Sunday, October 4, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 6:30 PM
Dawn Skorcik, left, of Marietta, Ga., and Dawn Barber, of Powder Springs, Ga., comfort each other while protesting outside of Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson, Ga., Tuesday evening, Sept. 29, 2015, before the execution of Kelly Gissendaner. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

When Pope Francis' jet took off from Philadelphia International Airport at 7:47 p.m. on Sunday, you know who breathed a huge sigh of relief? I mean, besides Mayor Nutter. The nation's proud execution workers. They quickly grabbed their hoods -- or whatever executioners wear in the 21st Century -- and their briefcases full of lethal cocktails and went back to work, still partying like it's 1099.

It already seems like a long time ago that Francis stood up before a joint session of Congress and said this:

“Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said. “Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

POSTED: Tuesday, September 29, 2015, 6:22 PM
Keeping watch from a personnel carrier at the Camden base of the closed-to-traffic Ben Franklin on Saturday were National Guardsmen Tiffani Paulus of Phillipsburg, N.J., and Patrick Callan of Hamilton, N.J. (TOM GRALISH/Staff Photographer)

Just a quick last word -- hopefully -- on Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia. It was definitely a blessed day -- and not just because the Birds finally won a game and Jonathan Papelbon imploded at almost precisely the instant that the Vicar of Christ took to the big stage near Eakins Oval. For most people, the weekend was what it was -- the crowd wasn't remotely close to the 1.5 million that city officials once spoke of, and it was probably considerably less than the 860,000 number that widely circulated Sunday night. But I think -- and this is what really matters -- that the pious people who really, really wanted to see Pope Francis...saw Pope Francis. Does it matter if that number was 200,000 or 2 million?

Of course, some of the faithful only saw the pontiff on a Jumbotron. That security -- it was too much, man...and not in the good sense.

I took a long stroll around Center City late Sunday morning and the whole scene away from the Parkway was borderline apocalyptic. Some of it was surreal and cool -- watching a dad seize a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play soccer with his son in the middle of 16th Street, packs of cyclists cruising the city like they were on the Wissahickon Trail. But there were concrete barriers just strewn about like matchsticks in the oddest places, eerily empty windswept streets...and on almost every corner, a gaggle of fresh-faced National Guardsmen, in full camouflage, just hanging around.

POSTED: Monday, September 28, 2015, 7:19 PM

You probably missed it in all the hoopla over Pope Francis -- especially since the seemingly tireless 78-year-old pontiff was running around making some new, headline-worthy pronouncement every 45 minutes or so during his exhausting North American tour that wrapped up in Philadelphia. But the first-ever pope from the Americas actually said some pretty nice things about our capitalism.

It was just this summer, after all, that Francis called capitalism's excesses "the dung of the devil." It sounds kind of bad when you put it that way. But on Wednesday, the pope found himself before the millionaires-financed-by-billionaires known as the U.S. Congress. As Francis shows us time and time again, the man knows his audience:

"It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable," he said. “'Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good."

POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2015, 5:55 PM
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. Listening behind the pope are Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pope Francis delivered his historic speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress, and anyone expecting a fairly liberal bent to the pontiff's message wasn't disappointed. End the death penalty. More openness for immigration. Do something about poverty and homelessness. And, while you're at it, climate change. It was like your typical Attytood blog post, except more eloquent and without the typos. Conservative social causes? He has a few, but then again too few to mention, apparently.

There were a couple of surprises, however. One was Francis' invocation of two fairly radical American Catholic thinkers and doers of the 20th Century, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. The other was the pope's harsh and graphic condemnation of the international arms trade:

“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he asked. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money – money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

POSTED: Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 7:49 PM
New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra poses at spring training in Florida, in an undated file photo. Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher, died at 90. (AP Photo/File)

"I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families."

-- Pope Francis, speaking this morning at the White House with President Obama.

The very first words uttered by Pope Francis on his six-day U.S. odyssey that ends up here in Philadelphia were about immigration. Not that there should be any doubt that -- along with climate change and income inequality -- this is the heart of the holy trinity of issues that really matter to this pontiff right now. He's going to speak a lot more about the immigration issue when he talks in front of Independence Hall on Saturday. He's even slated to meet immigrants -- including some who are undocumented -- during the New York part of the visit.

POSTED: Tuesday, September 22, 2015, 5:01 PM
Behind the fence and the razor coil wire on top is the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on State Road in Philadelphia. (Clem Murray/Inquirer) (Clem Murray / Inquirer)

Pope Francis just landed in Washington a few minutes ago, which means he now has as many touch-downs in the United States this week as the anemic Eagles' offense (and he'll pass them when he heads to NYC). It's going to be a hell of a week. From climate change to immigration to (perhaps) social issues like abortion and gay rights, we're sure to hear more from the pontiff about the issues that matter to people than your typical three-hour presidential debate on CNN or Fox.

In some cases, this man from the Vatican by way of Argentina will call attention to things we've (and I'm absolutely including myself) shamefully ignored at home. Like the state of our jails. On Sunday morning, as you may have heard, Francis will be taking a side trip to Philadelphia's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. That inspired the Marshall Project, a new journalism project that focuses on criminal justice and is off to a great start, to write this letter to Pope Francis about some of those things that we've taken for granted:

The numbers don’t capture how these jails feel, though. Lawsuits against the conditions at Curran-Fromhold have described how three prisoners are sometimes housed in cells designed for two. The odd man out sleeps in a plastic cot on the floor called a “blue boat.” One inmate, Everett Keith Thomas, scribbled on a handwritten federal complaint in October 2014, “I awakened to find mouse feces on my face and blanket in the blue boat.” Jail officials say they are careful never to keep an inmate in a triple-cell for more than 45 days.

POSTED: Monday, September 21, 2015, 7:34 PM
Supporters cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the state's annual Democratic convention Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

This summer, we got a hard lesson in how easy it is to fool the American people -- a sizable chunk of them, anyway -- as well as the media. Especially the media. A leader with almost no experience at the level at which he's competing promised that he would deliver a return to greatness, and people believed him. None of his bizarre moves or pronouncements were questioned by his adoring supporters or by the journalists who were supposed to be subjecting him to intense scrutiny. There were even headlines in the paper that by the time it really counted in February, he could go all the way. Now, people are kicking themselves. How could we all have been duped by such skillful marketing...and by a huckster and a fraud?

But enough about Chip Kelly and the Eagles. I'm here today to talk again about the sorry state of the 2016 presidential race. Although we're still in the first quarter of that game, things are looking about as bleak for the American voters as they did yesterday for the boys in green. The idea of real talk about policies that might help the beleaguered U.S. middle class is getting pushed back like DeMarco Murray on a 1st-down hand-off.

The Republican Party had its second presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California last week, and it was a disgraceful affair on several levels. One of the problems was only partially the fault of the candidates. There was shockingly little talk about the kind of things that regular people care about, the stuff they ask politicians when they get to pose the questions. Like how come we never get a pay raise? How will I ever afford to send my kids to college? Or get time off to care for a sick family member?

POSTED: Sunday, September 20, 2015, 8:16 PM
The weeklong trek, which organizers are calling a pilgrimage, is designed to humanize the increasingly demonized national debate about immigration. (Bradley C Bower/For The Inquirer)

There's not much dispute that Donald Trump -- with his talk of undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers and his plan to force 11 million men, women and children back across the border, not to mention "the wall," which seems like his only actual policy position -- is the embodiment of how toxic the debate over border politics has become. It feels like it's always been that way, certainly since the talk radio folks riled up the masses to shoot down immigration reform in the mid-2000s. Anyone still remember Geno's in South Philly and "This is America -- please speak English!"?

Yet it wasn't always thus. You may have heard it brought up -- as one of the many reasons that Ronald Reagan was probably too liberal for today's Republican Party -- that the Gipper signed legislation in the late 1980s that provided amnesty to about 3 million undocumented immigrants. But there was much more to it than that. This weekend, a video resurfaced and made the rounds of a 1980 GOP presidential primary debate between Reagan and the man who later became his vice president and then his successor, George H.W. Bush. (Trivial aside: It was a League of Women Voters forum and the moderator was Howard K. Smith, who also moderated the famous first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960.)

A young man in the audience asked Bush and Reagan whether "illegal aliens" should be allowed to attend Texas schools for free. To get the full flavor of the response, please watch the video I've posted below. However, here's a teaser of what they had to say. Bush said that undocumented arrivals in America "should get what's been promised to their neighbors" and that "these are good people, strong of my family is a Mexican!" Reagan, for his part, says that we should not be "talking about putting up a fence" and that instead "we should open the border up both ways."

Must See: Ronald Reagan & George Bush Sr. Debate Who's the Better Friend to Immigrants. What would Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson say now?

Posted by National Day Laborer Organizing Network on Tuesday, September 27, 2011
About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.


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