Democratic control under former Rep. John Murtha (D-Johnstown) and Critz for 39 years. She says some culturally conservative values, like pro-life stances and gun rights, have always remained important to many Cambria voters.

And while Indivisible Johnstown is not a proponent of those culturally conservative values, Davis does feel a focus on the rural parts of the 12th District would be most effective in getting a Democrat elected.

“I think the messaging needs to sway the Cambria County voters more than the Allegheny voters,” says Davis.

She says this is crucial because unlike other gerrymandered, suburban/rural Pennsylvania districts, the 12th district is still gaining Republican votes. For example, in Pennsylvania’s 7th District, which stretches from suburban Philadelphia to Berks County and has been mocked for looking like Donald Duck kicking Goofy, Democrats actually gained two percentage points from 2014 to 2016. But in the 12th District, Republicans gained 5 percentage points, even as the Allegheny County portion (the most suburban part of the district) became slightly more Democratic.

“The Democrats had put out a target list of flippable seats, most of those were moderate,” says Davis of a list release in January targeting 59 Republican-held U.S. House seats. “But we have a situation here [in the 12th District], and it is going to be extremely hard to flip this.”

Meanwhile, Rothfus appears to know his support in Cambria County and adjacent Somerset County (which has increased its support of Rothfus by 22 percentage points up to 76 percent of the vote since 2012) is important. Since being re-elected in November 2016, Rothfus has penned three op-eds in the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, which covers Cambria and Somerset counties; during this same time, he he has only co-written one in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, while providing none to TribLive.com or the Beaver County Times.

On top of this, Davis says providing messaging for a strong Democratic candidate won’t be easy. With President Donald Trump and Rothfus remaining popular in the region, she says Democrats will have to offer an especially strong counter-narrative to persuade area residents to vote Democrat.

Tom Prigg (D-McCandless), a candidate for the 12th District, has discussed the importance of messaging to rural voters and has received coverage from the Tribune-Democrat. Another candidate, Aaron Anthony (D-Shaler), was featured in Somerset’s The Daily American, but candidate Beth Tarasi, of Sewickley, has yet to receive any coverage in Cambria and Somerset counties.

Davis is hopeful that Rothfus’ challenges will get more coverage over time, and says Indivisible Johnstown is hosting a candidate forum on Aug. 8, so area residents can meet the Democratic candidates.

“This might be the first time the names and faces of the candidates running against Rothfus are out there,” says Davis.

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A Closer Look at Climate Accord–and Our Congressman

Posted by carldavidson on July 16, 2017

wind-coal

By Tom Prigg
TribLive Op-Ed

July 14, 2017 – This is in response to Keith Rothfus’ recent op-ed, “A better ‘climate’ for America,” and honestly, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

In reference to the Paris accord, Rothfus claimed, “The American people would never approve of a deal so harmful to their security and prosperity.”

Yet, as The Atlantic reported, 70 percent of Americans want the United States to remain in the Paris accord.

Rothfus argued that during the 2014 polar vortex, natural gas failed to provide energy to capacity while coal and nuclear energy did just fine.

However, PJM Vice President Craig Glazer stated at the time that coal generation was stymied by “frozen coal or wet coal, frozen limestone, frozen condensate lines, frozen fly ash transfer equipment, cooling tower basin freezing, and freezing of injection water systems for emissions control equipment.”

Rothfus suggest the coal industry’s recent woes are due to President Obama’s policies. While some policies may have affected the coal industry output, the real driving force has been its own market forces.

Charles Bayless, former chief executive of Tucson Electric Co. and Illinois Power, said, “A gas plant is much cheaper to build than a coal plant and it is much simpler to run.”

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Despite Trump, State Progressives Advance Pro-Worker Policies

Posted by carldavidson on July 11, 2017

trump-mouth

While the president goes on the attack, Democratic-controlled states and municipalities forge ahead

By Justin Miller
American Propect

July 11, 2017 – In the face of the Trump administration’s predictably antagonistic stance on pro-worker policies, coupled with the escalating onslaught against worker power in Republican-controlled states, progressives are racing ahead to enact innovative labor laws to help working people in the places where they can.

Over the past eight years, Democrats’ control of government has receded to 1920s-levels, severely hindering progressives’ ability to advance pro-worker labor policy in Washington, D.C., or in the states. As of now, the Democratic Party controls the governorship and legislature in just six states, while progressive power is most concentrated in a few dozen municipalities.

It’s in those places in recent weeks that lawmakers have pushed forward a number of innovative labor laws that present a clear contrast to the Chamber of Commerce-influenced, deregulation-driven labor agenda in the White House.
Improving Home Care

Last week, Hawaii passed a law establishing a cash assistance program for people who are struggling to take care of a sick or elderly family member while maintaining a full-time job. The policy, the first of its kind in the country, takes aim at the increasingly urgent elder care crisis as the massive boomer generation ages and their children struggle to care for them.

“Every eight seconds, somebody turns 65 in America,” Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, a group that advocates for policies that improve home care, said on a call with reporters Monday. “It’s a great thing; we’ve extended longevity. And we are wholly unprepared for what the implications are in terms of care.”

Fully half of the workforce will be called on to provide care for an elder within the next five years, the group says. And that’s not a small commitment. Of the 45 million people who currently provide some level of unpaid home care to a relative, more than half are spending about 20 hours a week while also holding down a full-time job.

The Kapuna (the Hawaiian word for elder) Caregiver program would establish a fund to provide full-time workers who are providing care to a dependent elder $70 a day to help offset the burden. A recipient could use that money to help pay for health care, a caregiver, or transportation to a doctor’s appointment.

There are more than 150,000 unpaid caregivers in Hawaii currently, according to estimates by the AARP. And while in-home care or assisted living is expensive, costing between $5,000 and $10,000 a month in the state, the $70-a-day benefit is a small step to helping caregivers balance their lives.

The legislature has provided an initial $600,000 for the program and advocates say they will return to the statehouse next year to bolster funding. Read the rest of this entry »

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Trump Offers Fool’s Gold to Fund Infrastructure

Posted by carldavidson on June 10, 2017

Leo W. Gerard By Leo W. Gerard

USW International President

Via USW Blog

June 9, 2017 – Donald Trump surrounds himself in gold. The signs on Trump buildings shimmer in it. His penthouse in New York is gilded in it.

He claims now to have found the alchemy to conjure $1 trillion in infrastructure gold. He plans to put up a mere $200 billion in federal funds and stir it together with $800 billion in private investment and state dollars.

That is fool’s gold. A falsely-funded infrastructure program is a massive broken promise. America needs real improvements to roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, water systems and railways. That requires a commitment of real tax dollars, not the relinquishment of America’s public assets to profit-seeking private Wall Street entities. Americans should not be charged twice for maintenance of the public good, once through tax breaks to investors and again in outrageous tolls and fees the investors charge.

On Wednesday, standing on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Trump reiterated the pledge he made repeatedly on the campaign trail to put $1 trillion into infrastructure. He said “restoring America” is a promise that Washington, D.C., has broken. “It has not been kept, but we are going to keep it,” he said.

“Taxpayers deserve the best results for their investment,” he said, “and I will be sure that is what they get.” But the plan to turn over public assets to private corporations for tax-supported investment is gold only for the 1 percent who can afford to invest.

The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that to raise the private funds, Trump planned to give massive tax breaks of 82 percent of equity to investors that help pay for infrastructure repair. For citizens, that’s a crappy deal – giving Wall Street control over public assets in addition to being forced to fork over the taxes that rich investors will not pay.

That financial alchemy creates poison, not gold.

In addition, there is no profit in many types of infrastructure that need repair, like schools and hospitals. A corporation can’t collect tolls from children entering their elementary school each morning.

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Pennsylvania Aims to Smooth Ex-Convicts’ Path to Employment

Posted by carldavidson on May 28, 2017

excon-job-fair-_greggBy

Ex-offenders at Philly jobs fair

Michael Walton
Tribune Review Live

May 27, 2017 – State officials and community groups are trying to reduce employment hurdles for Pennsylvania’s former convicts, but finding work remains a struggle for ex-prisoners long after their release from incarceration.

Starting July 1, state agencies will no longer ask job candidates about criminal convictions as part of employment applications. The move mirrors similar “ban the box” initiatives gaining popularity across the country.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have similar fair-chance hiring practices enshrined in city ordinances. And while such initiatives don’t forbid candidate criminal background checks, they can give job seekers a chance to make their case to employers instead of being automatically weeded out of a candidate pool.

“Process matters,” said Beth Avery, a staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. “If (an employer) knows from step one that a person has a record, that’s going to color their interaction. … It’s going to affect their assessment of a person.”

Nearly 20,000 inmates were released from Pennsylvania prisons in 2016, according to the Department of Corrections. Almost 17,000 were paroled, while 3,000 were released after completing their sentences.

Former convicts looking for work can do a few things to try to make the search easier, according to a report by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. They can try to persuade employers to seek bonds against an often-perceived risk of theft. They can try to enforce a state law that allows employers to consider felony or misdemeanor convictions “only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant’s suitability for employment,” though that often requires a lawsuit.

They also can try to clean up their criminal records through expungements or pardons, although those options are limited in Pennsylvania.

“Most likely, they do not know of or cannot utilize any of these options, and their only alternatives are long, dogged and often repetitive job searches, work in the underground economy or a return to committing crimes,” the report states.

Michael Tedesco, 60, served seven months in prison and five years on probation following his 1990 guilty plea in a Penn Hills cocaine trafficking case. President Barack Obama pardoned the Murrysville businessman. Read the rest of this entry »

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There Is a Plan to Fix Infrastructure. But It’s Just Not Trump’s

Posted by carldavidson on May 27, 2017

By Liz Ryan Murray, Ben Ishibashi

Ourfuture.org

May 25, 2017 – There’s broad agreement across our country, and across party lines, that we need more good jobs and that we need to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

But that’s where the agreement ends. The answers to how we do that, what we build, where we build and who gets the jobs couldn’t be more different.

One plan will move us backwards – deepening the climate crisis, income and wealth inequality, make our neighborhoods more toxic and more vulnerable.

The other takes on the challenges of a warming planet and toxic neighborhoods head on by investing in repairing and replacing deteriorating infrastructure. This creates good, living wage jobs communities where they’re needed most and empowers our communities to build the new green, climate-change ready and just economy that finally works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

At its core, the fight over how we deal with infrastructure is about environmental justice. It is about whether or not black and brown people, Native people and working class people of all races have the same right to clean air, clean water, well-maintained neighborhoods and a livable climate as the one percent.

This week, Trump put out an anti-people, anti-planet budget plan that shows us what his answer to that question is. Trump and his friends on Wall Street and the energy companies are crafting an infrastructure plan that will:

    Give taxpayer dollars to corporations to build privately owned toll-roads in wealthy suburbs and cities.

    Sell off our airports and let corporations charge us more fees to use them.

    Sell off our water and energy utilities and loosen regulations on safety, making a bad situation worse.

    Sell our public parks to oil companies to drill and then let them build more pipelines through sacred lands.

    Gut the rules on environmental protections and those that require a living wage for workers.

The Trump infrastructure bill is an attack on our lives, our communities, our future and our planet. We can either let him do this to us or we can stand up and fight back for our lives, our people and our environment. We know what our choice will be.

We at People’s Action have a much different plan. Working with directly impacted communities across the country from Rust Belt cities, to small farms, to the Big Apple, to Indian Country, we’ve created a People and Planet First vision of what it means to really fix our infrastructure.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Local Peace Organizations Hold Discussion at CCBC

Posted by carldavidson on April 26, 2017

 

Michael McPhearson, Vets for Peace, at BCCC

By: Christina Sheleheda

Beaver County Times

April 24, 2017, MONACA — For national peace activist Kevin Martin, the current state of our country can be best described with one word: Resolute.

Martin, along with Michael McPhearson, national executive director of Veterans for Peace; and Nancy O’Leary, president of the Beaver County Peace Links, hosted Prospects of War, the Need for Peace, Saturday at the Community College of Beaver County’s Health Sciences Center.

Presenting to a group of about 50 people, Martin, who currently serves as the national president for Peace Action, kicked off the event, which was hosted by the Beaver County Peace Links. He asked the audience to say how they felt regarding the current administration.

“Scared.”

“Disappointed.”

“Hopeful.”

Having devoted over 30 years to peace activism, Martin believes the election simply drove a deeper wedge into an already divided country.

“We were divided before the election,” Martin said. “The contradictions of election are fascinating to me.”

Martin explained that three “evils” that have been discussed for decades – racism, militarism and economic exploitation – were first cited in Dr. Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech.

“My assertion,” Martin said, “is that militarism is the one that’s the worst of our society.”

Militarism is defined as “the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.”

“Progressives often link all struggles together. They list every progressive struggle, but won’t list peace and anti-war discernment, and I have a real problem with that,” Martin said. “We are not going to win if we don’t overcome militarism. That’s where all of our money goes. Not to economic or social justice issues, and certainly not to the environment,” Martin said.

Martin, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., had both his father and uncle serve in the United States Air Force. He does not believe opposing militarism correlates with being anti-American.

“If you understand militarism as a problem, weapons, nuclear bombs, etc., that is separate from members of our military. [Militarism] has nothing to do with individuals in the military; their service is incredible. I believe that forced patriotism is coercive,” Martin said.

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Going Solar in West Virginia

Posted by carldavidson on April 15, 2017

It’s an uphill struggle, but solar entrepreneurs have begun building the state’s post-coal future.

By Manuel Madrid

American Prospect

April 14, 2017 – Former Congressman Tom Perriello makes the case for why he’s got the “insider pragmatism and outsider populism” to win Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

The only reminder Robert Atkins has of his coal days are a hardhat and a heart-shaped scar on his right hand, a souvenir from a voltage explosion in the mines.

Starting right out of high school with a shovel and sledgehammer, Atkins was pulling down a six-figure income by the time he was 23, working 70-hour weeks in the mines as an underground electrician. He didn’t imagine that in just four years he’d be laid off, with a newborn daughter to take care of. Much less that soon after, he’d be a crew chief overseeing solar panel installations.

“If you’d told me I’d be working in solar, I would’ve never believed you,” Atkins says. “I always thought I’d bounce from coal job to coal job until all the mines closed and I had to leave.”

Atkins is one of a small but growing number of West Virginians who’ve said goodbye to coal mining and who’ve staked their future on an industry still distinctly out of place in the state: solar power. West Virginia’s government makes no major investments in commercial solar companies, and offers no tax credits or rebates to residents who install solar panels on their homes. Indeed, state legislators have actively blocked efforts to expand the renewable energy industry. In West Virginia, where Donald Trump, promising to revive mining by slashing regulations, beat Hillary Clinton by more than 40 percentage points, coal remains king.

But Atkins and his colleagues in the nascent renewable energy industry have made a bet that the golden days of coal, hammered by both automation and the boom in natural gas, are gone. They now work for Solar Holler, a Shepherdstown-based venture firm that crowdfunds residential solar installations through an innovative community rebate program. Solar Holler invites supporters to install energy-efficient devices in their homes for free. Instead of keeping the rebates they’d receive for the energy saved, homeowners direct the proceeds toward solar panels and installations on other buildings. This recycling of funds has enabled nonprofits, homes, and businesses to go solar, some for the price of an LED light bulb.

(Photo: Coalfield Development Corporation)

Solar panel installation in Wayne, West Virginia, in 2016

It’s taken awhile to get Solar Holler off the ground. So far, crowdfunding has produced nearly 80 kilowatts of solar energy across West Virginia, enough to power only ten homes—but the company is rapidly expanding. In 2017, Solar Holler expects to install a minimum of 750 kilowatts, equal to nearly a sixth of the state’s currently installed capacity. The company’s model is changing the way people think about solar and has played a part in gradually expanding West Virginia’s solar infrastructure. The surge in demand following Solar Holler’s first major project, a 60-panel installation in Shepherdstown, overwhelmed the limited manpower of installers statewide. Since then, the number of solar companies in West Virginia has grown steadily, from 15 solar companies in 2014, to 26 in 2015.

The driving force behind Solar Holler is Dan Conant, a Jefferson County native with a master’s degree in energy policy from Johns Hopkins, who founded the company in 2013. Conant isn’t just bringing sustainable energy to West Virginia. He’s now helping bring jobs to out-of-work coal miners. Solar Holler had a watershed moment in 2015 when it decided to create the state’s first solar training program in partnership with the Coalfield Development Corporation, a community organization that helps low-income West Virginians in the state’s southern region find jobs and affordable housing.

Since 2012, Coalfield, led by executive director Brandon Dennison, has been offering full-time construction work and training in specialized fields to laid-off miners. The organization’s first foray into solar came as an addition to one of their construction projects, and demands for installations began to balloon soon after. It was around the time that Dennison realized he was onto something big that he got a call from Conant. They struck a deal. Solar Holler would find projects and take care of logistics through crowdfunding, and Coalfield would retrain miners and provide the installation crews.

Denison dubbed the new program ReWire Appalachia. Expanding job training into the solar energy industry, he says, was strictly a market decision. The ReWire crew led by Robert Atkins started with four people, and now boasts a dozen workers.

“Coal miners are smart people,” says Dennison. “It’s important for the country to understand: They make use of hi-tech, sophisticated equipment to do their jobs. They have incredible skill sets to build off of.”

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