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Introduction Nero played his fiddle, Obama shot baskets and Trump twittered while their empires burned. What makes empires decay and what makes empires expand has everything to do with their relations between rulers and the ruled. Several factors are decisive. These include: (1) rent, land and housing, (2) the direction of living standards, (3) the... Read More
Introduction During his recent visit to New Hampshire on 3/20/18, President Trump declared once again that the US is facing a ‘drug epidemic’. This time he advocated the death penalty for criminal drug dealers as the solution to a national crisis that has killed over 1 million Americans since the 1990’s (when the blockbuster prescription... Read More
Camden Tent City, 2009
Indoctrinated for decades by relativism, we’re supposed to consider all life styles equal and never pass judgments. There must be legitimate reasons for a culture to embrace, for example, child marriage, bride kidnapping, female circumcision, Oprah Winfrey, or universal, all day long access to pornography. Shit, though, is a hard sell, thus open sewers or... Read More
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As we move into 2018, I am swinging away from the Republicans. I don’t support the Paul Ryan “Better Way” agenda. I don’t support neoliberal economics. I think we have been going in the wrong direction since the 1970s and don’t want to continue going down this road. Opioid Deaths: As we all know, the... Read More
West Scranton, 2017
On Thanksgiving, I came to Scranton to stay with a 65-year-old friend who’s going through a cage fight kind of divorce, though only one side is dishing out the sharp elbows and knees. Just hearing Christmas music at the Dollar Store was driving him mad, Chuck confessed. The four-hour bus ride from Philly stopped in... Read More
New York, 2017
To go home, I had to take a taxi to Saigon’s airport, fly to Hanoi, then on to Hong Kong, where during a 5 ½ hour layover I’d take a train to Central to hang out a bit, then back to the airport to fly to JFK, then hop on two trains just to get... Read More
Frankford, Philadelphia, 2014
Jonathan Revusky was in Philly for a few days, and I had a great time showing Jon around. We went to Kensington, Fishtown, Camden, Point Breeze, Little Cambodia and Rittenhouse Square, all but the last at the sinking end of the economic scale, places I’m well familiar with. At Jack’s Famous Bar, we ordered a... Read More
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Introduction: The cross border flood of millions of immigrants provokes profound political divisions, violence and the rise of mass movements challenging the unity of the European Union (EU) and the survival of the dominant political parties in the US and Europe. Both the progressive pro-immigrant and rightwing anti-immigration parties and movements propose easy answers and... Read More
West End Mall, Atlanta, 2017
Knowing you can’t run from their jokes, bus drivers will crack a few, so on the endless leg from Washington to Atlanta, the driver intoned, “I don’t believe in Lost and Found, ladies and gentlemen, only eBay. If you forget something on this bus, you can find it on eBay.” Later, he chastised us all... Read More
Dirty Frank\
Before its rents became astronomical, I lived in CenterCity, so frequented McGlinchey’s and Dirty Frank’s. Now, I walk into Frank’s and hardly recognize anybody. Uncle Moe, Tommy Hackett and Skinny Dave are long dead, the last from an OD while in his late 30’s. Others have moved away. Last week, though, I ran into Rick,... Read More
Peter in Friendly Lounge
An American president has become a cartoon hero or villain. Like Obama, Trump is an inconsequential yet lurid target for worshippers and detractors to unload emotions. As we rejoice or rage at this figurehead, the Military Banking Complex will continue to serve the elites at our expense. Our economy will keep cratering, and our poor... Read More
Dan in Friendly Lounge, 2016
Jokers are bad news. You don’t want to sit next to one in a bar. This day, I heard, again, about a man who ordered ten shots of whiskey after getting a blow job, and a man who got a bullet in his ass while humping someone’s wife. “Had he shown up a minute earlier,... Read More
Eddie and Friends
When 46-year-old Eddie found out I’d been interviewing people, he wanted to talk. “You can write a book about me!” and that’s true enough, but then again, I’ve never met an uninteresting person. Within a minute, Eddie was showing me photos of women on his cell phone. There was plenty of skin and at least... Read More
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The flame-like tree and yellow stars from Van Gogh’s Starry Night burn on B.B.’s right shoulder. Blonde, slim and 33, she bartends at Friendly Lounge twice a week. She calls everyone “darling,” as in, “Are you good, darling? You need another one?” When B.B. told me she had lived in the Tenderloin, had drifted much,... Read More
Amanda in Camden, 2016
With huge tax breaks, Camden has lured several companies to this wrecked city, so a small chunk of downtown is getting spruced up. Shirtless or in wifebeaters, tattooed junkies still lurk around the Walter Rand Transportation Center, but the Third-World clothing stands have been shooed from the shadow of City Hall. Crown Chicken has moved... Read More
Hope: it’s in short supply in America this year. I was reminded of that recently when I spoke at a kick-off event for the school year hosted by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The Institute’s namesake is, of course, Bob Dole, the war hero turned Republican congressman, senator, minority and... Read More
Eileen Walbank, 2016
In Philadelphia, I often see Chinese push their grandchildren around in strollers, so the three-generation households are evidently still common in that community. In China itself, citizens can be fined or even jailed for not visiting their aging parents enough. That there is such a law can only mean that familial bonds are weakening, however,... Read More
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It Reaches Manhattan, Doubtless Due to Continental Drift
It is easy to underestimate the peasantry, the little people. They appear well under control. All seems calm, unless one looks carefully. The means of control work smoothly: the legions, the church, the media, the secret police, the enforcers of political correctness. The serfs are cowed. Why worry about a distant peonage? Do we not... Read More
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To recast a famous philosophical conundrum, what would happen if hundreds of thousands of Americans died, but the media never reported that calamity? I spend hours each morning closely reading the print editions of my daily newspapers, and for over a decade that question has seemed real rather than merely hypothetical. The reason may be... Read More
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Introduction: The white working class in the US has been decimated through an epidemic of ‘premature deaths’ - a bland term to cover-up the drop in life expectancy in this historically important demographic. There have been quiet studies and reports peripherally describing this trend - but their conclusions have not yet entered the national consciousness... Read More
In Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell observes: Racial, ethnic and religious differences can be overlooked as long as there are rich economic opportunities, but absent this expansion of output for all, pluralism collapses and explodes into mutual resentment, finger pointing and violence, and we’re only at the beginning of this hell. Those on the lowest rungs... Read More
Don in Friendly Lounge, Philadelphia, 2015
Showing up in Friendly Lounge, beaming Maria said to bartender Manon, “How’s my baby? Come here and give me a hug! How are your job applications?” “Nothing yet, but I have a couple of interviews coming up.” For the last six months, Manon has been trying to get hired as a school counselor. She only... Read More
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Neoliberal policy will pressure U.S. citizens to emigrate, just as it caused millions to leave Russia, the Baltic...
A research team from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York estimates 875,000 deaths in the United States in year 2000 could be attributed to social factors related to poverty and income inequality. According to U.S. government statistics, 2.45 million Americans died in the same year. When compared to the Columbia research... Read More
Patrick in Kensington, 2016
This week, a 55-year-old tourist from Texas was killed when he fell onto the subway tracks at 13th Street Station. He and his wife had just visited the Liberty Bell. Going by the station the next day, I half expected to see some sort of memorial, but there were no flowers, cards or candles. I... Read More
Anna in Friendly Lounge, Philadelphia, 2016
Don, Friendly Lounge owner, told me this joke, “How is a South Philly guy like Jesus? One, he’s never left his neighborhood. Two, he hangs out with the same 12 guys. Three, his mother thinks he’s God.” Angelo comes in Friendly each morning to read Don’s newspaper. After half an hour, he’d say, “Don, you... Read More
Point Breeze, Philadelphia, 2015
In the early 90’s, I sometimes worked the door at McGlinchey’s. Lurching in, 6-9 Lloyd Lunz guffawed, “Yo, heavy duty bouncer action tonight!” I was only paid $30 for five hours of carding baby-faced carousers, and it was torture to be sober while everybody got trashed. One night, there was some commotion outside, so I... Read More
Empty Friendly Lounge just before noon, Philadelphia, 2016
It’s not right. I came into the Friendly Lounge at 11:45AM, parked my bony ass there for three hours, and saw nobody. In the 90’s, I heard an exasperated crack whore kvetch, “Don’t nobody want a blow job no more!” It’s gotten much worse. In 2016, it’s, “Can’t nobody afford a beer no more?” Tony... Read More
Spider in Kensington, Philadelphia, 2015
Though no millennial metrosexual, I sleep next to my laptop, and this morning, an email came from a Japanese literary journal, Monkey, to ask me to name a short story I wish I had written. Editor Motoyuki Shibata also requested a one-hundred word explanation, which I promptly knocked out while sipping an Earl Grey at... Read More
Before interviewing 33-year-old Manon, I had never talked to her. She only bartends at Friendly Lounge one day a week. The joint was completely empty when we started at noon. Folks can hardly afford a beer anymore. An hour into our conversation, Tony the cook came in to take his midday break, then a stranger... Read More
When I lived closer to Center City, I’d take out-of-town friends to McGlinchey’s or Dirty Frank’s, but since moving to South Philly more than a decade ago, I’d drag people to the Friendly Lounge, because it really is friendly. In Philly, black bars tend to be called “lounge,” but Friendly is the haunt of middle-aged... Read More
I hadn’t even changed money when a guy in a military jacket approached me for a donation for Ukraine’s war efforts, and he was quite persistent too. This happened in Maidan Square, now turned into a death shrine, with photos of sacrificed soldiers scattered all over. Of different sizes, many were draped with rosary beads... Read More
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You Can't Earn a Living on the Minimum Wage
When presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality, and when other candidates speak about the minimum wage and food stamps, what are they really talking about? Whether they know it or not, it’s something like this. My Working Life Then A few years ago, I wrote about my experience enmeshed in the minimum-wage economy,... Read More
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Donald Trump’s mortal enemies in mainstream politics and media have shifted strategy. In the ramp-up to the Iowa, February 1 Caucuses, the culprits have been pushing presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio onto a defiant Republican base. The Cartel has taken to discussing Trump as a nightmare from which they’ll soon awaken. Candidate Trump’s... Read More
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The Great Die-Off of America's Blue Collar Whites
The white working class, which usually inspires liberal concern only for its paradoxical, Republican-leaning voting habits, has recently become newsworthy for something else: according to economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the winner of the latest Nobel Prize in economics, its members in the 45- to 54-year-old age group are dying at an immoderate rate.... Read More
It’s the American mean season. No question about it. Racism. Xenophobia. Refugee bashing. Seemingly endless blatant police killings (and other kinds of mistreatment) of black citizens. All of it out in the open for anyone to see and denounce -- or cheer. And at rallies nationwide, Republican candidates, especially Donald Trump, are indeed being cheered... Read More
My column, “Capitalism At Work,” about Greek women being forced into prostitution by banksters and the IMF produced a number of responses from women, who report that austerity is having the same effect all over Europe. This is from a letter from Portugal: “Your article ‘Capitalism At Work’ shows absolutely what’s happened here in Portugal.... Read More
Going from Philly to Camden, I take a train across the Ben Franklin Bridge, then get off at Broadway. In 1969 and 1971, fire bombs were thrown, shop windows smashed and businesses burnt and looted all around this area. The 1969 riot was sparked by a false rumor that a black girl had been beaten... Read More
I’ve prowled around Gary, relaxed in New Harmony and explored downtown Indianapolis after midnight. There is a bronze statue of John Wooden. Kneeling and suited, the basketball coach is surrounded by five young pairs of male legs, their bodies disappearing above the pelvis. It is very creepy and gay. One of these days, I must... Read More
The first recorded race riot in Camden occurred on September 12th, 1864. The Philadelphia Inquirer: No one died that day, and of the nine people arrested, seven were black. In mid 19th century America, it was apparently a crime for a black man to be chased out of a bar, down the street, into his... Read More
I’ve depicted Jack’s in a Kensington Postcard, two poems and even a Vietnamese article. In business since the end of Prohibition, Jack’s is the last bastion of a Kensington that existed before all the factories moved out and the heroin came in. Old timers on a shrunken budget can mosey in to get buzzed for... Read More
David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, declares, “Yes, I also want to say Free Mumia. In fact, I want to say Free all the prisoners. Turn the prison holding Mumia Abu-Jamal into a school and make him dean.” Now, only a white man living outside the city can even think of, “I want... Read More
It doesn’t get any better than this. Luxuriating in Dunkin’ Donuts, Chuck Orloski and I each have our own cup of coffee and, yes, our individual donut. Shrewd, I have ordered one without a hole since you get more donut for your bucks that way. Biting into a jelly filled, deep fried piece of dough,... Read More
A Five-Step Guide to the Police Repression of Protest from Ferguson to Baltimore and Beyond
Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death ofFreddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any... Read More
In the part of Baltimore hardest hit by the recent riots and arson, more than a third of families live in poverty, median income is $24,000, the unemployment rate is over 50%, some areas burnt out in the riots of 1968 have never been rebuilt, incarceration rates are sky high, 33% of the homes are... Read More
It is amazing how the government manages to continue selling Brooklyn Bridges to a gullible public. Americans buy wars they don’t need and economic recoveries that do not exist. The best investment in America is a highly leveraged fund that invests only in large cap companies that are buying back their own stocks. Many of... Read More
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Obama Killed It
If you follow the financial news, you already know that the American people are on an epic downer. Just check out some of these headlines I pulled up in a five minute Internet search and you’ll see what I mean: And here’s my personal favorite: “NBC/WSJ poll: 60 percent say fire every member of Con
Deregulation, Privatization, and Cheap Labor
The man who promised to restore hope and bring change to America, has announced a plan to open five corporate plantations in the United States. On Thursday, President Barack Obama, whose policies have resulted in the greatest number of public sector job losses in US History (Public sector jobs have declined by 718,000 jobs since... Read More
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Slip Sliding Away
According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Barack Obama now ranks among the least popular presidents in the last century. In fact, his approval rating is lower than Bush’s was in his fifth year in office. Obama’s overall approval rating stands at a dismal 43 percent, with a full 55 percent of the public “disapproving... Read More
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Plutocracy Versus Democracy
I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document. By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of... Read More
If you’ve heard the phrase “class war” in twenty-first-century America, the odds are that it’s been a curse spat from the mouths of Republican warriors castigating Democrats for engaging in high crimes and misdemeanors like trying to tax the rich. Back in 2011, for example, President Obama’s modest proposal of a “millionaire tax” was typically... Read More
Category Classics
Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?
The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution