Patterico's Pontifications


More of What Ails the Golden State

Filed under: General — JVW @ 3:47 pm

[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.


16 Responses to “More of What Ails the Golden State”

  1. “Because in California we are fools for government-funded fanciful schemes”

    And continue to vote for the Pols who get rich running these hustles. Prosperity has ruined us.

    Bob Smith (5a4596)

  2. As an involuntary contributor to the Let’s Build A Billionaire A Stadium For His Sportsball Team Fund, I’d suggest that it’s not just California where people are fools for government-funded fanciful schemes. They just do things bigger in California.

    Jerryskids (702a61)

  3. Yea we had two basketball stadiums four blocks from each other in downtown miami

    narciso (d1f714)

  4. Stem cells aren’t a topic I’m particularly well versed in, but two years after the CA initiative, Japanese researchers developed a method of producing stem cells from mice that had all the special properties that had previously motivated people to use human embryonic stem cells. This fundamentally changed the scientific landscape and made human stem cells – with the associated ethical issues – much less important.

    Dave (1bb933)

  5. 4… yes, I recall the apologies from the people who vilified anyone not supporting embryonic stem cell harvesting as the be all – end all.

    A happy day in Alameda, Caliunicornia for my son and I… hadn’t been to the All Italian Car and Motorcycle Show since October 2014, and we rectified that today. Lots of beautiful cars to be found at this one!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  6. Texas has it’s own looming HSR boondoggle — less costly, because there’s more open land between Dallas and Houston, and not quite as many mountains to deal with. But they still have the same ‘last miles’ problems that L.A. and S.F. have in getting the line into the heart of city, which they’ve decided to solve by … not getting the lines into the heart of the city. It’s just going to run from sort of the northwest side of Houston to sort of the southeast side of Dallas. Then you’re on your own to get the rest of the way to downtown or elsewhere.

    They haven’t started building any of it yet, so there’s still time for it to collapse under its own illogic, but since most of it’s supposed to be privately funded, nobody’s really freaking out over it yet.

    John (c7bcb1)

  7. We didnt have high speed rail, it wss more like the simpsons monorail in miami, the pet project of the transportation committe chair (a route like downtown through south central into the hollywood hills)

    narciso (d1f714)

  8. This fundamentally changed the scientific landscape and made human stem cells – with the associated ethical issues – much less important.

    Yes, and though my memory might be tainted by my own biases, my recollection is that many smart scientists warned that embryonic stem cells might not end up being as crucial as the proponents believed. But again, voters of this state seemed to be guided more by emotion (Christopher Reeve might walk again!) than rational logic.

    JVW (2118ab)

  9. …for thirteen years this Institute has had a department of metallurgical research, which has cost over twenty million dollars and has produced nothing but a new silver polish and a new anti-corrosive preparation, which, I believe, is not so good as the old ones…

    Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand.

    Granted, we won the space race, and we have the best military in the world. So it’s not that government can’t do amazing things with taxpayer money. It’s just that so often, they might as well do this, because it would be as effective:

    Demosthenes (7fae81)

  10. #8 –

    This fundamentally changed the scientific landscape and made human stem cells – with the associated ethical issues – much less important.

    Yes, and though my memory might be tainted by my own biases, my recollection is that many smart scientists warned that embryonic stem cells might not end up being as crucial as the proponents believed. But again, voters of this state seemed to be guided more by emotionn (Christopher Reeve might walk again!) than rational logic.

    JVW (2118ab) — 10/13/2019 @ 9:13 pm

    OOften the progressive voters are motivated by their anti religion bias – instead of logic

    joe (debac0)

  11. I thought the south branch of the Miami Metro was a response to NIMBY resistance to extending I-95 as freeway further SE i.e past the U, Dadeland, Perrine, Cutler Ridge etc.

    urbanleftbehind (ea633b)

  12. The springfield monorail, is the best way to put it.

    narciso (d1f714)

  13. Think the NBA is contemptible for their kowtowing to China?

    “ California’s public employees should know that their retirement funds have invested in companies controlled by the Chinese military, which manufacture parts for the DF-41 missile, along with a range of aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, and airborne weapons.

    For that matter, these pension funds not only invest in Chinese companies (and index funds, tracked by mutual funds, that are heavily weighted with Chinese companies) directly involved in manufacturing military equipment and surveillance equipment, they also invest in Chinese companies involved directly or indirectly in human rights, labor rights, and environmental protection violations all over the world.

    California’s largest public employee pension fund, CalPERS, provides a case in point. Despite its quest for the elusive 7 percent annual return, CalPERS nonetheless foregoes investments in Iran, Sudan, assault rifles, tobacco products, and thermal coal. Yet CalPERS continues to invest in Chinese companies.”

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  14. JVW and others have alluded to this, but it seemed to me during the campaign on the stem cell proposition back in 2004 that both sides, and especially the proponents, were treating it as actually being about abortion rights. The undercurrent seemed to be, fail to support embryonic stem cell research, and the next thing you know Roe v. Wade will be overturned. I certainly didn’t have the scientific knowledge or background to evaluate the claims of either side, but voted against it anyway (ignorance is strength, or bliss at least) because the LA Times supported it in its usual condescending way.

    RL formerly in Glendale (40f5aa)

  15. this was only the marketing for stem express represented by david boies (why does that name sound familiar) and fusion gps,

    narciso (d1f714)

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