Venezuela on the Brink

What a change the last couple of months have brought to Venezuela! A few weeks ago, the Venezuelan resistance movement lay in ruins. Today the wind of history seems to be carrying it towards victory, even though it is as yet unclear when.

In 2017 President Nicolás Maduro decided to stamp out once and for all the democratic opposition. He ordered the Supreme Court to strip away the powers of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, and he put together a Constituent Assembly, whose real mission was to establish totalitarian rule. Despite massive street protests and widespread international condemnation, Maduro got what he wanted—total control and a divided and demoralized opposition.

But he pushed his luck too far. Last May he reelected himself in an election in which no genuine opposition candidate participated and in which nonvoting was widespread. The regime was deeply unpopular, as any regime would be after shrinking by half the country’s GDP in five years, causing a two-million percent hyperinflation, generating a humanitarian crisis because of the lack of food and medicine, triggering an exodus of three million people, and using brutal force against anyone who protested.

Does Ideological Dystopia Await Us?

Imagine a world in which the great majority has no respect for facts or for truth of any sort, where ideological convictions rule almost everyone’s understanding of the world, where truth has become an endangered rhetorical species on the brink of extinction.

In such a world, facts would still exist, of course, and true propositions would still stand in stark contradiction of false ones, but hardly anyone would care.

The scientists would have been co-opted to support the prevailing ideological narrative, along with the news media, the schools and universities, and all the organs of respectable opinion. People who dissented from the orthodoxy, especially on such sensitive matters as global warming, abortion rights, and discrimination against various state-defined victim classes, would be convicted of hate crimes or some such thing and packed off to prison.

University of California Still Bulking Up on Diversity Bureaucrats

As the Davis Enterprise reports, the University of California at Davis has tapped Renatta Garrison Tull, associate vice provost for strategic initiatives at the University of Maryland, to serve as vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and inclusion. UC Davis has created the new position to “engage more effectively with the recruitment and retention of the best and brightest students, faculty and staff.” With advanced degrees in electrical engineering, Tull is pretty bright herself, but her new position is completely unnecessary and defies California law.

Allan Bakke was a bright, highly qualified student, but during the 1970s UC Davis medical school twice rejected him in favor of minority students with lower academic qualifications. Bakke sued and won, but the UC system continued to discriminate against students of no color and Asians. UC bosses essentially told them they have “too many” of you people. This reflects the diversity dogma that all institutions must reflect the racial and ethnic proportions of society. That is not state or federal law, and California pushed back against discrimination at the ballot box.

FDA Panel Backs Ketamine-Based Treatment for Depression

New hope for depression patients may be on the horizon.

A recent WebMD article reports that a special panel of experts assembled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strongly endorsed a new drug to help patients with treatment-resistant depression (a form of depression resilient to many anti-depressants). This new drug, named esketamine, also provides an unprecedented ability to take effect within days whereas others require months.

With nearly 30 percent of Americans experiencing depression at some point in their lives, and with the sporadic success of currently available treatment options, esketamine has tremendous potential to help millions manage their depression. As UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry Walter Dunn, who served on the panel, expressed, “I think esketamine has the potential to be a game-changer in the treatment of depression.”

A New Ally in the Quest for Honest Reporting

It’s no secret that the media are in bad shape and that is particularly true in California. Journalists think Jerry Brown is some kind of sage, even after the recurring governor dismissed safety issues on the Bay Bridge with, “I mean, look, shit happens.” In similar style, former state senate boss Kevin de Leon claims his father is a Chinese cook born in Guatemala, and everybody in the capitol press corps simply believes him. And longstanding publications look the other way at key stories. Fortunately, help is at hand.

The new California Globe, edited by the capable Katy Grimes, covers the Golden State in the style she displayed at CalWatchdog and other publications. The Globe has been all over the bullet train boondoggle, the DMV disaster, outlandish energy mandates, and new laws that go easy on violent criminals. The Globe is also interested in government waste, fraud, and abuse and the backstory is always the welfare of California taxpayers.

In Sacramento County, Bureaucrats “Correct” Their Error with Property Tax Clawback

“Tax Bill – Open Immediately” reads the envelope on a February 15, 2019, letter from the Sacramento County Administrative Services Department of Finance. As Sacramento County taxpayers might recall, they got a similar letter in October, containing their property tax bill for the year. So taxpayers had the right to wonder what’s going on with yet another tax bill and the demand to “open immediately.”

“You are receiving this letter and the accompanying tax correction bill because a required Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) direct levy assessment was omitted from your 2018-2019 annual tax property bill in error,” reads the letter from Ben Lamera, the county Director of Finance. Director Lamera does not explain how this “error” happened or who, exactly was responsible for it. But Director of Finance Lamera is certain that the charge for SAFCA Operations and Assessment, “that should have appeared on your annual property tax bill,” needs to be paid by April 10, 2019, “to avoid penalties.” So once again it’s “let’s have the wallet, Jack, or else.”

How Did Liberty Fare at Oscars 2019?

The 91st Academy Awards turned out to be a good night for liberty and individualism, although many would have been surprised based on the lead up to Hollywood’s most glamorous night. Strong buzz for The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and A Star Is Born suggested that movies featuring liberty and freedom as central themes would struggle. With the strong showings for Green Book and Roma, however, individual freedom grabbed a significantly larger share of the spotlight.

Green Book took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Original Screenplay. (See my full review here.) The movie follows the true story of Don “Doc” Shirley, an African-American virtuoso classical pianist, as he travels from New York City into the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s. Knowing his personal safety will be at risk, Shirley hires Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a prejudiced bouncer from Brooklyn, as his driver and bodyguard. Tony takes the job because he is temporarily out of work, and he needs the money to support his family. The stereotypical roles are immediately flipped, and the screenplay builds on these tensions.

The Federal Government’s Great American Cheese Stockpile

In the 1930s, the U.S. federal government established dairy subsidies to bail out America’s dairy farmers from the Great Depression. Managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, those same subsidies are still in effect today, where they have underwritten a massive surplus of milk in the U.S. dairy industry that far exceeds the appetites of over 327 million Americans to consume it.

But rather than reduce the subsidies to reduce the surplus to more reasonable levels, the USDA is instead paying the U.S. dairy industry to make billions of pounds of cheese from the millions and millions of gallons of surplus milk. According to Emily Moon’s reporting at Pacific Standard, the USDA now has a stockpile of 1.4 billion pounds of processed American cheese.

Amazon in New York? I’m with AOC

Surely, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the most visible and most vocal new member of the House of Representatives, and it is easy for defenders of freedom and free markets to find fault with almost every policy she promotes. When she objected to the massive subsidies Amazon was to receive to locate a new headquarters in New York, she received criticism from the left and from the right, and for the same reason. She helped tank the deal.

While I disagree with almost everything AOC says, I’m with her on this one.

When government subsidizes one business, other businesses and households have to pick up the slack. Lower taxes for Amazon means higher taxes for someone else. Why should Amazon be treated any differently than the businesses that are already located in New York?

Let Competition, Not Politicians, Bring Insulin Prices Down

After turning 26, Alec Smith could no longer be covered by his mother’s health insurance policy. He was also ineligible for coverage from his employer. This was a problem—for Smith was a type 1 diabetic.

Dependent on insulin to prolong his life, Smith faced out-of-pocket expenses of nearly $1,300 a month. To manage this cost, he began rationing his insulin doses, a deadly tradeoff between keeping up financially and maintaining his long-term health. Tragically, this caused him to go into a diabetic coma and die.

Many other diabetics are in similar financial situations. CBS News recently reported finding “horror stories every day” of diabetics reducing their insulin doses to cope with the astronomical prices. With over 100 million Americans living with diabetes or prediabetes and increasingly more needing insulin to manage their conditions, high prices can mean the difference between life and death for a considerable portion of the population.

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