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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Why I WANT to Vote for Bernie Sanders


I’ve explained why I don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton, so please indulge me a bit further and let me say why I DO want to vote for Bernie Sanders.

I’ve spent the last 50 years working in and around environmental impact assessment – which is based on the simple principle that before government makes a decision, it ought to look at what the likely effects of that decision will be, and factor what it learns into its thinking. And importantly too, the principle that government should do that looking and thinking and factoring in consultation with the governed – particularly those likely to be affected by the decision.

Over those years, I’ve seen these simple principles complexified, bureaucratized, tweaked and diddled and reinterpreted in myriad ways, often by well-intentioned people (myself included, in some cases) and often enough by the self-interested.

Interested, that is, in protecting financial interests and aspirations, elite status, the ability to have one’s ways with the environment and the communities that live in it. And interested in making a quick buck by telling project proponents what they want to hear, and creating the appearance of compliance with law. Time and time again, I’ve seen Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian communities, Micronesians and Samoans, the urban poor, rural communities, people of color and just plain communities and neighborhoods in the US and other countries lose their treasured environments because what passed for impact assessment was either a flat-out whitewash or so complex and tortuous that no one but those paid to do so – usually by project proponents – could figure out what was being said and decided. I published a book about this back in 2009 (http://www.amazon.com/Our-Unprotected-Heritage-Whitewashing-Destruction/dp/1598743813), and in 2012 a short-form version (https://www.academia.edu/4316506/The_National_Environmental_Policy_Act_A_Corrupted_System), calling for urgent remediation. Both fell on deaf ears.

I wasn’t silly enough to think that any U.S. congress or executive was going to put reforming environmental impact assessment very high on its agenda, but I thought that maybe, just maybe, such reform might happen as part of a larger effort to make government responsive to the people and not just to corporations. I’d come to see my little problem of corrupted impact assessment as part of a much bigger problem: the corruption of government operations in general. Not necessarily purposeful corruption, but corruption through the operation of bureaucratic systems that have taken on lives of their own, whose effect is to make government unaccountable to, and indeed impenetrable by, the public.

But perhaps because those systems are so impenetrable, and have come to be taken so much for granted, I’ve been pretty routinely disappointed in my hopes for reform, even by leaders like Barack Obama.

I’ve concluded that the problem of an impenetrable, unaccountable government that’s in bed with corporations is such a big one, so deeply embedded in the guts of government operations, that it can’t be undone without what amounts to a revolution. Until now – at least since the days of Jack Kennedy, and in his own way Jimmie Carter – I’ve not had anyone to vote for who promises even to try for revolutionary change.


In Bernie Sanders I’ve found such a candidate, and I’ll vote for him – already have in the primary, but hope to do so in the general. I’m sick of voting for the lesser of two weevils.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Yes, Virginia, We Still Have a National Historic Preservation Act

There’ve been wild reports lately that the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) has been repealed.  Like reports of Mark Twain’s death, these stories have been greatly exaggerated. I’ve consulted a knowledgeable legal authority or two, and here’s what I’ve been given to understand:

1.       After its enactment in 1966, the NHPA was originally codified – that is embedded in the United States Code (USC) under Title 16

2.       Very technically speaking, the law as codified under that title was repealed - on 12/19/2014, by the National Park Service and Related Programs Act -- a housekeeping bill designed to impose better order on parts of the USC related to NPS..

3.       But it was immediately re-codified in Title 54 of the USC.

4.       So while it’s apparently technically correct to say that the NHPA was repealed, it was not really, substantively repealed; it’s in full force.

5.       And it’s still perfectly appropriate to refer to its various sections by their original designations (Section 106, Section 110, etc.). Those designations were not parts of the USC; they were section designators in the original bill as enacted by Congress. And none of the regulations have changed; Section 106 is still to be complied with per 36 CFR Part 800.

Clear as mud? Hey, this is Washington. Anyhow, the thing to know is that the law’s not gone away; it’s just got a new address.


Friday, April 01, 2016

Why I Don’t Want to Vote for Hillary Clinton

I’m a life-long Democrat – what my father (who was one too) used to call a “yellow dog Democrat,” meaning I’d vote for a yellow dog before I’d vote for a Republican. I worked in Jack Kennedy’s campaign (being then too young to vote), voted for Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, and – though rather dubious of his “New Democrat” realpolitik – Bill Clinton, as well as Gore and Obama.

I was working as a contractor for the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington DC when Bill’s First Lady, Hillary, undertook her laudable efforts to reform the nation’s health care system. It happened that I’d had occasion to become familiar with the Federal Advisory Commissions Act (FACA), for which GSA is the rulemaking authority.

As news reports began to appear about the First Lady’s efforts, it became apparent that the health care task force she headed comprised a hand-picked group that operated pretty much behind closed doors. It may very well have been an excellent hand-picked group, and health care certainly needed (and still needs) reforming, but I couldn’t help thinking that what she was doing violated the FACA – which requires that outside advisory committees be formed and managed in accordance with specific procedures designed to ensure openness, transparency, and the like. I asked a FACA specialist or two about it, and they kind of rolled their eyes.

Eventually the matter was litigated, and the White House narrowly prevailed, but it certainly left the impression – with me, at least – that Ms. Clinton was rather scornful of laws like FACA and felt that she and her cronies, by damn, could decide what was Right For The Country. Whatever its legality, her approach turned out to have been politically naïve; she and her husband got hammered by conservatives (among others) and her program went nowhere – until Barack Obama picked it up, reworked it, and got it into law as the Affordable Care Act.

So I was left thinking of Ms. Clinton as a pretty smart person – I’d enjoyed the jokes about how much more qualified for the presidency she was then her husband – who suffered from something of a political tin ear and an overdose of self-confidence.

Years went by in which I had no occasion to think much about Ms. Clinton, other than to be sad about her husband’s peccadillos and to wonder why she put up with them. Then in 2012 TIGHAR, the little non-profit with which I indulge in the archaeology of Amelia Earhart, found itself in conversations with the U.S. State Department; Ms. Clinton was then Secretary of State. The result was a sort of moral support by the Department for a deep-water search for Earhart’s plane on the reef at Nikumaroro Atoll in Kiribati (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikumaroro) – announced at a press conference to which I was honored with an invitation.

And there was Ms. Clinton up at the podium, telling us what an inspiration Earhart had been to her in her youth, and how TIGHAR’s search for her exemplified what was great about America, and how her support for the 2012 search represented part of President Obama’s “pivot to the Pacific” – putting the complexities of the Middle East behind him and focusing on the Orient. And I couldn’t help thinking: “What a crock!”

Now, I don’t doubt that Earhart was an inspiration to Ms. Clinton; Earhart was and continues to be an inspiration to lots of young and not-so-young women – and men, including me. And while I thought it was a bit over the top to say that TIGHAR represented what’s wonderful about America – hey, we need all the support we can get, and who’s going to reject the helping hand of the U.S. Government? But part of the pivot to the Pacific? I kept looking at Tessie Lambourne, Kiribati Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who was also up on stage, holding what I thought was a rather forced smile. I couldn’t help imagining what must be going through her head. Here is her country, damn near destitute and going underwater as climate change drives the sea to flood its low-lying islands (They’re all low-lying), and what does the U.S. Secretary of State want to publicize and support and represent as a piece of U.S. foreign policy? A bunch of Americans going out to Kiribati to look for one of their own. I felt mildly sick, despite the State Department’s excellent hors d’oeuvres.

I know, Washington does this sort of thing all the time, and it was a very little thing, and certainly the Secretary’s support was appreciated. And maybe it would have been fine if she hadn’t done the “pivot” business. But having her represent the Earhart search as somehow relevant to U.S. foreign policy struck me as very, very strange. It left me wondering just how she even defined foreign policy.

So, we arrive at the 2016 primary elections and caucuses, pitting Ms. Clinton as the darling of the Democratic establishment against the insurgent Bernie Sanders.  I support Mr. Sanders for a number of reasons having little or nothing to do with Ms. Clinton – notably that I think the country is due and overdue for some fundamental rethinking of its social, political, and economic priorities, and I can imagine Mr. Sanders, with a lot of help, making some of that happen.

But a lot of my Democratic friends want me to pledge to support Ms. Clinton if she becomes the party’s nominee, and I just can’t bring myself to do that. I look at the reports of her quarter-million-dollar speaking engagements whose transcripts she won’t release, and I’m reminded of her closed-door health care deliberations. I can’t help but think, “did she learn nothing from that experience?” And, of course, “what DID she say to those oil company executives?” I see her manifest irritation at Mr. Sanders’ unwillingness to get out of the way and let her be coronated, and I see the same sense of entitlement that permitted her to set up the health care task force without much evident respect for the law, and to mix up the desirability of solving the Earhart mystery with U.S. international policy. I read of her seemingly peculiar handling of official emails and again see evidence of arrogance and a sense of entitlement. I can’t think that she’d make a strong candidate, or a very good president.

Of course, it’s the Republicans who seem intent on running a yellow dog…