User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: 2010

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Christie Plans to Help Businesses by Making it Harder for Workers to Collect Unemployment

Unemployed Workers line up for free soup and coffee in this depression-era photo.  We can expect to see more unemployed New Jersey workers seeking help at soup kitchens and homeless shelters when Governor Christie's proposed regulations tightening eligiblity for unemployment compensation take effect in early 2011.

Baring an unlikely legislative override, new regulations tightening eligibility for New Jersey's unemployment compensation program will take effect in early 2011.  These changes further demonstrate the governor's willingness to compromise the welfare of ordinary working people to benefit his rich supporters.

Here is the link to a state press release on the proposed regulations:  http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/lwdhome/press/20101124_UI_reforms.html. Also here is the link to the proposed regulations themselves:  http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/forms_pdfs/legal/2010/42_NJR_2712_a_.pdf.

In the press release dated 11/24/10   The state says that the regulations are being issued because of unemployment "reform" legislation passed through by the legislature and signed into law on July 2, 2010. 

In the press release, the governor's representatives say that businesses will benefit from the proposed rule changes because their premiums went up by an average of $130 per year rather than the $400 per year increase that would have taken place without the rule changes.  The premiums were increased to replenish the fund which was depleted by elevated levels of unemployment claims during the recession and by looting of the fund's surplus by the legislature in recent years so it could obtain cash to pay for other programs.

What the new regulations will do is to make it more difficult for workers who were dismissed for misconduct (read "fired" from their jobs) to collect.  Instead of the present system where most workers have to wait six weeks to collect after being terminated, there will be a three tiered system. (simple, severe and gross misconduct).

Presently there is a two-tiered system.  Simple misconduct, where workers are ineligible to collect for a six-week waiting period and gross misconduct, where workers loose eligibility to collect on wages from the employer that dismissed them.  In order to be eligible for gross misconduct, you have to have been dismissed from your job by committing a felony while on the clock.  For instance, you are fired for pulling a knife or a gun on your supervisor.  In practice, few people get gross misconducts.  Most people are fired for garden-variety work-related infractions like showing up late.

I haven't read the regulations, but apparent the main change is the new "severe misconduct" penalty, which will be more severe than a simple six week disqualification.  What "severe misconduct" is exactly, I don't know, but anybody found guilty of it is going to have to go without an unemployment check for longer than six weeks.

You may say what's the big deal, these people were fired for doing something wrong and should be punished for their misbehavior.  While it may be true that most people who are terminated did something wrong on the job, the new policy will provide an incentive for employers to make the dismissal of workers for poor job performance (which you can collect right away) look like dismissal for severe misconduct (so the worker will be penalized severely and also to save the company money by holding down the payout of unemployment benefits).  Basically, the law provides an incentive for companies to save money by lying about why somebody was dismissed.

Why would I think that bosses will lie to keep people from getting money?  Because I worked two years as an unemployment claims examiner and got to conduct hearings to decide whether people who lost their jobs quit voluntarily or were fired for misconduct.  In the course of that job I heard about every story imaginable, with lies coming from both claimants and employers.  In once case a man said he was fired for age discrimination after spending 20 years on the job.  He worked in Hamilton Township right here in Mercer County, but filed his claim in Pennsylvania and was now living in Moosic, PA, which is in the Pocono Mountains, where many people move after retirement.  The employer said he quit to retire and bragged about buying a house in the Poconos.  I cross examined the claimant and he said that he was fired after he told his boss he sold his house in Hamilton and was moving to the Poconos.  He said he was willing to commute 150 miles each way every day to go to work.  (I hope you know this sounds stupid - that's how I catch people in lies.)

Fact is most people don't think their lies through.  A few questions about the lie will lead to some outlandish answers, which translates to "busted". I prided myself in doing a thorough job of questioning both employers and claimants before making decisions.  However, many examiners are not as thorough, and will ofter wrongly rule against the worker just to keep the paperwork moving.  I see lots of people getting screwed out of their benefits, who didn't do anything wrong.

And most people don't have six months of income saved so they can operate for half a year without a job or unemployment benefits.  This is especially true of marginal employees who have been on the job for a short time.  These are the people that typically get fired.  So expect to see more of these people fall through the cracks and wind up on the street homeless after loosing their jobs.

(So there you have it from Judge Judy in pants, the man with ice-cold green blood flowing in his veins.  \Trust me, I have feelings for the unemployed, but when doing my job, I put on the administrative law judge hat and follow the law, which gives the appearance of a cold, cruel heart.  Watch for even more reptilian rulings once the new regs go into effect.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Good Buddy


Chief is the best dog $39 could buy.  I picked him up at the Burlington County Animal Shelter in Mt. Holly about five years ago, shortly after my Rottweiler mix died.  He is a pit bull and weighs in at 110 pounds.

When I got Chief about five years ago, my other dog bull just died of a heart attack.  He was 11 years old and also had lupus.  He was a German Shepard-Rottweiler mix.  The shelter had a Rottweiler listed on petfinder, but when I went to pet him he damn near took my hand off on three separate occasions.  No way am I putting something like that in my car without a cage.

So I looked around and found a whole bunch of pit bulls and selected one of the largest two in the pound.  The other one looked similar to Chief.  He was a little bigger and and a brown and white pattern rather than liver and white.  He was friendly enough with a little girl who was feeding him dog biscuits, but he growled at me.  Chief on the other hand licked my hand and wanted to come home.

When I hooked a leash up to him he dragged me across the kennel.  He pulls like a train.  That's how he got the name Chief.  When I got him home he wanted to kill my wife's two cats.  He still can't be around cats.  When the dogcatcher caught him, he was wandering around loose in Willingboro.  I believe he survived by eating small animals like cats and squirrels.  I get the same kind of reaction off of him when he sees a cat as when he sees a squirrel.  He pulls real hard and wants to kill it.

You probably heard one of two things about pits.  Either they are born killers or they are the most wonderful pets in the world.  Those who take the second point of view say "its all how you raise them".
The truth is somewhere in between.

I had to get Chief neutered because he was too wild in his natural state.  He'd jump on my truck's hood and run across the top of it.  He left some nasty scratches in the paint.  He also would leap over my 4 foot chain link fence like a racehorse.  I'd see him in front of my house when I came home from work.  He knew when it was dinner time.  He tried to kill another dog at the dog park.  He beelined across the fence and attacked my neighbor's pit bull.

After he was neutered he calmed down a lot.  I keep him inside mostly and he has a loving home where he gets petted a lot and gets all the food he wants.  Fact of the matter is though, these dogs were bred to kill other dogs and they can turn downright mean if they don't like something.

Besides playing, eating and occasionally fighting, Pit Bulls like nothing better than to chew.  Better get them some cattle bones, or they just might take their frustrations out on your furniture.  My furniture has been spared so far.  Can't say the same for the cattle bones.


Cattle bones are better known as Pit Bull Toothpicks in my house.  After downing a rump roast or some other treat, my pit likes to work out his jaws on a nice hard bone.  Since a pit can clamp down with 2,500 pounds per square inch of force, the bones don't stand a chance.  A pit bull's bite is almost as powerful as that of an alligator.  Pits are capable of shattering the long bones of a human and are an excellent home defense tool.

Missing in Action

I logged onto the State of New Jersey website today http://www.state.nj.us/ and learned that our esteemed governor and lieutenant governor are both missing in action, or more appropriately too lazy to report to work the Monday after Christmas.  It seems that these two lazy bums have left Senator Stephen Sweeney in charge as Acting Governor.

I can remember a few years back after Governor McGreevey's "I am proud to be a gay American" fiasco, that the Republicans took offense at our longstanding tradition of not having a lieutenant governor in this state.  They did not like the idea that a senate president of the opposing party could succeed a governor and wanted to insure that a Republican would succeed a Republican should anything happen to the sitting governor.

Guess what folks, the system broke down because the two top bums decided to take extended Christmas vacations at taxpayer expense.  The cheep chiselers should be docked each day they are not on the clock.

By the way, the snowstorm we just had was bad enough to declare a state of emergency, but Sweeney only authorized a two hour delayed opening for state offices.

Seems the little guys are supposed to report to work after a major snowstorm on the Monday after Christmas, but the honchos can skip out on their responsibilities.

I guess rank has privileges.

Here's an update.  My boss called me around 10:00 AM and told me we had the whole day off.  Great, somebody in upper management has some brains.  This didn't help one of my coworkers from North Jersey too much however.  He called my house shortly after I got word that we were closed.  He said he was en route to the office and was already on the Turnpike.

It would be nice if someone took a look out the window first before going with the knee-jerk reaction of a 2 hour delay simply because the papers don't like to see us get off when the weather is bad.

Seriously, Governor Christie and his lieutenent governor both deserve vacations like the rest of us.  However it would be nice if they could stagger them so at least one of them is around at all times.

Update # 2.  It is now Friday.  I wrote this originally on Monday, but didn't see anything about it in the papers until Wednesday, when an AP article ran in both the Trenton Times and Trentonian about the governor going to Disney World in Flordia the same time the lieutenent governor went to Mexico for vacation.  The result was that a Democrat, Stephen Sweeney, became Acting Governor.

Senator Bonnie Watson-Coleman said pretty much the same thing that I did about the situation.  She said she originally sponsored the bill to create the lieutenent governor's post to insure an orderly transition should the governor go out of state.  She said this can only work if the governor and lieutenent governor show common sense and coordinate their vacations so at least one of them is always in the state.

On the snowstorm, I heard that the station that broadcast the anouncement that the state was closed before word officially reached supervisors in my office was Jersey 101.5.  The way that the station got this information is because one of the station't employees is the husband of the political appointement in the public relations office at the labor department.  This appointee was supposed to pass on the information to the supervisors but she chose to tell her husband about it first, and he had it broadcasted to the public before the message got through official channels.

Several dozen people showed up at the labor building in Trenton.  Many of them traveled long distances beliving that there was only a two-hour delay.  Once these people showed up at work, they were turned away by the security guards who said the building was closed.

The announcement of the closure should have gone out earlier.  People should not have to spend several hours traveling to Trenton only to be sent home after making their way through snow covered streets.

Friday, December 24, 2010

You Can Buy Anything on the Internet

PuppyBeef  is a website that promises to ship dog meat fresh to your door.  Apparently some Chinese and Koreans consider dog meat to be a delicacy.  If dog meat is not your thing, perhaps the company's sister site KittyBeef is more to your liking.

Tired of eating the same old beef, pork, chicken and lamb?  Then here's a place to find something different.  Check out http://www.puppybeef.com/.  It is an English language website for a dog meat supplier that promises to ship dog meat fresh to your door.  The site offers a full range of cuts of dog meat complete with pictures of the cuts.  They also have a list of recipees in case you need some new ideas on how to prepare your dog chops.

Is it illegal to sell dog and cat meat in America?  Is this company located in China or something?  No way.  Their website boasts three locations right here in the USA, to insure that your meat is delivered fresh regardless of where you live.

So impress your friends with dog lo mein or Peking cat cheesesteak sandwiches.  I bet you, meals like these probably would even satisfy Jeffrey Dahmer.

Bon appitit!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same


Sarah Bernhardt was already a famous actress when she lived in Paris in the latter half of the 19th century.  It was in Paris where she bought a coffin, brought it home and began sleeping in it.  Throughout her life she kept her coffin with her and didn't mind letting the public know.  Here is a famous publicity shot of her posed in the coffin.  It would be a good 40 years after this shot was taken that she would actually be dead.  She moved to Hollywood in the early 20th century and was one of the first generation of movie stars.  Her peculiar habits helped put the "crazy" into Hollywood folklore.

And you thought Michael Jackson was the first one to come up with sleeping in a long, narrow tube for recreation.  I don't know if it was actually true and didn't bother to research it but, it was rumored in the early 1980s that Michael Jackson bought an iron lung like those used to keep polio patients alive and slept in it.  According to the rumor, he believed that sleeping in a pressurized iron lung would keep him young.

There's nothing new about crazy celebrities.  From Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton all the way back as far as you want to go, actors and musicians have always been noted for hard partying and eccentric behavior.  This is equally true for other things we associate with modern life.  For instance, Virgil once said that wild youth will be the ruination of civilization.  The world didn't end with the Roman Empire and we still have boisterous youths and middle-aged people still complain about them.  The same goes for crooked or incompetent politicians.  We have Tony Mack right here in Trenton who is a good example of a mayor who is probably both corrupt and incompetent.

The same can be said about labor relations.  As long as there were businesses, management has tried to get the most out of its workers at the least cost, and the workers have countered by banding together to obtain better working conditions.

On July 1 of next year, the contracts for state workers will expire, and we can no doubt expect Governor Christie to demand drastic concessions on wages, pensions, health benefits and layoff rights.  We can also expect our unions to attempt to counter these moves.

Unfortunately I believe Christie will probably prevail this contract cycle, and we are going to get stuck with a bunch of givebacks.  He is already at it with his toolkit.  He would rather have the terms and conditions of employment determined by legislation rather than by negotiations with the unions.  What's the matter?  Is he afraid of sitting down and talking with the unions.  Personally, I think the time he spent as a prosecutor has gotten to his head.  He became so used to dictating to the other party and getting his way that he does not want to bother with give and take.  Although the Democrats control both houses of the legislature, they act as though they are afraid of the governor and give him pretty much what he wants.  Only with medical marijuana did the legislature develop a backbone and stand up effectively to Christie.

I could only wish they could show some spine and demand that Christie live with existing the existing limits of Civil Service law.  Our pension is broke, not because it is excessive, the average retiree receives less than $30,000 per year.  It is broke because every governor since Florio has treated pension contributions as something voluntary and have chosen to spend the money that should have gone into the fund on other things.
The same with health benefits.  Under Governor Hughes, at the start of his administration there was no sales or income tax or lottery or casino gambling.  Yet, public employees had a better health plan than we have no, and it was offered at no cost to the employee.  So, if Hughes could provide us with Blue Cross Blue Shield Traditional Plan insurance for free, why does Christie want to give us an inferior managed care plan at 20 percent cost to the employee.  The answer is because he would rather spend your money elsewhere, namely on corporate welfare.  He believes tax concessions to companies are necessary to lure businesses to the state.  Poppycock!  Past experience has shown that once the period of grants and tax abatements expire, the companies that come for them leave the state and go elsewhere to some other state that is stupid enough to offer them more concessions.

And what about our union?  They have shown themselves to be unimaginative and lack the muscle to compel cooperation from the politicians.  What can we expect from our wimpy union?  Probably a few rallies in front of the state house and days when we wear red t-shirts.  However don't expect them to endorse candidates to run against union-baiting Democrats like Sweeney in the primaries this June.  I can assure you if we could take down Sweeney and Buono in the primaries with union-backed candidates running as such, the rest of the Democratic legislators would be terrified of us, and will begin to aggressively challenge the governor at every turn.  By the way, why stop at Democrats.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to follow the Pat Robertson strategy and run union-backed candidates in the Republican primaries as well.  Take out Lonegan and the rest of the tax cut guys would shit their pants.

And what does this have to do with history repeating itself.  The previous article about my times in Iowa was not just about me, it was about the meatcutters union as it existed at Iowa Beef Processors in the 1970s as it was about the socialist Industrial Workers of the World union that was strong in Sioux City and the rest of the country in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The socialist parties rose and fell in this country for the same reason why the unions first rose and are now falling apart.  They succeeded when the people were enthusiastic about them and stood behind them.  Once they lost touch with the people, the lost influence and became irrelevant.  That's why the once-powerful Wobblies have been reduced to trying to organize Starbucks.

Like I said previously, I couldn't care less for most of the ideas behind socialism.  I talk about it so much because unknown to most people, socialism was closely tied to the labor movement in its formative years, and it failed to thrive for much the same reasons the unions have fallen out of favor..

In the early days, socialist politicians in the US pushed for things like the 8-hour work day, social security and unemployment insurance.  After the Red Scare in the late teens and early twenties, much of the socialist party migrated to the Democratic party, where they were no longer harassed by the police and were considered electable by the public.  These socialists turned Democrats got their agenda through in the 1930s.  They increased the scope of federal law so we could have national labor laws that would not be held unconstitutional.  They got us social security, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions as enshrined in the Wagner Act as well as workplace safety legislation.

After the death of Roosevelt, the Democrats grew soft in the 1950s.  Nothing like prosperity to kill a good idea.  The fact is, they achieved the basic reforms most workers desired and this led to increased wealth among the working class, now called the "middle class".  Never mind, that in every history book I have seen, for the time periods from the Victorian Era back to ancient times, the middle class refers to priests, doctors, lawyers, large farmers and small businessmen, not to workers.  We would call these people upper middle or lower upper class today.

Then the 1960s came along and the Democrats moved on to less popular agendas such as civil rights for minorities, environmental regulation, open immigration, etc.  They lost touch with the people.  The Republicans promised "normalcy" or a freeze on social legislation and also tax cuts.  Americans went for it because we are suckers for a bargain.

Likewise unions were initially successful, because like the union at IBP, the workers were willing to stand behind the union and go to the wall for them.  In the early days, as well as at IBP, strikes were often violent.  Scabs got beaten, the factories got burned, etc.  Through worker solidarity and raw street power, results were obtained.

Starting with the Taft-Hartley act, union power began to wane in this country.  What Taft Hartley did besides banning Communists from taking leadership positions in unions (a provision latter found unconstitutional), was ban secondary strikes, and this greatly reduced the power of unions to organize non-union shops.  A secondary strike is a strike against a third-party employer that provides some product or service needed for the target employer to remain open.  For instance, to shut down a newspaper, you could get the drivers that deliver the newsprint to the paper's presses to strike.  You could also strike the paper mills and shut down all the newspapers.  A modern example would be to unionize Wal-Mart by having the Longshoreman's Union refuse to unload imported cargo destined to Wal-Mart.

Another thing happened.  Workers became disconnected from their union leadership.  They did what the union told them, but half-hearted.  At the state, where strikes are illegal, people don't even try to strike.  There once was a strike in the 1980s, that sprung up as a series of wildcat actions at various worksites.  The union leadership insisted there was no strike until a complete shutdown occurred, then they got behind it.

What we need to beat the state in labor negotiations is more spirit and a more aggressive union leadership.
We need to electrify the workforce, to convince them to get behind job actions, to show up in mass to defeat candidates that are unfriendly to us, and if necessary go on strike.  If there is a strike, we should not shrink from using violence to accomplish our objectives.

In fact I would like to see an old Wobblie tactic be used.  Let's have a  general strike like they do in Europe.   Let every state office, every municipal office, every school, every police force, every paid fire department, in fact let all state, county and municipal employees strike simultaneously.  Have the unions order members that are police officers, firefighters or prison guards to not report to National Guard duty when the governor calls up the National Guard.  Most guard members are public safety workers, so if they don't report, the guard will be ineffective as a tool for restoring order.  The whole state would shut down, and chaos would break out.  There would be nothing the governor could do but capitulate to the unions.

Most likely a general strike won't happen, at least not in my lifetime.  The unions are just too weak and the workers have conditioned by management to be too compliant.  However, a little revolutionary fervor and workplace solidarity on the part of the rank and file would go a long way toward getting us what we want if the leadership would just get behind the idea.

It worked in the first half of the 20th century and it could work again if we just get behind the program.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Unions, Sioux City, Times on the Farm and in the Meatpacking Industry

I believe that today, unions represent only about ten percent of the workforce, with public employee unions accounting for an ever growing proportion of the membership.  Outside of government, few office workers belong to unions.  As a college graduate, why am I so loyal to unions?

My formative experiences with unions of course, came partly from growing up in New Jersey back in the 1960s.  My father worked in the American Standard pottery and was a union member.  He went on strike a few times, but the union helped make up for the lost wages if you pulled picket duty.  He told me to work in a union place because they pay a lot better than nonunion factories. 

But lots of people growing up here in the 1960s came from similar backgrounds.  Our governor, for instance, was born in Newark and his mother was a unionized teacher.  This background didn't cause him to develop any love for unions.  So what else gives?

When I went to Iowa State University, I got a degree in something called Farm Operation.  As you can probably guess, that's a bachelor's degree in how to run a farm.  The problem is that colleges are very good at teaching material out of books, but not so good at teaching you the basics, like how to run a tractor or castrate a steer. 

Most people who take farm operation come from farms and already know how to do these things.  I did not because I grew up in Copperfield Estates in Hamilton Township where about the only thing people get to farm are a few tomato plants in the back yard.  The folks who developed the curriculum at the college realized this could happen and had a requirement that students spend a year working on a farm.  It was something they called Practical Work Experience.

I took a job on a hog farm in February 1978.  The place was located near Storm Lake, in Western Iowa.  For all you 1950s music fans, this is near Clear Lake, the site of the Buddy Holly airplane crash, also known as "the day the music died".

The pig farm job provided plenty of experience in what it is like to work nonunion.  You worked six days a week, 10 hours a day for a whopping $140 a week and the use of a house.  Since I was living in the dorms before going there I had no furniture and was sleeping on the floor.  The pigs or hogs as the farmers call them, were raised inside a total confinement facility, which we urbanites would call a factory farm.

As you could probably guess, pigs were never meant to be raised indoors on concrete slats.The place was poorly run and the farm was in bankruptcy.  The boars (breeding male hogs) were so old, they could not mount the sows (female adults).  So we had to jerk them off into a thermos and inject the sows with a syringe stuck on the end of a rubber pig penis.  Sounds a lot like a bad porno movie, doesn't it.

The place was dirty and disease ran rampant.  at least a dozen baby pigs died each day.  In fact, you would go around with a bucket several times a day picking up dead pigs.  I would carry a pliers and grab the dead animals by the leg and toss them into a bucket.

The dead pigs, where do they go exactly?  Once a week or so, the rendering truck would come by to pick them up and bring them to the rendering plant where they are cooked down and turned into meat and bone meal, which is one of the ingredients used in dog and cat food as well as farm animal feed.  Yes, they feed dead animals to the other animals.  Gross!  To see a link about rendering plants, click here http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-rendering-plant.htm

Cleaning up pens was somewhat automated.  We used a power washer, like the ones at self-serve car washes to clean up.  The pig manure would run off the concrete and down the slats.  When a sow died, we would wrap a chain around its leg and pull the carcass out with a tractor.  Of course you would have to drag it to the door and that could take two or three guys.  A sow can weigh up to 400 pounds.

To keep disease down, we would inject the animals with antibiotics.  I understand that the use of antibiotics in agriculture is more tightly controlled now, but back then we used to go through it like candy.  No telling what "extras" people were getting in their pork chops back then.

To get the animals from one part of the building to another you had to herd them.  We didn't use cattle prods or any thing like that.  For you city boys, a cattle prod is basically a stun gun with a long wand attached to it so you could shock the animal from a couple feet away.  All we did was get behind them, start yelling and kick them gently and they would move.  Once I had a boar charge me and he stuck his head under my crotch and I wound up on his back facing backward.  I got to ride him like a bronco at the rodeo.  He threw me off and the crystal on my Timex watch broke, but the watch kept running.  This was at the time of the "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" commercials.  I should have sent the watch in, because I might have gotten on TV.

The farm job didn't last long.  I got fired for something, I forget what.  I think I screwed up some piece of machinery.  Good riddance.

Sioux City is an old industrial city like Trenton.  It is where Sioux Tools and Sioux Bee Honey come from.  It also has a stockyards district.  The stockyards were barely operational when I was there.  Meat packing was revolutionized in the 1960s by companies like Iowa Beef which located themselves in the country and bought the animals directly from the farm, rather than locating next to the stockyards where cattle dealers sold the animals to the slaughterhouses.  Prior to the 1990s, Zenith televisions were also made in Sioux City.  The IBP plant was in Dakota City, located across the Missouri River from Sioux City.  Sioux City was about the same size as Trenton and Dakota City about the same size as Morrisville, PA.  The Missouri was about as wide at Sioux City as the Delaware is at Trenton.  Kind of reminded me of home.

The old Swift plant was still standing at the time.  It was being used as a flea market.  The doors on the stalls were made out of meat hooks that were welded together.  The Armour plant burned down a few years before I moved there.  Sioux City had a skid row called Lower Fourth Street.  On Lower Fourth you had the Swan Hotel where you could stay for $4 per night.  Across the street was the Gospel Mission where you could go and crash for free.  They would feed you a plate of slop that looked like discards from the supermarkets, you would have to go to a church service and listen to the preacher then go upstairs and sleep on army cots.  I stayed there once when my truck broke down in a snowstorm and I couldn't get back to my farmhouse.  I just got paid and had $300 stuck in my boot.  My boots didn't come off that night.  Also on Lower Fourth were lunch counters, pawn shops and bars for the bums and hookers.

Of course, Sioux City is more conducive to working than to being homeless.  Back in the late 1970s there was no public assistance program for housing the homeless or providing money to single people.  In other words if you don't have a place to live and no income, find a mission operated by a charity and stay there, or freeze to death.  The bums clung to the Gospel Mission in the wintertime like ticks to a dog in the winter.  According to sources I can find, the average temperature in Sioux City in December is colder than the average temperature in Moscow, Russia.  During the rest of the year, Sioux City is warmer than Moscow, but it is still saying something to say that the place is colder than Moscow in December.  Here is the monthly average temperatures for Sioux City:  http://www.rssweather.com/climate/Iowa/Sioux%20City/  and for Moscow:  http://www.weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-min-max-Temperature-fahrenheit,Moscow,Russia

The town was noted as a hotbed of unionism and left wing politics.  It elected several socialist mayors in the early 20th century.  The IWW, also known as the Industrial Workers of the World or the Wobblies held conventions there.  By the time I got there the packinghouses in town were closed and most to this aspect to the town had already died out.  Here is the Wikipedia link on Sioux City:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sioux_City,_Iowa.  Here's another link on the influence of the IWW, Communism and Socialism on the labor movement in the United States: http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/unions/iww/timeline.htm

The IWW was founded in the first decade of the 20th century and peaked in membership at 100,000 in 1923.  It was the union that the famous organizer Joe Hill belonged to.  Joan Baez sung a song about him which is on one of her albums.  The union was a powerful force in the first part of the 20th century and was responsible for the 8 hour work day.  It did not catch on partly because it did not believe in signing contracts with employers in its early days, preferring to preserve the right to strike over the rights gained in a collective bargaining agreement.  Perhaps more important to limiting the power of the union was its association with Marxism and anarchism.

It remained a powerful presence in the metalworkers unions in Ohio (a place where lots of auto manufacturing goes on.  Incidentally, the IWW was involved in the formation of the United Auto Workers). It continued to remain strong there until the early 1950s when it was suppressed by the federal government after passage of the Taft-Hartley Act which forbade communists from holding leadership positions in unions.

The IWW remains alive to this day and currently has a membership in the low thousands.  It represents workers employed by Starbucks among others.  You got to hand it to those lefties, they are persistent.  Once they get an idea in their heads, they keep trying.  For the Wikipedia article on the IWW, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World   Here is the official Industrial Workers of the World website:  http://www.iww.org/  Anyone up to starting a branch to represent state workers?  Viva la revolucion.

Neither homelessness, mission, soup kitchens, or Socialists are new to Sioux City, a place most of you associate more with the GOP than the IWW.  Here is the story of where the homeless, unemployed and Republicans met together in Sioux City in 1915, the year of the Sioux City Free Speech Fight, an event of national proportions organized by the IWW.  This was published in an underground newspaper out of Ames, Iowa in 1977:  http://libcom.org/history/sioux-city-free-speech-fight

I know this was supposed to be about IBP, but it got to be about everything else.  Here's a little bit about the plant.

I started working there I believe in October 1978 and stayed to February 1979.  The pay wasn't bad.  I got $6.42 per hour for cutting flanks from loins and $7.47 per hour for cutting loins from rounds.  Back in 1978 that was General Motors type wages, more than double what a lot of nonunion workers got.

The work was hard.  There were two sections to the plant.  Cattle would come in on the hoof and get dropped off at one end, where they would go inside to be killed.  The carcasses would be hung up as sides of beef in a big refrigerated locker in the middle of the plant.  The end where I worked was where the sides were broken down into boxed beef which is sent to supermarkets.  I worked on breaking the sides down into smaller pieces which were placed on belts where other workers would reduce them to supermarket-sized cuts.

When I started there the first week or so was spent in classes and in training exercises learning the fundamentals of butchering.  They taught you things like how to keep a knife sharp and where to cut to get a piece of meat that looks presentable.  You also got to spend a few days trimming meat off of back bones to toughen up your hands so you could handle the assembly line.  Once you get on the job, the meat came at me on a chain and I had only about 30 seconds or so to get each piece done.

The first day on the plant floor, I got first hand instruction in unionism.  I was issued a cheap plastic belly guard (to keep you from slicing your gut wide open), two knives, a scabbard to put them in, a hook, to hold the meat still while you worked on it, a helmet and a mesh glove (made of chain mail, like the knights used, to keep you from loosing fingers).  I was then assigned my work station, near the door where the sides of beef came in.  I stood on a platform with a few other 6 foot tall men and we cut off big pieces and dropped it onto conveyor belts for the women and Mexicans to work on.

The shop steward grabbed me at break time and asked me if I wanted to join the union.  I asked him what was in it for me.  In New Jersey, we are a union shop state, which means that after a month or two you must join the union if you work in a union shop.  The state has something called "agency shop".  You don't have to join, but if you don't, you are still charged agency dues for the cost of representing you, about 70 percent of regular union dues, but you don't have to vote.  In Nebraska, and other "right to work" states, the only kind of shop there is is the "open shop" which means you don't have to belong to a union.  You have the "right to work" and cross picket lines if being a scab is your kind of thing.  That makes it very hard to mount an effective strike because the non-union guys will ignore the strike, and the union people are left outside the door without paychecks, while the plant keeps running.

The shop steward asked me if I valued my life.  I said yes.  He said to the foreman, "Hey Joe, get him a real belly guard."  The foreman cam back with this heavy leather apron with shin guards.  It looked something like gladiator body armor.  I immediately joined the union.

Needless to say, IBP was a dangerous place.  You worked in a room which hovered around the freezing point.  Everybody had colds all the time.  At least once a day, they would shut down the line and carry out another causality that just got accidentally cut or stabbed.  This was especially common on the conveyor belts where people are swinging knives and meat hooks at a rapid pace while standing cheek by jowl.

I said earlier that the open shop makes strikes very difficult to mount.  At IBP we were very successful at striking because most people were union members and everybody stuck together against the common enemy which was the company.  We really had solidarity.  As I said, the area had a history of having a meat cutting industry and had experience with unions and left wing politics.  Why, the man I was standing next to, his grandfather could have been a Wobbly back at the turn of the 20th century.
The place was noted for its strikes. 

When I came there they just came off a 14 month long strike.  The union won a contract even though the company imported Mexicans and built them a cinderblock village next to the plant.  The Mexicans were brought there to work as strikebreakers.  Many stayed on after the strike and some even joined the union.  IBP was about the only place you would see any nonwhites it that part of the state.

Strikes in New Jersey are peaceful affairs.  What the CWA needs to do is to take lessons from the union guys at IBP.  They had shootings, firebombings, stabbings and all kinds of goings on.  The company even had to call in the National Guard a few times.

When I worked at IBP, I lived in a farmhouse just outside Bronson, which is about 10 miles outside Sioux City.   I got the place rent free by working part time for a farmer.  The place was so isolated, you couldn't see another house looking from any direction on the hill where the house was located.  I got to take care of the farmer's hogs.  He did it the old fashioned way, with a farrowing barn with a straw covered floor and no restraining stalls for the sows.  Needless to say, these hogs were a lot healthier than those on the factory farm.

The farmer also had cattle, and I helped out with a cattle drive.  We moved about 20 cattle down the road for about five miles from one farm to another.  We herded them down the road using a pickup truck and horses.  It is legal to drive cattle down public streets in Iowa.

I went back to college basically because of a snap decision.  There was a major blizzard the last Friday I worked at the plant.  After the shift ended at 11PM there was so much snow on the roads that I couldn't make it out of the Dakota City/Sioux City area.  Forget about driving through the country to Bronson.  The first night I stayed at the Ramada.  Saturday night, the roads were still blocked and I slept at the Gospel Mission.  On Sunday, I gave it a shot and buried my truck in a big snowbank just outside Bronson.  I had to walk the next 3 or 4 miles to my farm house.  The next day the V-plows came and opened the road from Bronson to my house. 

School was starting at that time.  They were still registering students.  So I got my truck, loaded it up and went back to Ames, claimed my financial aid and got a room in an apartment with some other students.  When I graduated, I tried to get a job at IBP as a foreman but they wouldn't hire me because I quit without notice.  If I got hired, my life could have been completely different from how it turned out.  I would have been living around Sioux City instead of Trenton.

To learn more about IBP and their notorious strikes, check out this link:http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/IBP-Inc-Company-History.html

(Scroll down the page once you get to the link.  The text of the article appears a little ways below the part that's viewable when you first open the link.  It's worth checking because there is little that the company or the unions hadn't done.  (Company:  Anti-trust violations, union-busting, OSHA violations, collusion with the mafia, etc.  Unions:  Basically acting like the truckers in the strike scene at the begining of the F.I.S.T. movie.  Yes, they got a veteran union goon working at the state

Saturday, December 4, 2010

If You Want a Terrible, Overpriced Banquet, Hold It at the Hamilton Manor

I had the unfortunate experience of being "treated" to a bad banquet at the Hamilton Manor yesterday.  I am writing this posting to warn anyone who is even thinking to schedule an event there to forget about it.  The stuff is overpriced and the food is just plain nasty.

My wife's department had a lady retiring and the Worker's Compensation shop decided to hold a party for her at the Hamilton Manor Friday night.  The Hamilton Manor is located at the former Polish American Club building in Yardville.  It is just down the street from Yardville Supply and the Take It Easy bar.

The party was $35 per head.  According to my wife, the gift only price was $5, so I presume $30 went toward the meal.  What does $30 buy you at the Hamilton Manor.  Try an appetizer buffet consisting of pizzas on toast, anchovy bruchetta, cheese balls with the cheese fried out of them (the middle was hollow)., rice balls that picked up a fish flavor from the oil and single pieces of shrimp stuck in a plastic cup with cocktail sauce.  You also got all the cola you could drink.  I-M-P-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!   I went to the bar. (cash bar of course) and ordered a scotch and water made out of the worst scotch imaginable.  I'd say it tastes like water from a peat bog loaded with dead Scotsmen.  So I switched to a Bombay Sapphire martini served dry and up.  For all you teetotalers, that means just gin, no vermouth, served without ice.  I don't know how you ruin a glass of pure gin, and even they couldn't mess that up.  However the price was $12 which is enough to make anyone want to puke.

I was waiting for the main course to come out.  The answer:  forgetaboutit, there ain't any.  For desert, we had a chocolate fountain (nice touch admitadly), stale biscottis, Oreo cookies and stale hamatashes (Jewish cookies that are filled with lekavar)  the Jewish cookies were as equally stale and out of the box as the Italian biscotti.

The total cost for the night out was $92, including a $1 tip for the barmaid.  I took my wife out to the Olive Garden tonight.  We has two meals with a main course and soup and salad.  She drank coke and I had two Bombay Sapphire martinis and two pitchers of coffee.   We also had zepoli, which are like donuts.  One order feeds two people.  I left the waitress an $8 tip.  Total cost $70.  So I got two real meals, left a good tip and still saved $20.  So avoid the shithole in Yardville and go somewhere else like the Nottingham Ballroom or Mastoris.  You won't regret taking my advice and your guests will thank you for it..

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Female Politicians and Leadership 101


Rosa Luxemburg was the co-founder of the German Communist Party. By pretty much any standard, she rates pretty high on the all time list of radical female politicians.

When I started this post in was taking a brief break from a 3-day Thanksgiving weekend drinking binge.  The night before, I cracked open a quart of Wild Turkey 101 and consumed nearly the whole bottle before passing out.  When I awoke the next morning, I went downstairs, fixed a pot of coffee, went to the living room, logged on and started writing this post.  I got as far as writing the caption before discovering that there was enough bourbon left over for a shot the size of a tall drinking glass (about 12 oz.).  I poured out the eye opener and enjoyed the old-school version of Red Bull and vodka, that is black coffee with straight-up high proof bourbon served on the side as a chaser.

Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent sitting around the house in my underwear drinking straight hard liquor.  That is not to say I didn't do other things.  I had my sister in law and her boyfriend over my house for a while.  And of course, I watched TV.  Part of the day was spent watching Godfather II.  After that I put on a copy of Triumph of the Will that I lifted off the Internet.  This a Nazi propaganda film that was presented as an account of the 1934 Party congress at Nuremberg.  The version that I copied had English subtitles, but came in some strange format that would not play on my DVD player, so I had to play around with it on the computer to put it into a format that would work on the DVD machine.  In the process the English subtitles got clipped out, and I was left with the original German version.

Not that knowledge of German is required to appreciate the film.  Fortunately, the movie is basically shots of parades, military exercises, scenes from the encampment for the military attendees, as well as speeches from Hitler and others.   During most of the movie there is a soundtrack of Nazi patriotic music.  The speech scenes are usually short, and still interesting to look at even though you can't understand what is being said.


The purpose of the movie was to acquaint the public with the Nazi Party and its leadership and philosophy and to get people behind the movement.  The camp scenes showed military life as something that is fun, with rally participants having fun while preparing the site for the rally.  They got to engage in horseplay, enjoy clean air, hard work and feel camaraderie.  The civilian audience cheered for their fuhrer and his soldiers.  They seemed to enjoy the event and support the movement.  Of course, the film audience was supposed to walk away with similar feelings about supporting the party and serving the Fatherland.

When shown to contemporary American audiences the film produces a somewhat different effect.  While I could not help but get caught up in the excitement of the rally and get stirred by the patriotic music, the impression I got was not entirely positive.  In fact, you have to wonder what the German people were really thinking.  Kind of like, with all of this military imagery, didn't they know Hitler was preparing their country for war?

In the beginning of the movie there are a series of storyboards that show the timeline of recent events in relation to the rally.  One of them said that the first world war ended just 16 years before the rally.  At the time there were lots of veterans living in Germany raising families.  They knew that the military was not all fun and games.  They knew war was hell.  Yet they lined up by the thousands to join the SA and put their kids in the Hitler Youth so they too could get in on the "fun".

So that's one part of the picture.  You get to see the silly Germans getting to cheerfully board the Titanic for a one way trip to oblivion.  But wait a minute.  Nazi Germany was not your garden variety dictatorship.  They wanted to make Aryan Germans the masters of the world and subjugate "inferior" races like the Slavs and kill off "culture-destroying degenerate races" like the Jews, Negros and Gypsies.  Hitler in Mien Kampf said that the Jews and blacks must be exterminated.  What part of "exterminate" didn't these people understand.  Somebody had to notice that the Nazis were totally nuts.

Here, I'm sure the sound track of the speeches would help underscore the point of what the Nazis were up to, but I don't know German so I didn't get to see what it was all about.  I'm sure the subtitles would help, but my experience is that things are often left out of subtitles or added to them.  Considering that the copy I had was translated by the US State Dept., the subtitles would have been biased toward the US point of view.  Not that I don't trust our government (ha-ha!), but we should give the Nazis the benefit of the doubt (equally ha-ha!).

Well, after you cut through the alphabet of words and the babble of languages you are still left with the imagery, and there are two scenes in the film that are bound to creep out just about anybody.  The first one is the part where Hitler addresses a contingent of the German youth labor service.  The labor service was made up of unemployed youth that were conscripted into an organization similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps, except that participants also worked on urban projects like construction of the Autobahn and received a full dose of Nazi indoctrination.  In the scene, the unit of youths is dressed in military uniforms and performs drill maneuvers with shovels instead of rifles.  They chant in unison their praise for Hitler.  The chants sound robotic and creepy.  It's clear Hitler wants to turn his followers into good little robots.

The next part is the Hitler Youth scene.  How cute is it to see the little elementary school kids marching in uniform and singing the Hitler youth song.  They even got the little boy beating on the drum lifting his arms above his shoulders as he enthusiastically swings the sticks.  Translation:  Little kids aren't immune from this crap.  They need to be brainwashed too.  Far from being cute as originally intended to be seen, it looks sick to us.

And what does this have to do with Rosa Luxemburg.  Not much, except that a Freikorps officer murdered her during the aborted Communist revolution of January 1919.  Rosa is the "Communist that we all love", meaning that her actions were generally a positive force for democracy and the allied cause in the first world war.

Many Americans equate Communism with Nazism.  We see Communist countries as militarized places that brainwash their people to follow the party line.  And of course anyone who steps out of line winds up in Siberia or gets a bullet in the head.

We owe our impressions of Communism to the actions of Josef Stalin and his proteges who used their philosophical system to run their countries like gangsters.  These places were not so much about Communism as they were about staying in power and grabbing everything that was not nailed down.

The bad thing about Communism is that in practice it tends to turn out badly.  However, theoretical Communism, of types other than the Leninist variety, is not about a one-party state or dictatorial control.  At its heart is the economic system of Socialism which assumes all people are created equally and should share equally and hold all productive assets in common.  Rosa Luxemburg has a famous quote which says that freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter (in German " 'Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden").  In other words, she is a believer in 1st Amendment freedoms and multi-party politics.  Of course, she didn't believe in private business ownership, but that's what Communism is about.

I don't pretend to know much about the nuances of socialist theory.  I'm a man of action, and am not really into debating things like what Marx really meant by "dictatorship of the proletariat" and stuff like that.  I understand there are lots of sites like this on the web.  Personally, I believe the business of America is business and that private enterprise is a necessary part of the American scene and is not going to go away any time soon.  We need regulation to keep things from getting out of hand.  On these things, I'm like Roosevelt or Truman or the Social Democratic parties of Europe.

So who was Rosa Luxemberg and what did she do that was so memorable.  She was a Polish Jew who married a German and became a German citizen and became active in German left wing politics in the late 19th century.  She worked as a professor teaching political economy and got to meet Lenin at the 2nd International.  By that time she already disagreed with his more extremist views.

During World War I, she and Karl Liebknecht broke from most of the socialist movement in Germany which supported the war effort.  Together, the two of them published anti-war leaflets and built an underground anti-war movement in Germany.  Her ideas caught on with the general public.  By 1918, much of German industry was under the sway of soldiers and workers councils - similar organizations existed in Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution.  In Russia, these councils were known as "Soviets", though the Germans did not refer to them as such. 

Strikes and protests organized by the German soviets throughout 1918, brought industrial production within Germany to a halt.  This caused General Lundendorf to withdraw his support for the Kaiser and led to the Kaiser's advication and the end of the war.  Basically, the Communists were at least as responsible for bringing the war to an end by their actions within Germany as the efforts of the British and American forces on the western front.  Since the leadership of the German Communist movement was Jewish, this led credence to the Nazi argument that Germany lost the war because it was "stabbed in the back" by Jews and Communists.  The Nazis said Allied victories in France in 1918 did not cause Germany to collapse.

My feeling is that Liebknecht and Luxemburg could only lead through moral suasion.  They did not force the German people to follow.  Rather, ordinary Germans had enough with the war and the Kaiser's brutality and turned the Communists as an alternative.  The man on the street had enough and that is what brought the government down.  In other words, Luxemburg and Liebknecht  were patriots, not villains.

After the dust settled, a government was formed under the Social Democrats.  The Communists chose not to participate in the Reichstag.  In January 1919, Karl Liebknecht  called for a revolution and ordered his followers to occupy government offices.  Initially Luxemberg opposed this, but finally gave the revolution her support.  Both Liebknict ant Luxemberg were quickly arrested by army reservists (freikorps).  Shortly thereafter she was bashed in the head with a rifle, shot and her body was thrown into a canal.  A few months later it surfaced.  It was turned over to the Communist party which gave her an elaborate funeral.

During the postwar period, several monuments named for her were erected for her in East Germany.  After reunification, the monuments still remain and are still named after her.  The Federal Republic considers her a patriot.  The Communists participate it the political process in modern Germany and regularly draw about 10 percent of the vote in national elections.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pavo Gratis

While shopping at the Supremo Supermercado at the Lalor Plaza a few weeks ago I noticed a sign as I was passing through the caja advertising pavo gratis.  No, as you can probably guess, I don't speak much Spanish.  But I did go to high school once, spent a week driving around Puerto Rico, worked in the Mercer County welfare office, and lived in South Trenton for about 18 years.  Taken together, all that collective experience means that I can read signs written in Spanish.  For the uninitiated a caja usually means "box", but if you are in Puerto Rico it is also a checkout counter.  And of course, pavo gratis means free turkey.   Happy Thanksgiving!

While I'm on the subject, I thought I'd give you some links to Spanish language recipees for roast turkey so you could try out some of the ways our European cousins cook the bird.  http://www.recetascomidas.com/recetas-de/pavo-asado  This is a link to a cooking site from Spain.


Today, many of the people living in South Trenton are of Hispanic origin.  Not very long ago, Eastern Europeans predominated.  Today, I am going to celebrate my Eastern European heritage while helping to support a local business.  I will be eatin my turkey dinner at the Blue Danube, a wonderful Hungarian joint located at the corner of Elm and Adeline streets a few blocks from my home.  Maybe I'll also be cooking up my own bird and having it on another day, but today I feel lazy and am planning to relax.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canary in a Coal Mine. Tom Goodwin Looses State Senate Race

T

Here, Senator Tom Goodwin stands to the right (blue tie and glasses) in this photo of Governor Christie signing into law the two-percent property tax law at the Nottingham Ballroom in Hamilton Township this summer.  Assemblyman Goodwin received heavy backing from Christie and the state GOP to win a midterm election for the unexpired state senate seat previously held by Bill Baroni who resigned to take a post in Christie's administration.  Goodwin lost the 14th Legislative District senate race this November to Linda Greenstein, a liberal Democrat and supporter of public employee unions.  Next November, all seats in the state legislature are up for grabs.  Could Senate President Stephen Sweeney (right, red tie) also get kicked out. (Photo from The Trentonian)

 Looking at the newspapers following election day, at first all looks well for Governor Christie and his fellow Republicans.  After all, in Washington, the GOP took control of the House of Representatives and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate, a firm rebuke to the Obama administration.  In addition, the GOP now controls a majority of the nation's governorships, including the seat in neighboring Pennsylvania won by Tom Corbett, who Governor Christie identified as a protege.

Since being elected governor of New Jersey in November 2009, Chris Christie has become a regular on the national television talk show circuit, and has become a household word nationally.  Many people in other states look up to him for the way he was able to quickly cut the size of government in New Jersey.  They went ahead and elected many other new governors who indicated that they want to follow in his footsteps.

So what do we have here?  Is it the makings of a long-term movement or is it just a flash in the pan?  Are all those new governors getting in on the ground floor on the next big thing in politics or are they just getting in line to follow all the other lemmings off a cliff?

As someone who spent time living in western Iowa and served boot camp with the US Army at Ft. Leonard Wood, which is located in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri, I know we live in a big country and that opinions and beliefs vary widely across this great land.  So I don't want to predict what will happen in other more rural and conservative places.  Perhaps less services and control of the governmental apparatus by the rich and powerful is just their cup of tea in places like Waynesville, MO or Bronson, IA.

I can however speak for the people of Mercer County, NJ for here the people have spoken earlier this month, and the results do not portend well for the political future of Christie and his followers in the legislature or in local government.

In local elections, the voters sent two Democrats back to the Freeholder board (for folks in other parts of the country, in other states this type of body is usually called the Board of County Supervisors).  We also returned a Democrat back to the County Clerk's job.  In fact, there are no elected Republicans serving in our county government.

More importantly, two Republican officials who were quite vocal in their support for Christie's policies lost to Democrats.  First, Tom Goodwin who was appointed to a state senate seat in the 14th district that was held by a Republican, Bill Baroni, who accepted a job in the Christie Administration and resigned his job as Senator.  In New Jersey, appointed legislators must stand for election for the remainder of their unexpired terms at the time of the next general election.  So, Mr. Goodwin had to run in an off-year for the one year remaining on his unexpired term.

Mr. Goodwin ran as a tax cutter and as a supporter of Christie with the heavy backing of the state GOP who saw this senate race as a test of Christie's popularity.  Goodwin made a point that he was one of the main sponsors of legislation to cap local property tax increases to two percent per year.  He even had Christie come to his district to do the signing ceremony and stood at the front of the room with the governor and Senator Sweeney for the signing.  He said he was a businessman who believes the governor's policies will revive private sector jobs and portrayed his opponent as a liberal union lover.

Well, both Goodwin and the governor got egg on their face when Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein wound up winning this close race.  The main factor in this race was Hamilton Township, which is a Trenton suburb heavily populated by state workers and state retirees, two groups in Christie's crosshairs.  This is the largest municipality in the 14th district.  What the Governor and Goodwin failed to realize is that even though Hamilton usually votes Republican,  when push comes to shove people are more concerned about their own welfare than they are about party identification.  If your elected representative talks about talking away your benefits and cutting your pay, perhaps you would consider voting for the candidate in the other party who wants to help you.  Add to the newfound Democratic fervor of erstwhile Republican civil servants are parents who lost bus service for their children and had class sizes increased due to Republican-driven school aid cuts, and you got a Democratic victory.

The other example is Ewing Mayor Jack Ball who also lost this November.  This Republican was one of the first governors to speak out publically in favor of the governor's property tax cap proposal.  At the same time he was trying to get an ordinance passed limiting the amount of garbage homeowners could put on the curb.  When this was rejected, he said that people have to realize that service cuts are necessary to keep property taxes low.  After the cap was approved, he supported police and teacher layoffs this summer.  He said these were needed to keep tax increases within the cap and that it is going to be painful, but people have to make due with less police protection and poorer quality schools.

What is significant here is that property taxes are higher in Ewing than on similar residences in surrounding municipalities and that people still rejected the Republican approach.  Although the municipality has some state employees living there, it is not the haven for state workers that Hamilton is.
The anger at the Republicans came from ordinary homeowners working in private industry that want to keep their good schools and not get overrun by hoards of thugs coming in from neighboring Trenton to take advantage of the township's lowered police protection.

Here you have it.  Two Democratic victories for seats held by Republican incumbents.  The Republicans lost because they polarized the voters.  The angered public employees, public retirees and disaffected homeowners ganged up and voted Democrat.  The Republicans managed to accomplish the opposite of what the hoped to do.  They united and energized the Democratic constituency so that they would go in large numbers to the polls and vote Democratic.

I know many Republicans have had secret doubts about Christie's radical proposals.  That's why nobody tried implementing them until he became governor.  They now feel they have a duty to get behind their leader and back him.  However that support will only continue so long as it is not the ticket to political suicide.

In November 2011 all Senate and Assembly seats are up for grabs.  My guess is that teachers, police, state, county and municipal office workers and government retirees will have been angered enough  by Christie and his supporters to vote Democrat.  Since more people work for state and local government than work in construction and manufacturing combined this is a formidable force.  Add disaffected homeowners and retired government employees and it will be a tide that the Republicans won't be able to counter.  Look for Democratic legislators in places that never elect Democrats like Sussex or Cape May counties.  That's right, a sea of blue from High Point to Cape May.

Think what that will do to that unified Republican support for the Governor at the local level.  My guess is it will shatter like a glass at a Jewish wedding.  And so will any support outside the state for Christie's election to the presidency.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does. Governor Christie Screws Up Black Friday Holiday Battle

When I came into work today, I checked my email as I usually do.  This is one of the messages that I found:

All Department of Labor and Workforce Development Employees:

Please be advised that the day after Thanksgiving, November 26, 2010 will be a paid day off for all represented employees of CWA, AFSCME, and IFPTE.  For those employees not covered by one of the enumerated unions, November 26, 2010 remains a regular work day.  Employees may use personal leave time for that date, as permitted in accordance with Department policy.

Represented employees are those assigned to Employee Relations Groups A, C, H, I, O, P, R and S.

Non-represented employees are assigned to groups V, W, Y, X, and M.  Non-represented employees are not covered by the June 2009 Memorandum of Agreement.  Again, November 26, 2010 remains a regular work day for such employees.

Employee Relations Group designations are indicated on the bottom of job descriptions which can be accessed through the Civil Service Commission website, http://info.csc.state.nj.us/TitleList/TitleSearch.aspx or by contacting your personnel liaison.  If you are not absolutely certain of your designation or requirement to report to work on November 26, 2010, please contact Human Resources.

Thank You.


Like I said before, I like to write on several levels at one time.  Well, by publishing this memorandum, I am expressing two important ideas.

First, welcome to the Byzantine world of labor relations at the State of New Jersey.  Whether you work for a large company, or on a job where you are represented by a union or for a governmental organization, you will most likely be exposed to complicated work rules written in an arcane manner.
Employees of the state get all three.  We are a large governmental organization with union representation.  Oh the joys of deciphering legalese!

Perhaps a little translation is in order.    Basically, what this document says is that if you work for the state labor department and are represented by a union, you get the day after Thanksgiving off this year.  If you are not represented by a union, then you must report for work unless you use your time to take the day off.

People who are represented include most rank and file employees and some people outsiders probably would consider middle management.  Security workers, maintenance workers, clerical staff, technicians, professional staff, primary supervisors of professional staff (that's me!) and bureau chiefs (my boss) are all in the union. 

Those who are not in the union would include management types of the rank of Assistant Director and above (my boss's boss for example) as well as unclassified workers (various political appointees) as well as confidential workers (like administrative analysts and staff handling personnel records).

That takes us to the next idea the memo represents:  It is the vengeance of a defeated man; none other than Governor Christie.  Your governor would rather express his anger by wasting taxpayer money to make a point rather than accept defeat at the hands of the unions.

To fully explain what I mean by this, you will need a little background information.

The governor decided to score some points in the media this fall by "taking on the unions" by saying he would not honor the Memorandum of Understanding (MUA) negotiated between the various unions and Governor Corzine and signed June 2009.  The Memorandum of Understanding was negotiated because Corzine was hobbled by a State Supreme Court ruling which said he could not furlough unionized state workers selectively, but rather would have to shut all departments down at once, except essential operations like prisons, mental hospitals or state police patrols.

Corzine, like the current governor wanted to have his cake and eat it too.  He wanted to keep state offices open to the public on all workdays even with the furloughs.  He wanted to furlough a percentage of workers at a time.  The unions took him up on it and the courts ruled that he could not lay off workers for even one day without following the layoff guidelines in the contract.  To do otherwise would violate the contract.

So Corzine wanted furloughs, and the only way he could get them was to reopen the contract with the union.  Well, we also wanted something.  After a lot of hoopla in the media, Corzine decided to end the longstanding practice of giving us the day after Thanksgiving off by executive order, even though he was not required to do so by the union contract.  He also wanted to show he was being tough on unions by being able to take away one of those holidays that we get that no one else gets.

Ahah.  The only holiday I know that fits that description is Lincoln's Birthday.  Since Martin Luther King's Birthday came out, the practice of celebrating Lincoln's Birthday with a day off has almost completely died out outside of state government.  When I was a child in the 1960s, I remember that my parents both got off for Lincoln's Birthday and that schools were also closed on February 12.  There were sales in all the stores on that day, just as we now also have on Memorial Day.

So the MOA said that Corzine could furlough workers for one day a month through June of 2010 without having to shut the whole state down.  It also said that the day after Thanksgiving was going to be an official day off and that henceforth, we would work on Lincoln's Birthday.

Enter Governor Chris Christie and his efforts to play to the media during the fall pre-election "silly season".  What better way to rally the pro-Republican troops than by bashing unions and demanding that state workers work on Black Friday, because "all the private sector workers" have to work that day.

Mr. Christie should have already known the MOA was binding.  He once claimed it was not binding and he was going to violate it and furlough workers as often as he wanted.  He changed his mind after his "lawyers reviewed it" (he is a lawyer isn't he?) and they determined it was binding.  No Duh!

So, he decided to go ahead any and declare that we would work on Black Friday and would get Lincoln's Birthday off instead because it is still a state holiday.  Never mind the last governor agreed to something else to get the furlough days he wanted. 

Also never mind that while almost nobody gets Lincoln's Birthday off and the stores don't have sales, nearly everybody gets Black Friday off and it is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.  The champion of the private sector thought it would be a wonderful idea to make about 50,000 unionized state workers not working in prisons, hospitals or colleges work on Black Friday so they could not shop.  Keep these poor slobs chained to the desks and let the merchants be damned.  I say they are overpaid when it benefits me, but I don't care now, because if they are really overpaid they would have ample disposable income to throw away on Black Friday deals.  So screw the private sector.  I need to make a point.

Christie didn't back down even after the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) ruled against him and said that he wanted to appeal the ruling to the courts.  A few days latter, common sense prevailed and he backed down, but not without getting quoted making a few wisecracks about unions stealing taxpayer dollars in the Star Ledger.

Back to our governor's sour grapes stand at the expense of taxpayers.

A rational person would say "I lost" and walk away.  He would shut the state down the day after Thanksgiving just as every governor did every year for decades.  No, he is not rational.

He would rather keep every DMV office, every Unemployment Office, and every other state office to prove a point.  Overtime would have to be paid for security to come in (at double time and a half).  If he wants clerical staff at counters at offices opened to the public, the unionized clerks would have to get double time and a half as well.  The buildings would also have to be heated and lighted for one day between a holiday and a weekend, an expensive proposition.

For what.  To have all the big chiefs show up for work when all the Indians get to stay home.  That's right, lets have a bunch of big bosses sitting around on their keisters with no staff to direct.

A total waste of taxpayer money.  Just like the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that the federal government wants NJ Transit to pay back because he decided to stop work on the Tunnel.

Sometimes it helps the taxpayers to just admit you are wrong and back down rather than having to be a pompous jerk.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who Are We, How Are We Doing?

All you folks in the states are familiar with the slogan, "There's an ap for that."  Well Blogspot is a Google product, and the good folks at Google produce a report which tells me how many readers I have, what country they are from and what posts they are reading.  I'd thought I share that information with you.

First, I am really a regular state worker from Trenton.  I am just a little bureaucrat with some college that wants to share his experiences with you.  I am not a corporation or a bot or anything like that, just some guy with a wife and no kids that is stuck living in the armpit of the universe.

What do people read?  I have a hard time figuring out what people want to read when I write it.  It is basically hit and miss.  But after it gets up there, some things are definately hits and other things misses.  The all time hit is Christie's contributors outed, which is simply something I copied from the dark recesses of the state's website and brought out into the open where people can find it.  Other popular things are the articles about Janice Miranov, the roach infested kitchen as well as posts about my experiences with cars and a post about how state workers have the right to make their voice heard through their union.

Where does our readership come from.  Of course, most people come from the good old USA, after all this blog concerns American politics.  Suprisingly, we get readers fron several other places including Russia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Luxenbourg and Canada.  A few people look at us fron China, India, Hong Kong and Indenosia.  Africa, the Middle East and South America are noticably missing from my readershsip.  I guess my humor appeals to the Slavic wit which explains my popularity in Russia and the Balkins.  I hope I get a few more people fromSoutth America on board in the future.  Watch for blogs about Juan Peron and the like.

We now get about 50 hits a day on a regular basis.  That may not seem like much, but that is a lot more than most social networking sites get.  Thank you for reading my stuff.  Recommend me to your friends.

The Trentonian, It's What Trenton Wakes Up To

This is the front page from The Trentonian from November 3, 2010.  In addition to the standard post-election reports, the paper also sports a headline across the top which says "K-9 Masturbation".  That says just about everything to explain that The Trentonian is not just another newspaper.

Mercer County is the smallest market in the nation that is still served by two competing daily newspapers.  What I mean by this is not that Trenton has two morning papers, but they are each under separate ownership.  How can both keep going at a time when newspapers all over the country are in bankruptcy.  Readership is down and advertising has fallen off as the readership migrated to the Internet.

The Trenton Times is a staid publication like most others everywhere else.  It reports the news in a straightforward, inoffensive manner.  It is the type of paper that would put Casper Milquetoast to sleep.  That probably explains why they have to practically give it away to keep the circulation high enough to  justify its existence.  Its newsstand price is twenty-five cents, something that's unheard of in this day and age.

Then of course, there's The Trentonian, which is smaller, thinner and costs fifty cents.  Why would anybody pay extra for a paper that has less news in it?  Well, because it is a different kind of paper.  Let's say it's real different.

Trenton is a place that is down on its luck.  The factories that have been the area's economic mainstay for over a century are nearly all gone.  Unemployment among city residents is rampant.  If you got rid of welfare, social security, pensions and SSI, the place would probably starve to death.  That's what a lot of people that live in the city do for money.

True, the State of New Jersey is the city's largest employer.  It is also the state's largest single employer, counting both the public and private sectors.  In the northern end of the county we have Princeton and the Route 1 Corridor with its extensive array of stores and offices.  Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals are also important employers in the county, but most city residents don't qualify for work at these places. 

You guessed it, highbrow most people here are not.  The newspaper readership doesn't get most of their news from listening to NPR or reading the Wall Street Journal or New York Times.  We prefer publications that are simpler and easier to read and deal with topics we understand.

Enter the Trentonian.  Big on sports and pictures.  A publication which regularly features the results of football games on the front page rather than the sports page.  It has the Page 6 Girl pinup as a regular feature.
It is staunchly Republican and anti-union.  I don't know who holds those views here, but it provides good entertainment even if it treats the Governor like a god.

Then there's the stories about blood, guts and gore.  Once we had someone walk in front of an Amtrak train in Bristol, PA.  The Trentonian covered this suicide by showing picture of what looked like a piece of meat laying on the ground and the caption said it was part of the person that just got smashed by the 120 mile per hour train.

We had a stabbing this week in broad daylight this week in front of City Hall.  The Trentonian was there and ran a picture of blood running down a gutter.  It described the stabbing as happening in front of the 10 Commandments monument which sits on the front lawn of City Hall.  It said the victim was a homeless man named 6-8 on the street because he is six feet 8 inches tall.  It said the stabbing was over the attempted collection of a two dollar debt.

The next day the paper ran a headline which said Cops Spared.  The mayor announced he would not be laying off any more cops or firemen and that recent crimes in the city had something to do with his decision.  No Duh!  You just had a stabbing in broad daylight in front of city hall.  Perhaps you need more police protection, not less.  He hasn't said how he plans to pay for the police or firemen.  The governor isn't interested in giving him any more money.  He says he wants to get grants from the federal government.

Great.  We'll keep the cops and hope for handouts from the Great Black Father in Washington.  That's a real sound plan.

Back to dogie masturbation.  The paper claims that City Council President George Muscal believes the mayor is circulating rumors that he jerks off his retired police dog, Ars.  Not that the dog is around to tell the truth.  Muscal recently had the 14 1/2 year old pooch put down because he was getting old and feeble.  Muscal owns a local laundromat and is a retired city police officer.

No proof was offered about the dogie sex acts or that the Mayor actually accused Muscal of engaging in lewid conduct with animals.  However Muscal says that the mayor's brother has been stalking him and taking pictures of him without his permission.

Trenton politics at a new low.  What a way to sell papers.  Here is a copy of the article as it appeared in the paper.

Geriatric Politicians Gone Wild!


Sheriff Gill Lugossy may soon be back in the saddle,   Mr. Lugossy who served as Mercer County's sheriff from 1976 to 1990 has indicated that he plans to return to the Sheriff's office after 20 years of retirement.



Yes it's true.  In a blast from the past, 74-year old Gill Lugossy told the Trentonian he is interested  in becoming Mercer County's next sheriff, since Sheriff Kevin Larkin resigned from the job last week due to personal reasons.  He says he has the support of the local Democratic Party and now all that remains is for Governor Christie to appoint him to the job.

The Republican governor is required to replace Sheriff Larkin with another Democrat according to state law.  What a perfect person for the job, from Christie's standpoint.  Lugossy will make the perfect caretaker since he is so old he probably won't stand for re-election when the job goes on the ballot next November and therefore the Democrats won't be able to benefit from having an incumbant on the ballot.

And of course, us taxpayers get the "benefit" of having Sheriff Hoveround back on the job.  I can just see him now chasing criminals down Broad Street in his electric wheelchair.

He is the perfect match for Trenton's new court administrator Nate Jones, a former elementary school principal and perenial city council candidate who also retired in early 1990s.