Construction of California’s Stonehenge Costing $3.1 Million Per Day


Historian Victor Davis Hanson coined a great nickname for California’s Bullet Train construction project, calling it “California’s Stonehenge.” The project is proving to be a very costly monument to the ego of state politicians.

How costly? California’s high-speed rail project is back in the news thanks to the Los Angeles Times‘ Ralph Vartabedian’s reporting on the ever-escalating cost of the troubled project, where the construction bills are now topping $3.1 million per day:

The California bullet train project has cost state taxpayers an average $3.1 million a day over the last year—a construction spending rate higher than that for the Bay Bridge, Boston’s Big Dig or any U.S. transportation project in recent history.

But still it’s not enough, planners say.

Education Waste Leaves Taxpayers No Choice


By government standards $62,500 is not a lot of money, but there’s more to learn for taxpayers, parents and students in this San Diego Union-Tribune story. A lawsuit by the California Taxpayers Action Network charged that San Diego County superintendent Randy Ward, with collaboration from chief financial officer Lora Duzyk, gave himself unauthorized raises totaling $70,000 to $100,000 over eight years. The means, the network charged, was the “me too” clause giving administrators a raise whenever teachers got one. The county board launched an audit, at a cost of $70,000, which it failed to complete. The board released no report and would not comment on the Union-Tribune story. 

Ward said he did nothing wrong, but the San Diego County Office of Education settled with the Taxpayers Action Network for $62,500. By law, the county office is required to represent Ward and Duzyk. So taxpayers are on the hook, not the bureaucrats their own selves. That also applies in settlements for sexual harassment and such. 

Government vs. Private Efforts to Promote Breastfeeding: My Response to a Critic


I recently published an op-ed at The Hill entitled “Breastfeeding Controversy Shows Need for Private Efforts—Not Government Campaigns.”The piece came after U.S. ambassadors faced considerable criticism for attempting to block a World Health Assembly resolution calling for governments to devote more resources to promoting breastfeeding and to place more stringent advertising regulations on breastfeeding substitutes in developing nations.

Instead of criticizing politicians, I tried to address what I consider a more pressing question: Do we really want governments more involved in promoting global health efforts? My answer was no. To justify my stance, I provided peer-reviewed research indicating that government efforts to promote public health and improve living standards in developing countries have repeatedly failed. As an alternative, I provided evidence that private efforts to promote childhood nutrition (specifically breastfeeding) were more up to the task.

FDA Considers Regulating E-cigarette Juices


Last March, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to prevent future generations from smoking and to help current smokers quit. In a piece I wrote in May for Inside Sources, I argued these regulations were unlikely to help and could possibly make things worse by motivating smokers to consume more cigarettes or switch to other, less healthy smoking products.

The FDA acknowledged this shortcoming in a regulatory notice which reads, “If a [regulatory] standard were to apply to cigarettes only, it could be substantially less effective.” But instead of heeding potential unintended consequences as a reason to refrain from regulation, the agency seems to be doubling down.

The Golden Retriever Index


A relative of ours has a dog service business: dog-walking, boarding, and training. He founded it in the depths of the Great Recession, having been furloughed from his professional position. An interesting lesson learned is that this is an apparently recession-proof sector: people will cut back elsewhere before they cut back on care for their dogs.

He recently shared with me another interesting insight into the economy that his business is providing: every one of his clients who in years past had taken 1-week vacations is this year taking 2- and 3-week vacations.

The unscientific conclusion: happy days are indeed here again. Here’s hoping they last.

***

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.

America’s Nazi SS Korps


During World War II, Polish-born Jakiv Palij served as a guard at the Trawniki concentration camp, one of many the German National Socialist regime established and the site of a mass slaughter of inmates in 1943. In 1949, Palij lied about his service with the Nazis and claimed he had been working on his father’s farm. By doing so he gained entry to the United States, and in 1957 he became a naturalized citizen. His concentration camp service did not come to light until 2003 when Palij was stripped of citizenship. He fought deportation efforts until this August when Germany agreed to take him and the Trump administration gave him the boot. If that long-delayed eviction comes as some relief, it is hardly the whole story on Nazis in the United States.

Unlawful Obamacare Fees to Add to National Debt


In 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ordered a number of states to either pay the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Providers Fee (HIPF) or have their allocation of federal funds to support their Medicaid programs and their Child Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) cut off. There was just one problem: it wasn’t lawful to compel states to pay it.

Federal Judge Reinforces Ruling-Class Privilege 


For decades, government employee unions had been confiscating money from non-members and using it for political causes the non-members oppose. The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that in the recent Janus decision. Now a federal district court judge has made firing federal employees a more difficult matter. 

On August 26, a Saturday, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson blocked provisions of three recent executive orders she claims “undermine federal employees’ right to bargain collectively.” The executive orders were aimed at promoting more efficient government and making it easier to remove employees for poor performance or misconduct. At present, it takes between six months and a year, or much longer. As we noted, John Beale of the EPA claimed to work for the CIA, but he performed little if any work for nearly 20 years. His ruse went undiscovered and EPA bosses gave Beale retention bonuses and continued to pay his salary after he had retired. 

On the “Participatory” Part of “Participatory Fascism”


When I use “participatory fascism”—for me a technical term in political economy, not an ideological or rhetorical cudgel—most people react to the “fascism” part and disregard the “participatory” part. Yet that part is critical to one’s understanding of how this system of rule proves so durable and resilient.

In the modern world, many people demand a voice in how they are ruled. In reality, however, every actual system of rule in a large society is and must be an oligarchy. Neither democracy in the simple sense nor autocracy in the sense of strict dictatorship or monarchy is workable. But oligarchy, a system in which a relatively small group of cooperating rulers (though it may have a nominal head ostensibly in charge) and their key financial supporters applies the nuts and bolts of rule is workable, indeed, indispensable. So, whether by design or by piecemeal pushing and pulling, this is the form that all modern governments take.

How the VA Wastes Medical Care for Veterans


In 2014, one of the biggest scandals in the history of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs erupted into the open when, thanks to a whistleblower at the Phoenix branch of the VA, the public learned for the first time of the secret wait lists for veterans seeking medical treatment, which VA supervisors and administrators around the country used to ration health care while making it appear that they were meeting performance targets, making them eligible to earn special bonuses.

Over four years later, the VA has struggled to fix the problem, where evidence of additional secret wait lists keeps coming up in news stories across the country.

One reason why the VA’s problems with excessive wait times for veterans seeking medical treatments have persisted was recently highlighted by the department’s Inspector General. Joe Davidson of the Washington Post reports on how policies set by the VA’s managers are tying up its medical staff to perform unnecessary exams.

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