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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Clergy Sex Abuse Cases in Philadelphia (from my weekly STAR column)

It’s disheartening to see what is happening to the Catholic Church in Philadelphia and throughout the world.

Last week I visited the basement chapel of St. John the Evangelist parish in Center City. Between 4 and 5 pm on any weekday the chapel is usually packed. It’s a time when the Capuchin-Franciscan monks have Benediction (with Latin hymns). People on their way home from work usually stop in for a quick visit, and then head out for home. Last week, however, I found that I was only one of three people in the pews.
So where were the people?

Call it coincidence, but only days before DA Seth Williams and a grand jury charged 2 priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher with molesting young boys. It was the first time in the United States that a high ranking Church official had been charged with failing to protect children from abusive priests.
It was not a good week to be Catholic.

The Philadelphia blogosphere exploded with people railing against the abuser priests. Many people also boasted that they were former Catholics and that they left the Church because of the sex abuse scandals. Others encouraged church-going Catholics to stop going to Mass or curtail their weekly financial offerings. The numbers of posters who admitted to being ex-Catholics was astonishing.

On the Sunday following the news of the scandal, a parishioner at Saint John’s told me that Sunday Mass attendance in the upper church was also noticeably scant, despite the fact that Saint John’s is not run by the Archdiocese but by the Franciscans.

Are Philadelphians really deserting their parish churches because of the scandal? Time will tell.

While priests who abuse minors or young people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, I draw the line at people who use the scandal as a means to enflame anti-Catholic bias or hatred.

While the public outrage expressed over the Philadelphia area abuse cases is justified, lines get crossed when people castigate the Church for its beliefs on a wide range of subjects, say women priests or abortion,. “These people believe they are eating the body and blood of Jesus Christ at Mass for God’s sake!” one message board commentator wrote. This is just one example of crossing the line.

Of course, Catholics who choose to renounce their faith because of the sex abuse issues have every right to do so, but I would then ask them: Where are you going to go? If that answer is “To some Protestant denomination,” I would remind them that, at least according to an AP report in 2008, sexual abuse among Protestant clergy may be higher than among Catholic clergy.

The 2008 report, published by, states that Protestant abuse statistics “are harder to come by because the hundreds of denominations are less centralized than the Catholic Church.”

Similarly, should an ex-Catholic hope to find refuge in [a sex abuse free] Orthodox Church, he or she would be sadly mistaken. The problem of sexual abuse has no denominational boundaries. Several years ago, the Hellenic Communication Service stated that not only has the Orthodox Church been affected by such scandals, but “in America, individuals have already contacted the archdiocese asking for monetary compensation in [the] millions of dollars.”

The clergy sex abuse crises in the Catholic Church doesn’t mean that there’s something inherent in Catholicism that drives one towards it, as if there was something in the wine at Mass that changed good priests into pedophiles or ephebophiles. Unfortunately, anything less than an outright condemnation of Catholicism these days is seen as being lenient or soft on abusers.

I experienced this first hand last week when, while leaving St. John’s, a passerby on the street gave me a disapproving look, as if just entering a Catholic Church in some way made me a sinister co-conspirator.

Give me a break.

The clergy sex abuse scandal refers to sexual abuse alone, not the Church’s doctrinal belief system.

As for the Church, it needs to get serious and practice what it preaches. After all, it was Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua himself who said in 2002 that, “All of the Cardinals are agreed on Zero tolerance, and…that no priest guilty of even one act of sexual abuse of a minor will function in any ministry or any capacity in our dioceses.”

Okay, now go ahead and do it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One Man in Fishtown (From my Star Column)

While not a beer drinker, I was interested in the story of Tim Patton, an Internet developer, who tried unsuccessfully to open a nanobrewery in his home on Richmond Street and Marlborough in Fishtown. Although Patton seems like a very careful and well intentioned guy, his proposal was voted down (36-32) by the Fishtown Neighbors Association recently.

Reports indicate that the majority of FNA members had fears about the smells that might come from such a brewery, even though Patton had gone to great lengths to prevent any odors from escaping into the neighborhood. Other objections to Patton’s plan included concerns about traffic, litter and public drunkenness.

The traffic complaint has become something of an all-purpose excuse. It was used when Sugar House was first proposed. At that time the prophets of doom warned that if a casino was built in the area our heretofore cozy streets would be clogged with stalled cars and exhaust fumes. That didn’t happen. If anything, Sugar House officials are worried because there’s a decided lack of traffic going in their direction.

The traffic boogeyman scare was also used in Port Richmond when Wal-Mart wanted to build a multiplex store near Northeastern Hospital. People cited the design of the proposed Wal-Mart parking lot as potentially interfering with pedestrian (or vehicle) access to the hospital.

“We don’t need monster Wal-Mart so close to our hospital,” many people said then. So Wal-Mart, which would have been an interesting commercial option for the neighborhood, was voted down in favor of a hospital that eventually turned around and “liquated” itself.

I call this an opportunity lost.

As for the litter and public drunkenness fears concerning Patton’s project, they also lacked substance.

Litter in every conceivable form has been epidemic in the neighborhoods for years now, despite well intentioned periodic community cleanups. Litter, in fact, has become as standard here as the corner mailbox or the local abandoned house. The stretch along E. Thompson Street by Rite Aid and Wawa that some in Port Fishington now refer to as Trash Boulevard, shows no signs of changing anytime soon. How Patton wound up being compared to people who litter is a mystery of the first order.

As for public drunkenness, I bet this argument was used decades ago when beer distributors first sought permission to open in the neighborhoods.

As for “smell” fears, need it be said that what makes life in the city so interesting is its variety of smells?

Whether it’s the smell of frying bacon, cedar wood, herbal soaps or Indian food along Girard Avenue, if you’re a person who wants the air to be as bland as milk toast, you’d better pack your bags and head out of town. (You could go to the country but then you’d risk encountering the smell of barns or cows). The city is all about a variety of smells, from sneeze-inducing women’s perfume, to the odor of spilled grape soda on the 15 trolley.

Take my tiny Port Fishington Street, for instance. Here there are likeable bakery smells, while further away there’s the steak sizzling aroma from Applebee’s. And while there may be no such thing as Dollar Store smells, or Citizen’s Bank smells, you’re sure to sniff a variety of odors en route.

Smells are so persuasive in the city you can’t even escape them in the comfort of your own home. I’m thinking of the pleasant aroma of brewing coffee that wafts into my house every morning from the neighbors next door.

Not long ago I discovered some information about a neighborhood named Fishtown in Leland, Michigan. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, this other Fishtown seems to have a healthy tourist trade. One of the tourist draws, besides the water, is the town’s olfactory fame.

“Fishtown is small in size,” The Webner House Family website boasts, “but is still a real treat for the senses. The smells are the kind of smells you associate with the waterfront, like the smell of fish and decaying plants…or Whitefish being smoked.”
And yes, people love it.

I think Patton deserves another chance.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

STAR column: A Miraculous Icon

While researching my book, Philadelphia Architecture, I met with several Eastern Orthodox and Catholic priests in Northern Liberties to bone up on the history of area churches. One notable contact was Archpriest Father Mark Shinn of Saint Andrew’s on 5th Street.

When I met Father Shinn he told me that he converted to Orthodoxy years ago after a period of soul searching. Fr. Shinn’s story impressed me. I find that people who have a ‘conversion’ experience after a period of doubt have insights about faith that most other people lack.

Like most Orthodox (and Eastern Catholic) priests, Fr. Shinn is traditional when it comes to clerical dress. His long grey beard and black cassock are signature trademarks in the neighborhood. During my visit to St. Andrew’s in 2005, Fr. Shinn walked with me into his office but took time along the way to bow and cross himself before a series of icons. These prayerful gestures impressed me as being unselfconscious and authentic.

I’m thinking of St. Andrew’s because when I was in Helsinki, Finland several weeks ago, I had the good fortune to visit the Orthodox Cathedral there where I met a monk who could have been Fr. Shinn’s double. Although not a priest, Timo Mertanen had a special devotion to the monastic life and talked about going to the only Orthodox monastery in Finland in a few years to study for the priesthood. Brother Timo also followed Fr. Shinn’s routine when, as we walked around the cathedral, he bowed and crossed himself before certain icons.

To those unfamiliar with Eastern Christianity, whether Orthodox or Catholic, I suggest you visit one of these churches and have a look. Better yet, try to attend an English-speaking Divine Liturgy, whether at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral or at Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox church. (Saint Andrew’s services are in Old Slavic.) If you’re anything like me and admire tradition, you’ll find much to admire in these ancient rituals. And if you’re lucky, you might even find it difficult to go back to your plainer, more modern form of worship.

When I visited Saint Andrew’s I asked about the many icons in the church. I wanted to know if there were old icons or icons that were considered miraculous. By miraculous, I meant icons that shed tears or blood or that “help” in unexplained healings.

In Philadelphia there’s already one such icon, the icon of Saint Anne, the Mother of the Holy Virgin Mary. Although this modern icon was commissioned in 1998 for a convent in Jerusalem, it ended up in the Orthodox church of Our Lady, The Joy of All Who Sorrow, on North 20th Street. In 2004 the icon began to stream myrrh, or liquid streams and droplets. The flow continued for 3 years and increased on feast days. This icon is famous throughout the Orthodox world.

In Helsinki, I asked Brother Timo if his cathedral had a miraculous icon. He told me the story of the famous miracle-working Mother of God of Kozelchan icon that parishioners had decorated with precious gems and mementos in thanksgiving for answered prayers. The icon, however, was stolen by robbers who broke into the cathedral one night. The thieves wanted the icon for its gold and silver, not for its healing properties, since healings and theft are incompatible. The icon has not been recovered.

In 2005, I asked Fr. Shinn if Saint Andrew’s had any miraculous icons. I was hoping for a sensational story but none was forthcoming. Icons don’t become miraculous just because you want them to.

Philadelphia, of course, could use many powerful miraculous icons since the all too human forces here seem incapable of doing the simplest things like clearing the streets of snow or making Septa run on time.

While we’re at it, we could also use a divine hand to help change the weather. “We could use any kind of help,” as an old timer said to me one night at the Front and Girard Avenue trolley stop.

My story ends on a high note. As I was saying good-bye to Brother Timo on the other side of the world, I asked if there was an icon I could purchase as a memento of my visit. Brother Timo then handed me a 6”x 5” replica of the miracle working icon, sans the jewels, that had been stolen.

“It’s yours, no charge,” he said, “but get an Orthodox priest to bless it.” Of course I thought of Fr, Shinn and Saint Andrew’s. Perhaps I’ll get down there one of these days.

I’ve positioned the treasured icon in my house by the front window so that it’s “close” to the street. The street, of course, leads to Center City and to the world beyond, “places” that could use a miracle.

STAR column: Philly Snow Removal Agnst

I’ve lived through a lot of Philadelphia snowstorms, but I have to say that last week’s storm was one of the worst in terms of city cleanup.

Twenty-four hours after the storm there was still significant snow on Market Street and in other parts of Center City. The same was true three days after the storm. That’s when I had to travel into Germantown. While both the 15 trolley and the subways were running smoothly, once I hit Broad and Erie I had to look twice to believe what I saw all around me: masses of people waiting for the 23 and 53 buses, just to name two. My bus, the 53, hadn’t come in hours, and the word on the street was that it was suddenly discontinued because of icy conditions.

Remember, this was a good three days after the storm. It was also well after Mayor Nutter announced to the news media that street conditions in the city were great because the plows had been out in force.

Conditions in the city were not great but this fact was ignored by a mayor who prevaricates in the manner of a seasoned politician. If by plowing Mayor Nutter means going over a street once, then he was correct. There were plow track marks to be sure, but underneath the marks were layers of ice and snow. I’ve never seen the city look so bad. Indeed, the time I spent traveling to and from Germantown that day took me almost 5 hours. The return trip on the 23 along Germantown Avenue was even worse than the trip from the Riverwards. Passengers waited an hour for that bus on an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon.

On my way to Germantown I had no choice but to hail a hack cab from Broad and Erie because there was no 53 bus. The passengers waiting with me wanted answers, however. They began calling Septa in search of an explanation but all they got was confusion and conflicting information. One Septa operator said a bus was on the way; another insisted one had already come and that the lot of us had mysteriously missed it. Perhaps the bus was wearing cologne called Invisible?

Frustration at that little bus stop was at an all time high, just as it must have been at hundreds of bus stops throughout the city. It had been a frustrating snow week, period, especially in snowbound Center City. At a local Wendy’s I witnessed customers lashing out viciously at one another for “breaking in the front of the line,” while I encountered other outbursts of temper on the street and elsewhere.

While riding the hack cab, I could see that Germantown was in worse shape than the Riverwards. The driver was a little old guy who’d seen a lot over the years. He talked about the condition of the streets as he swerved the cab to avoid ice or mountains of snow. At one point he had to slow down to a snail’s pace to avoid hitting a woman in her Sunday best who had to walk in the middle of the streets because there was nowhere else to walk. Every street we turned down was covered in snow and had significant ice patches.

“The Nutter man has done nothing, look at this,” the driver said. “He’s not getting my vote next time.”

The driver said he’s never seen the city look so bad, either, despite all the pats on the back the mayor has been giving himself and his friends-- the plow truck people.

The plow trucks are another story. Forty-eight hours after the storm hit a friend of mine was driving in the city when he noticed a procession of plow trucks parked in a long line with their flashes on.

“Hey, why aren’t you guys plowing the streets?” he good naturedly asked a driver.

“We’re waiting to see which jurisdictions we’re assigned to!” one driver said.

Have you ever seen that play called ‘Waiting for Godot” where the characters spend a lifetime waiting for someone who never comes?

Philadelphians are waiting, Mr. Mayor.

In the meantime, I’m glad for the people on my street who have those mini scooters that can double as snow plows. The day after the storm they were up early blazing trails up and down the street. I know the neighbors were grateful.

This nightmare of repeated snow (and synchronized shoveling) stands to be repeated on Wednesday (when this paper hits the streets) when an Arctic storm, twice as big as the last one is predicted to hit the area. When one thinks of new snow on old snow or old ice the result is… crippling.

Not a time to quibble about jurisdictions.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011


A recent US Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore made a claim that there were far too few active Catholic priests familiar with the rite of exorcism.

The old rite, as it turns out, has fallen into disuse, and it’s no wonder. The modern age has redefined evil along abstract lines. There may be evil thoughts and evil deeds like murdering newborns or slitting the throat of one’s grandmother, but to say that there are distinct evil entities who have influence over our lives has become the punch line of late night TV jokes.

It’s considered unsophisticated to talk about “Satan” or “Lucifer” as if they were “real” presences with authentic power. This is so despite the willingness of people to mention God as a force for “good.” References to God garner no awkward glances.

Conclusion: Belief in God is acceptable, belief in Satan, is not.

For many today, even Christians, so-called possession by the devil is usually seen as a ‘misreading’ of a psychological condition. Epilepsy for instance, used to be cited as evidence for demonic possession until medical science proved otherwise. But one mistaken classification by the Catholic Church does not mean that all possession is a myth.

After all, in Matt:25:16 Christ himself addressed demonic possession when he chased unclean spirits out of human beings and “transferred” them into the bodies of pigs. The pigs, poor things, hurled themselves over a cliff. Living in the computer age as we do is no reason to suppose that demons have suddenly vacated the premises, a death by modernity if you will.

But images (or the idea) of devils have always evoked special attention. Unlike werewolves or mythical Frankenstein monsters, the legacy of devils is not relegated to the realm of the mythical.

That’s why When the US bishops called for more priest exorcists, I thought of film Rosemary’s Baby. The Polanski film of 1968 had at its theme secret rituals and ceremonies as well as a secret society of Satanists masquerading as contemporary humanists who would no more admit to a belief in Satan than they would Martians inhabiting the bodies of humans. Satan, it’s been said by saints and theologians, does not want people to believe in him, and therein lies his greatest power.

While the Catholic Church claims it needs more exorcists, according to Papal insider (and now deceased) Jesuit theologian, Malachi Martin, the Catholic Church may need an exorcist.

Martin, who died in 1996, says that at the height of the Second Vatican Council in Rome, there was a ceremony to enthrone Lucifer in the Vatican (and the Chair of Peter). The church in question, Saint Paul’s chapel within the Vatican walls, hosted a very different rite of Mass on January 29, 1963, just one week after the election of Pope Paul VI. (Years later, according to Fr. Martin, Pope Paul VI would write a note to his successor, John Paul II, and tell him of this ceremony.) Paul VI is also famous for his statement, “The smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary.”

For decades this statement has been the source of much confusion and controversy, but when paired with Fr. Martin’s testimony, it fits like the lost part of a puzzle.

The ceremony, Fr. Martin is on record as saying, was a black Mass, or the Traditional Latin Mass said in reverse, complete with an animal sacrifice and a drugged young girl who may or may not be the victim of ceremonial sexual rituals. The ceremony was not the Novus Ordo Mass because, in Fr. Martin’s words, “even the Satanists know that this Mass is not valid.” The Black Mass was attended by high ranking prelates in the Church, important layman, business leaders and politicians. At least one Cardinal was in attendance. A concurrent “Enthronement of Satan” black Mass was also held in South Carolina on that date.

In his novel, ‘Windswept House,’ which Fr. Martin always maintained was 90% fact and 10% fiction, the opening chapter describes this Mass.

“…In an atmosphere of darkness and fire, the Chief Celebrant in each Chapel intoned a series of Invocations to the Prince. The Participants in both Chapels chanted a response. Then, and only in America’s Targeting Chapel, each Response was followed by a Convenient Action—a ritually determined acting-out of the spirit and the meaning of the words.”

The presiding Bishop then considered the Victim. “Even in her near unconscious state, still she struggled. Still she protested. Finally, the Bishop began the Great Invocation: ‘’I believe that the Prince of the World will be enthroned this night in the Ancient Citadel, and from there He will create a New Community: the Universal Church of Man.”

Fr. Martin’s best selling book, ‘Hostage to the Devil,’ described the priest’s years as an exorcist. Some Vatican insiders insisted that Fr. Martin had an axe to grind, while others attempted to destroy his credibility with stories of immoral behavior and illicit affairs with the wives of friends. Towards the end of his life, despite a liberal sojourn when he worked for Cardinal Bea during the time of the Council, Fr. Martin maintained that the Catholic Church was in apostasy. He pointed to liberal, heretical theologians like Charles Curran and Hans Kung, as being given slaps on the wrist for ascribing to heretical doctrines but still allowed to practice as Catholic priests, while those whose only goal was to preserve tradition, such as Archbishop Lefebvre, was excommunicated by then Pope John Paul II (that excommunication was summarily lifted by Pope Benedict VI).

Martin is not the only authority to confirm that there’s a secret cabal of Satanists and Freemasons high up in the Catholic Church.

Father Gabriele Amorth, the one time Chief Exorcist in Rome wrote in his book, “Memoirs of an Exorcist: My Life fighting against Satan,” that there are active Satanic sects within the Vatican “where participants reach all the way to the College of Cardinals.” This infiltration of Satanists and Masons forms what Martin calls the Vatican “superforce,” or an organization of powerful prelates who work to destroy the Catholic Church from within.

In Rosemary’s Baby, Mia Farrow’s character has to deal with doctors and psychiatrists whose mission is to trick her into believing she’s having a normal baby. As the mother of Lucifer’s son (for some kind of New World Order), she must be never know the facts about the true nature of her baby until after its birth.
Like Mia Farrow, the Catholic Church has been tinkered with by forces that have snuck inside the gates. The Church has been fed Rosemary’s chocolate mousse laced with Tannis Root.

The slow and insidious impregnation began as early as the 1930s and 40s when former United States Communist Party member, Bella Dodd, testified before the House on Un-American Activities in 1952 that the Communist Party in the 1930s “put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within. ”

Dodd told the Committee, “Right now they are in the highest places, and they are working to bring about change in order that the Catholic Church will no longer be effective against Communism.”

The change, Dodd asserted, “Would be so drastic that you will not recognize the Catholic Church.”

Confirming Dodd’s testimony, another former American Communist Party official, Manning Johnson, told the HUAC that, “…the Communists discovered that destruction of religion could proceed much faster through infiltration of the Church by Communists operating within the Church itself.”

While the Council itself did not call for the radical changes and abuses that occurred over the last 40 years, “the spirit of Vatican II” led bishops to implement changes not authorized by the Council or the Pope. One such change was that regional conferences of bishops were given new powers that would later work to distort and change the original intention of the Council. One example is the Council’s insistence that Latin be retained as an essential part of the Catholic Mass. Conferences of regional bishops kicked this mandate to the curb in the name of “the spirit of Vatican II”

The last forty years has not been the greatest epoch in the history of the Church.

And it may all have to do with Malachi Martin’s claim that there once was a Black Mass within the Vatican walls.

Thom Nickels
"It was The Hour. The beginning of the Availing Time for the Prince's Ascent into the Citadel. At the tinkling of the Bell of Infinity, all Participants in Leo's Chapel rose to their feet as one. Missals in hand, the constant clickety-clack of the Bones as grisly accompaniment, they chanted their full-throated processional, a triumphant profanation of the hymn of the Apostle Paul. 'Maran Atha! Come, Lord! Come, O Prince. Come! Come!..."  Malachi Martin, Windswept House, p14
"The Enthronement of the Fallen Archangel Lucifer was effected within the Roman Catholic Citadel on June 29, 1963; a fitting date for the historic promise about to be fulfilled. As the principal agents of this Ceremonial well knew, Satanist tradition had long predicted that the Time of the Prince would be ushered in at the moment when a Pope would take the name of the Apostle Paul...."  Malachi Martin, WH, p.7 

THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE (from ICON Magazine, February 2011, The Last Word)

Not only does the President’s House at 5th and Market Streets resemble a half constructed modular home but this skeletal tribute to Washington and Jefferson might also double as a SEPTA subway stop. The structure’s minimalist frame, while pretending to take smart cues from the (nearby) Robert Venturi-designed Franklin House, is a disaster on all fronts. The 10.5 million dollar design tragedy, which incited an eight year ideological war between the National Park Service and various black community organizations, could have been a success if political squabbling had taken a back seat to architecture.

This Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners structure should be laid bare and another architect, like Robert A.M. Stern, brought in to redo the project. Stern, the recent recipient of the 2011 Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture, could at least be counted on to deliver a substitutive building that would give Philadelphians and tourists alike a “real” Presidents house.

The present structure with its nine open air slave reenactment videos, and grade-school like “teaching” storyboards fastened on the brick and granite walls, is an intellectual embarrassment. Visitors get quick Readers Digest-style sound bites about the lives of presidential slaves. That’s pretty much the entire enchilada. Call it the President’s Slaves House, but mixing oil and water like this comes close to false advertising. As it is, the only “President” we get is the down under, glass enclosed archeological dig showcasing the foundations of the real house built sometime between 1790 and 1800 (but demolished in 1833). While the framed “dig” works very well as a centerpiece, everything else on the ground floor—the representational door, window and fire place frames of the original house—points to a curious flip flop as the slave narrative dominates and “enslaves” the story of the presidents-- or the evil oppressors in the archeological hole.

It’s not that the story of slavery in Philadelphia shouldn’t be told. Tell it by all means but don’t superimpose it onto another story. The design-message of the President’s House seems to be nothing but a judgment of 19th century pro-slavery views by “enlightened” 21st century standards. As a result, the visitor leaves knowing nothing about the important people that lived in this house, namely Benedict Arnold and Robert Morris.

If the mission of the architects was to cast aspersions on the presidents the house is supposed to honor, then they succeeded in equating the guys in wigs with rabid Klu Kluxers. But even this message is delivered with overblown evangelical zeal. Visitors are hit with one hammer blow after another in those instructive billboards. The most egregious, “The Dirty Business of Slavery,” wins the Captain Obvious Award for its feel of a ruler-holding third grade teacher standing by to make sure that every visitor pays attention.

Philadelphia deserves better.


Just before the hard won Senate victory relegating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the trash heap of history, something else came out of Washington that was virtually overlooked by the mainstream media. The so-called Obama compromise tax bill, which extends tax cuts to the wealthy for another two years, and which reduces the Estate Tax (which benefits the wealthy) was passed with huge Democratic Party support. Besides increasing the costs of maintaining our society onto the backs of middle income and lower income Americans, the bill also addressed Social Security. The president and his advisors proposed a 2% Social Security tax cut (from the standard 6.2% rate) for one year. While the average American paycheck will now see a slight increase, the Machiavellian move to dismantle the financially healthy Social Security system is built on the insidious presumption that the American public will be in no mood to reinstate the 2% loss on the 6.2 % tax a year from now. Why? Because at that point people will be used to the extra money in their paycheck and they’ll balk at giving it up. Republicans in 2012 will address Obama’s promise to return to the 6.2% tax by insisting that the Democrats want to raise taxes.

Political support for Social Security will then begin to diminish.
This almost surely spells death for the Social Security system as know it, because in 2012 Republicans will suggest making both the tax breaks for the wealthy and the Social Security adjustment tax, permanent. “Obama wants to raise your taxes” will become the new Republican campaign slogan, and from this we will see political support for Socials Security diminish.

“This is the nature of compromise,” President Obama said in support of this bill. But some things are not negotiable. For our seemingly Trojan Horse of a president to use Social Security as a bargaining chip is a major betrayal of progressive values.


The hunt for the so called “Kensington Strangler” has caused a lot of people to offer opinions about what’s wrong with the area. On one hand, you have busloads of Penn academics traveling through Kensington streets on sightseeing tours. As reported recently in The Philadelphia Inquirer, a group of professors and anthropologists took a ride through “rough and tumble” Kensington to get a first hand look at prostitution and open air drug transactions.

Images of an Ivory Tower bus filled with Margaret Mead and Jane Goodall types staring at the natives through binoculars would be amusing if it weren’t such an exercise in futility.
“It’s not hidden from view. You can see it along many streets. People scattered as the bus passed,” The Inquirer quotes one “in the bus” professor as saying.

Of course the natives are going to run. Nobody likes to be on the statistical end of an anthropological study. “Oh, look at that one will you!”

“Get a load of her—no teeth!”

While I realize it’s the business of universities to do studies-- often these tomes wind up in glossy binders or as graphs in textbooks where the print is too small—they rarely if ever produce any kind of change.

So what kind of change would ‘the experts’ want for Kensington?
Some say that Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood should be Kensington’s role model. Kensington advocates, in fact, like to talk about “tipping points,” and a “positive transformation of the area led by artists and entrepreneurs.”

It amazes me how people are so quick to call for a massive immigration of artists, as if this group constituted a financially stable demographic. Generally, the opposite is true.
Artists, as a rule, don’t have much money. If a thousand artists move into an area you’re going to have people looking for a cheap lifestyle. A neighborhood filled with only artists would quickly fall apart. Kensington needs a vibrant business influx. A lot of people sitting around in “green” spaces making pottery won’t be enough to change a neighborhood.

But Northern Liberties, or Philadelphia’s “New Hope-style” neighborhood, is populated by stock brokers, lawyers, physicians and other “young” professionals. It’s an area where even the corner restaurant is a pricey affair. Pop into a Northern Liberties or Girard Avenue Fishtown bar and chances are you’ll pay $9 to $10 for a glass of wine. If you’re a woman and want your hair done, the typical NL hair salon will charge you $40 more than a “normal” salon in neighboring Port Richmond.

If Kensington is to change it should change in the manner of (humble) Port Richmond. In Richmond, you have clean and stable neighborhood businesses without the overpriced “chi chi” Liberties elements.

(From the February issue of ICON Magazine, The Last Word.)