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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 6:33 PM

The primary race between Harry Readshaw and Erin Molchany is getting ugly, with partisans on both sides lodging what may be the worst insult of all -- that the other guy is too much like Gov. Tom Corbett. And, as is the way of these things, both Democrats running for the 36th House District are accusing each other of going negative first.

Things really began popping yesterday, when Readshaw released a new TV spot. While his first ad was a fairly benign introduction, the new 30-second spot features an unflattering photograph of Molchany – who the ad refers to as "the new face of the old Harrisburg politics" -- looming over the Mordor-like landscape of Harrisburg. The ad faults her for "attacking Democrat Harry Readshaw" -– more on that in a bit -- and then seeks to turn the tables by focusing on what I previously reported would be a defining issue for the candidates in this campaign: their differences over last year's transportation-spending bill. By voting for the measure, the ad contends, Molchany "hiked gas taxes 30 cents a gallon" -- all "to fund transit projects in Philadelphia."

In a statement, Molchany's campaign characterized the spot as "the first attack ad in his race," and "just another example of republican-style scare tactics"

The Readshaw campaign's response: Hey, your side started it.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 3:23 PM

For the staff at the newly opened Allegheny County GEO Reentry Services Center, rehabilitating probationers and parolees is about more than punishing bad behavior.

"Anytime a person does something positive we want to make sure we recognize that," says Lisa Zimmerman, program manager.

On Wednesday, GEO held an open house to introduce the new center to the community. Guests included those in need of services and parole officers.

"I'm excited," said state parole agent Tawnya Peek. "I'm going to look through my case load to see who can really benefit. I have a few who aren't really doing anything so I think this will be something that will motivate them."

In addition to providing daily check-ins, drug and alcohol testing, and case management, the center, which opened in February and receives state funding, is focused on rewarding their participants for good behavior. Participants are rewarded for actions ranging from showing up on time for a check-in to finding employment, in hopes it will motivate them to stay on the right track.

"The research shows it needs to be a four to one ratio, positive reinforcement to sanctions," says Adam Schlager, GEO district manager. "It's a amazing the positive impact that has on our participants."

Individuals are referred to the service center by the courts, probation/parole officers, or the State Correctional Institution and the center sees individuals with a range of criminal histories. Through GEO they receive help with employment readiness, career development, life skills, and GED preparation.

"The goal is not only to keep the community safe, but also to change the lives of our participants," said Schlager. "Without that continuum of care, from prison to the community, they can get lost in the shuffle."

Participants progress through three levels of treatment and supervision that impacts how frequently they are subjected to daily check-ins at the center. Their progression is impacted by factors such as drug and alcohol abstinence, compliance with parole board orders, and attendance.

"We're successful at what we do and we're ready to prove it to the community," said Schlager. "The reason we use the approach we do is because it works."

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Jordan Miles is asking a federal judge to change the verdict in his civil suit against three police officers. In March, a jury found that three Pittsburgh Police officers falsely arrested Miles, but did not find the officers liable of using excessive force against him.

"Because the jury has found that the Plaintiff was falsely arrested...the jury’s verdict means that the Plaintiff committed no actions which would give rise to a right in the Defendants to use any force whatsoever," according to a motion from Miles' attorney Joel Sansone. "Therefore, all force used by the Defendants in this matter was excessive."

The split verdict was the result of the second trial in the Miles suit against the three police officers — Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing — he says failed to identify themselves before arresting and assaulting him while he was walking to his grandmother's house in January 2010. The officers maintain they identified themselves and approached Miles because they saw him lurking on the side of a house.

The motion asks Judge David Cercone to alter the verdict and to award damages to Miles on the excessive force claim. However, as an alternative, it requests a new trial on the excessive force claim on the basis the court erred in allowing certain evidence to be used in the trial while excluding other evidence.

"These errors include: the Court improperly permitted evidence of the presence of an automatic weapon magazine clip near the incident in question, causally observed by a lay person the day after the incident," according to the motion. "No such magazine has ever been produced by the defense; and the Court refused to permit evidence which would have negatively impacted the credibility of one or more of the Defendants, and would have positively impacted on the credibility of the Plaintiff in the form of testimony from a witness discovered by and proffered by the Plaintiff late in the Plaintiff’s case-in-chief at trial in this matter."

Meanwhile, attorneys for the three officers filed a motion of their own asking that the amount of money awarded to Miles be reduced from $119,016.75 to $8,415.05. According to their motion, $75,000 already paid to Miles by the city in a settlement should be subtracted from the award amount.

"Plaintiff would be unjustly enriched by $75,000 unless the verdict is molded by this amount, as the City has already paid the Plaintiff $75,000 in exchange for its agreement to indemnify the Defendant Officers," the motion says.

The officers lawyers also say the settlement should be reduced to reflect Miles' actual out of pocket medical costs. They believe the jury considered Miles' medical bills, which were partly paid by insurance, in determining the damages awarded to Miles.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 9:00 AM


Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 9:00 AM

This is a sharply written piece, with Kelly McAndrews giving a fine solo performance as a U.S. Air Force pilot reassigned to "Chair Force” duty as a drone operator.

Kelly McAndrews in Grounded
  • Photo courtesy of Kristi Jan Hoover
  • Kelly McAndrews in "Grounded"

What’s most remarkable about the play’s treatment of a controversial (if too little debated) issue is playwright George Bryant’s refusal to lecture about the morality or immorality of America’s extralegal killings of suspected terrorists half a world a way. Bryant doesn’t have to: His moving and credible story indicts the practice as much as any speech might.

McAndrews’ unnamed Pilot doesn’t even start out with qualms about hunting victims in the Iraqi desert via the unmanned drones, which are operated by pilots like her, in air-conditioned trailers in the Nevada desert. Indeed, her main grievance is that she doesn’t actually get to fly the planes that are dropping the bombs anymore. (She loves flying fighter jets.)

But the one thing that seems good about drone-piloting — that she can go home to her husband and infant daughter nightly, like any other shift-worker — turns out to be one of the most disorienting things about it. “Can we just pretend I don’t come home every night?” she ends up pleading to her husband.

Then there’s the telescopic bird’s-eye view of the Pilot’s human targets that begins to give her delusions of divinity, but also sparks virtual personal relationships with the would-be victims. That military lingo designates such targetings “personality strikes” only adds to the bitter irony.

There are limits to Bryant’s approach, of course: Seeing the drone issue only through the Pilot’s eyes, there’s surely a lot we don’t perceive. But in his own provocative but rigorously crafted way, the playwright brings home the havoc on the ground drone warfare causes on both spots on the globe.

Here’s Ted Hoover’s review of the show for CP.

Grounded’s final performances are at 8 p.m. this Friday, 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, in the intimate confines of City Theatre’s Hamburg Theatre.

Tickets are $15-55 and are available here.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 4:40 PM

George Lange, the acclaimed commercial photographer who grew up in Squirrel Hill, makes a very good point about sunsets: Lots of people photograph them, but who actually looks at them?

Langes photo of his son earlier this month at the Childrens Museum of Pittsburgh
  • Lange's photo of his son earlier this month at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

“I think what’s interesting about a sunset is the light,” said Lange via phone from his studio in Boulder, Colo., a few days before he visited Pittsburgh for Easter. “It’s so beautiful, and if you look at the people that you’re with … the light on them is extraordinary. So what’s interesting to me is the light from the sunset, bouncing off of people—not the actual sunset.”

Lange shares such insights in his book The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life. Though Lange has shot portraits of everyone from the Obama family to Kate Hudson, the book shows pictures of the everyday, such as his wife standing in a dressing room, contemplating a new outfit. The point of the book, Lange said, is to steer people away from “event photography” — pictures of birthdays, weddings, vacations, etc.

Instead, great photos capture human emotion, and Lange’s book teaches you how to produce them using everyday tools, like a point-and-shoot or an iPhone, to capture your everyday surroundings. Lange said he and co-author Scott Mowbray, the editor of Cooking Light magazine, chose images “that would feel really familiar to people and to their lives. They would look at them and not say, ‘Wow, look at George’s family,’ but ‘Oh, I know that feeling,’ or ‘Oh, that happens at my house.’”

In his pictures, that feeling can range from happy to sad. Lange's Easter visit to Pittsburgh produced a shot of his son Asher, crying at PNC Park, post-Pirates game (pictured). The boy was “upset that they only let him run the bases after the game, and not hit," Lange said in an email. It’s not that Lange sacrifices his paternal duties for the sake of art; during moments like these, he’ll sometimes very quickly snap a photo before attending to his children. He simply realizes that “we all photograph our kids smiling, rarely capturing these moments.”

(Emotion isn’t the only secret to a good photograph, however. Lange also advocates taking photos from unusual angles, such as the ones he took of swimmers at a community pool careening off a diving board. Lange lay underneath it to capture the shots.)

George Lange
  • Photo courtesy of Christine Kullberg
  • George Lange

Lange’s tendency to prize what he feels over what he sees in taking pictures stems partly from his Pittsburgh roots. His work was greatly influenced by his mentor Duane Michals, another photographic great from Pittsburgh. When Lange was studying at Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s, he attended a talk given by Michals at MIT. He took a “crappy recorder” with him and spent two weeks handwriting every word Michals said about “appreciating the moments and…not just thinking that photography is visual.”

There was also his childhood home in Squirrel Hill, where his mother still lives. “I [had] such happiness and joy growing up there,” says Lange, “And that’s also what I try to create when I photograph; I’m looking for that happiness that I had growing up in Pittsburgh.”

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Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 3:47 PM

This afternoon, Point Park University adjuncts took a key step toward organizing a union: presenting a petition to the National Labor Relations Board requesting a union election.

Half of the school's 300-plus adjuncts have signed off on the request to join the union. "We're right at 50 percent," says United Steelworkers organizer Randa Ruge. That's well above the 30-percent threshold required to call for an election.

As City Paper first reported last week, adjuncts are seeking better wages, as well as enhanced job security, office space and other benefits.

Ultimately, the union must win a simple majority of ballots cast. "I'm confident that the vote will be successful," adjunct theater-arts instructor Sharon Brady is quoted saying in a release from the union's Adjunct Faculty Association. "I welcome the potential for positive changes that union representation will bring."

The release says that the election is "likely to be held via mail ballot within the next two months," though an employer does have the right to contest an election, which would result in an NLRB hearing. If the union wins the election, a school may still refuse to bargain with it: Point Park has previously refused to bargain with a union seeking to represent full-time faculty. And although the Steelworkers successfully organized adjuncts at Duquesne University in 2012, the school has refused to recognize the union, citing religious exemptions.

A response from Point Park was not immediately available.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Of the city departments Mayor Bill Peduto inherited when he took office, the police bureau is arguably the one most in need of reform. But four months into his term, despite an ongoing federal investigation that touched former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office and the conviction of former Chief Nate Harper for diverting public funds into an unauthorized account, the department is still being supervised by a temporary chief and a public safety director Peduto seems intent on replacing.

On Monday, Peduto told City Paper that three three new finalists for the public safety director job have been forwarded to his office by Talent City, a foundation-funded process Peduto has said will keep politics out of hiring decisions, although no timetable for the hiring decision has been set.

"We have three interviews this week and we will also be re-interviewing [current public safety director] Mike Huss," Peduto said. "Hopefully over the next couple weeks we’ll have a final recommendation and selection for director."

This is the third set of finalists who have come through Talent City, Peduto said. Mike Rodriguez, former special agent responsible for the Pittsburgh branch of the FBI, turned down the position citing "family issues," he added.

Another candidate turned down the position because the salary wasn't high enough — City Council has since raised the salary from $105,000 to $125,000.

"We’ve got four years we’ve been elected to. Finding a couple extra months to find the best public safety director we can to me is a wise investment,” Peduto said. Once a director is hired, the search for a new police chief will begin. The search hasn't started, Peduto said, because he wants the new public safety director to be involved in formulating the criteria that will be used to select a new chief.

The mayor also said he plans to hire an assistant public safety director — a move designed to help morph "the department of public safety, so it’s not just the public safety director and a secretary, but actually a department." The assistant director's focus will be on community outreach.

Asked why Talent City hasn't produced a successful candidate, Peduto said very few have the range of experience, including having led "hundreds of people", that he's looking for.

"You really want to find someone who’s been tested on integrity," he says. "We need somebody who is going to clean up the mess within public safety."

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 4:00 PM

No Bad JuJu
  • No Bad JuJu

No Bad JuJu has been one of Pittsburgh's pre-eminent bar and party bands for years now; recently, the group released a new album, No Covers, which, of course, consists of all original tunes. Led by singer Sabrina De Matteo and guitarist (and sometimes singer too) Mark Matteo, the band brings the funk, with a powerhouse horns section. Its song "One True Love" is today's MP3 Monday offering; stream it below.

No Bad JuJu: One True Love

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Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 2:43 PM

Wherefore art though, Boba Fett? Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks presents this take on Star Wars as Shakespeare might have done it, tonight at Te Cafe. Details in Program Notes.