Environmental policy Policy and Politics Politics Uncategorized

From Leader to Laggard in Environment

How conflict over environmental regulations led to U.S. polarization and political paralysis

 A 2020 poll on voter views about climate change by the Pew Trust found that “88% of Democratic-registered voters said stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost. A 61% majority of GOP voters said such environmental laws cost too many jobs and hurt the economy”. The quote reflects both the split in the parties and the widespread assumption in the U.S. that efforts against global climate change require more rigorous regulations. Recent research observes that the U.S.’s labyrinthine regulatory system is an anomaly among advanced nations and has not led to an effective policy against climate change; it lies at the root of the U.S.’s current status as an environmental laggard in the campaign against climate change.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. had no conflict over environmental policy. The Clean Air and Clean Water Act Amendments of 1970 and 1972  were approved unanimously in the Senate en route to overwhelming passage in Congress. They and the NEPA Act of 1969 made rapid progress against pollution. The U.S. became the world leader in environmental policy. However, the revolutionary new laws contained seeds of future problems. The following list offers a troubling picture about subsequent progress in environmental management.

  • World Bank data show that in 2018 Sweden was the world leader with 52% renewable to total energy use. The U.S. was at 10%, near the bottom of European nations.
  • The U.S. landfills 50% of municipal waste, Sweden landfills 1%.
  • The U.S. recycles a third of glass bottles; advanced European nations recycle 90%
  • Power plants use about a third of produced energy for electricity. Over 11% of European power plants, but only around 1% of U.S. power plants employ cogeneration.
  • The U.S.‘s uniquely labyrinthine regulatory/permitting system requires an average of 4.5 years for permitting major infrastructure projects; delays and cost overruns are typical for federally-assisted initiatives.
  • Regulatory-associated NIMBY shackles innovative renewable energy developments. For example, 5,341 wind turbines operated in European waters in 2020. The U.S. has seven turbines in our highest wind-energy corridor along the Atlantic coast.
  • The U.S. is dependent on foreign suppliers for renewable energy equipment and minerals critical for renewable energy development.
  • Federal agencies are inhibited from employing proactive management techniques to minimize wildfires; carbon dioxide from millions of acres of burned national forests goes unnecessarily into the atmosphere.
  • The U.S. has thousands of brownfields and many Superfund sites that could be remediated with advanced techniques. The Bureau of Mines was leading cleanup research when it was abolished in the 1990s. Charged with managing the sites, EPA is overburdened by mandated tasks and operates under constraints that offer little scope for entrepreneurship.

What happened to U.S. environmental effectiveness? A major answer is polarization over environmental regulations. The drastic impact of 1970s environmental laws on the economy aroused antagonism in the business community. Conflict over environmental policy widened to political polarization between environmentalists and U.S. industry and their respective political supporters in the 1980s. Global climate change concern subsequently intensified conflict. A prominent environmental scientist’s 2021 book is titled The New Climate War and openly labels corporations as the enemy. While not monolithic, much of industry and political supporters quietly reciprocate environmentalist hostility. This condition is incompatible with progress. Industry (not academic activists or their political supporters) builds electrical grids – a point noted by Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Radicalization has led each side in the conflict to automatically oppose the goals of the other.  As a result, neither side achieves its goals. Over 50% of Republicans in Congress were recently claimed to be climate deniers. The strategy of leading environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council has been to shut down fossil fuel production or transportation wherever possible under the assumption that this will speed  transformation to boutique renewables – solar and wind energy. They oppose backup nuclear power, biomass energy, and even hydropower – which together dominate current U.S. renewable energy production. They are skeptical of carbon sequestration (geological burial of CO2) because it could encourage continuation of fossil fuel production. Besides stoking counterhostility, the campaign against “dirty” energy industries that will remain critical to society well into the future diverts progressive younger talent from seeking leadership positions in fossil fuel and related industries.

Risks of overzealous campaigns. Besides the European fuel crisis created by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, if shutdowns like the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, lawsuits like those challenging national maintenance of oil and gas pipelines, and blockage of LNG terminals continue to exceed progress in replacing fossil fuels, they could lead to stranded financial and technical resources, supply interruption, and major resumption of fuel imports. Steep price rises could sour public opinion against proactive environmental measures. They would risk future ENRONs, companies playing the environmental game with less than admirable motives.

 Outdated U.S. regulatory and permitting systems vs. European policies. The U.S.’s revolutionary environmental statutes date from 1969 through the 1970s. Polarization and Congressional gridlock have frozen in place policies designed for earlier times and conditions. U.S. policies contrast with cooperative environmental policies adopted by European nations in the early 1990s. Europeans are now world leaders, whereas the U.S. is a laggard in environmental policy and performance.

Germany’s ingenious feed-in tariff, initiated by the Green Party, exponentially increased renewable energy development without front-end government investments. Denmark took an aggressive approach to wind energy development, exploiting the country’s flatness and high wind energies. It became the world leader in wind turbine production. Once alternative energy capacity was sufficiently developed, DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas Company) divested itself of oil and gas interests and transitioned entirely into offshore wind energy development. The new entity, Ørsted, is the primary contractor for proposed new offshore wind developments off the U.S. Northeast coast.

A better approach. Complex environmental regulatory/permitting systems introduced in the 1970s were effective in controlling environmental pollution. However, they subsequently proved equally effective in inhibiting infrastructure projects and renewable energy development. Rather than applying stricter regulations or seeking to weaken enforcement of existing laws,  the U.S. could benefit by considering the superior performance of  European environmental policies and revisiting the U.S.’s 40-year-old environmental management system.

Politics Uncategorized

Is The Police Chief’s Role in the Floyd Case Underrated?

Minneapolis Police Department Chief, Medaria Arradondo, has gotten neutral or favorable treatment in the media. This may be in part because he was the first African American to serve as chief, and because of his willingness to testify against Derek Chauvin, recently tried for the death of George Floyd. I offer observations that Arradondo may have a greater role in problems at the Minneapolis Police Department than might be apparent.

The Minneapolis Police Department website

 Police department websites reflect police leadership policies and are the main information interface between police and the public. In 2018 a federal work-study project under my leadership at George Mason University used police websites among criteria to rank over 50 Virginia counties and municipalities for quality of public safety and policing. [].

Out of curiosity, after the death of Floyd, I applied our criteria to rate the Minneapolis Police Department’s website. I was startled to find that it would have ranked at the bottom of all Virginia police websites. Instead of making it easy for the public to use the site, I had to solve visual puzzles to even enter the site, and more puzzles got In the way of opening sections within it. This implies astonishing insensitivity to the purpose and use of police websites.

The current department website is changed from that after Floyd’s death. It emphasizes the chief’s personal background and accomplishments but lacks information useful to the general public, like readily accessible telephone numbers to relevant services, important news, and information on community outreach programs. Crime statistics, another type of data of interest to the public, are offered in quirky detail without simple yearly totals that are common to most departments as well as the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report tables. The death of Floyd is listed only by date without mentioning Floyd’s name, among other events, in a partly buried data set:  “Frequently requested public information”.  It lists only a Fire Department report along with that of the Hennepin County medical examiner.

Arbitrary firings of Chauvin and accompanying officers

Within hours after Floyd’s death, Chief Arradondo fired Chauvin and the 3 officers present.

Whatever the actions of the officers, there should have been procedures for proper evaluation of the circumstances as well as respect for the rights of the individuals. Arradondo’s abrupt action could be considered unprofessional and even self-serving, possibly taken to distance himself from association with the appalling treatment of Floyd. The Chief’s subsequent testimony against Chauvin logically follows from his earlier actions. Arradondo’s public comments following the death of Floyd did not strike me as measured and appropriate under the circumstances. Rather, his management gave the impression of being arbitrary and erratic.

Minneapolis Police Department history

An article by an award-winning journalist, who covered police activities in Minneapolis,  Todd Baer, notes that Minneapolis police had a history of brutality and coverups during the past five years. This was true before Arradondo became chief, but there is no evidence that he brought significant change, nor that the mayor, who has the authority over the appointment of the chief in Minneapolis, took appropriate action. In short, isolated positive actions by the chief do not adequately counter evidence suggesting that he is self-focused, erratic, and showed obliviousness to problems associated with his department – which could extend to the behaviors of members of his force.

The importance of top police leadership was dramatically illustrated when two commissioners of police for  New York City, Raymond Kelly and William Bratton, made comprehensive changes in police policies, rapidly bringing violent crime in what was previously the murder capital of America down to among the lowest murder rates for big cities in America (see below figure).

Source: “Crime in New York City”, Wikipedia, 2021


Police leadership deserves more attention in the Minneapolis case as well as in other cities experiencing excessive force on the part of police against African Americans.


Baier, Todd.  2020.  “The Minneapolis police department has a long history of brutality: I know because as a local reporter I covered it for five years and discovered the lengths it would go to conceal it.”  Al Jazeera

American history Civil War Economy Environmental policy Industry Journalism Policy and Politics Politics Science and education Uncategorized

The Coronavirus signals need for reform of U.S. policies for approval of vaccines and advanced cures

I sent a message similar to this essay to Robyn Dixon, author of an article on Russian science and vaccine development in the Washington Post yesterday, February 9. 2021. The Dixon article cited scientist and journalist, Irina Yakutenko, saying that “you should do everything according to the protocols. It takes a long, long time. It takes a lot of money”. That has been true for U.S. policies that have required ten years to release new vaccines*. But the “miraculous” speed of vaccine development in 2020 tells us that those medical policies are grievously outdated and need to change. I copied this message to Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, encouraging them to explore reforms with Senate colleagues and NIH Director Francis Collins. Republicans would likely agree about the importance of reform.

The length of time needed for vaccine development is due to the extreme rigor of U.S requirements for them and other critical cures. This in turn is attributable to concern to minimize adverse effects. The positive potential of a new vaccine can be confirmed in a dozen cases, but to rule out 1:1000 adverse effects may require years and trials with 6000 persons. The FDA operates in the world’s most litigious nation and is risk-averse. We saw what happened in 2020 when excess cautions were swept aside because of the emergency created by the coronavirus. The speed of the approval was startling for our system, but other nations produced vaccines in the same time frame. Sixty-three coronavirus vaccines have been reported in clinical development. Because of the U.S.’s overwhelming dominance in research funding and the rigor and reputation of the National Institute of Health, the sponsor of federally supported trials, our protocols are widely adopted in Germany and other EU nations.

A new vaccine can cost $500 million to $2 billion. This leads to exorbitant treatment costs and a lack of attention to rarer diseases that could be cured. An example is my wife, Lucy, who has a rare “SCA 8” ataxia that could be readily cured by gene editing – but it can’t get attention.

A sleeper factor also holds back treatment in America. The Washington Post article mentions scientific publication as being desirable for Russian medical development. To the extent that they report new knowledge and advances, scientific publications play critical roles.  But the U.S. suffers from a flood of excess clinical publications. Reports offer many promising new treatments “for the future” while there is a dearth of new treatment opportunities today. The reason is that it is more advantageous for medical researchers to apply for research funding and get their names in print or in the news for promising developments than to take the risks of moving to formal treatment. The latter receives little public recognition while it incurs major risks for lawsuits over new procedures. Risk adverseness operates on clinics as well as clinicians.

In 2016 I became personally familiar with a pioneering Austrian heart surgeon who saved the life of an American composer who had a heart attack while attending a concert in Vienna. Dr. Werner Mohl** developed a procedure for restoring heart tissue damaged in heart attacks. The American would probably have died in the U.S. because the procedure would not have been authorized until clinical trials proved its efficacy.

*Vaccines, 5th Ed., Philadelphia, Saunders 2008.


Policy and Politics Politics Uncategorized


Donald Trump’s lack of regard for truth during his presidential tenure, with (more than 20,000 documented lies and prevarications (Kessler et al, 2020), and behaviors that violated norms of democratic governance, are acknowledged even by his most articulate supporter, Victor Davis Hanson  (Hanson, 2019). Given Trump’s crudities and claims that he doesn’t read (e.g. Graham, 2018), it is understandable that people regard Trump as ignorant – including ignorance of the history and traditions of the nation he celebrates.  A Google Scholar query on the phrase “Trump ignorant”* in Nov. 2020 brought up more than 19,200 hits.

The above image is misleading. It poses the riddle of how a supposedly ignorant businessman who never held public office could manage the political and organizational feat of gaining the highest office in the United States – an achievement that has been denied to highly qualified and influential individuals of both parties. I suggest that there is good evidence that Trump was not stupid and was not poorly informed about subjects of interest to him until something like 2019. At that point successes and a gigantic ego evidently overrode over what was earlier a degree of caution and willingness to listen to people with diverse views.  He began firing appointees who showed differences from his views.

“It takes a lot of smarts to play dumb – (Trump, 2008)”

An ignorant image for Trump is fundamentally misleading because Trump wanted people to believe it. In the book, Trump Never Give Up  (Trump & McIver 2008, p 167 ) Trump states:  “. . .  it takes a lot of smarts to play dumb. Keep them off balance. Knowledge is power, so keep as much of it as you can to yourself as possible”. Appearing to show ignorance or crudity encouraged opponents and media pundits to overlook his strategies and tactics. Of especial importance, it also served to distinguish Trump from the academic, political, and media establishment in appealing to a disillusioned base.

So let’s take a factual look at Trump’s background. In the foregoing book (Trump & McIver, 2008), Trump cites a kindergarten teacher who referred to him as her most curious and questioning student. Increasing ungovernable behaviors in elementary school led father Fred Trump to move Donald to the New York Military Academy. During his five years of attendance there Trump came to thrive under imposed discipline, graduating as a cadet captain, the highest rank. It is clear that sports were his main interest. The school records show him as a star in baseball and football but also involved in soccer, bowling, and wrestling (Blair, 2005). However, he would have gained a solid secondary education including science, math,  and history or he would have not been promoted to the highest rank.  Following NYMA, Trump attended two years at Fordham University, a Jesuit institution where in the early 1960s, history including classics was a core requirement. While wires may have been pulled in getting him into the University of Pennsylvania’s distinguished Wharton School of Finance (Byrne, 2019), Trump would have gained a background in economics and finance, without which he would hardly have been able to gain prominence as a real estate mogul in New York City, or could seriously consider launching bids for the presidency.

Figure 1. Trump as cadet captain at New York Military Academy. Source: 1964 NYMA yearbook.

In another book (Think Like a Champion, Trump & McIver 2009) Trump cites a list of authors ranging from Pythagoras, Machiavelli, Thoreau, and Albert Schweitzer, to Bill Gates and Billy Jean King. His favorite book is the classical Chinese text, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, which emphasizes the importance of surprise. Trump’s choices of quotations have a pattern. They tend to focus on achieving success.

The final argument against Trump being dumb is that he went from 3% in polls before he announced his candidacy for president on June 2015, to leading 16 credentialed Republican candidates one month later. His campaign operatives spanned the spectrum of Republican politics from assistants to Robert Dole to Tea Party activists. Though permanently tarnished by actions in the last two years of his presidency and brazen attempts to claim fraud in the election results of 2020, Trump is not an adversary to underrate.


Blair, G. (2005). Donald Trump, Master Apprentice (2nd ed.): Simon & Schuster

Byrne, J. A. (2019, July 8). Trump Admitted To Wharton With Help From A Family Friend. Retrieved from

Graham, D. A. (2018, Jan. 5). The President Who Doesn’t Read: Trump’s allergy to the written word and his reliance on oral communication have proven liabilities in office. Atlantic Magazine, Retrieved from

Hanson, V. D. (2019). The Case for Trump: Basic Books.

Kessler, G., Rizzo, S., & Kelly, M. (2020). Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: The President’s Falseholds, Misleading Claims, and Flat-Out Lies: Washington Post.

Kranish, M., & Fisher, M. (2016). Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power: Scribner Book Company.Trump, D. J., & McIver, M. (2008 ).

Trump, D.J., & McIver. (2008). Trump Never Give Up: John Wiley & Sons 

Trump, D. J., & McIver, M. (2009). Think Like a Champion: Vanguard Press.