Sunday, July 19, 2009

Let’s talk soccer: A new Union, striking workers and the World Cup

There are only four sporting events I will watch without coercion: the World Series, the summer and winter Olympics, and the World Cup.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not about expertise in any of the sports involved. I haven’t engaged in many summer or winter Olympic sports – only cross country skiing, swimming and equitation – and never at a level that would approach competitive (or in the case of skiing, even proficient). And while I know the rudiments of baseball and soccer, I’m blind to the finer points of both games. In the latter case, I can’t even credibly speak about the sport in English because all the terminology resides in my memory banks in Spanish….

So it takes some nerve on my part to be writing this post at all.

But there can be something really compelling about sporting events of this magnitude – and that’s what gets me every time.

So, let’s talk fútbol.

The World Cup will take place in June 2010 in South Africa – with inaugural games slated for stadiums in Johannesburg and Cape Town – and most of the world will be watching. Netherlands is in, as are Australia, Japan, the two Koreas, and, of course, the host site, South Africa. Other berths are still up in the air, with teams at different stages of the qualifiers according to region.

Like all host sites in advance of World Cup stints, South Africa is in the throes of nationwide stadium and transportation infrastructure building. Not without hitch. The photos that accompany this post are by Catholic Standard & Times freelancer Kevin Cook, who is currently in South Africa. They were taken July 8 in Soweto’s Soccer City, one of 35 major sites that saw 70,000 construction workers go on strike that day. (Click here to see more photos and to read about Cook’s experiences in South Africa.)

According to media reports, the construction workers’ demands include higher minimum wage, maternity leave, and annual bonuses (Read news report here).

It is interesting to me (I am an editor of a Catholic newspaper, after all) that one day before the workers went on strike, Pope Benedict XVI’s social justice encyclical “Charity in Truth” was released. In it, the pontiff reaffirms the role of labor unions in the pursuit of economic justice for their communities. According to Cook’s blog, the striking workers are asking for a 10-15 percent raise in their current wages, “2,000 Rand a month – roughly 250 US dollars.” Which seems shockingly low to me from a U.S. wage perspective. (I hope any of my readers who know more about the wage structure in South Africa will comment, or send me an e-mail.)

In any case, South African officials are worried that if the strike continues, the venues in South Africa will not be ready in time for World Cup play.

Not that any of this is generating much press here. Despite our obsession with sports and the fact that the U.S. national soccer team is consistently a contender within its North, Central America and Caribbean group, by some inexplicable quirk soccer has never become the phenomenon here that it is in the rest of the world.

Still, in May it was announced that Philadelphia will have a new professional soccer team – the Philadelphia Union – starting in 2010. The team will play its home matches at a new 18,000+ seat stadium in Chester, Pa. – approximately 13 miles from downtown Philadelphia.

A brave proposition. Attendance was good the year the U.S. hosted the World Cup – but our professional soccer franchises don’t draw great crowds. Not even after importing megastar David Beckham.

Perhaps the timing of the Union’s first season will help – particularly if the U.S. national team qualifies and performs well during the World Cup.

It is fitting that the Union’s stadium will be in Chester rather than some swankier location. Soccer is, at its foundation, an incredibly egalitarian sport – stripped down to a ball and skill and no more. You can play it as spectacularly on the streets of a shantytown as you can on a groomed pitch. As a sport, it is beloved equally by the most educated and the least; those with enough money to own teams and those with barely enough to pay for the batteries in the radios on which they listen to the matches. I hope the Union’s stadium ticket prices reflect that reality. I hope, too, that many of our region’s new immigrants come to feel that the Union is their hometown team.

It’s all about connection. The possibility of connection, anyway, and soccer comes as close to being a global conductor as anything in our fractured world.

Okay, that might be a little exaggerated – but only a little.

Mention Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Mueller, Jairzinho, Rivelino or Giorgio Chinaglia to almost anyone of a certain generation – outside of the U.S. – and you’ll have instant conversation. Mention Bebeto or Zinedine Zidane and you’ll have the younger generation chiming in. Talk about Italy’s reemergence at the last World Cup, or the year Turkey and Korea placed third and fourth, or the year Cameroon’s made its historic run ….

It can turn ugly, of course – there have been riots at soccer matches, nasty jingoism, and even a fútbol-instigated war – but at its best, the sport is a language spoken readily by most of the world, no translators needed.

Commonality of experience. A common narrative. The evolution of personalities and Cinderella stories watched from every corner of the earth at once.
Pretty amazing.

(Okay, I’m stopping now. Before I get too terrified at the fact I just wrote over 900 words about a sport …).

Click here to go to the World Cup web site; here to read about the Philadelphia Union, and here to link to the Pope's social justice encyclical.

Photos of Soweto Soccer City workers striking ©Kevin Cook. Used by permission.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bishops ask for calls

This just in from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):

During the week of July 6-10, the U.S. Senate considered amendments to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill. During the debate, the Senate considered and adopted several immigration enforcement amendments which continue the enforcement-only approach to immigration reform. An amendment offered by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) enhancing the U.S.-Mexico border fence was particularly disturbing.

DeMint Amendment #1399: This amendment would require the completion of at least 700 miles of double fencing along the Southwest border by December 31, 2010, as well as require double barriers along portions of the fence.

USCCB Position: The USCCB has opposed the construction of a border fence, arguing that it will not stem, overall, illegal immigration, and could lead migrants to undertake more dangerous journeys into the United States. It also would force them to rely on expensive and dangerous human smuggling operations.
The Senate also adopted an amendment to extend the employment verification program, offered by Senator Sessions, and two other immigration enforcement amendments by voice vote (not roll call).
Notwithstanding the substance of the amendments, a vote in favor demonstrates that enforcement-only approaches to immigration reform are still supported by the majority of the Senate. Using the border fence vote as an example, we must communicate to our Senators that enforcement-only legislation is wrongheaded and ineffective and that only comprehensive immigration reform will help repair a badly broken immigration system.

Action and Targets: Clicking on this link will bring you to two separate letters, one which thanks your Senator for voting in opposition to the DeMint amendment and one expressing disappointment for their vote on the DeMint Amendment. Below, please find the roll call vote for the DeMint Amendment, with a "Yea" voting for the fence and a "Nay" voting against the fence.
Please send the appropriate letters to your Senator. It is just as important to thank your Senator for the right vote as it is expressing disappointment for a wrong vote. You can also use the letters as talking points if you wish to contact them via phone at 202-224-3121.

Specific Targets: While it is important that all Senators receive letters or calls, there are specific target Senators important to the comprehensive immigration reform debate (and who should support CIR) who should hear from us:
Target Senators who voted the wrong way on the DeMint amendment: Democrats: Baucus, Bayh, Boxer, Feinstein, Klobuchar, Landreiu, Lincoln, McCaskill, Merkley, Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Pryor, Rockefeller, Schumer, Specter, Stabenow, Tester, Webb, and Wyden. Republicans: Bennett, Brownback, Hatch, Graham, Gregg, McCain, Snowe.

For more information, please contact: Antonio Cube at or Chris West at

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 111th Congress - 1st Session as compiled through Senate LIS by the Senate Bill Clerk under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate
Question: On the Amendment (DeMint Amdt. No. 1399 )
Vote Number: 220
Vote Date: July 8, 2009, 11:34 AM
Required For Majority: 1/2
Vote Result: Amendment Agreed to
Amendment Number: S.Amdt. 1399 to S.Amdt. 1373 to H.R. 2892 (Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010)
Statement of Purpose: To require the completion of at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the southwest border by December 31, 2010.
Vote Counts: YEAs 54 NAYs 44 Not Voting 2

Alabama: Sessions (R-AL), Yea Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Alaska: Begich (D-AK), Nay Murkowski (R-AK), Nay
Arizona: Kyl (R-AZ), Yea McCain (R-AZ), Yea
Arkansas: Lincoln (D-AR), Yea Pryor (D-AR), Yea
California: Boxer (D-CA), Yea Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Colorado: Bennet (D-CO), Nay Udall (D-CO), Nay
Connecticut: Dodd (D-CT), Nay Lieberman (ID-CT), Nay
Delaware: Carper (D-DE), Nay Kaufman (D-DE), Nay
Florida: Martinez (R-FL), Nay Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Georgia: Chambliss (R-GA), Yea Isakson (R-GA), Yea
Hawaii: Akaka (D-HI), Nay Inouye (D-HI), Nay
Idaho: Crapo (R-ID), Yea Risch (R-ID), Yea
Illinois: Burris (D-IL), Nay Durbin (D-IL), Nay
Indiana: Bayh (D-IN), Yea Lugar (R-IN), Nay
Iowa: Grassley (R-IA), Yea Harkin (D-IA), Nay
Kansas: Brownback (R-KS), Yea Roberts (R-KS), Yea
Kentucky: Bunning (R-KY), Yea McConnell (R-KY), Yea
Louisiana: Landrieu (D-LA), Yea Vitter (R-LA), Yea
Maine: Collins (R-ME), Nay Snowe (R-ME), Yea
Maryland: Cardin (D-MD), Nay Mikulski (D-MD), Nay
Massachusetts: Kennedy (D-MA), Not Voting Kerry (D-MA), Nay
Michigan: Levin (D-MI), Nay Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Minnesota: Franken (D-MN), Nay Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Mississippi: Cochran (R-MS), Nay Wicker (R-MS), Yea
Missouri: Bond (R-MO), Yea McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
Montana: Baucus (D-MT), Yea Tester (D-MT), Yea
Nebraska: Johanns (R-NE), Yea Nelson (D-NE), Yea
Nevada: Ensign (R-NV), Nay Reid (D-NV), Nay
New Hampshire: Gregg (R-NH), Yea Shaheen (D-NH), Nay
New Jersey: Lautenberg (D-NJ), Nay Menendez (D-NJ), Nay
New Mexico: Bingaman (D-NM), Nay Udall (D-NM), Nay
New York: Gillibrand (D-NY), Nay Schumer (D-NY), Yea
North Carolina: Burr (R-NC), Yea Hagan (D-NC), Nay
North Dakota: Conrad (D-ND), Yea Dorgan (D-ND), Yea
Ohio: Brown (D-OH), Nay Voinovich (R-OH), Nay
Oklahoma: Coburn (R-OK), Yea Inhofe (R-OK), Yea
Oregon: Merkley (D-OR), Yea Wyden (D-OR), Yea
Pennsylvania: Casey (D-PA), Nay Specter (D-PA), Yea
Rhode Island: Reed (D-RI), Nay Whitehouse (D-RI), Nay
South Carolina: DeMint (R-SC), Yea Graham (R-SC), Yea
South Dakota: Johnson (D-SD), Nay Thune (R-SD), Yea
Tennessee: Alexander (R-TN), Yea Corker (R-TN), Yea
Texas: Cornyn (R-TX), Yea Hutchison (R-TX), Yea
Utah: Bennett (R-UT), Yea Hatch (R-UT), Yea
Vermont: Leahy (D-VT), Nay Sanders (I-VT), Nay
Virginia: Warner (D-VA), Nay Webb (D-VA), Yea
Washington: Cantwell (D-WA), Nay Murray (D-WA), Nay

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Senate vote taking place now

This just in from the Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition:

Senate Amendment Fight

Two amendments passed earlier in the day yesterday:

1. Sessions Amendment 1371 making E-verify permanent and requiring its use by federal contractors and subcontractors. Both Senator Specter and Senator Casey voted for a motion to table the amendment (against the amendment). Once the motion to table failed, the amendment was accepted by voice vote.

  1. DeMint 1399 expanding the wall and adding a deadline for completion. Senator Specter voted for the amendment, Senator Casey voted against it.

Today, amendment voting is expected to begin at shortly after 11:00 am

  • Vitter Amendment 1375 prohibiting the administration from changing the no-match and e-verify regulations. This is an attempt to override the Obama administration’s announcement about ending the no-match program.

  • Grassley Amendment 1415 requiring all employers to re-verify current employees through e-verify, not just new hires. Currently, they are prohibited by law from doing this. Given the high error rates of the e-verify system, employees that have worked for a company for years could have erroneous non-confirmations in the system. Additionally, many individuals may not have the Photo ID that is required under the system.

Take action: Call Sen. Specter at 202-224-4254

Call Sen. Casey at 202-224-6324

To oppose the Vitter Amendement (#1375) overriding President Obama's decision to rescind the flawed Bush administration SSA No Match rule.

To oppose the Grassley amendment (#1415) which jeopardizes U.S. workers and could shut millions of U.S. citizen and lawful immigrant workers out of jobs.

To support having a real debate about immigration issues and only way for that to happen is by starting comprehensive immigration reform this year, not hurting U.S. workers.

Thank Sen. Casey for his vote against the DeMint Amendment (#1399) yesterday.

More details on SSA No-Match and E-Verify Policy Decisions -

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the administration’s intention to rescind the Social Security Administration's (SSA) No-Match rule, issued under the Bush administration. The rule had never been implemented due to a lawsuit; the system was not set up to verify employment eligibility and would have caused the termination of countless thousands of American citizens and work-authorized immigrants.

Instead, they are supporting a regulation for E-verify for federal contractors and subcontractors, to go into effect September 8, 2009. This policy decision was originally made under the Bush administration and has been delayed several times, under the Bush administration and again under the Obama administration. Numerous concerns remain about the quality of data used for employment verification under these systems. From the DHS statement, “The federal contractor rule extends use of the E-Verify system to covered federal contractors and subcontractors, including those who receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. After a careful review, the Administration will push ahead with full implementation of the rule, which will apply to federal solicitations and contract awards Government-wide starting on September 8, 2009.”

The full Department of Homeland Security statement on these policy points is available at:

Great information about these programs and the numerous problems with them is available from the National Immigration Law Center at the following links.

"Facts about E-Verify:

Basic Pilot/E-Verify: Why Mandatory Employment Verification will Hurt Workers, Businesses, and the Struggling U.S. Economy:

Facts about Social Security "No Match" Letter:

Health Care Alert from NILC

Health Care Reform Update:
Tell Congress This Week to Include in Health Care Reform the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2009
(H.R. 3090)
On June 26, 2009, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2009 (H.R. 3090) on behalf of the Tri-Caucus which also includes the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). H.R. 3090 focuses on addressing health disparities in coverage and access and aims to create an equitable health care system that works for everyone in the U.S.
The House will be reviewing H.R. 3090 this week. Because the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2009 (H.R. 3090) addresses many of the barriers faced by low-income immigrants in seeking health care (see below) which have not yet been addressed by any of the other current health care reform legislation, Congress must include H.R. 3090 as part of health care reform to address the inequities of our health care system and to achieve real reform.
Please contact the Members in the House listed below IMMEDIATELY to let them know you support H.R. 3090 and that it must be included in any comprehensive, health care reform legislation.
Suggested Message:
"[My organization and state] supports H.R. 3090 which provides equity in coverage and access in the health care system that is needed for real health care reform. We urge you to include H.R. 3090 in any final health care reform legislation that Congress passes this year."
Key Provisions of the Act that will address the needs of low-income immigrants include:
Restoring Medicaid and CHIP to otherwise eligible, lawfully present immigrants without a waiting period and sponsor-related barriers;
Ensuring that otherwise eligible, lawfully present immigrants can buy into Medicare and can qualify for the Medicare Savings Programs (administered under Medicaid);
Ensuring that ALL children, regardless of status, can receive Medicaid or CHIP (if otherwise eligible);
Ensuring that ALL pregnant women, regardless of status, can receive affordable prenatal care for a healthy pregnancy through Medicaid or CHIP (if otherwise eligible);
Ensuring that lawfully present immigrants have access to nutrition assistance;
Improving federal investment and standards for cultural competency and language access for providers and public health programs;Requiring more comprehensive collection of data on race, ethnicity, and language in all federal health programs as a strategy for addressing health disparities.

H.R. 3090 is available at

Please immediately contact the following members of leadership in the House of Representatives and Chairs of the three key House health reform committees by email or phone at 866-210-3678:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (202) 225-0100;

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: (202) 225-3130;

Representative Henry Waxman, Chair of House Energy and Commerce Committee: (202) 225-3976; E&C Committee: (202) 225-2927
Representative Charles Rangel, Chair of House Ways and Means Committee: (202) 225-4365;
Committee: (202) 225-3625;
Representative George Miller, Chair of House Education and Labor Committee: (202) 225-2095;
Committee: (202) 225-3725
Letters of Support
You may also send a letter of support of H.R. 3090 to the Tri-Caucus:
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)
U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC)
U.S. Representative Mike Honda, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC)

Make sure Congress knows that federal health care reform must include EVERYONE and that true reform will not work for all of us unless immigrants are also able to contribute and have access to coverage and care

Friday, July 3, 2009

PA Legislators – Fund our libraries!

I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
- Isaac Asimov

As science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov presciently wrote in his 1994 memoir, I, Asimov, library doors will not only be closing this year in Pennsylvania - they'll be slamming shut. That is, if the Pennsylvania Legislature has its way.
Governor Rendell has proposed a 16 percent cut in state support for libraries. The State Senate’s plan slashes support by more than 53 percent in the coming year. The drastic cuts proposed in the 2009-2010 budget would force libraries throughout the Commonwealth to eliminate services, or close branches, or both. The cuts would also make one thing clear about our state legislature: they don't have a clue about the vital role public libraries play in the small towns and rural regions of our Commonwealth.
Public libraries in small towns don't simply serve as repositories for the collective knowledge and wisdom of many cultures in printed form - each one is a hub of its community. People gather at libraries to read and borrow books, yes, but also to interact with each other, to discuss local events, to participate in book discussion groups and numerous other programs. For many elderly citizens, visiting a library where they are known, recognized, greeted and treated personally is as important to their ongoing well-being as the proper diet, or an annual flu shot.

The library is one of the first places a newcomer will venture to find a sense of community. A place where mothers can take their children to sit in the company of other children, and experience the magic of live storytelling. Where teens can go to keep busy in the summer and out of trouble year-round, and fall into the lifelong habit of reading.
If this weren't enough, public libraries are great equalizers: providing internet and computer access to those who can't otherwise afford it, and allowing every child and adult, no matter what their economic means, equal access to books, resources, information. As Asimov describes in the quote that opens this piece - public libraries feed our dreams and nurture our possibilities.
Perhaps state legislators don't need access to what public libraries provide. The rest of us can't afford to be so cavalier.

This is an updated version of an editorial I wrote November 2003 as editor of the Tri-County Record newspaper in Morgantown, Pa. What seems remarkable to me is that, six years later, we’re here again – fighting to keep our libraries open.