Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Regional ICE office ignoring supporters of Pittsburgh undocumented immigrant, advocates to take case national

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 3:35 PM

Martín Esquivel-Hernandez's son, Alex, at a immigrant-rights rally in Beechview in September 2016. - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Martín Esquivel-Hernandez's son, Alex, at a immigrant-rights rally in Beechview in September 2016.
A full voicemail box, more than 1,400 signatures, and dozens of letters all in support of releasing Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh resident and undocumented Mexican immigrant currently facing deportation. That is what has been sent to the Detroit regional office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer Rebecca Adducci.

And, according to Guillermo Perez of the Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, there has been no response from Adducci. Perez says LCLAA has not only informed ICE of Esquivel-Hernandez’s support and his personal story (he had no local criminal record other than two minor traffic violations, has three young children including a U.S. citizen son, and has been an advocate for Latino and immigrant rights during his five years in Pittsburgh), but the agency has not responded to any of LCLAA’s outreach.

But Detroit ICE field office sent a comment to City Paper last week, indicating they have every intention of deporting Esquivel-Hernandez. “Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez has two misdemeanor convictions, one from 2012 and 2017, and federal authorities removed him to Mexico four times since 2011, with the latest removal taking place in 2012,” wrote ICE officials in an email to CP on Jan. 9. “As a result, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’s case as a priority for immigration enforcement.”

Perez still doesn’t understand why ICE hasn't been in communication with him and his group. “We don't feel they have given any serious consideration to our requests,” says Perez.

To add insult to injury for LCLAA, ICE issued its comment to CP while LCLAA was filing an official stay request for Esquivel-Hernandez, which included LCLAA having to purchase a $1,400 one-way plane ticket from Mexico, as required by the stay application.

Esquivel-Hernandez has garnered high-profile support throughout the campaign to keep him in the country, including from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) and Bishop David Zubik, of the Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Diocese. Now LCLAA and the advocates at the Thomas Merton Center are going over the Detroit ICE office's head and making their case to national ICE Director Sarah Saldaña.

“There is still time for ICE to do the right thing for the Esquivel family and Pittsburgh’s Latino community,” said Perez in a press release. “We need Director Saldaña to intervene and ensure ICE follows their own policy to reunite [Esquivel-Hernandez with his family.”

ICE officials responded to a request for comment from CP and said, “We stand by our earlier statement and have nothing further to add at this time.” Esquivel-Hernandez is still being held in the Seneca County Jail in northwest Ohio, according to the online ICE detainer database.

“[Esquivel-Hernandez’s] deportation will serve no important federal interest, and instead causes injury to his family and the larger Pittsburgh community,” said Christina Castillo of the Thomas Merton Center in a press release.

Additionally, it appears ICE and the federal government is spending top dollar to deport immigrants like Esquivel-Hernandez. A Daily Mail Online investigation showed that it costs ICE an average of $1,962 to remove an undocumented immigrant via ground and air transportation. In 2015, ICE spent $116 million to transport and remove immigrants from the U.S., sometimes using private jets or commercial airlines just to remove a single immigrant. ICE is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Esquivel-Hernandez will allegedly be taken via a plane to Mexico, according to Perez.

Regardless, Perez says this is LCLAA’s and Esquivel-Hernandez’s advocates final push to keep him in the country, given the uncertain nature of President-elect Donald Trump's administration which begins Jan. 21. Perez believes there is hope for Esquivel-Hernandez because nothing in his record makes him a “priority for enforcement” under the DHS guidelines for deportation that were issued in 2014.

“Given the new administration is going to begin on Friday,” says Perez, “this is our last best chance to get someone in a leadership office to intervene. … Our hope is with this final push, that somebody will look at this case, and say that [Esquivel-Hernandez] was detained under the [President Barack] Obama administration and they should comply with that administration's policy.”

For those interested in voicing their support for Esquivel-Hernandez, Perez says they can visit the "Bring Martin Home" website and contribute an online letter.

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Bummed about the looming Trump inauguration? Check out these Pittsburgh events.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 11:31 AM

Anti-Trump protest in Point State Park in November 2016 - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Anti-Trump protest in Point State Park in November 2016
On Fri., Jan. 20, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States and people are understandably losing their shit.

But if you're looking for an outlet — a local cause or organization to support, a group of like-minded individuals to befriend or even just to channel your rage through marching and chanting — we've got you covered. Here's a list of events happening in Pittsburgh this week to help you get involved and stay involved over the next four years.

Sign Making Party- Women's March
Workshop PGH DIY School
5122 Penn Ave., Garfield
Jan. 18, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Whether you're going to the march in Washington D.C. or staying in Pittsburgh to attend one of the women's marches here, this event invites you to come make signs in preparation.

The event page on Facebook invites people to "[g]et creative with energizing folks as you prep to make your voices heard. We will have everything needed for the signs such as supplies, paper, cardboard and paint. We'll also have [a] lathe and duct tape to make some soft wood covered posts. We'll pick up all the supplies if y'all donate a few bucks at the party. We welcome any art supplies, duct tape or anything fun!"

The People's Inauguration
Freedom Corner (Crawford Street and Centre Avenue), Hill District
Jan. 20, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

This event is aimed at combating racism, xenophobia, misogyny and corporate greed. The organizers are calling for economic, racial, reproductive, climate, education, disability, immigrant, LGBT justice and rights. They are demanding equality affordable healthcare and that elected leaders be held accountable.

A statement on the event's Facebook page reads:

"We believe that diversity makes us stronger.
We come from all corners of the world, and from all corners of our country.
We are fierce. We are strong. We are bold.
We are powerful because we are united.
We vow to stand against hatred in any form.
We vow to defend each other and fight for what we deserve.
Join us in resistance and solidarity.
Join us in the streets.
Join us in town halls, state capitols, and community meetings.
Join us to build a more equitable, sustainable and caring world for our children and generations to come."

Inauguration Day Alternative
August Wilson Center for African American Culture
980 Liberty Ave., Downtown
Jan. 20, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The Friends of the August Wilson Center are hosting an event to celebrate achievements during the Obama administration and the impact the president had on the rights for minorities, women, and the LGBT and immigrant communities.

There will also be an open mic for those who want to share how they plan to fight back against the incoming Trump administration and Republican legislators.

According to the event's Facebook page: "It is expected that this event will create an opportunity for people to come together on Inauguration Day, at the August Wilson Center, with a healing and constructive event, as an alternative to sitting at home alone, lamenting the demoralizing defeat of the progressive agenda by the conservative shift to the extreme right, which elected Donald J. Trump, President of the United States."

Resist Trump

Point State Park, Downtown
Jan. 20, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Socialist Alternative Pittsburgh and other local activists will be hosting a protest against Trump and racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and what they see as "the rising threat of fascism in the United States."

The group is calling for the formation of a new party for those not in the top 1 percent of wealthiest people. Additionally, they are calling for a national student walkout on Jan. 20.

The group is calling on others to join them "to help build a fighting movement to defeat the right and win major reforms for working people as we struggle toward a future without racism, without sexism, without poverty or hunger; a socialist future."

19th Annual Summit Against Racism
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
616 N Highland Ave., East Liberty
Jan. 20, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This two-decades old event was born out of the 1995 death of Jonny Gammage who was killed by police officers during a traffic stop. This year's theme will be "Polarization to Cooperation: How Do We Get There?" and according to the event's Facebook page, it will provide, "a forum for discussion about the current state of race relations in the U.S., what we have learned so far, and pathways to deeper understanding, healing and social action."

Women's March on Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh City-County Building
414 Grant St., Downtown
Jan. 21, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

While this event was originally planned as a sister march to the national mach in Washington D.C., there is currently uncertainty about whether the Pittsburgh march is recognized by the national organization.

A statement on the event's Facebook page reads:

"[W]e will unite in Pittsburgh to march in solidarity with communities most affected by the hate, intolerance and acts of violence being perpetuated throughout the nation - -among many are communities of women, immigrants, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQIA and people with disabilities. We stand for religious freedom, human rights, climate Justice, racial Justice, economic Justice, and reproductive Justice. Together, we will send a message to our leaders, and the world, the United States of America stands for the values of human decency, equal rights, and freedom from discrimination."

Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March
Penn Plaza Apartments
5704 Penn Ave., East Liberty
Jan. 21, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This event has been advertised as "a hollaback march to the one in D.C." and is being held in East Liberty so participants will have the opportunity to attend the Summit Against Racism. The organizers invite the public to join them "in intersectional solidarity and collective resistance, this is a safe space and we're currently working out all the ways to be welcoming to ALL, including people of color, trans women, gender nonconforming people, those with disabilities, young children and the elders alike."

Reproductive Rights Rally
Cathedral of Learning, Oakland
Jan. 22, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

This day marks the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which protects abortion rights in America, and according to the event's Facebook page, "Although we have had 44 years of legalized abortion, we still have a long way to go to ensure safe and accessible reproductive healthcare."  This event hosted by Pitt's American Association of University Women will culminate with a discussion about reproductive rights and justice in room CL 324.

Stay tuned for coverage of these events online over the next few days and in print on Wednesday Jan. 25 where we'll delve into the controversy that has transpired between the two women's marches being organized on Jan. 21.

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A conversation with this week’s Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustrator Rachel Arnold Sager

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 9:00 AM

This week’s Winter Guide cover is by Pittsburgh artist Rachel Arnold Sager. Local folks will recognize her playful illustration of Dippy the Dinosaur, a life-size statue on permanent display outside of the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland. That giant scarf he’s wearing on our cover? In real life, he’s often sporting a knitted scarf during Pittsburgh’s cold season too!

Rachel is a self-proclaimed “dinosaur nut” whose artwork often depicts things close to her heart. Her #girlslikethesetoo project re-imagined objects typically thought of as things only boys dig — like trucks and robots and bugs — and transformed them as gender-neutral illustrations: A firetruck is pink; and a worm, a whimsical shade of blue, has a smiley face.

In addition to illustration, Rachel also works as a graphic designer at Second Block Studio, a business she owns with her husband. They live in the Westwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh with a toddler and a geriatric dog. We caught up with Rachel over email after she was finished with this week’s illustration.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve always enjoyed art and storytelling of any kind — I was a ballerina for several years and took art classes growing up. When I graduated from high school, I realized I might be able to incorporate art into how I made my living. That blew my mind, and I had to give it a shot.

Where did you learn your skills?

Working at an ad agency really sharpened my general design and communication skills. Illustration was something I did after-hours and on the weekends, and I’ve just kept with it. Practice, reading, taking classes and becoming more involved with the creative community in Pittsburgh has really allowed me to embrace this as part of what I can offer as a visual artist.

Do you have any favorite Pittsburgh artists?
The work of strawberryluna, Kim Fox and Dane Horvath are some of my local favorites, and it seems like I discover someone new all the time! There are a lot of talented artists here.

Your recent #girlslikethesetoo project is really rad. I know my 2-year-old niece who is currently obsessed with trucks would love that pink firetruck illustration. Did having a young daughter influence that project?

My daughter had a big influence on that project for sure! She likes hearts and ponies and the color pink ... but she also loves dinosaurs, construction equipment and robots.

Illustrating a bunch of things that are usually considered “boy” interests in a more gender-neutral way was really important to me. I’d like to think that any child can appreciate a sweet monster truck, whether it’s pink or purple or green. Let’s just let kids be kids without applying our own stereotypes as they play.

You’ve also done a bunch of other daily illustration projects. In December, you posted a holiday “ornament a day” drawing on your Instagram account. Before that, you completed a “100 days” project, where you created an original piece of 5-by-5-inch art every day for 100 days. Do you ever get burnt out, or do those projects help keep you creative?

Daily projects are definitely a challenge, but I get so much out of them. The holiday ornaments were a way to launch my new art-only Instagram account, as well as show gratitude to people that enjoy my work. My 100 Days project was all about experimenting with different concepts and media. Since most of my work is digital, committing to 100 days of handwork was really tough! But I learned so much from it, and I made some work I never would have created otherwise. And strangely enough, by the end, I felt like I ran out of time; I still didn’t get to do everything that I wanted!

I can’t recommend a daily project highly enough — whether it’s sketching or writing or music ... for a week or a month or 100 days. If you can commit and really stick it out, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of accomplishing. It’s why I keep doing them.

Soon after you pitched illustrating Dippy on this week's cover, I saw you wrote online that your daughter “legit just cried for the woolly mammoth model after I told her they went extinct.” I'm guessing that means you’ve passed on your love for the Carnegie Museums as well?
Oh, yes! You can never tell what kids are going to like, but my enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off. We say “hi” to Dippy every time we are in Oakland! Pittsburgh is so lucky to have such world-class museums, and I continue to discover new things all the time. I’ve been doing research on the Allegheny Observatory for another illustration project, and now I can’t wait to get in there for a tour when they open up to visitors in the spring. And I’m sure I’ll discover some other amazing facility or resource next week.

In addition to illustrating, you also work with your husband at Second Block Studio doing graphic design. What’s it like working with your husband? Are there any challenges to working at home?
Working with my husband is pretty great. He’s my anchor, creative soundboard and co-conspirator. We are always honest with each other, and that’s vital to any relationship —- business or personal. After working so hard for someone else, I try not to sweat the challenges that come up because I’m working from home. I’m in control of my workload and clients, and that feels amazing. Working out of a home studio also allows me to spend quite a bit of time with my 3-year-old daughter, which I’m really grateful for.

What’s your dream assignment?
I have a soft spot for print, so I’d like to do a magazine cover with some additional illustrations inside. I’d also love to do a children’s book one day.

Since this week is our annual Winter Guide issue, what’s your favorite winter activity to do in Pittsburgh?
Hiking in the snow and sledding!

Are you working on anything currently we can keep on the lookout for?

The Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators will have an art exhibit at the Heinz History Center this summer called “Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories,” and I'm really excited about my contribution to that show. I’m planning a daily alphabet series on my Instagram, and I’ll also be hitting up some craft shows this year with prints — if you see me, please stop by and say “hi.” And of course you can always find my work on Etsy.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Pittsburgh’s National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights draws a rally for local undocumented immigrant

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 5:39 PM

  • Image courtesy of United We Dream
On Jan. 14, immigrant-rights groups will be gathering in their respective cities across the country to protest President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign promises to carry out mass deportations. Demonstrations are planned in at least 20 states as part of national immigrant-rights group United We Dream’s #HereToStay campaign.

In Pittsburgh, ralliers will gather in Beechview to protest not only Trump’s campaign promises and the practices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, but also the in-process deportation of one of the city’s undocumented immigrants, Martín Esquivel-Hernandez.

“Tomorrow people are going to stand with immigrants and refugees and stand with Martín Esquivel-Hernandez,” says Christina Castillo of the advocacy group the Thomas Merton Center. “Because he was a community leader and father, and this is the time to tell ICE that Martin belongs here in Pittsburgh.”

Esquivel-Hernandez is currently in ICE custody in the Seneca County Jail in Northwest Ohio. ICE officials told City Paper last week that they intend to deport him, even though he accepted a plea deal to lower his felony re-entry charge to a misdemeanor, had no prior criminal record other than minor traffic violations, has a young family (including a U.S. citizen son), and has been an advocate for Pittsburgh’s Latino community.

Castillo says she expects more than 100 protesters to join in and they will recreate the last immigrant-rights march that Esquivel-Hernandez took before he was detained by ICE in May 2016. They will stop the march the last place he was photographed, because “we can't continue this march without Martín,” says Castillo. “We will only march a short distance in the hopes that he will be able to rejoin us the next time.”

For those interested in attending, the rally will start at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 at St. Catherine of Siena Church at 1810 Belasco Ave. in Beechview. Castillo says for those unable to attend, they can do their part by calling the office Detroit ICE Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci at 313-568-6036 and request she practice “prosecutorial discretion” and release Esquivel-Hernandez.

Esquivel-Hernandez’s wife, Alma Brigido, will be speaking in Detroit on Jan. 14 in hopes to be reunited with her husband. ICE has hinted that Esquivel-Hernandez could be deported sometime next week.

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Pittsburgh police chief stands by officer in altercation with Steelers coach Joey Porter; DA wthdraws most charges

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 5:35 PM

  • Photo by Rebecca Addison
Earlier today, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police acting chief Scott Schubert reaffirmed his support for officer Paul Abel who was involved in an altercation with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter over the weekend.

"I fully support the officer and the action he took during this incident," Schubert said. "I support what he went through and the arrest that he made, just as I would support any officers given similar circumstance to what occurred that night."

Following an altercation where police say Porter was psychically combative with a South Side bouncer and officer Abel, the Steelers coach was initially charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, resisting arrest, defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.

But yesterday the Allegheny County District Attorney's office announced they were withdrawing the assault charges against Porter. In a statement, the district attorney's office said:
  • City Paper File Photo
"Today our office was able to view surveillance video showing multiple angles of the events that led to the arrest of Steelers coach Joey Porter. Following that review, it is the position of the office that the only charges supported by the video are summary disorderly conduct and summary public drunkenness. Our office will proceed on those charges, and barring any additional evidence that is brought forward, we will withdraw the other charges at the appropriate time."

In a statement on Tuesday, Schubert disagreed with the district attorney's office when he said he "concluded that the officer's account of the incident is accurate" based on his review of the video footage available. Before the press today, Schubert would not comment on the the disparity between his and the DA's statements and said he believes Abel filed the appropriate charges.

"I have a lot of respect for District Attorney Zappala," Schubert said. "I'm not going to go in the media and do anything that counters that relationship."

City Paper also questioned why media outlets listed Porter's previous troubles without also mentioning Abel's. Today, the Steelers announced Porter's suspension was lifted and the linebackers' coach will be on the sidelines for the Steelers playoff game Sunday night in Kansas City.

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Pittsburgh fans cheer on Steelers at Friday's playoff rally downtown; game time moved to 8:20 p.m. Sunday evening

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 4:17 PM

  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
Steelers fans filled the courtyard of the County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh earlier today, wearing black and gold and chanting the familiar anthem, "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!"

The large crowd had gathered for a playoff rally to cheer on the team after last weekend's win against the Miami Dolphins moved them one game closer to the Super Bowl.

The rally included Terrible Towel and Steelers hats giveaways, an appearance by mascot Steely McBeam, The Pittsburgh Steeline drumline, and former Steelers Craig Wolfley, Chris Hoke and Tunch Ilkin.

The Steelers face the Kansas City Chiefs at 8:20 p.m. on Sunday. The game was moved back due to inclement weather expected in the Kansas City area.
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photos by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd
  • Photo by Kevin Shepherd

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Grand opening tomorrow for Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum Books

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 1:51 PM

The long-awaited North Side bookstore specializing in works in translation and world literature opens tomorrow with attractions including an all-ages children’s story hour at 11:30 a.m.

City of Asylum bookstore
  • City of Asylum bookstore
The store is run by Lesley Rains, who previously owned East End Book Exchange. Rains says the store has 8,000 books (some used, but mostly new). The stock includes poetry, classic literature, children’s books, graphic novels, and titles from such prestigious small presses as New York Review of Books, Copper Canyon, and Dalkey Archive Press.

Stopping by earlier today, I also spotted contemporary fiction and nonfiction, and works by such local talents as poet Terrance Hayes.

The store is part of City of Asylum’s new headquarters, Alphabet City, located on West North Avenue, two blocks from Allegheny General Hospital. The building's big, day-lit first floor also includes a performance space and a soon-to-open restaurant.

City of Asylum, founded in 2004, is a nonprofit that shelters and supports writers persecuted in their home countries. It also offers a year-round slate of readings, concerts and other cultural events.

The book store's grand opening tomorrow will include discounts, giveaways, coffee and snacks, and more.

It will not, however, be the first official public event at Alphabet City. In keeping with City of Asylum's international mission, that milestone occurred just a couple hours ago, with the swearing-in of 18 new American citizens from 13 countries by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Among the new citizens was Silvia Duarte, the native of Guatemala who is City of Asylum’s assistant director and also managing editor of its online publication Sampsonia Way.

City of Asylum books will be open tomorrow 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Starting next week, says Rains, it will keep regular hours of 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon-4 p.m. Sundays.

Alphabet City is located at 40 W. North Ave.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pa. Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro pledges to address fraud against consumers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 5:01 PM

  • Photo courtesy of campaign
Approximately one year ago, Margaret Pietz, of Pittsburgh, received a call from a man claiming her grandson had been in a car accident. Allegedly, the boy had been driving a friend's car, and the man on the phone told Pietz he could make the problem go away if she sent money for repairs.

Many people have heard about scams like these. Whether it's a person calling asking for money to help with a family emergency, or someone claiming to be an official agency like the Internal Revenue Service, the scam artists are looking for easy targets who won't ask questions. But Pietz wasn't one of them.

"The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was a scam," Pietz said at a forum earlier this week.

The Jan. 10 forum, held in Squirrel Hill, was hosted by Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro to discuss consumer protection and frauds against consumers. There, Shapiro pledged to fight against instances of fraud like Pietz experienced.

"There are scammers out there," Shapiro said. "We need the tools to go after them."

Other types of fraud and consumer-protection issues discussed included payday lending, fraudulent contractors, rent-to-own properties, and entities that take advantage of veterans. Ben Stahl, executive director of Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, says veterans often fall victim to for-profit education institutions and dishonest VA home-loan lenders.

"You'll see veterans see their GI bill completely drained," Stahl said.

"That's disgusting," Shapiro replied.

Another big topic at the forum was the conflict between Highmark and UPMC. The two health-care providers have been at odds for several years, and Lois Campbell, an organizer with the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, says senior citizens using Highmark insurance worry about being being barred from UPMC facilities. A consent decree that allows for access across the networks ends January 2019, a date Shapiro said he is well aware of.

"Anytime I'm in Pittsburgh, the issue of Highmark and UPMC comes up," Shapiro said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Shapiro announced for the first time that he would be creating an office of public engagement to provide consumers with better service from the attorney general's office.

"We can no longer be an attorney general's office that just looks inwards, just sitting in our office," Shapiro says.

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Community-led business incubator to launch in Wilkinsburg

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 2:51 PM

  • Image courtesy of New Sun Rising
While to outsiders Wilkinsburg is mostly known for its problems with crime (most notably the mass shooting that happened there last spring), those who live in the community see many of the positive things happening in the borough. New shops have moved into town over the last couple years and the borough is planning a big restoration of their old train station.

And to capitalize on this momentum, New Sun Rising, an organization specializing in community-based business incubators, is opening a 12-month long business incubator called Launch Wilkinsburg in partnership with the Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce. New Sun Rising has had previous success with this model in communities like Pittsburgh’s North Side, as well as Millvale.

“Together, our work will activate the self-identified priorities of community members,” said New Sun Rising director Scott Wolovich in a press release, “while inspiring creativity, fostering innovation, and strengthening networks within Wilkinsburg.”

Launch Wilkinsburg will provide people looking to start businesses in the borough access to experts and consultants, connections to partners, potential funding opportunities all in a physical space. The incubator, to be located at 900 Wood Street,  will also include teams of residents who will guide businesses on how to best impact the community, with an emphasis on improving community engagement, vacant lots, Main Street development, the arts and culture.

“I believe now is a great time to invest in Wilkinsburg,” said Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce president Yvonne James in a press release. “As we watch our community revitalize it is exciting to see a new generation of folks ‘reinventing’ our business district while still preserving our beautiful architecture and realize small walkable business districts are the new norm and are anxious to be a part of this great affordable change.”

Interested parties are encouraged to apply to the year-long program before the deadline on Jan. 18 at 11:59 p.m. To submit an application and learn more about the program, please visit the Launch Wilkinsburg website.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

“Tomorrow’s Parties” launches "Strange Times" series at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 11:44 AM

What is the future?

Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon in "Tomorrow's Parties"
  • Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon in "Tomorrow's Parties"
After seeing this stage work, performed last night by England’s acclaimed Forced Entertainment, I have the sense that the future is an empty box we can’t help opening, again and again.

The show consists of just two performers, Richard Lowdon and Claire Marshall, standing in one spot and for 80 minutes delivering visions of what life on Earth will be like some years from now.

The prognostications often contradict each other: Their predictions of Earth’s population, for instance, range from zero humans to so many people that life resembles a perpetual subway ride. And over the course of the evening, everything is addressed from what and how we’ll eat, and whether we’ll need to work, to alien invasions and attempts to colonize space (and the ocean floor). Complete surveillance or utter lawlessness? Suicide pills or climate-controlled paradise?

It’s a brilliantly simple concept (OK, deceptively simple, too), cogently executed with near deadpan sincerity, and often very funny. It was also a great way to kick off the Carnegie Museums’ series Strange Times: Earth in the Age of the Human. The four-month, 10-event program features performances, talks and presentations that ask, as the Carnegie puts it, “Will we survive ourselves?”

I’m still mulling over Tomorrow’s Parties (with its title's wry Velvet Underground reference), but part of what I found fascinating was the way it played with how any scenario of the future someone wants to spin always seems at least vaguely plausible, if only because it invariably feels like an extrapolation of some half-remembered news item about gene-splicing, pandemic disease, mass extinction or space travel.

“The future,” in other words, is this repository for all our hopes and fears, and Lowdon and Marshall (working from a concept co-devised by them with Forced Entertainment's other four troupe members) bring out the myriad of ways it teases, taunts and scares us.

The stage is a pair of stacked wooden pallets, dressed with a simple and sad string of fairground lights. There’s no music or other effects, and Lowdon and Marshall are costumed like your suburban in-laws stopping by after church. Over the course of the evening, subtle flashes of interplay emerge between the two actors, suggesting how one’s personality influences how one sees the future.

But what’s perhaps most plangent about Tomorrow’s Parties is that there’s never any sense that the future is something we can make, or even change: It’s just something, for good or ill, that will happen, and we’ll have to live in, or with.

Forced Entertainment plays the Hazlett again tonight, but with a different show. Real Magic, the troupe’s newest, looks to be a rather more antic work, a largely comedic piece about “optimism, individual agency and the desire for change.”

Real Magic starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12-15 and are available here.

The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

Strange Times continues on Feb. 16 with Big Farms Make Big Flu, an evening with visiting author Rob Wallace and Carnegie Mellon University art professor Richard Pell (founder of the Pittsburgh-based Center for PostNatural History), who’ll discuss the drawbacks of globalized food systems.

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