PDA’s Schmetzer Stands Up to Natural Gas Bulldozer

Gas Drilling Creates Cresswell Heights Concerns

By Bill Utterback
Beaver County Times

SOUTH HEIGHTS, Feb 25 2012 — The potential for Marcellus shale natural gas drilling in the vicinity of three wells that provide public water is creating concern in South Heights and neighboring communities.

The wells, located in South Heights, feed the Creswell Heights Joint Authority, water provider for more than 15,000 customers in Crescent Township, Hopewell Township, South Heights and a small portion of Moon Township.

“Before the train starts rolling is the time to get it stopped,” said Robert Schmetzer, president of South Heights Council. “People in South Heights don’t want to lose their water, and they don’t want to breathe air that could be intolerable.”

The owners of the former Phillips Power Station property, 54 acres including contiguous parcels in both South Heights and Crescent, met with officials from both communities in January to discuss the possibility of drilling for gas.

Continue reading PDA’s Schmetzer Stands Up to Natural Gas Bulldozer

Workers Occupy Factory to Stop Shutdown, with Occupy Chicago as Allies

UE Occupies Chicago Window Plant Again, and Wins Reprieve

By Jane Slaughter
Beaver County Blue via Labor Notes

Feb 24, 2012 – President Armando Robles and members of the United Electrical Workers won another reprieve for a Chicago window factory, re-occupying the plant they famously held in 2008. Photo: OccupyEverything.

Members of the United Electrical Workers won another reprieve for a Chicago window factory, re-occupying the plant they famously held in 2008.

UE Local 1110 members took over the Serious Materials plant yesterday after being told by local management that the factory would close immediately.

When they were confronted with the same news in 2008, workers voted unanimously to occupy their workplace, guarding the machines at the former Republic Windows and Doors for six days until the major creditor, Bank of America, released $1.75 million in wages and benefits owed the workers.

Republic sold the plant to Serious and workers celebrated as the first sit-down strike in years won a favorable settlement in the teeth of the great recession.

This week’s plant closing came with no warning. The union got a call from the boss that he wanted a meeting, but he wouldn’t say why. Officers and UE staff were summoned to the offices of the notorious union-busting law firm Seyfarth and Shaw at 9 a.m. yesterday.

There executives said they would close the plant, effective immediately. Workers would be put on leave while management dismantled the window-making machinery and shipped it to the company’s other plants in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Workers would be paid what they were owed under the WARN Act, which requires employers to provide notice 60 days ahead of plant closings and mass layoffs. (The penalty for violations is up to two months of pay and benefits.)

But the provisions typically only apply to businesses that would lay off 50 or more.

Illinois has a stronger law, which requires notice when 25 or more full-time employees will lose their jobs, and gives the director of the state labor department the right to investigate the company’s books.

Management provided nothing in writing to back up its promises.

Union officers—Armando Robles, Ricky Maclin, and Vicente Rangel—and staffers spent three hours arguing with management that the closure was unacceptable. Serious had a legal and moral obligation to do more to try to save the jobs, they said.

“We wanted to find a buyer,” said UE rep Leah Fried, “but they were not interested. They said it was not an option.”

Meanwhile, the Serious workers were building windows inside the plant.

February is not a big time for demand for windows, and their numbers were down to 38 after a recent layoff. Only 75 of the original 240 workers had ever been called back after Serious bought the plant from Republic.

All Out

President Robles and Fried left the meeting with management Thursday and began calling laid-off workers, asking them to come to the plant. At 2 p.m., the end of the shift, 50 workers met to discuss their options.

Robles presented them soberly: Do nothing, or fight—stay and occupy the plant again. Without much hullabaloo, matter-of-factly, the members voted unanimously to occupy.

Continue reading Workers Occupy Factory to Stop Shutdown, with Occupy Chicago as Allies

Republican Gas Law Violates Medical Ethics

Leading Public Health Official Says Impact Fee Law Violates Medical Ethics

February 16, 2012 | 12:02 PM
BySusan Phillips
Scott LaMar / WITF

Pennsylvania’s Capi­tol

Pub­lic health pro­fes­sion­als say the impact fee law signed by Gov­er­nor Cor­bett this week could hurt the deliv­ery of health ser­vices to injured work­ers or res­i­dents liv­ing near gas drilling sites. The leg­is­la­tion allows drillers to with­hold infor­ma­tion on the chem­i­cals used to frack nat­ural gas wells if the com­pany deems them pro­pri­etary, or a trade secret. This would include the chemical’s iden­tity and the con­cen­tra­tion level.

A pro­vi­sion does allow health providers access to the infor­ma­tion in order to treat a patient, but requires the health­care worker to sign a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment, that oblig­ates the med­ical pro­fes­sional to use the infor­ma­tion only to treat an indi­vid­ual patient. Dr. Jerome Paul­son, Pro­fes­sor of Pedi­atrics & Pub­lic Health at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, says the law runs counter to med­ical ethics.

“All of the oaths (of the med­ical pro­fes­sion) require us to work for the good of the pub­lic in addi­tion to the indi­vid­ual patients,” said Paul­son in a phone inter­view. “So block­ing our abil­ity to col­lect and share infor­ma­tion, or make the col­lec­tion and shar­ing of infor­ma­tion more cum­ber­some, means we wont be able to ful­fill our responsibilities.”

Continue reading Republican Gas Law Violates Medical Ethics

Democrats Will Choose Nominee for US Congress from New 12th District

Democrats Will Choose Nominee for US Congress from New 12th District

by Randy Shannon

February 20, 2012

The April 24th primary election in Pennsylvania will see two incumbent Democrats, Rep. Jason Altmire and Rep. Mark Critz, competing for the Democratic nomination to represent the new 12th District in the 113th United States Congress.

Rep. Mark Critz

Critz has been endorsed by a number of labor unions. The following unions have endorsed Critz:

United Mine Workers

United Steelworkers

Utility Workers Union

Service Employees International Union

United Food and Commercial Workers

Laborers’ District Council of Western PA

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1279

International Association of Firefighters

United Transportation Union

Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 354

The Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have also endorsed Critz.

Continue reading Democrats Will Choose Nominee for US Congress from New 12th District

To Move Forward, We Still Need Unions, and in a Big Way

Robotics and High-Tech Manufacturing

Manufacturing Illusions

By Robert Reich
Beaver County Blue via Robert Reich’s Blog

Feb 18, 2012 – Suddenly, manufacturing is back – at least on the election trail. But don’t be fooled. The real issue isn’t how to get manufacturing back. It’s how to get good jobs and good wages back. They aren’t at all the same thing.

Republicans have become born-again champions of American manufacturing. This may have something to do with crucial primaries occurring next week in Michigan and the following week in Ohio, both of them former arsenals of American manufacturing.

Mitt Romney says he’ll "work to bring manufacturing back" to America by being tough on China, which he describes as "stealing jobs" by keeping value of its currency artificially low and thereby making its exports cheaper.

Rick Santorum promises to "fight for American manufacturing" by eliminating corporate income taxes on manufacturers and allowing corporations to bring their foreign profits back to American tax free as long as they use the money to build new factories.

President Obama has also been pushing a manufacturing agenda. Last month the President unveiled a six-point plan to eliminate tax incentives for companies to move offshore and create new lures for them to bring jobs home. "Our goal," he says, is to "create opportunities for hard-working Americans to start making stuff again."

Meanwhile, American consumers’ pent-up demand for appliances, cars, and trucks have created a small boomlet in American manufacturing – setting off a wave of hope, mixed with nostalgic patriotism, that American manufacturing could be coming back. Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl "Halftime in America" hit the mood exactly.

Continue reading To Move Forward, We Still Need Unions, and in a Big Way

Valentine’s Day in War Zones

Afghan boys

Cold, Cold Heart

By Kathy Kelly
Beaver County Peace Links via HuffPort

Feb 14, 2012 – It’s Valentine’s Day, and opening the little cartoon on the Google page brings up a sentimental animation with Tony Bennett singing "why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart."

Here in Dubai, where I’m awaiting a visa to visit Afghanistan, the weather is already warm and humid. But my bags are packed with sweaters because Kabul is still reeling from the coldest winter on record. Two weeks ago, eight children under age five froze to death there in one of the sprawling refugee camps inhabited by so many who have fled from the battles in other provinces. Since January 15, at least 23 children under the age of five have frozen to death in the camps.

And just over a week ago, eight young shepherds, all but one of them under the age of 14, lit a fire for warmth on the snowy Afghan mountainside in Kapisa Province where they were helping support their families by grazing sheep. French troops saw the fire, and acted on faulty information, and the boys were all killed in two successive NATO airstrikes. The usual denunciations from local authorities, and Western apologies, followed.

So I’m thinking about warmth, and who we share it with and who we don’t.

This is an unexpected trip for me. I had first planned to spend this week at home in Chicago, and then, rather suddenly, agreed to join a group of informal human rights observers traveling to Bahrain for the one year anniversary of their brutally repressed "February 17th Revolution" (please follow events there, and demand that the U.S. cease arming Bahrain’s dictatorship, at witnessbahrain.org). Bahraini authorities declined to issue me a visa, and so I asked the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers if I could change my plans and spend the coming week with them.

My friends tell me that the apartment where I’m headed has been without electricity for several days in a row. The pipes have frozen, so there will be no running water. But in spite of the cold, it’s an especially good time to visit them because twelve of them will be there, on winter vacation from school, including two 14-year-old boys I couldn’t meet during my last visit who spent much of the last year away from the others, back home in Bamiyan province, in their mountain villages, supporting their families.

Continue reading Valentine’s Day in War Zones

Steelworkers Back Obama & Criticize Romney on ‘Playing By the Rules’ in Trade Deals

USW Statement on Obama’s 2013 Trade Enforcement Budget

Pittsburgh (Feb. 12) – Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers (USW) issued the following statement today on hearing reports of President Obama’s budget proposal that’s going to Congress, asking millions for a new trade enforcement center and the resources to more effectively enforce U.S. trade laws:

“President Obama has acted to enforce America’s laws against unfair trade since coming to office and announced in his State of the Union address last month, a clear commitment to this effort.  The USW is especially pleased to know the President’s budget will be asking for millions of dollars to arm his new Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC) with the resources needed to fight for American jobs.

“Too many American workers have had their jobs stolen from them by foreign unfair, predatory and illegal trade practices.  Many of our trade competitors agree to the rules, but then fail to abide by them. Enforcing our laws – and the commitments other countries have made – must be high priority. President Obama is devoting resources to accomplish that goal.

“Our union members work hard and play by the rules. We want a government that will stand up to foreign unfair trade for all American workers.  President Obama has demonstrated a willingness to do just that.

Continue reading Steelworkers Back Obama & Criticize Romney on ‘Playing By the Rules’ in Trade Deals

Savings & Loan Prosecutor Bill Black on Failure of the Mortgage Fraud Settlement

Bill Black on Financial Fraud Investigations

Theresa Riley of BillMoyers.com checked in with banking fraud expert Bill Black for his take on the ongoing investigation into the U.S. financial crisis. February 6 was the deadline for the multistate foreclosure settlement between state attorneys general and the major banks. If the purported $25 billion deal goes through, it will provide some relief to those who have experienced foreclosure (or are in danger of it) and require banks to overhaul their foreclosure practices.
Theresa Riley: Last week there were many rumors about the types of fraud that will be covered in the multistate foreclosure settlement. Initially there were reports that it would be limited to robo-signing abuses — and then there were reports to the contrary. What is expected to be included in the settlement?

Photo by Robin Holland
William Black:  The newest (pro-release) rumors are that the current draft of the settlement includes some releases for mortgage origination fraud and secondary market fraud, but that those releases are limited. We are not told how limited.
Riley: If the deal goes through as reported, what could this mean for future criminal investigations and reforms?
Black:  The leaks about the proposed deal occurred in conjunction with President Obama’s State of the Union Address and a series of press releases and conferences by Attorney General Holder about a newly created “working group.” That working group is intended to investigate secondary market fraud. There is no comprehensive investigation of the over $1 trillion in mortgage origination fraud. There are no prosecutions of any of the elite bank officers who led, and became wealthy from, the epidemic of mortgage origination fraud. The State AGs do not have the resources to investigate even two of the largest fraudulent lenders.
The major development this past week is that New York Attorney General Schneiderman filed suit, alleging that the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) is aiding foreclosure fraud and ruining America’s public recordation system for real estate, which conservative economists praised as one of the key reasons America became so prosperous. MERS is enormous and it is fundamentally flawed and dangerous, so this could be a tremendously useful action.

Truth, Lies and Afghanistan

Taliban fighters

How military leaders have let us down

Beaver County Peace Links via Armed Forces Journal

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

Continue reading Truth, Lies and Afghanistan

Bank Fraud Settlement Good for Banks, Bad for Economy

Comments on the Mortgage Fraud Settlement

by Bill Barclay

Progressive Democrats of America, Chicago Political Economy Group, DSA
February  9,2012

According to press accounts, there will be a deal between the banks and the state AGs over housing/foreclosures, etc.  A bubble in housing prices (driven by finance) got us into the Lesser Depression and it could get us out.  But I don’t think this deal is it.

The banks are going to fork over $25 billion, plus access to refi by 300,000 homeowners now shut out and perhaps some payments to 750,000 people who lost homes to foreclosure.  This may sound like a lot of money – until you remember the scope of the problem.

The Fed issued a study in Jan 2012 that reported:

(a) 12 million households with negative equity (“underwater”), almost 1/4 of total households with mortgages;

(b) total negative equity of these 12 million is about $700 billion;

(c) 8.6 million of these households were current in their mortgage
payments, accounting for $425 billion of the negative equity;

(d) the remaining 3.6 million households are all at least 30 days delinquent in payments and

(e) 1.4 million of them are in foreclosure – that is on top of the 4 million or so that have lost homes to foreclosure over the past 4 years.

Another way to put this in perspective is to remember that, in current dollars, in 1933 Congress authorized the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to issue debt amounting to almost $50 billion that was then used to buy mortgages from lenders, in essence becoming their refinancing lender on about 21% of all 1 – 4 family dwelling units that existed in the 1930s.  (The equivalent number of households today would be about 10 million).

All in all, we have along way to go – and failure to solve the housing/foreclosure mess means it will continue to act as a drag on aggregate demand and getting the economy restarted.