A New Book Sees Camden as a Harbinger of Unsettling Things to Come

"Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt" was written and illustrated by acclaimed journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Jun. 20, 2012

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Yeah, well—everywhere we look. I mean, what does North Philly look like? What does Camden look like? All the physical signs of decay and decline are there. Firehouses being closed, libraries being closed, hundreds of thousands of people just lost their unemployment benefits. It’s all there. It’s just usually not part of a broader narrative. We note the phenomenon that 64 schools are closing in Philly. But we don’t put it in a political or economic context, and that’s what [Joe and I] tried to do. Everybody knows Camden is a bleak wasteland—and, you know, we spent a lot of time on the streets of Camden—but [our goal was] really to investigate the forces, including [New Jersey insurance executive and political boss] George Norcross III, that have [allegedly] orchestrated this.

So, what do you believe that Philadelphia should know about Norcross, who’s part of the group that just acquired ownership of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News? In the book, you quote from some tapes of Norcross that were made during a law-enforcement investigation in 2001—hours’ worth of recordings from which only 90 minutes have ever been made public.

We have this brief little snapshot… of how power works internally. Norcross is the perfect poster child of the new corporate overlord. It used to be thugs, you know—the Mafia or Al Capone—but now it’s different. Now it’s money. Vast sums of money. And, you know, there are a few people that still play by the rules—and that money is used to crush them. It’s not just George Norcross—he’s just close by. This is how it works, by and large, across the whole country.

In the first chapter, you mention that, almost since the founding of America, there’s been a pattern of protecting corporate interests. Do you believe the American reality, right from the get-go, made what’s happening now inevitable?

The people who founded this country were the wealthy, and they created a political system that excluded women, African Americans, Native Americans, anyone who didn’t own property, indentured servants. The electoral college, the creation of the Senate—because senators used to be appointed—it was all designed to keep out the rabble. And, as Howard Zinn, I think, quite effectively illustrates in A People’s History of the United States, the struggle for democracy has been the struggle by marginalized groups to open the system up. And we opened it up pretty well—until these corporate forces fought back. And almost all the gains, including the New Deal legislation, it’s all been wiped out. And these people have reasserted themselves, with one crucial difference: The robber barons worked within the confines of the nation state. The new corporate overlords have no loyalty to the nation. They have destroyed the manufacturing base in this country so they can pay sweatshop workers in Bangladesh 22 cents an hour. They have parked their profits overseas so they don’t pay taxes. I mean, it’s just obscene. Corporations like General Electric or Bank of America pay no income tax [some years]. I pay more income tax than both of those two corporations put together. And in this sense, we talk about sacrifice zones, places that have been sacrificed, destroyed. Well, left unchecked, these corporations will turn the whole damn country into a sacrifice zone, so what happened in Camden is just going to happen to the rest of us. It already is happening to the rest of us.

Do you see these urban sacrifice zones expanding to the rest of the country within—

Sure, the difference between Philly and Camden is that you have some parts of Philly that are still functional. In Camden, everything went. It’s an extreme example. The situation’s not getting better in Philly—it’s getting worse. And not just Philly. It’s getting worse everywhere.

Where do you see the United States being in, say, the next 10 to 15 years?

It will resemble a third-world country. You’ll have your little pockets where the oligarchic, elite exist. And two thirds of the country will struggle.

All right. (Nervous laughter.)

Well, look at journalism. What’s happened to journalism over the trajectory of my career is terrifying. It’s been destroyed. And there’s no place for these people to go. They all write for the Internet for free, but they can’t make a living at it. And that’s just within my own profession.

You spend a good deal of time talking about the Occupy movement, as well. What significance do you think that has within this general decline?

It’s seriously important. Because, first of all, it articulates the grievances and injustices that are not articulated by good corporate or commercial media. It, in essence, told people they weren’t alone. It created a movement whereby people could feel empowered, and I think that it’s certainly suffered some severe body blows and that’s exactly what the state intended to do. But it’s not going away. Because the engine of mass movements are a ruling class that fails to respond. And the longer things deteriorate, the more it becomes inevitable that there is a backlash; there’s some kind of mass response. What it will look like, whether it will even be called Occupy, I don’t know. I’ve covered movements as a reporter, no one knows. But it’s not dead. And because the power elite, or the ruling class, has not responded rationally; a rational response would have meant a massive jobs program targeted especially at the young, a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions, a forgiveness of the $1 trillion in student debt—I mean, that would be a rational response, a New Deal kind of response. But the only response the state has offered is one of force. And for that reason, a clash is inevitable, but no one knows when.

It seems like within this idea of the Occupy movement being a revolt, it’s been hard for a lot of the things you mentioned to get done due to the gridlock in Washington. Do you think there’s any hope of a movement like that affecting what’s going to happen in Washington, given the circumstances these days?

That’s not the goal of the movement. Nobody’s sitting around talking about what’s going on in Washington.

Sure—but since we’re talking about a New Deal-type situation being a rational response to the movement, wouldn’t you say that—

Well, I’m saying that because the government doesn’t do that, it cannot dissipate the movement. I mean, when Conrad Black wrote his biography on Roosevelt, he said that Roosevelt’s greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism. And that’s right. But we don’t have a Roosevelt. We have a [JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO] Jamie Dimon, [Goldman Sachs CEO] Lloyd Blankfein. We don’t have any vision at all other than quarterly profit. And they’re running the show.

And we have a president who, despite all the rhetoric that’s thrown at him being a socialist and what have you, still seems to believe that the businessman is what can save America.

I don’t even know what he believes. It’s sort of irrelevant. And I’m not interested in what he says. I’ve covered politicians for a long time. I’m interested in what he does, and he’s completely captive to corporate power. And, you know I sued the guy in federal court and I won. He has been complicit in stripping us of our civil liberties, including due process, which is the case I raised against him. He’s used the Espionage [Act] six times to shut down whistleblowers and leakers, including leaks to The New York Times about war crimes. I mean, he’s just destroyed investigative journalism in this country because no one wants to talk, they’re terrified of going to prison. This is all a Democratic administration.

In addition to that, something you talk about in the book is the militarization of the police force.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. OtterVonBismark said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:30PM

“What a couple of chumps--traveling around the world and being hypercritical of places they're not from and only have a cursory knowledge about. There is beauty and strength in the toughest of neighborhoods, but it takes a lot more talent and time to write about that. It also doesn't sell as well. Shame on PW for putting this garbage on the front page--City Paper would have more insight.”

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2. ANGEL said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:38PM

“I live in Camden all I can say is shame on Philadelphia weekly. They should fire the editor for allowing this garbage to make the front page.”

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3. Anthony Adams said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:47PM

“This has got to be the most pathetic story about Camden. Philadelphia weekly has stopped to a new low. I feel sorry for journalism. Shame on Philadelphia weekly. Have you guys even been to Camden. I bet not. This is a sad attempt at trying to be like the Inquirer.”

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4. Maria said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:56PM

“acclaimed journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco seriously what kind of crack was Randy smoking when he wrote this calling journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco acclaimed is a lot like calling Lindsay Lohan an award winning actress.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 06:07PM

“Norcross will soon see himself as a cursed man. Everything he has done to innocent people will soon fall back on is own family and their generations. Norcross thinks Politics are a blood sport, but he will soon see that he is going to pay for all the wrong he has done.”

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6. justine said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 07:58PM

“How great to see a publication giving voice to what is happening across America that the majority have no chance to see on our televisions or even our internet searches. Creative, heart rending and frightening, thank you for featuring this work.”

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7. Voodoo Doll said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 07:01AM

“If organized well, the people can easily come down and remove Norcross. Underground groups are forming as we speak. This has been a long time effort and there are so many people waiting to take down George E. Norcross. It's a matter of time but it is in the making and it will be the most EMBARRASSING moment for this political corrupt machine. NOBODY will want to deal with him when we get done with him. He pissed thousands of people off and they are coming for him.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 02:35PM

“Perhaps critics of the article would do well to actually read the book--in which Hedges and Sacco pay great, detailed respect to the dignified and beautiful parts of each of these impoverished areas. They're drawing attention to places that deserve it--with good intention, and with knowledge far from cursory.”

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9. Joe said... on Jun 25, 2012 at 12:49PM

“If you don't believe money in politics is destroying our democracy, then you haven't been paying attention. Do you even know who has PACs, shoveling more and more money to politicians every year? Your phone company. Your cable company. Your car manufacturer. Just about every industry has large players who have PACs and use them to support politicians who vote for things that would help them, the companies, and against things that would hurt them.

Simply put: neither the Democratic nor the Republican party are interested in you anymore. Quite honestly, no party that accepts gross amounts of money from corporations or lobbyists does.

If this pisses you off because you still have a soul and conscience, and want to vote against the destruction of our political system, then vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November. She's the only person who isn't going to accept this money that bastardizes our country to the point of ruin.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 26, 2012 at 02:27AM

Actually, the most third world thing about the US is the Democrats running cities like Philadelphia. Corruption, incompetence, high taxes. Driving businesses out.

Corporations run Philly? That's why they just raised their highest in the nation business taxes rather than cut any spending anywhere.

But not a mention of that in this formulaic leftist drivel. These people don't let facts get in the way of their ideology.

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11. Canaan1 said... on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:59PM

“Reporting on Camden has traditionally followed a formula that benefits the journalists, a few organizations, agencies, and a few designated white heroes but does little to provide authentic insight into the issues at hand. I love Chris Hedges' politics but his reporting on Camden has been abysmal. One bright spot has got to be Miss Lolly Davis, who we all love and respect.”

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12. Judy Calabrese said... on Oct 1, 2012 at 08:43PM

“The elected officials and federal prosecutors need to stop playing lets make a deal with that corrupt political boss and grow some balls and put that scumbag George Norcross in Jail.”


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