Man Acquitted of Threatening to Bomb Liberty Bell

The 42-year-old Portuguese man who was arrested in January for allegedly threatening to park officials that he was going to blow up the Liberty Bell was acquitted by a Court of Common Pleas judge yesterday.

The judge, Diana Anhalt, believed Carlos Balsas’s story that he had explained to park officials when they tried to search his back that he had a “bunch of exclusives,” not explosives.

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Hanging Out with Disappointed Tourists on Independence Mall

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The great thing about government shutdowns it that they bring people together. If you go to Independence Mall today—or any day for the foreseeable future—you’ll notice large groups of people standing around on the grass, talking to one another. How nice. These are people who came for the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, or the Independence Hall Visitor Center–all of which are closed. In fact, if you want to play a sadistic parlor game, go linger by the entrances of any one of these places, wait for unsuspecting tourists to pull fruitlessly at the doors, and then–preferably leaning against a wall, with a toothpick in your mouth–say, ‘Closed, pal.’

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Philly’s National Parks Are Definitely, Maybe Shutting Down Tomorrow

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So, you may be wondering, what does the coming government shutdown mean for Philadelphia? Well, a wide swath of federal workers will be furloughed beginning at midnight tonight, and Philly’s got quite a few of them, from Social Security Administration workers to Department of Justice employees working at the 2nd District courthouse. But while it’s unclear exactly how the shutdown will affect all those employees, there is one thing we do know for sure: All 401 U.S. National Parks will be shut down tomorrow, including Independence National Historic Park, which employs around 200 people. I.e, The freaking Liberty Bell will be closed. As will freaking Independence Hall. (Also: Valley Forge National Park.) Tourists, get ready to get your kicks by staring thoughtfully at the facade of the Second Bank of the United States.

h/t Philly.com

Police Issue Citations, Make No Arrests at Recent Marijuana Legalization Protest

The marijuana menace apparently has not yet been eradicated from out fair city. On Sunday, radical group of protestors, united under the “Smoke Down Prohibition” banner, marched from LOVE Park to Independence National Historical Park for a moment of so-called “cannabis reflection” at 4:20. But don’t be fooled: These folks were doing marijuanas.

Organized by Ed Forchion, popularly known as “NJ Weedman,” the Panic Hour, this past Smoke Down Prohibition was the sixth in a series; a previous protest netted several notable arrests about a month ago. But the righteous whip of the Drug War hasn’t deterred these dopers, and at this demonstration police merely ticketed seven attendees. Oddly enough, though, there have been no reports of insanity or lawless violence at the hands of the loco weed, but give it time. There is, after all, a good reason why marijuana is illegal. Right? [Philly.com]

UPDATE: Ed Forchion did not organize the event, he merely promoted it as indicated in the comment thread below.

New Report: Here’s How Much Tourism Impacted Philly Last Year

Eds, meds, and…tourism. That basically sums up Philly’s 21st century economy. But how many tourists really show up? How much do they bring in? And who are they all? Well, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation has answers, courtesy of its annual report.

  • Since 1997, Philly’s experienced a 45% growth in visitation. 38 million American tourists showed up last year, 12 million more than in ’97.
  • 89,000 regional jobs are supported by tourist dollars.
  • 7 new hotels are currently being built.
  • $410 in annual taxes are saved by region households thanks to tourist dollars.

And here’s the profile of Mr. Average Philadelphia tourist: He’s 44, married, makes $85,000 a year and isn’t bringing the kids for the weekend. Why the growth in tourism? Well, just check out this unintentionally (I think) hilarious infographic the report has prepared for us:

Watch a Bunch of Pot Smokers Commit a Federal Crime on Independence Mall

On Sunday, a large group of pot activists assembled on Independence Mall to give a middle-finger to an apparently apathetic U.S. federal government. A video was posted today documenting the collective joint hit, which went unpunished by the National Park Service. Philly’s got relatively lenient pot laws, but the U.S. government doesn’t, and they were protesting on federal property. And yet, after they had lit up, and the cloud of smoke had dissipated, no one had been arrested. One activist with a video camera even marched over to confront the park ranger, and seemed disappointed to get indifference. No word on whether a lone smoker lighting up on a summer weekend day would fare so well. As the ranger said (at about the 3:00 mark) it’s a matter of “officer discretion.”

Philly’s Feeling the Sequester Pinch: Liberty Bell Reducing Hours

At a protest that took place today on Independence Mall, City Paper caught up with three federal workers already feeling the automatic spending cuts that went into effect earlier this month, AKA the sequester. And no more iconic embled of Philadelphia than the Liberty Bell will be affected.

Adam Duncan, who works with the National Park Service and is vice president of AFGE Local 2038, says forget about extended July 4 hours for the Liberty Bell. That will be closing at 5 p.m. daily thanks to the sequester, and eight other buildings could see hours cut back to a few days a week or even face closure.

Workers from HUD and the Social Security Administration also spoke of furloughs and budget cuts that cripple their departments’ efficiency. Which is a good counter-argument against the anti-government shibboleth that public agencies must have their budgets cut, because they’re already useless bureaucratic Leviathans. Now that the government has done that, says the SSA’s Joe Ponisciak, and “We don’t have the people to check the disability rolls. We’re supposed to do that every three years and we don’t have the staff to do that now.” [City Paper]

Liberty Bell Bombing Suspect, Still in Jail, Ordered to Stand Trial

The man charged with threatening to blow up the Liberty Bell more than a month ago was ordered to stand trial today. Portuguese native Carlos Balsas, a former assistant professor at Arizona State, has been in prison on $250,000 bail since the January 26th incident, which took place while he was visiting Philly. The incident in question:

A security screener testified today that Balsas entered the Liberty Bell Center, on Independence Mall, with a messenger bag and backpack.  The screener says he was about to check them but Balsas refused to hand over the backpack, saying, “There’s explosives in there.” The screener testified that he called for an armed security guard, and as Balsas walked out in a huff muttered, “This is how you treat people in America?”

Balsas then walked out and was arrested outside the Liberty Bell Center on Independence Mall. Charges include: making a bomb threat, making a terroristic threat with “intent to terrorize another” and resisting arrest. The trial should be interesting. Possible defense options include: “Geez, I was kidding,” and “That thing has a huge crack in it, don’t you want a new one anyways?” By the way, should anything tragic happen to Ol’ Liberty, he’s got a long-lost relative stored nearby. [CBS 3]

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