Friday, February 29, 2008

The Surge

Angelina Jolie is quoted in the WSJ today about the effectiveness of the surge. She says in part -

"As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible."

The statement speaks for itself.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another example of hidden taxes

Yesterday I rented a car in Los Angeles - for about $58 per day. But with taxes the total charge was $81.17. For those of you without a calculator that is a tax rate of 40%. That sure does encourage tourism. But then local officials think those of us that visit never look at our bills.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A class act

A couple of conservative talk show hosts have been using Senator Obama's middle name as a way to whip up their listeners. In a rally today one of these numbskulls, before Senator McCain was on the platform, used that reference. When McCain heard about it he held a press conference and said the following:

“It’s my understanding that before I came in here a person who was on the program before I spoke made some disparaging remarks about my two colleagues in the Senate, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton,” he said. “I have repeatedly stated my respect for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, that I will treat them with respect. I will call them ‘Senator.’ We will have a respectful debate, as I have said on hundreds of occasions. I regret any comments that may have been made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans.”

That won't stop the numbskulls but it does show that Senator McCain respects the office he is running for.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Technology and the Government

This afternoon I was reviewing my office phone bills. In the last several years we have experienced a significant decline in phone bills so that even with a lot of cellular usage, we are paying about a third less than we did a decade ago. That is due to technological improvements. But here is the catch, I signed a check to one of our carriers (who offers us lines) and the bill was for a bit more than $200. Of that the bill consisted of total taxes for the feds of $68.18 and the state of $18.18. Between excise and universal service and all of the other nonsensical levies about 40% of the bill was for taxes. (remember that one of the crowning achievements of the last GOP Congress was to eliminate the federal Spanish American War Excise on telephones, I guess they forgot a couple of others or added some in their place - that happened in May of 2006).

If the government had done anything to help build the technology it might have been one thing. But that linkage is non-existent. And some candidates think we are not taxed enough. How absurd.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Harold Stassen's Heir

Ralph Nader announced his campaign for the presidency today. Who cares? His best justification for his umpty-umpth run is that if the democrats cannot win in this year - they do not deserve to.“If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, and emerge in a different form.” He also yammered “Dissent is the mother of ascent”

Nader has always been about ego. This is just another demonstration of his continuing mission in life. I wonder if he knows the zen kõan about one hand clapping from Hakuin Ekaku.

When is an Opera not an Opera

This afternoon we saw the Sacramento production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw. (The picture by the way is not Fred Rogers but Britten.) Britten's inspiration comes from a Henry James novella of the same name. On its face the story would be a good opera. It concerns a governess who is hired by a wealthy man to take care of two children who he has no interest or time for. The prior governess and her lover, Mr. Quint, both died. And somehow, they are controlling the situation in the house called Bly. When the governess takes action against Quint, the boy, Miles, dies. So it is a ghost story, with lots of overtones.

Britten wrote this in 1954, and although I have not read the James book, it has the feeling that most critics suggest about the source book. It is gothic in its proportions. Britten's score suffers from being more ponderous than profound. I found it unrelenting.

As I watched the performance I wondered what constitutes an opera. A simple definition of opera is a production where singers tell the story. I find that definition inadequate. I guess I am more addicted to operas which are a bit more lyrical - not just to the bel canto period but in the end you want some music which is memorable. Even Wagner (who I do not really care for) has a couple of tunes in his operas that one can remember. Britten's work is a collection of sounds not songs. For my taste, this opera was a disappointment.

Even with that disappointment I am glad that the Sacramento Company tried it. The performance, although not to my liking, was dramatic. The half dozen or so singers in the production had wonderful voices. And occasionally it is good to get out of the comfort zone of what we know.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Old Gray Gossip II

Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the NYT commented on the McCain story in today's Times - “If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” [NYT executive editor Bill Keller said.] “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

Well duh, but the irresponsibility of Mr. Keller on this story - or the blatant political purpose of the story - should not be ignored. Hoyt quotes a reader from Philadelphia suggesting that the Gray Lady “has sunk below its standards and created a salacious distraction from an otherwise substantive campaign. And for the record, I am an Obama supporter.” An Arizona reader stated “I am most disappointed in The New York Times for engaging in this sort of trash-the-candidate journalism.” According to Hoyt the story generated more than 2400 responses, most of them negative. But was Keller's point news of something later for the eventual democratic candidate?

The Old Gray Gossip

The New York Times story on John McCain's alleged improper activity with a lobbyist sinks the paper even further. When I read the original story, I was surprised at how little the TImes went to press with. The conclusion which might have been drawn from the story is that a) McCain has had some deep ties to lobbyists (shudder) and b) that one of them might have been sexual. But to come to the worst conclusion from the facts that are presented in the story would take a leap of faith of tremendous proportions.

The story (and that is what it is in the best sense of Hans Christian Anderson or Steven King) is corroborated by one of his former strategists and a whole bunch of (as former Mayor Richard Daley once called them) "insinuendos." Keller said in a Times response to the hubbub after the story "Afterall we wrestled with our doubts" as a way to justify his actions. I guess if you wrestle and still publish a gossipy story that represents the current state of journalistic ethics in the Times.

What was surprising to me was the responses to the article. As they have come down so far, Bill Keller, whose tenure as Executive Editor at the Times has been pretty lame, said we published it because it was "ready." One wonders why a story which was 10 years old and containing only one legitimate source would be "ready" at this point- but I guess that is within the realm of "professional judgment." Keller remember thought it was OK to publish some intelligence documents on monitoring of financial transactions even though it was clear that the publication would compromise some very helpful actions against terrorist networks. When the publication of the story about the financial transactions caused criticism, Keller got on his soapbox and sanctimoniously commented "We apply the principles of journalism individually as editors of independent newspapers. We agree, however, on some basics about the immense responsibility the press has been given by the inventors of the country." And he also babbled "Our job, especially in times like these, is to bring our readers information that will enable them to judge how well their elected leaders are fighting on their behalf, and at what price." His paper was also among the leading opponents of looking carefully into the bimbo eruptions of the Clinton presidency (which were mostly stories before Keller became executive editor).

A second set of reactions from the McCain story came from what Hillary Clinton lovingly referred to as the "vast right wing conspiracy." Several conservative talk show hosts used the story to savage the Times and defend McCain. Since many of those professional yabberers have been critical of McCain, that allowed the story to extend for a couple of days more. In this morning's Bee - the editorial cartoon shows a hapless newsboy (hardly an accurate picture of the Times - so they label him) being throttled by a group of loud mouthed talkers.

Every politician interacts with lobbyists and indeed every politician who is worth their pay has some relationships with lobbyists that are stronger than others. I don't know from the story whether the relationship between McCain and the female lobbyist was even potentially improper from the Times story. And without that the Gray Lady just becomes another gossip monger.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Role of an Executive

California is in another budget mess. By any estimate the current and projected budgets are out of whack by fairly large numbers - $14-16 billion. That would be larger than the budgets of many states and some countries. The Governor proposed a budget in January which was premised on across the board reductions in spending. That is a common way for many political figures to solve problems like this. No need to make the very hard choices between this and that. Indeed, it makes some sense.

Yesterday the Legislative Analyst released her analysis of the proposal and she takes a substantially different approach. She proposes some changes in tax policy which would raise revenue. The Governor has stuck firm to his no new taxes proposal. Her revenue suggestions are mostly technical (changing the treatment of tax loss carryforwards and the R&D tax credit for example) but they raise a fairly significant level of cash. But she also proposes a much less broad brush set of reductions. She makes a set of choices - which not everyone could agree with but which none-the-less would stabilize the budget for the next several years.

The ease of doing across the board reductions is similar to what a clerk could do. But isn't an executive supposed to make choices?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on Hollywood Novels

I spoke with my movie business son in law about There will be blood and he told me about the writer,Paul Thomas Anderson, and his attempt in this movie. Evidently the writer director was suffering from a writer's block and saw a copy of Sinclair's novel in a bookstore, read a couple of chapters of it and then wrote the screenplay. If that is true I wonder how much of a novel one needs to use to claim it as an inspiration. I guess that depends on the author. It says a lot about the current uneven state of copyrights - but that is another topic.

The reviewers I read, from gushed about the first several minutes of the movie which were done without a great deal of dialogue. I thought that was a creative part of the movie, showing the hard life that prospectors had in digging for oil in the very early days. And indeed, one reviewer commented that the music was "haunting" and designed to create a mood. I found it annoying. Other reviewers commented that the main character, Daniel Plainview (as opposed to Joe Ross in the book), lacks "soul." In the novel Ross is a driven man but the relationship between father and son (Bunny) is key to the story, in a way that the movie seems to put to the side. Anderson's son in the movie is almost one dimensional.

The original novel has some great interplay between the soul of the son (who discovers socialism) and the role of the evangelist. Sinclair was great at starkly setting issues - Oil follows the tradition of The Jungle in telling an interesting but complex story. But unlike the Jungle, the characters in Oil are a bit less one sided. Thus, in the original story you have some great conflicts between father and son, between rich and poor, between moral and immoral. Anderson's derivative work is much more unidimensional focussing on Plainview. In the end the movie rests on whether you care that Plainview is a driven man. And in that case I did not. For my taste I would have preferred the complexity.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Hillary Question

At breakfast this morning one of our group asked a good question - Why is Hillary so strongly vilified? Among presidential candidates she is a very polarizing figure. As I thought about it there are a couple explanations:

#1 The American People are tired of the Clintons (as they are of the Bushes) - Since 1980 there has been a Bush or a Clinton on the Presidential ballot. The Bushes energize the left much as the Clintons energize the right. Obama and to a much smaller extent McCain represent change from that order.
#2 Hillary and Nixon are similar figures - Nixon generated strong negative reactions because many understood that he was driven by raw ambition. Whether it was true or not, Nixon had the reputation of being willing to do anything or say anything to get elected. In Nixon's case there were examples of where he rose above his reputation- his forbearance in the 1960 electoral "miracle" of Illinois suggested that he would at times let his ambition take a second seat. But his standard MO was not an attractive one. We like Horatio Alger until it morphs into Uriah Heap. Clinton and Nixon are closer to Heap.
#3 Without her husband, she would not be there, - When you summarize her accomplishments, in spite of the claim of "35 years of experience" - she has spent her career either as the wife of an executive or in positions that she came to largely as a result of her husband's position.
#4 She is a lousy public speaker I was struck on election night on super Tuesday just how terrible a speaker she is. Many of her statements are a bad mix between preachy and whiny. She simply has not gained her own voice in a convincing manner.

I suspect there are many combinations that might explain this. The one issue that I think is not convincing is her gender. I suspect there are a lot of females who would not generate the enmity that Hillary has.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hollywood Novels

In 1927 Upton Sinclair, polemic writer and political candidate wrote a novel called Oil. It told a story about an oil tycoon and his son (the Ross). There is also a back story about an evangelist loosely related to Amy Semple McPherson. The Jungle is a better novel but some critics have thought that Oil was the best thing that Sinclair wrote while he lived in California. The senior Ross in the story is an independent wildcatter. His son is also a sort of entrepreneur but sides with the socialists. The real story is about the interplay of father and son but also about the influence of oil in California. There are a lot of potentially interesting elements in the story.

Tonight we saw There Will Be Blood, the Hollywood version of the novel. I am not sure what the adapters were trying to accomplish - but it is not clear whether they ever bothered to read the novel. The odd thing about the movie is that there are some interesting performances in the movie - even though the script is uneven. There are many things wrong with the movie. First and foremost is the musical score, which is simply annoying - it attempts to build suspense at odd and curious times. The most disappointing aspect of the film is the complete disregard for the story. The interplay between the wildcatters and the major oil companies in California in the early 20th century is fascinating. Sinclair's theme of the tension between ideologies and generations could also make an interesting movie. What is exchanged here is a lot of gratuitous violence with an overlay of some interesting performances, which could have been meaningful had the adapters bothered to even think about the issues raised by Sinclair.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Of course I purchased the new Apple Air. My first impression is a bit mixed. There is a standard Apple program called Migration Assistant that allows you to copy over files from your old computer to your new one. In this case I am going from a MacBook Pro to an Air as my day to day laptop. The tradeoff is simple - I go from 120 Gigs to 64 but reduce weight by a bit more than a pound. Unfortunately the MA does not consider that one would go to a smaller hard disk. I got convinced of the utility of putting more of my stuff into the ether - and so MA should account for that.

The trades press has done a lot of yammering on the sealed battery and also on the lack of a DVD drive - neither of which bother me. Tomorrow I am going in for a visit with the Apple experts to think about how to solve this problem.

The President's Economic Report

As you would expect from Dr. Tax - I read the President's Economic Report today - the chapter on taxes. It has some interesting stuff in it. The chapter begins with two questions that are often ignored in any discussion on taxes - how large should the tax burden be and who should pay that burden? In this chapter both are conditioned on the dead weight loss that any provision in the public sector produces. The report estimates that figure to be between 30% and 50%. That means before we finance something in the public sector it better pay off more than 30% more than it actually costs. Every tax policy distorts economic activity to some degree. We need to be wary of proposals that either increase those distortions or provide so little return that they allow some of this deadweight loss to occur. That is a pretty high threshold.

This president ran on the notion of being a compassionate conservative. For the past 40 years the share of GDP taken by the tax system has averaged 18.3% but under GWB that number went up to 18.8%. If the tax cuts are allowed to expire in 2010-11 then the percentage of GDP going to federal tax drives close to 21% by the mid point of the next decade. Those numbers are pretty high.

The chapter also discusses the growth of the Alternative Minimum Tax which started by affecting only about 20,000 taxpayers but could grow to affect 25 million. This is odd for a policy that was addressed to a small number of miscreants who somehow do not pay their fair share. The AMT was absurd on its face when it was first adopted, there are few if any people who consistently escape their fair share of tax burden. But facts then and now did not influence public policy.

Surprisingly as the Boomers begin to withdraw funds from their retirement accounts, which have been allowed to grow tax free, there will be a natural increase in the percentage of GDP going to taxes as this formerly exempt income goes back to the tax system. One way to avert the train wreck of Social Security (more on that later) is to allow tax free withdrawals in exchange for some reduction in eligibility for Social Security benefits. The combination of Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements will grow from about 10% of GDP to 20% over the next several decades - federal expenditures have rarely grown above the 20% of GDP rate so for those three categories to grow on their own could either produce a lot of deadweight loss (by increasing the level of federal expenditures well beyond where they have been in the last forty years or by cutting entitlements - neither is likely to be an acceptable solution.

Part of this chapter is a defense of a continuation of the Bush tax cuts - and indeed there is good justification for continuing many of those provisions (things like capital gains treatment were they to go back where either Obama or Clinton suggest would put us at a competitive disadvantage). A distinct impression I got from the chapter is the need to have a serious discussion about the first two questions raised in the chapter. But I suspect all but a few wonks will not be interested in those issues.

More on Podcasts

In the last couple of weeks I have used a lot of podcasts for listening when I am working out. I discovered a couple of good ones and a bunch of lousy ones.

The Lousy to the Good - the New Yorker has a couple of election podcasts - the ones I listened to were so utterly predictable that they were laughable. In one the first 10 that I listened to covered democrat candidates nine times and with a bias toward Clinton. On the other hand Slate has something called the Gabfest. It is not hard to understand where their bias begins but their conversation is interesting and insightful. Gabfest is entertaining and worth your time.

The good to great - The National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, has a series of mostly book talks by authors that has proved very compelling. Some are silly (Cornel West showed nothing if not why Larry Summers made the right decision to move him on) but many are quite interesting. A panel on Benjamin Franklin was fascinating. Bruce Carlson has something called my My History can Beat Up Your Politics.

Inevitabilities 2

OK, so it looks like McCain has won everything today. Ditto for Obama. Is the final victor identified? On the GOP side McCain seems to have it locked up. I am not sure that any thinking conservative has a candidate in this contest. But as we found in Maryland - vets and conservatives gave him the margin. Not so in Virginia - where the constantly aged John Warner was right behind the putative GOP nominee. Warner is not an ally that I would like to have behind me. But in Virginia he may be a necessary evil.

On the democrat side Ms. Clinton looks increasingly verclipt. She clearly is Tracy Flick. But she may be able to pull out the superdelegates and thus be able to win the nomination. If she does it that way, she will lose in November. On the other hand do not believe the polling now about match ups. All four candidates have the ability to self destruct. Give it some time - let Texas and Ohio work their magic and then let the games begin.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

My Political Daughter in Law

On Tuesday my daughter in law's grandfather called her and asked about her thoughts on
"super Tuesday" She replied "Is that a big sale at Walmart?"

Friday, February 08, 2008

Panem et Circenses (bread and circuses)

In Satire X of Juvenal the idea that when governance can't work leaders offer cheap food and entertainment was demonstrated once again by our Congress. Yesterday our elected leaders adopted a stimulus package for $152 billion (this follows the President's proposal for a $3.1 trillion "scaled down" budget).

"This is the Senate at its finest, recognizing this was an opportunity to demonstrate to the public that we could come together, do something important for the country and do it quickly," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "We were able to put aside our differences not only in the Senate but with our colleagues in the House and with the administration." Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) added: "It's tremendous what we've been able to accomplish." Our economist president added that the new bill "is robust, broad-based, timely, and it will be effective. This bill will help to stimulate consumer spending and accelerate needed business investment." McCain voted present, Clinton and Obama were off campaigning. But that did not stop the spinmeisters from issuing press releases praising their accomplishments and yapping about McCain's non vote.

This "landmark" legislation would provide checks to all people up to $75,000 ($150,000 for couples) in income. In addition it raised the level for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to insure mortgages and provided some additional boodle to people who receive veterans and social security benefits.

Perhaps the wittiest comment of the day came from Senator Claire McCaskill who said "It was time to declare victory and move on to the next stimulus package within only a few weeks." Everyone knows the effects of these kinds of bills yet because this is an even numbered year they vote for them. Should we tell them about next year Senator McCaskill?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The state of air travel

Today we were scheduled to go from DC to Winston Salem. Our original flight was from Chicago and then to Greensboro. But yesterday I got a call from United who said the flight had been cancelled and that we were now routed through Dulles to Greensboro - a more direct route.

We then took off at the appointed hour but turned around because the landing gear failed to retract. We sat on the plane for a while and then were told they would try to fix it. Ultimately they cancelled the flight.

We then went through the customer service line and were told our next flight (because the real next flight was full) would be seven hours later. In the end we took off on the 4:45 flight (actually took off about 5:30) and arrived about two hours later than our original flight.

What is the conclusion here? First, things happen, I am not angry - I've learned it does not do any good anyway in these situations. But second, as a person who is in United's top elite group of flyers we should have been a bit better protected. Third, the hub and spoke system produces some odd combinations (going to Chicago to get to a city south of your original starting point is silly - in this case thankfully a heavy storm in Chicago helped to make our trip shorter - except for the equipment failure).

More thoughts on the election

We went to dinner tonight in North Carolina. One of the servers we had had a New Jersey accent so we struck up a conversation. She is an interesting woman - I thought she was about 25 - yet she has a 22 year old child. She and her husband are both in school - she in a medical program - he in an MBA.

She expressed two concerns - first about one of her colleague's comments to her about her accent - she had his patois down perfectly - cracker one. And he was trying to instruct her about how terrible her Jersey accent was. She was angry.

Then she talked about the problems of being in the middle class. Her vote this fall will depend on who is the toughest on immigrants. She does not like McCain but she will look for the candidate who is the least receptive to immigrants.

It was an odd combination. But it may portend a good part of the electorate this fall.

Initial Thoughts About California's Part of Super Tuesday

The vote in California was interesting but there are a lot of unsolved issues coming from it. Voters soundly rejected both Proposition 92 and Proposition 93 - the Community College diversion of funds and the term limits shenanigans. But they also accepted all of the Indian Gaming Propositions. Although I voted NO on all four of those it was a close call and I think I lot of Californians simply said "let's continue to give them a chance."

On the presidential voting the two images tell the story. Clinton and McCain seem to have scored a pretty strong win - although Obama certainly won more counties than Romney. (14-3)

One final thought. The pundits made two projections that seem to have turned out wrong. First, they suggested a Romney and Obama surge at the end. That could have happened but there were a lot of early voters - whose ballots were not affected by the surge. Second, they thought super Tuesday would be a knockout for Huckabee - and not in California but in the rest of the country - that does not seem to have happened. We may wait a couple of weeks or even months to see who the final candidates are.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Inevitability on Super Tuesday

From the lead of the Washington Post this morning (Sports Page) "From the start, this week was supposed to be about history. Longtime observers of professional football were trotted out, one after another, to discuss just where the New England Patriots would rank among the National Football League's greatest teams if they completed their unprecedented perfect season with a Super Bowl victory." New York Giant 17 - New England Patriots 14.

In the economics profession at least we are able to say we projected 18 of the last 3 recessions - no so for sports or political pundits.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An Addendum to Moore's Law

In 1965 Gordon Moore speculated that the power of computers and costs would have a long term relationship that could be graphed. "The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year ... Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years. That means by 1975, the number of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer." The amazing thing about his insight is how long it has held true.

Next week I will get my new MacAir, the new Apple computer that is thin. Between my current Macbook Pro and the Air - both have Intel chips (a 2 Gig in my Probook and a 1.8 Gig in the Air) - Twin 667 SDRAM in both machines and some slight improvements in other areas of performance. The probook versus the G-4 added some speed in processors and some other improvements. Likewise earlier models added something. But like all of the top of the line laptops that I have bought in the last several years - this one costs about $3000. (That is for the solid state device) Thus the revision would suggest that not only will technology increase in its capabilities but that the final cost of the new laptop will be $3000.


I was struck by two things when I voted on Friday (I am in DC for Supertuesday) so I voted absentee. First, the GOP has made a serious error. I am a decline to state - as anyone who reads my scribbles will know - on the conservative side of the ledger but not affiliated. Until a few years ago a DS could vote in any primary - but the GOP has now closed theirs. That means I voted in the democratic primary - let's hope that the dim bulbs who wanted to work for purity of votes understand that often voters who vote in the primary may establish a loyalty to the candidate they support in the primary.

Second, I pulled out my driver's license to show who I was and the very pleasant elections clerk said "We never ask for any ID." So we have set up a situation where one of the most important responsibilities of life requires no ID but to do mundane as flying to the East Coast you not only have to show a state issued ID but you also have to take off about half your clothes to do it. Go figure.

There are two interpretations that I could come up with about the lack of IDs in elections. The first is that showing an ID somehow intrudes upon a person. The second that the ID procedure is ineffective at finding out fraud. I wonder if the NO ID advocates on one side of government have ever extended their logic to the airport? No, of course they have not.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Straight Talk from a Friend

Lamar Alexander is a friend of American higher education. So when he spoke earlier in the week about the need for higher education to communicate more clearly to its various constituencies, the representatives of higher education should listen. Alexander was speaking to two groups including the coordinating group of accreditation in the country. Over the last decade Congress has added a raft of new requirements for higher education designed to improve "accountability." The gist of all of these requirements is to produce some standardized information about the thousands of institutions - the first came with the University and College Accountability Network(UCAN) (which I helped to design) and the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA). In my opinion the next step that needs to be taken is to promote some standardized definitions about financial issues which can be made available in the same way that the student information in UCAN and VSA has been made available.

Alexander told the group “Congress simply doesn’t understand the importance of autonomy, excellence and choice, and the higher education community hasn’t bothered to explain it in plain English to members who need to hear it and understand it. The genius of our system is it is a marketplace of 6,000 autonomous institutions.”

What he did not say, and could be added, is that if higher education does not produce these information sheets, Members of Congress certainly will - and their definitions are always going to be worse that that which could be produced by higher education - but there are still some people in the higher education community who argue that institutions are so unique that standardized data is a bad idea. That, of course, is nonsense. What Senator Alexander said was not.