Wednesday, November 25, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 6:25 PM
Pope Francis waves as he arrives to attend an audience for altar servers at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on Aug. 4, 2015. (REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito)

My Daily News colleague Helen Ubinas has done an outstanding job in her last couple of columns -- contrasting the Great Papal Panic of '15 with Philadelphia's seeming acquiescence to high levels of gun violence and poverty. "Go rogue, pontiff," she wrote today. "Throw caution and schedules to the wind and head to one of the city neighborhoods hardest hit by poverty and crime."

I agree -- yet I'd also note that Pope Francis already has a pretty bold schedule. He is, after all, going to jail -- the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, to be exact. Visiting prisoners and offering them hope is part of the pope's shtick, to use a mixed metaphor. Just last month, Francis visited one of the world's most overcrowded correctional facilities, in Bolivia, and told inmates "we should not think that everything is lost."

When he comes to Philly in September, I wonder if the pontiff will acknowledge this: In an American city or county lockup, many prisoners shouldn't even be there -- victims of a flawed system that locks people up for months who've not been convicted of a crime yet simply are too poor to get bailed out. This Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a remarkable expose about the myths and contradictions of the bail system in America. Here's an excerpt from "The Bail Trap":

POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2015, 8:05 PM
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns at the Iowa State Fair on August 15, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

I caught a few minutes of an incredible spectacle on cable TV news on Friday night. Donald Trump had just held court with reporters in New Hampshire and now he was giving a speech in prime time - and the punditocracy was as giddy as 13-year-old girls reading the latest tweets from the boys in One Direction.

Did you hear what Trump said about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, calling him "a clown"?! Just listen to The Donald raving about the "magnificent" airport in Qatar (why?..who knows?) and how you can get a massage there but not Trump because "I don't like people touching me," as his audience erupts in laughter. Other candidates draw crowds, if they're lucky, but Trump comes with an audience, a human laugh track. They roared when he bragged about "the summer of Trump," unconsciously echoing 2001's notorious "summer of the shark."

I saw the best political minds of the young generation -- smart analysts like Dave Weigel of the Washington Post and NBC's Kasie Hunt -- dragging themselves into this madness, torn between serious commentary and giggling. This was Chris Hayes on MSNBC -- the Serious One -- but they all struggled to break away from the Manhattan billionaire's rock opera of a presidential campaign, even though most of the other top contenders for the White House were also making news on an hot Friday night in August.

POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2015, 10:12 PM
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

It was sad to learn this morning that civil rights icon Julian Bond -- who'd been in seeming good health and spoke in Philadelphia just last month at the NAACP convention -- had died at the age of 75. He'd been on my mind a lot in the last couple of years, because thanks to the marvel of YouTube I'd finally gotten to watch the "Eyes on the Prize" documentary series that he narrated in the late 1980s. As it turned out, Bond had a lot of local ties, and I spent most of my night working with my colleague Regina Medina on an obituary that will run in tomorrow's Daily News. Go out and buy it. Seriously.

What's really impressive about Bond is that he never stopped fighting, up to his last breath. He was an early adapter to the notion that blacks should be fighting for the rights of gays and lesbians. In his final months, he spoke forcefully against police brutality. “This wave of shootings of black men is just awful, terrible,” he said in an American Forum with journalist Douglas Blackmon earlier this month. “The fact that we’ve not been able to halt it, or punish the shooters — punish the shooters, the murderers is a condemnation of the whole society.” You can watch the entire (short) video below.

(UPDATE: Read tomorrow's news today.)

POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 8:09 PM
Candidate Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a Labour Party leadership hustings event in Stevenage, Britain, June 20, 2015. (REUTERS/Darren Staples)

With so much else going on the world these days (August=slow vacation time...yeah, right), you may not have noticed this, but Sen. Bernie Sanders is on fire. Out West in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, the democratic socialist from Vermont is drawing crowds that are simply unheard of at the stage of the presidential game -- 15,000, 20,000, 27,000, with some of the folks watching on big TVs in the parking lots because they can't get inside to hear his message of a political revolution against wealth inequality in America.

In New Hampshire, the critical first-in-the-nation primary state (Iowa's a less democratic caucus system), a new poll even has Sanders defeating Hillary Clinton. None of this means that Sanders will be the 45th POTUS or even the Democratic nominee; he still has yet to break out of an appeal that's mostly confined to white, upscale liberals who may or may not drive Volvos and eat arugula. But you have to concede that -- in the words of a song I've heard a couple or maybe 537 times -- there's something happening here.

There's also something happening across the pond. In England, there's a growing likelihood that the next leader of the Labour Party will be so liberal as to make Bernie Sanders seem like Scott Walker. His name is Jeremy Corbyn:

POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 3:38 PM
Mayor Nutter, in case you didn't know what he looks like after seven years in office.

Mayor Nutter published a long piece in the Daily News this morning, a response to my open letter to him about the planning for Pope Francis' September visit that first appeared here Sunday night. I'm truly grateful for this; the major thrust of what I wrote was a plea for better communication from City Hall, and this article was a big start. I'd like to see more of this -- but interactive with everyday citizens.

I'm not going to get into a long back-and-forth over the substance -- I think the mayor's piece speaks for itself. You should read it. I'll still like to see more convincing arguments, and more information, about the extent of the Pope-related closures. I'm not sure that senior citizens or the disabled shlepping over Ben Franklin Bridge from South Jersey will be calling themselves "joyful pilgrims," but hopefully they'll all be accommodated.

I also understand why past World Conference of Families confabs were used as a benchmark, but I wonder whether comparing Philadelphia -- addicted to our cars and our HD TVs, not big on inconvenience -- to venues like the Philippines is going to come up way short on crowd size...we'll see. I can tell you the mayor and I -- and, most importantly, most people reading this -- agree on the most important point, that everyone wants that weekend to be a showcase for one of the world's great cities.

POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 5:55 PM
St. Louis County police officers arrest an anti-police demonstrator in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 10, 2015. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

They told us things were getting better in Ferguson in the year since Mike Brown was gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson and left dead in the street for an unreal -- and inhuman -- 4-and-a-half hours. Surely, there's been some slow bending of the long arc of the moral universe; voters turned out strong in last November's election in the Missouri suburb and now its City Hall looks more like the population of the majority-black community, with two new African-American city council members and a black interim police chief to replace his fundamentally  and discredited predecessor, Thomas Jackson.

On the actual 1-year anniversary on Sunday, there was a lot of good -- peaceful marches against injustice -- and some really bad, including several incidents of looting and then a burst of gunfire; a man that police claimed was a shooter was seriously wounded by officers. I was impressed by the smart and nuanced response by St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar. "They were criminals, they were not protesters," he said of the shooters.  "Protesters are people that are out there that are talking about a way to effect change, whatever that may be. That is not what is happening here." I was saddened by the violence, but I was also thinking that some leaders in Missouri were starting to "get it."

It was a feeling that barely made it out of Monday morning. Soon, officials in St. Louis County had declared a "state of emergency" -- a completely unnecessary escalation and arguably a provocation. Minutes later, peaceful protesters outside the federal courthouse -- including two key leaders of the Ferguson-and-beyond movement, DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie, were handcuffed and detained along with key ministers and other activists. Throughout the day, citizens were threatened, bullied and arrested for constitutionally protected activities such as taking pictures and videos, asking questions of law enforcement, or reporting on the protests. (Perhaps coincidentally, it was also reported that the federal Department of Homeland Security has been "monitoring" McKesson, who's not-quite-a-threat-to-the-Republic activities have consisted of publishing a newsletter about Ferguson and tweeting his support for black empowerment.)

POSTED: Monday, August 10, 2015, 6:27 PM
Kathleen Kane booking photo

Wow, that was weird. More than 90 percent of the online commenters and emailers agreed with me about Mayor Nutter and the Papal Panic of '15. Stopped clock, right? you know I'm going to come back today with an opinion that virtually NO ONE agrees with, and so here goes. It's hard for anyone to disagree that Kathleen Kane has been a trainwreck as Pennsylvania's attorney general. But now that she's been indicted, I don't think she should resign. Let her have her day in court...and keep her job.

Three points:

1. One meme that's been spread far and wide is that Kane was only elected in 2012 -- the state's first elected Democratic AG, and the first female -- because she's a woman. That's neither fair nor true. In a state that has an embarrassingly dismal track record of electing females to high office, Kane's gender did seem a plus, but that's not why she won. As a junior county prosecutor with no experience to suggest she could make the huge leap to attorney general, Kane hopscotched over other, more qualified women (and beat, in a primary, maybe the most decent man in Pa. politics, ex-congressman and Iraq veteran Patrick Murphy) not because she's a woman, but because she was rich. Kane's campaign received more than $2 million from her then-husband, trucking executive Chris Kane...and that's how she won. If you're outraged by Kane's on-the-job performance, you should be fighting to get Big Money out of politics.

POSTED: Sunday, August 9, 2015, 8:49 PM
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, right, hands Pope Francis, left, a model of the Liberty Bell as Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput, center, watches during the Papal Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 26, 2014. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)

Dear Mayor Nutter,

I'm not an expert on security, or event planning, or planning secure events. I'm just one of a couple million people who works or goes to school or lives in the city of Philadelphia. And I'm one of a majority of those folks who was excited to hear that Pope Francis -- not just the spiritual leader of one of the world's great religions but a moral leader on the most important issues of the 21st Century, including inequality and climate change -- would bless the city with his presence in the last weekend of September.

You're not a security expert, either, nor are you supposed to be. You're a leader. When it comes to the city's role in this papal visit, your job is to 1) coordinate security, people movement, etc., with actual experts and all the relevant agencies and 2) (and this is really the important one) communicate with the public, with the average schlub like me. That's not just so we know how to see the Pope, if so inclined, or at least how to move around the city that weekend. It's also so that we understand not only what is happening but why -- so that we can shrug off any hassles and continue to feel as good about the arrival of Pope Francis as we did the day his trip was announced.

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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