Thursday, October 6, 2011

Occupy Pittsburgh: Heading to the Market

Deciding on a Date, Time and some Locations
Sorting out the Comment Policy and how to deal with Trolls.

The regional autonomous collective styling themselves after the #OccupyWallStreet protests in New York City has published a write-up of yesterday's meeting, which was held at the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside:

After much discussion about where best to have a group congregate to begin the movement/events, it was decided that the location working group would work on it, but anyone who is not in contact with the movement between today’s GA and October 15, 2011, should choose to meet at 10:00 am at one of these 3 locations: Freedom Corner, City-County building, or Market Square.

If the base location has changed from any of these locations, members of the Occupy movement will be on hand at these locations at 10:00 am to direct people to the new location(s) where they can assemble/march/camp. Some reservations were expressed to using Market Square, since there is a possibility of entrapment by the police if too many people assembled there, and this is noted. (OccupyPgh)

346 people had indicated an intention on Facebook to attend this first Occupy Pittsburgh General Assembly, or organizational meeting.

By all accounts, between 300 and 350 did attend.

3,607 "like" Occupy Pittsburgh on Facebook.


About 50% of the crowd at the First Unitarian Church looked to be between 18 and 29 years of age.

"Be gentle with each other," implored a moderately more mature Cassi Schaffer, who would later wind up becoming the lead facilitator for the first General Assembly and -- we'll write it -- the "leader" of Occupy Pittsburgh on that particular evening.

"Remember, the person sitting next to you right now, you might be sleeping next to in a week!

"Wait, I mean..." and there was a deeply appreciative chuckle.

The dozen or so organizers -- whom Schaffer describes as nothing greater than those "early adopters" on Facebook who became active just a week to ten days ago -- presented to the audience an elaborate consensus-seeking process patterned after the one being used in New York, imported to the group via #WallStreet veteran and one-time "acting spokesperson" Nathaniel Glosser. Handouts were on every seat.


This formal process was practiced for a time, or at least attempted, over sometimes vociferous objections from those more impatient. Then it was largely ignored for another long stretch. Applause, grumbles, out-of-turn exclamations and executive fiat replaced hand signals and formal processes. Then the rules were all humored or restored again towards the conclusion.

Early on, some sharp objections arose from several attendees regarding a proposed consensus statement endorsing non-violence -- which the organizers had hoped would pass that night.

"It says here I'm supposed to 'be prepared to absorb suffering,'" said one speaker, lodging a formal procedural "block" which at that time was still being honored. "I'm not going to do that." There was a scattered applause.

Another speaker in that same section of the church chimed in, "Look, anyone who has been in touch and who knows what's been going on here for years, they know we've been debating non-violence forever. We're never going to solve it tonight! Let's just forget about it and decide what we're going to do already!"

The two would leave partway through the meeting. Some followed them -- and this was loudly pointed out and complained over, again from that corner -- but some new attendees were still arriving.


Everything else on the agenda aside from the date, time and locations was tabled and to be sorted out by seventeen "working groups":

Outreach / Media
Outreach / Organizations
Outreach / Labor
Government Relations
Art / Entertainment
Food (there was a call among professional chefs to really get together and git-r-done)
Statement (ibid)

When it was asked how the working groups should get together amongst themselves, and then how to coordinate with the rest of the organization, an answer came swiftly.

"Twitter and Facebook," called out a droll voice. And there was much rejoicing. No need for another consensus-check on that score!


This blogger recognized very, very few of the "usual suspects" one runs into from a variety of local political events and rallies. To me there were exactly four familiar faces out of 300+ at this General Assembly.

One of those was Antonio Lodico, Co-Director at the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and one-time Coro fellow.

"I was impressed with the brevity," Lodico offered. "You didn't get a lot of 90-second preambles like you get at a lot of these."

Some disinterested observers left feeling bewildered by the "cluster" they had just witnessed. Other attendees departed more upbeat, smoking cigarettes and lingering, chattering over working group ideas. More than a few left with both hugs and the rejoinder, "It was nice to meet you!"

Nearly everyone's favorite moment of the evening was Rev. David Herndon's of First Universalists Church very brief welcoming statement.

"You are all immensely welcome here," he said deliberately. "Go forth and occupy."

*-UPDATE: Potter recognized a few more faces: Slag Heap.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs at City Council

Oddly enough, this is how I'll remember him:

"And uh, and, so, I think the overall feeling of the place is going to be a zillion times better than it is now -- with all the asphalt."

All manner of men and women must needs humble themselves before the municipality.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Marcellus Taxes & Fees: Is KISS on the Table?

We have read about State Reps DiGirolamo and Murt's plan to collect the money with extraction taxes, and we have read about Gov. Corbett's plan to collect the money with fees. It's fascinating.

Firstly, it looks like the tax plan on the table will raise more money than the fee plan on the table. Operating under the assumption that the Corbett administration would have erred at most instances on the side of capital, then we say if the Governor raises his fee schedule we might be convinced to prefer his fee methodology over that of the state Reps and their vulgar taxes.

Then again, under the Corbett plan each time one digs a well, one will get hit with fees. It does not matter how much gas and gas money is produced. Corbett's plan might be more fair in one sense, since impacts aplenty would be caused simply by digging, fracking, disposing and attempting.

But in another sense, developers of successful wells will actually better possess the money to pay an extraction tax on those wells. This question of taxes vs. fees might actually be a contest between smaller producers hoping to enter and begin to expand in the market, a few wells at a time, versus sprawling established conglomerates, more comfortable paying moderate individual fees for a lot of strikeouts rather than much larger payouts culled from their profitable scores.

Regardless, two more facets of the Corbett plan could use a bit of work. First, by allowing county governments to assess lower fees on wells than those permitted by the state, one causes significant problems sufficiently addressing downstream, downwind and down-the-line impacts.

Next, the fact that those allowable well fee maximums descend over time, might actually disincentivize investment and job creation now. Businesses will be operating with a certainty that their costs will diminish in the near future.

We do congratulate Gov. Corbett on the 75/25 county-state split. Let us address the bulk of this locally, according to our own tastes, aspirations and prejudices. Compliance will be a key issue, however. We can't have county officials spending the money on statues and obelisks.

Certain kinds of infrastructure, absolutely. And toothbrushes, with which to scrub the otters.

MORE: Pgh City Paper, Chris Potter. Turns out Corbett's proposed fee schedule may generate a third less revenue than even the Marcellus Shale Coalition once lobbied for.

Monday, October 3, 2011

50% of Today's Younger Adults have Zero Wealth

There are different programs available on 90.5 on the FM radio dial than there used to be. Sometimes when we listen to WBUR in Chicago's On Point we desire only to choke everybody equally, but today the NPR program was particularly on point.

Today's piece is the aptly titled A Lost Generation? [question mark]

Starring Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, plus three other voices which taken together weren't half bad.

THOUGHTS: If we assume the kind of strong national stimulus targeted toward younger demographics that he suggests towards the very end will not happen -- and let's -- what happens next?