How much are essential workers worth?

I heard caterwauling: “I’m gonna have to throw all this trash into the swamp if they don’t pick up soon. The frogs and the possums ain’t gonna like that.”

Swamp Rabbit was standing outside his shack, jamming empty beer cans and whiskey bottles into trashcans that hadn’t been emptied in weeks. His complaint was that Philly’s sanitation workers aren’t keeping up with the massive amounts of curbside trash — recyclables, in particular — being generated by people who’ve been staying home to avoid Covid-19.

“You wouldn’t keep up with the trash either if your job got more dangerous but your wages stayed the same,” I said. “Sanitation workers are essential, but their work conditions are terrible and they make about seventeen bucks an hour. Some other essential jobs pay even less.”

“I had an essential job, Odd Man. Then I got laid off.”

“You were a salesmen, rabbit. A hustler. Essential means the social order breaks down unless the job gets done.”

My arguments didn’t seem to faze him, maybe because he was playing devil’s advocate — i.e., pretending to be one of those jerks who don’t see anything wrong with arranging for the poor to sacrifice rather than the rich when the economy goes bad.

I told him that Philly’s mayor and some City Council members expect non-affluent residents to close the budget hole caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They would rather raise taxes on homeowners and cut funding for basic social services, public schools, the arts, etc., than try to make big corporations and major nonprofits contribute more during a crisis.

“The University of Pennsylvania has a $15 billion endowment and takes up 10 percent of the city’s land but pays no property taxes,” I said, warming to the subject. “And what about Comcast, which doesn’t have to pay taxes on its $1.2 billion Technology Center until 2027?”

Swamp Rabbit snapped opened a can of beer and laughed for a long time. “What planet you been on? Penn and Comcast and them other big guys get what they want or they threaten to leave town. What’s essential, trash men or two of the biggest employers in the city?”

“Penn and Comcast aren’t going anywhere,” I said, but I knew he would give no ground, so I didn’t bother mentioning things like PILOT programs.

He finished his beer and threw the can onto his rapidly mounting pile of empties.

“Okay, you win,” I said. “Just don’t whine anymore about the trash not being collected.”

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Worst people in charge at worst time

Eric Swalwell meant figuratively, not literally, but he makes a good point about Steve Mnuchin, whom historians will remember as “the foreclosure king” because of his success at forcing desperate people out of their homes during the Great Recession.

As my neighbor Swamp Rabbit said, “He earned a ton of money making poor peeps homeless and now he wants to starve ’em, too. Ugly is as ugly does.”

“He picked the perfect time to starve them,” I replied. “Last week the government got more than a million new applications for unemployment comp. And it won’t get any better in the near future, not with the Covid-19 surging again and wrecking what’s left of the economy.”

In his tweet, Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, was echoing Trump and Senate Republicans who want to cut emergency unemployment benefits from $600 a week to $200.

I confessed to being a bit surprised that Trump and his toadies have chosen to remind us of their contempt for working people with elections only three months away.

“The base is gonna stick with Trump all the way to the Fuhrerbunker,” Swamp Rabbit explained. “They don’t want to face the fact that he bamboozled them from the get-go, with help from grifters and crooks like Mnuchin. They’d rather blame them anarchists and deadbeats and minorities for the country falling apart.”

“But the base is shrinking,” I replied. “And what about Mitch McConnell and those other rats in Congress? Don’t they realize? Even the corporate media know what’s happening.”

He laughed. “Right now them rats are scurrying. They’re trying to decide the best time to jump ship.”

“I think they missed their chance,” I said. “With any luck, they’ll all get deep-sixed this time.”

Footnote: As someone on Twitter noted, “[Mnuchin] does know that the people that need the money are the same people that paid the taxes, right?”

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A new meaning for ‘cancel culture’

w.c. fields

‘Last week I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.’

I found Swamp Rabbit near my shack, at the frog pond, drinking a beer. “There’s no easy way to say this,” I said. “Philadelphia is closing. I think we’ve become a victim of what they call cancel culture.”

He finished his beer and threw the can at me. “Cancel culture is when the social media shun personalities they think ain’t cool no more. What’s that got to do with Philly?”

I took another shot at explaining: Because of the resurgence of the Covid-19, there will be no parades, no ballgames open to the public, no footraces or any other large-scale organized events staged in Philly through February 2021. They’ve all been canceled.

“I could tell one of those old Philly jokes attributed to W.C. Fields, but I think you understand,” I added.

I reminded Swamp Rabbit that the city is already reeling from the full or partial closing of schools, stores, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, theaters, museums — even Independence National Historic Park.

The newly canceled events are a blow to those who make money doing face-to-face sales and were expecting to begin hawking again in late summer.

“You and I might soon be forced back to dumpster-diving and robbing the local SuperFridge,” I said.

He shrugged. “I ain’t never stopped robbing SuperFridge. You think I been paying four bucks for a bell pepper and ten bucks for a pack of wieners? That’ll be the day.”

I threw his beer can back at him. “My point is everybody is screwed who isn’t well-off. This isn’t just about Philly. By the time our delusional, incompetent president and his stupid flunkies get kicked out of the White House, we’ll be a Third World country.”

My prediction amused Swamp Rabbit. “Take a look at that shack of yours,” he said, pointing at it. “What world you think you livin’ in now?”

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When heroes go down

columbus 3

Columbus in his sweat box, awaiting shipment to a new world.

I wonder how Christopher Columbus is feeling. He’s locked up in a plywood box on Marconi Plaza until Philly’s illustrious civic leaders figure out what to do with him now that it’s become fashionable for protesters to topple statues of flawed heroes. The July heat in Philly is gruesome, so it must be awful stuffy in there.

“That’s a damn shame,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Now Columbus knows what them Indians felt like when he crammed them into ships and sent them back to Spain to be slaves.”

“Columbus was a creature of his times,” I replied. “In those days, it was okay for ambitious guys to rob and kill for queen and country.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “A lot of guys still do them things. But that don’t mean it’s okay for you to defend Columbus.”

I told the rabbit I wasn’t defending Columbus, just trying to make a point about historical revisionism. “I’m torn on this one, rabbit. On the one hand, Columbus was a monster, his own journals tell us this. And the statues of those Confederate traitors have to go, too. They’re monuments to the Jim Crow South. And Frank Rizzo… well, don’t get me started.”

But sometimes revisionism can go too far, I told him. For example, Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner but he also was influenced by Enlightenment thinkers. He was pro-slavery in practice but not in principle. This makes him a world-class hypocrite but it doesn’t negate the good he did in helping invent a government based on the notion that all men and women are created equal.

“You saying Jefferson should get a pass on account of he wrote the Declaration of Independence?”

“Not exactly. I’m saying that Jefferson, despite his terrible flaws, did as much as anybody to make the abolition of slavery in America inevitable.”

Swamp Rabbit rolled his eyes. “He was a racist, Odd Man. His solution to slavery was to give all them slaves a one-way ticket back to Africa.”

“So what should we do about him?” I said, exasperated. “Encase all his statues in plywood and send them to Monticello?”

“Just put a caution note on them, like they do with cigarette boxes,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “‘Believing the hype may be hazardous to your health.‘”

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Antifa is coming, call out the militia!


Many of us wondered why the infection rates for Covid-19 in this country continued climbing through the Fourth of July weekend and beyond, even though rates in most other developed countries were way down. The lead paragraphs from a news story out of Gettysburg, PA, offered some clues:

‘Let’s get together and burn flags in protest of thugs and animals in blue,’ the anonymous person behind a Facebook page called Left Behind USA wrote in mid-June. There would be antifa face paint, the person wrote, and organizers would ‘be giving away free small flags to children to safely throw into the fire.’

As word spread, self-proclaimed militias, bikers, skinheads and far-right groups from outside the state issued a call to action, pledging in online videos and posts to come to Gettysburg to protect the Civil War monuments and the nation’s flag from desecration.

According to the story, a large gang of “militia members” responded to a similar Independence Day hoax at Gettysburg three years ago. Back then, rumor had it that some loosely affiliated leftwing groups referred to collectively as antifa — short for anti-fascist — was intent on starting trouble there. The upshot: “… No one from antifa [was encountered], but one of the armed militia members accidentally shot himself in the leg with a revolver.”

This year’s kooks, many of them toting assault rifles, were determined to protect Confederate monuments. When the antifa subversives turned out to be phantoms, the kooks had to settle for harassing a lone man in a “Black Lives Matter” shirt until the man was escorted out of the park by cops.

“A bunch of peckerwoods,” Swamp Rabbit said after reading the story. “They walk around wearing mom jeans and not wearing face masks. But what do they got to do with the virus?”

“Everything,” I said. “They all get their information from the same sources. The sources that warn them about antifa — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, countless rightwing websites — also tell them they don’t need masks because Covid-19 is a leftwing hoax. They enjoy being exploited by bullshit artists.”

Swamp Rabbit shrugged. “We ain’t the only country where ignorant bigots are being exploited.”

No, but we’re one of the only countries where the exploiters help run the federal government,” I said. “That’s why we’re Number One… in Covid cases, that is.”

Footnote: Last summer Swamp Rabbit and I worked an event in Mechanicsburg, a few dozen miles from Gettysburg. Fortunately for us, no one called out the militia.

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Covid-19 and the confederacy of dunces


You’ve got a lot of people in [the media] who wax poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York. Well, hell, we’re eight weeks away from that and it hasn’t happened… People just don’t want to recognize [our success] because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumption.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, May 21

We watched a video of DeSantis scolding the media and congratulating himself for being smarter than all the experts who had cautioned against prematurely scaling back efforts to halt the spread of covid-19.

Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer Victor Cortez was incensed. “How did such an idiot become a governor? He looks like a freaking shoe store manager.”

“He ain’t smart enough to manage no shoe store,” Swamp Rabbit said, adjusting his dirty old cotton mask. “He’d screw that up, too. He’d order all the shoes in the same size and they’d all be wing-tips.”

I jumped in, ranting about recent statistics. Infection rates are way up, especially in the Sunbelt. Florida broke its own record for new single-day covid-19 cases on June 26, a little more than a month after DeSantis gloated over his great success in curtailing the virus.

“He’s so dumb he didn’t even understand that Florida infection rates wouldn’t stay low if lockdowns were lifted too soon,” I said.

Victor advised us to look at the big picture. The rot starts at the top, right? An incompetent, sociopathic real estate hustler rides a national wave of ignorance and bigotry all the way to the White House. He hires and fires staffers until he’s surrounded by obsequious hacks who are even dumber than he is. He uses his popularity with “the base” to ensure the loyalty of elected Republicans.

The country is hit with a mysterious, deadly virus. Republican governors make half-hearted efforts to limit its spread but always defer to Dear Leader, who denies the problem and won’t even wear a mask. It’s almost as if Republican officials were conspiring with their most ignorant constituents, who think mask-wearing and social distancing are threats to their liberty.

“It ain’t a conspiracy,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It’s a confederacy. Half the country is trying to do the right thing, the other half is whistling Dixie.”

Footnote: It’s not strictly a North/South split. Plenty of yahoos up North are helping spread the virus. Take a look at a resort like Wildwood, NJ, where business owners are hoping for a busy Fourth of July weekend.

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The thin blue lies

We were discussing whether the “l” in “testilying” was a typo or an intentional misspelling.

“It was on purpose,” I said. “The story is about how cops routinely lie in court and get away with it, something we talked about a few weeks ago. A lot of innocent people end up convicted unless there’s video disproving cop testimony. The person who was quoted in the article was just stating the obvious.”

Swamp Rabbit was unconvinced. “If it’s so obvious, then how come there ain’t been no public outcry to set things straight? How come the peeps put up with it?”

It depends on which peeps you’re talking about, I told him. If you’re poor and/or black, then you’ve probably had unpleasant encounters with cops and the courts, but you didn’t have the resources to fight back. You were too busy just trying to survive.

“Surviving is tougher these days,” Swamp Rabbit conceded, “but that’s on account of the virus. The justice system ain’t nearly as big a problem as that covid thing.”

We yelled so we could hear each other over the window fan in my shack. I told him the problems are related. The justice system has slowed to a crawl because of covid-19. Cops are arresting fewer people and fewer trials are being held because of the threat of spreading the virus in jails and in the courts.

“But the American justice system won’t change in the long run,” I predicted. “It’s like a meat grinder. It shreds you unless you can afford a good lawyer to challenge cop witnesses. Juries are always more likely to believe cops than defendants.”

“That might not be true no more,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Not after that video of what them cops did to George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks and them others. And not after the way they treated the peeps who protested them murders.”

“You’re wrong, rabbit,” I replied. “When things get back to normal, cops will get back to testilying. Juries will get back to believing them. Most of the news media, too.”

He laughed. “Things ain’t never going back to normal, whatever normal means.”

Footnote: I was called for jury duty in Philly a few days before the virus hit and the courts closed. They sit you in a big room with other potential jurors and hand you a questionnaire. One question is about whether you tend to believe the testimony of cops. I checked the “no” box because of my previous experience with cops and courts. They gave me a nine-dollar check and said, “You can go now.”

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Regarding a (fat orange) face in the crowd

“I think he’s done. Can I stick a fork in him now?”

Swamp Rabbit was reacting to Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK, where he managed to fill only 6,200 of the arena’s 19,000 seats after bragging that his campaign had fielded more than a million ticket requests. Watching his rant on TV, you could see the arena’s empty upper deck.

Afterwards, Trump’s fans and non-fans didn’t clash in Tulsa’s streets, even though Trump had done his best to make this happen by holding the rally only a day after Juneteenth and within a month of the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre.

During the event Trump condemned AOC and the radical left, lamented the fate of Confederate statues, and came out against further testing for the “kung flu.” He even attacked the media for commenting on the perilous journey he took down that stage ramp in West Point.

It was a desperate speech but I told Swamp Rabbit not to count out the hog monster, not yet. He made a fool of himself regarding covid-19 and the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, but most of his fans are still out there, still bigoted and stupid, although apparently not so stupid as to attend an indoor rally during a pandemic.

Swamp Rabbit said, “Ain’t no way that evil clown recovers from Tulsa. He looked shocked by them empty seats. Reminded me of that movie where the wanna-be dictator loses his base and has to use an applause machine to make up for nobody coming to his rallies no more.”

“You mean A Face in the Crowd,” I replied. “Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes. Patricia Neal as his long-suffering girlfriend turns up the studio sound and the TV audience hears him calling them pigs and idiots.”

“That’s the one,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump’s fanboys ain’t heard him call them names yet but they saw him holding a Bible upside down, and they heard him tell them back in the winter that the virus was under control. They’re gonna toss him like an empty bag of Cheetos.”

“We’ll see, rabbit. I wish they’d toss him before he tries to steal the election.”

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‘Autocrat’ doesn’t quite say it

We were reading from Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, a book that has appeared at exactly the right time:

If politicians, journalists, and even kitchen-table debaters adopted the habit of defining their terms, we would understand each other better — and begin the process of restoring language.

Gessen’s words brought up a pet peeve of mine regarding the mainstream media: At what point in an ongoing story should reporters and editors drop the euphemisms and start using terms that more accurately describe unsavory public figures and their actions?

“Who cares about your pet peeve?” Swamp Rabbit said.

We all should care, I told him, because the country is still reeling from some of Donald Trump’s worst abuses of power thus far, including using the U.S. military to disperse protesters in order to stage a photo op on Lafayette Square, and threatening to deploy 10,000 troops to put down protests in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

The sad fact is that most major media outlets are only now coming to terms with the role they played in enabling Trump by refusing to recognize that he was, as Gessen puts it, “probably the first major party nominee who ran not for president but for autocrat.”

“What’s she mean by autocrat?” Swamp Rabbit said. “Is that the same as dictator?”

Good question. I told him an autocrat is an all-powerful leader and so is a dictator. But the word autocrat isn’t supposed to convey the same menace as dictator. According to one online site, “An autocrat lacks the personality cult or charisma of a dictator and this probably restrains him from taking extreme decisions that could severely hurt his people.”

Swamp Rabbit was still confused. “So why does Gessen use the word autocrat? Trump has a cult following and he don’t care who he hurts. Don’t that make him a wanna-be dictator?”

Another good question. I told him that Gessen and respectable journalists everywhere prefer to avoid using explosive terms like “dictator” because such terms make them sound like their arguments are rooted in emotional bias rather than in reason. The last thing a mainstream journalist wants to be called is biased.

“That don’t make no sense,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump has been lying forever but it took them reporters a couple of years to call him a liar. And it took them even longer to call him a racist, even though he made a million racist remarks and spread the lie that Barack Obama was a Kenyan. Biased is beside the point if you got your facts straight.”

I heaved a big sigh. “I don’t know, rabbit. This is the first time the media had to deal with a president who is totally, unabashedly rotten — a guy who would shred the Constitution if he could — and with an entire political party that would shred it with him in order to stay on top. Autocrat fits.”

Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “Autocrat is too polite. It don’t quite say it.”

I shrugged. “You say potato, I say po-tah-toe.”

“I say lying racist wanna-be dictator. That’s Trump.”

Footnote: Surviving Autocracy is about a lot more than just Trump, but Swamp Rabbit’s point is a good one. There’s no sense in trying to make an argument if we don’t define our terms, right?

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Who do you believe, police or your lying eyes?

Swamp Rabbit wanted to know what I thought of the four Minneapolis cops who were arrested and charged in the killing of George Floyd. I told him lying with impunity used to be one of the perks of the job, but those days might be ending.

“Ain’t it the truth,” he said as we watched another video, this one of Buffalo cops. “Back in the day, cops could knock down a 75-year-old then step over him like he was a piece of trash. They’d say he tripped over his own feet and that would be that, case closed.”

We agreed that the game has changed. Thanks to phone cameras and other gadgets, peace officers can’t even poke white protesters with clubs let alone kill black people just for the hell of it.

“Two of them Buffalo cops got arrested,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Their homeys must be having second thoughts about their jobs. Why be a cop if you can’t beat up the peeps who don’t move when they see you coming?”

I told him he’s right, 57 cops have resigned from the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team to protest what happened to their two fellow officers.

Swamp Rabbit stroked his chin whiskers and nodded. “I think that means they’re still on the force, but they don’t have to respond to no emergencies.”

“Nice work if you can get it,” I said.

Footnote: Swamp Rabbit thinks my opinion of cops is too low, there are some good ones, I’d better hope I don’t have to call them someday in an emergency. I told him I did call them once in an emergency but when they arrived, two hours later, they almost arrested me, not the bad guy, who was long gone. “There are good cops, but it’s often safer to take your chances with the bad guys,” I said.

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