This is one of those times where I have to stray from talking about real estate and local politics and talk about something larger and more significant.   I dislike the Culture Wars; this never-ending battle of wits where people are compartmentalized as backwards on both sides of countless wedge issues.

Because Utah residents now have legal gay marriage in their state–a notion I thought would never happen; and that Pennsylvania is facing similarly strong court challenges, it’s time to look at this again with open eyes.

And it’s not going to be possible to talk about Utah without the Mormon church.  It is the origin of the state of Utah and Utah has been married to it ever since.  It’s the only place in America where the line of separation between church and state is as razor thin as possible.

Mormons are prevalent in the Rocky Mountain states, but are a distinct minority everywhere else. [Wikipedia]
Let’s remind ourselves of what The Mormon church is.  Or rather, how it got to Utah.  Early in its history it was a small sect with numbers in the five-figure range, eeking out a living in central Illinois.  Polygamy was a central feature of Mormon life and culture.  Brigham Young, the leader of the church fathered fifty-six children.  56!   And I thought my great-grandparents were weird for running a household of 14.

Brigham Young – Founder of Salt Lake City, Utah

Why were the Mormons so into polygamy?   It’s practical.  If you’re running an offshoot Christian ministry that is considered to be abhorrent to mainline Protestantism, how easy do you think it will be to exist in an America where families were tighter and more tightly bound to their congregations than today?   Finding converts would be difficult.

That’s not to say that Mormons don’t try to advertise themselves to non-believers.  They reach out a lot.  There are temples all across America these days.  A huge one is going up right across the street from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in what will surely be a nice but spiteful dichotomy between the Vine Street Expressway.  But in 19th Century America, if you’re selling yourself with a dogma that includes a belief that Jesus Himself walked across North America, you weren’t going to grow your church rapidly.

Polygamy afforded an opportunity to grow the church from within.  And quickly.   The FLDS church provides some modern-day evidence that backs this up.   The church run by prophet Warren Jeffs was raided in Texas multiple times by Texas Department of Child Protective Services over conditions and reports coming from excommunicated FLDS members and nearby observers to the reclusive church.

Thomas Green (top), his five wives, and kids

Polygamy within these confines is merely practical and an economic benefit to the church.  Religion often starts at home with the family as children are introduced to it by their parents.  Promoting very large families insures that the community grows quickly within a single lifetime.  Because the culture is strong and unique it creates tight bonds with its members that are emotionally painful to sever.

It also comes with political advantages as in the case of Brigham Young.  The Mormon diaspora into Utah grew rapidly enough that the U.S. Congress found accepting Utah as a state to be problematic.  While many Americans at the time were impressed with the piety of Mormons, polygamy shocked the conscious then as it still does now.

To the Mormons themselves they only had to look to the Torah, or the Old Testament for answers.  One male married figure after another in the Bible held multiple wives.  Christians everywhere have to acknowledge this, as do Jews, yet somewhere in mainstream theology this practice died out and transitioned from a cultural identity to a cultural taboo.  It’s still considered one of the most perverted, abhorrent, shocking sins.

This was such a sin in fact that Utah was refused recognition as a state.  Further, Congress passed a law forbidding polygamy in the territories, which included Utah.  Only until the Mormon church signed the 1890 Manifesto, the Mormon equivalent to an Islamic fatwa, did opposition to accepting a Mormon state subside enough for Utah to be granted statehood.  This was important to Mormons because Utah could then gain further Federal protection and also receive funding from Washington.

The Church Becomes a State

Utah's State Capitol (top right) is a minute walk away from the HQ of the LDS Church (bottom)
Utah’s State Capitol (top right) is a two minute walk away from the HQ of the LDS Church (bottom)

When the Church was given an ultimatum to end its polygamist ways or face continued exclusion, it decided to play along.   Today many Mormon spiritual leaders insist that the end of the Church sanctifying polygamous marriages was based purely upon divine inspiration, not the result of a business transaction between Brigham Young and the lobbying party to Congress seeking statehood and Federal recognition of a state government in Utah, who… obviously… would be representing the people of Utah, namely the Mormons.

Once that Rubicon had been crossed though, Utah blossomed.  Latter Day Saints had spread further around the Wasatch Valley.  The Church’s large and concentrated population created a monolithic prosperous culture that echoes everywhere in the state.  Utah’s beautiful isolation also made it the perfect place where the other friction points between Mormonism and mainline Christianity seldom intersect.   For all we know, the 1800s could have featured an Islamic society growing in Utah and nobody would have cared.

This gave Mormons a chance to become the state and having an entire century to enshrine its belief system into the machinations of state and local government.  The Church’s attitude to pornography is one of the most glaring examples of where the LDS church influence echos into the law books.  Utah has the highest per-capita consumption of commercial Internet porn in America; mostly because of the restrictions on the sale of physical pornographic material within most localities inside the state.  Utah is heavily opposed to gambling.  It was also in support of Prohibition and was the last state to repeal the 18th Amendment.   When Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics it relaxed liquor enforcement because of all the international visitors coming who certainly would have noticed the theocracy first-hand had anyone been caught drinking 4% beer.  Still, recent changes to Utah law have left up the ‘Zion Curtain‘.

Because of Utah’s tight codified moral laws, the early repugnance mainline Protestants have had for Mormons a century ago has waned over time as evangelical groups have rallied around politicians who espouse social conservative issues that appeal to all evangelicals.  Utah is a cornerstone state for hardline social conservatives, particularly those who see no problem with  “government in the bedroom”.   I’ve often told similar social conservatives who complain that moral code laws in other states are slowly washing away, like in my own state of Pennsylvania: “why don’t you move to Utah?”

Indeed, self-warehousing of social conservatives into a state of their own is a good idea at first, much like some libertarians have done with mass-migration into New Hampshire.  After all, this is the social conservative paradise.  While most of the 1980s Moral Majority were Southern Baptist-oriented evangelicals scattered around the Bible Belt, the idea of a beautiful ski-resort concentration camp for those who are obsessed with what other people are doing in their bedrooms, drinking in their mouths and where they spend their money seems like a plausible solution in an America where no one is happy.  Everyone who believes America is doomed and needs a friend in the government to help push people to Jesus Christ should check out Utah.   It’s a perfect state with perfect people and everyone’s happy and lives with the Lord.

But, there’s the gays.

The Gays and Extreme Evangelicals

Gay marriage is one of those items that the LDS Church is passionate about.  It’s resonated outside the Church with other evangelical sympathizers.  In Pennsylvania it was embodied in the platform of Rick Santorum and there isn’t a month that goes by when PA State Representative Daryl Metcalfe isn’t harping about it.  Many evangelicals truly believe that if we stop treating gay people as freaks that the underpinnings of society as it exists will become unhinged.

Some evangelicals have embraced this dogma so tightly that it has actually helped to accelerate sympathy towards equality.  The most notorious of course is the Westboro Baptist Church.   The WBC has actually given us two bonuses that I should heavily thank them for:  Synder v. Phelps which added more cement behind the First Amendment right to assemble, and that WBC has ran out of people to offend that their anti-gay banner has pushed enough moderates over to the side of supporting equality.  If it weren’t for Westboro Baptist Church, I honestly don’t believe that ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ would have been eliminated.

By Westboro attacking the families of the military and the very tiny contingent of extreme evangelicals cheering them on, the disgust they generated in the vast military community only helped fuel expansion of gay rights and acceptance of gays as normal people.  This has also helped diffuse all the negative criticism and stereotypes that are showcased by those who are more moderates; namely the hedonism that’s on display at many gay pride events.

Throughout all this the LDS Church has found a more subtler way to do battle with the gays they despise:  spend money.

Proposition 8

The referendum in California to stop the state from continuing to marry gays and lesbians was considered crucial by the Church because of the proximity of California to Utah and because it is America’s most populous state.  It’s also a state crucial for expanding the Mormon faith to non-Mormon communities.

News reached Californians that the drive for Proposition 8 was half-financed by the LDS Church in the form of a film by Reed Cowan titled ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’.  This not only included enormous sums of money, which all referendums in California need to make it on election ballots, but busloads of Mormons from Utah were also sent to proselytize not the word of God, but to win a political battle to keep a part of LDS dogma alive in a neighboring state.  After all, if California allowed gay marriage, how long would it be before this washed ashore to the steps of the Utah Capitol, only steps away from LDS Church headquarters?

While this logic may be sound, one unintended consequence for the LDS Church was a growing number of defections of Mormons leaving the church over the divisive issue.  After all, the number of gays who appear in Mormon families is no different than any other family.  It’s hard enough to keep a social quiet where discussion of the topic is difficult and turmoil within Mormon families is rough.   When the LDS Church was identified as the principal backer of Proposition 8 this painted the Church as launching an all out war against gays and exercising plenty of its capital in the process to score a political win rather than spreading the word about Jesus.  The defections accelerated as the disgust grew.

This caused alarm within church leadership and the LDS Church has since backed off its massive funding war.

Utah Court Ruling

And now we have the Christmas miracle.  Gay marriage is suddenly and unexpectedly legal throughout the land of Utah.   This has now hit a church that was created a state and has lived with a status quo theocracy since it was founded.  It has been gobsmacked with one of the most shocking things to come its way since the day Brigham Young signed the 1890 Manifesto to cut a deal exchanging its core belief in polygamy for practicality.

I can only imagine right now through Provo, Ogden and the suburbs of Salt Lake there are many church leaders who have had an unhappy but reflective Christmas.  Maybe some see this as the end of the universe as they know it?  There’s no way to tell.

For one political group in Utah, the Eagle Forum, this has got to be one of the biggest defeats ever.   The Eagle Forum is a social conservative lobby in Utah who screams loudest at social issues, like gay equality, abortion and welfare.  They’re also quite silent on other topics like fiscal conservatism or anything “fancy” and complicated within Tea Party philosophy (like budget philosophy), spoiling an opportunity to get sophisticated after the 1970s when it cut its teeth and achieved victory against the Equal Rights Amendment.   Instead, the group has held hands with other organizations focused only on social conservative dogma, like Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.

Most everywhere else in America the ‘Moral Majority’ has not ruled a U.S. state since its inception and it’s the only place where social conservatives have been comforted by the triple support of one type of church, one central theology and one blanket code of values that overshadows all other voices within the state.

If there was ever a state you would expect gay marriage to never happen for all eternity, it would have been Utah.

Why Did This Happen?

I’ve been keeping up with the Salt Lake Tribune over the holidays, who has been providing minute-by-minute coverage of what’s been happening across Utah since the shock decision came down by Judge Shelby.

Normally in a case like this any state attorney general worth his salt will have pre-prepared the motion to stay papers begging the judge to suspend his order should the state lose.  But it appears that the Attorney General’s office of Utah is in a bit of a mess.  The motion wasn’t prepared in time for the decision, so the Utah AG had to go back a day later to file it with the Federal Court, leaving Utah counties in limbo as the ban on gay marriage in Utah’s constitution had now been obliterated.  Gay and lesbian couples rushed to offices to file the paperwork and several hundred Utahns are now legally married couples.

Compounding that error this week was the failure of the Utah Attorney General to obtain a stay from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  With echos of the the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case where everyone agreed that Texas had sent the most incompetent person to defend Texas’ sodomy law, it appears that Utah’s best legal minds have not been put to the task of defending Utah’s constitutional amendment.

The state governor has decided that it will hire an outside competent lawyer to try to get the hole plugged to stop gays from marrying in Utah while it begins appealing Judge Shelby’s decision.   This is probably because the state AG is caught up in a scandal for bribery and wire fraud which hit only four days after taking office.  This is likely what led to the AG’s office slipping up and not vigorously defending the state in Federal court.

This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the LDS Church, as it could have at least rested comfortably for a time that LGBT people would always be second-class citizens in Utah and no threat to the Church.

Today church leaders in Utah have had that blanket comforter of theocratic bigotry ripped away when marriage equality was delivered to their very doorstep.   The odds of Utah being able to take gay marriage rights away don’t appear to be good.  Sonia Sotomayor all by herself decides emergency appeals for the 10th Circuit, a liberal Obama pick from the Bronx who probably won’t grant Utah a stay but is more likely to refer it back to the full Supreme Court or deny it.

What Now?

One of Utah’s core claims in its original case has been irreparable harm; or a legal way of the “but they will fuck goats!!!” argument ala Rick Santorum:   if you allow gay marriage, then you will allow everything society deems to be immoral [maybe even polygamy!].  People will be rushing to bestiality.  It will be a Refer Madness of crazy that will destroy our planet.

It’s the Westboro Baptist dogma, but in a sweater vest.

Somehow, somewhere… people must have forgotten that Mitt Romney, one of the LDS Church’s “most-important” Mormons for a time was in charge of a state where gay marriage was, and still is, legal.  And each second that ticks by where marriage continues to be legal in Utah, the more obvious that the irreparable harm argument shows itself as the theocratic cop-out it is.

Perhaps Utah may make inroads with a State’s Rights argument, but one of the litigants in the case transported their legal Iowa marriage into Utah, where it is not recognized.  If that reaches the Supreme Court that opens up the question of whether states can selectively recognize marriage certificates issued by other states.  Iowa is one of the most conservative states to allow gay marriage.  Society certainly hasn’t collapsed there, or even changed; it’s still a conservative midwestern state.  Have states had a long history of discarding marriage certificates between each other as invalid?  That sounds like a marriage wormhole where all the anti-gay marriage states might be forced to recognize out of state gay marriages if Utah can’t defend the practice.

Our country throughout its entire history has chosen to expand freedom and never when freedoms have been pulled back has it not resulted in uproar or endless criticism.  Utah will be living with gay marriage for a long time.  It will certainly spend more boatloads of money trying to put the brakes on as best it can, and I certainly would love to be the recipient of that fruitless cash.

The battle of social conservatives on this wedge issue has been lost.  Utah is the Gettysburg state where a theocratic dogma dominates both life and law, and they failed.  There isn’t much hope for the other states that hanged their hat on the wrong side of this if Utah goes down.  The writing is on the wall.

Yes, Duck Dynasty may still be on the air next year, as it should be.  Homophobes across America should certainly never have their First Amendment rights ever abridged including the freedom to practice their faith, because that damages the right of speech, religion and assembly for all of us; but it’s not worth sacrificing freedoms and begging the government to get into our bedrooms for the sake of winning the Culture Wars.

Now, if we could turn this energy against the anti-American “Patriot Act”, we’d have something.

God Bless America, and Happy New Year.

 

— The Management

The Philadelphia Daily News has run a story by Jason Nark providing a brief highlight of the ongoing litigation in Stein vs. City of Philadelphia, et. al.

You can read the complaint filed by his attorney, Marirose Roach, Esq., here.

As the case stands now, the claims Marc Stein brought against the City of Philadelphia, 6th District Police Captain Brian Korn, and the Philadelphia Police Department have all been dismissed by Judge Tucker.

Considering that a Special Assembly Occupancy License is obtained after review by the police captain and the City, a reasonable conclusion is that Club Aura probably won’t get a SAOL permit from the fruits of this frivolous lawsuit.

That being said, litigation is still ongoing; several neighbors still have defamation claims against them, as does this blog, Philebrity.com and the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association.

If Marc Stein believed that filing a frivolous lawsuit in Federal court would be the way out of his bad relationship with nearby property owners and the critics who support them; he will be quite mistaken.

 

Philadelinquency is represented by A. Jordan Rushie, Esq.

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In case you missed it, and most Philadelphians have not seen this story from Daniel Denvir, is the curious case when our mayor actually paid a booster to pull the wool over low-income parents’ eyes to get them to back charter schools.

How?

By tossing some coin to Sylvia Simms*, leader of Parent Power,  who was among the cacophony of parent-boosters of the Arlene Ackerman fan club; the former SDP superintendent who made high-stakes school district drama a household name.  After Ackerman departed, this group was co-opted by the network of lobbyists heavily pushing charter-ization of our public schools.

Parent Power has joined up with forces seeking to bust the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the largest of the unions at the SDP.

All this makes me wonder:  where the fuck is Johnny Doc?   Or Pat Gillespie for that matter?  Johnny Doc helped create and push the Mayor Bozo campaign and deployed his butt-scratching army to support AFSCME District Council 33 and 47 municipal workers who have been working without a contract for the entire time Michael Nutter has been mayor.

But when it comes to another big union in our city, and one of the more important ones for that matter–Doc has laid low.

So what’s he been up to lately?

From the looks of this flyer that has started circulating in West Philadelphia, it looks like IBEW has found another target now that they’ve lost the War On Goldtex:

IBEW Todd Potter Flyer

 

That leads me to wonder:  did the lobbyists pushing charter schools in Philadelphia find a way to buy off Johnny Doc and the Philadelphia Building Trades Council?

Think about it for a second.   The battles PFT has been fighting with the School Reform Commission, the huge rounds of layoffs, the steady stripping of seniority privileges and the wage cuts coming down the pike; these are obvious things that almost always cause Johnny Doc and the rest of the labor leader crowd to pop their heads up and jockey for media attention.

But not this time.  The only support I’ve seen our building trades give to the teachers have been some tweets here and there.

The forces pushing charter-ization have found the magic formula to push their agenda: buy off every politician and political influence that breathes; then employ them in your army against your opponents.  John Dougherty’s muted support and lack of street activism for the teachers speaks volumes about where his priorities lie.

The number of politicians who speak openly in favor of charterization continues to grow, including those who can be counted to keep their mouths shut or back down if the local building trades spoke out in opposition.  It’s total baloney that Johnny Doc has not considered this subject; he gets himself involved in so many local quagmires, that standing around and marking time while the PFT faces total annihilation is rather telling.

This is a big deal for a man who can command an instant street protest with a few emails and phone calls and has demonstrations out on a daily basis.

 

* Update:  Readers note.   None of the news hounds found someone who swears Nutter directed cash to Ms. Simms’s activist group and how it got co-opted into the network of groups pushing for charterization of Philadelphia’s public school system.   HOWEVER, that is the rumor; I’m not hearing Team Nutter flatly deny they had nothing to do with Ms. Simm’s decisions, etc.    The take-away I hope to leave you with is that the cult/panacea/cancer of “charters fix public schools” has spread far and wide with our silent mayor cheering it along.

The cost is of course the charter school funding mechanism is bankrupting the SDP and Philadelphia public school teachers and staff are the ones who will be paying; weakening public schools even further to make charter schools look better.   If the building trades, the strongest labor unions in Philly were facing this threat, they would likely be seeking out allies.

So why isn’t the strongest labor pool in the region standing side by side with teachers in their most desperate hour?

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Late yesterday evening this lovely illegal rental house burnt to a crisp:

1657 E BERKS
1657 E BERKS – Yes, there are two pitbulls in the second floor window.  I know not why.

It’s one of the few slumlord/speculator houses remaining in Fishtown.   Most slumlords have already cashed in and moved on but this particular pernicious owner has been playing the slumlord game well.

Just a couple months ago East Coast Financial, which owns the house, rescued it from Sheriff’s Sale at the very last second:

In cases like these where you have a savvy slumlord who knows how to play the system, what to do?

There’s always Act 90 and the Doors and Windows law, where L&I could come in and fine the owner $300 per broken opening in the house, wait for the fines to crawl up to a high dollar amount and then demand immediate restitution or L&I will move to seize the property; but that’s pretty remote.  You will need full support of your district City Council member’s office prodding this along so that L&I actually does it.

This house happens to be inside Council President Darrell Clarke’s councilmanic district.  So the likelihood of his office lifting a finger or doing much of anything seems unlikely.  I guess Fishtown will be enjoying its new burnt out home-sweet-home for a while.

Have no fear though.  Now that it’s obviously blighted, maybe NKCDC (New Kensington Community Development Corporation) or FNA (Fishtown Neighbors Association) can petition Common Pleas Court to take the house under Act 135, hand it to a homebuilder to do something with it, then sell it.

Methadone Megamart

The perversion of medical treatment into pill dispensing factories has certainly been an interesting trend to follow in Philadelphia.  In particular the proliferation of methadone and suboxone dispensary facilities and the opposition to them.

Methadone clinics were originally sold to the public in the late 1980’s and early 90’s as a method of managing withdrawal symptoms when removing patients from opioid products, namely drugs like heroin, oxycontin and hydrocodone.

According to this control study done at BHRCS, inmates who were put on methadone treatment while in jail did no better in recidivism rates than inmates who were not enrolled in a methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) program.   In other words, there was no evidence discovered that MAT (medication-assisted therapy) or MMT treatment by itself can influence patterns of anti-social behavior long-term.

Since methadone (and its treatment cousin suboxone) does not actually cure anything other than act as temporary analgesic; the “captive audience” of MAT patients are administered onsite counseling when they visit the dispensaries.   For most chronic drug abusers this evolves to a crutch where an illegal drug addiction has been replaced by a legal one.  Whether a patient gets off MAT comes down to one of two factors; whether insurance or cash is still available to pay for it, or the patient has the willpower to discontinue the treatment on their own accord when they feel the crutch is no longer needed.

For the thousands of residents in Philadelphia who are either on voluntary admission or court-ordered methadone programs they must pick a center to go to, since it must be administered on-site.

This is where the battle lies:  Where to place methadone clinics?

The Holmesburg neighborhood has been fighting The Healing Way clinic in the courts now for two years.  It wants to open at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street, which is in the geographical epicenter, not to mention the main commercial heart of the neighborhood.   The estimated patient load per day is somewhere between 400 to 500 patients per day, with less than a dozen parking spots available.

The donut shop at 7th and Girard is the secondary methadone clinic waiting room
The donut shop at 7th and Girard is the secondary methadone clinic waiting room for the clinic at 8th and Girard

Solution:  All medical offices must now go to zoning.

Councilman Brian O’Neil and Councilman Bobby Henon for the 10th and 6th districts (respectively) introduced a measure that would strip the by-right use of ‘medical office’ from all zoning categories in the Philadelphia code when it comes to the 10th and 6th councilmanic districts, which then forces all new medical practices to go to through the zoning process and meet with neighbors to get their use permits.

Why did these two Council members lump all medical practitioners into this bucket?

The Americans With Disabilities Act.   It’s difficult to make controversial medical providers go through the zoning process and force them to meet face to face with neighborhood residents without their lawyers shouting “exclusivity!”, being singled-out, and being discriminated against.   Even controls to mandate parking to patient load ratios are met with fierce resistance.

The owners of The Healing Way have never attended any community meeting or met with neighborhood residents prior to the case heading to court; which was something they desperately wanted from the owners.   Of course, the owners also knew well in advance that there would be vehement opposition to the clinic, which is why the L&I permits carefully avoided any mention of MAT/MMT, drug dispensing or anything related to drug therapy when describing the use of their space.  “Medical Office” was the description used. [It’s not unique to us either.]

Why do neighborhood residents hate these clinics?

  • Excessive, annoying outdoor loitering thanks to overbooking and over-scheduling by clinic operators.  Loiterers tend to spew trash in all directions which no one feels compelled to pick up.
  • Lax spending on security by private clinics.  We are, after all, dealing with the primary patients being drug users and many were ordered to treatment by criminal courts for shit that they’ve done, and…
  • Clinics are a great target for drug dealers to locate their business.  You are much more likely to encounter a willing customer hitting up people coming to and from the clinic.  Many were willing drug purchasers in the past, and some can’t resist the temptation to continue to buy a supply to use when the effects of their methadone dose subside.
  • Clinics destroy property values and convert areas near them into high concentration of rental housing vs. a healthier mix of homeowner-occupied and rental.  Who wants to plop down on a 30-year mortgage for a house next to a methadone clinic?   I didn’t think so.

There are homes close to The Healing Way’s proposed location which have sunk in value to $70,000 from earlier lows of $100K.   And the clinic doesn’t even have permits or is open yet.

Until MAT clinics can come up with a way to isolate their business’s deleterious effects from other property owners and the communities which they want to open up shop in, this conflict will not go away.

The first thing many of them can do right now make sure that patient waiting rooms are gigantic, can more than handle the maximum scheduling capacity; and start canceling the appointments for patients who check in and then dart back outside to go loiter.

If clinic operators continue to push the factory dispensing model to push up PA Medicaid patient revenue, expect the opposition to strengthen.

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