pale skin naked girl

Good News on Las Animas

13 Sep
by John, posted in environment, Policy, West   |  No Comments

Friday I finished a fantastic Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting as a sportsperson’s representative from Boulder.  There are public Commission records of people observing the terms “sportsperson” and “Boulder” are not normally used in the same sentence. We were in Craig this meeting on the Western slope and the town was humming with sportsmen and women arriving for the season.

About a month ago I wrote about seeing the Las Animas river from the air near Durango as the pollution from the Gold King mine flowed down the green river turning it to orange.


The contaminated water from the Gold King mine near Silverton was pouring heavy metals into the river. For me the event broke down into two crisis events:

  1. The EPA’s breach of the mine retaining wall spilling pollution downstream; and
  2. The crisis management response of EPA.

The good news is the pollution of the river is trending toward the most optimistic of predictions.

Patt Dorsey, Southwest Region Manager for CPW, briefed us on information that was largely already public, but in a very practical way.  Patt is one of many stars at CPW who managed to demystify most of the conspiracy theories and misconceptions.  Here is my list of important takeaways:

  1. The disturbing color of the water is from iron, which is largely not harmful to humans and wildlife.
  2. The leak at three million gallons is hard to picture, but Patt pointed out it was 9 acre feet of water.  An acre foot is the amount of water necessary to cover an acre of land in a sheet of water one foot deep.  A lot of water to be sure, but a tiny fraction of the river’s flow. This is the cause of the quick dispersion of the metals.
  3. There may be two or three years of discoloration as sediment is stirred in spring runoff.
  4. To date immediate wildlife harm is not measureable – mortality of fish, birds, beavers, and others appear normal.
  5. EPA is apparently planning to proceed now to overcome its inertia and build a wastewater treatment plant to address at least part of the mine runoff in the Upper Las Animas.

Enormously good news confirming Governor Hickenlooper’s early optimism and leadership (Hick drank out of the river within days).

Now I step out of my role as a Commissioner and speak only as a citizen.

None of this excuses the EPA’s bungling breach of the dam wall in the mine with a backhoe or lessens the downstream Native American experience.  Native Americans took a more cautious view of the spill, particularly agricultural irrigators, and have significant crop damage.  The shunting of such claims to the Federal Torts Claim process, instead of an immediate emergency funding, would never be publicly accepted from a private company.

As Congress moves forwards into hearings I hope they force EPA to:

  1. Develop and implement an improved crisis management plan, train to it, and adopt a continuous improvement culture around safety and crisis;
  2. Some level of emergency funding until the Federal Tort Claims process winds its way to a just outcome; and
  3. Complete the wastewater treatment plant(s).

Really the science on water quality is as good as we could hope.  Now it is time for some matching policy decisions.

True Bi-Partisan Opportunity on Gun Violence

28 Aug
by John, posted in gun violence   |  No Comments


Based on CDC data and published in chart form in the The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

I realize it is impossible to imagine a civil conversation about this topic that includes advocates from both sides.  But this type of a chart always reminds me advocates are caught up in winning, not preventable deaths.  Gun rights or gun control groups both have made the decision not to seek a consensus path forward.

Advocates spend most of their time debating the effects of gun control or gun rights on the ability of criminals or the mentally ill to harm others.  That is the red part of the pie chart, which is roughly a third of gun violence deaths.  And this argument most often leads to mud slinging and little policy progress.

We should focus on the blue and yellow parts of the chart – suicide and accidents, which make up approximately two-thirds of the deaths.  As a country, without any winners or losers, we should commit to steadily but radically reducing those numbers.

Now, I am sure gun control advocates would argue that gun bans or other measures would greatly reduce suicides and accidents.  Even assuming that is true, it is politically impossible.  Do gun control advocates want to spend there time on impossibilities raising funds or do they want to reduce suicides and accidents?

Gun rights advocates are convinced that no gun control measure will ever satisfy gun control advocates.  That as each new measure is passed, fails to meaningfully change the situation, gun control advocates will return with a new measure leading to registration and confiscation.  Do gun rights advocates want to spend their time stonewalling in fear raising money or do they want to reduce suicides and accidents?

I believe an initiative on both suicides and accidents has to start with more training.  Even as gun ownership has soared in the United States, it is increasingly difficult  for the general public to find safe staffed shooting ranges with instruction.  As public ranges are closed the only real replacement are public lands or private ranges where pricing is a barrier to many.  Gun control advocates that resist safely run gun ranges believing they are going to reduce gun ownership are only driving more untrained gun owners.

In my experience the NRA sponsors most training at public and private ranges.  In the courses I have taken, the NRA delivers its message in a surprisingly nuanced way.  It may comfort gun control advocates to believe an NRA sales pitch is “Join or I’ll shoot you.”  But in reality it is more,  “We are going to show how you to be a safe gun owner who can ethically hunt and protect your family.”

The gun control advocates now rebranding themselves as gun safety advocates are completely absent from instruction along with their message.   It is a strategic mistake for both the government and gun control advocates to abandon to the NRA gun ranges and instruction.  Why abandon the debate?

At a gun range you can in a structured environment not only teach shooting, but safe shooting, safe storage, safe transport, children and guns.  You can empower adults and children on what to do if they encounter a gun in a home or business.  You can empower them that it is okay and how to intervene with a mentally ill family member or friend who has access to guns.

The military spends a lot of training time before any recruit gets near a gun.  Imagine a basic county and state funded facility staffed with range officers from both the NRA and gun control advocates able to provide training and their own take on gun ownership. Why would we not want to make available to tens of millions of gun owners training on storage, use, and intervention?

And both sides could continue pounding each other on gun control versus gun rights, the red pie slice, and homicides.  But, if we could make progress via training on reducing suicides and accidents due to a truly broad based initiative larger discussions might happen.  Because to work together both sides would have to actually listen.



EPA Failure on Las Animas

23 Aug
by John, posted in Colorado Politics, environment, leadership, West   |  1 Comments

I was in Durango when the EPA accidentally unleashed three million gallons of mining waste water into the Las Animas watershed.  I witnessed first hand as local officials attending the Parks & Wildlife Commission scrambled for information from a disorganized EPA.  All the while the orange sludge flowed inexorably downstream towards us.


If you have spent most of your career managing crisis or training for it, you recognize the onset of a crisis in all its stages:

  1. Missed opportunity – we now know the EPA was warned last year that the mine was full of water and in danger of a catastrophic release;
  2. Acute Crisis – the actual event, such as the release of poison gas in Bhopal or the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island;
  3. Chronic phase – the period after the event where leaders struggle to get in front of the impacts of #2;
  4. Recovery phase – addressing losses and impacts of the community (geographic and stakeholders); and
  5. Lessons Learned vs. Repeat.

The goal of any great leader in a crisis who has missed the chance to avoid it is to minimize the time between #2 and #3, then move quickly to #4.  You do that with communication, credibility, and empathy.  You cannot afford to flail around until you lose credibility and risk organizational survival.

I am not a reflexive critique of EPA.  Over my corporate career my teams interacted with EPA often.  It is a professional scientific organization that can at times seem disconnected from business and local communities, but I never found it incompetent or mean spirited.

Without EPA we would still have rivers on fire.  Pick your favorite old movie or television show from the 1960s that shows profiles of downtown Los Angeles or New York (my favorite is the dystopian vision of Manhattan choking in smog circa 1968 in Kenneth Clark’s final episode of Civilization).  We do not have that air today in large measure because of the EPA’s flexible implementation of the Clean Air Act.

This is not about big government or small government.  It is not about whether the EPA’s budget is too big or too small. It is about screwing up, being slow to empower communities with information,  failing to make whole small businesses, workers, farmers, and Native Americans, and losing your credibility.

Given the torture that government and NGOs pile upon private companies for mishandling environmental events, the disorder at EPA is disappointing.  This was a blown opportunity for EPA to show the world how to handle an environmental crisis.  A well designed and trained to plan might have contained the following:

  1. Within minutes and certainly two hours of the release an immediate notification to the Governor of Colorado, the head of EPA, and the President followed by a public statement;
  2. The appearance within three hours of the most senior available EPA crisis manager on-site outlining live the plan and its implementation to the press, including the announcement of a plan to hold twice daily press conferences to answer any and all questions;
  3. The appointment as spokesperson for EPA on the disaster of a well known Colorado or Western conservationist;
  4. The establishment of a website within twenty-four hours for real time 24 x 7 dissemination of data;
  5. The announcement within 72 hours of a fund to disburse emergency funding to impacted businesses, workers, and downstream communities;
  6. Within a week the announcement of a plan to address long term cleanup, monitoring, and final disbursement of damages.

It is never too late to move toward such a response. But what a lost opportunity! The world’s leading environmental regulatory body acted like a third rate chemical manufacturer caught dumping coal waste into an Appalachian stream.

As of this morning per its website EPA is not offering immediate financial support for losses, but directs “claimants” to a form process under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  That is the equivalent of a private company saying “sue me”.

And the worst of it is the EPA still does not understand how losing its credibility empowers its enemies and discourages its supporters.  Come on EPA, do your job, make whole the people and the river of the Las Animas watershed.

The Truth About Baltimore

07 Jul
by John, posted in leadership, Urban Policy   |  3 Comments

The truth is we as a nation do not have a remedy for a troubled city that loses more than a third of its population in fifty years.  I worked in downtown Baltimore for eight years on its central tourist drag, Pratt Street, which runs from Camden Yards to the Inner Harbor redevelopment.  Baltimore is a contrast in fascinating history, beautiful scenery, interesting cuisine, great museums and stadiums, grinding poverty, poor public schools, and continuing decline.

The press and various groups on both sides of the political divide have tried to overlay race, falling unionization, globalization, over regulation, high taxes, and all the usual divisive narratives onto the city to explain this year’s crisis.  Many of those issues do exist, but the root cause of Baltimore’s grinding poverty is the extraordinary loss of people over time.

image (1)


You cannot solve a problem if you are not honest about the root cause of the problem.  Since 1960 for a variety of good and bad reasons people have left Baltimore at a rate far above those moving into the city.  That is the root cause of the problem.

All across my travels in Europe and Latin America you come upon the ruins of once great cities who are no longer cities or are ruins.  Much of the Middle East and Asia Minor contain massive ruins of Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Egyptian, and other ancient cities.  It is not a new phenomenon for cities to shrink or fail.

It was also true during my eight years in Baltimore that many of the data driven solutions that modern business and government use failed.  Baltimore city government endlessly quoted the number of visitors, the number of conventions, the reduction in crime, the growing amount spent on education, and a host of other statistics.  But it was done not to understand why people were leaving, but to cover up the fact that they were leaving.  There was a total absence of focusing on people.

In 2004 for the second time in less than a month one of our employees was mugged on Pratt St. at noon in front of the federal building.  Our CEO was so incensed that he called the mayor’s office and I was tasked with setting a meeting including all of the major businesses on Pratt Street, the federal government, and the mayor’s office.  Mayor O’Malley did not attend and instead sent an official.

The most shocking revelation in the meeting was how every business, particularly the hotels, revealed that crime on Pratt Street was an everyday occurrence.  Ominously, all of the hotel managers warned that a high profile tourist murder would shut down the convention trade.  But the response from Martin O’Malley’s office was that crime was down statistically in Baltimore and here was a powerpoint to prove it.

What is needed in Baltimore is a focus on people.  Why are they leaving?  What would cause them to stay?  What would cause them to ask their families, friends, and business associates to move back?

This is not to say that racism, police brutality, high taxes, a byzantine business regulatory environment, pollution, and terrible schools are not problems.  But they are the symptoms of the root cause that is dramatic population flight.  What is needed in Baltimore is leadership to stop dividing the city and instead focus on uniting it around why citizens believe their future lies anywhere but in Baltimore.

Muslim Community Must Face Its Demons

13 Jan
by John, posted in leadership, Liberty, Life   |  No Comments


There were so many awful things about last week in Paris:  the killings;  the apparent ethnic and religious targeting of Jews in a country with a long history of Anti-Semitism; the exclusion of the French right because of their speech from a “unity march” supposedly in defense of free speech; the sensational press coverage so often wrong; and the dawning realization that Je Suis Charlie is the next #bringbackourgirls media event. An event devoid of lasting meaning or generating effective action.

It was heartening in a very sad way to see the sacrifice of one French Muslim police officer and the heroic act of a Muslim employee of the kosher grocery in hiding some of the hostages.  But the bottom line is that the Muslim neighbors of the killers discovered their weapons cache, suspected their criminal enterprise, and decided to do nothing.  The killers’ mosque heard their objections to participation in French life and decided to “respect their opinions”.  Decided it was too dangerous to report these convicted criminals to the police.  Decided to take the benefits of French citizenship, but not its responsibilities.

That was the best opportunity to change the outcome and to prevent the brutal death of seventeen people.  And carrying signs in a march saying “I am a Jew” or  or “Not In My Name” while laudable sentiment is not effective action.

I do not understand why it is so hard to say:

  1. the problem is within the Muslim community;
  2. the weapons and funding are coming from within the Muslim community; and
  3. they aren’t doing enough to deal with it.

Certainly, Islam as a whole is not responsible, we should not respond by discrimination or intolerance, but this constant message from some that we should not look to the Muslim community is contributing to the brutal killings. The West cannot solve this problem – it has to be the Muslim community and it is long past time for them to stand up, acknowledge the problem, and do a lot more than show up to march, hold up signs, send tweets, etc.

So what  should the Muslim community do?  First, it should denounce not only killers, but anyone within their community that decides it is enough to “stand idly by”.  And importantly Muslims must stop saying that criminals killing people, while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and spewing religious dogma are somehow not Muslims – somehow not the Muslim community’s problem.

Fortunately, there is some gathering sentiment in Europe that Muslims have a special burden.  As reported in the London Times, Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary in the British government, was blunt:

Whether we like it or not, these terrorists call themselves Muslims.  It is no good for people to say they are not Muslims, that is what they call themselves.  You can’t get away from the fact these people are using Islam, they are taking a great religion, a peaceful religion of a billion people around the world, taking this religion and using it as their tool to carry out their horrible activities.

That special burden must begin with reporting Jihadis to the police.  Imans must preach without any excuse that Jihadis must be turned into the police.  And it also might help if outside every Western military recruiting office a line of young Muslim men and women were photographed volunteering to fight.  No ISIS/ISIL or Al Qaeda fighter was scared of a crowd in Paris, but they might be of a photograph of thousands of Muslims signing up to fight against them.

Because if the Muslim community does not stop talking and start acting, I fear for its future in the West.  Standing idly by is not only contributing to the killing, but is providing the narrative boosting the extreme right in Europe. And we know from history all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to stand idly by.