Senator Pat Toomey's Station Square office will be the site of a demonstration at noon today.The folks at One Pittsburgh intend to tell Toomey "There's work that needs to be done and we're ready to work." According to a release, the group intendes to present "photographs of places in Pittsburgh where there's work to be done -- and to remind Toomey that he was elected to create jobs, not create more giveaways for the super rich."
Whatever the ensuing events, it probably won't be as amusing as the footage found at this article at The Onion.
Under the headline "Congress Takes Group of Schoolchildren Hostage," the satirical site plays up "hostage taking" efforts perpetrated by Toomey and his GOP colleagues:
Brandishing shotguns and semiautomatic pistols, members of the 112th U.S. Congress took a class of visiting schoolchildren hostage today, barricading themselves inside the Capitol rotunda and demanding $12 trillion dollars in cash.
The targets of the satire are bipartisan -- Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is depicted wearing "a pair of black pantyhose over his head and ... firing a Beretta 9 mm handgun into the air, shouting,'Everybody down! Everybody get the fuck down!"
But it's Republican Toomey, a member of the bipartisan "supercongress" charged with deficit reduction, who appears in trumped-up footage of the standoff.
"Nobody move or you're all gonna die!" a voice -- jestingly ascribed to Toomey -- tells a huddled group of children.
"I want my mommy!" one distraught child says.
It's all in good fun ... or is it? Capitol Police have publically denied "false information" about goings-on at the Capitol, but claim to be "investigating" reports. And House leader Eric Cantor's PR flack has taken umbrage with the article on Twitter.
No word from Toomey's twitter feed thus far.
Independent bookseller and local-business advocate Andrew Laties believes we should pay to live in the kind of world we want. In Rebel Bookseller, he draws on experiences from his 30 years in the industry to illustrate the need for consumer activism and awareness.
Laties, who speaks here on Monday, dismisses the excuse of generous savings from chain stores as an alternative to investing in one's community.
"If you can pay $10 to see a movie for two hours, you can go to your local bookstore and consider the hour you spend browsing as part of the cost," says Laties, by phone, from New York. "Let's stop judging purchases based on how much money we save, and instead, let's judge based on the quality of life that is represented by these local businesses."
Laties currently manages the Eric Carle Museum Bookshop in Amherst, Mass. He insists that the "sadomasochistic" relationship between chain booksellers and publishers creates higher prices for consumers, based primarily on the amount of product these stores demand to keep their shelves full.
The result: Chains place exorbitant orders, on credit, that yield massive returns of unsold books. That costs the publishers revenue, a loss they pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Now, big-box stores are declining; witness the recent collapse of Borders. That makes Laties optimistic about the possibility for independent bookstores to rebound -- even in the shadow of online mega-retailers, like Amazon.
"If it's true that Borders has closed down, Walden[books] and Dalton are out of business, and all that's left standing is Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, then it should be easier for publishers to stand up to companies and make room for the indie seller again," he says.
If big boxes aren't overordering stock, Laties says, publishers should be able to reduce their prices. If that happens, the discounts offered by online retailers won't warrant a week's wait to read a book. He suggests consumers make small efforts to put their money back into the community, however unaffordable it may seem.
"If, for the time being, you want to be a freeloader and buy what's cheap, that's fine," he says. "But plan to contribute to a world where independent businesses can survive, and hopefully thrive."
Laties signs books and lends his voice to a free panel discussion on buying local, at 6-8 p.m. Mon., Oct. 3, at Copacetic Comics.
Other panelists include Jovon Higgins, from 720 Music, Clothing & Café; Frank Otero, from Eljay's Used Books; and Copacetic's Bill Boichel.
Copacetic Comics (412-251-5451) is located at 3138 Dobson St., Polish Hill.
Tags: Program Notes
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman has been nationally recognized for efforts to revive his adopted hard-luck mill town, not least with art. The project has already birthed a gallery, UnSmoke Art Space, where artists also inhabit studios upstairs in the former St. Michael’s Catholic School.
The building houses studios for a few writers, too. And so Fetterman says he had another idea, one he expresses in a way you won’t hear too many mayors utter: “I just figured, ‘Hey, let’s do a residency.’” An annual one, for writers, that is.
He got help from Marc Nieson — a writer with studio space at UnSmoke — along with local fiction writer Sherrie Flick, of the Gist Street Reading Series, and UnSmoke director Jeb Feldman. And they picked a building: the renovated former convent next door to UnSmoke, both right across Braddock Avenue from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant. The residency is called Into the Furnace.
And on Sept. 10, novelist, short-story writer and educator Josh Barkan (pictured) moved in to two furnished rooms and got to work. You can meet him, and hear him read, at Gist Street’s annual Wood-Fired Words event, this Sat., Oct. 1.
“I like a kind of urban, gritty environment,” says Barkan, 42. He was recruited by Nieson, who knew him from the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop. While Barkan had never been to Pittsburgh, he has lived all over: as a kid, thank partly to parents who were globe-trotting academics, he called Califronia, Tanzania, Kenya, Paris and India home. As an adult, he’s taught in Japan, and he came to Braddock straight from two years in Mexico City.
Interviewed by phone less than three weeks into the nine-month residency, Barkan sounded like he’s enjoying his stay.
The old convent (owned by Fetterman’s nonprofit group) is nicely refurbished. (Visiting artists often stay there.) Barkan is sharing it with a few other tenants, including three young AmeriCorps volunteers.
While most writer residencies last no more than six weeks, Flick says, Into the Furnace is nine months long, so the resident will “actually have time to be part of the community.” Nearby are Braddock’s urban farm, an apiary and the town’s revived Carnegie Library.
Barkan has dived right in, and not just by writing. He likes the fact that he’s actually meeting local folks, not just residency staffers. “It’s much more personal than what I see in other places.”
“He’s a great cook, too,” adds Fetterman. “He cooked dinner for about 20 of us. He started a tradition where Monday is family dinner night.”
Barkan’s credentials include a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and teaching stints at Harvard, NYU and Boston University. He’s known for his short-story collection Before Hiroshima (The Toby Press) and the novel Blind Speed (Northwestern University Press).
Barkan says living in Braddock reminds him of the eight years he spent in Boston, another city with a lot invested in its history. “That’s one thing that’s really striking me here, that sense of historic rootedness,” he says.
Admittedly, history is hard to escape living in an old convent in the shadow of Andy Carnegie’s first steel mill.
Barkan also likes how art projects like murals and mosaics combine with things like a new playground to create positive energy in Braddock. “You can see the difference.”
But Barkan says Braddock hasn’t crept into his writing yet: He usually doesn’t start writing about a place until he leaves it. In fact, he’s now working on stories about Mexico City.
Saturday, Barkan will read from Blind Speed. The 2008 novel’s protagonist is a former member of a formerly almost-famous rock band who now teaches American studies at a Boston community college; the book begins with his fiance getting shot (not fatally) by a Revolutionary War historical re-enactor.
In good communitarian fashion, Wood-Fired Words also has food (pizza from the outdoor community brick oven next to UnSmoke) and a BYOB policy; art, with painter John Fleenor’s exhibit Meet the News Team; music, by The Emily Pinkerton Trio; and more, including a pop-up used-book store by Lesley Rains.
Admission is just $5. The feeding begins at 7 p.m., the reading at 8 p.m.
UnSmoke (unsmokeartspace.com) is located at 1137 Braddock Ave., Braddock.
Hey! Listen. I was out of the office last week, and things got a little hectic. Hence my lack of an MP3 Monday. But I've got the track for you now. It's from Host Skull, about whom I wrote last week. (Before I was out of the office.) They had their release last Thursday; the LP is called Totally Fatalist, and you can download the title track here!
*Download link has expired*
This morning, SCI-Pittsburgh prison guard Harry F. Nicoletti was arrested on dozens of charges of sexual and physical assault involving prison inmates. Nicoletti was named in a lawsuit first reported by City Paper last week, and was the target of graphic abuse allegations in a separate legal action filed the day after our story came out.
Today's criminal charges include numerous counts of indecent and simple assault, official oppression, terroristic threats, and criminal solicitation. They are detailed in a 34-page affidavit, which echoes many of the allegations our Matt Stroud reported last week.
The affidavit was compiled by Gary Hiller, an investigator in the state Department of Corrections Office of Special Intelligence and Investigations. It is largely based on testimony made before a grand jury over a four-month period this year.
According to the affidavit, Nicoletti frequently -- though not always -- singled out prisoners convicted of sexually abusing children, abusing them in turn. Sometimes, the abuse was psychological: One inmate, for example, claims Nicoletti forced him to suck his own thumb; others say Nicoletti had cell-block workers urinate on child-abusers' bed sheets. The complaint asserts that Nicoletti repeatedly referred to convicted pedophiles as "pee-pee touchers" and other slurs.
But allegedly, the abuse could also be physical -- with Nicoletti allegedly striking the convicts or shoving their heads inside toilets -- or sexual.
There are multiple allegations that Nicoletti exposed himself to inmates, and that he forced prisoners to masturbate him to climax. Nicoletti also allegedly threatened inmates with rape. In one case, Nicoletti is accused of bending an inmate over and "pok[ing] him in the rectum area with a broomhandle." Another inmate accuses Nicoletti of raping him. The alleged victim is not identified, but the circumstances of the incident are similar to those alleged in the lawsuit City Paper reported on last week, which was filed by former SCI-Pittsburgh inmate Rodger Williams
The allegations in the affidavit appear to be based entirely on eyewitness testimony from inmates. In a brief statement announcing the arrest, the District Attorney's office says that the charges are based on "the testimony of victims and [Department of Corrections] staff who appeared earlier this year" before a grand jury. Their perspectives on Nicoletti are not always easy to reconcile: While some accounts accuse Nicoletti of using racial epithets, for example, one inmate claims that Nicoletti demanded he apologize to black prisoners for using such language himself.
Nicoletti has previously denied similar allegations made in the civil suits.
Nicoletti's arrest is only the beginning. Nicoletti was one of 8 guards purportedly on unpaid leave as part of the investigation. And at various points, the affidavit claims that other prison guards were on hand to see his actions, though there is little testimony that they were active participants. Inmates also claim that Nicoletti recruited prisoners to carry out their own reprisals; one inmate claims to have assaulted 15 convicted pedophiles at Nicoletti's direction. Another claims Nicoletti urged him to abuse his cellmate, a convicted sex offender; the prisoner claimed that Nicoletti promised to cover up the assualt, and to reward it with cigarettes. Nicoletti threatened to file false disciplinary charges against -- or even kill -- inmates who complained of his behavior.
"The arrest of Nicoletti does not indicate the end of this investigation and more arrests will be forthcoming," the DA's statement asserts.
Tags: Slag Heap
Steve Perry is the founder and principal of the nationally recognized Capital Preparatory Magnet School, in Hartford, Conn. He is also a CNN education correspondent and the author of Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve (Even if it Means Picking a Fight).
Perry, an advocate of school choice and a vocal opponent of teachers unions, will join Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane during a town hall discussion tomorrow at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, where they will discuss the racial achievement gap . He spoke with City Paper this morning via telephone from his Hartford school.
Why are America's schools failing our children?
They're failing because they focus on adults. The intent is not to make a school that works for children.
Teachers unions don't like you very much.
They should love me. And if for one second they wanted to convince people that they love kids, then they should find a way to love me. Two years ago, I got on television and I started telling everybody that the biggest issue in public education is teachers unions. And even at CNN, they told me, "Steve, you've gotta pump your brakes a little bit, partner. You've gotta stop talking about this union stuff, because it's really not that big of an issue."
Look around [now]. What's the biggest issue? Governors, superintendents, everybody is doing what they have to do to dampen the impact that teachers unions have had on our children. They created this environment that focuses on adults. It's all about them. They, in my opinion, can go to hell.
Why has Capital Prep been successful where other schools have failed?
We've designed a school that prepares children for college. We don't have courses in our course offering that are developmental courses. There are no remedial courses. Every single course that is offered is a course that is capable of sending a child to college.
So if that approach has proven successful, why aren't more schools following your lead?
I had a conversation with a principal this morning ... and she said to me, "We need to have more teachers who believe that every kid can learn." I said, "I believe there are a lot of teachers who believe kids can learn, but the issue is how much they believe they can learn."
Many teachers believe kids can learn two [on a scale of 10]. And then they'll offset the rest that they didn't learn by the excuses of race, poverty and the parents' education, or lack-thereof. They have this thing down to a science. They can tell you exactly why the kids can't learn. You're telling an entire group of people in towns like Pittsburgh that their kids can't learn. It's disgusting. They're telling the parents, 'Look, I'd educate your kid if you weren't so damn dumb!"
And the teachers unions fight to make sure that we can't hold teachers accountable for their failings. That is the foundation of their organization. Their organization promises that, if you challenge their members based upon their performance, you're going against their contract. Think about that for a second. What's being said is, "I can't evaluate a teacher's effectiveness based upon how well she did at teaching kids." That's their only job.
Here in Pittsburgh, the city school district reached an agreement last year with the teachers union that includes pay-for-performance. Is that a step in the right direction?
I don't think that paying for performance is the answer. What I know doesn't work is just paying everybody the same just because they showed up and didn't die. And what we have right now is, as long as you don't die, I'm going to pay you.
School choice is being seriously debated here in Pennsylvania as voucher and charter bills circulate through the state legislature. Is that a good thing?
It must be done. The only way we'll get good schools in our lifetime is to free the children of the failed schools they're in now.
What do you say to critics who argue that vouchers and charters would effectively dismantle public school districts?
They are right: It will absolutely cripple failed schools. They will shut down. No doubt. And thank God for that.
What do you know about Pittsburgh's reform efforts over the last five years?
I don't claim to know them as well as people who live in Pittsburgh. But I know them to the extent that Pittsburgh still has a low-performing school system. It's getting better, but it's still low-performing.
When you come here tomorrow, you're supposed to address specifically the issue of the racial-achievement gap, which city school districts all across the country are grappling with. How can schools tackle this problem?
There's no single, short answer to that. But what you want to do is set the same expectations for all children. It begins with the issue of expectations. Many times you hear the conversation that students come in so many years and grades behind [where they should be]. The fact remains that we get kids at 3 years old in our school systems. How far can they really be behind? And [some] say, "Well, very far." You can't catch them up? I mean, the first two years a child is just trying to walk and pee and poop in the right place. So how far can they really be behind?
There are schools that remove the achievement gap. There have been years in which we've done really well, and there have been years in which we haven't. When we've done it well, it's because we put the same expectations on every child.
The troupe's Midnight Radio series is a good chance to see local stage talent let their hair down. That might seem a funny thing to say about old-school-radio-style plays where sound takes precedence over image. But watching/hearing folks you've seen do Shakespeare or Stoppard break out their cartoon voices and bat around potty humor (in spoof commercials) is its own good time.
This month's edition is especially notable for the return to the stage of Jack Erdie. I first met Erdie back in the '90s, when he was co-founder of edgy little New Teeth Productions; highlights, if memory servies, included a production of American Buffalo at the Brew House.
Erdie, who grew up in West Virginia, later left Pittsburgh for what he calls (in the Bricolage program notes) "a ship-wrecked three-year attempt to launch a career in movies." He's been back here for several years now, and in fact he still acts in movies, including a role in the Pittsburgh-shot Abduction, which stars Taylor Lautner and opens today. (He's among a number of local stage actors with a sidelight in bit parts in locally shot films.) Erdie is also an estimable singer-songwriter who's just completed his third CD of original music.
Midnight Radio shows typically feature a cast of a half-dozen or so voicing maybe three times that many roles (with others helping out on sound effects and live music). Bootleggin', written by Matthew Adams and Bricolage artistic director Jeffrey Carpenter, is loosely based on the true-crime story of a gangland slaying in Prohibition-era Pittsburgh, and it gives Erdie a chance to do several roles -- at least two of them, not surprisingly, heavies.
On film, Erdie's wiry build, angular features and penetrating stare often gets him cast as a bad guy. His Midnight Radio roles include one of the Volpe brothers gunned down in the Hill District. Given the series' unstaged quality -- the actors just stand at mikes to read their lines -- it's a treat to focus on how Erdie and the other actors use their voices, rather than their faces or bodies, to evoke rage, guile, glee and fear.
Or even just how they use a miked manual typewriter to evoke machine-gun fire.
Bootleggin' continues with performances tonight and tomorrow (www.webbricolage.org).
Tags: Program Notes
As City Paper first reported on Wednesday, allegations have begun to surface involving Pittsburgh prison officials who are apparently at the heart of a grand-jury investigation involving the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh.
Grand-jury deliberations are secret, and so the allegations at issue are hazy. But as we reported, one former SCI-Pittsburgh inmate, Rodger Williams, has filed a civil accusing one of the 8 suspended guards of sexual assault. Williams accused corrections officer Harry Nicoletti Jr. of "harass[ing], rap[ing], and sexually assault[ing]" him over a nine-day period in April 2010. Our story also noted that Williams' suit wouldn't be the last: "[A]nother inmate plans to file a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at SCI-Pittsburgh. According to that inmate's family and attorney, the suit could be filed as early as this week."
That suit was indeed filed on Thursday, as Rich Lord of the Post-Gazette reports today. This time, the plaintiff is a "John Doe," but once again, Nicoletti is being accused of sexual abuse. The suit also names other prison guards and officials who, John Doe contends, allowed the abuse to happen --despite pleas from the prisoner's parents. In the new suit, Lord reports
The graphic allegations range from threatening inmates with physical or disciplinary actions if they did not provide guards or other inmates with sexual favors to deliberately contaminating inmate food with bodily fluids. They were met with silence by the state Department of Corrections, which is one of the named defendants.
In January 2010, according to the complaint, the inmate known as John Doe was approached by correctional Officer Harry Nicoletti Jr. and given three choices: be anally raped, perform oral sex or touch the officer's genitals. He was threatened with "physical abuse" and the filing of "fraudulent misconducts" if he "did not [choose] how he was to be sexually assaulted that day," the complaint said.
"There is no truth to any of this whatsoever," said Mr. Nicoletti, who said he worked in the prison for 10 years. "It makes me sick to my stomach that someone can make accusations like that. It's totally false, and there's eight [correctional officers] out on the street with no pay, no benefits."
Nicoletti has also denied the allegations in the Williams suit.
Tags: Slag Heap
OK, "sympathy" may be too strong a word. But Jason Altmire deserves ... I don't know ... pity? The kind of liberal compassion that blames social ills for a person's shortcomings?
Yesterday, Altmire was one of just six Democrats to vote in favor of HR 2068, a House GOP measure that would fund disaster-recovery efforts by gutting a $1.5 billion hybrid-car program. (Yes, you read that right: The GOP was only willing to help disaster victims if government did less to help domestic manufacturing. Why do they hate America so much?)
Altmire's vote put him at odds with the overwhelming majority of Democrats; his vote positioned him instead alongside suburban Republican Tim Murphy, House majority leader Eric Cantor and much of the rest of the GOP rank-and-file. (As well as fellow Pennsylvania Blue Dog Dem Tim Holden.) The measure lost anyway, 195-230, due to opposition from the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and about 40 ultra-conservative Republicans who wanted the bill to go farther. It's unclear how; perhaps by requiring the unemployed to do a little dance before getting benefits.
And what thanks does Altmire get for his vote? Just today, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out the latest in a looooong line of attack e-mails ... accusing Altmire of voting in lockstep with other Dems:
"Jason Altmire has been a loyal ally to President Obama’s policies of taxing, spending and over-regulating which have made a bad economy far worse," said NRCC Communications Director Paul Lindsay. "Voters are noticing across the country, which means that Altmire's constituents in Pennsylvania will surely hold him accountable for continuing to support Obama’s same failed Democrat policies."
There's just no pleasing some people.
Tags: Slag Heap
This space has largely remained quiet on the race for Allegheny County executive race. That will change in the days ahead, but part of the reason it's been so quiet is that your City Paper editor finds it depressing. We have two candidates -- Democrat Rich Fitzgerald and Republican D. Raja -- who are smart guys running dumbed-down campaigns. Could we have an election where the mere fact of supporting a tax increase somehow, somehwere, isn't treated as some short of shameful behavior?
Fitzgerald is blasting Raja for backing a stormwater levy in Mt. Lebanon. This despite the fact that, as Pittsburghers know all too well, stormwater runoff can be a life-or-death issue. Raja, meanwhile, is taking Fitzgerald to task for backing taxes on drinks and hotels/car rentals. Fitzgerald, echoing county executive Dan Onorato's defense of the hikes, notes that the proceeds are being used to shore up mass transit -- and that the other option was a property tax hike.
I realize this is all your typical political posturing. And that part of what's driving it is the fact that the candidates have so few differences on other substantive issues (like drilling for natural gas). But at the federal level, we're seeing a Tea Party movement that seems to embody the belief that any tax increase for any purpose -- no matter how worthy -- is ipso facto a terrible thing. These are people willing to jeopardize federal disaster aid -- hell, the federal government iself -- in the service of that cause. Be nice if a Democrat, and a guy styling himself as a more thoughtful Republican, weren't playing into that mindset.
So to move on to some other political news that makes me somewhat less depressed ...
I'm a little late in posting this, but our friends at the Gertrude Stein Political Club -- those pro-choice, pro-LGBT stalwarts -- have released their list of political endorsements for the upcoming election. At the top of fight card, Fitzgerald has earned the group's backing in the county exec race. At the city level, the group has backed council's incumbents in districts 1, 3, and 7 -- Darlene Harris, Bruce Kraus, and Patrick Dowd. But in district 5 it remains skeptical of Corey O'Connor (the group backed his challenger, Chris Zurawsky, in the primary). Nor has it backed District 9 incumbent Ricky Burgess, for reasons that are probably obvious.
If, like everyone else, you're having difficulty deciding what to do in judicial races, be advised that the club is backing Common Pleas judicial candidates Alex Bicket and Mike Marmo. As for state level judicial contests, it is backing Democrats Kathryn Boockvar for Commonwealth Court, and David Wecht for Superior Court.
And in other endorsement news, it's never too soon to start looking ahead to 2012. I guess.
A couple months back, I noted that there was some buzz about Dan Onorato's potential interest in running for Auditor General -- a position that will become vacant after 2012 because incumbent Jack Wagner is term-limited.
That's still a possibility, but political insiders I talk to say that if Onorato is interested, he needs to get a move on. Because while the primary isn't until next spring, state Rep. Eugene DePasquale of York is already campaigning hard.
This morning, in fact, DePasquale's campaign released a list of 40 political endorsements from around the state. Many of them are county committee chairs and the like from far-flung locales, but a handful come from Onorato's backyard. Among them:
Some of these names aren't surprising. Gainey, for example, was in attendance at a DePasquale gathering held at AVA this July. Still, it'll be interesting to see how wide a net he is able to cast.
The AVA gathering itself was notable for the diversity of folks it drew. DePasquale is running as reformer, which appeals to good-government types anxious to renew the political culture. But he's also got roots in that culture: His grandfather was longtime Pittsburgh City Councilor Jeep DePasquale. So perhaps it's not surprising that he drew a crowd ranging from Lawrenceville community fixture Ronnie Deutsch to city council progressive standard-bearer Bill Peduto.
So it's an interesting coalition taking shape here. I mean, I can't remember the last time I saw Peduto and Tonya Payne agreeing on anything.
Tags: Slag Heap