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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Gov. Tom Corbett announced Wednesday a proposal to privatize the state's liquor system and send the $1 billion in expected revenue into public schools.

"It is time for Pennsylvania to lift the rules that have been in place for 75 years," Corbett said. "Our plan gets the state out of the liquor business."

At the press conference, which was held Downtown, Corbett said the plan will include auctioning 1,200 licenses to sell wine and spirits. The state operates 600 such state stores now. Beer distributors would be able to apply for the wine and spirits license as well, under an "enhanced beer distributor" category. Licenses to sell beer and wine would be uncapped.

If privatization is approved by the legislature, the transition process is expected to take three to four years. The sate Liquor Control Board will remain for regulation and enforcement. The Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement will get a 22 percent increase in funding under the Governor's proposal.

Privatization is expected to generate $1 billion in revenue: $575 million from the wholesale license process, $224 million from the wine and spirits retail auction process, $107 million from wine and beer license applications and $112.5 million from the enhanced beer distributor application process.

Corbett says the $1 billion will be earmarked for education via the Passport for Learning Block Grant. The grant can be used by schools in four areas: school safety, enhanced early education programs, individualized learning and science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses and programs.

Corbett was joined at the press conference by several Republican representatives, including: Mike Turzai, Rick Saccone, Mike Regan, Jeff Pyle, Dan Moul, Warren Kampf, Seth Grove, Eli Evankovich, Harold English, George Dunbar, and John Lawrence. A bill to be introduced into the House of Representatives outlining the proposal is expected to be announced next week.

Corbett says he expects some pushback on the idea of privatizing the system from labor, but that the unions won't be united. While some will want to protect the current state employees of the PLCB, others are customers who will want the change, he said.

The proposal includes tax credits for businesses that employ former PLCB employees, as well as a committee to help any displaced employees find new employment.

"I think we're going to have a spirited discussion," he said. But, "We've been nipping and tucking at this. This is the time to go in and do it."

The proposal also increases funding for alcohol treatment and prevention and increased penalties for those who sell to minors and visibly intoxicated people.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 1:13 PM

If UPMC really doesn't have any employees, it's going to have to prove so at a hearing next week, thanks to an order from the National Labor Relations Board.

The decision (found here: Board_Decision.pdf), recently posted online and dated Jan. 28, is signed by three members of the NLRB, including chairman Mark Gaston Pearce.

The response reads:

Respondent UPMC’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Cases 06-CA-086542 and 06-CA-090063 is denied. The Respondent has failed to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

City Paper reported today that UPMC was seeking to be removed from an NLRB complaint against the company alleging unfair practices against non-clinical employees seeking to unionize at UPMC hospitals because it didn't have any employees and was just a holding company. UPMC has long touted itself as the state's largest employer, with more than 55,000 workers.

A hearing on the complaint will be held Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the William S. Moorehead Federal Building, 1000 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Photo by Ben Tabas
  • Photo By Ben Tabas
  • Donora: Jake Churton, Casey Hanner, Jake Hanner

This Tuesday was a bit more busy than usual for Pittsburgh-based pop/indie rock trio Donora. The group's new EP, Play Nice, was released on Rostrum Records and made available on a variety of platforms including iTunes and Spotify. The Play Nice EP is their first release since 2011's breakthrough album Boyfriends, Girlfriends.

In the late evening, Donora and a slew of friends made their way to Club Cafe in the South Side for the Play Nice EP release party and performance. Show openers Mark Ramsey and Greg Dutton mellowed the audience with solo acoustic performances. Ramsey shared a laugh with the crowd as he sarcastically made a remark about both he and Dutton's soft singing voices. As their performances concluded, WYEP's Morning Show host Cindy Howes directed those in attendance to a projector screen that stood to the right of the stage. Attendees collectively watched Donora's new music video, “Play Nice” (watch below), and were given a sneak peak at the band's yet-to-be-released video for another song from the new EP, “Float Away”.

Hand-claps and cheerful hollers from the jam-packed audience welcomed Donora to the stage. The band's lead singer/guitarist Casey Hanner, her brother/drummer Jake Hanner, and bassist Jake Churton were joined by aforementioned show opener Mark Ramsey, who played keyboard with the band during their performance. After beginning with a couple familiar tunes from past releases, the band began playing songs from the new EP. Those in attendance tapped their feet, danced, and nodded along with the music as Donora performed the Play Nice EP in-full, and concluded the performance with a few more of their previously released popular songs.

In February, Donora begins a national tour with label-mates TeamMate. Tickets are on sale now for all tour dates, including a return to Pittsburgh on February 16 for a show at Brillobox in Bloomfield.

Donora - “Play Nice” (Music Video, directed by Ben Tabas and Casey Hanner)

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 10:16 AM

First in a three-part series by Ruchika Rai

When I arrived in the U.S. last June, the first thing that fascinated and appalled me at the same time was this rampant brand of blatant consumerism. Not that I didn’t enjoy spending four hours window-shopping in Giant Eagle; it was a mind-numbing rush looking at tens of brands for something as basic as eggs or butter.

However, my austere upbringing back in India had sharpened my senses to this kind of pleasure. “What’s too good to be true is most probably an impending disaster,” opined my sixth sense, a voice that was soon debilitated by the other five senses.

However, nothing piqued my interest more than the practice of yoga in this country. In India, yoga is an integral part of Hindu culture and religion, more like a religious ritual for the body, like chanting slokas (prayers) for the mind/gods. It is also a community thing — something that everyone can afford because more than your ability to pay, yoga is about the ability to save yourself from disillusionment by worldly traps.

But now I am in Pittsburgh and here for good. After satiating myself with newfound recipes like hot dog (with extra mayo), burgers (and large fries), and fruit smoothies, I started to ponder a reliable fitness regime.

I went online and typed “yoga in Pittsburgh.” Yoga, it seems, has become as commercialized and transformed as as everything else by the ethic of consumer choice. There were some hilarious versions like black yoga (blaring death metal — so much for peace of mind), mommy-and-me yoga (for new mothers) and chakra yoga. (The latter sounds to me like an effort to process yoga — isolating one of its essential components for immediate results, perhaps.)

However, nothing caught my attention more than hot yoga, which is much popular amongst yoga enthusiasts in the city. I had already received recommendations from two of my friends about this particular form of yoga. By divine intervention I also happened to find a Groupon deal for two-month trial classes, priced at a feasible $40. Without wasting another day I booked myself a coupon and landed up at the yoga studio.

Tomorrow: Hot Yoga

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 10:15 AM


Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 8:56 AM

The stories out of the Port Authority, where Rich Fitzgerald is rumored to be planning a coup to install Joseph Brimmeier as the agency's head, keep getting better. Today, the Post-Gazette reports that shortly after Brimmeier was appointed to the Authority board, a firm owned by his sister bid on a design contract. That part isn't even what's most vexing: The company later pulled its bid. The vexing part is that Brimmeier and his sister both say they didn't realize the firm was bidding at first ... even though Brimmeier's son, who also works for the company, attended an informational meeting on the job. And then there's the part where PAT board chair Jack Brooks tells claims he notified Brimmeier the contract "can't be done." Brimmeier's response? "That is an absolute lie. Jack Brooks never talked to me about it." That's no way to treat a potential future boss!

And just when you thought the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police had enough PR problems, there's this: On Monday, the bureau issued a press release naming an Overbrook man as a suspect in a cemetery theft -- more than a week after the charges against him were withdrawn. (He was apparently a victim of stolen identification.) Spokesperson Diane Richard said the release "was an error that was made because I did not have the rest of the information until [Tuesday] morning." This is all coming just weeks after the bureau caused a stir by forwarding questions from one reporter to every media outlet in town.

A Quinnipiac poll shows that even in Pennsylvania -- where we cling to our guns and our religion -- that some high-profile gun-control measures enjoy broad popularity ... and that gay marriage is supported by a slim majority of folks. Interestingly, on the gun questions, the poll also breaks down results by whether the respondents live in urban, suburban or rural areas. And while the urban/rural split is about what you'd imagine, on many of they specific policy questions -- like an assault-weapons ban -- the suburbs are in line with urban voters. This is another symptom of a conservative mindset losing its hold on everyone except rural voters. And a final note: Remember how Republicans spent some time last year concern-trolling over whether blacks would be alienated by Barack Obama's stance in favor of gay marriage? In this poll, blacks supported gay marriage by a 17-point margin, compared to 2 points for whites.

Meanwhile, in totally unsurprising news, Senator Pat Toomey joined most Senate Republicans in voting against aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy ... even though they include some Pennsylvanians he represents. At least he's consistent.

And another story you could have seen coming: According to a Facebook analysis of its own users' behavior, Steelers fandom transcends the limits of time and space. Of course, we all know about "Steelers Nation," but I found it interesting that our sphere of influence extends even into Ohio: "[T]he Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals hold down their respective metropolitan areas, but lose out to the Pittsburgh Steelers across most of the rest of the state, including the capital. The mighty Steelers' reach extends, incredibly, to pockets of Oregon, Nevada, Alabama, and Alaska, plus the entirety of Hawaii."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Last Friday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an editorial titled "Earth to Congress: The cost of future Sandy disasters will only rise." The piece urged Congress to pass legislation limiting our output of carbon dioxide. The editorial was in accord with the vast majority of climate scientists and scientific bodies the world over, who for years have agreed that climate change is real and largely caused by human activity, and that we must act urgently to curb it.

But on Monday, by the P-G's op-ed page ran a a syndicated piece by Washington Post columnist George F. Will mocking the idea that climate change is even happening.

By way of assailing President Obama's priorities — you'll recall that the president spent a whole paragraph of his second inaugural addressing climate change — Will argues that the extreme higher temperatures, tropical storms, droughts and wildfires we're seeing are not part of a shift in global climate patterns. Repeat: are not.

Will backed up his argument with some misleading statistics and a citation of his lone "expert" — Holman Jenkins, of the infamously climate-denying editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.

Will himself is a longtime climate-denier. (The same is true of P-G columnist Jack Kelly.) The question is, why do otherwise sane publications continue to waste everyone's time with Will's scientifically groundless and repeatedly discredited blather about the issue?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 3:19 PM

The electro-hip-hop DJ duo Tracksploitation, who ranked third behind only Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller as the city's best hip-hop acts of 2013, are looking for your help as they prepare to set-out on a tour that will include a performance at the SXSW film and music festival in Austin, TX this March.

The duo made up of DJ's JCT45 and Professor ASAP has launched a Kickstarter that welcomes donations to fund the tour that they're booking around their showcase at SXSW. Donations will also be invested in new performance equipment and instruments.

This is all so very exciting but the bottom line is we are booked to play at an official SXSW party on March 9th and we need your help to get there. Help us represent all of you on a national stage.

More information on the group and benefits of donating can be found on Trackploitation's Kickstarter. For example, an exclusive Tracksploitation t-shirt will be sent to anyone who donates $25.

Free mixes produced by Tracksploitation are available at

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Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 12:17 PM


In a parade of attention-grabbing queens, Pittsburgh's own Alaska made her grand entrance on RuPaul's Drag Race wearing a gown made from a plastic tablecloth and a horse-head mask.

But thing looked bad in the first challenge — an photo shoot that took place in a dunk tank — with Alaska floundering, before sputtering off defeated under the baleful gaze of RuPaul.

Alaska got her mojo back gyrating around the work room naked, shaking her pixelated junk, winning the admiration of one queen, who compared her favorably to a horse — you know, in that way.

But the sniping about Alaska's relationship with last season's winner Sharon Needles never stopped — and everybody had a lot of fake concern about how bad Alaska's runway dress — made from blue Saran Wrap — was.

Haters gonna hate: The judges loved the dress, landing Alaska in the top three, and sliding smoothly into Episode 2.

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Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 11:41 AM

The dance company offered the latest in this fun series this past weekend. Read a review — and learn what's next for the troupe — in Program Notes.