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Friday, November 21, 2014

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Rev. Linda Theophilus addresses a crowd at United Steelworkers headquarters this morning

The mood in the lobby of the United Steelworkers headquarters this morning, where dozens gathered to celebrate a renewed push to offer legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, was undeniably festive.

"Christmas came early for immigrant families," declared Guillermo Perez, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

But while President Barack Obama's announcement was met largely with praise, advocates acknowledged it's far from comprehensive.

"We've been calling on the White House since Spring 2013," says Fred Redmond, vice president of human affairs at the United Steelworkers. "It's only a first step."

The change in policy, announced in a prime-time address last night, will affect roughly 5 million people, according to the New York Times. Four million people, who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and have no criminal record, will be eligible for legal status that would defer their deportations.

And one million more people will be protected from deportation through changes in other programs "including the expansion of an existing program for 'Dreamers,'" who came to the U.S. as children, the Times reported. Perez, a labor organizer, says the policy change could affect about 31,000 people living in Pennsylvania.

It will not help farm workers, however, and the five million immigrants affected will not get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

Still, Monica Ruiz says the new policy is going to help keep her family together.

She says that while she was born in the U.S., the change will help her brother-in-law and nieces and nephews, some of whom have been in the U.S. for over ten years, but live in fear over whether a hospitalization or a call to the police for help could lead to deportation.

"It's scary — you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know if your parents will come home," says Ruiz, who works with Casa San Jose, a non-profit that does outreach in the Latino community.

Perez says objections to the policy announcement are mostly politically motivated and "the substance of what's being done has widespread support."

"Do I wish [Obama] had acted sooner? Yes — for all the people who were deported," Perez says, arguing reform that includes a path to citizenship is the ultimate goal. "This is great, but that still leaves six or seven million people. It's not comprehensive reform."

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Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 12:44 PM

click to enlarge The Moon Baby - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOEY EDGAR
Photo courtesy of Joey Edgar
The Moon Baby
If you're not hip to The Moon Baby yet, you will be soon.

The PIttsburgh-based artist just released her debut EP,, with a streaming debut via Vice's Noisey blog. Produced by another local, Wise Blood, it's a weird and beautiful trip, with quiet moments and bassy explosions, somewhere between club music and chamber pop a la Dirty Projectors. 

Listen to below, and see The Moon Baby live tonight (Nov. 21) at BOOM Concents, 5139 Penn Ave., in Garfield. Also performing: Wise Blood, Edgar Um, Shisa and White Tuxedo. Donation suggested at the door; show starts at 9:00.

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Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 12:19 PM

  • Photo Courtesty of Shervin Lainez

You may have listened to Heather Kropf’s MP3 Monday last week in preparation for her headlining show at Club Café tonight. However, you may have overlooked a special feature of her show: the opener.

London-based Cariad Harmon now lives and works in Brooklyn and is toting around her folk-inspired songs to ten northeast venues this fall (Club Café being the second to last stop!). She’s known for her sensitivity to harmony and arc of a song, as well as dawning a sometimes cheeky and ironic attitude. The tour coincides with the release of her sophomore self-titled album, and one of her tracks, “Like You,” is now available to download and stream on SoundCloud. The album includes performances by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius and Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees.

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Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 9:00 AM

The open-mic series focusing on spoken-word artists ends its four-year run with a poetry slam — and a book-launch.

The book-launch is for Straightening Combs and Other Things That Changed My Life, by local performer and poet Kim El. The book incorporates material from her solo stage show Straightening Combs.

The slam, meanwhile, will feature eight competitors who have either battled in previous slams or who were featured Eargasm artists, all chosen by series organizer and host Leslie "Ezra" Smith. The winner gets a cash prize.

Smith is a seasoned poet, spoken-word performer and actor whose one-man show The Book of Ezra was recently staged by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.

The book-launch and slam are preceded at the Hill House Kaufmann Center by "The Uplifting and Beauty-Enhancing Workshop," organized by fashion-designer and make-up artist Cheryl El-Walker. The workshop, running 7-8 p.m. has a $10 cover.

The separate cover for Eargasm is $5. For more information, see here.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 5:17 PM

In a packed room at Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill in the Strip District, people enjoyed oysters on the half-shell and a few beers. Though the atmosphere was festive, speeches by Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach and a others focused on serious medical conditions that could be aided by medically-purposed marijuana.

Ninety-five people showed up to the meet-and-greet with the senator, hosted by Pittsburgh NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“I have always believed that people should get the best medicine that’s available for them. It’s something any of us would want if we were in that position,” Leach said in his speech. “I knew that in order for this to go anywhere, we had to make this a bipartisan thing.”

Produced by Ashley Murray

Pennsylvania got closer to medical marijuana legalization in 2014 than ever before. Republican state Sen. Mike Follmer joined Leach and became crucial to getting nonpartisan support for the measure.

The senate passed the law in September. That version, however, left out several conditions that the drug could be used for. When it was sent to the state House of Representatives, the bill was hijacked into committee by GOP House leader Mike Turzai. It will now have to begin the legislative process again in January. In the meantime, Leach has sent a letter to Pennsylvania district attorneys asking them not to prosecute individuals who can prove they are possessing marijuana for medical purposes. Sen. Leach says the Philadephia DA already said he will not prosecute cases involving medical marijuana usage. However, he said most haven’t replied yet.

“Prosecutors decide every day what cases to prosecute, what cases not to,” Leach said in his speech. “They can do this. They don’t need to be putting resources into arresting people [for medical marijuana].”

Left in limbo are thousands of Pennsylvanians who could use the medication for conditions ranging from glaucoma and PTSD to cancer and intractable epilepsy in children, which can cause the sufferer hundreds of seizures every week and cannot be controlled by treatments.

Heather Shuker spoke at the event about her daughter Hannah Pallas who has severe intractable epilepsy.
“It was so important for Sen. Leach to come out and let the community know we’re not going to back down from getting this legalized in Pennsylvania,” Shuker said.

Shuker’s daughter suffers more than 100 siezures per day and is currently in critical condition at a local hospital.
“It’s important to note that I’m not fighting for just the legalization for my daughter,” Shuker says. “We’re fighting for people with cancer, PTSD, severe and chronic pain, Crohn’s Disease. The government should let the doctors be doctors, and that’s one of our biggest things.”

There is at least anecdotal evidence that cannabidiol, an extract from the marijuana plant, can be helpful for children with this condition. Most of that evidence has come from Colorado, where marijuana use of all forms is legal. Parents there have said that the drug has brought about miraculous changes in children, and in December, the Food and Drug Administration granted approval for a New York University study on the drug's effect on childhood epilepsy.

Leach said the optimistic timeline for the bill is spring of 2015. Leach said the legislative body will need to work to create a “fair” process by which new medical conditions could be added as scientific research on medical marijuana grows. Sen. Leach says Governor-Elect Tom Wolf is on board.

“What a profile in courage this is,” Leach said. “There’s a lot of issues I’m involved in, but if the only thing I can do for the rest of my career is to make sure that people like Heather got medicine they need for people like Hannah, I would consider that a career well-spent.”

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 12:31 PM

If you missed its debut last week, Listen Up! Is a feature in which I make a Spotify playlist of artists either mentioned in this week's CP or who are having shows in town this week that are listed in our concert listings. It's informative to you; it's a challenge to me to make a cohesive playlist from what I'm given. Before you notice at least one glaring omission, I should point out that we can obviously only work with artists who are currently on Spotify — that unfortunately rules out this week's cover boy, Tairey, but you should read Michael Crandle's profile of him anyway.

This week's weirdest transition may be from "We Dem Boyz" to a reggae-inspired track by jazz quintet Paul Giallorenzo's GitGo. Hey! I swear it works!

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Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM

The Allegheny County Health Department this morning announced a "significant" increase in syphilis across the county, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM).

There were 98 cases reported this year as of Nov. 10, a 75 percent increase from the same period last year. Ninety percent of reported infections were in men.

"There has been a resurgence of syphilis in the United States since 2011, with increases noted particularly among MSM," department director Karen Hacker wrote in a press release. "While infections nationwide and in Allegheny County are primarily occurring among MSM, anyone engaging in risky sexual behavior is at risk."

The department recommends "all sexually active men and women to follow safer sexual practices — reduce the number of sex partners, use latex condoms, and have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has negative test results for STDs."

The county operates a free STD clinic — hours and info here.

The full release after the jump.

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Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 10:35 AM

click to enlarge Foo Fighters - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ
Photo courtesy of Brantley Gutierrez
Foo Fighters

Tuesday afternoon is when I usually fill you in on some new concerts that have been announced recently, but alas, I was off exploring the Pennsylvania countryside in the snow yesterday, so a little catch-up is in order.

The biggest concert announcement of the past few days: Foo Fighters, coming to First Niagara Pavilion Aug. 25, 2015. The opener for that part of the tour will be Royal Blood, who play Altar Bar on Dec. 3, if you wanna get a taste of that early.

While we're on the topic of rock bands that were big in the '90s, Bush plays Stage AE on Feb. 17; tickets are $32.50-35 and go on sale this Friday. On Feb. 28, indie-folk group The Lone Bellow plays AE (in its club configuration); $16-18, on sale Friday as well.

At the Benedum Center, alt-J plays a show April 2; tickets ($35-49.50) go on sale this Friday.

Dweezil Zappa will be in town with his Zappa Plays Zappa show Sun., April 5, at Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead; tickets (ranging from $22.50 up to $69.50) go on sale this Friday.

Erin McKeown plays Club Cafe Jan. 29 ($14, on sale this Friday).

And alt-country/blues guy J.J. Grey brings his band Mofro to Mr. Small's on Wed., Feb. 25; $22-25, on sale Friday.

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Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

The interview with comedian Wyatt Cenac in today's print edition of City Paper includes an incorrect date for his performance at Club Cafe. The show is at 10:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21. CP regrets the error.

The online version of the interview, expanded and with correct show info, is here.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Posted By on Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 5:55 PM

Courtesy of Evolve Architects, commissioned by BGC
  • Courtesy of Evolve Architects, commissioned by BGC

The piece of land might be small, but the battle over the plot at the prominent corner of Penn and Negley avenues is headed to court.

Almost a month after the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected plans to turn the site into an AutoZone, the developer — Lawrence Gumberg and LG Realty Advisors — has filed an appeal.

According to the zoning board's decision dated Oct. 16, the developers' plan "did not describe any specific efforts to adapt the proposed building to the context of the Subject Property and its vicinity."

The appeal appeared in online court records today and calls the board's decision "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law," and argues there are "unique physical characteristics and conditions" that create "an unnecessary hardship in utilizing the property."

The appeal also argues "there is no manner in which the site could be designed to comply with the [zoning code] and the [Americans With Disabilities Act] requirements," a claim previewed at a contentious hearing over the summer.

The site, which is in Friendship, is zoned as "Local Neighborhood Commercial", which according to the zoning code, is intended to "maintain the small scale and rich diversity of neighborhood-serving commercial districts, promote and enhance the quality of life in adjacent residential areas."

Community groups including the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation (BGC) have argued the proposed development is essentially a big box store that wouldn't integrate into the cityscape. "It's about a developer who wants to have complete control over how they utilize their land," says Rick Swartz, executive director of BGC. "We have someone trying to pound a square peg into a round hole."

The contest isn't over the right to build an AutoZone on that property; the zoning code does not preclude that sort of development. The battle is over the nuances of the developers' plans.

The store's design, for example, features what city planners call a "long, flat façade"; the code requires a more varied design. The store interior would also be hidden behind walls and dark glass; the zoning code requires that 60 percent of the ground floor be visible from outside. Those were some of the components of the plan the zoning board rejected — for an exhaustive list, here are the supporting documents.

Jonathan Kamin, a lawyer representing the developers, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Still, even though the city will represent the zoning board's decision in court, "Generally speaking, the City and the court are in favor of objectors (assuming they have standing) participating in the case," mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty wrote in an email. "It can help foster a settlement in the case that the applicant, City and community can live with."

But it will also mean BGC will have to raise around $10,000 for legal fees, Swartz says. The community groups' crowdfunding campaign, which raised $5,000, only has about $3,500 left (after the group commissioned a traffic study of the site and the first round of legal fees are subtracted).

Swartz says it is not clear how that money will be raised, but notes the developers could still come up with a plan that better aligns with the code.

"It doesn't prevent them from building a structure on that site that will do a better job of accommodating the zoning ordinances that are on the books," Swartz says. "I think they need to take it as a design challenge and meet it."

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