Category Archives: elections

In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

Above: Troy Johnson of Aliquippa speaks up on election turmoil

MILTON, Pa. — Kareem Williams Jr. sits on a park bench in the center of town and waits for the racists to attack. He tells himself he is ready. It’s a cool Saturday morning in fall, and the valley is alive with the rumble of pickups.

When the trucks stop, here at the red light at the corner of Broadway and Front Street, drivers gun their engines. Some glare directly into Williams’ eyes.

Williams is a Black man. The drivers are white. All their passengers are white. Williams returns their gaze with equal ferocity. He tells himself he is ready. He is not. His back faces the Susquehanna River. His car is parked a block away. If these white men jump from their truck, fists or pistols raised, Williams has nowhere to run.

The light turns green. Engine roar blasts the river. Williams follows each truck with his eyes until it’s gone.

“I always knew racism was here. But it was quiet,” said Williams, 24, a factory worker and a corporal in the Pennsylvania National Guard who grew up in Milton. “Now, in this election, people are more openly racist. The dirty looks, middle fingers, the Confederate flags.”

To Williams, and to many non-white people he knows in central Pennsylvania, this rise in overtly racist behavior is linked inextricably to the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. In yards up and down the Central Susquehanna Valley, Williams sees Confederate flags and Trump flags flying side by side. People with the most Trump bumper stickers seem the most likely to shout hateful things.

As the presidential election approaches, Williams said, such threats grow more common, more passionate.

“On election day I’m going to be in my house. I’m not going anywhere,” said Williams, known by his nickname K.J. “If these racists are looking to protest, they’ll go to Harrisburg or Philadelphia or D.C. If they’re looking to kill people, this will be the place. They’re gonna come here.”

Experts on American racial history agree. For Black people living in towns like Milton, they say, the threat of white terrorism is the highest it’s been in generations.

“Historically, most acts of racial terror have been enacted in rural communities, small towns or medium-sized cities,” said Khalil Muhammad, a history professor at Harvard University. “The conditions for wide-scale anti-Black violence are today more likely than at any point in the last 50 years.”

‘That’s a powder keg’

Within a month, 230 communities in Pennsylvania organized 400 anti-racism events, said Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies grassroots movements.

“That is an insane number,” Putnam said. “It’s an order of magnitude larger than the number of places that ever held a Tea Party event.”

Many protests happened in towns where African Americans and other non-white people constitute a tiny minority, surrounded by rural communities with virtually no people of color at all. Those areas are overwhelmingly conservative, said Daniel Mallinson, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Out of 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump won the state by 42,000.

But in Milton he dominated, carrying the surrounding Northumberland County by 69%. In front yards and country fields, Trump flags and Confederate flags comingle.

“Traditionally when we think of political candidates, we think of yard signs. But a lot of Trump flags went up in 2016, and in a lot of places they didn’t come down. It’s a visual representation of tribalism in our politics,” Mallinson said. “There’s a lot of implicit and explicit racial bias in central Pennsylvania.”

As local critics and defenders of the white establishment grow more engaged, state and national politics raise the stakes. Pennsylvania is the likeliest state in the nation to decide the presidential election, according to FiveThirtyEight, a polling and analytics aggregator. Statewide polls place Democrat Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 7%, the same as Hillary Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania three weeks before the 2016 election.

Large-scale voting fraud has never been detected in modern American politics. Yet Trump often claims he can lose only if the 2020 election is fraudulent, which stokes fear and anger among his core supporters, experts said.

“They fully expect Trump will win,” said John Kennedy, a political science professor at West Chester University outside Philadelphia. “When they hear the results on election night, that’s a powder keg.”

Trump also appears to encourage the more violent factions of his coalition. The president repeatedly has declined to promise a peaceful transition of power. He defended Kyle Rittenhouse for killing an unarmed protester in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the first presidential debate, Trump appeared to encourage white terrorists, urging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and insisting that “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”

Some white people in central Pennsylvania appear to be following the president’s lead.

“Do I worry about right-wing vigilante violence against peaceful protests if people are protesting Trump after the election? Yes,” Putnam said. “It’s happening. And there’s every reason to think more of it will happen.”

In September, Trump proposed designating the KKK and antifa as terrorist organizations. Antifa is not an organization, however, but rather an idea shared by some on the left to aggressively challenge fascists and Nazis, especially during street protests.

“President Trump has unequivocally denounced hate groups by name on numerous occasions but the media refuses to accurately cover it because that would mean the end of a Democrat Party talking point,” said Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson. “The Trump campaign will patiently wait for the media to develop the same intense curiosity on these actual threats to our democracy as it has with regard to hypothetical scenarios from the left.”

In July, neo-Nazis rallied in Williamsport, 20 miles north of Milton. In August, a white person fired into a crowd of civil rights marchers in Schellsburg, Pennsylvania, wounding a man in the face. At a recent event for police reform in Watsontown, three miles north of Milton along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, white counter-protesters yelled that Black people “live off white people.”

Overlooking the protest, on the balcony of the Mansion House restaurant, white men stood armed with assault rifles.

“They looked like snipers,” Williams said. “Trump is the motivator in all of this. He has a huge following here.”

The last time America witnessed such an open embrace between white supremacists and the White House was the administration of Woodrow Wilson, said Muhammad.

“You have to go back 100 years,” Muhammad said. “We have every reason to be extremely vigilant about the possibility for violence over the next several weeks. Anywhere where people are flying Confederate flags are places where people ought to be mindful of where they move in public.”

Racism in the land of Chef Boyardee

The side streets of downtown Milton end in rich river bottomlands where the autumn corn grows 7 feet tall.

Continue reading In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

beyond tactics: Even if Trump Loses, Trumpism Will Live On

A defeat for Donald Trump in next month’s election is unlikely to banish the cultural divisions he has stoked © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

The US is too militantly divided for a sweeping repudiation of the president to last. We need to keep on keepin’ on in organization a progressive majority for years ahead.

By Edward Luce
Financial Times Guest Link

OCT 15 2020 – Though few will dare admit it, much of America is preparing to celebrate the end of Donald Trump. Not only would his defeat bring the curtain down on an administration they regard as the worst in modern US history. In their eyes, it would also dispel the MAGA hat-wearing, militia-sympathising deplorables who make up the US president’s base.

It would be a moment of redemption in which not only Mr Trump, but Trumpism also, will be written off as an aberration. After four years of unearned hell, America could pick up where it left off.

That would be a natural reaction. It would also be a blunder. Should Mr Trump lose next month, it would be with the support of up to 45 per cent of expected voters — between roughly 60m and 70m Americans. Even now when Joe Biden’s poll lead is hardening into double digits, a Trump victory cannot be discounted.

Even if he loses, it is highly unlikely to match the sweeping repudiation that Walter Mondale suffered against Ronald Reagan in 1984, or Barry Goldwater to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. America is too militantly divided for that.

A victorious Biden camp would need to take three concerns into account. The first is that the Republican party is Mr Trump’s, even if he departs the scene. Five years ago, many evangelical voters still felt distaste for Mr Trump’s libertine personality. They quickly learned he was the kind of pugilist they wanted.

The likely Supreme Court confirmation next week of Amy Coney Barrett, and that of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch before her, are testaments to that. America’s Christian right has embraced its inner Vladimir Lenin — the end justifies the means.

The same applies to professional Republicans. Self-preservation might imply they would distance themselves from Mr Trump as his likely defeat drew nearer. The opposite has been happening. As an Axios study shows elected Republicans have become steadily more Trumpian over the past four years.

Partly this was because a handful of moderate representatives either retired in Mr Trump’s first two years, or were ejected by hardliners in primaries. Mostly it was because of the visceral power of Trumpism. It turns out there is not much grassroots passion for fiscal conservatism in today’s Republican party — if there ever was. The impetus is with those who fear that America will cease to be America, partly because of the US’s growing ethnic diversity.

Swamp notes

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The second point is that America’s information culture is far more degraded today than in 2016. Democrats often blame Mr Trump’s victory on the Russians. Maybe so. But whatever disinformation Russia spread was dwarfed by home-grown material. According to a study this week by the German Marshall Fund, the amount of fake, or disguised fake, news that Americans consume on their social media has more than tripled since 2016.

Facebook is a much greater vehicle for disinformation today. More importantly, US consumer demand for news that is either distorted or plain false — about the pandemic, for example — continues to grow. A dark conspiracy cult such as QAnon would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. Today it reaches tens of millions of Americans.

The evermore disruptive impact of digital technology on public culture makes governing increasingly difficult. A Biden presidency’s first priority would be to roll out a national coronavirus strategy to flatten America’s curve. Little else can happen before that.

Much of its success would depend on Americans following rules such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and complying with contact tracers. But a Trump defeat is unlikely to banish the cultural divisions he has stoked. Large numbers of Americans say they will reject a vaccine and view masks as a surrender of their freedom. Mr Biden’s fate will partly hinge on the degree to which he can marginalise those sentiments.

Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls?

Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency

His final concern should be on the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism. The ingredients are still there. Hyper-partisanship, blue-collar deaths of despair, the China threat and middle-class insecurity are all worse, or as bad, as four years ago. Most of those looking to follow Mr Trump, such as Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, or Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator, are harder-line versions of him without the caprice.

The fixes to America’s problems are manifold, complex, and painstaking. A vaccine will not suddenly banish the pandemic. Nor would Mr. Trump’s defeat magically bring an end to Trumpism.

Pennsylvania Becomes a Battleground over Election Security

By Marc Levy and Christina A. Cassidy
Associated Press

OCT 15, 2020 – HARRISBURG — For anxiety over voting and ballot counting in this year’s presidential election, it’s hard to top Pennsylvania.

Election officials in Philadelphia, home to one-fifth of the state’s Democratic voters, have been sued by President Donald Trump’s campaign, blasted by the president as overseeing a place “where bad things happen” and forced to explain security measures after a theft from a warehouse full of election equipment.

Add to that an investigation into military ballots that were mistakenly discarded in one swing county, partisan sniping in the state Capitol over the processing of what is expected to be an avalanche of mailed-in ballots and an 11th hour attempt by Republican lawmakers to create an election integrity commission.

One of the most hotly contested presidential battleground states is trying to conduct a pandemic election in a hyper-partisan environment where every move related to the voting process faces unrelenting scrutiny from both sides. State and local election officials say they are doing all they can to make sure Pennsylvania doesn’t end up like Florida two decades ago, when the last drawn-out presidential tally ended before the U.S. Supreme Court.

‘A really destructive scenario’: Pennsylvania could hold up outcome of presidential election

“For years, we have trusted our election officials to be reliable and nonpartisan. Why should we suddenly not trust them?” said Eileen Olmsted with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan organization that advocates to expand access to voting. “A lot of this is based on the perception of voter fraud, which there is absolutely no evidence of.”

Continue reading Pennsylvania Becomes a Battleground over Election Security

Report from Lordstown: Trump Lied to Heartland Workers

Under Trump, we’ve lost 5 million of the 11.6 million net jobs created under Obama. That’s the worst jobs record of any modern president. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Trump is bragging about his jobs record in the Midwest. So why didn’t he lift a finger when 14,000 GM workers were laid off?

By Chuckie Denison
Common Dreams

Sept 24, 2020 – As the election draws near, Donald Trump and Mike Pence are campaigning across Ohio, Michigan, and the rest of the Midwest, making big claims about “bringing back” jobs.

I have one question for them: Why does the Trump administration continue to turn its back on America’s workers?

In 2016, Trump won big in the Mahoning Valley, the traditionally blue stronghold in northeast Ohio where I live, helping Trump carry the state after it twice voted for Obama. Blue-collar voters believed Trump when he said he would be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

We deserve the chance to work hard and earn enough to feed our families, afford our own home, go to the doctor when we’re sick, and walk down the street without being afraid of the police.

Four years later, it’s obvious we were duped. Under Trump, we’ve lost 5 million of the 11.6 million net jobs created under Obama. That’s the worst jobs record of any modern president.

My fiancé Cheryl and I met at the General Motors plant in Lordstown. In 2014, we bought our house up the street from the plant because we believed our future with GM was bright.

Today, everything we thought was possible has been replaced by uncertainty.

When GM closed the Lordstown plant in 2019, I took a medical retirement. Cheryl moved hundreds of miles away to Tennessee to work at GM’s Spring Hill plant, leaving her daughter behind to finish high school.

This summer, GM announced they would be permanently eliminating the third shift at the Spring Hill plant, laying off 680 workers. Cheryl doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have a job.

We decided to sell the house that was our American dream. Now, we don’t know where we’re going to live. Ohio, where our community has been devastated by the plant closure and job opportunities are scarce? Or Tennessee, far from our families, where the cost of living is higher and Cheryl’s job could disappear?

GM is a billion-dollar company that was built on the backs of workers like me and Cheryl. If we had a government that stood up to companies like GM and demanded they put their workers first, our lives wouldn’t be decided by the whims of corporate greed.

Instead, we have a president who has broken promise after promise.

Trump visited the Mahoning Valley in 2017 and told workers not to sell their homes. “We’re going to fill up those factories,” he vowed.

But he didn’t lift a finger when GM laid off 14,000 workers across Michigan, Maryland, and Ohio, including me. Instead, the Trump administration let GM continue collecting $700 million in federal contracts and massive tax breaks.

All told, 1,800 factories have disappeared since Trump took office. Even before the pandemic, job growth had already plummeted in Ohio and had fallen to its lowest level in a decade next door in Michigan, the Institute for Policy Studies found recently.

America’s working people are tired of lies and broken promises. We won’t be fooled again. That’s why Our Revolution groups across the Midwest are organizing working people to spread the word about Trump’s broken promises.

America’s working men and women deserve a president that will make our government work for them. We deserve the chance to work hard and earn enough to feed our families, afford our own home, go to the doctor when we’re sick, and walk down the street without being afraid of the police.

We deserve to reclaim the American dream.

Chuckie Denison is a founding member of Our Revolution Mahoning Valley and a former GM Lordstown worker. This op-ed was adapted from a letter to the Warren Tribune-Chronicle and distributed by OtherWords.org.

All Aboard to Defeat Trump: Biden Train Tour in Pennsylvania Steel Country

The “Build Back Better Tour” by Joe Biden originated in Cleveland and made a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio. Riding into Pennsylvania, Biden made stops in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, New Alexandria, Latrobe, and concluded here in Johnstown.

By Anthony Mangos
People’s World

Oct 7, 2020 – A freight train passes by as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden talks to the crowd at the Amtrak Johnstown Train Station, Sept. 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. | Andrew Harnik / AP

JOHNSTOWN, Penn.— It was an unusually warm autumn evening in Johnstown as Joe Biden’s Amtrak pulled into the city’s historic passenger station, opened in 1916. The station is a unique structure, as trains arrive above the depot on an elevated level. The adjacent wall was adorned with a massive Biden-Harris sign, rising above a very enthusiastic crowd.

This was a drive-in style outside event in Johnstown, with social distancing. It would be highly unlikely for Donald Trump to campaign by rail, as he has continually ignored and sought to defund Amtrak. On the contrary, Biden says he knows how essential passenger train service is, connecting communities like Johnstown, and supports Amtrak faithfully.

It’s common knowledge that “Amtrak Joe” loves trains. He hit the campaign trail on rails Sept. 30 after taking on Trump in the first debate—and before the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

The whistle stop campaigning brought to mind the nostalgic tradition of candidates riding the rails through America. On the heels of the debate, for many voters, the arrival of the Biden train seemed the equivalent of comfort food, a signal of Biden’s claim he’d restore decency and accountability in the White House.

The “Build Back Better Tour” originated in Cleveland and made a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio. Riding into Pennsylvania, Biden made stops in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, New Alexandria, Latrobe, and concluded here in Johnstown. In-person campaigning has been limited during this year of the pandemic. At the whistle stops, attendees were properly spaced out with social distancing and masks.

The involvement by labor unions in the Biden campaign has been strong; AFSCME, USW, and SEIU were just a few unions represented at the Johnstown rally. Local resident Brian Smith, former Navy Seabee and current SEIU member, shared how a good union job enabled his family to remain in Johnstown, before introducing the Democratic candidate.

Biden arrived on stage, to much applause, shouting, “Hello Johnstown!” As he began addressing the crowd, a loud freight train roared past. Turning around and pointing to the train, Biden said, “By the way, that’s a good thing!” Reflecting, he reminded the crowd of his long connection to the nation’s rail system. “I started by taking the train when I got elected as a 29-year-old kid in the United States Senate. I started going back and forth every single day so I could be home in Wilmington every night with my two young boys, and later, with my daughter.”

He talked about riding the train home at night after a debate in the Senate “about fair tax policy, or about health care, or about unions that I was fighting for…and I’d look out…I really mean this…I’d look out like I did coming from Cleveland today. I’d look out at all those homes I’d pass, those middle-class neighborhoods like I was raised in.”

Biden said the view made him wonder whether the families inside were “having the same conversations my mom and dad had when we were growing up…we need four new tires on the car, but we can’t afford it…or maybe we are going to have to worry about whether or not they’re going to turn the electricity off because we’re behind on the bill because the job changed or I lost my health insurance.”

In the midst of the ongoing pandemic and economic collapse, Biden said people today are having the same kind of conversations.

Johnstown was once a thriving steel manufacturing town located in Cambria County, Penn. While a few mills remain, some retaining a unionized workforce, a majority have closed. The city continues to struggle, as it is statistically one of the poorest places in Pennsylvania.

Once a Democratic stronghold, the county’s party affiliation numbers recently revealed that registered Republicans now slightly outnumber Democrats for the first time for as long as local residents can remember. This has been the trend throughout Western Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Trump held a rally in Johnstown and many voters here supported him then. Biden is intent on gaining those supporters back, and the labor movement here is determined to pull people away from Trump.

There is evidence they may succeed with some. When Trump passed through four years ago, he took people’s votes, but then gave nothing back. While fueling division across the nation, he plainly forgot about places like Johnstown. There is a sense here that local citizens are now realizing this.

Due to strict social distancing, Biden’s rally could only accommodate a limited number of attendees. Nonetheless, across the Little Conemaugh River from the train station, many local supporters arrived to glimpse the stage and express their solidarity.

A local pub, adhering to strict health guidelines, provided an outdoor television screen to broadcast the speech. In an encouraging sign, supporters also arrived from surrounding rural areas. An important factor concerning the election outcome in Pennsylvania will be the urban-rural divide, which the Biden campaign seems well aware of.

Johnstown was once home to a thriving steel industry. Here, a woman walks past the Gautier steel buildings in town. Trump’s promise to revive the industry came up flat, and voters have not forgotten. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

Speaking before the candidate, Jill Biden hit on the point. “We’re seeing that our differences are precious and that our similarities are infinite. Democrat and Republican. Urban and rural. Our communities are showing that the heart of this nation still beats with kindness and courage.” Pushing the crowd to look beyond the harshness and division of Trump’s presidency, she argued, “We don’t agree on everything. And we know we don’t have to. We can still love and respect each other. We care more about people than politics.”

Concluding his address, Biden again called out to labor, proclaiming “the middle class built America and unions built the middle class.” He vowed a presidency that would fight for working people and their jobs and families, “not for corporations.” To the residents of this town that’s been feeling hard economic times for years, he pledged to “build back better” after Trump. “It’s all about injecting life and capital back into places like Johnstown.”

Many registered voters in small Western Pennsylvania towns have a deep-rooted history of leaning conservative regarding social issues. This has been a factor in the realigning of the region politically, creating a challenge for uniting voters.

Biden knows this well, and his whistle stop campaigning through what the media calls the “Rust Belt” shows his campaign is reaching out in an effort to bring everyone back on board to defeat Trump.

The Farrell Steel Strike and Medicare for All

by Tina Shannon, President

PA Steel Valley Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

Just up the road from me in W PA, workers at a local steel fabrication plant employing almost 500 have gone on strike. The main issue is their healthcare coverage.

But this also happened there. Imagine this.  Your husband dies in a horrible motorcycle accident. You go to his workplace a week later, to fill out the paperwork for his life insurance and other paperwork requirements. The HR person informs you  that the company canceled your family’s health insurance the very day he died with no notification to you, the bereaved spouse. You and your family have been without healthcare coverage this whole time.

The company did this even though Jackie Vezilli’s husband’s paycheck had been deducted for his share of the healthcare coverage. In Jackie  Verzilli’s own words, “This video is happening because of the lack of respect and disregard for my husband, myself, and my family by this company is indeed all true. This video is happening because my husband worked for this company for 13 years, all the way back when it was called Gibraltar. He worked countless hours of overtime. He was in a  really bad work accident for this company and survived.”

Jackie is struggling with the company about this.

This steel mill, now owned by  NLMK, has been in Farrell, PA for a long time. It is a generational workplace for many families in the area. People who work there have social ties from high school and even elementary school. It is an anchor for the community. People in this part of W PA have built good lives around good union jobs there.

Farrell is home to perhaps the last New Deal Club in the country.

In the days before the steel mills were booming, the first-generation immigrants and their children weathered the Great Depression. Because of that, when they were opening a social club for Democrats, to transcend all the ethnic clubs already in existence, they named it for FDR. In the words of Ed  Nicastro, as recorded in an oral history taken by J. Kasich, “he saved the nation from starving. Ever since that time in 1933 this club has still honored his birthday and went by the rules he made a lot of them.  What he did for the workingman and everything and that’s why there is still a Democratic club left in the country”.

Throughout the prosperous years of busy steel mills hiring workers, and the years of flourishing local economies that resulted, Farrell honored FDR.  At one time, this was a place where one income could support a family. Things have been getting increasingly harder though.

Healthcare is an ever-increasing need for the people around me, a need ever more neglected by the forces controlling the economic system we live in. As people lose their jobs due to a worldwide pandemic, they also lose their healthcare coverage, making a bad situation worse.

I live in a part of the country that already has severe disparities. Pittsburgh is known as a healthcare hub. This is confusing. UPMC, the dominant hospital system in Pittsburgh, has been a pioneer in organ transplants. At the same time, a battle between the UPMC insurance plan and the competing Highmark insurance plan has forced patients to switch doctors and plans. This battle compromised the healthcare of my community. It makes everyone more insecure about their healthcare coverage.

Pittsburgh also has high racial disparity, reflected by the Black infant mortality rate, which is six times higher than white infant mortality.

And that all takes place in Pittsburgh, which is more prosperous than my community and most of the communities around me.

Farrell is in neighboring Mercer County in the de-industrialized Rust Belt outside of Pittsburgh. In Farrell, the owners of this steel fabrication plant are paying $150 million for tariffs they claim were unskillfully placed in an off-hand manner. Some 25% tariffs on foreign steel were abruptly instituted by the Trump administration in 2018.

With no national industrial plan to replace the produced steel this plant needs to service its customers, the survival of this small town in Western PA is being threatened by the current Republican administration.

That is the context of the striking workers’ lives in a small town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, at the  NLMK steel plant in Farrell.

A unionized worker from that plant recently attended our local  Progressive Democrats meeting to tell us about it. In their previous contract, they had a choice of a PPO, that allows patients to freely see doctors within the plan, or a high deductible plan.  The company wanted to eliminate the PPO.The unionized workers prefer having a choice. I think our experience with high deductible plans leaves us all fearing that the deductibles are always going  to become entirely unaffordable. The existing high deductible plans are already unsustainable. The choice left to us is using healthcare or putting food on the table. These high healthcare costs force workers to rely on high levels of overtime, further deteriorating working people’s family life and time for involvement in their communities.

We need to be secure enough to care for each other.  We need to care for our families. We need to participate in community life. Access to healthcare is a piece of that puzzle. While workers are forced to submit to employers out of fear of losing healthcare,  we see all kinds of ripple effects through our community.

It hurts us in many ways. Wages are lower because unionized workers are forced to fight for their healthcare coverage instead of wages. Low wages mean less buying power in our communities, higher student debt because families can’t afford to help, less opportunities for younger children because their parents are always working, just to name a few.

A healthcare system that covered everyone regardless of employment would be a big step forward in solving these problems. The only way we can afford this will be to eliminate the insurance companies that siphon off profit while adding no value to our healthcare. HR 1384, the Improved and Expanded Medicare for All  Bill, would do this. As support for this idea grows throughout the country, as more and more people lose their healthcare coverage during a pandemic, it’s time to enact this Bill.

We’re going to have to make our elected leaders do this with the coming Democratic administration.  An increasing number of elected progressives in Congress will help. If a shift of control happens in the Senate, this could be the historic period to achieve Medicare for All. We should see this as a real possibility. This is the reason we’re in the political struggle: to win what we need. This is a reason to vote Democrat in 2020.

Op-Ed: Trump Failed Beaver County Workers, Families

By Terri Mitko
Special to The Times

When Pennsylvania elected Donald Trump, our commonwealth took a gamble that an unconventional politician could deliver great results in unconventional ways. Communities like Beaver County trusted him to keep his promises, bring jobs back to our region, and get our economy booming again. But here we are four years later and the truth is, we are worse off than before. And today, Mike Pence is coming to town to try and tell Beaver County workers that he and Trump are on our side. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Let’s get right to the point: Our economy is in terrible shape. When Donald Trump was elected, unemployment in Beaver County was 5.5%. Today, on his watch, it sits at nearly 16%. That’s not just because of COVID-19; even before the pandemic, Trump had weakened our economy by forcing us into a losing trade war and enacting anti-worker policies that favor the wealthy and well-connected instead of good union jobs.

First, the trade war. Trump talked a big game about his ability to stand up to China, but he’s losing to them — badly. His tariffs have caused everyday families to lose money while raising the price of goods. They’ve led to huge job losses all across the country, including in Beaver County. In June, hundreds of area workers lost their jobs when ATI Midland shuttered its doors because of Trump’s tariffs.

That’s hundreds of families that lost their means to put food on the table. These are the working families that Trump promised to protect. Instead, he let them down with his failed leadership.

The pandemic has only made things worse. It never had to be this bad, but Trump’s failure to manage this crisis has caused great damage to our economy and our region. Area businesses have closed down, including two local factories that sent 550 of our community’s workers home without a job. This is happening all over the country. Since Trump took office, our nation’s economy has lost 4.7 million jobs. Trump is the worst jobs president in modern history.

He claims that the tax bill is one of his greatest achievements, but it was designed to line the pockets of his wealthy donors and CEOs — not the workers of Beaver County. The majority of Pennsylvania’s share of the benefits from his tax bill went to the top 5% of earners in our commonwealth. It even contained a portion that makes it easier for corporations to ship American jobs overseas. That’s a direct attack on our region’s union workers.

So here’s the choice we face in November: It’s either Trump, who has been bad for Beaver County workers, or Joe Biden, who has a specific plan to build our economy back better and create good union jobs.

Here’s what Joe Biden wants to do. He wants to rebuild American manufacturing with a historic Buy American plan. He’s going to invest $400 billion in American products, update the trade rules for Buy American, and make sure our tax dollars are invested in American products instead of foreign companies.

Joe’s not just focused on the big manufacturers either — he has a plan for small and medium-sized manufacturers in Pennsylvania too. He’s going to provide capital so they can invest and compete, pass a tax credit to help them renovate their recently closed facilities and help them compete for Buy American contracts. Meanwhile, Trump and Pence still don’t have any sort of plan for America’s workers or economy.

So instead of coming to town for self-congratulatory photo ops, let’s tell Mike Pence to go back to Washington and actually start working for Beaver County families. Joe Biden already has — and that’s why we’re going to send him to the White House in November.

Terri Mitko is chair of the Beaver County Democratic Party.

PennFuture ‘Green Stimulus’: Public Works Program Is Key to Rebound

Montgomery Locks and Dam set to be repaired and upgraded

By Chrissy Suttles
Beaver County Times

July 29, 2020 – PennFuture on Tuesday released a report outlining policies climate activists said would amount to $2.8 billion in statewide investments and as many as 389,000 new or preserved jobs.

Leading climate activists want Pennsylvania policymakers to consider a more sustainable approach to the Keystone State’s economic recovery.

Following months of record-high unemployment, PennFuture on Tuesday released a 50-page “green stimulus” report outlining policies the group said would amount to $2.8 billion in statewide investment and as many as 389,000 jobs — including more than 37,000 “shovel-ready” positions.

The road map, in turn, would leverage Pennsylvania’s clean energy and low-carbon industries to reduce pollution, promote a cleaner environment and avoid state budget cuts.

PennFuture’s platform builds on the former Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal public works program that employed millions during the Great Depression. A modern version of the program is popular among environmentalists and some economists.

The group said a Pennsylvania Conservation and Economic Recovery Corps would employ tens of thousands and improve parks, trails and other natural resources.

“Pennsylvania is in a unique spot to do this on it’s own,” said PennFuture executive vice president Matthew Stepp. “We don’t have to wait for federal policymakers.”

Workers would plug abandoned drilling wells, maintain parks, habitats and green stormwater infrastructure, and beautify Main Streets. The state would hire at least 15,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians in the first year for six-month terms, which could be extended based on need.

Gov. Tom Wolf could convene a statewide Green Recovery Summit of local and county officials to develop a sustainable economic recovery framework, creating a priority list of clean infrastructure projects.

Policies identified in the report tackle both short-term recovery and long-term economic strength, Stepp said.

“There are a lot of policies here that have existing bills with bipartisan support, which is good because there’s a foundation for the Legislature to build on,” he said. Continue reading PennFuture ‘Green Stimulus’: Public Works Program Is Key to Rebound

Pittsburgh Dems Oppose 1st Black Woman State Rep from Western PA for Re-Election

Both UE and SEIU Still Back Summer Lee

State Representative Summer Lee (photo courtesy of Pa House Democrats)

Payday Report

The decision of the county party to oppose Lee came a week after the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council voted to oppose Lee. However, UE and SEIU have both backed Lee.

Lee, a former organizer with the Fight For $15, has drawn fierce opposition from the region’s building trades for her opposition to fracking in her district and her support of the Green New Deal. Already, the region’s more conservative unions have pumped more than $67,000 into her opponent, pro-fracking North Braddock councilman Chris Roland.

On Sunday, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee met and voted overwhelmingly to endorse Lee’s opponent, Roland. Much like the Labor Council’s endorsement, Lee was the only incumbent not to endorsed by the labor-dominated Committee.

In addition to opposing Lee, the Committee voted to oppose progressive challenger Jessica Benham vying for a South Side based state representative’s seat. Instead, they choose to endorse Heather Kass, who openly bragged on social media that she supported President Trump.

For Lee, who defeated a 20-year incumbent by a margin of 68%-32% to become state representative in 2018, the snub was yet another sign of the false promises of the white-dominated political machines of Western Pennsylvania.

“The Democratic Party claims it wants more “diversity.” Claims it respects the Black ppl who form its base. Claims it supports women leadership. Claims it trusts the Black women who propel it to victory every time,” wrote Lee on Twitter. “The lie detector test determined…..that was a lie.”

Since the announcement that the local Democratic Party would oppose her re-election, Lee says she has received more than 200 individual donations and an outpouring of support. She says that dozens of people have signed up to volunteer, and the campaign’s grassroots capability is growing as a result of the backlash against the white-dominated Western PA political establishment.

“We know they never wanted us at their little table. We’re still eating, though!” wrote Lee on Facebook.

(Full Disclosure: My father, Gene Elk, is the elected Director of Organization of the United Electrical Workers (UE), which has endorsed Summer Lee’s campaign. Representative Lee and I both attended Woodland Hills High School together, while it was still under federal desegregation orders in the early 2000s). 

Fracking-Well Blast 60 Miles From Pittsburgh Leaked More Methane Than Some Countries Emit In a Year

By Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Paper

Dec 17, 2019 – In 2018, a natural-gas well exploded near Powhatan Point in Ohio, a small town that sits along the Ohio River, just 60 miles from Pittsburgh as the crow flies. The fracking well was owned and operated by a subsidiary of oil giant Exxon.

According to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this single explosion emitted a gargantuan amount of methane into the atmosphere. Over the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, more than 57,000 metric tons of methane was released, at a rate of about 120 metric tons of methane per hour.

This figure, from one well in less than three weeks, eclipsed the annual amount of methane that is emitted by the oil and gas industries of France, Norway, and the Netherlands combined. The Ohio blast is now the largest known methane leak on record in the U.S. and was twice as large as the previous largest leak that occurred at an oil and gas storage facility in California in 2015.

@NaomiAKlein: Terrifying story about a blowout in Ohio that released “as much methane as the entire oil and gas industries of some nations release in a year.” EDF – which has aggressively pushed NatGas as a “bridge fuel” – explains that this could be happening every day https://nyti.ms/34tdR7f

The findings mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Studies vary, but methane is generally considered to be between 25-84 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The study determined the scope of the leak using satellite technology, and the authors praised the mapping system to reveal just how damaging the incident was in terms of how much greenhouse gas was emitted. Continue reading Fracking-Well Blast 60 Miles From Pittsburgh Leaked More Methane Than Some Countries Emit In a Year