Evan M. Lopez
If you're like us — and your psychiatrist tells us you are — you were taken aback by the Inquirer's front-pager Friday announcing that SEPTA may sell the naming rights to its Broad and Pattison station to AT&T for $5 million.
On the one hand: Go SEPTA. No, this won't stop them from jacking up rates next month, or get that smart-card system up and running, or pay to run the subways after midnight, or do any of the other million things we wish they'd do. The transit agency still faces a $110 million budget hole, after all. But $5 million is $5 million, and if AT&T wants to pay big bucks to slap its name all over the end of the Broad Street Line, who are we to object?
On the other hand, selling naming rights to subway stations weirds us out a little . It was bad enough when the Eagles went from Veterans Stadium to Lincoln Financial Field . But must we really allow any corporation with an advertising budget to affix its name to public buildings? Isn't that, you know, tacky?
SEPTA doesn't think so. Its brass has already said that it might sell naming rights at other stations if SEPTA's board approves this deal Thursday. Of course, this isn't a new idea. In 2004, state Rep. Rosita Youngblood proposed just such a thing, and we mocked her [Naked City, Bad Idea Factory, "The $EPTA Name Game," Nov. 25, 2004]: The Ol'ney Dirty Bastard Memorial Escalator, Smith & Wesson's Hunting Park, etc.
Oh, the hilarity — now, a bit closer to reality. Sigh.
We're not the first city to do this, and we won't be the last. New Jersey is considering selling the naming rights to its turnpike rest stops . (As if any company with scruples would want its name associated with that shithole of a highway.)
At least we're not there. Yet.
Isaac and Ishmael
After nine activists were killed last month on a flotilla seeking to break Israel's three-year blockade on Gaza, the first all-Jewish fleet will try its luck this July.
Organized by a coalition of international pro-Palestinian Jewish organizations, including American Jews for a Just Peace (AJJP), the boats will set sail from an "undisclosed location in the Mediterranean" and carry, among other things, "school bags and books donated by German schoolchildren," musical instruments, art supplies, medical equipment, and " absolutely no weapons," according to the group's press release.
"We're trying to break the illusion that people have that there's consensus within the Jewish community about Israel," says Susan Landau, who organizes with Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace (PJJP), a local chapter of AJJP. "Because Judaism gets conflated with Zionism — and they're not the same."
According to Landau, PJJP led the effort to have the U.S. group co-sponsor the Jewish flotilla, after news broke about the initiative in Europe. The AJJP mission, Landau says, has grown from one boat to at least two — with the possibility of a third — and will carry some 40 passengers, including Jews from the U.K., Germany and the U.S., as well as a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust .
"The premise of what they're doing is a lie," counters Steve Feldman, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America. "Israel sends thousands of tons of food, clothing, medicine and other humanitarian goods into the Gaza Strip." He adds, "These people would be better served by taking food and medicine to people in rural America who need it ."
We'll stay out of that. Instead, we'll note that both Amnesty International and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have called on Israel to lift the blockade. And on Sunday, Israel indeed eased said blockade, replacing its list of permitted items with a list of banned ones — only weapons and materials with military uses, the Israeli government said. Peace in our time.
Are you looking for just the right way to mark the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's death? Look no further: On Saturday, a year and a day after Jacko passed, a dance mob will re-create the King of Pop's " Thriller" video as part of "Thrilladelphia at the Park," in Rittenhouse Park. We foresee two, and only two, possibilities: Total awesomeness, or epic failure. Either way, count us in.
On June 19, we headed down to 18th and Market streets to watch a dozen or so participants rehearse with dance instructor Darin Barron . A few unsynchronized overhead claps and stomps into the rehearsal would let you know that these folks are, on the whole, not exactly what you'd call professionals . Or, um, skilled. But their shoulder-twitching tenacity is enough to make the Gloved One proud.
Thrilladelphia takes place at noon, and it's free. See ya there.
Now it's time for another edition of This Week in Harrisburg, our occasional rundown of the drool-on-your-shirt crazy, perpetually backward and possibly corrupt doings of the country's most populous full-time legislature!
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The week's big news: Former state Rep. Mike Veon is going to jail. Last week, a judge sentenced Veon to six to 14 years for his " flagrant, glaring abuse of power." Veon, you'll recall, was convicted by a Dauphin County jury in March for paying state workers $1.8 million in bonuses to do campaign work. Next to put their heads on Tom Corbett's Bonusgate block : former Speakers John M. Perzel and Bill DeWeese . Pass the popcorn.
Then there's Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow (D-Lackawanna), whose district office and home were raided by FBI and IRS agents Friday morning as part of an "ongoing federal investigation." The feds carted off boxes of material while Mellow's peeps proclaimed his innocence and vowed cooperation with whatever it is authorities are looking into. Chances are, it has something to do with this: Last summer, the Inky reported that Mellow, who is retiring this year, rented his Peckville district office from a company co-owned by his then-wife — then by Mellow himself after they divorced — for more than $210,000. The Scranton Times-Tribune later revealed that Mellow's campaign had, between 2000 and 2009, issued more than $188,000 in checks made out to cash.
Before you lose all faith — as we did, long ago — know that there are a few lawmakers still (ostensibly) working in the public interest . On Wednesday the state House passed a bill "that would address the commonwealth's potentially crippling pension crisis," according to the House Dems' press release. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell, would increase the vesting period from five to 10 years, raise the retirement age to 65 and increase employee contributions — for new hires only . It will also refinance the state's pension obligations over a 30-year period, which will mean $52 billion in additional interest payments — a sum only partially offset by the benefit reductions, thus leaving taxpayers with a $27 billion tab . But the can will have been kicked down the road some, and that's all that matters.
Naturally, the legislation won't affect sitting lawmakers' benefits: They'll continue clutching their gold-plated deck chairs while the Titanic goes down.
This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Victor Gamez and Yowei Shaw. E-mail us at email@example.com.