The Arizona Republic says there is not stock market bubble. Can't think of a better reason to sell.
Posts tagged ‘Arizona’
By now, readers will know that our company operates public parks and campgrounds in the National Forest without taking one dime of Federal money. We pay for the cleaning, maintenance, utilities, and staffing of the facilities entirely from the user fees paid by visitors at the gate. Because we take no government money(we actually make lease payments to the government) we have never been closed in past shutdowns, but we were closed last week as the White House overruled an early Forest Service decision and ordered us closed.
Well, here is a photo from yesterday of the parking lot of one of the recreation areas we operate and were forced to closed. Doesn't look very closed, does it?
As it turns out, yesterday the local Sheriff was concerned with traffic jams on the highway near here as people tried to park and walk in. It is a danger I warned the US Forest Service about way back on October 2 in a letter to Cal Joyner, the Regional Forester for Arizona and New Mexico (and was promptly ignored). The Sheriff forced the gate open and let everyone in.
The amazing thing I found out today, and confirmed through pictures and news reports, is that the Sheriff was accompanied by US Forest Service personnel who apparently accepted this action. This means in effect that the US Forest Service believes this site is safe to occupy by visitors without our company present to clean the bathrooms, take out the trash, monitor security, watch for fires, stop vandalism, etc. but is not safe, somehow, with us present and actively staffing the site. This obviously makes no sense and just points out how arbitrary the decision-making has been.
Starting yesterday morning I begged the US Forest Service to let us return to staffing the site (which should be an easy decision since, unlike opening National Parks, this would require zero dollars from the government) but I got no response.
We have also found numerous other sites operated by third parties like ourselves on US Forest Service land in Arizona still open. For example, the Oak Flats campground in the Tonto National Forest is still open for business. In addition, we know of at least three Arizona State Parks, including Slide Rock SP, that operate on US Forest Service land just as we do but who have not been ordered to close. I know that Fool Hollow SP operates with a special use permit very similar to ours, but unlike us, its permit has not been temporarily suspended and it is open for business.
In fact, I cannot find a single third party who operates on the National Forests in Arizona who have had their operations suspended except for the private campground concessionaires. The powerful ski associations got their operations on Forest Service lands exempted from the get-go, probably because they have a full-time lobbying staff in DC and I do not. The same goes true for BLM lands, where the BLM has not closed its campgrounds or parks to the public. And the same goes true now for the Grand Canyon NP, which has been reopened by the state of Arizona. In fact, we may be the only recreation operations on Federal land in this state that are still required to close.
Update: The Forest Service made us cease operations at the Locket Meadow campground near Flagstaff. After kicking us out, they have reopened the campground to the public (without any staff or services on site). It is absolutely outrageous that the US Forest Service believes that the campground is fine for public visitation but that our company must be banned from operating it. Clearly, the resource and the visitors are safer and better protected and better served with us there, so this can only mean that the Forest Service is for some reason arbitrarily targeting our business, rather than use of the land, for shutdown. I cannot think of any possible justification for this action. If the campground is safe for public visitation during the shutdown, it is safer for us to operate and keep clean and protected.
PS- I should say targeting private SMALL companies. Large companies with political pull seem to be getting the National Parks open where they have operations. Just like with Obamacare and nearly everything else in modern government, restrictions are passed on private enterprises but exceptions are granted to those large enough to have staff lawyers, full-time lobbyists, and who can bundle a lot of donations.
The last remaining justification that anyone has given me for the need to close privately-funded concession-run parks in the US Forest Service is that the Forest Service must close to all uses on its lands. But this justification is now in total tatters, making it all the more clear that closure of private concessionaires was an arbitrary and unjustified action. Here is why:
- As reported earlier, the US Forest Service is still allowing many recreation uses on its lands. Individuals can still camp and hike in non-developed areas. Many US Forest Service campgrounds till seem to be open (example Oak Flats near Globe, AZ). And many state parks, such as Fool Hollow and Slide Rock in AZ and Burney Falls in CA that operate on US Forest Service land have been allowed to remain open and still use Forest Service land for recreation. In fact, the only groups that seem to be closed in the US Forest Service are private concessionaires, which increasingly appear to have been singled out for rough treatment by the Administration.
- We have received emails from the US Forest Service that these closures are required to be consistent with the NPS, but the NPS is allowing its parks to be reopened if they are funded by outside agencies. Both Arizona and Utah have reached agreements to reopen National Parks in their states through use of state funding. So why can't private parks on Federal lands be reopened through the use of private funding, which is how we operate anyway? Its almost as if this Administration has some sort of bias against private activity.
Forest Service Closing Only Small Private Campground Operators, Not Closing Large Ski Corporations or State Parks that Operate on Forest Service Land
As readers will know, the US Forest Service has issued and unprecedented and unnecessary order to close over a thousand privately-funded campgrounds that don't take one dime of Federal money (example here). All the 100+ parks we operate in the US Forest Service have been ordered closed.
But there appears to be more to this story. There are several groups that operate parks on National Forest lands under agreements nearly identical to ours who appear to have been exempted from the closure order.
- Large corporations that run ski resorts and certain other large resort properties on National Forest lands have been exempted. It should be noted that ski resorts operators, unlike campground operators, have full-time lobbyists stationed in Washington and can afford in-house staff lawyers to fight these kinds of orders. My guess is that knowing they would immediately get sued if they ordered larger private firms to close, the USFS focused only on smaller and more helpless private firms.
- Many state parks, including at least 3 in Arizona and many in California, are actually on US Forest Service land and operate through special use permits almost identical to those we have with the USFS, yet none of these parks have been asked to close (Slide Rock and Fool Hollow State Park in Arizona and Burney Falls SP in California are just a few examples of state parks that operate on US Forest Service land).
In other words, the US Forest Service seems to be issuing closure orders inconsistently, targeting only private operators who are too small to fight back. The USFS has not been especially clear how they are justifying this order (perhaps since it can't be justified) but they have hinted that it is either because a) they can no longer "administer" these contracts, whatever that means since they have no day-to-day administration responsibilities or b) they are removing everyone from Federal lands. Note, though, that both explanation "a" or "b" would apply equally to ski resorts and state parks operating on Federal land leases which are not being closed.
I will also add that the USFS is continuing to allow individuals to hike and camp in non-developed areas of the forests. I have no problem with this -- there is no reason for the USFS to halt public access to public land just because their employees are getting a paid vacation. But this just highlights how crazy and inconsistent their policies are. People can camp in the National Forest everywhere except in developed campgrounds where private companies who take no Federal money normally have employees on site to clean up trash and provide security and prevent fires. Many campers take good care of the land but some do not, and driving these campers out of privately-operated developed sites into dispersed areas where their impact cannot be mitigated is just another way these actions increase rather than decrease costs.
One interesting note - many state parks operate on Federal land using almost exactly the same king of lease contract (called a special use permit) we have to privately operate parks and campgrounds. If private parks with this type of lease with the USFS have to close, shouldn't state parks as well? For example, both Slide Rock SP in Arizona and Burney Falls SP in California operation using the same kind of lease as we do.
I don't like to recommend destinations that are really expensive (why get people excited about a place they can't afford to visit) but we splurged this weekend on the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona. It is the most spectacular location I have ever seen for a landlocked (ie non ocean-front) resort. It is almost impossible to do it justice in photos, because it sits at the end of a box canyon and is surrounded on three sides by red rock walls. Some pictures are here in the google image result. Expect to pay $300-400 and up for a night, though you will get a very nice room even for the lower rates, and large casitas for higher rates. As is usual for resorts, meals are crazy expensive -- its hard to get through breakfast, for example, for less than $20 a person. But the views and hiking and everything else here are just beautiful.
One of the things I enjoyed was the resort had a native american climb onto a local rock outcropping a couple of times a day and play peaceful flute music that echoed around the resort. You can see a group gathered around to watch (update: A reader was nice enough to Photoshop out some of the haze using a levels command trick he taught me a while back -- you can compare below to this original)
It freaked me out for a while because I would here this low-volume music as I walked around the resort and I could not figure out where it was coming from (I kept looking for hidden speakers until I figured it out).
As an added bonus, the night sky is totally dark -- you are out in the wilderness about 15 miles from Sedona and out of site of any other habitation of any sort and almost completely surrounded by canyon walls. As a result, it is one of the few places where us city folk can see the Milky Way in all its glory (below is my amateur photography (you may have to click to enlarge to really see the Milky Way, but its there).
The restaurant there is quite good and there are excellent tables on the deck outside to watch the sunset. But if you want a slightly different Sedona experience (though equally expensive) the Restaurant at the L'Auberge resort right in the town of Sedona on Oak Creek is terrific. The food is great and the location on the creek is very romantic at night. Here is the view from my table right around sunset.
You can't get closer to the water than that!
Postscript: If you like the idea of creekside dining but don't want to blow a hundred bucks a person for dinner, I have eaten at a much less expensive, much less highbrow restaurant that had a very similar location. It is the Rapids Lodge Restaurant at Grand Lake, Colorado, and is a great place to eat on a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park before you turn around and head back to Estes Park. Here is the view from our table there:
PPS: Other US resort views I like: Highlands Inn, near Carmel; Hapuna Resort, Big Island, Hawaii; Sanctuary Resort, Phoenix, AZ (though the rooms really need an update); Trump Hotel, Las Vegas (located right on the bend of the strip so the strip view rooms look straight down the strip at night).
Update: In the spirit of equal time, a reader writes that the Enchantment Resort ruined Boynton Canyon. Its impossible for me to say -- I never knew it in its pristine state. I will say the resort itself does a pretty good job of keeping a low profile in the canyon -- no buildings that I saw over 2 stories tall, most of the old trees are preserved.
This is the same institution that is opposing Grand Canyon University's entry into Division I athletics because, as a for-profit university, they are apparently not academically serious enough. For some reasons GCU's accountability to shareholders isn't as pure and wonderful as ASU's accountability to former customers who will never use their product again except perhaps to attend a football game (e.g. alumni).
Rolling Stone brings us an absolutely great example of an article that claims a trend without actually showing the trend data, and where the actual data point to a trend in the opposite direction as the one claimed.
I won't go into the conclusions of the article. Suffice it to say it is as polemical as anything I have read of late and could be subtitled "the Tea Party and Republicans suck." Apparently Republicans are wrong to criticize government wildfire management and do so only because they suck, and the government should not spend any effort to fight wildfires that threaten private property but does so only because Republicans, who suck, make them. Or something.
What I want to delve into is the claim by the author that wildfires are increasing due to global warming, and only evil Republicans (who suck) could possibly deny this obvious trend (numbers in parenthesis added so I can reference passages below):
But the United States is facing an even more basic question: How should we manage fire, given the fact that, thanks to climate change, the destruction potential for wildfires across the nation has never been greater? In the past decade alone, at least 10 states – from Alaska to Florida – have been hit by the largest or most destructive wildfires in their respective histories (1). Nationally, the cost of fighting fires has increased from $1.1 billion in 1994 to $2.7 billion in 2011.(2)
The line separating "fire season" from the rest of the year is becoming blurry. A wildfire that began in Colorado in early October continued smoldering into May of this year. Arizona's first wildfire of 2013 began in February, months ahead of the traditional firefighting season(3). A year-round fire season may be the new normal. The danger is particularly acute in the Intermountain West, but with drought and record-high temperatures in the Northwest, Midwest, South and Southeast over the past several years, the threat is spreading to the point that few regions can be considered safe....
For wildland firefighters, the debate about global warming was over years ago. "On the fire lines, it is clear," fire geographer Michael Medler told a House committee in 2007. "Global warming is changing fire behavior, creating longer fire seasons and causing more frequent, large-scale, high-severity wildfires."...(4)
Scientists have cited climate change as a major contributor in some of the biggest wildfires in recent years, including the massive Siberian fires during a record heat wave in 2010 and the bushfires that killed 173 people in Australia in 2009.(5)...
The problem is especially acute in Arizona, where average annual temperatures have risen nearly three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit each decade since 1970, making it the fastest-warming state in the nation. Over the same period, the average annual number of Arizona wildfires on more than 1,000 acres has nearly quadrupled, a record unsurpassed by any other state and matched only by Idaho. One-quarter of Arizona's signature ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests have burned in just the past decade. (6)...
At a Senate hearing in June, United States Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell testified that the average wildfire today burns twice as many acres as it did 40 years ago(7). "In 2012, over 9.3 million acres burned in the United States," he said – an area larger than New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware combined. Tidwell warned that the outlook for this year's fire season was particularly grave, with nearly 400 million acres – more than double the size of Texas – at a moderate-to-high risk of burning.(8)
These are the 8 statements I can find to support an upward trend in fires. And you will note, I hope, that none of them include the most obvious data - what has the actual trend been in number of US wildfires and acres burned. Each of these is either a statement of opinion or a data point related to fire severity in a particular year, but none actually address the point at hand: are we getting more and larger fires?
Maybe the data does not exist. But in fact it does, and I will say there is absolutely no way, no way, the author has not seen the data. The reason it is not in this article is because it does not fit the "reporters" point of view so it is left out. Here is where the US government tracks fires by year, at the National Interagency Fire Center. To save you clicking through, here is the data as of this moment:
Well what do you know? The number of fires and the acres burned in 2013 are not some sort of record high -- in fact they actually are the, respectively, lowest and second lowest numbers of the last 10 years. In fact, both the number of fires and the total acres burned are running a third below average.
The one thing this does not address is the size of fires. The author implies that there are more fires burning more acres, which we see is clearly wrong, but perhaps the fires are getting larger? Well, 2012 was indeed an outlier year in that fires were larger than average, but 2013 has returned to the trend which has actually been flat to down, again exactly opposite of the author's contention (data below is just math from chart above)
In the rest of the post, I will briefly walk through his 8 statements highlighted above and show why they exhibit many of the classic fallacies in trying to assert a trend where none exists. In the postscript, I will address one other inconsistency from the article as to the cause of these fires which is a pretty hilarious of how to turn any data to supporting you hypothesis, even if it is unrelated. Now to his 8 statements:
(1) Again, no trend here, this is simply a single data point. He says that 10 states have set in one year or another in the last decade a record for one of two variables related to fires. With 50 states and 2 variables, we have 100 measurements that can potentially hit a record in any one year. So if we have measured fires and fire damage for about 100 years (about the age of the US Forest Service), then we would expect on average 10 new records every decade, exactly what the author found. Further, at least one of these -- costliness of the fires -- should be increasing over time due to higher property valuations and inflation, factors I am betting the author did not adjust for.
(2) This cost increase over 17 years represents a 5.4% per year inflation. It is very possible this is entirely due to changes in firefighting unit costs and methods rather than any change in underlying fire counts.
(3) This is idiotic, a desperate reach by an author with an axe to grind. Wildfires in Arizona often occur out of fire season. Having a single fire in the winter means nothing.
(4) Again, we know the data does not support the point. If the data does not support your point, find some "authority" that will say it is true. There is always someone somewhere who will say anything is true.
(5) It is true that there are scientists who have blamed global warming for these fires. Left unmentioned is that there are also scientists who think that it is impossible to parse the effect of a 0.5C increase in global temperatures from all the other potential causes of individual weather events and disasters. If there is no data to support a trend in the mean, it is absolutely irresponsible to claim causality in isolated data points in the tails of the distribution
(6) The idea that temperatures in Arizona have risen 3/4 a degree F for four decades is madness. Not even close. This would be 3F, and there is simply no basis in any reputable data base I have seen to support this. It is potentially possible to take a few AZ urban thermometers to see temperature increases of this magnitude, but they would be measuring mostly urban heat island effects, and not rural temperatures that drive wildfires (more discussion here). The statement that "the average annual number of Arizona wildfires on more than 1,000 acres has nearly quadrupled" is so awkwardly worded we have to suspect the author is reaching here. In fact, since wildfires average about 100 acres, the 1000 acre fire is going to be rare. My bet is that this is a volatility in small numbers (e.g. 1 to 4) rather than a real trend. His final statement that "One-quarter of Arizona's signature ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests have burned in just the past decade" is extremely disingenuous. The reader will be forgiven for thinking that a quarter of the trees in Arizona have burned. But in fact this only means there have been fires in a quarter of the forests -- a single tree in one forest burning would likely count for this metric as a forest which burned.
(7) This may well be true, but means nothing really. It is more likely, particularly given the evidence of the rest of the article, to be due to forest management processes than global warming.
(8) This is a data point, not a trend. Is this a lot or a little? And remember, no matter how much he says is at risk (and remember this man is testifying to get more budget money out of Congress, so he is going to exaggerate) the actual acreage burning is flat to down.
Postscript: The article contains one of the most blatant data bait and switches I have ever seen. The following quote is taken as-is in the article and has no breaks or editing and nothing left out. Here is what you are going to see. All the way up to the last paragraph, the author tells a compelling story that the fires are due to a series of USFS firefighting and fuel-management policies. Fair enough. His last paragraph says that Republicans are the big problem for opposing... opposing what? Changes to the USFS fire management practices? No, for opposing the Obama climate change plan. What?? He just spent paragraphs building a case that this is a fire and fuel management issue, but suddenly Republicans suck for opposing the climate change bill?
Like most land in the West, Yarnell is part of an ecosystem that evolved with fire. "The area has become unhealthy and unnatural," Hawes says, "because fires have been suppressed." Yarnell is in chaparral, a mix of small juniper, oak and manzanita trees, brush and grasses. For centuries, fires swept across the chaparral periodically, clearing out and resetting the "fuel load." But beginning in the early 1900s, U.S. wildfire policy was dominated by fire suppression, formalized in 1936 as "the 10 a.m. rule" – fires were to be extinguished by the morning after they were spotted; no exceptions. Back in the day, the logic behind the rule appeared sound: If you stop a fire when it's small, it won't become big. But wildland ecosystems need fire as much as they need rain, and it had been some 45 years since a large fire burned around Yarnell. Hawes estimates that there could have been up to five times more fuel to feed the Yarnell Hill fire than was natural.
The speed and intensity of a fire in overgrown chaparral is a wildland firefighter's nightmare, according to Rick Heron, part of another Arizona crew that worked on the Yarnell Hill fire. Volatile resins and waxy leaves make manzanita "gasoline in plant form," says Heron. He's worked chaparral fires where five-foot-tall manzanitas produced 25-foot-high flames. Then there are the decades of dried-up grasses, easily ignitable, and the quick-burning material known as "fine" or "flash" fuels. "That's the stuff that gets you," says Heron. "The fine, flashy fuels are just insane. It doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. But when the fire turns on you, man, you can't outdrive it. Let alone outrun it."
Beginning with the Forest Service in 1978, the 10 a.m. rule was gradually replaced by a plan that gave federal agencies the discretion to allow fires to burn where appropriate. But putting fire back in the landscape has proved harder to do in practice, where political pressures often trump science and best-management practices. That was the case last year when the Forest Service once again made fire suppression its default position. Fire managers were ordered to wage an "aggressive initial attack" on fires, and had to seek permission to deviate from this practice. The change was made for financial reasons. Faced with skyrocketing costs of battling major blazes and simultaneous cuts to the Forest Service firefighting budget, earlier suppression would, it was hoped, keep wildfires small and thus reduce the cost of battling big fires.
Some critics think election-year politics may have played a role in the decision. "The political liability of a house burning down is greater than the political liability of having a firefighter die," says Kierán Suckling, head of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "If they die, you just hope that the public narrative is that they were American heroes."
The problem will only get worse as extremist Republicans and conservative Democrats foster a climate of malign neglect. Even before President Obama unveiled a new climate-change initiative days before the fire, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the reported proposal as "absolutely crazy." Before he was elected to the Senate last November, Jeff Flake, then an Arizona congressman, fought to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding research on developing a new model for international climate-change analysis, part of a program he called "meritless." The biggest contributor to Flake's Senate campaign was the Club for Growth, whose founder, Stephen Moore, called global warming "the biggest myth of the last one hundred years."
By the way, the Yarnell firefighters did not die due to global warming or even the 10am rule. They died due to stupidity. Whether their own or their leaders may never be clear, but I have yet to meet a single firefighter that thought they had any business being where they were and as out of communication as they were.
Taxes are usually the heart of the discussion when people talk about the bad business climate in California. And certainly their taxes are just insanely high. But for folks like me, an even bigger barrier is the regulatory environment. We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion. In Ventura County, for example, we have a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.
A big reason for this is the regulation in California and in Ventura County. We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck. We added a 500 gallon fuel tank for fueling boats (to eliminate the unsafe practice of driving in and out of town with about 100 5-gallon fuel containers) and it took over 3-years of trekking to multiple county and state offices to get it permitted. We thus despaired of trying to get a campground expansion approved. Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million and Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up. And this is even before we fart with crazy California break laws and other nuttiness.
I have often told folks that I would love to see a liberal defender of all this regulatory overreach try to construct and open a restaurant in Ventura County. It would be fascinating to watch. (All this musing was touched off by this article on underground restaurants that try to sidestep this regulatory cost and mess). We are a service business and California still has a lot of money, so we still operate in California. But I continue to wonder why any company, like a manufacturer, remains in California. Sell there yes, but produce anything you can out of state and ship it in. Even as a service business we do a bit of this, no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California. Even our labor force is partially "imported", as we hire folks who live in their RV's to come from all over the country to live and work at our campgrounds.
As I read the other day, if Silicon Valley were not already in California, would anyone in their right mind put it there?
Postscript: One other story: California's regulatory environment has caused a real shift in the culture as well. At one location that we are closing this year, a local attorney has regular dinner meetings with groups of our employees to brainstorm among the group to see if they can come up with something to sue us over.
Recently small town Grantville, Georgia police chief Doug Jordan flew out to meet with our very own Sheriff Joe.
Following their meeting, Jordan expressed his hopes to establish Grantville’s own drug team. He also planned to have some of his officers travel to Arizona for training.
Seriously? A dedicated drug team? Grantville has a population of 3,096 in 2011. Here it is in all its metropolitan glory:
Next, they will be wanting a tank.
I wasn't really going to post on this but since it is making the news, Equal Marriage Arizona (of which I am co-chair) is putting on hold our efforts to amend the Arizona Constitution in 2014 and will defer to 2016.
At some point when this quiets down, I will write an extended article about the experience, which was certainly a learning exercise for me (and by the way did nothing to dissuade me from my general default stance of avoiding politics like the plague).
We honestly thought that an effort initiated and led by Republicans and libertarians was the right choice for a heavily red state like Arizona, and I am still convinced of that. In fact, I think we knocked some of the Conservative opposition on their heels, and several Conservative commentators publicly stated that ours was a dangerously (for them) effective approach. In addition, a number of prominent Republicans took me aside and thanked me -- they felt that getting this passed would help save the party from its worst impulses.
From the beginning, I had some nervousness that our language was not perfect (though the lawyers were happy with it), but it was polling well and even more than a year in advance we were polling over 50% of probable voters in 2014.
The buzz saw we ran into was not from the Conservative opposition but from those we thought of as our allies. Several prominent LGBT and gay marriage groups turned against us early, and pressured nearly every other group on the Left to oppose us, even getting a number of groups who had endorsed us early to withdraw their endorsements.
The reasons for this were myriad, and I may write that story at some future date. Some of the wounds were self-inflicted on our part, and some were frankly due to my failings as a leader in this political arena. But I am convinced that these groups were never, ever going to support us. Some groups honestly worried that 2014 was too early in Arizona. Others had... other concerns. Scott Shackford of Reason makes some pretty good guesses, but there were issues beyond these.
"We are going to hallowed ground," says Jim Paxon, spokesman for the Arizona Forestry Division, moments before leading reporters and TV crews to the site where 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed in a June 30 wildfire.
"They are almost superhuman," Paxon drawls to reporters gathered on the morning of July 23. "As we go up there, there's a Granite Mountain Hotshots shirt on a cactus. We would ask that you touch the shirt . . . in reverence to the loss."
Darrell Willis, the Granite Mountain Hotshots direct supervisor in the Prescott Fire Department said that their deaths were God's will
"The voice of what actually happened, we'll never know," Willis says. "We're not going to have that information from [the dead men]."
Willis continues, "It was just one of those things that happened. You can call it an accident. I just say that God had a different plan for that crew at this time."
I don't know how much this tragedy gets covered nowadays outside of Arizona, but it still dominates the news here. I have no problem sending all the sympathy in the world to the young families of these men. But I am exhausted with the fetishizing as heroic of what looks to be a total screw up. An experienced crew had absolutely no business being where they were, or in this day and age so badly out of communication. They either blundered into, or were incompetently led into (the facts are still coming out) an absurdly dangerous position. At best, they were there to protect a ranch house that had already been evacuated and was likely insured a lot better than the lives of many of the crew members.
From my observations operating for years in the US Forest Service and other wilderness areas, wildland firefighting needs a serious housecleaning. I thought for sure this tragedy would be a stick driven into that particular anthill, almost guaranteeing scrutiny and accountability might follow. Now I am not so sure.
Some libertarians, who would normally be all for open immigration, have expressed concern about -- in the name of liberty -- allowing into the country people who will generally vote against it. I have at times shared this concern but in the end find it wanting.
However, I have personally observed this happening in both of the recent states in which I have lived (Arizona and Colorado). But the source of the problem has not been immigration from Mexico or any other country but from California. Californians seem hell-bent to escape the mess they have made of their state. They run to other states complaining of the disaster they are escaping. And then they proceed to vote for the same taxation and regulatory policies that screwed up California.
Arizona state politicians are excited to get all that new income tax money. While I am happy to see new wealth and talent flowing into our state, I fear that these new immigrants are plague carriers, bringing the virus of out-of-control state power to heretofore only mildly infected states.
Since I am on the topic of infrastructure today, let me discuss a project close to home
A major interstate highway must be built between Phoenix and Las Vegas to keep up with the region’s rapid population growth and to facilitate global trade, says a report released jointly Friday by transportation officials in Arizona and Nevada.
The 105-page report offered justification for constructing an Interstate 11, a multibillion dollar project to improve the link between the two metropolitan areas.
The report sets the stage for preliminary route, design and environmental studies ahead of any decision to build I-11, the nation’s most ambitious interstate project in a generation.
As envisioned, the project would convert U.S. 93 into a four-lane divided highway from Las Vegas to Wickenburg, taking advantage of the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge.
I drive this road all the time, and I have never encountered any congestion. A lot of it is already four lane divided, and the portions that are not move quite fast. There is one town (1) between Las Vegas and Wickenburg on the two-lane section that requires one to slow down and has, I think, one stoplight. I consistently average 75 miles an hour on the road. Sure, it would be nice if it were an interstate all the way, but the only real problem is the congestion in the outskirts of Phoenix, and that is already being addressed with a new loop freeway.
How can you confirm this makes no sense? Because neither AZ nor NV are spending their own money on this. This is basically a marketing proposal to obtain federal funds. If we actually had to spend our own state money on our own highway, I can't imagine anyone making it a priority over other local demands. But if the Feds will spend money.....
And as dumb as this idea is, the opposition quoted in the article is even dumber, which is probably why this kind of project actually gets approved. One group of geniuses, not identified, oppose the plan because they want a bullet train instead. Yeah, that's the ticket -- there is not enough traffic to fill a two-lane highway and Southwest offers hour long flights for $95, so let's build a dedicated high speed rail line. This is the eternal Las Vegas fantasy, that someone will spend billions to build high speed rail to whisk folks to their casinos.
Finally, there is the environmental argument:
Environmental advocates like the Sierra Club object to paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert. The area west of the White Tanks is largely open space, with a few isolated communities. Planners say the area could swell in population to 2.5 million, with the help of the freeway.
“We still think it’s a bad idea,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club in Arizona. “The freeway is not needed. It‘s time to look at other ways to look at our transportation needs.”
Opponents say I-11 will promote sprawl at a time when Arizonans are driving less.
I don't think widening of a road from 2-4 lanes is really "paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert", though it is funny to me that the same people who said this likely support enormous solar projects that do just that. Further, anyone concerned with sprawl being promoted along the route have probably never driven on it. The definition of "sprawl" is almost impossible to pin down, but I don't see people suddenly building suburbs around Wikieup (home of the single traffic light referenced earlier). This is a freaking deserted road and people are no more likely to move here because the road is wider than they are to live along I-40 between Flagstaff and Albuquerque (converted to an Interstate from 2-lane Route 66 years ago) . If you do drive to Vegas, look for someone to offer a prop bet on the population swelling to 2.5 million and take the under.
Seriously, why can't anyone say in print the real problem here -- it is an expensive waste of money to upgrade a highway that has no congestion problems whatsoever and is simply a bid by state government employees to grab some federal highway funds to keep ADOT administrators and engineers employed.
I am driving this highway a week from Monday. I will try to take some pictures of all the congestion.
Update: I did the 299 miles from my house to the hotel on the strip in exactly 4.5 hours. This includes a 15 minutes stop for gas and snacks as well as navigating from my home to the freeway in Phoenix and through Las Vegas traffic around the strip. I averaged 66 miles per hour, including the stops and traffic and neighborhood streets.
Arizona State University (ASU) has always had a certain niche in the college world, a niche best evidenced by their making both the top 10 party school and top 10 hottest women lists in the same year. President Michael Crow has done a fair amount to, if not reverse this image, at least add some academic cred to the university. ASU has been creeping up the USN&WR rankings, has a very serious and respected honors college (Barrett) and hosts the Origins conference each year, one of the most fun public education events I have attended.
But Michael Crow is now upset that another Phoenix area school has been given Division I status in sports, a for-profit college named Grand Canyon University. This could really hurt both ASU's athletic recruiting in the area as well as dilute its revenues. But in the supremely hypocritical world college athletics, he can't say that. Instead, he says (Via Tyler Cowen)
The conference's 12 presidents signed and delivered a letter dated July 10 urging the NCAA's Executive Committee to "engage in further, careful consideration" about allowing for-profit universities to become Division I members at the committee's August meeting. In the meantime, Pac-12 presidents decided at a league meeting last month not to schedule future contests against Grand Canyon while the issue is under consideration.
"A university using intercollegiate athletics to drive up its stock value -- that's not what we're about," Arizona State president Michael Crow said in a phone interview over the weekend. "... If someone asked me, should we play the Pepsi-Cola Company in basketball? The answer is no. We shouldn't be playing for-profit corporations."...
"Our presidents have a pretty clear view that athletics works for the broader benefit of the university," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "There's a discomfort with the idea that the sole accountability around athletics would be to a company that might use athletics as a marketing tool to drive stock price. There's a sense that changes the dynamics and accountability around athletics."
It is freaking hilarious to get lectured on accountability around athletics by the NCAA. This is an organization that has been making billions off unpaid workers for years, workers who think so much of the value of the compensation they do receive (a free education) that most of the best of them never complete it. I wrote more about the NCAA and athletes here. In short, though, all these schools use the athletic program to raise capital (in the form of donations), likely far more so than a private school's sports team would raise its stock value. Unless you grew up near the school, what do you know about well-known schools like Penn State, Ohio State, University of Miami, LSU, Alabama and even Notre Dame other than their athletics program?
Michael Crow reveals himself as just another incumbent that does not want competition.
In regards to Grand Canyon specifically, though, it would certainly appear that Crow, who's been spearheading the effort, is driven in part by protecting his own turf. Arizona State has long been the only Division I university in the Phoenix market. And in the bigger picture, it seems a bit self-righteous that the same group of presidents that in 2011 signed a $3 billion contract with ESPN and FOX -- and which last year launched a profitable television network of their own -- would play the "non-profit" card in calling out someone else's motives.
"It's different in the following sense," Crow said of the comparison. "Whatever income we generate from a television network goes to support the swimming team, the rowing team at Cal. We support thousands of athletes and their scholarships, their room-and-board, as part of the intercollegiate spirit of athletics. ... In the case of a for-profit corporation, those profits go to the shareholders."
His last point is a distinction without a difference. First, I am not sure it is true -- Grand Canyon also has other athletic programs that cost money but don't bring in revenue. They also have a women's swim team, for example. But who cares anyway? Why is a student interested in swimming more worthy of receiving football largess than an investor? Maybe Crow is worried that the people of Arizona that fund so much of his operations (and bloated overpaid administrative staff) might suddenly start wondering why they don't get a return for their investment as do GCU shareholders.
Postscript: Phil Knight at Oregon and Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State (to name just 2 examples) get an incredible amount of influence in the university due to the money they give to their football programs and the importance of the football programs to those schools. Boone Pickens says he has given half a billion dollars to OSU, half of which went to the football program. But it is clear he would not have given a dime if he had not been concerned with the football team's fortunes and the problem of his university's football team losing to other rich guy's teams. Is this really somehow better and cleaner than being beholden to equity markets?
The link in the original article is broken, so here is a better link to an article and video of how "non-profits" are spending their athletic money, on things like this palatial locker room for the Alabama football team that would make Nero's gladiators blush.
My daughter is in Tanzania this summer for a secular service project. Her first Swahili: Jina langu ni Amelia, Ninatoka jimbo la Arizona which I hope means "my name is Amelia, I am from Arizona."
Since I am part of a group working to pass a ballot initiative in Arizona to allow same sex marriage in this state, I was obviously pleased with the decision to strike down DOMA yesterday.
However, the decision not to rule based on lack of standing on the Prop 8 suit creates a real mess above and beyond any implications for same-sex marriage.
Proposition 8, a California initiative to ban same-sex marriage that likely would not pass today, was introduced and passed five years ago because the authors of the initiative knew it was a step legislators would never take but that they thought (correctly at the time) that the voters would support. In fact, in a nutshell, this is exactly what the initiative process was meant to achieve. If citizens think the legislative process is broken on a particular issue (e.g. taxes, where legislators have entirely different incentives vis a vis raising taxes than do taxpayers), they can do an end-run. In a sense, this is exactly what we are doing in Arizona with our Equal Marriage initiative, though of course with the opposite desired end result from Prop 8. But just as in that case, we do not have high hopes of the current legislator passing such a Constitutional Amendment, so we are doing it through citizens initiative.
The problem in the Prop 8 case was that when the law was challenged in court, neither the governor nor the legislature was willing to defend it in court (remember, that it was passed over their opposition). Given the very nature of ballot propositions and the reasons for them discussed above, this is likely a common occurrence. But the Supreme Court refused to rule on the case because, as I understand their argument, only the administrative or legislative branch of the state government has standing to bring the appeal (ie defend the original law that was overturned by a local Federal court).
This is a really bad precedent. It means that any initiative passed by citizens that is opposed by the current state government is enormously vulnerable to attack in courts. If the government officials are the only ones who have standing, and they refuse to defend the law, then it will lose in court almost by summary judgement.
There has got to be some process where courts can grant citizens groups who filed and passed such initiatives standing to defend it in court. Certainly there could be some judicial process for this, almost like the process for certifying a class and its official representative in a class action suit. Without this, citizens initiatives are going to lose a lot of their power.
Update: Scott Shackford at Reason writes
So should we be worried? Could the reverse – voters approve gay marriage recognition only to have the state refuse to back it – happen? What if the voters approved term limits for state legislators and they just ignored it?
The majority decision was not unsympathetic to the argument (incidentally, it’s interesting to see how polite these arguments are when you end up with such an unusual combination of justices on each side) but firm in that: 1) Getting a ballot initiative passed does not make you an agent of the state with standing; and 2) If you aren’t an agent of the state who is expected to defend the law, then you have to have proof of a personal harm and the proponents do not. Arguably, if the situation were reversed (the state refusing to defend an initiative recognizing gay marriage), it’s easy to see how they could allow standing and the outcry that would cause. A person denied a marriage license from a same-sex ballot initiative may be able to prove harms from discriminatory policies and earn standing.
I had not thought of it that way, but it is interesting that the Court could not find any demonstrated harm to straight petitioners from the legality of same-sex marriage. I suppose that is a good sign.
I was down at the Arizona capitol first thing this morning to do some live TV interviews on reaction to the Supreme Court DOMA decision (as Chair of Equal Marriage Arizona, which has a ballot initiative in the works to allow same-sex marriage, we wanted to get our initiative close tied to the story today).
Once the decision came down around 7:10 AM local time, the networks wanted an immediate reaction. I told them I needed to read for 5 minutes to make sure the decisions were what we expected (they were). So I leaned up against a palm tree to stay in the shade and read my iPad. Well, it turns out the tree trunk was crawling with ants. So as I began my live TV interviews, I could feel them crawling all over my back and starting to bite. I am not sure how coherent I was in the interviews. I am pretty sure the reporters were confused about my ripping off my jacket and shirt once the interviews were over. Maybe they thought it was some sort of Brandi Chastain celebration.
On a related note, having tangentially been involved now in the media rush around a Supreme Court decision, I found this analysis of the running of the interns quite entertaining.
First, I am interviewed today at Reason on our Equal Marriage Arizona initiative.
One question that keeps coming up, both from libertarians as well as others, is why should government define marriage at all? Can't anyone get married in any kind of private ceremony?
My response is that yes, in some sort of libertarian small-government world, the state would be irrelevant -- what I used to call separation of marriage and state.
But it turns out that the state is already deeply involved in marriage. The explicit state licensing of marriage already exists, and our laws in Arizona for this licensing are unequal -- some couples get access to this state license, and some cannot.
What makes this important is that marriage is embedded in hundreds, even thousands, of laws. I searched the Arizona Revised Statutes for mentions of the words "spouse" or "spouses". These words are used 1133 times in 373 different statutes! The Our America team told me they counted over a thousand references in Federal code. In other words, our law codes give -- in thousands of instances -- specific rights, responsibilities, and privileges to married couples who have access to a state-granted marriage license. Those left out of the current unequal definition of marriage face any number of challenges imposed on them by these specifics of spousal rights and privileges embedded in our law code. I call this the non-marriage penalty.
There is no way to rip all these references to marriage out of the law and tax code. The fairest solution -- the one that most respects individual freedoms -- is to accept that such government licensing of marriage exists and then make it as open and as equal and as fair and as accessible as we possibly can. That is what we are trying to achieve with Equal Marriage Arizona.
Today I have registered as the chair of Equal Marriage Arizona. We are seeking to place a proposition on the ballot in Arizona in 2014 to broaden the definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two persons". We are also adding language to protect religious freedom, specifically
“a religious organization, religious association, or religious society shall not be required to solemnize or officiate any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its Constitutional right to free exercise of religion."
Our press release is here. Gary Johnson's Our America organization has been kind enough to sponsor us, as have the Log Cabin Republican's national organization. My co-chair in Arizona is also chair of the Arizona chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.
I suppose in an ideal libertarian world, marriage would not even be subject to state administration. But the fact is that there are scores of provisions, from inheritance laws to financial and medical privacy laws, that give special privileges to couples who are officially married, such that it is a real equity issue that some couples are denied the ability to marry. Perhaps there was a time when some hoped that contracts or civil unions might be an adequate substitute, but I know too many single-sex couples struggling with the deficiencies in these alternate, and deficient, marriage substitutes.
We are not seeking a referendum on sexual choices or lifestyles. We are seeking a initiative expanding liberty by providing for equal marriage, for what could be more fundamental to personal freedom than choosing who one will marry?
More to follow.
PS -- I am turning off comments on this for a while, as it likely will get some media attention today. Y'all know I traditionally have the most open comments policy on the web, moderating for spam only. However, many people, including some in the media, still do not understand the difference between blog posts and comments, and tend to try to count political coup over the more outrageous comments. As a minimum, since most bloggers moderate, they assume that I do as well (no matter how many times I say I don't) so that any obscene or deeply insensitive statements are assumed to be tacitly approved by me, since I did not moderate them. Rather than moderate comments for content, I would prefer just to turn them off.
Let me bring you up to speed: The NHL owns the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, having taken them over in bankruptcy. It needs to sell the team and is demanding $200 million for the team, having promised the league owners it would not accept anything less (so they will not take a loss in the investment). The team is worth, however, something like $100 million, at least if it stays in Arizona.
The team plays in a stadium built by the relatively small city (250,000 people) of Glendale, which put something like $300 million of taxpayer money into the stadium and has provided operating subsidies to the team the last several years that probably total another $100 million, at least. The city has a bad hand, but keeps doubling down on its bet to try to retain the team.
The problem, of course, is the $100 million difference in the bid-ask for the team. Glendale first tried to fix this by agreeing in a previous deal couple of years ago to basically give the buyer $100 million of taxpayer money to bridge the bid-ask gap. The Goldwater Institute sued, saying that the Arizona Constitution pretty clearly states the government can't directly subsidize commercial interests. They prevailed (before it ever reached court) and the deal died.
The only way left for Glendale to make the deal happen was to give a buyer $100 million in taxpayer money but to do so in a more disguised manner. The one option they had was in the stadium management contract. If they agreed, say, to pay the buyer $10 million a year over market rates for the stadium management contract, over 15 years that has about a $100 million present value. They can get away with this because there is no objective valuation of what a management contract would cost on the open market.
But their ability to do this is, thankfully, about to die. Under intense pressure, and in a fit of good government that I am sure Glendale regrets, it actually went out and sought arms-length contracts for stadium management from third parties. It is enormously unlikely the city will accept any of these bids, because it needs the stadium contract as a carrot for someone to buy the Coyotes at the NHL's inflated price. Besides, I bid on large contracts a lot and I have often been presented with bid packages from an entity that had no intention of awarding, but wanted me to go through all the bid effort just to establish an internal price benchmark or to keep their preferred provider honest. I can smell these from a mile away now.
The problem Glendale will have, though, is that when these 3rd party bids become public (which they inevitably will), it will then be impossible to hide the implicit subsidy in the management contract. Presumably, taxpayers then will push back on any future deals using this dodge, though Glendale citizens seem pretty supine so one never knows. Also, the city can also tweak the responsibilities of the stadium contract, thereby allowing them to claim that comparisons against these past bids are apples and oranges (though this will be hard as I expect arms-length bids around $5 million a year vs. $15 million they propose to pay the team buyer).
PS- It is hilarious to see worried comments from Gary Bettman (NHL Commissioner) about how hard on Glendale it will be if the Coyotes leave town. Merely lowering his asking price to something less than 2x the market price would solve the problem in an instant.
The Goldwater Institute is threatening to sue the City of Phoenix in order to stop pension spiking. According to the Arizona Republic,
State law says “unused sick leave, payment in lieu of vacation, payment for unused compensatory time or payment for any fringe benefits” cannot be used as compensation to compute retirement benefits.
State law also says that only “base salary, overtime pay, shift differential pay, military differential wage pay, compensatory time used by an employee in lieu of overtime not otherwise paid by an employer and holiday pay” may be used to calculate pension benefits.
This seems pretty explicit. The City admits to using sick leave, vacation pay, and fringe benefit values (e.g. cars and cell phones) in the pension calculation. So this seems pretty cut and dried. The city is breaking the explicit letter of the law.
That Goldwater has a good case can be judged from the fairly lame defenses of Phoenix practices by local unions. None seem to address the basic legal issue, but instead accuse Goldwater of "wasting taxpayer funds if it forced Phoenix to defend itself in court", a fairly hilarious attempt to claim the moral high ground of fiscal responsibility.
In fact, it appears that public workers believe (and I think this is a fairly common belief) that their collective bargaining agreements trump state law.
John Teffy, a Phoenix Fire Department captain, said Goldwater should stand down.
“It seems to me that if the Goldwater Institute took the time to understand how the city works and how contracts work, they would know there is a much simpler way to address this than with (threats of) frivolous lawsuits,” Teffy said.
I did not understand this statement at first, but what I think he is saying is that since the "Contract" in his mind supersedes all laws, then the way to deal with this is through a contract renegotiation. I think public workers see the writing on the wall and know that pension spiking is illegal, so they are hoping to handle this through a contract negotiation that just shifts this lost spiked value to workers in some other more legal form. A great strategy for them, but a terrible one for taxpayers, who should not have to pay for the union's past illegality.
My daughter is ready for her final (in-car) driving test to try to get her driver's license. But it turns out that the AZ DMV only gives driving tests before 3PM each day.
This is yet another policy designed for the pleasure of government workers (who want to get home nice and early) and not customer-citizens. Ask yourself: Who are 99% of the people who take the in-car driving test. Answer: 16-year-olds, also known as high school sophomores. And what are they doing up until 3PM weekdays? Why, they are going to school!
So I have to pull my daughter out of school to take the driving test. But it is worse than that, because we can't just show up at 2:30, missing perhaps her last class. The AZ DMV has this insane process that is essentially a series of chained queues. One waits in line for the receptionist, who gives the "customer" a number based on what task they want to complete (license, tags, etc). One then waits endlessly for this first number to come up, only to find that the person who calls you up can only complete half the task (at best), so you then have to wait in line for the next person to complete the next task, etc.
Well, reports from all the other parents tell us that if you show up two hours early (e.g. at 1PM), there is a very good chance you will not get the driving test. If all the prior queues one must work through cause one to show up at the driving test queue even at 3:01 -- Sorry! You have to come back another day and start all over.
This is obviously insane. The chained queue process is nuts. The fact that the one portion school age kids must complete ends before school is out is nuts. The fact that the person who performs the last step in the chained process goes home first is nuts.
Until last year, and with my previous kid, we did not have to do this. AZ had a very sensible law that allowed private licensed driving schools to give the driving test. You could still go through the DMV, but for a $100 or so one could get this done via a high service, no-queue, work-on-the-weekend private company. But of course our legislature ended this sensible service last year, ostensibly over concerns about quality, but likely because the DMV folks didn't like competition from outsiders who actually gave a sh*t about customer service.
When I read this in our local paper, alarm bells immediately went off:
A friendship cemented while working together on the state’s economic development efforts has led to a new partnership linking Roy Vallee, the former Avnet Inc. chairman and chief executive officer, with private developer Don Cardon.
Great, two folks who have focused on bringing crony corporatist benefits to selected local businesses and business relocations are going into business together. I don't know these guys, I am sure they are fine folks, but my first thought was a business that leveraged their connections with government to create private profits.
Reading further, this seems like a good guess:
The two metro Phoenix business leaders say they will collaborate on large commercial developments, including those with a special public-interest focus and those with special complexities....
Cardon spent three years at the Arizona Commerce Authority, a public-private partnership, and the predecessor Arizona Commerce Department. Aside from that, he perhaps is best-known as a driving force behind CityScape, the three-block, $1.2 billion mixed-use development in downtown Phoenix. He cites as a strength his ability to bring private and public interests together on a project.
Yep, I definitely think I am on to something:
The firm will strive to encourage a “collective vision” and “make sure projects are worthy of investment and will be successful,” Cardon said. “Everything we do will involve public value, enriching the quality of life.”
You know the type of project -- the ones where the city / state / Feds justify investing millions of taxpayer money into private projects because "they create jobs" (like those at Solyndra). In fact, the two partners are already polishing up this mantra, which I am sure we will hear over and over:
Deals typically will exceed $100 million and will create hundreds of jobs, both in the development stage and when complete, he said. The company , however, will maintain a fairly lean staff.
“We’re not a big employer, but we’ll be a job creator,” he said.
I want to make a couple of quick points:
- Investments whose primary return is "jobs" are not investments, because jobs are a cost, not an income stream. Investing public money to create jobs means that one is investing money now so that it incurs costs later.
- All successful capitalist enterprises that make a profit by definition create "public value" and "enrich the quality of life." Otherwise no one would buy their product or service and they would fail. In fact, only publicly-funded projects can evade this sort of accountability. When it is said that these projects deliver "public value," what is meant is that they deliver benefits that a few self-selected people have defined as somehow interesting to the public, but which it turns out the public (when given a choice) is unwilling to pay for. Which is how we get the local town of Glendale continuing to subsidize an ice hockey team for $25 million or so a year.
I continue to have shipments lost - badly lost - recently at UPS. After 10 years of not a single foul-up, UPS has now lost or mis-routed five important shipments of mine in just 3 months. In several of these cases, shipments that were supposed to be overnight did not get delivered for 4 or 5 days. More worrisome, the packages seemed to sit (according to the tracking) in random locations until I called and forced something to happen -- there did not seem to be any sort of automatic intervention to save or reroute them. In the most disturbing case, a woman in Arizona called our office to tell us that our Florida payroll had just been delivered by UPS to her house.
This is particularly worrisome because most of our shipments are date critical - payroll that has to be somewhere on a particular date or bids that must be delivered by a certain time or be voided. Recently we have taken to paying extra and shipping everything one day faster than we need to give UPS room to screw up - ie overnight when we actually have two days to the due date. But even so, UPS has fouled two shipments up so badly they were late even with an extra day to spare.
My statistics memory is rusty, but my guess is that my very few samples of a very large system don't necessarily indicate a process problem to any significance. Still, we are worried. The problem is I don't know who to switch to -- we left Fedex when they screwed up two of our first three shipments.