The Battle Over Minimum Wage

Minimum wage working Americans will feel their pockets being squeezed a little longer– The debate over raising the national minimum wage came to a halt this week on Capitol Hill– it’ll remain in an uncertain hiatus until early spring. Despite multiple fast food strikes and the popular “Fight for 15” campaign that started a few years ago, anti-partisan tempers continue to clash about whether raising the minimum wage will help or hurt the economy.

Republican’s have accused Obama’s quest to raising the federal wage is at the expense of creating new jobs. On the contrary, three-fourths of Americans  agree with the President’s plan to help struggling Americans  have endured stagnant wages for more than a decade.

Right now, 21 states minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum of $7.25. The minimum wage rose in 13 states this year. While some went into effect at the start of the new year– workers in other states won’t see an increase in their pay checks until midway through.


NYCk Caution and Pro Era

Brooklyn native Jesse Cordasco, or as he is better known NYCk Caution, is a member of the New York based rap crew Pro Era. At only 19 years old he has already been featured in XXL magazine and on numerous Hot 97 mixtapes.

Growing up in Mill Basin, he teamed up with many of the members of Pro Era in high school, at Edward R. Murrow High. The groups biggest name to date is Joey Bada$$, who burst on the scene with his mixtape, “1999.”

After a semester at Brooklyn College, Caution decided to make rap a career, though according to him this was always the plan. NYCk is in the “prime” of his career as he enjoys the rise from regular teenager to hip-hop sensation.

In the last year he has embarked on two separate tours and played numerous shows around New York City including being among the opening acts for one of the years largest tours “Under the Influence” with A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa. With lyrical skills and a crew to grow along with, it is only a matter of time until he is headlining his own tour.

Abandoned Houses in Jamaica and Crime Scenes

Click on map image to go to actual map…

Map Marks Map with House Image

Long abandoned houses in Jamaica, Queens are getting attention for the first time in years. The 113th and 103rd precincts are working with the Community Council in an effort to purge criminal activities from both house and hood according to Donna Clopton, President of the 103rd Precinct Community Council in Jamaica.

The number of abandoned homes in Jamaica rose as the mortgage crisis swept the country, Clopton links the rise directly to the crisis. Jamaica resident Joe Moretti, 55 walks by one of these abandoned homes daily on his way to work. Known by locals as the “James Fobb House,” the house at 107-58 164th St is nicknamed for its last known owner. “The backdoor has been gaping open for months, neighbors say they’ve seen prostitutes and crack dealers setting up shop inside,” Moretti said. In describing what she’d found in the houses Clopton listed “gangs setting up residence, drug dealers selling their ‘goods’ not to mention folks squatting in some of these homes.”

“When we have to complain to city agencies, for some reason Jamaica seems like the forgotten borough,” Clopton said of the underwhelming response from 311. Clopton along with the Community Council began working on the problem directly with the 103rd Precinct. A list was compiled of derelict houses in need of work, in order of urgency.

Jamaica’s foreclosure rates remain high, according to Community District Manager Yvonne Reddick. It remains to be seen if changes to policy like Copton’s will include taking preventative measures.

As Moretti said “the danger in these houses comes from a long time of people doing absolutely nothing.”

114th Civ-Op Patrol

For more than thirty years, Jim and Barbara Pollock have devoted themselves to improving the “quality of life” in their community by being the extra eyes and ears for their local precinct. The married couple started the Civilian Observation Patrol for the NYPD Precinct 114 when crime was its peak in the 1980s.

The shortage of officers on the force at precinct 114 has hampered police from tackling minor crimes, such as individuals occupying abandon buildings and trespassing. Jim Pollock says that’s where his team comes in.

“They look to us for help because they are always on their way to deal with more heinous crimes, said Mr. Pollock.”

Volunteers have to participate at least five hours a month. Mrs. Pollock says by taking care of the smaller problems, the community looks less appealing to criminals, specifically graffiti vandals.

“One of the main reasons people do graffiti is because of the notoriety because if the culture,” Mrs. Pollock said. “But if we clean it up and we maintain that status, it sends a message that vandalism is not tolerated.”

Crime has steadily dropped over the years, but graffiti vandalism remains prevalent. With the upcoming demolition of 5Pointz, they are anticipating rebellion from graffiti vandals, by targeting homes and pancahche commerical areas in western Queens.

“These people when they put a tag on the wall, they have their own syndicates. The longer their tag stays up the more praise they get,” Mr. Pollock said. “By not having that building to do graffiti on, they are going to strike back by tagging neighborhoods.”

View Areas Hardest Hit in Precinct 114 Jurisdiction in a larger map

Crossing the Line

Seaman, singer and storyteller Frank Woerner is beloved in New York City’s folk music community for bellowing out century-old sea songs. The songs tell tales of hard drinking, big catches, harrowing storms, and women in every port. But Frank, a ex-Navy man, has had his own share of adventure. Here’s the story of his time aboard the USS Herbert J. Thomas, where tropical islands, a mysterious rite of passage, and the thrill of seeing the world inspired his life-long love of the sea.

Frank Woerner (Photo by Jan Christensen)
Frank Woerner (Photo by Jan Christensen)

Note: The in-line audio tabs may take a minute or two to appear.  Make sure to click on them, to hear the incomparable Frank in his own words (it’s the best part).

Here’s Frank to start us off.

Frank Woerner was a teenager in 1953 when he caught his first glimpse of “Victory at Sea,” the series of half-hour television documentaries portraying U.S. Naval forces in WWII. He was captivated. Right there his living room in Flushing, Queens, Frank made up his mind–he was going to join the Navy.

Back in those days, Frank says, he wasn’t exactly the clean-cut kid you’d expect to be signing up for a life of drills, orders and shined boots. But he got an extra nudge from his mother, who thought he could use some discipline.  Frank was sworn into the Navy at Whitehall Street in Manhattan on January 18th, 1955—shortly after his 17th birthday.

After graduating from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, Frank was a given his choice of assignment.

“They put on the blackboard these here ships,” he says. “There was one in Norfolk Virginia, one in Pensacola Florida, one in Brooklyn Navy Yard.”

…Those were not exactly the exotic locations Frank had in mind. But out of the corner of his eye he caught the words “Hawaii” and the “Philippines” on the board;  the USS Herbert J. Thomas, a a Naval destroyer deployed in the South China Sea, was in need of crew. Frank couldn’t believe his luck.

In the late 1950s, USS The Herbert J. Thomas was part of a squadron sent to the Formosa Strait—a body of water that separated Formosa (now Taiwan) from the Chinese mainland. It was the Cold War, and the U.S. was intent on maintaining a military base in the region and keeping Formosa independent from communist China.

Frank quickly settled into the routine: six months or so patrolling the strait and six at a base in Long Beach, California. Things started to look familiar—too familiar. He repeatedly asked to be transferred somewhere a little more exciting, like an aircraft carrier or a cruiser. But Frank says he was too reliable for his the ship to let go.  Little did he know, excitement was exactly what was in store for the Herbert J. Thomas. When the time came for the destroyer to go on a goodwill tour, Frank’s superior officers said they were headed in a new direction.

Frank had never been to the Southern Hemisphere before, let alone to Brisbane. His imagination filled with wild animals and expeditions into the Outback.

And the news kept getting better.

What Frank didn’t realize was that there would be more to heading South than beautiful women in hula skirts: first, he’d have to “Cross the Line.”

(photo courtesy of Frank Woerner)
(photo courtesy of Frank Woerner)

The time-honored Naval tradition is something between a fraternity hazing and medieval-style public humiliation. The ordeal left him with some serious bruises and half a head of hair.

(photo courtesy of Frank Woerner)
(photo courtesy of Frank Woerner)

But, says Frank, it was more than worth it. The USS Herbert J. Thomas was the first American destroyer to enter the Port of Brisbane since WWII, and Frank and his shipmates found themselves more popular than they could have ever imagined.

And as for that Kangaroo hunt they’d planned? Let’s just say that after arriving in Brisbane, Frank had more pressing concerns.

Frank Woerner with his concertina (photo by Jan Christensen)
Frank Woerner with his concertina (photo by Jan Christensen)

Here’s Frank Woerner singing “Paddy West,” a song about a 19th century boarding house-turned-sailing school with some… unorthodox teaching methods. Listen for the reference about “crossing the line”; you can follow along with the lyrics here.

Map the Rats


Brooklyn reports the most rats overall, according to the open data 311 portal.

rats by boro 2013

However, Manhattan reigns with  the most rats per square mile, as reported in 2013.  The top neighborhood on the list might surprise you.

Surprisingly, some of the most afflicted neighborhoods are not the poorest ones, but the most popular (and populated) boroughs in New York.

Neighborhoods known for their high volume of apartment buildings, bars and restaurants, such as Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side, appear to have rat populations that are as  robust as their social scenes.