More than half refused entry to so-called public Pinelands Commission meeting requesting comments on proposed natural gas pipeline

At its peak, more than 300 people are standing outside of St. Anne’s Church in Browns Mills, in the rain and near-freezing cold, forbidden from joining the Pinelands Commission meeting. The ostensibly public meeting is for comments on whether the natural gas pipeline, as proposed by South Jersey Gas, will benefit the Pinelands, and if it conforms to the commission’s charter and to state environmental laws. At 8:45am, forty five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, people were refused entry because the hall was filled to its capacity of 258 people. While the empty sanctuary and other rooms in the church can hold more, they are unavailable.

(This article has been published on Ocean County Politics. Here are the original-livestream posts: part one, part two.)

A handicapped woman who is unable to stand for long periods arrives at almost exactly 9:30, but is refused entry by a state trooper. She is given a chair. The trooper will not allow anyone to use the restrooms. “It’s one for one. If one person leaves, I’ll allow one person in. Sorry folks, we’re filled to capacity. Fire code.” Later, people on the inside report up to 20 empty seats, but according to the officers, “We’re counting physical bodies, not seats.”

Despite this, late arriving members of the commission and the press are let in. As one commissioner enters, he is stopped by a woman who requests that the meeting be postponed. The commissioner gives a terse and uninterested reply before quickly entering.

Live coverage by Jeff Epstein of Citizens’ Media TV.





According to the Pinelands Commission spokesman the meeting was moved because, “Ultimately, we wanted to make sure we have enough space…” The meeting was not just for public comment. The normal monthly meeting for the commission, originally scheduled for January 13, was instead moved to the beginning of today’s meeting, adding to the confusion of when the public portion would start, and therefore when people should arrive.

“We want to larger space! This meeting’s a disgrace!”

Lena Smith of Food and Water Watch New Jersey says, “This process from the very beginning has intentionally tried to keep the public out.” Lena was later allowed in, shouted at the back of the room to the commission, “There are more than 200 people outside, shut it down!,” and was escorted out by police. A photo of her is the cover photo in the Burlington County Times cover story of the meeting.

At 9:45, Bill, a member of Chesterfield’s People Over Pipelines and a man with a booming voice, shouts to the officer, “You’ve got 100 people out here, shut it down!” The crowd breaks into a chant of, “Shut it down!” He tells the officer, “This is a public hearing! There are legal requirements for a public hearing! I want to participate, they have to shut it down! This is against the fundamental requirements of due process in a public hearing. You can’t do this.” He tells me the goal of this tactic is to tire the people out so they go away and stop fighting, in order to speed up and ease the permitting process.

For those against the pipeline, the goal is either for everyone to be let in to give their comments–and to hear everybody else’s–or for the meeting postponed and rescheduled for a larger venue. In August of last year, a similar situation happened. A public comment meeting was scheduled at a conference room in the Ramada Inn in Bordentown Township, that had a capacity for 200 people. Both then and today, there were reports of pro-pipeline union people being bussed in early to fill seats and further limit the seats available to the public. The meeting was postponed and rescheduled to the Chesterfield High School auditorium in October.

What do we want?! Shut it down! What do we want?! Shut it down!

10-year-old Ben is in line with his parents instead of attending school. His parents chose for this to be his first taste of real activism. “I’m here to help the Pinelands stay safe. And the world and nature to stay safe. And no polluting. And no danger. They’re trying to put a pipe there to make money. But you don’t have to put it in the Pinelands.”

At 10:30, one of the commissioners comes outside to collect a list of all those who wants to come in and give their comments (and then exit again). The person that escorts her out shouts, “She’s a commissioner!” The woman pauses at that, and then says, “I’m trying to accommodate everybody.” I ask if the commission was trying to accommodate everyone, why would they choose a venue that could handle less than half of the people? She did not respond.

Shame! Shame! Shame!

After five full minutes of heated conversation between the commissioner and the crowd, Pemberton resident Mark Georgia asks, “What is your capacity?” She responds, “I’m just a business person. I’m on the clerical unit.” But the crowd was told very clearly, while she was standing right there, that she was on the commission. “That was a mistake.”

Jennifer Coffey of the non-profit ANJEC, The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions has been involved in the fight for New Jersey’s environment for 15 years, and holds two graduate degrees in environmental studies. “I have never had the indignity of attending a meeting like this. I have been out here for three hours. My toes hurt it is so cold, and I’m relatively young and able bodied. There’s no bathrooms!” She makes the point that calling people in from outside to make their comments is unfair, because they have not had the chance to hear any of the preceding comments for context.

At 10:45, about half go around to the other side of the building, in order to shout at the windows where the meeting is being held. Two nondescript police cars, one on each sides about 200 feet away, keep tabs.

Some in the crowd are coordinating with those on the inside. One is watching a livestream of the meeting. At least two people use much of their testimony time to stand in silence, so the commission can hear the shouts of those being excluded. About half of those on the outside remain at the front door to ensure they will be able to make their comments when called.

Let us in! Let us in!

Jill Popko, former mayor of Bordentown is blowing a whistle. During her tenure, Popko was ejected by police out of an October public-comment meeting. “These people’s taxes pay the wages of the Pinelands Commission…. When these people go to the pearly gates, the Lord Almighty is going to look at them and say, ‘I don’t think so!’ These people are destroying the earth, they are destroying New Jersey, and they are getting paid to do it.”

Post-pone! Post-pone! Post-pone!

There are at least five families with young pre-school children standing out in the rain. One mother of a five-year-old was outside for four hours before being let in to make her comments. Other parents escape to their cars for a break from the cold and rain (and from having to constantly hold hands with their children), with some giving up and going home.

A mother from Wynnewood Pennsylvania has traveled an hour and 20 minutes with her 17-month-old girl and four-year-old son. She was walking them to her car to take a break from the cold, and was told that she would get a phone call when it was her turn to speak. Why did she travel this far? “Because we love the Pine Barrens. If you want to protect something that you love, you come out for it.”

Afterwards, a mother from Tabernacle tells me her story in a text message:

I arrived at 9:30 but it took ten minutes or so to find parking at the Veteran’s Park at the end of the block. The doors were locked when we got to the door at about 9:45. I waited in the rain with my two kids, ages four and three for about 15 minutes. We returned to the car where we waited for another hour and twenty minutes. We had packed lunch and ate in the car. We then went to a local store to let them get some energy out. Drove back around 1:30 and the parking lot was still full and people were still outside. We had to abandon and go home, because it was too difficult for my kids.

Another mother says, “I don’t want my children drinking dirty water.” I joke that her standards are too high.

This is on purpose! Shame on you! This is on purpose! Shame on you!

The meeting was not postponed, and the cold did indeed disperse most of the crowd. When I left at 12:45, there were around 20 people left. If their goal was to tire people out so they would go away and stop fighting, they succeeded. At least for today.

Bill, the gentleman with the loud voice, tells me that it is getting close to the point where more direct action, such as creating a Pinelands version of Standing Rock, may be necessary. “They can’t vote on it today. But the next meeting in February, they’re going to approve it, guaranteed. The only thing we have left is direct action and civil disobedience…. The only other thing we have is lawsuits.”

Rachel Delgado-Simmons, a resident of Pemberton, tells me, “This is my church. Saint Anne’s is my church. My mother sat in on the meetings where they created the Pinelands Commission forty years ago. They created this charter to protect the Pine Barrens. We live in the Pinelands and we’re going to save the Pinelands.”

Obama Administration Frames Trump With Faux Mortgage Insurance Rate Reduction, using Americans as pawns.

(This is my first issue-opinion video. With thanks especially to Adryenn Ashley and Jimmy Dore for the inspiration. All sources and supporting evidence is below. This article has been published on Naked Capitalism, with many great comments.)

Within hours of becoming the 45th President of the United States, one of Donald Trump’s first orders of business was to sign an executive order to “raise mortgage insurance rates” on millions of homeowners, by around $500 a year.

But while it is technically true that Trump did sign the order reversing the decrease, it is a misleading picture. This story is more a negative reflection on President Obama than it is on Trump.

A brief tutorial from someone who is learning the subject right along with you

Generally speaking, if you are a first time homebuyer and purchase a house with a down payment of less than 20% of the home’s worth, you are required to purchase mortgage insurance. This insurance is to protect the the lender in case you default on your payments.

Let’s use the example of a $200,000 home with a $10,000 (5%) down payment. So you need to borrow $190,000.

$200,000 * .05 = $10,000
$200,000 - $10,000 = $190,000

Since January 2015, the upfront MIP (mortgage insurance premium) has been 1.75%, with the annual premium at .8%. So when you sign the mortgage, you pay the upfront premium of $3,325.

$190,000 * .0175 = $3,325

And then every year, you pay the annual premium of $1,520.

$190,000 * .008 = $1,520

As you pay off your principal, this number goes down.

The Obama administration’s reduction of the annual premium rate is .25 points (the upfront premium remains unchanged). So with the same loan above, your annual premium would instead be $1,045.

.008 - .0025 = .0055
$190,000 * .0055 = $1,045

That’s a savings of $475 a year, or about $40 a month.

$1,520 - $1,045 = $475
$475 / 12 months = $39.59

Backlash against Trump

The criticism of Trump for this move has been unrelenting and, at least in my internet bubble, unanimous. I have not seen any criticism of the Obama administration at all; including by, disappointingly, one of my primary sources of news, The Young Turks. (Can’t find the video at the moment, but they briefly criticized Trump for the move, without looking further into the issue.)

As reported by USA Today:

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that Trump’s words in his inaugural speech “ring hollow” following the mortgage premium action.

“In one of his first acts as president, President Trump made it harder for Americans to afford a mortgage,” he said. “What a terrible thing to do to homeowners. … Actions speak louder than words.”

As reported by Bloomberg:

“This action is completely out of alignment with President Trump’s words about having the government work for the people,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, through a spokesman. “Exactly how does raising the cost of buying a home help average people?”

Sarah Edelman, director of housing policy for the left-leaning Center for American Progress, in an e-mail wrote, “On Day 1, the president has turned his back on middle-class families — this decision effectively takes $500 out of the pocketbooks of families that were planning to buy a home in 2017. This is not the way to build a strong economy.”

And one of the many strong criticisms as documented by Common Dreams:

“Donald Trump’s inaugural speech proclaimed he will govern for the people, instead of the political elite,” [Liz Ryan Murray, policy director for national grassroots advocacy group People’s Action] said. “But minutes after giving this speech, he gave Wall Street a big gift at the expense of everyday people. Trump may talk a populist game, but policies like this make life better for hedge fund managers and big bankers like his nominee for Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, not for everyday people.”

The full picture

To say that Trump took savings away from the neediest of homebuyers is not true, because homebuyers never had the savings to begin with. The rate reduction was not announced until January 9 of this year–11 days before the end of Obama’s eight year term–and was not set to take effect until January 27, a full week after Trump was sworn in.

(Here’s the PDF from the FHA, of Trump’s suspension announcement.)

In addition, Obama’s reduction decision seems to have been made without any advance notice or even a projection document justifying the decrease. As I understand it, both of these things are unusual with a change of this magnitude.

Finally, with the announcement made little more than a week before the new administration was to be sworn in, and despite Trump being entirely responsible for implementing this change, the incoming administration was not consulted.

Now that the timing is clear, Time Magazine’s coverage is particularly misleading:

Trump, who claimed a populist mantle in his first speech as a president, signed the executive order less than an hour after leaving the inaugural stage. It reverses an Obama-era policy.

“Obama-era policy” implies the reduction was made long ago, and has been in force for much of that time.

(Rates can’t be raised if they were never lowered.)

Conclusion: It was a set up

Finally. After eight years of hard work and multiple requests, your boss approaches you on a Monday morning and says, “Good news! Starting in two weeks, I’m giving you a raise. Congratulations.”

Two days later, you find out that he decided to leave the company months ago, and his final day is Friday. Your raise doesn’t start until a week after that.

You ask him about your new boss. “Well, he’s a pretty strict guy.” He leans in, puts the back of his hand to the side of his mouth, lowers his voice, and continues, “Honesty, I hear he is a bit difficult to work with. Real penny pincher.” He sits up, his voice back to its normal cadence, “But don’t worry. I’m leaving a note on his desk telling him just how important this raise is to you and your family.” He stands up and slaps you on the back as he walks away. “I’m sure he’ll keep my word.”

If that were me, I would be upset at my new boss, but I would be furious at my old one. He had eight years to do something.

This was nothing more than an opportunistic political maneuver by the outgoing president, to set the incoming president up for failure. All while pretending to care about American homeowners. If the President Obama really wanted to help Americans, he would’ve considered this move–or something similar–long ago. Instead, he told them he was giving them a gift and promised that it would be delivered by Trump, knowing full well that he would never follow through. Lower-income Americans were used as pawns in a cheap political game.

Further confirming my theory, here is what was said when the reduction was originally announced:

“The Trump administration would be accused on day one of raising mortgage costs for average Americans if it reverses the FHA move,” analyst Jaret Seiberg, managing director at Cowen Group Inc., wrote in a note to clients. “Trump’s career has been real estate. It would seem out of character for him to be aggressively negative on real estate in his first week in office.” […]

“I have no reason to believe this will be scaled back,” [HUD Secretary Julian] Castro told reporters. The premium cut “offers a good benefit to hardworking American families out there at a time when interest rates might well continue to go up.”

It is not Trump’s responsibility to keep the promises that Obama makes on his way out the door. It is Obama’s responsibility to not promise what is not promiseable.

There are so many things for progressives to criticize Trump about. This is not one of them.

So who are we fighting anyway?

To paraphrase Jimmy Dore, “The way to oppose Trump is to agree with him when he’s right, and to fight him when he’s wrong. Anything else delegitimizes you, especially in the eyes of his supporters.”

And again in another of his videos: “We don’t need to unite against Trump. We need to unite against corruption and corporatism.”

If Democrats do something wrong, we need to fight them. If Trump does something wrong, we need to fight him. If Trump does something right, we need to stand with him.

If we can’t win with the truth, we don’t deserve to win.