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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 1:01 PM

CP photo of Katie McGinty by Ryan Deto; image of Pat Toomey provided by candidate
Katie McGinty and Pat Toomey
Earlier this week, a political-action committee for gun reform endorsed U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in the upcoming November general election. The PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, was launched by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) who in 2011 was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tuscon in which six people were killed. 

"I am honored to receive this endorsement from Americans for Responsible Solutions in recognition of my work to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally ill," Toomey said in a statement. "I have long said that we must work together to forge a bipartisan consensus on gun safety, rather than talk past one another with partisan rhetoric. While protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, I am committed to bridging the partisan divide to crack down on illegal gun trafficking; close the terrorist gun loophole; require background checks on transactions at gun shows, over the internet, and between non-family members; and also ensure Congress is funding research into our country's gun-violence crisis. I look forward to introducing a bill next Congress that works to achieve these ends."

Today, Toomey's opponent Katie McGinty fired back with an endorsement of her own when Pennsylvania gun-reform group CeaseFirePa announced it was endorsing her. 

"CeaseFirePa is proud to endorse Katie McGinty," Shira Goodman, CeaseFirePa's executive director, said during a conference call today. "We believe the people of Pennsylvania want somebody who will consistently lead, consistently fight to solve this problem."

According to CeaseFirePa, Toomey did not respond to a survey the organization sent to both candidates. 

"To me, few [issues] would be more important than protecting our family and friends from gun violence. In Pennsylvania, we lose far too many to gun violence, and frankly we do nothing about it," McGinty said during the conference call. "These are tragedies of the highest magnitude, and they deserve a moral response. Respecting the dignity of those lives has nothing to do with disrespecting the Second Amendment." 

Both Goodman and McGinty praised Toomey's support for 2013 legislation to expand background checks. However, McGinty says the senator has done little to support gun-reform efforts since.

"We have someone who has seen this issue as a political calculation," said McGinty. "This issue has been inflamed in ways that certainly are not helpful. I would bring responsible huntsmen and sportsmen to the table … to diffuse the vitriol around this issue."

So what is Toomey's record on gun reform? Toomey has voted against banning high-capacity magazines with more than 10 bullets. He voted to prohibit suits against gun makers and sellers for gun misuse. And he voted to decrease the gun waiting period from three days to one.

And this past June, in the wake of a mass shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead, Toomey voted against four gun-reform measures: an amendment to increase funds for the federal background check system; an amendment that would require background checks at gun shows; an amendment that would delay gun sales for 72 hours for buyers on the no-fly list; and another that would block gun sales to suspected terrorists on the no-fly list. All four measures failed. 

Despite these votes, Toomey supporters, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, cite the Pennsylvania senator's response to the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 children — namely, his sponsorship of the 2013 background-checks bill that ultimately failed. 

"Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC is endorsing Senator Toomey for re-election this fall because our nation needs more Republican elected officials to stand with the vocal majority of Americans who support commonsense steps that help keep guns out of the wrong hands and prevent gun tragedies," said Peter Ambler, Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC executive director, in a statement. "In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sen. Toomey stood up for responsibility, stood up to the gun lobby and stood up to many in his own party. While he has not backed every proposal we have supported, as advocates for gun-safety laws and safer communities, we're thankful for Sen. Toomey’s leadership."

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 3:31 PM

click to enlarge Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars." - PHOTO COURTESY OF GAIL MANKER
Photo courtesy of Gail Manker
Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars."
Seeing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars performed in the very Hill District backyard in which it was set should give anyone chills, but also a sense of an artistic birthright restored: Wilson was raised on the Hill, and grew up in the house in front of that Bedford Avenue backyard, but who knows how long it’s been since one of his plays was actually staged in the neighborhood?

It’s not too much to call this fine Playwrights production “historic.” But if you want to see it, you’d better hurry: There are just five more performances through Sunday, and one of them (Saturday night’s) is already sold out. Fortunately, bowing to popular demand (all six performances the first two weeks sold out), Playwrights added weekend matinees this week, which has effectively doubled your chances of getting a seat.

With straw blanketing the yard’s bare dirt, and live chickens pecking away, the outdoor production takes you back to 1948, with seven characters (the “guitars” of the title) attached to the mystery of who killed bluesman Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (though Barton, played by Jonathan Berry, is alive for most of the play, in extended flashback).

Director Mark Clayton Southers’ staging of the 1996 play runs about three and a half hours, including an intermission; it’s probably Wilson’s most discursive work. But it takes time to create a world on stage, and Seven Guitars features some of Wilson’s most pungent dialogue: As one character says, “You get a hit record and the white folks call you ‘Mister.’”

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review of the show for City Paper.

Bonus: The house is the under-construction arts center known as August Wilson House, so you can get a sneak peak at that, too. And you’ll be sitting within blocks of the real-life settings for several other Wilson plays, including Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

Seven Guitars takes place at 1727 Bedford Ave.

Tickets are $35 and are available here.

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Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 3:24 PM

Photo courtesy of Michael Hickman
It may be a little later than usual, but don't make the mistake of sleeping on this week's MP3 offering. The song comes from prolific singer-songwriter Robert Cook, who we last heard from back in 2014 when he released a collection of original Christmas music. He recently released a new record, Grey Matter. Stream or download the opening track, “All Wrapped Up in You,”  below. 


To download, right-click here and select "save as."

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 3:59 PM

What's happening in Pittsburgh and beyond:

1. Pa. AG Kathleen Kane
resigned this week after she was found guilty on perjury and obstruction charges. CP reports on its Politicrap blog about other attorneys general who were convicted of crimes while in office.


CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
2. Drake and Future — along with Canadian artists Roy Woods and DVSN — brought their Summer Sixteen Tour to Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center. Did you see our photo slideshow? (Drake even donned a Pens jersey.)


click to enlarge CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
3. Wigle Whiskey is crowdfunding the establishment of the Whiskey of America Museum (abbreviated as WAM!). “It’s time to reclaim our place in whiskey history,” Wigle co-owner Meredith Meyer Grelli said, citing the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Carnegie Mellon University is even jumping in on the action by creating a robot for the museum that automates the malting process of making whiskey. 


CP photo of Katie McGinty by Ryan Deto; image of Pat Toomey provided by candidate
4. Democratic nominee Katie McGinty and incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey have agreed to two debate dates, but the Toomey campaign is pushing for more. “We certainly support having debates in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but why is Katie McGinty stopping at two?" said Toomey's campaign spokesperson Ted Kwong in a press release this week.


Photo courtesy of Moms Clean Air Force
5. Moms Clean Air Force held a "Play-In for Pollution Control" in Beaver this week to protest the possible air pollution that could be produced by the coming Shell ethane cracker plant to be built in Potter Township. “Southwestern Pennsylvania consistently has poor air quality year after year according to the American Lung Association. Adding additional heavy industry like the Shell petrochemical facility would greatly impact the air quality by releasing tons of pollution that can cause serious health issues,” said Patrice Tomcik, of Moms Clean Air Force, in a press release.


6. GTECH's Two Wheels Lots of Green
bike ride is happening this weekend on Sat., Aug. 20. The ride aims to build awareness about urban greenspace throughout Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. “Our greenspaces are really unique,” says GTECH's Katherine Chamberlain. “They take many different shapes, and they’ve all been designed by neighborhood residents.”


7. As Dick Dale prepares to take the stage at the Rex Theater this Saturday, CP editor Charlie Deitch takes a look back at his 2015 story that revealed Dale's chronic health problems. “When I’m on stage, the pain can be excruciating. Someone has to help me up on stage because I can’t do it alone," Dale said last year.


On our music blog:

Listen up because every week on our FFW music blog, we feature artists that we're covering on our Spotify playlist!


On the pages of our print edition:

click to enlarge CP PHOTO BY BILLY LUDT
CP photo by Billy Ludt
City Paper news intern Billy Ludt explores the Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh chapter and Steel City Sports, two recreational leagues for the LGBT community. The leagues comprises several sports, including softball, volleyball and bowling. “To find a sense of community was really important to me, and to also get back to a sport that I played since I was little,” says Ashley Durham, who plays for the Steel City Softball league.

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Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 3:55 PM

Pat Toomey, the U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who is in a dogfight for re-election, announced in an Aug. 17 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed that he is denouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — the same deal he supported and voted to “fast-track” in May 2015. The TPP would reduce and remove tariffs on international trade for 12 nations, including the U.S., Japan, Australia, Chile and others (not China, for those who were wondering).

“Politicians in both parties who demagogue trade do a disservice to our people,” wrote Toomey in the op-ed, “playing on their economic fears, instead of promoting their economic well-being. But we should not pass a flawed deal just to get a deal done.”

But in 2009, when Sen. Toomey was first running for office, he penned a book on economic policy called The Road to Prosperity. The book highlights the benefits of laissez-faire capitalism that emerged from former president Ronald Reagan’s administration, and includes dozens of mentions on the positive effects of “free trade.”

Multi-millionaire publishing giant Steve Forbes said of the book: “Pat Toomey brilliantly propounds the principles and practical policies needed to make America — and the world — prosperous again. Ronald Reagan, Adam Smith, and Milton Friedman would vigorously applaud what Pat has put forth here.”

In the book, Toomey wrote: “This book reviews many measures the government could take to help ensure a robust recovery and strong, long-term growth including lower taxes, free trade, sound monetary policy and limited spending.” 

Toomey also called free international trade a win-win situation and attacks other domestic labor-friendly ideas like raising the minimum wage. “Excessively high minimum wages, sold as protections against worker exploitation, prevent some people from earning any wages,” Toomey wrote.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who Toomey has not yet endorsed, has visited small towns in Western Pennsylvania and decried the TPP for eliminating many blue-collar jobs like steel manufacturing. (However, many experts, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, point out that so-called bad trade deals were not the biggest factor in the loss of manufacturing jobs. Krugman says that award goes to improvements in technology and efficiency of manufacturers.)

So why is Toomey changing course on his support of TPP?

Toomey’s spokesperson E.R. Anderson says the senator received the full TPP proposal to review in October, and wrote the op-ed now because he had issues with the sections involving agriculture, dairy and the bio-medical industries. Anderson says Toomey questioned TPP negotiators on these industries and was not satisfied with responses.

She says that Toomey is “still in support of free trade” and that the op-ed is “not a rejection of the idea of free trade.”

But given that, in the last couple weeks, Toomey has started to trail his opponent, Democrat Katie McGinty, in four polls, McGinty is more than skeptical.

"Pat Toomey has spent his entire career pushing bad trade deals and policies that ship American jobs overseas, so nobody is buying this ridiculous flip-flop," said McGinty in a press release. "Bad trade deals like the TPP have real impacts on Pennsylvania families, but for Pat Toomey, this is all a political game.”

Some Republicans point out that McGinty changed her mind on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which she supported in 1994 and announced she is against this June. Toomey’s book references NAFTA (and the Central American Free Trade Agreement) writing, “The economic benefit of these trade agreements have been staggering, despite the protests of protectionists.”

However, Toomey's book does highlight a free-trade benefit that may force voters to confront how they really feel about trade deals. He continually references how free-trade deals benefit consumers by providing access to more goods at lower prices (an idea shared in a 2015 economic paper from the White House). And it appears the price of goods is more important to Americans than debating the pros and cons of free trade.

An April AP-GfK poll asked Americans which they would prefer: a $50 pair of jeans made outside of the country or an $85 pair made in the U.S. Two-thirds of pollsters said they would buy the cheaper pair.

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Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 2:58 PM

Last year around this time, I wrote a story about now-79-year-old surf-rock pioneer Dick Dale. At the time, I was a casual fan of Dick's music, and when I saw he was coming through town, music editor Margaret Welsh told me to try and set something up.

At the scheduled time, I called Dick's home and spoke to his wife, Lana Dale, and she said an emergency had come up and we'd need to reschedule. But schedules wouldn't allow another date before Dick left on tour, so she asked me if I could do it in five minutes and I agreed, but apparently Dick didn't: We talked for more than a half hour.

I don't want to recount the entire conversation here — you can read it at the link above. But as Dick gets ready to come back into town Saturday night, I've been thinking back on that piece and the attention it generated. The story had little to do with Dick's music and his significance in the shaping of modern music. Instead we talked about his scores of health issues, the constant pain he lives with, and that he had to keep touring to pay for the crucial medical supplies he needs. 

His story was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. He explained:

“When I’m on stage, the pain can be excruciating. Someone has to help me up on stage because I can’t do it alone," Dale said last year. "“You tell the people, ‘Don’t be scared of dying,’ When your mind leaves this body, it is a beautiful thing and it is not to be feared. Don’t let that fear of dying affect the way you live.

“You take that fear and you use it as a driving force to keep moving forward, no matter how much pain you have. That’s how I do what I do on stage. I’m not afraid to die because it all gets beautiful from here.”

Dick's attitude toward his situation, I think, is what made this story resonate; that and the outrage that he must keep touring just to pay for supplies. Whatever it was, the story went viral within a few hours and spread over the next several weeks. It's become the most-read story on To this day, I still get emails asking about Dick and if he ever got help for his medical costs. I passed a lot of emails on to Dick and Lana in the past year, and although I wasn't able to get a follow-up interview, Lana has told me her husband is still chugging along despite the pain.

Dick plays the Rex Theater this Saturday night. I can't stress enough that if you're a fan of Dick Dale, surf rock or even just great guitar-playing, you need to see his show. Last year's was a jaw-dropping spectacle as the septuagenarian moved around the stage and played every instrument. It would be a disservice to say that he plays well for a 79-year-old; he shreds that guitar like an ageless beast. It's something that has to be experienced. 

And really, after reading our piece from last year and seeing what Dick is going through to be there, it's hard to come up for a reason not to go. I am currently not planning to go because of four busted ribs I suffered in a recent accident. But several times a day, I remember what Dick goes through and start to wonder if broken ribs are really a valid reason not to be there. If he can push through his pain, I'm thinking I probably can too.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 5:37 PM

click to enlarge Missy Moreno (left) and Connor McCanlus in "Whatever Happened to babyGRAND?" - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL RUBINO
Photo courtesy of Michael Rubino
Missy Moreno (left) and Connor McCanlus in "Whatever Happened to babyGRAND?"
Talented local duo babyGRAND, known for improvising whole musical comedies, perform a new but still largely improvised work, What Ever Happened to babyGRAND?

The show, which debuted at Arcade Comedy Theater during PrideFest 2016, adapts Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the famed 1962 drama starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Davis plays a former child star who keeps her more successful sister, played by Crawford, a prisoner in their home after having run her over with a car decades earlier.

The show preserves the characters and iconic moments and costumes, but weaves them together “with improvised music crafted around a single audience suggestion.”

babyGRAND is composed of veteran locally based singers and actors Missy Moreno and Connor McCanlus. Moreno has toured with CLO’s Gallery of Heroes and worked with Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe. McCanlus has performed with Bricolage Productions, CLO Cabaret and Kinetic Theatre, and he runs the Pittsburgh Improv Jam.

What Ever Happened to babyGRAND? will be performed at 10 p.m. this Saturday at the CLO Cabaret Theater. The show runs 50 minutes.

Tickets are $10 at the door.

The CLO Cabaret Theater is located at 655 Penn Ave., Downtown.

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Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 3:56 PM

Almost a year ago, the What a Time to Be Alive mixtape melded Drake's sensitive soul to Future's trap spirit. Last night, they — along with Canadian artists Roy Woods and DVSN — brought their Summer Sixteen Tour to the Consol Energy Center. 

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Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 3:55 PM

At the cross section of alternative mobility and urban greenspaces comes an event that’s gathering serious and casual cyclists for a trip to one of Pittsburgh’s community-created greenspaces.

GTECH, a nonprofit that focuses on greenspace initiatives, is organizing its fifth annual neighborhood biking event, Two Wheels Lots of Green. This guided biking event takes riders on tours of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, stopping at local greenspaces along the way. This year’s Two Wheels Lots of Green tour will be in Pittsburgh's southern Hill Top neighborhoods.   

“Our greenspaces are really unique,” says GTECH relationship manager Katherine Chamberlain. “They take many different shapes, and they’ve all been designed by neighborhood residents.”

The event gives participants the choice to take a rigorous, hilly seven-mile ride or a leisurely four-mile ride, both through the Hill Top's Allentown and Beltzhoover neighborhoods. While stopped at greenspaces, riders will meet neighborhood residents who have dedicated time to creating a green space. The event is also attempting to raise awareness about the amount of underutilized or vacant land in Pittsburgh.

“We want the ride to be accessible to people who are familiar with biking in the city,” says Chamberlain.

“It’s also a great way for residents of the neighborhood to show ownership of their green space,”

says CEO and co-founder of GTECH, Andrew Butcher. “It can be difficult to find time to be exposed to all the amazing things that are happening in these neighborhoods.”  

The idea for Two Wheels Lots of Green came from the Social Capital Council, GTECH’s social outreach committee. One committee member, who happened to be an avid cyclist, wanted to create more interest in greenspaces.

“We said, ‘Boy, I really wish there was a way that I could experience these spaces and meet the people who made them,’” says Chamberlain.

Two Wheels Lots of Green started at a time when the German Marshall Fund, a grant-making organization, was seeking initiatives that dealt with alternative mobility (like biking) and urban green space. The event received the fund's support in 2012 and has occurred yearly since. The ride aligns with GTECH’s mission to make use of vacant and underutilized land in the city.

“It was a perfect time for us,” says Butcher. “‘Shine the light and share the love’ has become a sentiment for Two Wheels Lots of Green.”

Butcher said that crowds for Two Wheels Lots of Green have grown over the past several years; composed of a mix of serious bicyclists and people simply serious about greenspace.

“We’re very excited about aligning this event with Bike Fest,” says Butcher. “This is one of my favorite GTECH events.”

“We always enjoy seeing the connection between the riders,” says Chamberlain. "There’s a developed camaraderie in the groups through a shared interest in greenspaces.”

Two Wheels Lots of Green’s rides start and end at Garden on Gearing, running from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The bike tours are followed by a garden party back at Gearing, with live music, food and a pop-up playground provided by City of Play.

Participants can partake in “bike-powered” smoothies from Green Mountain Energy and iced coffee from Black Forge Coffee during the bike tours.

Tickets for Two Wheels Lots of Green are available for purchase on GTECH’s website.

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Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 1:35 PM

click to enlarge Kathleen Kane
Kathleen Kane
Four years ago, Kathleen Kane made history by becoming the first woman elected to the office of attorney general in Pennsylvania. This week, Kane made history again when she became the first female attorney general in the country to ever be convicted while in office.

(When Pittsburgh City Paper attempted to verify this claim by looking for a list of female attorneys general, the top search results were about a poll ranking the attractiveness of our country's female attorneys general. Thanks to the Internet for reminding us that society hasn't progressed as far as we'd like to think.)

Kane was convicted Monday on charges of perjury and obstruction. On Tuesday, she announced she would be resigning from her position effective this week. 

"I have been honored to serve the people of Pennsylvania and I wish them health and safety in all their days," Kane said in a statement.

The attorney general is often referred to as the state's chief law-enforcement officer. Despite this title, a number of attorneys general have been convicted of crimes while in office. Here are five more convicted attorneys general from around the United States.

Along with Kane, Pennsylvania is "lucky" enough to have had another attorney general convicted while in office. Ernie Preate was convicted in 1995 after being charged with federal racketeering and corruption for mail fraud involving a $20,000 campaign contribution. He served one year in federal prison. 

In Missouri, in 1993, William Webster was convicted of embezzlement for using his staff and office for political purposes. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

In Texas, Dan Morales was convicted in 2003 of mail fraud and tax evasion for trying to steer more than a million dollars in legal fees from a $17 million tobacco-industry settlement. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison.

In Louisiana in 1972, Jack Gremillion was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for perjury after attempting to cover up his involvement with a failed savings and loan.

In Alabama, Richmond Flowers was convicted in 1969 of extortion and sentenced to eight years in prison for conspiring to extort payments from companies seeking to do business with the state.

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