90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh

Essential Pittsburgh airs weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. and is repeated at 8 p.m.
  • Hosted by Paul Guggenheimer

Essential Pittsburgh is a locally produced program from 90.5 WESA dedicated to developing a deep, ongoing exploration of critical issues affecting Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.

Essential Pittsburgh features community leaders and newsmakers in the arts, sciences, technology, business, healthcare, government and education.

  • Call (412) 246-2002 from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays to participate in the discussion.  
  • Tweet your question to @esspgh
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
  • What stories are we missing? Send your thoughts to esspgh@wesa.fm 

Essential Pittsburgh: Some Fresh Ways to Shelter Homeless People

Feb 26, 2015

Jon Potter, the owner of what's said to be Pittsburgh's only hostel, is trying to fund his next big project. A co-operatively owned house called the Pittsburgh Home, it would offer a safe and free place for Pittsburghers in need of shelter. He explains where things stand with the project's development and how a co-operative shelter would work.

 

With regard to his plans for the Pittsburgh Home, Potter explains:

“The shelters are great, but there’s a dignity in having your own home, and that’s what we want to provide. It’s not only dignity, but it’s having an address that you can use to apply for jobs and get a bank account and get a driver’s license. Because actually having a home, I think, is what people need.”


Essential Pittsburgh: Crude Oil Transport Safety Concerns

Feb 25, 2015
Judy and Ed / Flickr

Despite safety improvements, there seems to be an increase in the number of fuel train accidents. So what safety improvements are needed? What has been learned from the recent accident in West Virginia

Reporter Jon Schmitz has been covering this issue for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He says that although there is universal agreement that the old car designs are unsafe, recent accidents have proven the new CPC 1232 designs are also insufficient. 

PhotosNormandie / Flickr

Seventy years ago this month, Pittsburgh native George Pietropola battled frostbite in the Ardennes Forest during World War II. Just after the war ended, then-Staff Sgt. Pietropola was presented with a Bronze Star for his heroism under fire from February 9th to February 24th. 

"It looked more like a slaughter to me. It was terrible. That was one of the worst things I’d ever seen – that ever happened, all the time I was in the war." - George Pietropola

Essential Pittsburgh: Staving Off the Winter Blues

Feb 23, 2015
Hman2 / Flickr

Today's topics: a review of the recent Pennsylvania Democratic Leadership meeting, a new surgical adhesive created by a Pittsburgh company and tips on dealing with the winter blues.

How to Beat the Winter Blues (30:55)

Have the bone chilling temperatures been bringing you down and keeping you indoors? Are you eating too much comfort food and binge watching Netflix to help you deal with the winter? Point Park University Humanities and Human Sciences professor, Brent Robbins offers tips to help combat the winter blues and some actual benefits:

“ Winter season is much more of a melancholy period of time where people sort of get self-reflective and turn more inward…they're not active and out in the streets so much. But along with that, comes I think an opportunity to self-reflect, to think about what we want to accomplish, what we have accomplished so far, changes and goals."

Essential Pittsburgh: The Steel City's Role in Cyber Defense

Feb 20, 2015
Faruk Ates / Flickr

Today's topics include cyber security, a cross country fundraiser for Haiti, and the Pittsburgh connection to the Oscars.

Cyber Security

How devastating could a cyber 9/11 be? Tribune Review reporter Andrew Conte shares the results of his recent investigation into the vulnerability of the nation’s infrastructure to cyber attacks. 

Andrew gives his thoughts on what the government and corporations can do to maintain security in the cyber world:

AP Photo/Chris Tilley

Topics on today's Essential Pittsburgh include the West Virginia train derailment, and ski resorts near and far  

Oil Train Safety   

An oil tanker derailment and fire in West Virginia is raising questions about the apparent failure of safer tank cars to prevent an explosion. 

Dave Mistich, Digital Editor/Coordinator for West Virginia Public Broadcasting offers an update on how residents have been effected by the derailment,

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Last Friday, Governor Tom Wolf announced a hold on all executions in Pennsylvania, due to ongoing questions about the effectiveness of capital punishment.

While the death penalty is on hold, State Senator Daylin Leach is taking steps to repeal the practice in PA altogether.

Rob McCord website

Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty Tuesday to two federal counts of attempted extortion, admitting that he tried to use the position of his office to strong-arm state contractors into donating money to his failed gubernatorial campaign.

WESA's Capitol correspondent Mary Wilson joins us to discuss McCord's steep and fast fall from public office.

August Wilson Documentary Debuts

Feb 18, 2015
The Huntington / Flickr

 

We talked with the producers of a new documentary nearly ten years in the making; "August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand" which focuses on the Pittsburgh born playwright and his ten plays over twenty years covering a one-century cycle of American history.

Our guests are Executive Producer Darryl Ford Williams and Deesha Philyaw, manager of the August Wilson Education Project.

Chuck Cooper’s Legacy for African-Americans in Basketball

Feb 17, 2015
Bagumba / Wikipedia

Chuck Cooper was a Duquesne University basketball star who became the first African-American drafted by an NBA team when he was selected in the second round by the Boston Celtics on April 29, 1950. In 2011, the Chuck Cooper Foundation was established in tribute to his legacy.

The foundation presents its annual Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award this week. Joining us to discuss the legacy of Chuck Cooper is his son Chuck Cooper III.

Cooper explains that, like many other young men who played basketball in Pittsburgh, his father developed his skills as an adolescent at Mellon Park in Point Breeze.

Once in college, he says, the elder Cooper had a great amount of respect for Duquesne University, in part because of an incident involving the University of Tennessee’s basketball team in the late 1940s. The Tennessee team traveled to Pittsburgh but refused to play the Dukes if Cooper would be included on the court. In the face of this prejudice, Duquesne didn’t back down, and the Dukes management sent the Tennessee team back home without a game. This gesture of respect and solidarity meant a lot to Cooper, his son explains.

What Do Unemployment Numbers Really Mean?

Feb 17, 2015
Michael Carian / Flickr

Earlier this month the unemployment numbers were announced. Over two-hundred thousand jobs were added to the economy. While this is good news why do so many people feel we’re still in the recession? Robert Morris University Economics Professor Brian O’Roark explains how unemployment is assessed and who counts as “unemployed.”

Unemployment assessments are done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. O’Roark says that the official ranks of the unemployed do not simply include people who don’t have jobs.

Fitness Means Business

Feb 17, 2015
Fittsburgh / Facebook

From Zumba to yoga to gym memberships, fitness is big business. This week business contributor Rebecca Harris offers her take on some of the latest trends in the business of fitness.

Harris says one of the new ways of working out is treadmill studio running that features intensity training. Another trend is the rise of fitness streaming technologies, which are a popular choice for people who want to work out at home but still have the feel of a “social” experience. Crossfit remains very popular too, Harris says.

Believe Creative / Flickr

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie is now home to a collection of 100 photos of President Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit opens today, and we’ll get a preview of this collection from Margaret J. Forbes, Executive Director Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.

The Not So "Silent Cal," Discovering the Real Calvin Coolidge

Feb 16, 2015
Cliff / Flickr

What can you say about a man known for saying very little?

Our guest, New York Times bestselling author and journalist Amity Shlaes has quite a bit to say. She joins us for a look at the nation’s 30th president, Calvin Coolidge.

Shlaes argues that “Silent Cal” had more of a legacy than being a man of little words.

“People think that because Coolidge said little ---"Silent Cal"--- that he was worth little. And we at The Coolidge Foundation (and I do my research) have discovered that Coolidge is a wonderful president, a model for modern American.”

Shlaes goes on to comment on the idea that Calvin Coolidge was a “quaint” president.

“This way of making him quaint, depicting him as a throwback, something out of a Victorian story... is a way of reducing him. He played to type for fun in the media (he’s not unsophisticated and he was a type: a New Englander). [But] He also was extremely sophisticated in the way he operated to achieve his end, which was to reduce government and honor the office of the presidency.”

The Origins of "Hail to the Chief"

Feb 16, 2015
DVIDSHUB / Flickr

We’re all familiar with the tune "Hail to the Chief" as the President’s anthem. But what are the origins of the song? We’ll discover the history behind the president’s theme song with Deane Root, professor and curator for the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It’s said to come from an old Scottish sailing song y a know there’s lots of islands around Scotland and as they would row to one island or another,they’d sing these songs and these tunes became part of the oral tradition. So in 1810 when Sir Walter Scott wrote his poem about one of those old legends, about an Arthurian legend, this song and many others were used in theatre productions.

Root also says that this song was not always used in a patriotic context.

“ It was used by tutors to learn how to play the violin and the fiddle and the flute and all these other instruments in the 19th century. It was sung by usually men in taverns ya know groups of people who just liked the tune and put whatever words they wanted to.”

Brandy or Beer? A History of Drinking in the White House

Feb 16, 2015
Kirti Poddar / Flickr

 

The 2009 “beer summit” was probably the most famous pouring of alcohol at the White House in recent years. But, what were the drinking habits of our past commanders in chief?

We pose that question to journalist Mark Will-Weber author of the book, "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.”

Mark starts off by telling us what Washington liked to drink:

“George Washington liked a lot of different things, among his favorite were madeira wine, he loved champagne, and he also really liked this special porter beer, dark beer, that was brewed with molasses.”

Jefferson has a more refined taste for alcoholic drinks:

“ It is not out of line to call him the first father of American wine. Jefferson actually had the opportunity to visit a lot of the best vineyards in France and northern Italy and kept meticulous notes about it.”

Franklin Pierce qualifies as an alcoholic by Weber since Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver. Abraham Lincoln was very involved with whiskey as a young man, with both producing and selling.

Monday Rundown: Silent Cal and Other Presidential Tales

Feb 15, 2015
Cliff / Flickr

These topics air Monday February 16, 2015 at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA. 

Lincoln Gallery

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie is now home to a collection of 100 photos of President Abraham Lincoln. Opening today we’ll get a preview of this collection from Margaret J. Forbes, Executive Director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.

Silent Cal

What can you say about a man known for saying very little? Our guest New York Times bestselling author and journalist Amity Shlaes has quite a bit to say. She joins us for a look at the nation’s 30th president, Calvin Coolidge and we’ll even hear from Silent Cal himself.

Hail to the Chief

We’re all familiar with the tune "Hail to the Chief," as the President’s anthem. But what are the origins of the song? We’ll discover the history behind the president’s theme song with Deane Root, professor and curator for the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt

The 2009 “beer summit” was probably the most famous pouring of alcohol at the White House in recent years. But, what were the drinking habits of our past commanders in chief? We’ll pose that question to journalist Mark Will-Weber author of the book, "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.” 

President's Day Weekend Getaways

Feb 13, 2015
Esther Dyson / Flickr

President’s Day weekend is upon us which means a three-day weekend for some. If you plan to get out of town, contributor Elaine Labalme who tweets about food and travel under the twitter handle New Girl In Town, is here with a few travel suggestions .

Elaine tells us about one of her favorite Pennsylvania getaways: The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle

“It’s right in the middle of Bald Eagle State Park on a beautiful lake. This is a twenty room inn. It's a sustainable property. It’s going to be a bit on the chilly side, but this place is just so snug and so cozy. The property is a play of wood and glass, lots of cozy seating areas, you can great games, read a book, [and] they do an amazing gourmet breakfast."

While you are there don't miss out on The Great Backyard Bird Count

If you want to travel to other locations outside Pennsylvania, Elaine recommends:

Mount VernonLas VegasChicago and The Inn at Perry Cabin.

Wolf Proposes Natural Gas Extraction Tax

Feb 13, 2015
Gerry Dincher / Flickr

Governor Wolf has proposed a 5 percent natural gas extraction tax that would be based on both the value and volume of gas extraction from natural gas wells.

For its part, the natural gas industry has fought hard against such a tax in Pennsylvania, saying it will discourage continued investment.

But is this myth or fact?

“The argument from the drilling industry is that the state already has high corporate income tax and the industry is ... paying its fair share in other ways beside a severance tax," says Reid Frazier, a reporter for the Allegheny Front. 

He goes on to say that environmental groups have been a bit silent about this proposal. 

“Some of the environmental groups are waiting to see more details, to see specifics. There are certain environmental clean up initiatives they would like to see. State programs to clean up run off from agriculture, abandon mine clean up. That’s a five billion dollar problem in Pennsylvania that is essentially not funded. They would like to see more funds go to that.”

From the documentary (T)ERROR / Courtesy of Chicken & Egg Pictures

The new documentary (T)ERROR focuses on the role of paid FBI informants in capturing alleged terrorists. The film focuses on a Wilkinsburg man, Khalifa Ali Al-Akili, arrested in 2012 on a gun charge following an investigation in which an FBI informant tried to goad him into conversations about Islamic radicalism. Our guests are David Felix Sutcliffe and Lyric Cabral, directors and producers of "(T)ERROR," winner of the Special Jury Award for Breakout First Feature at the Sundance Film Festival.

According to Sutcliffe, the case against Khalifa, like some other cases the FBI has built, looked strong.

“There are these cases that look impressive, but once you dig beneath the surface there's a lot of issues there,” says Sutcliffe.

From the documentary (T)ERROR / Courtesy of Chicken & Egg Pictures

These topics air Friday February 13, 2015 at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA. Join the conversation LIVE between 12pm & 1 pm weekdays at 412-246-2002.

(T)ERROR

We'll talk with the filmmakers behind a new documentary exploring the role of paid FBI informants in capturing alleged terrorists. The film focuses on a Wilkinsburg man, Khalifa Ali Al-Akili, arrested in 2012 on a gun charge following an investigation in which an FBI informant tried to goad him into conversations about Islamic radicalism. Our guests are David Felix Sutcliffe and Lyric Cabral, directors and producers of "(T)ERROR," winner of the special jury award for breakout first feature at the Sundance Film Festival.

Proposed Extraction Tax on Gas Drillers

Governor Wolf has proposed a 5 percent natural gas extraction tax that would be based on both the value and volume of gas extraction from natural gas wells. For its' part the natural gas industry has fought hard against such a tax in Pennsylvania, saying it will discourage continued investment. But is this myth or fact? We'll be joined in studio by Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front.

WESA Celebrates Inventing Pittsburgh

The "Cloud Factory" is the whimsical name for Oakland's Bellefield Boiler Plant. An unsung giant of the utility world, the BBP keeps most of Oakland toasty and has since 1907. Margaret J. Krauss has the story.

President's Day Weekend Getaways

President’s Day weekend is upon us which means a three-day weekend for some. If you plan to get out of town, contributor Elaine Labalme who tweets about food and travel under the twitter handle New Girl In Town, is here with a few travel suggestions. 

Steve Rhodes / Flickr

While NBC has suspended anchor Brian Williams for six months for misleading the public about his experiences covering the Iraq war, he could still return to the Nightly News desk later this year, but should he?  

Jeff Ritter, Chair of Communications, Media and Technology at La Roche College, and journalist Carmen Gentile, who has covered conflicts and unrest in the Middle East, offer their perspectives on media, journalistic practice and public esteem.

Gentile, who was hit with a rocket propelled grenade while he was covering conflict in Afghanistan, admits that he feels “enraged” with Williams for his dishonesty, and he has articulated his anger in a recent op-ed. Williams, after all, falsely claimed to have experienced precisely what Gentile actually did experience: being hit with an ordnance while covering war.

Local Meets Global When It Comes to Fossil Fuel Divestment

Feb 12, 2015
Universal Pop / Flickr

Diplomats from all over the world are meeting in Geneva this week to draft a crucial plan to address climate change. For this reason, a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement has marked February 13 and 14 Global Divestment Days.

David Shankbone / Flickr

These topics air Thursday February 12, 2015 at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA. Join the conversation LIVE between 12pm & 1 pm weekdays at 412-246-2002.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Diplomats from all over the world are meeting in Geneva this week to draft a crucial plan to address climate change. For this reason, a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement has marked February 13 and 14, Global Divestment Days. Locally, the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition and the Thomas Merton Center are holding a fossil fuel divestment rally and teach-in at the University of Pittsburgh. Nick Goodfellow, a student organizer with Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, and Gabe McMorland, an organizer at the Thomas Merton Center, talk with us about the local efforts to divest from fossil fuel industries.

Brian Williams' Suspension 

While NBC has suspended anchor Brian Williams for six months for misleading the public about his experiences covering the Iraq war, he could still return to the Nightly News desk later this year. But should he? We'll talk with Jeff Ritter, Chair of Communications, Media and Technology at La Roche College, and journalist Carmen Gentile, who has covered conflicts and unrest in the Middle East.

President's Day Weekend Getaways

President’s Day weekend is upon us, which means a three-day weekend for some. If you plan to get out of town, contributor Elaine Labalme who tweets about food and travel under the twitter handle New Girl In Town, is here with a few travel suggestions.

The Economic Costs of Addiction

Feb 11, 2015
http://www.flickr.com/photos/markjsebastian/1264424156/ / Flickr

How do you address the growing trend of addiction in the workplace? How does it impact employers and co-workers? We pose those questions to Rosa Davis, executive director of POWER, a Pittsburgh-based organization helping women in recovery.

According to Davis, when workers struggle with addiction it can have a large impact on the company's bottom line.

"In addition to the human cost, there's a huge economic cost," she says. 

Davis advises employers to be as non-judgmental and as objective as possible. 

Mayor Peduto Talks Community Policing, Snow Removal and More

Feb 11, 2015
Andrew Bardwell / Flickr

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto makes his monthly appearance on the program. We discuss the new 'Safer Together' initiative that the mayor hopes will increase public safety and improve community-police relations, raising the minimum wage and ways to make downtown more livable.

Martin Eckert / flickr

These topics air Wednesday February 11, 2015 at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA. Join the conversation LIVE between 12pm & 1 pm weekdays at 412-246-2002.

Mayor Peduto

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto makes his monthly appearance on the program. We'll discuss the new 'Safer Together' initiative that the mayor hopes will increase public safety and improve community-police relations, raising the minimum wage and ways to make downtown more livable.

WESA Celebrates Inventing Pittsburgh

The "Cloud Factory" is the whimsical name for Oakland's Bellefield Boiler Plant. An unsung giant of the utility world, the BBP keeps most of Oakland toasty and has since 1907. Margaret J. Krauss has the story.

Addiction in the Workplace

How do you address the growing trend of addiction in the workplace? How does it impact employers and co-workers? We’ll pose those questions to Rosa Davis, executive director of POWER, a Pittsburgh-based organization helping women in recovery. 

Tzuhsun Hsu / Flickr

Last month Bar Marco, a trendy restaurant in the Strip District, announced that they plan to do away with tipping this Spring. There’s been an outpouring of interest, curiosity and praise from all over the country.

Bar Marco Co-Owner Bobby Fry and Events Coordinator Andrew Heffner talk about how they came to this decision and how they plan to make it work.

A no-tipping policy has pros and cons for owners, servers, and customers. Offering their perspectives are Meg Fosque, the National Development Director for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), as well as Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton Restaurant in Pittsburgh and a member of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

According to Fry, Bar Marco made the decision to discontinue tipping after encountering research that suggested eliminating the practice could help mitigate some of the restaurant’s scheduling concerns. Workers in restaurants and retail environments often face schedule fluctuations that make their financial and personal lives difficult, Fry says. Bar Marco’s plan to cease the tip system involves creating a conventional forty-hour schedule for its employees and paying the kitchen staff the same as the servers: a standard yearly salary of $35,000.

Governor Wolf Begins Dismantling Corbett’s Healthy PA Program

Feb 10, 2015
Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

When Tom Wolf was campaigning for Governor, he said he would do away with then-Governor Tom Corbett's Healthy PA plan, and replace it with a full Medicaid expansion supported by the Affordable Care Act.

This week Gov. Wolf officially announced plans to transition from Healthy PA to the Medicaid expansion. We'll talk about the implications of this change with Antoinette Kraus, Director of PA Health Access Network.

Kraus says that her organization is relieved to see that Healthy PA will be phased out and the Medicaid expansion will be implemented. The PA Health Access Network has worked to enroll hundreds of Pennsylvanians in Healthy PA, but she says that the program has been complicated and bureaucratic, with substantial limits on accessing care and benefits.

Black History Month: History and Business

Feb 10, 2015
City Parks / City of Pittsburgh

African American life, history and culture have become major forces in the United States and the world. Here to discuss the evolution, from both a social and economic perspective, of Black History Month is business contributor Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University.

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