How fear Of Occupy Wall Street undermined the Red Cross’ Hurricane Sandy …

In the days after Superstorm Sandy, relief organizations were overwhelmed by the chaos and enormous need. One group quickly emerged as a bright spot. While victims in New York’s hardest hit neighborhoods were stuck in the cold and dark, volunteers from the spontaneously formed Occupy Sandy became a widely praised lifeline.

Occupy Sandy was “one of the leading humanitarian groups providing relief to survivors across New York City and New Jersey,” as a government-commissioned study put it.

Yet the Red Cross, which was bungling its own aid efforts after the storm, made a decision that further hampered relief: Senior officials told staffers not to work with Occupy Sandy.

Red Cross officials had no concerns about Occupy Sandy’s effectiveness. Rather, they were worried about the group’s connections to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

Three Red Cross responders told ProPublica there was a ban. “We were told not to interact with Occupy,” says one. While the Red Cross often didn’t know where to send food, Occupy Sandy “had what we didn’t: minute-by-minute information,” another volunteer says.

The three spoke to ProPublica on the condition of anonymity because they continue to work with the Red Cross. One says the direction came from an official based in Red Cross headquarters in Washington. Another understood the direction came from Washington. A third was not sure who gave the instructions.

The government-sponsored study that praised Occupy Sandy – written in 2013 for the Department of Homeland Security – also cites a prohibition: A Red Cross chief of volunteer coordination recalled that “he was told not to work with Occupy Sandy because of the affiliation with [Occupy Wall Street],” the study says.

Fred Leahy, a veteran Red Cross responder who was a Community Partnerships Manager in Sandy’s aftermath, recalled a meeting a week after the storm in which he and two other officials, one from Washington, discussed “the political and donor ramifications of associating with Occupy Sandy due to its outgrowth from Occupy Wall Street.” He says the meeting was called after an inquiry from Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern.

“Occupy Wall Street was not very favorably received by the political people in the city,” Leahy says. Major Red Cross donors were from the same elite political circles “and they didn’t understand Occupy Wall Street.”

Red Cross responders says that many staffers and volunteers objected to the charity’s stance on Occupy Sandy because among the Red Cross’ fundamental principles is that aid must be delivered without regard to politics or ideology. “We are a neutral, humanitarian organization,” one staffer says. “We don’t take sides.”

Leahy says Red Cross officials decided at the meeting to wait for Occupy Sandy representatives to come to them, rather than to approach the group. When a subordinate inquired about working with Occupy, Leahy says he told the person: “We really don’t need to worry about them at this time. Because we’ve got more important concerns at the moment.”

Nevertheless, Leahy denied there was a explicit injunction not to work with Occupy Sandy.

The Red Cross said in a statement that “there was never at any time a policy prohibiting Red Cross staff or volunteers from working with Occupy Sandy.”

“We linked them with partners,” the charity wrote. “We provided them with meals and other supplies – to the point of providing them with an entire warehouse full of material in March 2013.”

But Occupy Sandy organizers interviewed by ProPublica say the Red Cross did not take their calls in the early days and weeks after the storm hit in October 2012. Nathan Kleinman, an Occupy Sandy organizer, recalls a Red Cross employee telling him that “they couldn’t be seen working with us.” He says some Red Cross responders attempted to help Occupy behind the scenes with advice and occasionally supplies.

“I have no doubt we could have had a much more productive relationship with the Red Cross if they’d been willing to associate themselves with us out in the open,” Kleinman says. “I have no doubt their failure to look past politics hurt the overall recovery.”

Workers inside the Red Cross’ Manhattan headquarters say they were furious with the delay, which hampered the ability to provide aid.

Indeed, some Red Cross responders were so troubled, they tried to work with people from Occupy covertly. They say they maintained a spreadsheet of Occupy contacts separate from the other contact lists to hide from senior Red Cross officials that they were working with the group.

Contemporaneous Occupy Sandy meeting minutes show some examples of fruitful cooperation. An Occupy Sandy volunteer described the Red Cross as being “our lifeline in terms of hot meals.”

The minutes also record an incident in which two Red Cross employees showed up at an Occupy site in Brooklyn “asking if we could send them volunteers – and their stipulations for that: they couldn’t wear any Occupy stuff.” Those conditions were rejected.

The Red Cross responders who say there was a clear ban on working with Occupy differ on how long it was in place. One person says the policy was rescinded in a matter of days, but that it took weeks to communicate to all the corners of the Red Cross relief effort.

A third Red Cross worker says that the policy was still in place in December, more than a month into the relief effort.

Read about how the Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in PR Over People: The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster. And about how the Red Cross’ CEO has been serially misleading about where donors’ dollars are going.

Can you help us with our Red Cross reporting? Learn how to share a tip or email justin@propublica.org.

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Marijuana & Free Love Activists Start ‘Occupy Weed Street’ Movement

New York, New York (My9NJ) –

Harrison Schultz and his girlfriend Lorna Shannon say they are two of the pioneers of the Occupy Wall Street movement and they wanted to use their powers of persuasion to apply it to other aspects of their lives, like sex and smoking pot.

So now they are hosting meetings every Tuesday on Wall Street that they have aptly named ‘Occupy Weed Street’.

They have basically used their mobilizing skills to now push the legalization of marijuana in New York City and beyond.

Schultz and Shannon met at a dating class and they are bringing the “games” and information they learned there to help others in the pursuit of love, and getting high.

Their goal is to educate people about smart and effective dating practices under the influence of marijuana and how to maximize productivity in the activism realm and get out and make a difference.

The couple identify themselves as polyamorous, or having more than one intimate partner, and say they are open to all kinds of love while engaging in marijuana use.

“Ultimately we don’t want people coming here hoping to find someone to meet for sex or for a relationship, we want people to have the confidence to be able to find this out in their everyday lives,” Schultz explained.

One attendee, Andi Dier, who describes herself as a “trans-activist”, or someone who campaigns for equality for transgender people, said that this group saved her life. She explained how she was on the brink of suicide and the people at Occupy Weed Street saved her.

“When I’m high, it actually affects memory and I see myself as an updated version of what I actually look like, so it’s actually slowly curing this thing that made me want to kill myself,” she explained.

Others, like Natalie Shmuel, say they attend the meetings because they are passionate about the cause.

“It’s a community and we are working together to try and take back our freedom,” she added.

How Fear Of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Occupy Sandy volunteers, left, organize thousands of food and clothing items in a school gym in Queens in November 2012. At right, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern speaks at a post-Sandy press conference on Staten Island. (Craig Ruttle/AP Images, Catherine Barde/American Red Cross via Flickr)

In the days after Superstorm Sandy, relief organizations were overwhelmed by the chaos and enormous need. One group quickly emerged as a bright spot. While victims in New York’s hardest hit neighborhoods were stuck in the cold and dark, volunteers from the spontaneously formed Occupy Sandy became a widely praised lifeline.  

Occupy Sandy was “one of the leading humanitarian groups providing relief to survivors across New York City and New Jersey,” as a government-commissioned study put it. 

Yet the Red Cross, which was bungling its own aid efforts after the storm, made a decision that further hampered relief: Senior officials told staffers not to work with Occupy Sandy.

Red Cross officials had no concerns about Occupy Sandy’s effectiveness. Rather, they were worried about the group’s connections to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

Three Red Cross responders told ProPublica there was a ban. “We were told not to interact with Occupy,” says one. While the Red Cross often didn’t know where to send food, Occupy Sandy “had what we didn’t: minute-by-minute information,” another volunteer says.

The three spoke to ProPublica on the condition of anonymity because they continue to work with the Red Cross. One says the direction came from an official based in Red Cross headquarters in Washington. Another understood the direction came from Washington. A third was not sure who gave the instructions.

The government-sponsored study that praised Occupy Sandy – written in 2013 for the Department of Homeland Security – also cites a prohibition: A Red Cross chief of volunteer coordination recalled that “he was told not to work with Occupy Sandy because of the affiliation with [Occupy Wall Street],” the study says.  

Fred Leahy, a veteran Red Cross responder who was a Community Partnerships Manager in Sandy’s aftermath, recalled a meeting a week after the storm in which he and two other officials, one from Washington, discussed “the political and donor ramifications of associating with Occupy Sandy due to its outgrowth from Occupy Wall Street.” He says the meeting was called after an inquiry from Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern.  

“Occupy Wall Street was not very favorably received by the political people in the city,” Leahy says. Major Red Cross donors were from the same elite political circles “and they didn’t understand Occupy Wall Street.”

Red Cross responders says that many staffers and volunteers objected to the charity’s stance on Occupy Sandy because among the Red Cross’ fundamental principles is that aid must be delivered without regard to politics or ideology. “We are a neutral, humanitarian organization,” one staffer says. “We don’t take sides.”

Leahy says Red Cross officials decided at the meeting to wait for Occupy Sandy representatives to come to them, rather than to approach the group. When a subordinate inquired about working with Occupy, Leahy says he told the person: “We really don’t need to worry about them at this time. Because we’ve got more important concerns at the moment.”

Nevertheless, Leahy denied there was a explicit injunction not to work with Occupy Sandy.

The Red Cross said in a statement that “there was never at any time a policy prohibiting Red Cross staff or volunteers from working with Occupy Sandy.”

“We linked them with partners,” the charity wrote. “We provided them with meals and other supplies – to the point of providing them with an entire warehouse full of material in March 2013.”

But Occupy Sandy organizers interviewed by ProPublica say the Red Cross did not take their calls in the early days and weeks after the storm hit in October 2012. Nathan Kleinman, an Occupy Sandy organizer, recalls a Red Cross employee telling him that “they couldn’t be seen working with us.” He says some Red Cross responders attempted to help Occupy behind the scenes with advice and occasionally supplies.

“I have no doubt we could have had a much more productive relationship with the Red Cross if they’d been willing to associate themselves with us out in the open,” Kleinman says. “I have no doubt their failure to look past politics hurt the overall recovery.”

Workers inside the Red Cross’ Manhattan headquarters say they were furious with the delay, which hampered the ability to provide aid.

Indeed, some Red Cross responders were so troubled, they tried to work with people from Occupy covertly. They say they maintained a spreadsheet of Occupy contacts separate from the other contact lists to hide from senior Red Cross officials that they were working with the group.

Contemporaneous Occupy Sandy meeting minutes show some examples of fruitful cooperation. An Occupy Sandy volunteer described the Red Cross as being “our lifeline in terms of hot meals.”

The minutes also record an incident in which two Red Cross employees showed up at an Occupy site in Brooklyn “asking if we could send them volunteers – and their stipulations for that: they couldn’t wear any Occupy stuff.” Those conditions were rejected.

The Red Cross responders who say there was a clear ban on working with Occupy differ on how long it was in place. One person says the policy was rescinded in a matter of days, but that it took weeks to communicate to all the corners of the Red Cross relief effort.

A third Red Cross worker says that the policy was still in place in December, more than a month into the relief effort.

Read about how the Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in PR Over People: The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster. And about how the Red Cross’ CEO has been serially misleading about where donors’ dollars are going.

Can you help us with our Red Cross reporting? Learn how to share a tip or email justin@propublica.org.

Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

Dec. 9

Chico Enterprise-Record: Violent Bay Area protests detract from important cause

Strange things happen in the Bay Area, and we’re close enough to remember most of the many protests and odd municipal laws in Berkeley and San Francisco that elicit bemused smiles from many people in these parts.

It’s easy to just shake your head, grin and dismiss it with one short sentence: “Yeah, that’s the Bay Area.” It usually comes with the addendum: “Glad we’re three hours away.”

But imagine how the rest of the country feels. Two weeks after nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed black men, first in Missouri and then in New York, the place where the protests linger the longest and loudest is thousands of miles away, on the other coast.

Don’t ask us why that’s the case, other than, “Yeah, that’s the Bay Area.” But the actions of some protesters and some police officers in the East Bay are certainly unflattering, and unfortunately detract from whatever message they’re trying to send.

Closing down freeways, train tracks and surface streets certainly won’t win the protesters any sympathy points in the eyes of other Bay Area residents, who have every right to wonder whether the protests are misplaced. What really is the point of shutting down Interstate 80? By the same token, looting a Radio Shack store and a Whole Foods market, then passing around stolen champagne to fellow protesters, makes most logical people wonder what that accomplishes.

The truth is, some of the protesters are just professional protesters. They hijacked the Occupy Wall Street cause and turned Occupy Oakland into a way of life for several months, damaging Oakland businesses on random nights when the protests would boil over. Before that, they did the same thing during the Iraq War, turning peaceful protests or marches into an excuse to damage buildings and vehicles.

It’s important to note that not all of the protesters act this way. Most don’t. In fact, one protester who tried to stop the looting of the Radio Shack store in Berkeley over the weekend got beaten with a hammer for his troubles. Peaceful protesters need to realize they’re being used as cover by a group of troublemakers who dilute their cause. They’d be wise to bow out now and return later. They shouldn’t allow the anarchists to claim they have numbers.

The protesters aren’t the only ones out of line. So are police in Berkeley, who while cracking down on protesters decided to crack heads of working journalists, some of whom held out their credentials as they were getting hit by officers with their batons. Of course, there’s video of it.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter called for an investigation into “inappropriate use of force” on reporters and photographers.

“We are sure that you agree attacks on journalists are entirely unacceptable,” the letter said. “Reporters are on scene to report the news as it happens. They are not participants in the protests.”

The Berkeley police department has not apologized or even responded, which makes it seem the aggressive actions are condoned by police leadership. And maybe they are. As the Oakland Tribune reported: “While Oakland police in recent weeks were criticized for not doing enough to stop agitators moving freely within the large demonstrations from breaking windows and looting stores, Berkeley’s more muscular approach also failed to prevent property damage and appeared to galvanize the movement’s more radical fringe against the city.”

This is a situation where everybody involved — the riot-minded protesters and the overly aggressive police — can do better. As always, we’re glad the Bay Area is an arm’s length away.

———

Dec. 6

Eureka Times-Standard: Can we relax about ‘Happy holidays’?

It seems that, in recent years, the simple seasonal greeting of “Happy holidays” has become another excuse for posturing over our differences; sad, but not unsolvable.

To both sides in this spat — those insistent on pointing out just which holiday they celebrate with an “Oh, no, thank you very much,” and those overly eager to take offense at the assumption that they ought to be celebrating any holiday at all — the phrase can be grounds for a sneer, a pointed lecture or a strongly worded letter.

 

How Scrooge-like.

Whatever happened to taking words in the spirit in which they are given?

Whether you believe we are all living in 2014 AD or CE, Hebrew Year 5,775 or the Year of the Horse, we’re all, believe it or not, stuck on the same planet — for now, at least.

“Happy holidays” may not be specific, but whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Boxing Day, the winter solstice, Wookie Life Day or the coming of the Krampus, December is packed with as many causes for celebration as strangers you may pass on the street. There ought to be nothing objectionable about throwing a little unspecified holiday cheer into the wintery air. Just a general wish of good times and merry mood for everyone involved.

Now, we’re not arguing that you ought to say “Happy holidays” to the exclusion of all other seasonal greetings. It just not ought to be cause for a Sharks and Jets throwdown at the dinner table.

After all, “good will” is not just a place to buy remarkably affordable clothes. We could all use a little more good will in our lives, no?

So, if we could ease up on our daily dose of cable news outrage and take a moment to embrace our neighbors — in spirit — that would be great. No one loses. Everyone wins.

———

Dec. 9

Contra Costa Times: New law will finally require training teachers to report child abuse

The era of ignorance will soon end.

While state law requires school personnel to immediately notify police or child protective services when they know or suspect a student has been abused, it merely suggests school districts train their workers about the mandate.

Consequently, as this newspaper has documented over the past three years, school employees — from janitors and teachers to principals and district superintendents — were woefully uninformed about the law.

That should change under bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed this year. Starting Jan. 1, school districts must train workers annually about their legal obligations. The significant new law was authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank.

A second law, carried by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, requires teachers when they initially apply for their credentials, and when they renew every five years, to sign a statement acknowledging their reporting responsibilities.

We hope education of workers will end delays reporting and, in some cases, outright cover-ups of physical and sexual abuse like cases we’ve documented in Antioch, Brentwood, Lafayette, Moraga, Concord and San Jose schools.

Too often teachers informed supervisors rather than directly alerting police as the law requires. Too often school administrators decided to conduct their own inquiries rather than complying with the mandate to turn cases over to law enforcement officials trained to investigate.

In 2013, then-Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, introduced legislation requiring each school district to develop a policy for reporting suspected abuse, and to review it with employees annually. It was a start, but, as we said then, weak: District officials who had previously failed to follow the reporting law would have been responsible for developing the training.

The bill stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by Gatto, who feared the state cost to reimburse districts. We challenged him to come up with something better. And he did.

Under his new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, the state departments of Social Services and Education must develop a uniform online training program, and every school district must ensure all workers complete it within the first six weeks of each school year.

To be sure, the new law has some problems: First, school districts and workers face no penalties for failure to comply. Second, school districts can opt to provide their own training instead, even though their past attempts have often been inadequate. Third, because of ambiguities in the new law, districts that do provide their own training might be able to evade doing so annually.

Nevertheless, Gatto’s bill is a significant improvement. We hope he’ll fix the problems in it. We thank him for rising to our challenge.

———

Dec. 9

Torrance Daily Breeze: Our 1,200-year drought and bad water policies

People with professional expertise in California’s four-year drought — plus those just looking for something new to worry about — get it right about expecting too much from last week’s and this week’s storms.

Even though we got a good inch and a half, and much more in some places, and even though the storm bearing down on Southern California Thursday and Friday is said to hold the promise of “significant” rainfall, both the real experts and the professional worriers correctly note that it would be simply wrong to say our state’s severe drought is anything like over.

To do so would be like those global-warming deniers who dismiss the scientific evidence of climate change because it’s snowing in Minnesota.

It’s not that these December rains aren’t great. As Mark Gold, the associate director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, so nicely put it in his column at LA Observed, the first storm “brought a sense of renewal and a reminder that inexorable desiccation isn’t the only state of our Mediterranean climate.”

But lack of total desiccation does not a rain forest make. This month as well, a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that “the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1,200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years.”

So there goes the theory constantly spun out by Southern California armchair meteorologists who say that dry spells come and go and that this one is no worse than others. It is worse. And we get blase about it at our peril.

The study, much of it based on historical tree-ring data, does show that there have been three-year spells in the past with as little rain as we’ve had since 2011. What’s exacerbated this drought is, yes, global warming: There has never been a drought like this in over a millennium because there has never been so little rain combined with such high average temperatures, which heat and crack the ground. (No contradiction here with this week’s NOAA report, which just says it’s not necessarily warming that has caused less rain.)

In a better world, we would be expecting California’s lawmakers to be working together on long-term solutions to what is clearly a long-term problem. Disappearing water in California is not just about flooding Bay Delta fields for rice or piping water into more southern Central Valley almond groves. It’s not just about using drought-tolerant landscaping or not letting the tap run while brushing our teeth.

Even if too many of us hold onto old water ways, the drought is part of the California conversation these days. That’s one reason quick, one-sided supposed fixes such as HR 5781, the “California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014,” passed on a 229-182 vote in the House Tuesday, are such bad public policy. Rather than the “bipartisan” plan its backers tout it as, the bill focuses on diverting more water to those Central Valley farmers, and was written with no input from Southern California members of Congress or fisheries and wildlife experts.

Bad short-term water diversion is no fix for a 1,200-year problem. President Obama, as he has promised to do, should veto it so the California drought doesn’t cause even more harm.

———

Dec. 4

The Bakersfield Californian: Lerdo decision had to be made

Kern County supervisors are right to be uneasy about spending the money to upgrade the Lerdo jail, but it’s clear the work needs to be done.

Under the fog of potential lawsuits from inmates with disabilities or special needs, supervisors voted to spend $100.5 million to build an 822-bed addition to the aging county facility, which hasn’t been updated since the 1980s.

No one was happy about the situation, especially with the additional $27 million annual expense of running the new addition. However, it’s clear that Kern County needs this facility for many reasons. Most importantly, it wards off the threat of potential lawsuits that the county could face if the work isn’t done. Of course, it also ensures that a greater number of the people who should not be wandering the streets are behind bars, at least for a while.

As far as essential services, an improved Lerdo jail facility should be at the top of the list for the county supervisors. Frugality is nice, but reality is a much different beast to tame. The reality is that the county has grown significantly, faces a litigious faction from those looking to protect the rights of the incarcerated, and must deal with federal courts that are willing to force the hand of states and local municipalities.

While the concerns about the operating costs are understandable, the supervisors should also have faith in Sheriff Donny Youngblood’s ability to manage the expenses. We feel that Youngblood will be a good steward of those funds.

———

Dec. 7

Imperial Valley Press: What will this holiday season bring for the economy?

Buying practices of American shoppers have begun to really shift in recent years, as more and more of us forego long lines, big crowds and sometimes unbearable traffic for the relative ease and complete comfort of shopping online.

The problem with that is it affects local businesses, both locally owned and national retailers with local locations.

The trickle-down is a slower holiday hiring season for many unemployed and comparatively fewer sales tax dollars for local coffers.

It’s often difficult to gauge the true local effect when dealing with national economic forecasts, simply because Mexicali skews the data on the local level. But it’s clear throughout the country and to some extent here, that things aren’t as “crazy” as we’re used to.

Take the lengthy Thanksgiving Day weekend as a snapshot of the changing buying trends. The National Retail Federation reported an 11 percent drop in sales across the country over the Black Friday weekend, which is sharply contrasted by an 8.5 percent rise over last year on Cyber Monday numbers.

While buyers from both sides of the border staked out the big deals earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day, Friday in the Imperial Valley’s commercial areas seemed slower and the weekend after, more so.

Even though there is never any shortage of some level of holiday shoppers jockeying for position in the malls, we’re waiting for the last-minute crush that will give our area a surge in revenue. Buyers from Mexicali often fill the parking lots of the Calexico and El Centro malls no matter what, but we’ll have to see to what effect after the holidays have come and gone.

Online shopping tends to favor the big-box retailers, at the risk of cannibalizing their local outlets. The click of a mouse comes with deals too good, shipping too fast and hassles too few to pass up.

What that has the potential to do is add a little bump to locally owned and run shops and stores, where buyers can find the unique, the handcrafted or even just the chance to help out a local merchant to make their holidays a little brighter. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, we’d like to see more of it. Shopping local keeps the community’s retail economy diverse.

We mention all of these scenarios because the retail numbers seem at odds with the fact that just in October consumer confidence — Americans’ willingness to spend their money because of their faith in the economy — was at a seven-year high.

Who knows?

Maybe consumers are buying, but being smarter about it, unwilling to lay it all out with savings and credit that many of us spend the rest of the year trying to pay for.

Maybe shoppers are getting savvier with their dollars, biding their time and reveling in the spirit of the holidays rather than the excess of the season.

Regardless, it will be interesting when the national data comes pouring in in January to see if the Black Friday and early December hiccups were an anomaly to be replaced by a mad-dash to the stores at the last minute.

Either way, we’ll be enjoying our holidays, and we hope you will, too.

SantaCon Hires Civil Rights Lawyer Norman Siegel to Help with ‘Transition’

 Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel (pictured here in 2012) was hired by SantaCon organizers so help during its transition.


Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel (pictured here in 2012) was hired by SantaCon organizers so help during its “transition.”
View Full Caption

NEW YORK CITY — SantaCon has hired prominent civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel to help guide the controversial pub crawl through a “transition,” organizers announced Wednesday.

The yuletide booze-fest is “investigating other parade and festival-like options for 2015 and beyond,” with hopes to turn the Dec. 13 gathering into a beloved Big Apple tradition like the Village Halloween Parade, they said in a statement.

“SantaCon has become a second Halloween for many. If all goes well this year we hope next year to grow SantaCon into a more beloved event much like the Halloween parade did when it transformed from 100,000 participants on the streets of the west village to an organized parade,” the group said in an email to DNAinfo.

Organizers did not elaborate on their decision to retain Siegel, whose clients include Occupy Wall Street protestors and Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was forcibly quarantined in New Jersey after she returned from Sierra Leone, where she was helping to fight Ebola.

Siegel did not immediately reply to a request for comment but said in a statement that he was looking for forward to working with SantaCon participants “to ensure that their activities are respected in accordance with the principles and values provided for in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

News of Siegel’s hire was first reported by Gothamist.

SantaCon, which drew 30,000 people to the Lower East Side and East Village last year, has been blasted by locals, business owners and elected officials who say the costumed pub crawl brings vomiting, public urination, vandalism and littering by bar-goers.

The event’s raucous reputation has also prompted Metro-North to impose a 24-hour ban on alcohol on trains and stations from 9 a.m. on Dec. 13 to 9 a.m. the next day, it said in a press release.

However, organizers insist that SantaCon has donated tens of thousands of dollars to charity.

The event has also been asking participants to be respectful on its social media accounts, using the hashtag #dontscroogesantacon.

“While this event will always poke fun at society and the overly-commercialized aspects of the holiday (culture jamming), Santa and the Elves are working closely with city officials, the Parks Department and NYPD on better formats to manage the event while growing it as a much beloved annual tradition for the city,” they said in a statement.

SantaCon had originally planned to bring the event to Bushwick but pulled out after the city denied the use of Maria Hernandez Park as a kick-off space because it did not have the capacity for the event.

It is unclear where it will take place this year, although organizers have told Manhattan’s Community Board 3 that it will not take place in the East Village or Lower East Side this year.

Ghosts of lawsuits past prompt light touch on protests by NY police


NEW YORK Dec 9 (Reuters) – New York City, still paying for
lawsuits over mass arrests during the 2004 Republican convention
and Occupy Wall Street, is using a light touch on the latest
wave of protests over police use of force, the police
commissioner said on Tuesday.

Police Commissioner William Bratton noted that protests have
been largely peaceful since a grand jury decided not to charge a
police officer for killing a man with a banned chokehold.

Bratton noted that the latest protests in New York have
mostly featured traffic disruptions, not the violence and
looting seen at other recent protests in Missouri and
California. He said a little gridlock is much less burdensome
for the city than multimillion-dollar legal actions that could
result from mass arrests.

Over the past year, the city has reached deals to pay nearly
$18 million to settle wrongful arrest suits dating back to the
2004 Republican National Convention, and about $600,000 to
settle wrongful arrest suits dating back to the Occupy Wall
Street movement, which began in 2011.

“When you lock up 500 or 600 people all at the same time you
don’t have what the courts require to successfully prosecute. So
for future generations I would not like to have my successor
tied up in court needlessly nor the city paying out,” Bratton
told a group of New York business people on Tuesday. “So what
we’re doing is trying to work with the demonstrations that have
remained largely nonviolent.”

In 2004, New York police arrested more than 1,800 people
during the demonstrations around the convention that nominated
President George W. Bush for a second term. Years later,
hundreds were arrested in protests linked to the Occupy
movement, which focused attention on economic inequality.

The head of the New York Civil Liberties Union said she was
glad to see police taking a less heavy-handed approach.

“It’s a good lesson for the police department to avoid
unlawful mass arrests and it’s a good lesson for the police
department to exercise restraint in dealing with protests of all
kinds,” said Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director.

While the NYCLU has received complaints of unlawful arrests
tied to the last week’s protests, she said, “the relationship
with the police department is worlds different than it was back
in 2004.”

Attorney Wylie Stecklow, who has negotiated settlements in
10 lawsuits tied to Occupy-related arrests including one that
settled for $583,000, said legal pressures should remind police
to follow the law in making arrests.

“Minor violations of traffic rules and regulations and
disorderly conduct are not supposed to be arrestable when people
are involved in constitutionally protected activities,” Stecklow
said. “During Occupy, sometimes that mattered but often it did
not.”

Over the past week, crowds sometimes numbering into the
thousands marched through New York City streets. Some staged
brief “die-ins” in stores and major train stations, and blocked
major roadways. There was none of the looting or violence that
accompanied recent protests over police action in Ferguson,
Missouri, and the numbers of demonstrators in New York have
dwindled over the past few days.

The New York protests kicked off a week ago when a grand
jury decided not to charge a white police officer, Daniel
Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black father
of six. That decision came about a week after a Missouri grand
jury cleared Darren Wilson, a white police officer from
Ferguson, in the August fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael
Brown.

After that decision, protesters in Ferguson set buildings
and cars on fire and police responded with teargas.

Over the weekend, in Berkeley, California, protesters pelted
police with rocks and were also teargassed.

Bratton, who Mayor Bill de Blasio brought back for a second
term at the top of the nation’s largest police department, said
he aims to avoid similar escalation.

“I’d rather have what we’re experiencing than have what
Ferguson or Berkeley have been experiencing,” Bratton said.
“That would not be very good for the image of the city and
certainly not good for the economy of the city.”

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by David
Gregorio)

Warren: Lock ‘revolving door’ between Wall Street and Washington


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is digging in on her fight with President Obama over a top Treasury Department nominee.

In a speech delivered to backers Tuesday, Warren framed her opposition to Antonio Weiss, the president’s pick for the Treasury Department’s under secretary for domestic finance, as part of an effort to upend a cozy relationship between Washington and Wall Street.

“The revolving door rips the heart out of independent government service,” she said.

She argued Weiss, the top investment banker at the Lazard financial firm, lacks appropriate experience and criticized his role in his current job helping companies shrink their tax bill through corporate maneuverings known as inversions.

But she also expanded her opposition beyond Weiss in particular, arguing that the fight over this nomination is actually a broader battle over Wall Street’s outsized presence in Washington and the “revolving door” that rewards finance titans for stints in the public sector.

To hear Warren tell it, she is trying to lock shut a system that rewards financiers handsomely for taking high-ranking government service jobs, with the implicit understanding that they will use those jobs to lend Wall Street a helping hand.

“Why does the revolving door matter? Because it means that too much of the time, the wind blows from the same direction,” she said. “Time after time in government, the Wall Street view prevails.

“No one likes to ignore phone calls from former colleagues, and no one likes to advance policies that could hurt future employers,” she added.

While Warren has blasted Weiss early and often, the administration has stood by the pick as the right expert for a critical job. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called Weiss “highly qualified” on Monday and said he should get bipartisan support.

“This is somebody who has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important when you’re asking somebody to take on a position in the federal government that has such a significant bearing on those markets,” he said.

Warren noted that Weiss stands to make $20 million from his current employer if he takes a government job, adding that such a pay practice is not uncommon at the highest levels of the financial sector. She questioned why firms would be willing to pay handsomely for their top talent to leave for Washington, if there was not some implicit benefit for them in the process.

Her tough remarks come as chatter about Warren as a liberal presidential candidate show little signs of waning. While Warren herself has repeatedly ruled out a run, the liberal group MoveOn.org announced Tuesday it was polling members on whether to launch a million-dollar effort to convince her otherwise. Other outside liberal groups have also publicly backed Warren as a candidate.

Meanwhile, Warren’s influence in the Senate is on the rise, after her colleagues carved out a new spot for her in Senate leadership. But it remains to be seen whether many of her colleagues will join in opposing Weiss. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has expressed opposition, but most senators are withholding judgment until the confirmation process is underway.

In her remarks, Warren dismissed Weiss’s decades of work on Wall Street as irrelevant experience for the Treasury position, which oversees all the department’s domestic finance work. She argued that most of Weiss’s work was in the international sector, is not relevant to the job at hand, and that his backers are assuming any Wall Street experience is relevant experience.

“We’d all scratch our heads if the president nominated a theoretical physicist to be the surgeon general just because she had a background in ‘science,’ ” Warren joked.

She also ran down the “enormous” number of top administration officials under Obama and past presidents who spent time making money from the financial sector. She noted that three of the past four Treasury secretaries have spent time working for Citigroup, and the fourth turned down a job leading the bank. And other top spots in current and past administration were filled by officials who previously worked on behalf of names like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.

“That’s the context for thinking about the nomination of Antonio Weiss,” she said.

The administration has stood by the Weiss nomination, and his backers are quick to argue that the administration is not overly reliant on Wall Street talent. While some top administration officials have spent some time working on behalf of financial giants, Warren’s critics also note that top financial regulatory spots are also filled with academics, lawyers and career public servants. The Treasury Department has said no top Wall Street executives currently occupy top department spots, and the senior staff represents a “wide range” of experience.

Some Warren critics have also noted that she herself relied on financial talent, when she was helping to build the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Several top officials she brought on came from the world of finance, and some went right back to it after leaving the CFPB.

Warren acknowledged that there are “experienced and qualified” people on Wall Street but said the system is badly out of balance, and too many financial bigwigs are assumed to be good fits for government service.

“Qualifications matter, and Weiss doesn’t have them,” she said.

Weiss was nominated for the job in mid-November, and a busy final stretch for the current Congress means it is likely consideration of the pick will wait until 2015.

–This report was updated at 4:03 p.m.

Global studies lecture provides insight on social media protests

Laura Nguyen/HIGHLANDER

Laura Nguyen/HIGHLANDER

On Dec. 3, renowned activist and author Todd Gitlin gave a lecture on the effects of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the future of social media protests at UCR. The lecture was held as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration between the global studies, creative writing and sociology departments on campus as well as the Institute for Research on World Systems, an organization that encourages collaborative research for social and physical sciences.

Gitlin is a political author who has written the book “Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street,” drawing from his own experiences as president of the Students for a Democratic Society during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and from his research at Columbia University.

“Occupy Wall Street understood the snag with the system which is that some people have millions more dollars than other people … the wealth that piles up, to put it mildly, is grotesquely unequal,” Gitlin said, diving right into the impetus for the movement.

Since the end of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gitlin claims, the protesters have either dispersed or failed. Gitlin went on to elaborate that the social media which had carried the movement actually prevented protesters from forming the infrastructure so crucial to any social justice movement. Unlike the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott of Martin Luther King’s day, the Occupy protesters never had to meet in person because they could do everything by a Google document. “Precisely what made the occupations successful,” he said, “made them collapse.”

According to Gitlin, this lack of infrastructure led to one of the major failings of the Occupy movement, which was an inability to produce a set list of demands.

“The Occupy graduates tend to hope that their time will come again,” Gitlin concluded.

After the lecture, a brief Q-and-A period ensued, with students asking Gitlin about social media and globalization. Armita Mahmaneshrad, a third-year student, rushed up to Gitlin at the end of the event and asked to take a photo with him. He happily agreed.

Mahmaneshrad later said, “I found (this lecture) interesting because it actually involves two of my topics in my global studies and political science classes … I took a lot of notes.”

Gitlin holds a PhD in sociology from UC Berkeley and has also written novels such as “Undying,” “The Murder of Albert Einstein” and “Sacrifice.” Gitlin’s work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Harper’s.

This event was moderated by Susan Ossman, an anthropology professor and director of UCR’s global studies program.