by Pete Talbot

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis

Pearls Before Swine

This is in response to the Polish Wolf’s post over at Intelligent Discontent.  While some of his stats are interesting, his premise is flawed.  Basically he says that the 99% are responsible for their economic plight by shopping at WalMart, buying imported clothing and purchasing gasoline.  There’s a grain of truth to this, I suppose, but I’m thinking that the policies of the last few decades have more to do with wealth inequalities: economic policies that favor Wall Street over Main Street, Free Trade agreements that benefit corporations more than workers, and energy policies that promote carbon-based fuels over renewables and conservation.

Montana Supreme Court rules

Or maybe I should say the Montana Supreme Court rocks!  I certainly have more respect for the majority of Montana Supremes than the majority of SCOTUS justices.  In a 5-2 vote, the justices ruled against the kooky triumvirate of Western Tradition Partnership, Champion Painting Inc. and Gary Marbut’s Montana Shooting Sports Association Inc.  Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Montana justices don’t believe corporations should be able to buy and sell elections.

Look up pompous ass in the dictionary

And you’ll see a picture of George Will.  In his latest column, he promotes the Keystone XL pipeline, the Canadian tar sands and fracking in general.  He pooh-poohs climate change, the EPA, the National Labor Relations Board and student loans.  He believes “conservatives should stride confidently into 2012” … “because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people … ”  He has that backwards, of course, but because he uses a lot of two-dollar words, people think he’s smart.  He’s not.

And locally

Usually reliable reporter Gwen Florio reports on a woman who’s attempting to disqualify Justice of the Peace John Odlin.  This stems from two misdemeanor charges against the woman for “community decay.”  What the hell does that mean?  Did she beat up on some curbs and gutters?  Forget to paint her porch?  Dump raw sewage into a neighborhood park?  I’m dying to know.  Anyway, the Montana Supremes call her case against Odlin “frivolous.”

  1. JC

    I think that PW missed the boat when he tries to pin wealth inequity on consumer behavior. While I agree that consumers of all sorts need to examine their purchasing behaviors and adjust accordingly, he must have missed the recent CRS report that lists capital gains and dividends as the biggest driver of wealth inequality from 1996-2006.

    Via WonkBlog:

    A new report from the Congressional Research Service — the nonpartisan public policy branch of Congress — takes a closer look at the drivers of income inequality between 1996 and 2006, the last period of moderate economic growth before the latest boom-bust cycle.

    The report explains that the Bush tax cuts contributed significantly to growing inequality but concludes that income from capital gains and dividends — investments in stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets — mattered even more:

    “[quote from the CRS report]: Changes in income from capital gains and dividends were the single largest contributor to rising income inequality between 1996 and 2006. Changes in tax policy also made a significant contribution to the increase in income inequality, but even in the absence of tax policy changes income inequality would likely have increased. Although earning inequality increased between 1996 and 2006, changes in wages and salaries appear to have had little effect on the increase in overall income inequality.”

    And wealth inequality drives people to purchase the cheapest products, which discourages american production and encourages chinese production, which creates a large trade imbalance, which exports wealth and jobs, which impoverishes americans…

    It’s the old catch 22. When the 99% are spending as much of their earnings as possible de-leveraging themselves (paying off debt) incurred during the housing bubble, they cannot invest in more expensive american products and innovations like hybrids or electric cars. So again the banks and lending institutions are winning, and the chinese manufacturing industry is winning.

    I could say that some good old fashioned american protectionism might go a long ways towards solving our economic woes, and balancing the wealth inequity equation, but I’m sure somebody will point out why that’s wrong (enter Dave Budge?)

    • petetalbot

      Thanks for the comment and links, JC, and Happy New Year. One of the questions I forgot to raise in the first part of my post was this: “Some seem to think that the high unemployment rate is a result of these wealth inequalities; that’s possible, but not consistent with international data,” says PW. While high unemployment may not be explicitly tied to wealth inequalities, I’m curious to see what the “international data” attributes it to.

      • Ryan Emmett Morton

        I can’t think of a major bank in the US that hasn’t recently laid off thousands of workers WHILE they were profitable IN ORDER TO BECOME more profitable. Maybe that’s just banking…

    • Ryan Emmett Morton

      I agree that tax policy makes it easier for people who have money to make more money without doing anything. I agree that consumers don’t have satisfactory choices for low cost consumer goods – quantity has not lead to quality, at all.

      I don’t agree we should be blaming the chinese (or anyone else’s) manufacturing industry for our problems. Making consumer goods more expensive/less available/ whateveryouhadinmind won’t save anyone. Some fair trade that respects local communities in china would go a long way in creating a more level playing field – without necessarily increasing prices so much our folks start hurting more. I guess I got a strong baby and bathwater sort of feeling from your response, JC.

      I don’t think the US is in a capacity to produce all the goods and services it needs nor should it want to. If we went that direction, the experience in the south after anti-immigration laws were passed recently would likely explode due to the lack of workers willing to produce basic necessities (farmed food in the case of Alabama). Further, many producers rely on exports for the money they make. Protectionism will inevitably go both ways and those folks will lose big – i’m thinking farmed food again.

      From another perspective, big pharm (as an example) relies on current trade practices to secure patent protection in other countries to continue lining their pockets at the expense of the locals – but maybe economic advantage is ok when the US is winning… I don’t agree with that fyi.

      Anyhoo, protectionism doesn’t work well. While “fair trade” may have lost its meaning somewhere down the road, it can still mean something – especially for a high elevation desert like Montana where we have no hope of adequately providing everything people need without importing resources.

      Ultimately, our society rewards people who ruthlessly, meticulously, and aggressively pursue wealth here in THIS country as we lag years behind in determining what’s criminal and what’s acceptable. Trade protectionism cuts avenues to pursue wealth, but doesn’t change the business/professional culture here at all.

      Ok, more rambling later…

      “Will blog for food.” Me on 01-03-2012 :-)

  2. petetalbot

    Thanks for the comment and links, JC, and Happy New Year. One of the questions I forgot to raise in the first part of my post was this: “Some seem to think that the high unemployment rate is a result of these wealth inequalities; that’s possible, but not consistent with international data,” says PW. While high unemployment may not be explicitly tied to wealth inequalities, I’m curious to see what the “international data” attributes it to.

  3. Chad Harder

    I was wondering what community decay was too- here’s Msla County’s definition and ordinance.

    RESOLUTION NO. 90-037

    WHEREAS, the Board of Commissioners of Missoula County is authorized, pursuant to Sections 7-5-2110 and 7-5-2111, M.C.A., to adopt and enforce an ordinance to control community decay;, and

    WHEREAS, the Board of Commissioners of Missoula County, Montana, has determined after hearings and public input that there is a need for an ordinance to control community decay in Missoula County and wishes to enact such an ordinance.

    NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that effective thirty days after final adoption hereof, the following Ordinance shall be in full force and effect in Missoula County:

    * Definitions
    * Purpose
    * Prohibitions
    * Shielding
    * Penalty
    * Abatement and Mitigation
    * Jurisdiction
    * Effective Date
    * Compatibility
    * Severability

    Section 1. Definitions. In this Ordinance the following terms have the meanings indicated below:

    * (a) “Agencies” means the agencies designated by Missoula County to enforce the Community Decay Ordinance.
    * (b) “Community decay” means a public nuisance created by allowing rubble, debris, junk or refuse to accumulate resulting in conditions that are injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or which obstruct the free use of property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or the values of property. Community decay shall apply to the accumulation of rubble, debris,junk or refuse on agricultural land which is not necessary to the normal operation of the agricultural land. Community decay does not include properly permitted construction and demolition projects during the time any necessary permits are in effect. Community decay does not include persons servicing, manufacturing or processing materials, goods or products on lots in public view, so long as the materials used in the normal operation of the business are neatly stacked or piled. Community decay does not include normal residential maintenance or landscaping.
    * (c) “In public view” means any area visible from a point up to six feet above the surface of the center of a public roadway.
    * (d) “Person” means an individual, firm, partnership, company, association, corporation, city, town or any other entity whether organized for profit or not.
    * (e) “Public nuisance” means a nuisance which affects, at the same time, an entire community or neighborhood or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.
    * (f) “Shielding” refers to fencing or other manmade barriers to conceal a facility from public view. It also refers to natural barriers. Any shielding barrier must conform to all local zoning, planning, building and protective covenant provisions.

    Section 2. Purpose. The purpose of this Ordinance is to regulate, control, and prohibit conditions that contribute to community decay on or adjacent to all public roadways within Missoula County.

    Section 3. Prohibitions. It shall be a violation of this Ordinance to own or maintain any public nuisance or community decay.

    * (a) No person shall dump, pile, or stack bricks, concrete blocks, waste wood, and similar material in public view unless said material is stacked in neat piles and all waste material from the cleaning of such items, such as mortar, wood splinters, broken and unusable bricks, is removed to a licensed solid waste disposal facility or to some other location which has been approved by the designated agency within thirty (30) days.
    * (b) No person shall store or accumulate cardboard boxes, broken packing boxes, paper, broken shipping pallets, rubble, debris, junk, refuse, dead animals or animal parts or other similar items in public view.
    * (c) No person shall pile, dump or deposit any dirt, demolition wastes including wood, bricks, concrete, used road black top and other similar materials in public view, unless such material is to be utilized for fill material to fill a land depression. If such material is used as a fill material, it may contain only dirt, bricks, concrete, and/or used road black top and all such material must be completely covered with clean fill material once every thirty (30) days and the fill area adequately fenced to restrict access to the area.
    * (d) No person shall store or accumulate iron, metal, machine parts, household appliances, barrels and other salvaged metal items in public view.
    * (e) No person shall accumulate or store any other rubble, debris, junk or refuse that, upon investigation, is deemed to be a public nuisance as defined in this Ordinance.

    Section 4. Shielding. The maintenance of materials that would be considered a public nuisance under this Ordinance shall be lawful if such materials are shielded from public view in accordance with the following standards.

    * (a) Any shielding must conform to all local zoning, planning, building code and protective covenant provisions applicable to the property and shall be sufficient height that none of the nuisance materials on the premises is visible to public view.
    * (b) Trees and shrubs may be used as shielding.
    * (c) No more than one shielding material shall be used on any one side of a shielding fence unless approved by the designated agency.

    Section 5. Penalty. A person convicted of violating this Ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

    Section 6. Abatement and Mitigation. The abatement or mitigation of conditions which constitute a public nuisance prohibited by this Ordinance shall be accomplished under the provisions of this section. Where an established industrial or commercial use results in the storage of material otherwise prohibited in this Ordinance within public view due to an elevated public right-of-way or other circumstance beyond the control of the property owner, the condition may be mitigated in accordance with the provisions of this section.

    * (a) Abatement or mitigation proceedings shall be initiated by the designated agency.
    * (b) Within thirty (30) days of receiving a written, signed complaint that a condition of community decay exists, the designated agency shall conduct an inspection of the property alleged to be in violation of this Ordinance to determine whether there is a violation of this Ordinance.
    * (c) If it is determined that there is a violation of this Ordinance, the designated agency shall notify the owner of the property in writing of the violation by certified mail and order its abatement or mitigation or submission of a plan for abatement or mitigation within thirty (30) days. The notice of violation shall:
    o (i) include a statement specifically describing the violation;
    o (ii) specify that the owner, manager, or lessee has thirty (30) days from receipt of such notice to bring the property into compliance or to submit a plan to comply with this Ordinance by means of removal, shielding or mitigation of the conditions; and
    o (iii) advise the owner, manager, or lessee that if the violation is nota abated or mitigated, the designated agency may undertake abatement or mitigation and assess the costs of that abatement to the owner.
    * (d) The owner, manager, or lessee may, after receipt of a notice of violation, submit a plan of abatement or mitigation to the designated agency which shall include:
    o (i) the type of abatement, shield or mitigation to be undertaken;
    o (ii) the date for commencement of action; and
    o (iii) the date for completion of the abatement or mitigation.

    The designated agency may accept such a plan and defer further proceedings under this Ordinance pending abatement or mitigation.
    * (e) In enforcing this Ordinance, the County shall first pursue criminal sanctions and shall pursue abatement or mitigation procedures when necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents of the County.
    * (f) In the event that the owner fails to comply with an abatement or mitigation order or an approved abatement or mitigation plan, the designated agency may enter upon the owner’s property with the specific purpose of abating, mitigating or shielding the violation.

    Section 7. Jurisdiction. This Ordinance applies to all of Missoula County.

    Section 8. Effective Date. This Ordinance shall be in full force and effect thirty (30) days after its final passage and adoption by the Board of Commissioners of Missoula County, Montana

    Section 9. Compatibility. Nothing in this Ordinance or Section 7-5-2110 MCA may be construed to abrogate or affect the provisions of any lawful ordinance, regulation or resolution that is more restrictive than the provisions of this section or Section 7-5-2110 MCA.

    Section 10. Severability. If any provision of this Ordinance is held to be invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions which can be given effect without the invalid provision. To this end, the provisions of this Ordinance are to be severable.

    **APPROVED APRIL 25, 1990. RESOLUTION NO. 90-37 FILED BOOK 311 PAGE 0262

  4. JC

    Here’s another piece of the pie. IN a report that just came out, banks and corporations are sitting on excess liquidity equal to 23% of GDP. And if there were a way to shake that loose, it would create 19 million jobs, dropping unemployment below 5%. Don’t quite know how the international picture affects these sorts of hoarding numbers.

    And Ryan, protectionism doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Is it maybe time for the discussion of free trade and our relationship to china? Maybe we can have some targeted protectionism, or incentives to manufacture at home? Sure we may not have the capacity we need in certain industries (iPads and Androids???), but if we were to encourage investment in manufacturing in key areas, we could turn the ship around somewhat?

    • Ryan Emmett Morton

      Thanks for the link and figures. On the other stuff…

      I don’t know what you mean by encourage really – unless you mean non-tariff barriers. Non-tariff barriers to trade, like farm subsidies, currently create economic vacuums where growth could occur in developing nations. They lead to negative reciprocal relationships with countries we’d otherwise enjoy good economic relations, and lead to continued poverty, and force people into extreme and often extractive/destructive practices to make a living. I think the auto industry loans/bailout encouraged manufacturing without much (reported) international concerns over fairness, but that’s probably the exception not the rule as most of the competitors in that industry enjoy a great deal of market penetration internationally and come from developed nations.

      I don’t expect answers to any of the below questions, they’re just musings I have when thinking about this…

      And how much encouragement is OK? Do we let manufacturers fail? Do we let industries slide away over time? Is it ok to discuss a reduction of consumerism at the cost of manufacturing job reduction? Or do we protect and conserve as many components of the consumer/manufacturer lifestyle as possible? To support manufacturing is to provide a supportive message about consumption/consumerism. And for every neo-liberal economist who says “good” there’s an environmentalist who says “REDUCE, reuse, recycle.” Are people really willing to balance these goals or are we stuck choosing between the two sides? Loads of people say we can have both and that I’m creating a false dichotomy, but I see few places where any balance really happens.

      What I do support is manufacturing and consumption of renewable energy. I’m not sure renewables will be able to replace jobs lost in oil/gas, but the switch is inevitable… unless the zombie (or any other kind of) apocalypse happens.

      But there’s something fundamentally different between a good that also produces energy (solar panels on a home) versus something like an iPad that relies solely on (my) consumption (of information and electricity) for its market value. I haven’t decided on the fundamental difference, but I’m sure it’s there. (how’s that for no-support reasoning?)

      On China…

      I think it’s fine to discuss free trade and our relationship with China as long as we’re talking about OUR relationship in which WE have played an important role in securing OUR interests seemingly to OUR detriment. I’m not accusing you of anything, JC (as I know you didn’t mean anything), but protectionism and xenophobia walk too closely together in this country. So when you said the chinese manufacturing industry was winning I got a bit uncomfortable and thought back to the fears of Japanese businesses during the 80’s and 90’s – a business model that for them led to a decade long recession. “Winning” may not end up being what happens with China for reasons people write books about I think: rural-urban migration, environmentalism, etc.

  5. Ingemar Johansson

    Will was right ’bout climate change.

    It’s getting cooler.

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