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Pepe Lepew On December - 15 - 2009

montana2This was devastating news. Something that hit me a little harder than I expected it to. Montana has managed to avoid the economic dislocation that’s rocked much of the country, but an announcement made Monday really brought the bad economy home.

Smurfit-Stone, which is in bankruptcy, announced Monday that as part of its restructuring it is closing its massive linerboard mill in Frenchtown on Dec. 31. It’s a huge mill, more than 417 jobs lost. Quite a sad Christmas present to a lot of people. This is the third major mill closure in western Montana in the past year. The other two were in Bonner and Columbia Falls. I think nearly 1,000 people have lost their jobs at these three mills this year. It has very much to do with the collapse of the housing market throughout the country.

400 jobs may not sound like that much, especially compared to the economic carnage that has gone on in places like Detroit, but the impact is enormous, more than I realized it would be. There will probably be the loss of dozens of other supporting jobs that haven’t been accounted for yet. The payroll at the Frenchtown mill all by itself provided 4 percent of the economy of a county of 105,000 people. The closure of the mill means that the Frenchtown School District will lose 24 percent of its tax revenue — 24 percent. That means laid-off teachers, etc.

Of course, jobs based on natural resources are notoriously shaky. When I lived in Oregon, mills were closing left, right and centre. People there blamed environmentalists, but I guess they didn’t notice all those logs in Coos Bay being shipped over to Japan for milling because the timber companies figured out that was cheaper than paying American union wages.

Still, I think all of Montana is in shock. Some people thought this might happen, but still, there’s a feeling that you just can’t prepare for this. I wonder if this could somehow threaten my job security. Of course, a lot of people at angry at Smurfit-Stone for the timing of the announcement. I’m sure they are closing on Dec. 31 for tax considerations. Of course, reading comments at the local Web sites, some people are blaming Obama. Not sure what their logic is. I think for some people, it’s when in doubt, blame that Muslim Socialist in the White House.

There’s been some jobs preserved in western Montana through the stimulus package, but it can’t compete with 417 lost jobs. I think we’re talking dozens of saved jobs at various small mills.

It was a sad day. We talked about what we could do to feel better about it. We don’t have much money or much to give, but when we went grocery shopping today, we bought an extra bag of non-perishables, then two, then three, then four – and took them to the local food bank. People are going to be needing it. It wasn’t much. It was all we could think of. That and counting our blessings this holiday season.

Categories: News & Politics

88 Responses so far.

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  1. TheRarestPatriot says:

    Thanks to all of you for the virtual ‘terrorist fist bumps’! I better get to bed. Can’t have bleary eyes staring through that lens….LOL~

    Maybe I can jump on late tomorrow from the hotel and tell you all the juicy on-set shenanigans!
    Maybe someone will show their boobs or cheat on their spouses !

    Then I can sell the tabloid story to HP !!! LMAO~

    Night all..and thanks again! You all are great.

  2. TheRarestPatriot says:

    Just had THE weirdest call! I am still spinning trying to figure this one out, but listen to this: (my apologies to Pepe as the thread had gone quiet for a bit, please feel free to move my comment)

    Because of my many talents ~smirk~, months ago I wrote to a local talent agency in Nashville offering to provide some photography services to them for their talent…headshots, comp cards, etc…

    Well, I just gotta a call from MGM/Viacom/Lionsgate talent recruiter and they want me to come to Nashville tomorrow and Thursday to shoot some on-scene stills of the cast and crew of the pilot of a show called, Tough Trade. Apparently I will be shooting Sam Shepard, Joey Lauren Adams, Boyd Holbrook and Claire van der Boom. I do not know who the last 3 are but I loved Sam in The Right Stuff!
    Is that not the weirdest, out-of-the-blue, sh&t or what? Heck, they are even going to PAY me for 2 days on-set! Only a couple of hundred bux, but dang!….NEAT…MOVIE SET…!!!

    I surely needed a positive event to recharge the Hope-ometer !…LOL

  3. PepeLepew says:

    Woo, hoo! Now my boss called back and said I DON’T have to come in tomorrow!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      (“terrorist” fist-bump!)

      • Khirad says:

        Speaking of, what ever happened to that maximum security prison that was empty in Montana?

        • PepeLepew says:

          It was all a con man! The guy is cooling his jets in a jail cell in L.A.

          And this poor Indian agency is still looking for a taker for its jail. The agency’s executive director and finance director were forced to resign because they got taken by this insane con man.

          Google “Michael Hilton.”

      • PepeLepew says:

        I’m giving the kid Red Bull and we’re staying up and watching Avs-Caps.

        OK, that was just a joke. I would never give a child Red Bull and she has to go to bed after the second period.

      • TheRarestPatriot says:

        Here in the all -powerful red states where to say ‘terrorist fist bump’ would mean you being dragged behind a pickup truck until the tailgate fell off…one is required to say “TATER” after a fist bump. Don’t ask…..I do not have an answer….LOL~

        • choicelady says:

          Bet it comes from the kids’ counting game with fists -- “One potato, two potato, three potato, four.” Naturally it would morph into ‘tater’.

          It really implies a whole lotta people never got beyond age 6. Kinda worrisome but cute all rolled into one.

          • TheRarestPatriot says:

            Lotta’ people, huh?

            You DID see I was in a very RED state, right?….LMAO~

            • choicelady says:

              Sure! Hence -- “tater”!!! I’m unaware of Blue State people saying it that way! Blue State people, at least in NY, PA, OH have perfected the plural “you” -- youze. But not tater.

            • choicelady says:

              Can’t open yours, Rarest- but you’ve forgotten your grammatical construct -- it’s “Youze are great!” Once you add the “guys” you don’t NEED the “youze”. It’s to clear up how MANY people are great -- just the one or the many. The “guys” is redundant. Regional variant in West PA is “youns” which I think is you ones. Don’t know that for sure…

            • TheRarestPatriot says:

              LMAO…I’m originally from NY so I grew up with those terms…LOL~
              Youze guys is great!

        • kesmarn says:

          TRP, when you’re walking along with someone and each of you passes on either side of a tree, do you have to say “bread and butter”?

    • kesmarn says:

      Somebody up there likes you. Could that have anything to do with your contribution to the food pantry?

      Sometimes good deeds DO go unpunished!


  4. bitohistory says:

    Recently read another article emphasizing the fact that by giving $1 dollar to the food bank, they are able to buy $9 worth of food. I am just as guilty as anyone in buying canned food and donating it. It feels so much better than giving a few bucks, but they can buy in bulk and stretch that much further and farther. Just a note. We all do what we can.

    • kesmarn says:

      b’ito, that’s what our church has discovered. The local food bank can purchase all kinds of food for about 18 cents/pound. So they get much more bang for the buck than we as individual shoppers can. The church goes through the food bank now.

      Not to diminish the value of what Pepe and his family did, either! When you’re trying to feed a family, hey, food is food!

  5. PepeLepew says:

    Gosh, thank you everyone for your nice comments. I was out all day Christmas shopping.
    I came home and had a message from my boss asking me to come in tomorrow on my day off … again. I work 6 days a week almost 40 percent of the time because of cutbacks. I was angry and pissed and in a really foul mood over it, then I remembered what I wrote this morning, and I realized I should be thankful, because “there but for the grace of God go I.”

  6. KarateKid says:

    Pepe, I applaud you for what you did in the donation to the food bank. I’ve been preaching that throughout the Holiday Season, that as individuals, we may be helpless in the big picture, but we can make a huge impact on the part of the world we CAN control. Every act of kindness has a rippling effect; I see it in the eyes of the homeless we are helping at the Grand Central Neighborhood, not only providing shelter, clothing and bathing facilities but also counseling them to find ways out of there. We have to hang in there and keep believing and not give up. If we give up, everything we worked for and believed in is lost.

    • choicelady says:

      Thank you for saying that, Karate! I feel like a jerk sometimes when I think that, but it’s really true. When I want to bite someone’s nose off, that is precisely the time to be kind. Thank you Pepe for your kindness -- it’s really amazingly good to BE kind because it makes YOU feel human, too! Every act of kindness and help does create change, and everyone you help can at minimum breathe a bit more freely for the moment. That IS what being human is all about.

  7. choicelady says:

    I am so sorry Pepe! Here is a suggestion -- a long shot but it’s worked a couple of other places, notable the copper range of MI and a Milk Bone plant in NY.

    When the plant closes, Smurfit-Stone will write it down -- take an accelerated depreciation -- to get back millions in past taxes they paid. That is CASH, tax-free, that will go to we don’t know who.

    Here are some approaches:

    The state of Montana buys the plant, lock stock and barrel at that write down price and re-sells it to the workers or community to keep it running. MT puts up the money at low interest through existing bond funds (all states have them) to be repaid through profits. And there WILL be profits since worker owned and managed businesses have very different profit standards. See Gar Alperovitz in “America Beyond Capitalism.”

    If S-S has taken tax breaks, credits, infrastructural support from the local or state government without fulfilling promises made, consider asking the local government or state to demand repayment. The repayment can be the plant and its equipment. They can VALUE the plant at the WRITE DOWN price (the company’s price to the feds)so that if there is money owed to S-S, it’s way less than some absurd “market rate”.

    One person in the MT state legislature who might be open to this is Margaret MacDonald from Billings. She might be very helpful.

    I hope this works!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      What bito said!

    • bitohistory says:

      C’Lady, that is so helpful! Your knowledge amazes me! How do you know about the Copper Range in the UP? I saw the devastation when they closed the mines (to move to S.A.) in the late 60’s there.

      • choicelady says:

        bit’o- I am a solid believer that there HAS to be a “third way” to reform our economy. We’ve tried Laffer and Friedman over and over on the unregulated free market. We’ve seen the dull wit of state-run business in Eastern Europe. So.

        First I went back in history and found that in the 600 years between the end of feudalism and the rise of industrial capitalism (capitalism is only about 200 years old, folks) there WAS a different way that brought amazing prosperity to all people. Not the SAME prosperity, but a level of self-sufficiency and lack of want for most people. That was when we had a “moral economy” in which the people who produced things did so with high levels of autonomy, but the town or city controlled cost while the craftspeople, men and women, controlled quality. That entire standard of fairness in all economic things existed from 1620 to 1802 in MA -- people controlled production both as independent crafts people, farmers, etc. AND in factories (of which there were very few.) The law protected everyone -- producer and consumer alike. And in that time, people were amazingly equitable in status, sufficiency of living, and democratic input. And -- women had their OWN economic rights and, if they were heads of households, VOTED in the key democratic base -- the town meeting.

        Moving forward in time, it has been statistically verified that worker owned and managed businesses are MORE profitable than others because if employees are also owners, wise decisions get made. Owners in general do better than hired managers, and when the people who work in a place are ALSO the owners, it’s simply amazing. One wise man told me he believed that the strength of smart business decisions lay under the worker’s cap! Capital has always depended on the wisdom of employees, but they simply will NOT admit it.

        What we can no longer tolerate is absentee, disinterested control of our economic endeavors. That is the same whether it’s stupid managers or stupid bureaucrats. The state-corporation dispute we hear today is precisely the WRONG issue -- it’s absentee self-interested managers vs. on-the-ground vested owners. Small business does pretty well. Worker owned and managed (and managed is the key) do brilliantly. Simple “ownership” as in United Airlines is insufficient. You have to use the brains of the working people to make a business do its best. That would be Southwest Airlines!

        I know these experiences such as that of the copper region because I look for them. A friend came from the “little finger” area of Michigan where workers did buy and run a copper plant for nearly 20 years after it was to close. They did finally close -- but an entire generation survived and flourished because of the buy out.

        There are 11,000 worker owned businesses in the US, and all are stable and profitable. It’s why credit unions (community owned) have done fine while banks flounder. Base your ownership in a community or employees, and you have a vastly better chance of survival. The ‘rake off’ for profit to absent owners is gone. If you have to break even, you can. You see worker-owners making sacrifices, getting through hard times, flourishing when absentee-stock-owned companies crash and burn. VERY different standards of value about what is important.

        NO one is paying attention to this save a handful of us who see this as the keys to the kingdom for revitalizing our economy. Sure -- a new WPA would help a LOT, but letting workers take over a “failing” company would help much, much MORE.

        So that’s my rap, and I’m sticking to it! I really urge you ALL to read Gar Alperovitz’s book, “America Beyond Capitalism.” It is absolutely boffo!

        Oh -- and the colonial New England work? My own four years of primary research for an unwritten dissertation. When I stop doing advocacy for social justice and retire, I’m writing the damned thing. Count on it! I’ll dedicated it to all of YOU.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          What a great read that is! Thanks for posting. Capitalism as it is being practiced now, especially in the U.S. it appears, is overwhelmingly predatory. What you are talking about is a symbiotic economic structure, very far from where things are now and where they are heading. We have to switch tracks, fast!

        • escribacat says:

          Choicelady, I am impressed. Very.

        • kesmarn says:

          Please, please write the “damned thing.” It’ll be wonderful! (especially the dedication part) 😮

          c’lady, have you seen Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: a Love Story”? There’s a segment in it about an employee owned bakery. The system worked beautifully there. Fair wages, good product, high morale. So that really supports what you say.

          I’m so hoping that there’s a way for this to work in my area. Here, there was a stamping plant for the Ford Motor Company. The employees there found out relatively early on that Ford was planning to shut down this plant. (This would have been in--maybe--early 2007.) The company was planning to offer early retirement and/or buy-outs to many of the employees, so they would have a bit of “windfall” cash when the place closed down. The employees decided that they would buy out the plant and run it themselves. They each chipped in $16,000 and it was a done deal. This whole process wrapped up by about August of 2008. Then the bottom fell out. Of everything. Wall Street crashed. Credit froze. The auto industry went into neutral. The plant sits, shuttered and empty now. I am SO hoping that there’s some stimulus money available for these guys. They surely deserve it.

          One other question (when you have a moment): I’ve heard a theory that women in Massachusetts in the 1600s who were property owners, were more in danger of being declared witches, because this was a way of getting their property back into male hands. In your research, did you find anything at all to support this theory? Sorry for veering a bit OT here, but I’ve long been interested in this era.

          Thanks for your amazing contributions here, c’lady.

          • choicelady says:

            Hi Kesmarn -- about the women, yes, I think it’s true. But half of those hanged for witchcraft were men, and the same thing applies. It’s very much like the anti-choice fanatics today -- much of their rage is NOT about abortion but about people (mostly women) having control over their lives that they do not have. MA in 1690 was stripped of its autonomy and made a colony. The seafaring people got shafted when English sailors took over. Those who weathered the change were seen as enemies. In those days, everyone believed in witchcraft, and it was not a far stretch to think if you did well when others did poorly, you must be possessed and therfore supernaturally powerful. We have long seen scapegoating, especially by those who are having tough times. The KKK upper-class leaders recruited dirt poor farmers who were natural allies of free Black dirt poor farmers. So they drove the wedge of race, and new scapegoats were found -- freed slaves. LOTS more convenient than having them turn on the LANDOWNERS who were ripping off both whites and Blacks in equal measure!

            Where is the stamping plant? I lived once in Buffalo, NY and knew the people at that Ford stamping plant. They were my students and friends -- I would HATE it if they actually did what we’d talked about and had it collapse! Horrible! Nothing is certain, but what IS certain is if THEY get stimulus and can get that going, they have a far, far better chance of success than if the plant is absentee stockholder owned. I hope they can do this wherever they are!

            • kesmarn says:

              c’lady, the stamping plant is in a smallish town called Maumee, Ohio, not far from Toledo. (Aside: I always surprise myself when I give out so much more info here than I did on HP. I was very guarded there about personal info, because so many of those people were so weird! I trust the people here so much more.) Don’t know if you’ve heard of it. A guy named Keith Obey orchestrated the employee buy-out and I really feel for him, because he seemed to have nothing but the best intentions. It’s gotta feel awful for him to (possibly) have all that employee money down the tubes. Like you, I hope they can get help to get the place up and running.

              And thanks, too, for the info on the situation in Massachusetts during the witch-hunting era. That casts a very interesting new light on a dark chapter. I was a history major in college and I’ve never fallen out of love with it!

        • bitohistory says:

          Wow, C’Lady that is good. I wish I had those words when doing Union work. i lived and still own a piece of property in Keeweenaw County “the little Finger”. I will look for that book and await to read yours.

          • TheRarestPatriot says:

            As a newly unemployed, nearly homeless middle aged guy, I humbly thank you.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Dear Rarest-- what she said!


            • choicelady says:

              Oh RarestPatriot I’m SO sorry! You break my heart -- this is SO unfair! You deserve so much better than to be in peril at this point in your life. I hope you find something to do, somewhere to be, where you can thrive! You are IN my heart!

            • TheRarestPatriot says:

              Lady, Chernynkaya , I will find strength and solace there. Thank you.

  8. escribacat says:

    Very sad news, Pepe. The scariest part is when things like that happen in small or remote communities, the options are not great for finding something else. Sometimes, a hit like this can end the life of a town too.

  9. Obama20082012 says:

    Pepe, you have a heart of gold!

  10. javaz says:

    Sad news, Pepe.
    Whenever a plant or company closes, the snowball effect is huge.
    That was very generous of you to donate to your local food bank.
    This is a reminder to us all to count our blessings today, because you never know about tomorrow.
    Good luck to you.

    I’d like to add one more reminder -- don’t forget our furry friends, and if you can, drop off dog and cat food to your local shelters, especially the no-kill shelters, which are for the most part run by volunteers.

  11. kesmarn says:

    Pepe, so sorry to hear the depressing news. More and more I’m really beginning to get the full impact of FDR’s injunction to resist succumbing to fear. I’m not normally a trepidation-based person, but every now and then, when news like this comes out, I have the eerie sensation of what was once solid ground under my feet turning into quicksand. (I guess something like this happens during earthquakes and they call it “liquefaction.”)

    I don’t like that feeling.

    I think the best way to fight against it is to do what you did. Buy some groceries and give them away. It’s a little counter-intuitive to give when the lizard brain part of us says: “hoard!” But I think it’s exactly the right thing to do. For others and for yourself. Because it says: I refuse to let fear win today.

  12. Tiger99 says:

    Hello… I joined quite a few weeks ago and come here to read often… Thought I would join in the converstion more…

    Losing jobs is tough enough for families, but it seems to have become a holiday tradition more and more for these companies to do it just before the end of the year…

  13. Chernynkaya says:

    Oh Pepe, what a sad day indeed. And you wrote about it beautifully

  14. BigDogMom says:

    Pepe, thank you for your post and sorry that this had to happen so close to the holidays. Any job loss of any size makes a big difference in any community in our country and our economy.

    We need to bring jobs back to this country…no matter the cost to the bottom line, and I hope big business realizes this soon. That by not doing this, and re-thinking their business model of outsourcing, it will eventually undermine even the strongest of companies the future.

    What boomer says is true, “If we don’t care about of each other, who will?”, what you and your family did was the best thing that could be done to help these families out at this time….may we all take a lesson from you and continue to help each other.

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