Occupy Sandy: One-time protesters find new cause
NEW YORK (AP) — You might be surprised at what has become a lauded and effective relief organization for victims of Superstorm Sandy: Occupy Wall Street.
The social media savvy that helped Occupy protesters create a grass-roots global movement last year — one that ultimately collapsed under its leaderless format — is proving a strength as members fan out across New York to deliver aid including hot meals, medicine and blankets.
They're the ones who took food and water to Glenn Nisall, a 53-year-old resident of Queens' hard-hit and isolated Rockaway section who lost power and lives alone, with no family nearby.
"I said: 'Occupy? You mean Occupy Wall Street?'" he said. "I said: 'Awesome, man. I'm one of the 99 percent, you know?'"
Occupy Wall Street was born in late 2011 in a lower Manhattan plaza called Zuccotti Park, with a handful of protesters pitching tents and vowing to stay put until world leaders offered a fair share to the "99 percent" who don't control the globe's wealth.
The world heard the cry as that camp grew and inspired other ones around the globe. Ultimately, though, little was accomplished in the ways of policy change, and Occupy became largely a punch line. But core members, and a spirit, have persisted and found a new cause in Occupy Sandy.
It started at St. Jacobi Church in Brooklyn the day after the storm, where Occupiers set up a base of operations and used social media like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word.
There is a sense of camaraderie reminiscent of Zuccotti, as young people with scruffy beards and walkie-talkies plan the day's activities. Donations come in by the truckload and are sorted in the basement, which looks like a clearinghouse for every household product imaginable, from canned soup and dog food to duvet covers.
"This is young people making history," said Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University who has been studying Occupy Wall Street. "Young people who are refusing to let people suffer without putting themselves on the line to do something about it."
Now the group has dozens of relief centers across the city and a stream of volunteers who are shuttled out to the most desperate areas. It is partnering with local community and volunteer organizations.
A recent post on Occupy Sandy's Facebook page announced: "Attention! If anyone in Rockaway needs to have their basement pumped, please contact Suzanne Hamalak at suzybklyn(at)aol.com. Her family wants to help and have industrial pumps...they will do it for free....."
In Rockaway Park, Occupier Diego Ibanez, 24, has been sleeping on the freezing floor of a community center down the street from a row of charred buildings destroyed by a fire.
"You see a need and you fulfill it," he explained. "There's not a boss to tell you that you can't do this or you can't do that. Zuccotti was one of the best trainings in how to mobilize so quickly."
There is little public transportation in the neighborhood, where most people still don't have power and many homes were wrecked. Occupy has supplied residents with hot meals, batteries and blankets. Medics and nurses knock on doors to check on the elderly.
At one Occupy outpost in Rockaway, residents wandered in recently off the garbage-strewn streets looking for medicine.
They lined up in an ice-cold abandoned store that had been hastily transformed into a makeshift pharmacy. Gauze bandages and bottles of disinfectant were piled on tables behind a tattered curtain.
"I think we wouldn't be able to survive without them," said Kathleen Ryan, who was waiting for volunteers to retrieve her diabetes medication, stamping her feet on the plywood floor to keep warm. "This place is phenomenal. This community. They've helped a great deal."
Is this Occupy Wall Street's finest hour? In the church basement, Carrie Morris paused from folding blankets into garbage bags and smiled at the idea.
"We always had mutual aid going on," she said. "It's a big part of what we do. That's the idea, to help each other. And we want to serve as a model for the larger society that, you know, everybody should be doing this."
Cyber Crime: That's Entertainment!
Dori Hartley -- Author, 'Angels and Echoes'
A few years ago, a woman named Teresa, from Harlan, KY, decided to get online and pose as an autistic man/adult survivor of sexual child abuse who was also dying of leukemia. She used a false name, never revealed her face and when she took her online relationships to the phone, she had a masculine enough sounding voice to back up the male persona. Under the guise of this fraudulent identity, she was able to manipulate the heartstrings of those who believed she was a man by pretending to be in agonizing pain due to the terminal disease she claimed to have. So convincing was her act that it was enough to persuade people to give her money. Her "dying man" routine lasted many years, and many people fell for it.
I was one of those people -- along with several of my friends. We lost money, time and trust and we all felt like fools. We were devastated when we found out the truth. I wrote about it in my article, "Perfect Stranger". With much anger in my heart, I warned people about the dangers of online friendship and romance, of succumbing to false personalities -- I urged people to question the characters they met on the Internet, especially the ones whose stories seemed sketchy or questionable. I also advised them to report anything that they suspected to the FBI , as I did in the case of Teresa.
Writing about what one feels and experiences in life in a personal blog is one thing, but when you're a fairly well-read blogger for The Huffington Post, what you write has the potential of reaching a mind-boggling amount of viewers -- many of whom are television producers looking for ratings-worthy topics, like -- "What it's like to be find out that your dying, male, online friend is really a woman who looks very much like Honey Boo Boo's mom ."
Tell me, does that not screech of Springer?
As soon as my first article ran, I started getting invitations to speak about Cyber fraud and online romance scams. First came the talk radio shows, both local and national. Some sister duo from CBS approached me. Then, on some affiliate network, there was some former priest guy from Florida who wanted me on his afternoon talk show. It didn't take long for the major players to start knocking. Inside Edition, CNN... producers of afternoon talk shows like The Jeff Probst Show and The Steve Harvey Show each contacted me multiple times, hungry to get me on the air so that I could tell my story. At one point, they had me believing that I could "save lives" -- just by appearing as a guest.
Excited by the idea that I could help people understand just how vicious and untrustworthy it is "out there" on the Internet, I prepared my facts and braced myself for "lights-camera-action."
I taped for CNN, gave them an intense exposé. I was pure ferocity and vigilance. I spoke about the twisted liars who were out there and how to avoid them, what to look for -- the ridiculous anonymous usernames, the refusal to be seen on Skype or webcam, the questionable "always in pain" people who tend to befriend the depressed, desperate or lonely stragglers... I stood like a beacon of power and resilience. However, before taping, the one thing I warned them about was that, under no circumstances would I allow myself to be portrayed as the pitiful victim, as I suspected some of the other TV shows might have wished for.
After taping, the show was shelved, with a note: "The producers aren't interested in this right now; we'll be in touch." Someone with the prescience of an insider told me this: "They're not airing the show because you're not pathetic enough. They want to see that you're falling apart, not standing tall."
Each time I interviewed with a producer, it was the same. In the beginning they were salivating for the story. They'd tell me how amazing I was, what a great TV personality I had -- and then I'd tell them my rules: No humiliation, no making me into an idiot.
Well, as I've learned, no humiliation + no making me into an idiot = no show.
Just yesterday, yet another producer wrote me, asking me to come on their talk show. This time I didn't have to think of a response. I knew what I wanted to say. This is what I wrote:
|I've been approached by almost every talk show there is to tell my "Internet con artist" story, and what I've discovered is this: All you people want me to do is bleed. At first you're all impressed with my "courage" and "ability to rise above," but in truth, those are the very traits that you consider "deal breakers." You don't want me to help others, you want me to cry. You will only air my story if I'm humiliated. What makes for good TV is my downfall, my disgrace, and my tears -- not my strength. And definitely not what I can teach others.
Where were you a year and a half ago when the article was first published? What happened? In searching for new material, you ran out of fresh ideas so you pumped into your search engine keywords like "con" and "online romance?" Bingo, you got my article! Just like everyone else who came to me and then after realizing what I was made of, wondered how the hell they could contain me in short, insipid sound bites?
If you care so much about cyber crime and the creeps who take advantage of others through the Internet then go harass Teresa. There's your show. You want a reality TV show that will guarantee ratings? How 'bout "Teresa the Con Man"? Or maybe, "Family Scammers." There's your freak show.
Unfortunately, I really do know what you want. You want someone who is so blindly enamored by the idea of just being on TV that they'll do anything for the opportunity, which includes demeaning themselves, if need be.
You want a fighter? I'm in.
You want a schmuck, someone to pity? Not me.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Needless to say, I never heard back from the last producer. Guess they didn't want a fighter.
So, what did they want then? What do these talk shows really want?
They want to show someone whose situation arouses enough momentary pity so that those who gawk at them from their television screens can feel better about their own lives. These producers don't want to help people; they want to entertain people. They don't care about the reality of Internet fraud -- they care about how schlumpy the victim looks and acts. It's the guilty pleasure of watching someone's demise that intrigues, not the actual story. And a victim who isn't "victim-y enough" -- well, that goes nowhere fast. Who cares about the criminal? It's the victim that's going to sell product.
And because no TV show has the balls to let me be who I really am -- strong, a fighter, a voice with merit and the experience to back it up -- then let me tell the public right now exactly what to look for in order to avoid online fraud:
You need a real face to look at. If you doubt someone is real, then demand they show themselves to you, in real time, via Skype or webcam. If they won't show, then they're hiding something. Question that.
You need to know a person's real name. Darkraven Dragonthistle is not a real name. Get the point? Question that.
Don't send money to anyone you don't really know, and if you do, don't send cash! Make sure there's a paper trail, or at least an e-trail so that when you realize you've been ripped off, you've got something to show the FBI. Remember, Internet Fraud is a federal crime. Need to report a crime? Here's the link: Internet Crime Complaint Center
Don't trust a voice on the phone. Men can sound like women and vice versa. If you suspect a liar, demand a real-time conversation on Skype or webcam.
Don't fall for excessively indulgent sob stories. If someone's farfetched tale seems unbelievable -- question it. Teresa had people believing she was in constant pain, with kidney failure, diabetes, brain tumors, seizures and a whole lot more -- all fake!
If you fall in love with someone from the Internet, make sure they are prepared to meet you in real life. If they won't -- question that. Don't let your heart enable their lie.
Know this: The Internet is the toilet bowl of all anonymous personalities. It's the coward's fake name dream home. The foul rudeness that hides behind a computer screen is made obvious a hundred million times a day, in comments and in personal communication. This is the only place where a miserable old woman from some backwoods town can pretend to be a dying young man and get away with it!
The only thing that prevents a person from committing a seriously heinous act of Internet fraud is conscience, and between the act of cyber crime and the television networks that seek to base afternoon talk shows on this topic, there seems to be very little of that going around.
Hey TV: You've got a story over here. Stop catching victims and start catching criminals. Jerks.
Two states legalize recreational use of marijuana.
For the first time in U.S. history, two states have bucked the federal government and made marijuana legal for recreational use by adults.
By majorities of 56 and 54 percent, respectively, voters in Washington and Colorado passed laws Tuesday allowing possession of a small amount of the psychoactive plant for personal use. Oregon voters defeated a similar referendum in their state.
Among the catches? The drug must be bought and sold at state-licensed stores, and users must be 21 and older.
Legalization will allow the states to collect billions of dollars in taxes over the next several years.
It was changing views about the demonization of marijuana and the over-prosecution of users - 850,000 U.S. arrests in in 2010 - that won the day.
That and the lure of a new revenue source for strapped states, of course. Tolerance seemed preferable to the expense and frustration of imprisoning tens of thousands of people for selling or possessing a drug many now see as less socially unacceptable and less physically destructive than alcohol and tobacco.
As Washington and Colorado made history, the medical use of marijuana - also a federal crime, but the decent thing to do - expanded via this week's election to more than a third of the states. With Massachusetts voters' approval Tuesday, 18 states and the District of Columbia now allow marijuana for medical use. Both anecdotal and new scientific evidence suggest many sick people benefit from it. Compassion dictates they should have access to any drug that alleviates their suffering. Starting with the baby boomer generation, Americans - including lawmen weary of the unwinnable war on the drug - tend to see marijuana as far less dangerous - and even innocuous - when compared to hard drugs and alcohol.
Because marijuana remains classified as a dangerous drug on the scale of cocaine and heroin, legalizing it for recreational use is a dare pointed at Washington.
Legalization for personal use undoubtedly will set up a constitutional confrontation with the Obama administration. The White House can confront the cannabis rebellion with big busts and criminal prosecution or do it quietly in the civil courts.
The latter will leave less bitterness.
Advocates argue all the ban has done is spark violence as drug cartels compete to supply an insatiable demand. Legalizing cannabis and controlling production and distribution could end the terror and violence.
In any case, Colorado and Washington have decided legalizing marijuana with reasonable restrictions and protections for the public and minors is the responsible thing to do.
The federal government should allow them to do just that, as well as states that allow cannabis' medical use, continue with their social experiments.
"So that," as one hopeful advocate put it, " we can show that when you legalize marijuana, the sky doesn't fall."
From the FBI
North to Alaska --
A Domestic Terrorist With a Deadly Plan
By the time he moved to Alaska in 2006, Paul Rockwood, Jr. was an ardent follower of the American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who he met at a Virginia mosque in late 2001.
Shortly after he settled with his family in the small fishing village of King Salmon to work for the National Weather Service, our agents in Anchorage were aware that Rockwood had begun compiling a list of targets in the U.S. military he might assassinate in the name of jihad.
“If you were wearing a U.S. military uniform,” said Special Agent Doug Klein, who worked the case from Anchorage, “as far as Rockwood was concerned, you were a target.”
A military veteran himself, Rockwood believed it was his religious duty to kill those who desecrated Islam. In 2009, he began sharing his deadly plans with an individual he thought held similar views. But that person was actually an undercover operative employed by our Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Anchorage.
For a time, JTTF personnel wondered how determined Rockwood was about his plans. “But one day when he was with our undercover in Anchorage he identified the building of a cleared defense contractor and said, ‘This is the kind of building I want to blow up,' ” Klein said. “That's when we knew he was a serious threat.”
Keeping track of Rockwood was difficult, however, because King Salmon is some 300 miles from Anchorage and only accessible by airplane. And with only a few hundred residents, outsiders would be immediately spotted, so attempts at surveillance were impractical. “We couldn't use 90 percent of the traditional investigative techniques we use in the Lower 48,” Klein explained.
In addition, small, regional airlines in Alaska are not regulated by the Transportation Security Administration, so anyone can fly with weapons. On Rockwood's frequent trips from King Salmon to Anchorage, Klein said, “he could have had a gun or a bomb and we never would have known.”
During those Anchorage visits, Rockwood met the undercover operative and discussed buying electronics and downloading schematics of cell phones to make bomb detonators. At one meeting, he said he was getting ready to relocate to the mainland and had plans to steal a cache of explosives in Boston—where he grew up—that would help him go operational.
By early 2010, Rockwood had formalized his hit list to include 15 specific targets—all outside Alaska—and he gave the list to his wife, Nadia, who was aware of his intentions.
Even with no overt acts of terrorism to charge him with, it was decided that for the sake of public safety, Rockwood and his wife could not be allowed to leave Alaska. In May 2010, JTTF agents questioned Rockwood and his wife as they attempted to fly out of Anchorage. Both denied any involvement with a hit list or terrorist plot.
The couple was charged with making false statements to the FBI in a domestic terrorism investigation, and in July, Rockwood was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison—the maximum sentence under the law. His wife was also found guilty and received five years of probation.
“We can never be sure if he would have acted,” Klein said, “but Rockwood was clearly a threat, not only to the individuals on his list but to the entire community.”