A former Democratic mayor on the election that returned him to politics after 20 years.

Below is only a part of our conversation. There is much more to hear in the full audio. Note that the sound gets a bit rough at 6:30 when a large group of teenagers surround us at the restaurant. We head to Mark’s office, and the audio gets much better at around 8:30.

Mark Fury is a criminal defense attorney and the former mayor of Plainfield, New Jersey, serving for a single term during the latter half of the 1990s. After losing his reelection, Mark left politics for 20 years. The drama and urgency of this election is what brought him back. We met at the November monthly meeting for Our Revolution: South Jersey.

Mark voted for Hillary Clinton during the democratic primaries, “because I know her friends” and, “having been the victim of the Democratic Party myself, I didn’t think [Bernie Sanders] could win,” adding that the “Democratic Party is sometimes hard on newcomers.”

[Hillary] is a flawed candidate, but [Trump] is a walking disaster.” He is “clearly unqualified, clearly unprepared, two faced, inconsistent, outright lies, and has fairly dangerous policies–if he believes what he says.

I never thought much of Hillary, but at least I know who her friends are… As a human being, I would pick Bernie over Hillary. The choice that I made was strictly based on the political likelihoods. That’s why I sit here with the degree of outrage [I have] because maybe I should have looked at it differently… [Things] were wired to defeat [Bernie]. They cheated him. There’s no doubt about that… In the five months of posts in conversations [that I have had on Facebook], I don’t think I’ve said ten words positive about Hillary. It’s just too much of a battle… She was a really hard candidate to advocate for. Her negatives were huge…

Turning to Trump:

I have trouble convincing [A friend who supports Trump] person that the world is not flat… Half the conversation [is spent] debunking plainly false things… It is extremely difficult to win an argument on reason when the people you’re talking to are unfamiliar with reason.

Before this election, Mark speculated that around 25% of the electorate was this way. Now he worries it is much higher.

What do I do with the person who doesn’t believe evolution is a real science? What do I do with the person who doesn’t believe global warming is a real problem? … They’re unreasonable… I’m coming up on 60 years old… I don’t have the same time or patience for what is patently false… That is not a reasonable person. That’s not somebody you can talk with…

Over the past 25 years, the number of people who have turned their minds off to the progressive agenda has grown. That’s the issue I’m troubled by. And right now, those people are being appealed to buy [some] very dark forces. I don’t think Donald Trump has a master plan to wipe Jews or blacks or gays or anybody else out of America…but unfortunately he has surrounded himself with people [who might].

Yet here we are, at the beginning of at least four years where a significant amount of the population–not to mention the president himself–that has these beliefs, has a much larger voice. So what do we do? Does Mark worry, as an African-American, that he will be especially affected by a Trump presidency?

Me as an American will be affected. The only way my African-American status plays in, is on the daily, face-to-face interactions with human beings. I’ve been negotiating that field my entire life. The day after the election, the week after the election, when I would go in my normal haunts and I would see white Anglo-Saxon males, they greeted me the same way they did before the election. Maybe a little bit more generously. Almost like they were saying, “Well, I know you can tell that I voted for Trump, but I’m not a racist.” I’m like, yeah, we’re cool. We can still sit down and have a beer, right? The race issue isn’t going to get any worse. The civil liberties, social justice, educational policies, urban policies, economic policies. That’s the stuff that’s going to get worse.

Donald Trump is the P.T. Barnum of his time. He is the best salesman of his generation. He had 14 years to practice how to talk to the American population on television. And for that 14 years he sold himself as the ultimate executive… and now he is taking that show to the White House… this is not a man who wants to be president. It’s a step down in lifestyle for him. What does he get out of it? Except to grind the news of those folks so he doesn’t think gave him his proper respect. We have an annoyed bully in the White House.

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.

With Chesterfield NJ’s People Over Pipelines, mapping environmental impacts of two mile stretch of natural gas pipeline

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCitizensMediaTV%2Fvideos%2F1192236170856765%2F&show_text=0&width=400

The first hour is spent observing three people from Chesterfield New Jersey’s People Over Pipelines, mapping the environmental impacts of a two mile stretch of Southern Reliability Link (SRL) natural gas pipeline for Garden State Expansion (GSE) project. The project ostensibly increases energy capacity for New Jersey residents, but given the circumference and orders of magnitude greater pressure in the pipe, it is likely for export only. We start at the New Jersey Turnpike between exit six and seven, at the location where one and possibly two new compressor stations are being proposed. Right where the turnpike was expanded, it is suspected that the widening was not needed at all, except as a ruse to install the currently unused pipeline at public expense, long before the permitting process began.

At around the 1hr 12min mark, I have a conversation with a farmer whose lake, his only source of irrigation, will be permanently drained. In order to build the compressor station, the wetlands that it is being built on must be “dewatered.” According to the farmer, this process will take place seven months out of the year, draining 6,000 gallons every minute. Even though this draining will be done a quarter-mile away, over those seven months to year and a half, the lake will be entirely drained, along with everybody’s drinking wells and even the stream going through Sucker Run.

Since his only supply of irrigation will be permanently taken away, he will no longer be able to grow crops, and in a year, his land will likely be re-zoned as residential, causing his property taxes to skyrocket. Not to mention the wildlife and hundreds of trees that will be displaced or killed. He has been told that a water truck will be supplied for him, but only enough to live as a resident, not nearly enough to farm. He suspects that his land that is being eyed to connect the two parks that currently are on either side of his property.

Wayne Lewis: Free trade is colonialism without the guns

I just finished the book Bad Samaritans: The myth of free trade in the secret history of capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang. I consider myself moderately well informed on what the Trans-Pacific Partnership is really about, but I have a lot to learn, and reading this book and talking to Wayne is the beginning of my journey for doing that.

Wayne Lewis was a fellow Bernie Sanders delegate from New Jersey at 2016 Democratic National Convention. We met on Monday morning in the state delegation hotel lobby, waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where in a couple of hours Bernie Sanders would speak to his entire delegation.

He met his wife at the Borgota, where she works. He lives 15 minutes north of Atlantic city, and we are currently at a restaurant about 20 minutes west of there (I live about 50 minutes northwest of the restaurant).

Wayne has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and biophysics and graduate degrees in molecular biology and pure mathematics. He taught mathematics at Penn State University, and for the last 10 years has been a professional poker player. “I’m a systems thinker. I like to think about nonlinear, dynamic systems.”

From our interview on Wednesday early afternoon at the DNC (at the 18 minute mark):

Wayne:

I had very little experience in politics. It was Bernie Sanders who actually showed me the way to go with respect to politics. [This] is the first campaign that I’ve been involved with. I voted basically Democrat, but without giving much thought to it.

There was a period where I was just, like many Americans, wrapped up in my own life. Wrapped up in what I was doing to make money, and the relationship with my family. And just not really paying much attention to what was going on outside of my own little world.

Interestingly, about three years ago, a friend of mine who is pretty conservative, he’s a Republican, said to me–and I used to say the same thing a lot of people say: ‘Why even bother? Your vote doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all rigged. And what’s the point?’.

My friend said to me, “You know, you do an awful lot of complaining about the way the things are. And if you don’t get involved and you don’t vote, you don’t really have a right to complain.

This prompted him to dive into researching many issues, discovering how serious many issues are, and how everything is interconnected. Interrelated systemically.

It was at this point he saw Bernie Sanders, who put all of these pieces together into one coherent narrative, and was swept up into the campaign. Bernie Sanders was not the catalyst for him becoming involved, the issues were the catalyst.

According to Wayne, in a nonlinear, dynamic system, the pieces are interconnected in multiple ways, like computers on the Internet. The characteristics of each piece is not as important as the pattern of the connections between them. While the individual pieces are important, it is critical to balance between focusing on the pieces and on the whole, or connections.

Like at the DNC on Wednesday morning, this once again prompts the discussion on how in Bernie Sanders’ stump speech, every concept he talks about is intricately related to all of the others, And what’s most attractive about him is the narrative that weaves through his entire speech and platform. We agree that he has found the right balance between focusing on the “trees” and the “forest,” and also on how deep he goes into each issue, at a level most conducive to the general public understanding it. Wayne agrees and thinks that Bernie understands a lot more than he lets on.

This is as opposed to Hillary Clinton, who says many interesting and positive things–setting aside whether or not she means it–but there’s not much relationship between each topic. I suggested that Hillary looks too closely at the trees, to which he replied, “No, Hillary is looking at the individual cells of each tree.” He goes on to describe the term “reductionism,” with the analogy of dropping individual grains of sand on to a flat surface, slowly, at a regular pace. After some time, some of the grains will be touching one another, and eventually there will be a pile of sand. By this point, examining individual grains is no longer as important as the relationships between then. Once the pile becomes substantial, each new grain that falls can cause a landslide, affecting anywhere between a single grain and the entire pile. The concepts of chaos theory and fractals briefly come up at this point.

Moving onto free-trade, Wayne says that at its most fundamental level, free-trade is colonialism. It’s “about turning countries into colonies.” While wealth inequality is unfair to the less powerful and wealthy within a country, colonialism takes that to an international scale, with rich countries bullying developing ones. Interestingly, as a result of the New Deal, and especially due the period of the 1940s through the 1970s, while colonialism was active around the world, the strong middle class in the United States made everyone in our country benefit from it. Now our middle class is once again suffering like developing nations.

What used to be done with military might, is now accomplished with the three organizations created in Bretton Woods in 1944: The World Trade Organization, The International Monetary Fund, and The World Bank. According to Wayne, “They are the machinery of neo-liberals.” (Roughly speaking, neo-liberalism is defined as “those who want more free trade.”)

Like the Democratic Party in the United States is ostensibly for representing all the people, these three organizations are supposedly for equity among all countries as it relates to trade. And like the Democratic Party, these organizations only allow the rich and powerful nations a full seat at the table, therefore perpetuating this so-called “free” trade worldwide, where the rules are exactly the same for all sides, despite the players having vastly different capabilities, maturity, and resources. Free-trade, specifically, is “extracting wealth” from others in order to make yourself richer–not just getting more wealthy, but doing so at the involuntary expense of others.

Wayne suggests that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will turn all of its member countries, including the United States, into colonies of multinational corporations. “[I]t’s a little bit shortsighted in that, eventually, they’re cannibalizing their own markets. There’s no one left to buy their products.” The odious Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision of the TPP is the super-government that trumps all branches of our own government (not to mention those of all member states), where multinational corporations can sue countries, in secret, in a court that is out of reach of common citizens.

According to Naked Capitalism, the ISDS provision

allows for secret arbitration panels to effectively overrule national regulations by allowing foreign investors to sue governments over lost potential future profits in secret arbitration panels. Those panels have been proved to be conflict-ridden and arbitrary. And the grounds for appeal are limited and technical.

In essence, it means that countries can do nothing without the approval of corporations. But, according to Wayne, regarding the ISDS, “the cat’s out of the bag,” meaning that the public is well aware of the dangers of this provision, making it less likely that it, and potentially even the TPP, will pass.

That President Obama and so many in Congress would allow this loss of sovereignty to happen, rendering their own jobs useless, is mind-boggling (let alone the rest of the horrors in the TPP). Or more precisely, rendering the jobs of their successors as useless. Clearly they are getting something out of it. Wayne suggests that perhaps they are doing the best that they can, in listening to the “experts” and making what they believe is the right decision. To me that is no excuse for ignoring the less powerful, who are clearly against it, all suggesting something more sinister or selfish.

If the TPP takes hold, getting out of it will take decades, superhuman efforts, and tumultuous events. This is evidenced by the European Union and its Brexit and crisis in Greece. Progressives in the United States are currently fighting money in politics, but if the TPP passes, we will have to fight for decades to get rid of that, before we could even consider fighting money in politics again.

Back to colonialism. Where exactly does the motivation for this selfishness come from? Wayne suggests that, like our government’s campaign finance system, the very fabric of our market economy condones unethical behavior, by promoting the needs of the shareholder over the original intention–the spirit–of the company. A corrupt CEO and his direct reports may be removed, but no matter who replaces them, the corrupt system remains.

In the short-term, fixing the system requires all stakeholders–not shareholders–to have a seat at the table (one person one vote, not one dollar one vote). This will either be done by the already powerful granting seats to the less powerful, or by the less powerful demanding it (or by rendering the more powerful irrelevant).

Wayne suggests that the longer-term solution is for communities that are currently dependent on far away multinational conglomerates, such as for power generation and internet access, to join forces with other local communities to become self-reliant. To bring those far away resources and services as close to home as possible (placing it under their control). The goal is not to isolate the community from the outside world, rather to dramatically increase its self-sufficiency should they become disconnected. An example is aggressive installation of solar and smaller scale wind generators. After the interview, he elaborates: Local communities that are

atonomous in terms of food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, mobility sovereignty and basic production. Worker owned coops, farming coops, housing coops, and Commons management all have roles to play.

Other novel ideas are constantly developing. Local sovereignty, and distributed networks of functionality provide resilience to societies. In this, we aim to emulate the resiliance of natural ecosystems of every scale up to and including the living earth. It is distribution of function within and across scales of organization which provides this resiliance, similar to what Nasim Nicholas Taleb calls antifragility.

He ends on an interesting and unrelated note, speculating that the fossil fuel industry may undergo its own “quantitative easing” (giving them about $4 trillion with no strings attached), in an effort to permanently shut down the industry, to once and for all transition to green energy.

After the interview, he shares this with me:

Clouds In Each Paper, by Thich Nhat Hanh

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

“Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be”, we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Below are all of the sources that Wayne recommends during our conversation, plus a few more he gave me after the interview. He says:

All these sites are examples of of systems thinking applied to human society, and involve thinking about synergistic multidisciplinary solutions rather than the traditional, patchwork treatment of symptoms with unidimensional shortsighted solutions which always have unforseen effects downstream.

Books:

Websites:

You can follow Wayne on Twitter at @WayneLForBernie

Fred LaVergne’s strong statement against “fossil foolishness” at last night’s NJ DEP public hearing

Frederick John LaVergne, Democratic candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s third district, attended last night’s hearing for public comment, to testify to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The topic was whether a permit should be granted to Transco-Williams to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station on five acres of wetlands in Chesterfield, New Jersey. The station will be within one mile of homes, schools and businesses, and the environmental and health impacts would be devastating. Let alone the inherent threats of even the most well built pipelines.

Fred made it clear that he is against all of the natural gas pipelines (and their compressor stations, and all the “fossil foolishness“) being proposed in his district–and that this opposition is not incompatible with being a strong supporter of unions.

(Here is the full and unedited version.)

As you can see, he received an enthusiastic response from the crowd, which included members of People Over Pipelines, The Sierra Club, Rethink Energy Now, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, NJ Conservation, and Food & Water Watch.

Compare Fred’s views with his wealthy, incumbent Republican opponent who, according to the League of Conservation Voters, has a voting record that supports big business and profit over protecting the environment 94% of the time.

And, critically, Fred is not in the pocket of anyone, as evidenced by his raising a total of $600 (!) during the Democratic primaries, compared to his opponent’s $55,000, and that he also accepts no PAC money.

On November 8th, vote Fred LaVergne for Congress in New Jersey’s third district.