[guest post by JVW]
Since I’m on a roll here, let me continue ranting about my adopted state. Regular readers might recall my utter contempt for the disastrous California High-Speed Rail project, an attitude which is even shared by the more sensible bloggers here. Though the project is slowly — far too slowly if you ask me — circling the bowl on it’s way down the drain, like a maniac killer in a cheesy horror movie we can’t yet be sure it’s really dead.
So I was completely unsurprised when I saw an interesting editorial a few weeks back in the local paper explaining yet another problem with high-speed rail that turns out to be far more significant than its proponents realized:
According to the Los Angeles Times, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is now the owner of everything from rental units to toxic waste dumps on purchased land, yet lacks enough contiguous parcels to proceed with the most basic construction.
[. . .]
Hundreds of acres have been gobbled up uselessly by the overseers of the bullet train, whose construction path sometimes intersects just a fraction of a lot that must be wholly acquired to move on. And now, hundreds more parcels must be purchased just for the train track to be laid.
The staggering overage also has to do with the massive network of utility functions the train would disrupt and force to relocate.
While entirely foreseeable, only now, a decade into the process, are organizers realizing the staggering scope of the electric and water resources, such as pipelines and cables, that would somehow have to be rerouted or replaced to leave residents whole as the train, or at least its track, came to town.
Well, OK then. Interesting that this news first appeared in the Dog Trainer (obviously I’m no longer regularly reading that rag or else I might have noticed it) considering that their editorial board was naturally a big booster of the original project. At this point we need to treat high-speed rail like an undead movie monster and drag it into sunlight, put a stake through it’s heart, cut off its head and stuff its mouth with wolfsbane, then shoot a silver bullet into it, and do whatever else needs to be done to defang it once and for all. Then let’s forever refer to the ill-fated venture as the Schwarzenegger-Brown Fast Choo-Choo Boondoggle, and use it as a warning against badly-conceived and fanciful government projects that win votes for politicians but have zero chance of coming to fruition.
Speaking of which, anyone remember the California stem cell bond issue of 2004? Some quick background: you might remember that President George W. Bush early in his first term decided that the federal government would not support the creation of any new embryonic stem cell lines for research purposes, objecting that harvesting them from discarded frozen embryos was an affront to the sanctity of life. This decision was derided by those who don’t hold the view that frozen embryos embody meaningful human life as well as by the “let’s unleash science” crowd, who generally objects to the notion that religiously-based issues of morality should be allowed to interfere with scientific discovery. California being California, the pro-embryo stem cell research crowd was ascendant, and so a wealthy real estate developer who had family members suffering from diseases such as Alzheimers and diabetes helped fund a ballot proposition which sold public bonds to create the $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
Like high-speed rail, the pro-bond campaign was marked by lavish promises: California would become a pioneer in genetic research; the money would create jobs for thousands of Californians; and the stem-cell therapies that would result from all this CIRM research would pay for the “investment” dozens of times over. Once again, a well-meaning patsy of a governor (Schwarzenegger naturally) swallowed the marketing pitch completely and endorsed the measure. (I think a big problem with Arnie was that he was sensitive to the whispers that he wasn’t particularly bright, being a bodybuilder and Hollywood actor, so he was constantly falling for whatever scheme the so-called “experts” would place in front of him.) The proposition overwhelmingly passed in a Presidential election year, with Democrats gleefully promoting it as both a can’t-miss opportunity as well as a poke in the eye to the hated President Bush.
So what’s become of the CIRM nearly fifteen years later? Not a whole hell of a lot, according to Marc Joffe of the Reason Foundation:
Unfortunately, reality has not lived up to the hype. Last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that CIRM funding had failed to produce a single federally-approved therapy. And a 2015 State Controller’s Office audit found the institute failed to take adequate steps to ensure that scientists reviewing grant applications did not have conflicts of interest. Given these results, State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, called Proposition 71 “the most egregious ballot measure abuse in recent state history.”
Other issues which have beset the CIRM include charges of administrative bloat coupled with a lack of transparency among board members and a rather opaque process for awarding grants that raises questions of ethics, along with the aforementioned question regarding conflicts of interest among key personnel. Naturally, there are friendly academics who reach conclusions that the CIRM has been a raging success, but even the alleged financial benefits cited in the positive reports fall short of the overall impact promoted by proponents one-and-a-half decades ago.
I’m sure this will come as a major surprise, but despite the supposed success of this program the CIRM plans to come back to the voters next year with a request for an additional $5 billion dollars in funding. This of course leads to the question of why, if this initiative is such a raging success, it is necessary for the taxpayers to continue to pour in money. Surely this could be the perfect model for a public-private partnership, and scores of venture capitalists would line up to invest in these emerging and innovative technologies which will make everyone so phenomenally rich. Maybe the salient fact that as of the beginning of last year the CIRM has funded zero — exactly zero — stem cell cures approved by the FDA (though there are some that are currently in trial) will cause voters to be more skeptical of the promises that are bound to come from the CIRM’s fanbase. But given that the pro-bond campaign will largely be centered around cute kids with life-threatening diseases and happy talk about all of the jobs created with the original $3 billion (which was not the point of the original measure, by the way), and given that this is a Presidential election year when California progressives will be robotically drawn to the polls, I can’t imagine that this won’t pass yet again.
Because in California we are fools for government-funded fanciful schemes.