Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday: Occupy 'Till you Drop

The Comet presents another unpublished submission to the ol' P-G.

This one we began writing only this morning, so we have no idea if we're going to get a bite. And this one is intended to be column-length; actually by those standards it comes in about 100 words under the ceiling. We're probably going to use some of the balance to add some nice words about BNY Mellon's evident civility, and other positive attributes.

But now. If this online, in-progress rendering doesn't jinx it, consider this a "sneak preview" for you loyal Blur-Go-Sphere holdouts. If it fails to be published in the papyrusphere, well, here's what I have to say. Cut and paste follows:


If unemployment were low and wages high, if health care were affordable and widely accessible, if public transit options were plentiful and public schools successful and expanding, then Occupy Wall Street would not be necessary. As things stand, it is little wonder the movement has spawned franchises in over 300 cities in the United States, including at least 13 in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps no occupation sits on a site quite so appropriate as Occupy Pittsburgh. BNY Mellon Corp. is now the world's most overgrown securities and asset management firm, after the merger in 2006 which gave it its name. The juggernaut extracted $651 million in profits just during this last fiscal quarter -- but it is the sources of much of that profit that are so troubling.

BNY Mellon prevailed upon the U.S. Treasury to be hired as "master custodian" of all $700 billion in federal Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP funds. These were utilized to bail out banks deemed "too big to fail" immediately following the catastrophic failures of non-regulation and opportunism which created the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The taxpayer money went to job security and bonuses for those responsible for the economic collapse, without providing relief to homeowners and small business owners seeing their bills skyrocket.

Additionally, BNY Mellon finds itself defending fraud charges filed by several state Attorneys General and a US Attorney for having allegedly skimmed billions from public pension funds. The raft of lawsuits claim that BNY overcharged its clients for foreign currency exchanges by making purchases at the best prices available on a given day, but then providing pensioners and others with the worst prices notched on those same days.

Finally this week, BNY Mellon was sued again on behalf of three more investment funds for "gross negligence" in the administration and custodianship of a fund linked to Bernard Madoff's audaciously destructive Ponzi scheme, for which he was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the lobbying and "campaign donations" -- also known as bribery -- continue stronger than ever. Those questionably-attained billions are cycled back to politics in the name of fighting attempts at consumer protection, and ensuring that as little profit as possible trickles back to public schools, public transit, public infrastructure and sustainable energy development. A favorite slogan on these occupations has been, "I couldn't afford a lobbyist, so I made this sign."

BNY Mellon is not alone in fostering this perversion of democracy, but for generations it has been a notable player. In 1921, Andrew W. Mellon graduated from banking and industrial concerns to become U.S. Treasury Secretary, urging tax cuts and "liquidating" public investments. In 1932 after the onset of the Depression, Articles of Impeachment were introduced in Congress against Mellon for wielding his public office to enrich his own and his family's aluminum, shipping and other interests -- but he resigned before he could answer these. Fast forward to this day, and we find executives from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase similarly insinuated into government, yet the incestuous relationships produce nary an official rebuke.

In short, the country is accelerating on the wrong track, deaf to the needs of its vast majority and in a state of emergency. Drawing within the lines clearly has not been working; those lines were drawn by "the 1%" in the first place. Occupy Pittsburgh is absolutely committed to peaceful tactics, and has demonstrated that commitment to a fault over the past two months. Yet if "trespassing" on what was meant to be an "open public space" at the foot of a morally bankrupt Goliath is necessary to awaken others to extreme and immediate crises, most will gladly remain. Even if courts and public officials ultimately feel they must intervene to clear out the demonstrators, most will be eager to demonstrate how life goes on even after a bit of peaceful defiance.

Occupy Pittsburgh remains at the corner of Grant St. and 6th Ave. in Downtown Pittsburgh. You will find Old Glory flying high above its arctic tents and yurts, housing its subzero-rated sleeping bags and blankets. To take a stand at this overdue moment in American history and ensure that people and communities are prioritized over profits for a diminishing few, come together on that spot this week.