Category Archives: elections

PA Minimum Wage No Longer Defensible

In this March 8, 2016, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf meets with diner patrons before discussing his executive order to increase the minimum wage for state government employees and workers on jobs contracted by the state, during a news conference at the Trolley Car Cafe in Philadelphia. (Photo11: Matt Rourke / AP)

By York Dispatch Editorial Board

Feb. 22, 2019 – Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That’s $58 a day; $290 a week; $1,160 a month. Before taxes.

It hasn’t gone up a penny in 10 years. And it was only increased in 2009 because the federal government mandated it. Neither federal nor state lawmakers have added to this pittance since. They should be embarrassed.

In fact, $7.25 an hour was insufficient 10 years ago; it is insulting today.

Gov. Tom Wolf would like to rectify this shameful situation. Republican lawmakers who control the General Assembly, unfortunately, are evidently shameless.

The governor is again proposing an increase in the state’s minimum wage — something he has done each year since he took office in 2015. His proposed $34.1 billion spending plan would hike the lowest legal wage to $12 an hour this year, then nudge it by annual 50-cent-an-hour increments to $15 an hour by 2025.

Unfortunately, more livable wages are something many GOP lawmakers believe Pennsylvania can live without.

As Wolf’s budget plan began wending its way through Harrisburg’s legislative gauntlet, his minimum wage proposal attracted many a critical GOP eye. Continue reading PA Minimum Wage No Longer Defensible


Ending the Shutdown: The Deeper Meaning for Us


By Randy Shannon

17th District PDA

Our United States passed a critical turning point yesterday. Let’s analyze this historic event and try to make our future path easier. I want to focus on two key elements in this defeat of the far-right Trump-Pence-McConnell Administration.

First is the Resistance Congress led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Resistance Congress became the conscience and the voice of the great majority of the American people opposed to the Wall and the Shutdown.

The 116th Congress now has an influential group of young people and women elected by the Resistance. In negotiations over Committee assignments, they pushed back against the corporate Democrats. This new class of Congress strengthened the backbone of the leadership. Rep. Pelosi was able to tell Trump: Hell No You Aren’t Getting a Wall! Congress had her back, and Democratic Representatives were confident the voters had their back. (As an aside, my Rep. Conor Lamb’s vote against Pelosi shows he isn’t embedded with the resistance.)

Second is the Air Traffic Controllers at LaGuardia. They exercised the economic power that made Rep. Pelosi’s Resistance insurmountable. Once workers understood that the Democrats were not going to cave to Trump’s extortion, they knew they had to act.

Here’s why they are so powerful. Capitalism is based on the economic circuit of investment-production-consumption. Until the commodity is purchased and consumed there is no profit. The critical link between production and consumption is transporting the product to the market. In this era of globalized production and on-time supply chain, transport of goods is very critical.

I’m using this hourglass to illustrate this relationship. The top well is global commodity production. The bottom well is global commodity consumption. Sitting at the choke point are air traffic controllers and longshore workers at the docks. No other workers have this kind of leverage over the circulation of capital.

The value of air cargo today is over $6 trillion and 35% of world trade. The oligarchs don’t give a hoot about lines at the airport or starving TSA workers, or DC government workers using food banks selling their homes, or being evicted. But a handful of Air Traffic Controllers at one airport can shut down the whole system of capital circulation.

These two forces – a political voice of reason backed by organized workers can stop the far-right assault on our democracy. The Resistance is growing in numbers and solidarity and poised to take back the Government in 2020.

On the Ground with the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign

The Campaign continues to organize. The message: ‘it will be the poor and dispossessed of this nation that will save us from self destruction.’

Nov 28, 2018 – On Tuesday every other month Yvonne Newkirk rises at 3:30 A.M. to catch a 5 A.M. Philadelphia bus that takes her three-and-a-half hours northwest to a medium/maximum security prison in Muncy, Pennsylvania, where she visits her daughter, imprisoned for life without parole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading On the Ground with the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign

Insight Reviews: Millennials vs a Shredded Safety Net

Kids today are getting the short end of the stick

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

By Shaun Scott
Zero Books ($25.95).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Thomas is a Beaver County freelance writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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

Debates Under the Dem Tent: An Interview With Nina Turner

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

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

Jacobin Magazine

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

Nina Turner

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Good Time to Review Our Tactics & History with ‘Blue Dogs’

Can the Democratic Party Survive the Blue Dogs?

Today it’s Lamb vs. Rothfus

A Case Study of PA 4th CD Representative Jason Altmire

Nov. 26, 2010

By Randy Shannon,

Treasurer, PA 4th CD Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

Depressing the Vote – Depressing Democracy“The Money & Media Election Complex,” an article in The Nation magazine, discusses the unprecedented $4 billion spent on the 2010 election and its influence on voter turnout.

To those bankrolling the system, voter cynicism and apathy are welcome…Their interests are best served by narrowing the range of debate and participation, since that makes it easier to buy the government.

This article intends to show that the analysis quoted above is valid based on the role of Jason Altmire’s campaign in the PA 4th Congressional District.

Jason Altmire’s 2010 campaign organization was well funded by corporate donors. His message depressed voter turnout and helped defeat the Democratic ticket. Altmire’s recent 2010 victory prepared the ground for a stronger Republican challenge to the Democratic Party in 2011.
If the Democratic Party is to carry forward the legacy of the New Deal, it must work for unity around a message that aggressively fights for peace and prosperity for the working families of our district and against the Republican agenda of war and austerity.

Representative Jason Altmire Wins Close Race

Congressman Jason Altmire, a member of the Blue Dog caucus and the New Democrat coalition was returned to the new 112th Congress to represent the PA 4th Congressional District. He defeated Keith Rothfus, a Republican attorney supported by local tea party activists.
At the Beaver County Democratic Party banquet on Oct. 21st, Altmire stated that he was leading Rothfus by 16%. In a pre-election column in the Beaver County Times, J.D. Prose stated: “Anyway, various polls have shown Altmire up by 11 or 12 percent, but we expect Altmire to win 57 to 43 percent.”

As Election Day approached, Rothfus was gaining in the polls as Republicans sensed a possibility of victory. By Nov. 2nd his lead had almost evaporated and Altmire won 50.8 to 49.2 percent, a thin margin of4,025 votes.
Altmire trailed Rothfus in Allegheny, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties by 9,189 votes. But Altmire led by 13,214 votes in Beaver, Lawrence, and Mercer Counties.

Jason Altmire’s Stance: Democrat In Name Only (DINO)

In his Nov. 6th column “Are Democrats an endangered species in Beaver County?”, J.D. Prose stated: “Independent research…has shown that Republicans are turning the county into a political graveyard for Democrats up and down the ballot … except if you’re U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire.”

In an article in the Pittsburgh online examiner, Rachel Kowalick, a conservative commentator, highlighted Altmire’s political stance in this election.

Altmire’s campaign strategy at this point seems to be running like hell from the Democratic leadership and agenda, while reminding voters that he’s popular as well as moderate. His first campaign ad is all about his willingness to “stand up to the President… and Nancy Pelosi.” And in today’s Trib-Review, he’s quoted as saying, “I spent the summer in my district…and everywhere I went, people told me they were happy that I took a stance against Pelosi and Obama’s policies.”

Kowalick summarized Altmire’s campaign “as a Democrat who’s against the Democrats.”

Columnist J.D. Prose in the October 10, 2010 Beaver County Times wrote:

Over the last several weeks, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire has been dubbed a poster boy for Democratic incumbents running against the Democratic Party. Here are a few examples:

“Democrats running scared” trumpeted in the headline for a story in which Altmire was Exhibit No. 4.
“Mr. Altmire is running away with it, by running away from the president,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman.
Alison Harding wrote on CNN’s Political Ticker blog that “… many Democratic candidates facing tough races are distancing themselves from the national party …” and she then cited Altmire’s ad that “touts his independence from President Obama.”

Even that other Times — the one in New York City — pointed to Altmire’s ad bragging about his vote against health-care reform for a story on Democratic woes.

As a leading politician in the 4th Congressional District, it is Jason Altmire’s political stance that is playing a major role in “turning the county into a political graveyard for Democrats up and down the ballot.” Continue reading It’s a Good Time to Review Our Tactics & History with ‘Blue Dogs’