User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: September 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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Education, It All Depends on What You Do With It

When I write I don't do an outline first.  I just go at it.  As a result, when I wrote the last entry, I wrote something worthwhile, but it was not what I set out to write when I started.  So, I thought I'd keep going and write the article I originally planned to write.

An event in my personal life served as the inspiration for this article.  My sister-in-law has two sons, Jimmy and Anthony.  Jimmy in 27 and Anthony is 29 and neither one currently has a job.

Jimmy was the person that the writers of the1960's comedy song "Dropouts' March" had in mind when they wrote the words.  He is the prototypical loser kid.  He dropped out of high school and never got a GED.  He has lived at home with his mother his entire adult life.  The only job he ever had was a part-time position in the produce department at the Acme.  He recently lost the job because of a money-making opportunity he took up with another one of his friends.  He would drive his friend to apartment complexes where they would rifle cars for laptops, navigation systems and other valuables.  Well he got arrested in Pennsylvania.  While in jail, the police investigated further and found a series of similar break-ins on this side of the river.  He confessed to the New Jersey car burglaries and got charged with them as well.

As the song goes, "You won't find us in the school halls, look in the pool halls or in jail."

Anthony is the family high achiever.  He joined the Navy after high school.  I spoke to him before he went to the recruiter and told him to find out what jobs he qualifies for and to speak with me first before choosing a training program.  Well, he does everything on his own with minimal information and input.  He didn't listen and signed right up.  I asked him what he was going to train for.  It turned out he didn't select any training and spent the next four years painting the ship while working for the boat's deck department.  "Swab the deck ye maties."  and "If the Navy owns it, paint it grey." would be perfect mottos for his Navy career.

He got to sail the world of course, but didn't get to learn anything useful during his time in there.  Never fear.  He qualified for the GI Bill.  His father wanted him to take something mechanical.  He talked his son into signing up at Mercer Community College for the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning program.  I asked him what research he done and said he was going to be a plumber.  He told me that I was wrong, he was going to be an air conditioning technician and would have an easy life making $50,000 per year putting Freon in air conditioners.  I told him he was mistaken, that he would start at more like $15 per hour and would have to clean out drains, install boilers and fix leaky faucets in between work on air conditioners.
Of course I was all wrong, he said.

Well, he finished his 2-year associates degree in four years and he found out he basically took up plumbing.  He took a few jobs in the field, and found the work too hard and dirty for his tastes. (What would you expect plumbing to be, clean?).  He went to Harris School of Business to take classes in medical coding.  I told him that he was nuts.  I said he was going to be working with the girls in the front of some doctor's office.  This time he figured out I was right and promptly dropped out.

Here's where the last article comes in.  He should have seen a psychologist that specializes in career counseling even before he went to HVAC school.  He probably would have found out he was more suited to office or sales work and would have taken up something else.

So much for wasted educations and burned up taxpayers dollars.  (Perhaps if Christie really wants to save tax dollars he should look at the failure rate in higher education rather than picking on public employees who usually make modest paychecks already.)

There are a few things to remember in order to keep from becoming the next victim of the training mill scam.

First, education as job training is only useful for gaining entree into a career if you complete the program, if you learn enough enough about the job to get an entry level position, and if the job is actually what you imagined it to be.  In other words, will you actually like or be at least willing to tolerate the work.  Are there enough job openings in the field for you to find work.  Will the job pay enough so you can support yourself and pay the student loans.

Americans tend to see education as a panacea.  To most people formal higher education is seen as something essential that their children will need to find suitable work after high school.  Sad but true, popular perceptions have altered the world we live in to make it so that some kind of education beyond high school is probably needed for most people to succeed today.  The real issue is what type is best.

I understand my nephew spent a lot of time learning about Ohms Law and the physics of heater and air conditioner operation.  While this may be useful for a plumber sizing a system or for an engineer designing one, it is not something particularly useful for an entry level plumber.  They should be exposed to real-world work tasks such as learning how to solder a copper pipe, how to properly slope a pipeline, or how to assemble leaded cast iron and PVC pipes.  Classroom instruction should be supplemented with real world employment as a plumber's helper.  This is basically the way union apprenticeship programs work and they are very successful in producing competent plumbers on graduation.  We should expect no less from community colleges or proprietary schools.

If your kid wants to pursue an academic educational program, perhaps the best thing for most fields is a strong liberal arts background.  Regardless what your child takes up, he or she should take lots of classes in courses like English, history, literature and economics.  I know many people think this is a waste of time if somebody is going to school to be an accountant or computer programmer or some other specific job.  Why?  partly because students often get the same experience in their chosen field as my nephew got in plumbing.  The professional classes are long on theory and very short on skills useful on entry-level jobs.  Take chemistry and learn lots about physical chemistry and electron shells and very little about performing analysis with instruments such as a gas chormotgaph, scintillation counter or high pressure liquid chromatograph.  I should know because I took some chemistry classes at Iowa State University and didn't really understand what went on in a lab until I took work study jobs in the labs.  I got to run all that cool stuff you see in the lab on CSI, of course my equipment was ancient compared to what they have now.

I went to college and double majored in Farm Operation and Agronomy.  In case you are wondering, Agronomy is plant and soil science.  Iowa State University is where George Washington Carver got his BS degree in Agronomy.  That was the only earned degree Carver ever got or needed to become famous in his field.

I wasn't so lucky.  You pretty much need a master's degree to get a job in agricultural research.  With a BS, you are pretty much limited to jobs in sales, farm business management (grain elevators, farm supply stores, cattle-buying services, etc) or farm management.  I didn't have the work-a-day knowledge to get one of these jobs in Iowa and came back to New Jersey.

While in the Garden State, I spent about the first 10 years of my working life doing things like running a painting business, selling real estate and working in factories.  When I would go on interviews, I would get comments like "you have a very specialized degree and we really don't have any openings in your area of expertise."  The personnel managers thought I should be out with the cattle, not working in their company.

Persistence paid off.  Because nobody would hire me at first, I developed my own jobs.  By selling houses I got contacts with other agents which needed work done on properties so they could pass building inspections....Things like plumbing, electrical and painting work.  That's how the painting business got started.  You don't need an employer to buy a truck and ladders, take out ads in the Trenton Times and phone book then go out and sell jobs and swing a brush.  You just need a little cash and a lot of determination.  I also bought a rental property with $1,500 down that I saved from my high school paper route.  By fixing the house, I learned a lot about home improvements and developed my skills to the point they were commercially viable in my handyman business.

Eventually I met my future wife and she had a friend who worked the Labor Department's personnel office.  I got a part-time temporary job processing unemployment claims.  From there, I parlayed it into my present position.

The bottom line....The education that mattered the most for me was not technical courses in farming, chemistry or botany.  It was the liberal arts classes which teach you how to think and also give you the basic skills needed to learn the details of what is necessary to know to function in a business office.  For instance, when I started in my present job, I never ran a computer.  My boss handed me a Macintosh Classic computer and told me to do the mouse tutorial.  From there I learned how to do Microsoft Access database program writing and how to run the X12 seasonal adjustment program written in DOS by Royal Statistics Canada and modified by the US Census Bureau.  Bottom line...If you got it, you got it.  If given a chance you can learn practically anything from scratch on the job.  Technical coursework is just window dressing to gain entree to the workplace.

Yes, technical coursework is good.  It may even be necessary in most cases to get that first job.  But really, don't expect it to teach you how to do the job.  While it would be nice if the training was actually worthwhile, many times it is useless.  But having the same name on your degree that is in the job title of the position you are applying for just might get you past the personnel officers and onto the job.

What is more useful is the liberal arts coursework.  Somewhere after several years of reading Descartes and Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mills, the light bulb just might come on in your head and you will develop some practical problem solving skills.  It worked for me and for countless others, even if the approach sounds a little asinine.

Another family antidote.  My father grew up in Trenton and was raised by unschooled Lithuanian peasants who moved here and found work in the potteries.  My dad went to St. Hedwig's elementary school and dropped out of the sixth grade to get a job at the Polish Falcons club as a bowling pin setter.  (The Brunswick Automatic Pin Setter which made modern bowling alleys possible didn't come along until over a decade later).  He eventually got a job at American Standard as a pottery worker and retired from there.  When he retired in 1988 he made over $40,000 a year as an unskilled product packer on the assembly line.  Even though he was a grade school dropout and a drunk he knew enough to hang out in taverns and meet people who could serve as useful contacts.  He knew enough to learn how to do his job well and do what was expected at work which was show up every day and do the job right.  He knew enough to get a job at the dominant firm in the bathroom fixtures business, a place where workers were represented by a strong union.  That made him an educated man, because he mastered all the skills he needed to thrive in the world in which he lived.

He taught me something.  It doesn't matter what it says on your degree.  It doesn't really matter if you have a degree at all.  What matters is who you know, what you know and what you do with it.

Get an Education, Skip the Training Schools

You've all seen them.  Turn on your TV set to just about any channel you can think of at just about any time you can imagine, and you will get a steady diet of commercials from the University of Phoenix, Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, The Art Institutes and just about any other place you can think of that offers training on a for-profit basis.

The commercials make an assortment of pitches for their varied audiences.  You get the one with the supportive wife that encouraged her husband to return to school so that her family could enjoy a better life.  You got the one of the mom, dad and adult son driving expensive-looking all-terrain vehicles through the woods.  The words describe how the school's programs will open up a lifestyle that would otherwise not be possible without attending.  You also got the one with the young man who says he used to work minimum wage construction jobs until he was able to upgrade his skills and lifestyle by going to the school.  You can add to this the assortment of more academically-oriented for-profits offering everything from Internet MBAs to computer training courses.

So the audiences are varied, but the message is still very much the same.  Come to us, and in a few short months we can transform your life from its current low-income existence to exciting middle-class bliss.  Of course, another unspoken message is that if you choose not to go to a for-profit school, your life won't change.

Can it work?  Sometimes.  Go to the TV chef's school, and "study cuisines all over the globe", and the school just may have you back as an instructor.  But, this is the exception and not the rule.  I would be willing to bet that "studying cuisines all over the globe" means holding an assortment of key jobs in top restaurants around the world.  Of course, if you can do this, than you are another Emeril Lugossy and will make a good living no matter what.  But just going to the school won't get you anywhere unless you put something into it yourself.  You have to actually learn something from the instruction, then go out and get a job in the field and be a success at it.  And of course in an artistic endeavor like cooking, you have to have talent as well.  Try as hard as you like, if you don't have "what it takes", then your chef career will consist of working in the local greasy spoon for relatively low wages.  And, I am willing to bet, that is what happens to most graduates of this program that actually stick with the work.

I'm not going to sit here and quote facts and figures, because I feel lazy right now and don't feel like doing the research.  But don't worry, I am familiar with the story and can write about this topic fairly proficiently "off the cuff".  And besides it is more fun to do this than struggling through a bunch of material to extract good statistics.  Without quoting specific numbers, the Obama Administration has just conducted an investigation of the education industry and here's what they found:  The highest graduation rates are at private non-profit schools like Harvard, Princeton and you guessed it, Rider College.  Regardless of whether they are Ivy League or just local colleges, the private non-profits seem to be the aristocrats of the business with the most success at producing graduates from new students.  Next comes the public schools, which range from places like USC Berkeley all the way to Mercer County Community College. The highest drop out rates are at the for-profit schools.  So you apparently have a good chance of "doing something else" once again after attending Motorcycle Mechanics Institute.

The same is also true for whether graduates get jobs in their field of study.  Again private non-profits seem to be the best at graduating students who actually get work in what they took up.  Next comes the public schools.  At the bottom of the pack are the for-profits.

Ditto for student loan default rates.  The fewest defaults occur among students from private non-profits.  Next come the public colleges, and the default champs are students from for-profit schools.

There you have it.  If you want your kid to have the least chance of graduating, have the lowest chance of finding work in what they took up,  and give them the greatest chance of having student loans follow them around until retirement, then send them to a for-profit school.

Why is this so?  The "for dummies" answer is that the focus of for-profit schools is the bottom line.  Training students is not their "passion", it is just a means of producing profits.  And the greatest profits can be produced by actively recruiting students without too much concern about whether the students have the aptitude to complete the work, whether the instructors have the chops to effectively teach the subject, or whether what is being taught includes the skills that real employers are looking for, or whether the jobs at the end of the line are actually in demand or pay sufficiently to enable graduates to pay their student loans.

Sad but true, many of these schools are just degree mills looking for suckers to sign on as students in order to fatten the school's bottom line.

My interest in all this of course is that I work for the statistical branch of the New Jersey Department of Labor.  People come to the state labor department for much the same reason why they call the police or fire department.  They are having an emergency and are looking for outside help to take care of it.  In the case of people the come to the labor department, most are out of work and are looking for unemployment insurance to tide themselves over until they find another job.  And finding another job can frequently mean looking into training to improve skills to increase the chances of finding new work.

That's where we come in.  My shop produces long-term employment projections which provide insight into the number of workers in an occupation that employers are expected to need 10 years from now compared to what they need today.  This provides an indication of whether a job is in growing demand or in declining demand.
Since the long-term demand list is not supposed to take the business cycle into account, it doesn't always work too well over the short term during a recession.  So our staff developed another product called Real Time Jobs In Demand to provide an indication of whether employers are hiring workers in a given occupation today as well as how many workers in this occupation are currently out of work.   One way this is useful is that if a lot of experienced truck drivers are already out of work, what do you think your chances of finding work after going to truck driving school would be.  Not too good of course.

I am not saying that private trade schools are always bad choices for youths preparing for the world of work or for adults interested in a career change.   All I am saying is take the claims of the counselors at the school with a grain of salt.  Go to your local One Stop Career Center or to an independent career counselor for the real dope on the job's employment outlook, pay scales, working conditions, etc.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Public Employees Deserve the Right to Contribute to Political Campaigns

Finally we're back on track after a few articles about broken-down Catholic cemeteries, dirty ghetto kitchens and a homely-looking female suburban mayor with a masculine-sounding voice.  Now we're back to looking at the antics of our favorite governor, Chris Christie.

While at work I got the following copy of an an article which appeared on the NJ Biz website on September 14, 2010.  It was written by Andrew Kitchenman.  If you are interested in the NJ Biz website, it can be found at   Mr. Kitchenman's email address is

Pension Proposal Would Reduce Benefits, Increase Public Worker Contributions

State employees would see lower pension benefits and pay more for health insurance under a set of pension changes proposed Tuesday by Governor Christie.

Christie proposed rolling back the 9 percent increase in pension credit passed in 2001 for any work done by state employees from this point forward.  In addition, he would increase the nominal retirement age for public employees to 65, increase the number of years they must work to be eligible for early retirement from 25 to 30, eliminate annual cost-of-living adjustments and increase the pension contribution of current employees - which currently is as low as 3 percent of salary - to 8.5 percent.

Along with the pension changes, Christie also proposed increasing the share of health insurance costs paid by public employees from 8 percent to 30 percent.  In addition, he would shift from a system where employees pay 1.5 percent of their salary to one in which they pay for a share of premiums.

The proposals were met by a warm response from business groups.

New Jersey Business and Industry Association President Phillip Kirschner said private-sector employees are currently paying four to five times what public employees are paying for health insurance.  "Current pension costs represent a benefit the state simply can't afford' Kirshner said,

Karen A. Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said the current health insurance contributions unfairly affect single employees by being based on salaries.

"For years, our chamber has been calling for reforms of public employee benefits to bring them in line with the private sector and save taxpayer dollars." Davis said.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said private-sector employees have been making difficult decisions throughout the recession from cutting benefits to making layoffs.

"They're doing what they have to do to meet their bottom line, and we want the state, county and local governments to do the same," Egenton said.  "These are not very popular decisions, but certainly on the private-sector side, we recognize and appreciate and applaud the governor's efforts.

The point of reprinting the NJ Biz article here is not to use their words to explain Christie's plans for legislation to modify pension and health insurance benefits for state, county and local employees in the state.  This article is not so much about the substance of the governor's plans as the reason why I am very much in disagreement with another one of his proposed legislative initiatives.  Under the guise of "ethics reform" the governor wants to ban unions representing government employees from contributing to the political campaigns of candidates for elected office on the state, county or local level.

He already tried to do this once.  Shortly after taking office Christie issued an executive order which stated that public employee unions are covered by pay to play legislation and as a result, unions that represent public employees cannot legally contribute more than a nominal amount to political campaigns.

Needless to say, the unions took this matter to court and the state supreme court sided with the unions.  They ruled that pay to play was meant to keep private businesses wishing to do business with governments from gaining favor from officials who may contract for government services after they get elected.  In other words, the legislation was to keep companies from financing candidate's campaigns in return for government contracts to provide goods and services once the  candidates get in office.

Unions weren't targeted by the original legislation because they have noting to sell to the state or to local governments.   All public employee unions do is represent employees when they negotiate contracts covering wages and benefits.  Currently, the only money that public employee unions can use on political campaigns is the money that is contributed by "full" union members, or those people who actively choose to join the union.  Non-members only pay "agency fee" dues, which only covers the cost of negotiating and administering the contract and not political activity.

Now here we come back to the NJ Biz article.  As you can recall. it is a highly-biased piece written in support of the governor's position that the legislation is necessary to safeguard taxpayer interests.  The article quotes officers of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce taking positions supporting the legislation.  

While I may disagree with the position taken by NJ Biz and these three organizations, I support their right to lobby in support for their position.  The members of the state business and industry association and of the two chambers of commerce mentioned collect dues from their members with the understanding that this money be used for political activity.

If we can accept the idea that business people have the right to band together and form organizations that collect dues to lobby for legislation beneficial to business interests, we must also support the right of workers to contribute to similar organizations suppoorting pro-worker positions.  When public employees pay dues to their union that are used to lobby on their behalf, they do so willingly.  If they didn't want their money spent that way, they can opt out of the union and become agency shop members.  The money is not being given to bribe officials to award a contract from a governmental entitity to pay money to the union.  The only money the union gets comes from its members.  The contributions to the union are voluntary and are the same as contributions from businesses to their organizations like the Chamber of Commerce.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  If Christie wants to make it illegal for unions to support candidates he should also make it illegal for business organizations like to Chamber of Commerce of the Association of Realtors from supporting candidates as well.  This is probably illegal and is not going to happen, of course.  The point being made is that both unions and business organizations should be allowed to contribute because both workers and businesses have equal rights to free political speech.  Its only fair.

Mayor Janice Mironov. You Get to Decide

Janice Mironov is East Windsor's long-time mayor.  Here he is pictured to the left with the 2010 Mrs. East Windsor Spotlight beauty queen.  (The mayor is a real beauty too, isn't she.)
Here is a video of East Windsor Township Mayor Janice Mironov.  A friend of mine has seen her regularly on the community news broadcasts that cut into the Jane Velez Mitchell show when it is shown on Comcast in Trenton. 

Although I can't find anything on the Internet to confirm her suspicions, my friend swears "Janice" is either a man living as a woman or "she" is a transsexual.  I got curious and went online and found this video of her giving a speech.  I can definitely say that if she is really a genetic female, then she is the most mannish female I ever ran into.

Here it is.  You be the judge.
     Here's another one.

Update 6/12/11:  Personally, I believe Janice is a man, or at least s-he was born one.

Somebody pulled down the old video that I was linked to, so I put up two new ones.

I don't live in East Windsor, I live in Trenton, so I don't have any personal experience with the job s-he is doing, but they must like her there, because they have kept her in office for about 20 years.  If s-he keeps getting re-elected s-he must be doing something right.  I believe this all the more so, because unlike San Francisco or New Hope, East Windsor is your typical conservative New Jersey suburb and doesn't have a large gay colony or anything like that.

It appears the people in East Windsor made up their minds about her abilities on an objective basis and did not rush to conclusions from first impressions.  "Don't judge a book by its cover."

I tried to get some information about her life, such as childhood, college attended, year of graduation, etc. but have come up empty.  My guess is s-he doesn't want her past made public.  I Know s-he is an attorney with a private law practice, but that's about all I can find out from the web.

Com'on Janice, come "out" with the obvious.  Let everybody know that you are a 24-7 gurl that has been able to make it on her own in a leadership position in the straight world.  You have an obligation to the rest of the LGBT community to let the public know.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Perpetual Care? Think Again. Before Burying Your Loved Ones in a Catholic Cemetery Check It Out First.

St. John's Cemetery located off of Lalor Street started accepting burials sometime in the late 1850s, before the start of the Civil War.  The parish which owns this cemetery has an interesting history.  When it opened as the first Catholic parish in New Jersey's Capital City, Sacred Heart at 1 Centre St was called St. John's, hence the Cemetery's name.  However, Irish immigration soon overwhelmed the parish which was founded by German immigrants.  Arguments ensued over who would be in charge and the parish eventually split in two.  The Irish got the original location which was renamed Sacred Heart.  The Germans moved a few blocks over and formed St. Francis. 

You would think that a cemetery this old would value its history.  Think again.  It seems that Sacred Heart has better things to do with its money than to look after its dead.  The aside from sending in a landscaping crew with lawnmowers and weed whackers it does little to take care of the grounds.  I am familiar with the place and up until last year, the stone of this Navy veteran of the SS Teal was standing.  Now it lays on its side and is regularly run over by landscaping equipment.  As far as I know, the "SS Teal" mentioned here was either the USS Teal, a minesweeper which saw service off the coast of New Jersey during World War 1 or the British freighter that was sunk in the Atlantic by the Germans during first world war.

One dirty little secret that the funeral director won't tell you about is that the concrete vault in which the coffin is enclosed doesn't last forever.  After about 80 to 150 years, this vault will rupture and the ground above the vault will cave in to form the shape of a coffin.  It looks like Mr. Eckert is suffering from just this sinking feeling.  (Get off your butts, perpetual care crew and fill that hole in.)

It seems the problems have only gotten worse for the permanent residents of St. John's since the parish has "forgotten" to replace its caretaker, who used to lock the gate each night.  My wife's stepmother's sister's husband, Charlie, who used to live across the street from the cemetery fulfilled that role.  After he moved out about five years ago, the church never replaced him.  Now, the cemetery gets whole new groups of visitors it never had in the past, including the homeless who come to the place to sleep and drink liquor.  It also draws youths who like to do nothing better than to throw midnight stone dumping parties.  The bums aren't really much of a problem, they leave their vodka bottles for the maintenance crew then move on.  Its the vandals that cause the real damage. 

It's not like toppled stones are a rare occurrence here, or that the cemetery actually does anything about it.  They just lay around on the ground, sometimes for years.  Unless the family pays to have them uprighted, repaired or replaced, nothing is ever done about it.  That just encourages more vandalism because the kids know that the parish really doesn't care about the property.

Its bad enough that the cemetery keeps getting vandalized and that the parish is too cheap to clean up the mess or even hire someone to lock the gate.  In the process a valuable historical treasure is being destroyed.  Back in the day, people tended to stay in the same area and used tombstones to document their historical heritage.  Many of the older stones list exact birth dates and death dates, the names of parents and sometimes the place of birth.  The stones often contain sayings and a statement as who paid for the stone.  They are living history and deserve to be preserved.  By allowing them to be destroyed, we are also allowing a part of our heritage to be destroyed.  These stones are irreplaceable reminders of our 19th century and early 20th century past.

If the destruction of our past is not a good enough of a reason to clean up this mess, perhaps the welfare of the living should be.  For this cemetery is still active and people are still being buried here.  Of course, this means that people are still spending money on stones that are at risk of being destroyed by vandals and mourners still come and these people are at risk of being attacked by criminals.  By allowing conditions to deteriorate to the level they have, Sacred Heart Parish and the Diocese of Trenton are putting the lives and property of the living at risk whenever they visit the place or invest in memorials for the deceased.

I would certainly be very sceptical about handing money over to Sacred Heart to bury a family member in St. John's.  Remember it's still not too late to demand respect for the living and the dead and demand that the Diocese of Trenton clean up this mess.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

As Goes Packard, So Goes The Nation

Packards were a lot like Cadillacs.  Prior to the second world war, Packards were considered to be superior to Cadillacs and were purchased by politicians, gangsters and business leaders.  Noted for their durability, Packards were often used to make ambulances and hearses.  Here is an example of a 1939 Packard hearse.

Many of the articles in this blog are about more than one thing.  Last month I wrote a piece which featured a picture of a 1956 Packard and a picture of the Packard factory in Detroit as it appears today.  While I am not certain if it is wholely accurate, several sources on the web say that the Packard plant is the largest abandoned factory in the country today.  I am certain that at one time, the Roebling factory in Trenton was even larger than the 3,500,000-square-foot Packard plant.  However, apparently Trenton has done a better job of digesting this plant.  Part of it has been converted to offices and retail space, some of it has been torn down and part of it still lies dormant.

One thing is certain.  Detroit has the largest concentration of abandoned industrial and commercial properties in the nation.  This is largely because of the decline of the American automotible manufacturing industry.

The story of Packard plays out like a Greek tragedy.  From the time the company was founded until the end of World War II, the company was an American success story so cliche, that it almost sounds made up.  However from 1946 onward, the story of the company was how inept management can take a perfectly good company and run it straight into the ground.

Basically, in the postwar period the company stopped being what it was that made it a success.  Instead it lost its way and tried to be something else.  As a result it self-destructed.

The lesson of what happened to Packard was not learned by the other car makers.  General Motors, Ford and Chrysler also forgot what it was that made them great and as a result, Ford is much smaller than what it once was and GM and Chrysler went bankrupt and would have also disappeared if they weren't rescued by the government.

The car companies aren't the only organizations in this nation that have lost their way.  It appears the country as a whole is also suffering from the same fate.