Archive for September 2007

Asymmetrical Explanations

Crime rates seem to bounce up and down over time.  Has anyone noticed that city governments typically ascribe rising crime rates to uncontrollable demographic trends while crediting falling crime rates to improved policing?

The drop comes nine months after Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton vowed to
crack down on gangs. But though previous anti-gang campaigns have
involved mass arrests and high-profile sweeps, this effort has been
more targeted.

And in its most radical shift, the LAPD is putting aside decades of
suspicion and turning for help to gang intervention workers, many of
whom were gang members.

....Overall, Los Angeles has recorded [289] homicides so far this
year, with Bratton saying he believes the city will end the year with
the lowest number of killings in 37 years (in 1970, there were 394
homicides). Authorities believe the help of gang intervention workers
has made a difference, but they acknowledge that they can't fully
explain the drop.

By the way, I will be waiting for those who ascribe rising crime rates in Southern California to illegal immigrants to admit their mistake this week.

Commuter Rail: 1. Dig Hole. 2. Pour In Money 3. Repeat

The AZ Republic, long-time cheerleader for our current light rail project, writes another ode to commuter rail.  Today's love note is on the Albuquerque commuter rails system.

Sharon Hedrich heads out a little before 7 each morning for the 20-mile
trip to the law office where she works in downtown Albuquerque. She
used to leave home earlier for the dreaded crawl down the city's
congested freeway.

Driving to work could take 40 minutes or
more, depending on the number of emergencies stalling traffic. Now, she
boards a commuter train, settles into a plush red seat and spends the
half-hour ride reading a novel.

She says the train saves her aggravation - and money.

"I put 7 miles a day on my car instead of 50," Hedrich said recently as
the train zipped toward Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city. "It's
50 bucks a month for me to ride this. I couldn't even get two tanks of
gas for that."

I am just all aglow for Sharon.  But does the project make sense for the taxpayers of the city and the state (and probably nation) that funded it?  Well, we don't know.  Because the AZ Republic writes 56 paragraphs lauding the system without once telling us anything about the system performance.  Does it cover its costs?  Are city roads visibly less congested?  Is there a net energy savings?  Is there measurably less pollution?  We don't know.  All we know is that three people, Geronimo Trujillo, Briana Duran, and Sharon, like it. 

Well, let's see if we can do the analysis that the Republic couldn't manage.  We are told it has 3000 presumably round-trip riders a day, and the fare for these riders is $50 per month.  That's $150,000 of revenue a month or $1.8 million a year.  How much does it take to operate?  Well, we are not told by the Republic and the Albuquerque authority ties itself in pretzels avoiding the question in this FAQ (question 1) comparing apples to oranges and lemons and bananas and any other fruit that might divert our attention.  But I can absolutely guarantee that it costs a hell of a lot more than $1.8 million.  I am not sure that covers the fuel bill, but it certainly does not cover wages, fuel, maintenance and whatever the state is paying the private owner of the rails for trackage rights. 

Let's see if we can find an analog that does disclose its costs to the public.  The commuter rail system in Northern Virginia called the VRE is about twice as long and carries about twice the passengers as the Albuquerque system.  Its costs are $55.4 million per year, so we can conservatively assume that the Albuquerque system is costing perhaps $20 million a year, a figure that exceeds its revenues by a factor of 11x.  That equates to a taxpayer subsidy of $6,000 per rider per year, which is not atypical for these systems.

And this ignores the capital cost.  Unbelievably, the article does actually mention the capital cost in the 36th paragraph, which is $135 million.  That is $45,000 per rider, or enough to buy two Prius's for each rider.

So Sharon Hedrich is happy?  Of course she is freaking happy.  The taxpayers paid $45,000 up front costs and $6,000 per year so she can save 43 miles of driving a day.  Assuming she has a 20 mpg car, pays $3 a gallon for gas, and rides the train to work 250 days a year, taxpayers are paying $6,000 a year to save Sharon $1,612.50 a year in gas.  If we want to consider gas plus wear and tear on her car at 45 cents per mile, taxpayers are paying $6,000 a year to save Sharon $4,837.50 per year.   The taxpayers would have been better off -- by a LOT -- buying her a Prius and paying her expenses to drive than buying and operating a train for her.  This is consistent with my past number crunching on other urban rail systems here and here.

Does the Republic mention these problems?  Sort of:

The system endured the typical raps against a big public-works project:
It fell behind schedule, an anti-tax foundation called it a bad idea
and there were some startup problems.

Dang those tax foundation guys - always getting in the way of progress!  Thank god such a great idea as subsidizing Sharon "endured" these Luddites.

By the way, I am a long-time train watcher and model railroader.  I love trains.  And, all things being equal and if everything was free in the world, I would love to have more commuter rail trains. Unfortunately, all things are not free.  And in most cases, particularly low-density cities outside the northeast, rail tends to be the most expensive possible option.  As a libertarian, I would rather the government just not appropriate this money in the first place.  But given that they are insisting on spending $135 million plus $20 million a year on transportation, nearly any other conceiveable project would have gotten more bang for the buck.

Update:  Below is a picture of Brianna Duran riding in an empty rail car.  It's good Albuquerque is keeping all those empty seats off the highway.

0930rail

Update 2: Here is the predictable response to the empty seat snark:  Well, it's the people's fault for not choosing such an obviously superior mode of transport.  Wrong.  Its the government's fault for not taking people's preferences into account when spending all that taxpayer money.  A government that adjusts itself to the citizens is a Democracy.  A government that demands citizens adjust themselves to the government is fascism.

Update #3:  I am getting email about the government subsidy of highways.  In theory, this is not supposed to be a subsidy.  The large gasoline prices we pay at the pump are supposed to be for highway funds.  This is actually a pretty intelligent way to pay for roads, because it does a decent job at matching use to fees, with a bit of a penalty thrown in for low mpg cars.  To the extent that gas taxes do not match road costs, I am all for eliminating any subsidy and making them match with the right gas tax.  But I know whatever subsidy there is is not as high as for this rail.  Using the numbers for this example, applied to 100 million US commuters, would imply a capital cost of $4.5 trillion and a yearly operating subsidy of $600 billion.  And this would only cover commuting.  Remember, the people in the story can't give up their cars - rail lines only run a few places.  These costs would be to allow commuters to give up their cars part of the time -- about the same number of roads and cars would still be necessary.

Hillary Proposes Plan to End Abortion, At Least Among the Poor

Much has been said of Hillary Clinton's absurd and fiscally irresponsible populist pandering idea of giving every baby $5000 at birth.

But has anyone thought about what effect this might have on abortion and birth rates among the poor?  Her husband bill took a lot of flak from his own party to take on welfare reform, and reduce the financial incentive for poor single women to have babies.  So now, Hillary is going to revive this incentive?  Every woman who goes in to have an abortion is basically torching a $5000 bill.  She may do more to limit abortions than George Bush.

Postscript: 
Yeah, I know, the program would probably be structured as some sort of bond that doesn't come due until age whatever.  If so, how long do you think it will take payday loan companies to figure out how to factor this bond and pay out now in exchange for the bond's future value.

Declaring Imminent Doman over My Body

Via Q&O:

Again, the grand claim of such a system is it will be more efficient
and less costly. Nary a one of the systems in existence today that I've
read about has lived up to the "efficiency" claim, if access and
waiting times are a measure of efficiency. Every one of them seems to
suffer from lack of access.

Secondly, the "less costly" claim
seems to be accomplished by limiting access and limiting treatment. A
rigid structure with prescribed treatments which disallow deviation.
Imagine the sort of cancer treatment forced on the Japanese attempted
here. Now imagine it with any other chronic disease you can name.

What's the premise at work in a system like that?

Commenting
on the WSJ article, Craig Cantoni, a columnist in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
writes: "Like nationalized health care in other countries, the Japanese
system is based on the premise that the state owns your body."
Therefore, "the state can dictate what medical care can be withheld
from you, either by policy or by making you wait so long for care that
you die in the mean time."

We see all sorts of bloviation
by the left about attacks on our liberty. Yet, for the most part, they
are supportive of the most insidious attack on our liberty you can
imagine with their call for some form of universal health care system
here. And make no mistake, all of the leading Presidential candidates
are talking about an eventual government-run system despite their
obvious spin.

I've said something similar for years.  As one example, I have pointed out that the National Organization of Women's strong support for national health care just demonstrates their utter intellectual bankruptcy, as I wrote here:

What this article really shows is that by going with a single-payer
government system, each of us would be ceding the decisions about our
health care, our bodies, and even lifestyle to the government.  So
surely women's groups, who were at the forefront of fighting against
government intrusion into our decisions about our bodies, is out there
leading the fight against government health care.  WRONG!
Their privacy arguments stand out today as sham libertarian arguments
that applied only narrowly to abortion.  It's clear that as long as
they can get full access to abortion, women's groups are A-OK with
government intrusion into people's decisions about their bodies.

Don't miss their web site, which has sales offers for "Keep your laws of my body" T-shirts right next to appeals to "demand health care for all now."

Are Lies OK if They Are "For The Children?"

Over at Climate Skeptic, some investigation by the folks at SPPI have shown that in her new children's climate propaganda book, Laurie David actually reversed the legend on a key chart showing the 600,000 year history of CO2 and temperature.  Recent analysis has shown, and most all scientists accept, that temperature increases actually preceded CO2 increases by 800 or more years in many of the past glacial cycles.  Since this did not fit her story, David reverses the chart legend, making CO2 precede temperature the way David wants it.  Going right to David's cited source, we find:

On page 103 of their book, David and Gordon cite the work of Siegenthaler et al.
(2005), for their written and graphical contention that temperature lags CO2.
However, Siegenthaler et al. clearly state the opposite:

"The
lags of CO2 with respect to the Antarctic temperature over
glacial terminations V to VII are 800, 1600, and 2800 years, respectively, which
are consistent with earlier observations during the last four glacial
cycles
."

(Siegenthaler et al., 2005, Science, vol. 310,
1313-1317)

More, including the graphs themselves, before and after tampering, at climate skeptic.

Are Lies OK if They Are "For The Children?"

Over at Climate Skeptic, some investigation by the folks at SPPI have shown that in her new children's climate propaganda book, Laurie David actually reversed the legend on a key chart showing the 600,000 year history of CO2 and temperature.  Recent analysis has shown, and most all scientists accept, that temperature increases actually preceded CO2 increases by 800 or more years in many of the past glacial cycles.  Since this did not fit her story, David reverses the chart legend, making CO2 precede temperature the way David wants it.  Going right to David's cited source, we find:

On page 103 of their book, David and Gordon cite the work of Siegenthaler et al.
(2005), for their written and graphical contention that temperature lags CO2.
However, Siegenthaler et al. clearly state the opposite:

"The
lags of CO2 with respect to the Antarctic temperature over
glacial terminations V to VII are 800, 1600, and 2800 years, respectively, which
are consistent with earlier observations during the last four glacial
cycles
."

(Siegenthaler et al., 2005, Science, vol. 310,
1313-1317)

More, including the graphs themselves, before and after tampering, at climate skeptic.

Good Sense Prevails

Every once in a while, good sense prevails, as in the case of a silly Arizona law intended to prevent people from using the names of dead soldiers as part of a criticism of the war.  As I wrote then,

This theory is absurd.  Printing it on a T-Shirt and selling it for
money no more converts this into commercial speech than printing
Maureen Dowd's column on paper and selling it for money makes her
editorials unprotected.

I wondered at the time if this would make Pat Tillman football jerseys (very popular here) illegal.  Fortunately, a preliminary court ruling seems to bring some good sense to the table.

The T-shirts don't fit within the "commercial speech" doctrine,
under which commercial advertising gets reduced First Amendment
protection "” the T-shirts aren't advertising (except insofar as the
cover of any work, such as a book or a magazine, advertises itself),
but rather speech sold for money. And the fact that speech is sold for
money doesn't strip it of protection (whether it's a book, a movie, or
a T-shirt). Even the advertising for the T-shirts is fully protected,
the court concluded, because it is advertising for fully protected
speech, rather than just for a nonspeech product.

Roosevelt and Mussolini

I have elaborated a number of times on the parallels between the National Recovery Act and Mussolini-style fascism, as well as the frank admiration Roosevelt had for what Mussolini was doing in Italy.

David Boaz goes into much more detail

Roosevelt himself called Mussolini "admirable" and professed that he
was "deeply impressed by what he has accomplished." The admiration was
mutual. In a laudatory review of Roosevelt's 1933 book Looking Forward,
Mussolini wrote, "Reminiscent of Fascism is the principle that the
state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices."¦Without
question, the mood accompanying this sea change resembles that of
Fascism." The chief Nazi newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter,
repeatedly praised "Roosevelt's adoption of National Socialist strains
of thought in his economic and social policies" and "the development
toward an authoritarian state" based on the "demand that collective
good be put before individual self-interest."

What if the Interstate Highway System Became Obsolete Every Five Years?

Tim Wu believes he has diagnosed the problems of public Wi-fi.  Public wi-ife is a great idea, he says, but the problem is that municipalities have not recognized they need to spend real money on it.

It's hard to dislike the idea of free municipal wireless Internet
access. Imagine your town as an oversized Internet cafe, with invisible
packets floating everywhere as free as the air we breathe....

Not quite. The basic idea of offering Internet access as a public
service is sound. The problem is that cities haven't thought of the
Internet as a form of public infrastructure that"”like subway lines,
sewers, or roads"”must be paid for.

It could be, however, there are a few tiny differences between public wi-fi and public roads:

  • Any wi-fi system you install today will be dated in three years and obsolete in five. In fact, given the long delay in public projects between design (and presumably technology selection) and deployment, the system may well be obsolete on the day it gets turned on.  Would we have made the same public highway investment we did if roads went obsolete every five years?
  • Roads don't tend to have private competitors.  And when roads are constructed by private entities, say in a new housing development, you can absolutely bet that the municipality doesn't feel the need to invest in "public" roads to run beside them.

Wu admits that both cable and DSL have a much lower cost to serve urban customers, which is why private efforts for urban wi-fi tend to fail.  Free municipal wi-fi will therefore be more expensive to build and operate than if you just provided direct public subsidy payments to poorer people to use existing private solutions.  Further, a huge part of the investment will go towards giving away free access to people who already have internet service from a private supplier and are willing and able to pay for it.

Note that Wu never actually names a goal for municipal wi-fi or a
problem it is solving, just this beautiful vision of a city-wide
internet cafe (are we going to provide municipal coffee too?)  This fascination with municipal wi-fi reminds me of nothing so much as a similar fascination with light rail.  You can see it in his opening comment about the "oversized internet cafe."  This is an aesthetic, not an economic, vision.  Our light rail project here in Phoenix is the same way.  It will haul passengers more expensively and at a far higher investment and with less flexibility than our bus and road system.   With the investment we are putting into the system we could have instead bought cars for every rider and had money left over.  It makes zero sense for the density and commuting patterns of this city, but still we are doing it, because there is a subset of people who love light rail as some sort of pleasing aesthetic vision.  Name any goal either one is trying to solve (e.g. access to transportation or internet) with public investments in light rail or municipal wi-fi and those goals could be solved more cheaply some other way. 

Postscript:  A while back, I wrote about another danger of municipal wi-fi:  That bureaucrats in charge of the system will try to protect their jobs by blocking new competitors:

[the municipal wi-fi authority] can use its government authority to block new entrants. ...  Take another large government network business: The Post
Office.  The USPS tried like hell to get the government to block Fedex,
and almost succeeded.  The government continues to block competition to
the USPS for first class local mail.  Heck, the USPS has tried at
various times to argue that it should have authority over email and the
Internet.  The government blocks new cigarette manufacturers to protect
the settlement money it gets from the old-line tobacco companies and it
blocks usage of Love Field in Dallas to protect D/FW airport.
Bureaucracies never, ever let themselves die, and there is no way a
municipal broadband business will ever let itself be killed by a
competitor - that competitor will be blocked, even if that likely means
that local broadband consumers have to stick with higher costs and
outdated technologies.

You see something very similar with municipal water systems trying to get the government to limit the growth of bottled water.  It happens all the time.  Already, examples exist of municipalities trying to shut down wi-fi competition from private companies.

Boston's Logan International Airport is attempting to pull the plug on
Continental Airlines' free Wi-Fi node, which competes with the airport's
$7.95-a-day pay service.

In an escalating series of threatening letters sent over the last few weeks,
airport officials have pledged to "take all necessary steps to have the (Wi-Fi)
antenna removed" from Continental's frequent flyer lounge....

More on Education and Expertise

A few days ago, I highlighted an article that argued that the problem with public education was that there was not enough expertise and, heaven forbid, enough state level bureaucrats managing the infrastructure.  I pointed out that this is often the argument of technocrats in favor of failing public institutions:  The problem is not the institution, they argue, or its incentives but it just needs the right people in charge.  I argued that, probably like GM, all the expertise in the world was not going to turn around an organization whose DNA had gone senescent.

Alex Tabarrok comes at this issue from a different angle, but with similar results.  Too many of the examples highlighted of successes in public education rely on a super-teacher or super-administrator who overcomes all the organization problems in his/her school to create a success story, one that is usually fleeting and tends to die when that individual leaves  (Jaime Escalante is a great example - most of his math program improvements died after he left).

Tabarrok argues that you can't just keep hoping for more of these unique individuals who can overcome a myriad of bureaucratic obstacles.  You have to reinvent the system so that average capability, poorly motivated workers can still get a good result for students.  I know some will be scared off by the analogy, but this is the kind of thing that franchise restaurants do very well -- plug low-skill, sometimes poorly motivated employees into a system that successfully provides consistent, predictable service for customers.

What we need to save inner-city schools, and poor schools
everywhere, is a method that works when the teachers aren't heroes.
Even better if the method works when teachers are ordinary people,
poorly paid and ill-motivated - i.e. the system we have today. 

In Super Crunchers,
Ian Ayres argues that just such a method exists.  Overall, Super
Crunchers is a light but entertaining account of how large amounts of
data and cheap computing power are improving forecasting and decision
making in social science, government and business.  I enjoyed the
book.  Chapter 7, however, was a real highlight.

Ayres argues that large experimental studies have shown that the teaching method which works best is Direct Instruction (here and here
are two non-academic discussions which summarizes much of the same
academic evidence discussed in Ayres).  In Direct Instruction the
teacher follows a script, a carefully designed and evaluated script.
As Ayres notes this is key:

DI is scalable.  Its
success isn't contingent on the personality of some uber-teacher....You
don't need to be a genius to be an effective DI teacher.  DI can be
implemented in dozens upon dozens of classrooms with just ordinary
teachers.  You just need to be able to follow the script.

Contrary
to what you might think, the data also show that DI does not impede
creativity or self-esteem.  The education establishment, however, hates
DI because it is a threat to the power and prestige of teaching, they
prefer the model of teacher as hero.  As Ayres says "The education
establishment is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the
evidence says."  As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that
"Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has
captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school
market."

I don't know anything about DI and haven't seen the data and so can't comment on its effectiveness.  But I can say that if it works, there is no way it will be adopted in public schools.  Public school systems are run first for the administration bureaucracy, second for the teachers, and only about third for the students.  Anything that serves the latter but reduces the power of the former will never succeed, again because the incentives are not there for better performance.  Only school competition will allow such new models to be tried.

The Road To Fascism Is Paived with Pet Issues

I am looking forward to reading David Harsanyi's book Nanny StateHit and Run has an interview with some good stuff.  I think he gets at the nature of the threat very succinctly:

The problem is each citizen has a pet issue. It may be a smoking ban.
Or the need to coerce the obese to stop stuffing their faces. And when
you add all of those up we have the nanny state. While all these
piddling intrusions can be separately viewed as non-threatening, once
you bundle them together we have a movement with the potential to
inflict tremendous damage on our basic freedoms.

No Delegates for Iowa

When the left lambasts a government intervention into the economy and energy policy, you know the program has to be bad.  From Kevin Drum:

Terrific. Let's see: (a) environmentally speaking, corn ethanol is a
pretty dodgy idea, (b) we're subsidizing it anyway to the tune of $3
billion per year, (c) farmers, as you'd expect, are responding to the
subsidies by reducing the amount of farmland used for food production,
(d) this is driving up the price of staple food worldwide, and (e)
we're going to toss another $10 billion in ag welfare to already-rich
corn farmers on top of all that. Jeebus. Can anyone think of any other
single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects? Are we
complete morons?

The only quibble I would have with this paragraph is to change environmentally "dodgy" to "provably disastrous in study after study."  Corn ethanol subsidies and regulations raise gas prices, raise food prices,raise taxes, actually increase total energy use (since it takes more energy to make than it provides) and increases CO2 production.  A lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.

Here is an interesting question:  How much of the current government corn ethanol support and regulation would exist if Iowa has the last presidential primary, rather than the first  (yeah, I know, its a caucus, whatever).

Bush Sucks

Chris Edwards of Cato has the numbers:

Edwards_0907

I always laughed at Democrats that tried to woo me to their party.  Now I laugh at Republicans too.  MoveOn may get mileage out of attacking Bush, but he has done more for the left/liberal cause than Clinton.  Clinton had NAFTA, welfare reform, and (moderated by an aggresive Republican Congress) fiscal sanity.  While he too had an Iraq-like war in Kosovo, he never got sucked into the sweeping nation-building Bush has taken on.

Bush II is also leading this poll for the modern inductee to the free market hall of shame.

Ubelieveable

This is one of the most incredible videos I have ever seen.   It looks like a big wack-a-mole game.  The last half of pious analysis is kind of boring but the first half is incredible.

Don't Ever Lend Money to Politicians

I don't have a problem with someone who has had a bankruptcy in the past.  Bankruptcy is not some Scarlet B that should ruin one for life.  Ideally, its bad enough that folks should want to avoid it but forgiving enough that people can move on and get a fresh start.  Via TJIC

"¦ moderator Tim Russert asked former senator Mike Gravel about Gravel's
somewhat troubled financial history. A condominium business started by
Gravel went bankrupt, and Gravel himself once declared personal
bankruptcy. "How can someone who did not take care of his business,
could not manage his personal finances, say that he is capable of
managing the country?" Russert asked.

Here would be my answer:  "Bankruptcy does not necessarily mean that one has managed finances poorly or that one is somehow guilty of malfeasance.  It can mean those things, but it can also mean that one took a risk on a business vision, did the best job possible, but the vision turned out to somehow be wrong.  Some of the greatest names in American business backed Internet ventures that went bankrupt.  Some were just poorly managed, but many just made poor bets as to what would and would not work over the internet.  When people look at Enron, they assume that there must have been malfeasance for the company to go bankrupt.  And while folks were indeed breaking some laws there, those actions had nothing to do with Enron's bankruptcy.  Enron died because they made some huge bets on things like broadband that didn't pan out."

Here, in contrast, is Gravel's response:

"Well, first off, if you want to make a judgment of who can be the
greediest people in the world when they get to public office, you can
just look at the people up here," Gravel said in a nod to his fellow
candidates.

"Now, you say the condo business," he continued. "I
will tell you, Donald Trump has been bankrupt 100 times. So I went
bankrupt once in business.

Doesn't this guy sound like some overweight guy wearing a wife-beater and sitting in his trailer with a cheap beer watching a baseball game on his old black and white TV, railing against all the rich guys that never gave him a chance?  But the best is yet to come:

who did I bankrupt? I stuck the credit card companies with $90,000 worth of bills, and they deserved it "“ "

People in the audience began to laugh.

"They
deserved it," Gravel repeated, "and I used the money to finance the
empowerment of the American people with a national initiative."

That sound you hear is the dying gasps of individual responsibility.  And what the hell is that last part about "empowerment of the American people?"  Sounds like Gravel is channeling Lee Hunsacker.

Don't Ever Lend Money to Politicians

I don't have a problem with someone who has had a bankruptcy in the past.  Bankruptcy is not some Scarlet B that should ruin one for life.  Ideally, its bad enough that folks should want to avoid it but forgiving enough that people can move on and get a fresh start.  Via TJIC

"¦ moderator Tim Russert asked former senator Mike Gravel about Gravel's
somewhat troubled financial history. A condominium business started by
Gravel went bankrupt, and Gravel himself once declared personal
bankruptcy. "How can someone who did not take care of his business,
could not manage his personal finances, say that he is capable of
managing the country?" Russert asked.

Here would be my answer:  "Bankruptcy does not necessarily mean that one has managed finances poorly or that one is somehow guilty of malfeasance.  It can mean those things, but it can also mean that one took a risk on a business vision, did the best job possible, but the vision turned out to somehow be wrong.  Some of the greatest names in American business backed Internet ventures that went bankrupt.  Some were just poorly managed, but many just made poor bets as to what would and would not work over the internet.  When people look at Enron, they assume that there must have been malfeasance for the company to go bankrupt.  And while folks were indeed breaking some laws there, those actions had nothing to do with Enron's bankruptcy.  Enron died because they made some huge bets on things like broadband that didn't pan out."

Here, in contrast, is Gravel's response:

"Well, first off, if you want to make a judgment of who can be the
greediest people in the world when they get to public office, you can
just look at the people up here," Gravel said in a nod to his fellow
candidates.

"Now, you say the condo business," he continued. "I
will tell you, Donald Trump has been bankrupt 100 times. So I went
bankrupt once in business.

Doesn't this guy sound like some overweight guy wearing a wife-beater and sitting in his trailer with a cheap beer watching a baseball game on his old black and white TV, railing against all the rich guys that never gave him a chance?  But the best is yet to come:

who did I bankrupt? I stuck the credit card companies with $90,000 worth of bills, and they deserved it "“ "

People in the audience began to laugh.

"They
deserved it," Gravel repeated, "and I used the money to finance the
empowerment of the American people with a national initiative."

That sound you hear is the dying gasps of individual responsibility.  And what the hell is that last part about "empowerment of the American people?"  Sounds like Gravel is channeling Lee Hunsacker.

Irony Watch

Via TJIC, really needs no comment:

Nofunds

Um, It's That Free Speech Thingie

Via Kevin Drum, Art Levine goes covert and digs up the evil doings at a seminar for corporate executives on avoiding unionization.  Why corporate executives  would possibly want to avoid something so sensible as unions is beyond me.  But Mr. Levine uncovers some really nefarious doings:

What if we felt like saying a lot of anti-union stuff to our workers?
Lotito introduced a segment called "You Can Say It." Could we tell our
workers, for instance, that a union had held strike at a nearby
facility only to find that all the strikers had been replaced "” and
that the same could happen to the employees here? Sure, said Lotito.
"It's lawful." He added, "What happens if this statement is a lie? They
didn't have another strike, there were no replacements? It's still
lawful: The labor board doesn't really care if people are lying."

Whoa!  You mean that, in this country, we can, you know, say stuff and its not the government's job to check the veracity?  How have we gotten to such a low point?

Update: I have been to several of these course in my Fortune 50 manager days, and the vast majority of the advice is "treat workers well and communicate a lot." I remember specifically being told not to lie because such tactics tend to backfire.   

As far as my feelings on unions themselves, I would have zero problem with workers organizing of their own free will if it were not for the fact that the government grants unions special rights and privileges that other private organizations do not have.

Above the Law

As many of my readers know, we run over 200 recreation facilities across the country, from Washington to Florida.  This experience of serving nearly a million customers a year has yielded some odd insights.  One of the ones I published before is that the far-and-away worst litterers in the country are Southern Californians and LA residents in particular, California-eco-speak notwithstanding. 

Another observation we have made is that many times our most difficult customers turn out to be law enforcement officers.  I'm not talking about all of them - the vast majority of law enforcement officers are friendly, peaceful campers.  But when we have an incident of a customer refusing to follow the rules and wanting privileges no one else gets, like-as-not the customer is a law enforcement officer of some sort.  For example, we have had an off duty law-enforcement officer pay for one campsite, and then spread his stuff out over three, and refuse to limit himself to one site or pay for the other two he was using.   We have had off-duty law enforcement officers who had their car towed because it was parked for four hours in a tow-away zone, and then had their on-duty friends show up (well out of their jurisdiction) and interrogate our managers and otherwise harass them in retribution.  Heck, we have biker gangs come through that are more respectful of authority than certain off-duty law enforcement officers.

This irritating little site (HT: Hit and Run) possibly explains some things for me.  The site is apparently run by cops and is aimed at criticizing cops who do not extend other officers "professional courtesy"  which apparently is a euphemism for "allow them to break the rules with impunity."  Police officers who actually have the temerity to enforce the rules on other police officers are singled out as "dicks."  Maybe I understand why some of our police officer customers are not accustomed to having to follow the same rules as everyone else.

Follow-up on Essent Healthcare Attacking Blogger

I will admit I don't even know who Essent Healthcare is.  I don't know if they do a good job or a bad job.  I do know that there is a blogger dedicated to sounding the alarm about Essent.  But there are such gadflies for nearly every major corporation.  But in this case Essent is making the classic PR mistake of trying to silence a blogger by taking expensive-to-defend-against legal action against the blogger.  Specifically, Essent is trying to force the blogger's ISP to reveal the identity of the blogger and his confidential informants, many of whom are employees of Essent likely to face retaliation (more here).

I made the point that this kind of thing always backfires, as publicity tied to such suits and the inevitable backlash from bloggers tends to greatly expand the audience of these small bloggers from a few people who are already disgruntled with the target company to a much wider and more damaging audience.

Case in point:  Look who is suddenly the #1 & #2 Google search return for "problems at essent healthcare."  Neither site was in the top 100 a few days ago.

Duh

From
Megan McArdle
:

Matt may be right that I haven't harangued people about climate change
recently, so here goes: dude, if you're still a climate change skeptic, it's
time for a rethink. When the science correspondent for Reason magazine
comes over to the reality of anthropogenic global warming, it's safe to say that
the skeptics have lost the debate. Not only the vast majority of the scientific
community, but even most of the hard-core skeptics at conservative magazines,
have abandonned the hope that we are not warming up the climate.

There's still debate about the effects of the warming, and what we should do
about it. But there's not much question that it's happening.

Duh.  The vision of the skeptic community denying that the world is
warming at all is a straw man created by the climate catastrophists to avoid
arguing about the much more important point in her second paragraph.  What I
can't understand is McArdle's, and many intelligent people I meet, seeming
unintrest in the degree of man-made impact.

The chief debate really boils down to those of us who think that
climate sensitivity to CO2 is closer to 1C (ie the degrees the world will warm
with a doubling of CO2 concentrations from pre-industrial levels) and those who
think that the sensitivity is 3-5C or more.  The lower sensitivity implies a
warming over the next century of about a half degree C, or about what we saw in
the last century.  The higher numbers represesent an order of magnitude more
warming in the next century.  The lower numbers imply a sea level rise measured
in inches.  The higher numbers imply a rise of 1-2 feet  (No one really know
where Al Gore gets his 20 foot prediction in his movie).  The lower numbers we
might not even notice.  The higher numbers will certainly cause problems.

The other debate is whether the cost of CO2 abatement should even be
considered.  I have talked to many people who say the costs are irrelevant -
Gaia must come first.  But steps to make any kind of dent in CO2 production with
current technologies will have a staggering impact on the world economy.  For
example, there are a billion Asians poised to finally to enter the middle class
who we will likely consign back to poverty with an aggressive CO2 reduction
program.  With such staggering abatement costs, it matters how bad the
effects of man-made global warming will be. 

There are many reasons a 1.0 climate sensivity is far more defensible
than the higher sensitivities used by catastrophists.  My
argument a lower climate sensitivity and therefore a less aggresive posture on
CO2 is here
.  Cross-posted at Climate Skeptic.

Update: Sure, we skeptics debate the degree of past warming, but it really can't be denied the earth is warmer than 100 years ago.  The problem catastrophists have with defending their higher climate sensitivities is that these sensitivities imply that we should have seen much more warming over the past 100 years, as much as 1.5C or more instead of about 0.6C.  These scientists have a tendency to try to restate historical numbers to back their future forecast accuracy.  We skeptics fight them on this, but it does not mean we are trying to deny warming at all, just make sure the science is good as to the magnitude.

One other thought - everyone should keep two words in mind vis a vis CO2 and its effect on temperature:  Diminishing Return.  Each new molecule of CO2 has less impact on temperature than the last one.  Only by positing a lot of weird, unlikely, and unstable positive feedbacks in the climate can scientists reach these higher sensitivity numbers (more here).  A good economist would laugh if they understood the assumptions that were being made in the catastrophic forecasts that are being used to influence government action.

Bundle of Joy

Yet another weird SF Fan makes a great point:

On the one hand, there's a movement (actual example here) to eliminate "bundling" in the cable industry (selling access to all of some medium instead of dividing it into pieces).

On the other hand, other people are worried about the possible lack of bundling if net neutrality isn't mandatory.

Is a debate called for? Or is it a matter of "anything capitalists do is wrong"?

He links Megan McArdle whose post quotes extensively from ... me!

Great Moments in Torts

This may be my new favorite tort:  (via Overlawyered)

A Pennsylvania man has sued search giant Google
for $5 billion, claiming that when his Social Security number is turned
upside down, "it is a scrambled code that does spell the name Google."
The handwritten complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Scranton
alleges that the U.S. Justice Department "is heading the investigation
into allegations of crimes against Humanity" involving Google's
founders and that the plaintiff's "safety is in jepordy."

Up next, the owner of Social Security number 71077345 sues Shell Oil for the same reason.

Unfortunately, in other tort news, this is not a laughing matter.  It is just plain stupid AG megalomania:

For a while now, lawyers in Minnesota, Oklahoma and elsewhere have been suing companies that make over-the-counter cold remedies containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine on the grounds that they were aware
some buyers were using the drugs as raw material for illegal
methamphetamine labs. Now such litigation appears to be gaining
momentum in Arkansas, where many county governments have signed up to
sue Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and other companies. "If successful,
it could open up litigation against manufacturers of other produce used
in making meth, such as drain cleaners and acetone."

One local judge discusses the case in a way that sounds like a commercial for the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes:

"What more could we have done with a million dollars a year for our
county? Would that have meant a half dozen more police officers? Would
that have meant a better solid waste program? Who knows, what could
your county have done with an extra million dollars," asked Judge Bill
Hicks of Independence County, a backer of the suits.

The Problem in Education Is Not Expertise

Via Kevin Drum, Mark S. Tucker and Kevin Toch make the argument, if I understand it right, that school districts and state education organizations simply don't have the expertise or the capacity to handle the changes required to meet the standards that are being applied by efforts like NCLB (they also argue the tests themselves suck, but I am not going to address that issue).  By the way, you know I'm going to get worked up when the title of an article is "The secret to making Bush's school reform law work? More bureaucrats"

...we need a long-term solution, which can only lie in building
the capacity of the states, districts, and schools to reach the kinds
of goals contemplated by the framers of NCLB. This is not a simple
matter, but a vast, man-to-the-Moon kind of challenge. It means finding
people with the data management experience to build and administer the
very complex systems called for by the law. It means recruiting experts
who can help create truly world class curriculum standards so that
teachers will know what they are supposed to teach and students will be
able to reach the standards. It means identifying and training
thousands of educators who have succeeded in improving their schools to
provide on-site assistance at other failing schools, and recruiting
still others who can take those schools over if the current staff
cannot or will not rise to the challenge. It means creating and
expanding networks of talent-laden organizations--universities, think
tanks, for-profit and non-profit school companies--that have the skill,
experience, and management capacity to turn around individual schools
and entire districts. And it means greatly strengthening the
capabilities of the agencies that will coordinate this massive effort:
state departments of education.

Wow!  It's hard to even know where to start, but I guess my first thought is : What the f*ck have public schools been doing in the last 100 years?  Why, after an absolutely enormous spending growth over the last several decades, do districts still not have the ability to create world class curricula?  Why don't teachers know what they are supposed to teach?   Why is the system so talent poor, despite a huge increase in the number of administrators with various advanced education degrees at all levels of the system?  It's as if the highway department announced today that they didn't have the ability to design roads.

The first and last resort of every technocrat is to complain that the system is great, if only the right "smart" people could get put in charge.  These folks are making this same argument yet again.  Our public schools are fine, if we could just get the right experts in charge. 

Bullshit.

The issue is not the lack of expertise.  The issue is one of incentives and senescence in the system itself.  In this context,  NCLB is completely off the mark.   I work with government employees all the time.  There is a very clear difference between the incentives they see and the incentives I see in the market.  For government employees, the biggest incentive is to avoid missing some bureaucratic check box.  They are much more concerned that they not be found later in some audit to have missed a procedure or a required approval authority than with actual performance or productivity.  NOT, I want to emphasize, because they are bad or misguided people, but because that is how their incentive system is set up.  Their actions are entirely rational in the context of their incentive structure, but the results are no less disastrous.

For example, government managers of recreation facilities get almost no credit for improving the customer experience, a metric my company lives and dies for.  I have seen a government park manager do a great job obtaining funds from private sources to add a new facility to their park that pleased guests, only to get criticized for having the slope of an access ramp be 1/4 degree off ADA standards and have a grievance filed by the union that park visitation had gone up, creating more work for the government employees.  I spent an evening having a beer with that manager, and you can bet they are never going to try to actually improve the customer experience again.  As another example, I went in to my government landlord last week and just blasted them for their lack of customer service focus, for the fact that they are blocking me from making improvements customers are begging for.  They yawned, gave me no response,  and handed me a notice that they were missing some of our water testing paperwork and please get it to them ASAP.

NCLB just gives government schools another government wammy to be managed and avoided.  The authors will probably get their wish, and huge bureaucracies will rise up to manage the numbers and reports without anything being done to really improve education.  The authors lament that the California state education department has "only" 1452 employees.  I have every confidence that this "problem" will soon get fixed by California, and the number will balloon up nicely, long before children see any better education.

A while back I wrote a plea to just let GM die.  I said:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of
various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and
human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as
"management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently
managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the
management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its
unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all
this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression
that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and
getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot.
You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the
consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix
it. 

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to
process to history to culture could better be called the corporate
DNA*.  And DNA is very hard to change.  Walmart may be freaking
brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an
upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I
don't think they would ever get there.  Its just too much change in the
DNA.  Yeah, you could hire some ex Merry-go-round** executives, but you
still have a culture aimed at big box low prices, a logistics system
and infrastructure aimed at doing same, absolutely no history or
knowledge of fashion, etc. etc.  I would bet you any amount of money I
could get to the GAP faster starting from scratch than starting from
Walmart.  For example, many folks (like me) greatly prefer Target over
Walmart because Target is a slightly nicer, more relaxing place to
shop.  And even this small difference may ultimately confound Walmart.
Even this very incremental need to add some aesthetics to their
experience may overtax their DNA....

Changing your DNA is tough.  It is sometimes possible, with the right
managers and a crisis mentality, to evolve DNA over a period of 20-30
years.  One could argue that GE did this, avoiding becoming an
old-industry dinosaur.  GM has had a 30 year window (dating from the
mid-seventies oil price rise and influx of imported cars) to make a
change, and it has not been enough.  GM's DNA was programmed to make
big, ugly (IMO) cars, and that is what it has continued to do.  If its
leaders were not able or willing to change its DNA over the last 30
years, no one, no matter how brilliant, is going to do it in the next
2-3.

I would say the exact same thing is true of public schools: Their DNA is senescent.  Most are the equivalent of alcoholics who keep falling off the wagon and keep asking for more chances.  At some point, you just have to give up.  At some point, it is easier to just start from scratch.  After 30 years of trying, Sears still can't change itself so there is Wal-Mart.  After 30 years of trying, GM still can't change itself so there is Toyota.  After 30 years of trying, United Airlines still can't change itself so there is Southwest.

The only difference in education is that the government has to date suppressed the emergence of Toyota and Wal-Mart and Southwest because, well, because it can.  I am sure that United Airlines would have liked to ban competition from Southwest, but it does not have the coercive power of government.  Fortunately, in most industries other than education, the public gets a choice of offerings, and companies that customers don't prefer tend to die.

It's time to give school choice a chance, and radically shift the incentives for public schools in a way that the government can't with bureaucracy-based programs like NCLB.  Some public schools will thrive, and many will die in favor of private options, but our kids will be far better off either way.  It's time to stop doubling down on failure.  It's time to stop giving the alcoholic one more chance.

Postscript:  One of the reasons that competition is important is in the very definition of "expertise."  An expert is someone who presumably has been succesful at a certain activity when others have been less so.  We call Herb Kelleher an expert on airlines and customer service because he designed a model that kicked everyone else's butt.  But would you have called him an expert in 1972, before Southwest took off?  Probably not.  He was just one of many voices with diverse, untested opinions of what would make a better airline.  What eventually made him an expert, and the others less so, is he went out and applied his ideas and they were succesful.

So the author's want to send more "expertise" to the schools.  OK, who are the experts?  Nearly every public school is using the same version of the same failed model.  Some succeed more than others, but these differences tend to be incremental rather than radical, like the difference between Sears and Montgomery Ward rather than between Sears and Wal-Mart (or even Amazon.com).  So how can you even know who the experts are within the same failed system, where no one is really allowed to go out and fully test their ideas in practice?  What happens, in reality, is that "experts" in education are the ones that can best enthrall academics and politicians and think tanks with grandiose or politically correct visions.  I would argue that as of this moment there are no experts in education in the US and we have no hope of identifying them until we let entrepreneurs go out and start testing various new models.

The Problem in Education Is Not Expertise

Via Kevin Drum, Mark S. Tucker and Kevin Toch make the argument, if I understand it right, that school districts and state education organizations simply don't have the expertise or the capacity to handle the changes required to meet the standards that are being applied by efforts like NCLB (they also argue the tests themselves suck, but I am not going to address that issue).  By the way, you know I'm going to get worked up when the title of an article is "The secret to making Bush's school reform law work? More bureaucrats"

...we need a long-term solution, which can only lie in building
the capacity of the states, districts, and schools to reach the kinds
of goals contemplated by the framers of NCLB. This is not a simple
matter, but a vast, man-to-the-Moon kind of challenge. It means finding
people with the data management experience to build and administer the
very complex systems called for by the law. It means recruiting experts
who can help create truly world class curriculum standards so that
teachers will know what they are supposed to teach and students will be
able to reach the standards. It means identifying and training
thousands of educators who have succeeded in improving their schools to
provide on-site assistance at other failing schools, and recruiting
still others who can take those schools over if the current staff
cannot or will not rise to the challenge. It means creating and
expanding networks of talent-laden organizations--universities, think
tanks, for-profit and non-profit school companies--that have the skill,
experience, and management capacity to turn around individual schools
and entire districts. And it means greatly strengthening the
capabilities of the agencies that will coordinate this massive effort:
state departments of education.

Wow!  It's hard to even know where to start, but I guess my first thought is : What the f*ck have public schools been doing in the last 100 years?  Why, after an absolutely enormous spending growth over the last several decades, do districts still not have the ability to create world class curricula?  Why don't teachers know what they are supposed to teach?   Why is the system so talent poor, despite a huge increase in the number of administrators with various advanced education degrees at all levels of the system?  It's as if the highway department announced today that they didn't have the ability to design roads.

The first and last resort of every technocrat is to complain that the system is great, if only the right "smart" people could get put in charge.  These folks are making this same argument yet again.  Our public schools are fine, if we could just get the right experts in charge. 

Bullshit.

The issue is not the lack of expertise.  The issue is one of incentives and senescence in the system itself.  In this context,  NCLB is completely off the mark.   I work with government employees all the time.  There is a very clear difference between the incentives they see and the incentives I see in the market.  For government employees, the biggest incentive is to avoid missing some bureaucratic check box.  They are much more concerned that they not be found later in some audit to have missed a procedure or a required approval authority than with actual performance or productivity.  NOT, I want to emphasize, because they are bad or misguided people, but because that is how their incentive system is set up.  Their actions are entirely rational in the context of their incentive structure, but the results are no less disastrous.

For example, government managers of recreation facilities get almost no credit for improving the customer experience, a metric my company lives and dies for.  I have seen a government park manager do a great job obtaining funds from private sources to add a new facility to their park that pleased guests, only to get criticized for having the slope of an access ramp be 1/4 degree off ADA standards and have a grievance filed by the union that park visitation had gone up, creating more work for the government employees.  I spent an evening having a beer with that manager, and you can bet they are never going to try to actually improve the customer experience again.  As another example, I went in to my government landlord last week and just blasted them for their lack of customer service focus, for the fact that they are blocking me from making improvements customers are begging for.  They yawned, gave me no response,  and handed me a notice that they were missing some of our water testing paperwork and please get it to them ASAP.

NCLB just gives government schools another government wammy to be managed and avoided.  The authors will probably get their wish, and huge bureaucracies will rise up to manage the numbers and reports without anything being done to really improve education.  The authors lament that the California state education department has "only" 1452 employees.  I have every confidence that this "problem" will soon get fixed by California, and the number will balloon up nicely, long before children see any better education.

A while back I wrote a plea to just let GM die.  I said:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of
various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and
human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as
"management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently
managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the
management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its
unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all
this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression
that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and
getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot.
You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the
consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix
it. 

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to
process to history to culture could better be called the corporate
DNA*.  And DNA is very hard to change.  Walmart may be freaking
brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an
upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I
don't think they would ever get there.  Its just too much change in the
DNA.  Yeah, you could hire some ex Merry-go-round** executives, but you
still have a culture aimed at big box low prices, a logistics system
and infrastructure aimed at doing same, absolutely no history or
knowledge of fashion, etc. etc.  I would bet you any amount of money I
could get to the GAP faster starting from scratch than starting from
Walmart.  For example, many folks (like me) greatly prefer Target over
Walmart because Target is a slightly nicer, more relaxing place to
shop.  And even this small difference may ultimately confound Walmart.
Even this very incremental need to add some aesthetics to their
experience may overtax their DNA....

Changing your DNA is tough.  It is sometimes possible, with the right
managers and a crisis mentality, to evolve DNA over a period of 20-30
years.  One could argue that GE did this, avoiding becoming an
old-industry dinosaur.  GM has had a 30 year window (dating from the
mid-seventies oil price rise and influx of imported cars) to make a
change, and it has not been enough.  GM's DNA was programmed to make
big, ugly (IMO) cars, and that is what it has continued to do.  If its
leaders were not able or willing to change its DNA over the last 30
years, no one, no matter how brilliant, is going to do it in the next
2-3.

I would say the exact same thing is true of public schools: Their DNA is senescent.  Most are the equivalent of alcoholics who keep falling off the wagon and keep asking for more chances.  At some point, you just have to give up.  At some point, it is easier to just start from scratch.  After 30 years of trying, Sears still can't change itself so there is Wal-Mart.  After 30 years of trying, GM still can't change itself so there is Toyota.  After 30 years of trying, United Airlines still can't change itself so there is Southwest.

The only difference in education is that the government has to date suppressed the emergence of Toyota and Wal-Mart and Southwest because, well, because it can.  I am sure that United Airlines would have liked to ban competition from Southwest, but it does not have the coercive power of government.  Fortunately, in most industries other than education, the public gets a choice of offerings, and companies that customers don't prefer tend to die.

It's time to give school choice a chance, and radically shift the incentives for public schools in a way that the government can't with bureaucracy-based programs like NCLB.  Some public schools will thrive, and many will die in favor of private options, but our kids will be far better off either way.  It's time to stop doubling down on failure.  It's time to stop giving the alcoholic one more chance.

Postscript:  One of the reasons that competition is important is in the very definition of "expertise."  An expert is someone who presumably has been succesful at a certain activity when others have been less so.  We call Herb Kelleher an expert on airlines and customer service because he designed a model that kicked everyone else's butt.  But would you have called him an expert in 1972, before Southwest took off?  Probably not.  He was just one of many voices with diverse, untested opinions of what would make a better airline.  What eventually made him an expert, and the others less so, is he went out and applied his ideas and they were succesful.

So the author's want to send more "expertise" to the schools.  OK, who are the experts?  Nearly every public school is using the same version of the same failed model.  Some succeed more than others, but these differences tend to be incremental rather than radical, like the difference between Sears and Montgomery Ward rather than between Sears and Wal-Mart (or even Amazon.com).  So how can you even know who the experts are within the same failed system, where no one is really allowed to go out and fully test their ideas in practice?  What happens, in reality, is that "experts" in education are the ones that can best enthrall academics and politicians and think tanks with grandiose or politically correct visions.  I would argue that as of this moment there are no experts in education in the US and we have no hope of identifying them until we let entrepreneurs go out and start testing various new models.