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 (, and in 2012 a short-form version (, 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.


Anonymous said...

Bernie is likeable. Some TV commentator quipped that his speech sounds like an old duffer ordering a sandwich in a Kosher Deli. But, what makes you think he will champion NEPA and environmental regulation ? Bernie is a Socialist. That means he puts people first, not the gentrified environmental b.s. His whole thing is jobs, and clean manufacturing run by workers, and housing, and clinics, and mass transportation, and skills training, and public relief programs, and all other social services. That's a revolutionary agenda that will consume virtually all of his attention and energies. He won't have time to worry about yellow bellied booby birds and endangered polka dot minnows and the rest of the crap that makes rich white liberals giddy. And historic preservation - are you kidding ? If a low income housing project needs to go up, the antebellum neighborhoods have got to go, and there's no time to "consult" about it. People need safe, functional housing, NOW, not Art Nouveau or Art Deco or Queen Anne Italianate whatever crapola. If anything, NEPA and the environmentalists will get in the way of his social revolution. And so will historic preservation garbage.

Thomas F King said...

What makes me think Bernie will champion NEPA and environmental regulation? Well, I think the major problem with "NEPA and environmental regulation" right now is that they've become utterly corrupted by big money, precisely as have the banking industry and the military-industrial complex (See my 2008 book, "Our Unprotected Heritage"). My hope is that Bernie would put people in charge of CEQ, EPA, and the Dep't. of the Interior who would try to address this corruption, in line with the reforms he'd be pushing elsewhere. Hillary, on the other hand, promises only continuation of the status quo.

HB said...

Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist but what he really is, is an old-fashioned FDR Democrat, God bless him. It's a shame there aren't a couple of dozen of him in the Senate. I find it deeply ironic that people who want to make America great again want a return to the golden age of liberalism, yet the thing they seem to scorn most are true liberals like Bernie. We can hope that liberals will finally recover from their marginalization (at the hands of both parties) in the age of Trump, but I fear it will not happen.

Good post, Tom. I have a background in environmental sciences, and it fills me with despair that the government agencies charged with protecting the environment are toothless.