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2020 Elections Should Be Safe, FBI Pittsburgh Says

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County voters are expected to see new voting machines this election cycle. The new machines create paper receipts, one way FBI Pittsburgh hopes to improve the integrity of the contests.

On today's program: FBI Pittsburgh hopes to apply the cyber security lessons of 2016 to 2020; the U.S. Census Bureau needs many more numerators ahead of this year’s count; a Point Park initiative goes beyond basic survival needs for the city’s homeless; and Philadelphia honors native son Kobe Bryant after the basketball star’s tragic death. 

FBI says protecting 2020 election is "well in hand"
(00:00 — 12:18) 

Foreign adversaries, including Russia and China, try to illegally influence the American political process on a regular basis, not just in the 2016 election, according to the FBI.

Bob Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Office, says the agency is working on three fronts to thwart interference in this year's election including cyberattacks against political campaigns and government infrastructure; secret funding to influence political operations; and, efforts to target social media, “to flood the area with disinformation with the hopes that it will cause an election to go one way or another.” 

FBI Director Chris Wray has established a task force to counter hacking and disinformation and to strengthen communication with state and local officials about threats. But Jones says he doesn’t think the foreign interference in 2016 was due to lack of cooperation. 

Jones says voters should have some concerns but, “We have this particular upcoming election well in hand when it comes to protecting what we need to protect.” 


The Census Bureau is hiring in Western PA
(13:40 — 17:48) 

The big push to count everyone in the United States starts on April 1, and in places like Pittsburgh, the U.S. Census Bureau needs more people to do the work. The bureau has hired 69% of the workers it needs in Allegheny County, according to recent data.

90.5 WESA’s Lucy Perkins reports that many of those jobs are for enumerators, the people who go door to door to get residents to answer the Census. In an effort to attract more workers, the government has boosted pay for enumerators by $5 an hour over the last year, to $23.50,  in Allegheny County.

A Point Park program is helping the homeless thrive instead of just survive
(17:50 — 34:34)

An initiative at Point Park University claims its filling in the gaps between providing basic survival necessities for the homeless. Robert McInerney, a psychology professor and founder of Mobile Thriving Respite, says the program gathers data about the life experiences of the local homeless population and also organizes events for the community. 

Rachel Stough, a psychology major in Point Park’s doctorate program, says it’s more than counting the number of people living on the street. She says it’s important to hear their stories, and that the street community wants to tell their stories, too.

“People are really eager when you’re present and you’re willing to listen,” she says. “Some folks want their stories written down and passed out. There’s whole communities that have stories that are waiting to be told.” 

Point Park students work in partnership with Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, which provides the basic necessities like clothing, food, shelter and some medical care. But McInerney says they’re also there to lend an ear. Mobile Thriving Respite has organized events for the homeless to gather as a community like movie screenings, karaoke and dances

Kobe Bryant’s basketball roots run through Philly
(34:38 — 39:29)

Philadelphia is more to the Kobe Bryant story than his birthplace. The young, yet-to-be international star made a name for himself playing basketball atLower Merion High School. Pat McLoone, the managing editor for sports atThe Philadelphia Inquirer, joins The Confluence to discuss the NBA legend’s layered history with Philadelphia. Kobe Bryant and eight others died Sunday in a helicopter crash in California

Animosity between Kobe and his hometown area arose after he said he wasn't really a Philadelphian because he grew up in a suburb. McLoone says Philadelphia basketball fans and Kobe had long since made peace. Kobe was, after all, a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan. Mourners have been gathering at Kobe’s former high school to leave jerseys and flowers in his memory

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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