90.5 WESA Features and Special Reports

There are 45.3 million Americans living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Poverty affects people from all walks of life, in all areas of the country, but according to several studies, people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are hit by poverty more often than others.

“I struggle every day,” said Lynn, who lives just outside Pittsburgh. She didn’t want to use her last name. Lynn identifies as lesbian, and she doesn’t work because of a disability. Lynn is also diabetic and living on a very fixed income.

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Ron Worstell served as an infantryman for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970.

“I tell everybody that my time in Vietnam of one year at the age of 20 something was really five percent of my life at that time, but that experience is 75 percent of who I am today,” he said.

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In 1999, Lisa and Sumner Bemis met at a bar during a Penguins hockey game. She was intrigued by his unusual name, “and the fact that he had a Camaro," recalled Lisa.

"I loved muscle cars, " she said, "so it worked.”

Less than three years later they were married. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks happened Sumner was deployed as part of the National Guard and was in Iraq from 2005-2006. When he returned, Lisa was overjoyed to have him back. But she said he was a different person.

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Tom Jones served aboard amphibious assault ships for the U.S. Navy during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.

As 18 and 19 year olds, Jones said he thinks he was too young and inexperienced to be scared.

“I think being young at that time, it was just an experience," he said. "You don’t realize exactly what is going on until you get a lot older and reflect back on those situations you were in.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Photographer Duane Michals grew up in McKeesport, but it was a trip to Russia that prompted his foray into photography.

"So going to Russia, I figured I should take pictures, so I borrowed a camera," said Michals. "Though I did take a course in photography, I didn't even own a camera. And I didn't take a light meter because I thought if I owned a light meter that meant I was officially a photographer, and that would have been intimidating ... if I had never gone to Russia, I never would have been a photographer, it literally changed my life."

Bob Studebaker / 90.5 WESA

Iron City Aerials has performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Zoo, the National Aviary, the Science Center and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. It all began when Kelsey Keller was earning her Ph.D. in biophysics.

Kelsey Keller is the artistic director for Iron City Aerials. They hang and perform from what are essentially silk scarves and amaze people at public and private events. You can even arrange for an aerial bartender. Kelsey describes what they do as a "combination of dance and acrobatics.”

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Amanda Haines served in Iraq as an intelligence analyst for the Marine Corps from 2003-2008. She rose to the rank of sergeant.

By the time she was deployed to Fallujah, the larger conflicts were over, and she says she was there to work with the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Haines joined the military the summer after she graduated high school. From learning to manage finances to dealing with being away from home, Haines said she grew up in the Marine Corps.

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Shawn Jones was a paratrooper and instructor with the U.S. Army from 2001 until he received a medical discharge in 2012. As he rose to the rank of staff sergeant, Jones says his leadership gave him the soldiers who were at risk of being discharged.
 
“They gave him to me because they were going to kick him out,” he said.

His favorite memories of his service were when those soldiers changed their attitudes and climbed the ranks.

As for regrets, Jones says he learned the value of time. He didn’t accomplish some of his goals.

Brian Siewiorek

Back in the late '60s, Andy Warhol would frequently ask artists like the Velvet Underground to perform live as he projected his films. The practice nearly died with the artist, but it's being resurrected in Pittsburgh this week.

Musicians will perform live scores Friday for 15 Warhol films that experts are calling “unseen.”

“Warhol shot a lot of film and he probably looked at it, put it away,” said Geralyn Huxley, curator of film and video for the Andy Warhol Museum. “Certainly they were never publicly screened that we know of.” 

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Amy Mattila was an occupational therapist at Walter Reed Hospital while in the U.S. Army from 2005-2011. Mattila, who rose to the rank of captain, says having the opportunity to treat injured soldiers coming back from Iraq at the height of the conflict changed who she is today.

Mattila now teaches occupational therapy at Chatham University. Her experience at Walter Reed has come full circle, she says, as she now connects her students to past patients for community service work.

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A recent story about the disparity in Boy and Girl Scouts course offerings at the Carnegie Science Center caught fire online. The outrage was made all the more contentious because the seemingly single course offered for Girl Scouts centered on creating beauty products.

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Ben Keen served in the U.S. Army from 1999-2008 and rose to the rank of Sergeant E-5.

While serving in Iraq he learned the leadership skills that helped him launch Steel City Vets, a support group for post-9/11 veterans.

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John Stakeley served with the Army National Guard for 13 and a half years,  and for the last three years as a Captain with the U.S. Army Reserves.

While he didn’t have one defining moment, Stakeley said the Army established a trust and a bond he hasn’t experienced anywhere else. He said that was especially true when he was deployed to Iraq in 2005.

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Theo Collins served six years with the Marine Corps, including a tour in Afghanistan.

Toward the end of his career he worked with Wounded Warriors, assisting injured veterans to events. After his time of service, Collins joined a fellow marine he met in Afghanistan on "Project 22," a documentary looking at veteran suicide.

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Chris Mohnke, a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, left the Coast Guard earlier this year as a Lieutenant junior grade after five years of service.

He learned to be a leader, met his best friends in the Coast Guard.

“It’s hard to gauge how much the service has changed me as a person because up until very recently my entire adult life has been in the Coast Guard,” he said.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

It’s a sunny afternoon on Bell Avenue in North Braddock, and a bunch of kids have gathered around a wooden table set up in what a year ago was just another empty lot.

Now the lot is a kid-driven community garden, and on the table is a microchip called a MaKey MaKey attached to a laptop. Wires that stick out from the MaKey MaKey are clamped onto cherry tomatoes. When the kids squeeze the tomatoes, different musical notes play.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

The Emerald Ash Borer has all but wiped out ash trees in and around the Pittsburgh region, and even though the insect only goes after one tree species, the effects will be felt on a much wider scale.

Pretty soon you won’t be able to tell dead trees from live trees as leaves begin to fall. For now, as you’re driving around Pennsylvania, you can look out over stands of trees and see lush, green landscape – but – that landscape is dotted in many areas with dead trees.

The Associated Press

Roberto Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, but you’d never know it from the hundreds of people who show up to Pirates games wearing jerseys with his name and number — 21 — printed on them. 

Now two musicals will trace the life of "The Great One" from his childhood in Puerto Rico to his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates from the mid-50’s to his untimely death at age 38.

Composer Alki Steriopoulous to spend nearly a decade writing a musical about Clemente.

It's called "21."

Inside the Halls of Government, Gas Industry Makes its Pitch

Sep 11, 2014
Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Greg Vitali has been a state representative for more than 20 years. He saw the rise of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania mainly through the lens of the state Capitol. About five or six years ago, he says, lobbyists for the industry began showing up. And they’ve never left.

“Drillers have this constant presence in Harrisburg  You go to any committee meeting, related to drilling, you see representatives from American Petroleum Institute, you see lobbyists from Range Resources,” Vitali says. “They’re just always here.”

Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

In February, Governor Tom Corbett announced his intention to balance the state budget, in part, using millions of dollars in projected revenues from new oil-and-gas drilling leases in state parks and forests. It was the first public acknowledgment of Corbett’s plans to lift a 2010 moratorium on leasing.

But records uncovered in an investigation by 90.5 WESA and the Allegheny Front suggest the issue may have been under active discussion much earlier.

Martha Rial / Special to 90.5 WESA / The Allegheny Front

As the agency that oversees 2.5-million acres of public land in Pennsylvania formed policy on drilling in state forests, the agency's head met frequently with oil and gas lobbyists in the capitol, including stops at upscale restaurants.

That's according to the calendar of Richard Allan, former Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

Flooding the Zone: Gas Industry Pours Millions into Lobbying PA

Sep 8, 2014
Wally Gobetz / via Flickr Creative Commons

Barry Kauffman sees similarities between the oil and gas business and the business of ‘government relations’--lobbying.

In fracking, gas companies inject water, sand and chemicals underground to extract gas. In politics, Kaufmann says, you use campaign contributions and lobbying money, “inject it under high pressure under the legislature, to extract public policy, from which you profit. The two processes are actually very much parallel,” says Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog group.

Bob Studebaker / 90.5 WESA

Poet Jessica Server likes the sense of freedom she gets from writing and appreciates opportunities to present her work to audiences. She considers it “an act of engagement that’s a step of the creative process.”

“What I’ve always loved about writing is that it’s sort of a vehicle that can take you anywhere,” she said.  

Server, who lives in Friendship, said the most important qualities for a writer, especially a poet, are curiosity and awareness.

Family, friends, faith leaders and elected officials gathered at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill Tuesday to say goodbye to former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff. She was remembered for her love of the city, and her grandmotherly, yet tough demeanor.

Sophie Masloff’s casket, draped with an American flag, was carried past mourners as the congregation sang “America the Beautiful.”

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

Whether a cultural center can also be a hotel is one of the questions at the heart of the fight over the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

This week a group of foundations made a case for their $7.2 million bid to buy and maintain the center as it is. A hotel developer, bidding $9.5 million, believes the two entities can co-exist.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Poison ivy, bug bites, allergies — just hearing those words can make you want to scratch. But even though we all itch, and we all scratch, we don’t know very much about what is happening in our brains when we do so.

New work by researchers, including one in Pittsburgh, is attempting to figure it out.

courtesy LiveLight

Say you have a large volume of digital video — hours of nanny-cam footage, perhaps, or a wedding reception.

And it’s boring, deadly boring. 

But suppose that, somewhere on that tape, something interesting does happen. Maybe it's just five seconds’ worth of attention-worthy images, buried under a mountain of redundant and predictable ones.

Mathieu Plourde / Flickr

There are more than 7 million students around the world enrolled in some 12,000 Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, with topics ranging from oil and acrylic painting techniques to developmental artificial intelligence.

But, MOOCs aren’t your typical online classes. They’re free; they don’t go towards earning a degree; and, rarely are there assignments, but therein lies the problem.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Zer068 is an identifying number for convicts from the 3rd District of Pennsylvania who go to federal prison.

It’s also the name of a fledgling company.

Founder Daniel Bull is trying to walk the line between honesty about his past and giving himself and others a second chance.

Zer068 has been created specifically to help people with felonies or crimes, a past they would like to forget, overcome that past," Bull said. "We get it, we’re there, we understand what you’re about and we’re here to help.”

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by 30 percent by 2030. 

The proposal has been hotly debated since then, and one of only four public input sessions nationwide begins Thursday morning in Pittsburgh. 

Because the power industry is responsible for more than a third of all carbon emissions in the U.S, it seemed to many to be the best place to start. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency received approximately 300,000 public comments before the hearings began.

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