I lied to Cory Booker’s staff

I went to the #OurFirstStand rally in Newark New Jersey on January 15, with the purpose of recording the expected protests against NJ Democratic Senator Cory Booker’s no vote on Bernie Sanders’ amendment for importing drugs from Canada. After the rally was over, I was talking in the hallway with some protesters that I had met that day, and others that I have known since the Bernie Sanders campaign. Some stated that they were waiting to meet with Cory Booker privately to discuss his vote. This was the first I’d heard about it, but if I was able to get in, I wanted to. I am a journalist. I am also a constituent, living in New Jersey just across the river from Philadelphia.

(You can see me talking with people in the hallway around one hour and 40 minutes into the video, Cory Booker walks in a few minutes before it ends.)

A staff member came out and said that the senator required the meeting to be off the record, obviously meaning no recording devices. People protested this but ultimately agreed to the condition. I was still recording my livestream at the time. The staff assumed that I was with the protesters wanting to be part of the meeting, and when asked if I was a journalist, as you can hear on camera approximately seven minutes from the end, I said no.

As I walked into the meeting and sat down, I was still recording, holding the phone naturally by my side. Before the senator walked in, I stated to the audience, “Hopefully you will be able to hear things,” strongly suggesting that I was indeed going to record it. Cory Booker walked in and we started introducing ourselves, and about halfway through the introductions, about one minute and 30 seconds to two minutes in, I shut it off.

As soon as the meeting ended, I approached the staff members and told them that I lied (I used that word, “lied”) and that I was a journalist with Citizens’ Media TV, but that I honored their off the record request. That the livestreams were on Facebook for them to see if they wished.

Afterwards, I interviewed two other participants about what happened in the meeting, without revealing any of the confidences. During the conversation, I stated how I was not a protester and how I got caught up in becoming a participant, and that I let it happen, and that it was exciting.

I don’t overtly protest. My way of protesting is to give other protesters a louder voice with my camera. That’s the foundation of everything I’ve done with Citizens’ Media TV. So I’m not a protester and I am a protester. You could argue that I didn’t belong in a meeting exclusively intended for protesters.

I am a constituent of the Senator’s, am strongly against his vote on the amendment, and do not buy his justifications for doing so. Those who attended the meeting would hopefully agree that I acted like a well informed constituent, respectfully but forcefully told the senator my opinion, and that I belonged there with them.

You could also argue that I technically violated the off the record request by recording some of the introductions. I did not record any of the main portion of the meeting which was more than an hour long. I also did not violate any of the off record confidences at any point.

I lied about being a journalist, I technically lied about not recording the meeting, and although I disagree, I understand the perception that I did not belong in the meeting at all.

I’m sorry. I apologize to the senator, his staff, and to the viewers. As I stated soon after turning off the camera, we’re going to do this right, or were not going to do it.

One of the things that the senator said in confidence during that meeting, was that he was going to propose his own amendment that satisfied his drug safety requirements concerns. Just today it was revealed publicly that he did even better than that, and is standing with Senator Sanders for new ligislation that, starting in two years, allows imports with more overt safety controls.

Final vote on NJ Pinelands Natural Gas Pipeline set for Friday morning

The Pinelands Commission was created forty years ago to protect the New Jersey Pinelands (also called the Pine Barrens). From their about page, the commission is,

an independent state agency whose mission is to “preserve, protect, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the Pinelands National Reserve, and to encourage compatible economic and other human activities consistent with that purpose.”

The Pinelands is one of the nation’s oldest officially sanctioned nature preserves, and it sits on top of a 17 trillion gallon–with a “T”–freshwater aquifer.

In August of 2015, commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg, “without public notice, debate, or participation,” unilaterally decided to approve the natural gas pipeline, despite enormous opposition by those actually affected by it. The wishes of the board were ignored, and the decision was overruled by the courts on the day before Donald Trump was elected to the presidency.

Despite now clearly lacking the legal authority, Wittenberg and the commission’s (non-board) staff has for the third time decided the pipeline should be approved. App.com reports that, without the board’s knowledge,

A batch of e-mails made public last year showed regular communications and inappropriate coordination about the pipeline between Wittenberg and Pinelands counsel, Stacy Roth, with the Governor’s office and the gas company.

Additionally, in February of 2015, Governor Chris Christie replaced an environmentally friendly Pinelands Commission board member with one supporting the pipeline.

Wittenberg’s decision states that the pipeline clearly benefits the Pinelands since the gas is being routed to a power generation facility serving some of the Pinelanads’ residents. But according to Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance,

“That power plant could run at 100 percent capacity for 365 days and only use a fraction of the gas that pipeline will carry.”

In other words, the pipe is so large and under such pressure, that its ultimate use is expected to be foreign export for the purposes of “national security” and profit.

The board makes its final decision on Friday morning at 9:30, at a hotel in Cherry Hill, where it is scheduled for the hotel’s largest conference room, having a capacity of 1,500. But given the commission’s history of choosing smaller-than-appropriate rooms (most recently resulting in hundreds being shut out of meetings explicitly designed for public comment in January), multiple reports by participants of previous meetings that many union members arrive early to both fill seats and cheer pro-pipeline comments, and the anticipated yes-vote by the board, those interested in participating in the Friday morning meeting are encouraged to show up very early. Here is more information on the event from Food & Water Watch, New Jersey, and the official notification from nj.gov.

Corrected to reflect that the largest conference room is indeed confirmed.

DNC chair candidate Tom Perez’s pointless yet completely telling interview with TYT’s Nomiki Konst.

After refusing to speak with The Young Turks and their new correspondent Nomiki Konst (who is covering all of the DNC chair forums), and allowing his campaign to spread rumors about both her and the network, Tom Perez, on the final day of the forums, grants Konst an eight minute interview where he says absolutely nothing of substance regarding his plans for the DNC…which says it all.

(In my opinion, Perez seems to be intentionally running out the clock with his admittedly moderately impressive resume, platitudes, and long winded responses.)

Konst: Does you think ad consultants who profit off an inefficient, bloated party, should be allowed on the board of the Unity Commission?

“I have a lot of confidence in the Unity Commission. It was a very good compromise between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. I am looking forward to the results. There are a very inclusive set of folks going to be serving on that. And if I get the privilege of serving as DNC Chair, I will be appointing three really good folks.”

Wait, that wasn’t the question.

Konst: How do you change the party without banning these conflicts of interest who want to keep the party bloated?

“The people that I talk to want build a Democratic Party that works for everyone…. There is a groundswell of understanding that we need to transform the culture of the party. There are going to be a lot of different perspectives to be put to bear. That’s exactly what we want!”

Konst: Including consultants?

“We have a big tent. I have a pretty good track record taking organizations that haven’t been firing on all cylinders and moving forward…. I’ve never been afraid to make tough choices in all the jobs I’ve had.”

The Unity Commission’s decisions are non-binding. Their power is to “encourage” change. Yet Perez is still willing to give profit motivated consultants a “seat at the table” at this largely impotent agency. How easy it would be for Perez to use this to at least appear like he was making a genuine gesture towards progressives. This demonstrates how deep the corruption goes. Even the powerless things are up for sale.

Konst: You claim to be a unity candidate. Do any Sanders surrogates support your candidacy?

Perez first points to a former Sanders staffer off camera who now presumably works on his own campaign. “You’re really asking the wrong questions here. There are people who supported Bernie Sanders who will be voting for Tom Perez.”

Konst: Anybody notable?

“Do only celebrities count? There are a remarkable amount of folks who supported Bernie Sanders and supported Hillary Clinton and who support me.”

Konst: It’s an honest question to ask, as the future of the party is about bringing these sides together.

“I think the future of the party is about making sure that we are focused on what we have to do together to take on our existential threat, which is Donald Trump. When we take on that existential threat together, that’s how we move forward.”

No no no no no no no no no. The corruption and corporatism that Perez and Trump and so many politicians throughout all levels of government too often display and subscribe to, that…that is the existential threat to our democracy.

Democrats don’t need to “come up with a message for rural America,” they need to *listen* to rural Americans.

Corporate Democrats don’t listen to the people, because doing so would conflict with the needs of their donors. They don’t “need a message for rural America,” they need to listen to rural America! Doing so would make that message blazingly obvious.

Hence the success of TYT Politics, Unicorn Riot, We Are the Media, and my own Citizens’ Media TV.

We are the only ones, despite being invited in because of our press credentials, who spend three hours in the freezing rain, listening to the suffering of those shut out of a supposed public meeting for comment of a natural gas pipeline. Suffering with them. We are the only ones who thoroughly cover the DNC from the perspective of Bernie Delegates and the humiliation and suppression they (I!) had to endure. TYT Politics’ Jordan Chariton is now out at Standing Rock for the sixth time and, thanks to a tip from a TYT viewer, broke and still covers the Indiana lead crisis. We are the Media just got some footage and now NBC wants it. They responded with, “No. If you cared enough you would have showed up.” Unicorn Riot talks to those divesting from DAPL banks.

You can’t know what people want if you don’t talk to people. And not talking to people show exactly what you care about.

They have access, money, and power. We have the truth.

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.

Three progressives discuss surviving and thriving in the world of Trump

A conversation with Kitty Snyder and John Laurits, on how progressives can survive and thrive in a Trump administration. In particular, how can we express ourselves through protests and actions, without alienating or being blatantly disrespectful to Trump supporters? Can we join forces in any way?

(Apologies for the last few seconds getting cut off.)

Kitty was a super-volunteer for Bernie Sanders in Philadelphia, who I met at a debate watch party for the second debate in the Democratic primaries (a few days after “datagate“). Kitty was, for me, the visual symbol of the campaign and the Democratic National Convention, where we both were delegates for Bernie Sanders. Kitty is also an editor for the Thompson Timeline, which is an academic study and documentation of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. She is also an administrator for their excellent Facebook group, and is the author of the article that partially inspired this conversation.

John is the “math blogger” and journalist that kept hope alive for Bernie supporters for a few months in the second half the campaign. John was at the DNC as a protester across the street in FDR Park, and we had a three-part interview where we thoroughly discussed our experiences. John is also an organizer of Occupy inauguration, which is been endorsed by many progressive organizations including Jill Stein, and is the first major demonstration to be conducted directly among Trump supporters. You can support John on his Patreon website.

We discuss the following and more:

– How the Democratic Party lost this election for themselves, but is desperately trying to blame anyone and everything, such as sexism, racism, Jill Stein voters, James Comey, and calling Bernie Sanders this election’s Ralph Nader spoiler. And how the media is also significantly responsible, and continues to discourage conversation and solidarity.

– Do we need to change our priorities, now that there is so much more to be protested? Do we give Trump supporters any input in prioritizing this list? For example, stopping the Dakota access pipeline is currently one of our most important causes, but once Trump takes office, he has openly stated that he will allow fossil fuel companies to do whatever they like. Do we continue the fight, despite knowing that this one will likely be lost? Do we document for years of suffering at the hands of this loss (not to mention the ongoing brutality against water protectors)?

– There is clearly overlap between progressives and Trump supporters, in that “the system is broken.” Can we get creative in working together? For example, Kitty brings up the intriguing idea of ending the war on drugs, which in turn would ease the problem of immigration, since transporting drugs illegally between Mexico and the United States would be dramatically reduced.

The most important thing progressives can do is reach out to Trump supporters with an open mind. If we start from the point of view that it is our job to educate Trump supporters on how they are misguided, then there is no hope for us. Some (and we believe few) of Trump’s supporters are blatant racists. Some of his supporters may very well do things that directly hurt those we care about. And none of this diminishes the fact that they deserve our respect. Kitty: “If you want this country to be less racist than you need to spend some time figuring out why people become racist.” We may view the world in different ways, but we all have the same core needs: providing for our families, staying safe, giving a good education to our kids, taking care of our loved ones when they are sick.

We must get off of our computers, stop watching television, get out of the house, and start talking to people that disagree with us. Get involved with their groups. Invite them to become involved in ours. Let’s help each other survive. Even if we do this kind of outreach perfectly, the next four years will still likely be extremely difficult for all sides.