Saturday, April 27, 2013

A High-speed Fiscal Train Wreck

Governor Brown, frantic to secure a lasting political legacy, is intent on building a bridge to the nineteenth century—even if it takes Chinese financing to do it.

On his recent trip to the communist country, Brown gushed with enthusiasm about all the building that other one-party state had done—especially the 5000-plus miles of high-speed rail it has laid in the last five years. Said the governor, “When I get back to California, the bulldozers are going to roll.”

What really ought to roll are political heads that pushed this hundred-billion dollar (or more) high-speed choo-choo. The governor, however, ignored China’s infamous find-a-scapegoat political tradition along with the 2011 Wenzhou train wreck that cost 40 passengers their lives and caused the commies to dial back rail speeds to 190 mph.

A recent analysis of California’s bullet boondoggle by the Reason Foundation reaffirms the group’s 2008 findings about the project’s costs, financing, and ridership—findings that show the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s business plans have been “inaccurate, misleading and in violation of the laws guiding the project.”

One such violation is the statute that requires the train to link L.A. to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes or less. Reason’s study, which takes into account reduced speeds due to tracks shared with other trains, including freight trains, puts the time at around four hours or longer.

Slower speeds mean fewer riders and higher costs. Even CHSRA’s ridership estimate has been dramatically reduced from a minimum of 65.5 million in 2035 to a maximum of 31.8 million and a minimum of 19.6 million. (Decimal points are obviously added to give the false impression of precision.)

Reason’s study, however, notes that even if the train reaches ridership levels in Europe, the number of passengers would only hit 7.6 million. Thus, ticket prices that were first projected at $50 in 2008 and are now put at $81 will go even higher. As prices increase, ridership will decline further.

Given these scenarios, the Reason Foundation estimates the annual subsidy for this white elephant on wheels will be anywhere from 124 to 373 million dollars.

Perhaps the governor can use his political charm to persuade the Chinese to cover some of the exploding costs for his bullet dream by giving them naming rights. CHSRA would doubtless love to market an exotic ride from Merced to Bakersfield on the Orient Express.

Or maybe Brown plans to import non-union Chinese workers to construct and ride his high-speed legacy.

Failing those fanciful options, what California taxpayers will be facing for decades to come is a high-speed fiscal train wreck.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


By now most college-bound high school seniors know which institution they’ll be attending. Those students may not, however, be prepared for the one-sided ideological environment they will almost certainly encounter—a place where objectively presenting various sides of issues often gives way to heavy-handed indoctrination.

An example of professorial browbeating and bias was recently exposed by a student at the University of Southern California. The instructor in this case was Adjunct Assistant Professor of Political Science Darry Sragow, a Democrat operative who was secretly taped spewing partisan venom at his mini "re-education camp."

The tape, available online, shows Sragow attacking Republicans as “really stupid and racist” and their party as “increasingly the last refuge of old, angry white people.” The professor even suggests ways to suppress Republican votes: “You lose their information on voting in the mail,” he said, adding that there are “lots of ways to do it.”

Ironically, Sragow (himself an angry old white guy) indignantly offered a speculative anecdote about GOP voter-registration drives in which, when a person registers as a Democrat, “the allegation is that they throw those forms in the trash.” In a court of law such testimony would be dismissed as hearsay.

The not-so-brilliant Sragow also informed inmates in his class that politics is all about power and employed this example: “Al Gore won the Presidency of the United States. Didn’t get to be President. That’s power.”

Presumably Bush people snookered Gore out of Florida’s electoral votes. Overlooked by (or unknown to) Sragow was that most credible reviews of the 2000 Florida vote (including the New York Times) showed Bush would have won a recount. Sragow’s implication that Gore won because he got more votes nationwide represents an elementary mistake, or a deliberate misrepresentation, by a putative political science professor.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Sragow were a rare exception. Unfortunately, a slew of analyses demonstrate that diversity of thought isn’t prized by most universities whose ideological makeup and political contributions tilt overwhelmingly to the left.

Indeed, the chair of the “Africana” program at Cal State University Long Beach, Dr. Maulana Karenga (inventor of the pseudo-African holiday of Kwanzaa) spent four years in prison for felonious assault. Yet shortly after his release this Marxist felon began teaching at San Diego State University and then at UC Riverside. Only fourteen years passed between prison and heading the Black Studies program at Long Beach.

Unfortunately, the academy is packed with radicals like Karenga, UC Santa Cruz’s retired communist prof, Angela Davis, and Northwestern’s former-terrorist law professor Bernadine Dohrn, wife of former professor and fellow-terrorist Bill Ayers. By comparison, USC’s bad-boy is an ideological piker.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

California Ranks Next-to-last on Freedom Scale

In a Peanuts-based cartoon traveling around the Internet, Lucy loudly informs Linus that she’s pro-choice. Linus asks if he can smoke, but Lucy nixes the idea for health reasons. Similar exchanges occur about large sodas, dangerous guns, planet-endangering incandescent bulbs, environmentally harmful coal, and offensive God-language. When Linus asks what exactly he’s free to choose, Lucy responds, “An abortion.”

The cartoon provides a darkly humorous summary of freedom in the state of California. A more scholarly overview is available at George Mason University’s libertarian-oriented Mercatus Center.

According to that analysis, the Golden State ranks 49th out of the 50 states on various scales of economic and personal freedom—placing more restrictions on liberty than every state but New York. Only California’s libertarian-endorsed lassitude with respect to marijuana, marriage, and so-called “victimless” crimes saves it from occupying the index’s bottom spot.

Not surprisingly, the union and environmentalist-dominated state ranks dead last on freedom from various types of regulation—a position that dovetails with its cellar standing on factors that affect an individual’s ability to find a job.

Sacramento’s fiefdom also leads the nation when it comes to restrictions on gun ownership, a dubious honor that could be further solidified by new proposals to tax and regulate ammunition.

In addition, California ranks first in nanny laws—and thus last in terms of freedom from a grab-bag of regulations that range from trans-fat bans to bicycle helmet requirements.

Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, however, have concluded that all these restrictions are insufficient to safeguard their residents and to create the ideal balance they feel is needed within imaginary ecosystems. Consequently, they’ve instituted bans directed at another public menace—single-use plastic bags typically distributed by retailers.

Not to be outdone by mere municipalities, California legislators are pondering a statewide ban on these inexpensive and convenient petroleum byproducts—another dubious environmental mandate that will force shoppers to pay for paper sacks or pack a number of durable totes in their cars’ trunks. Dutiful “health officials” assure us that the latter conveyances will remain largely free of bacterial contaminants.

All these laws designed to combat an ever-growing list of perceived dangers have contributed greatly to the exodus of Californians to other states—an outflow also documented by the Mercatus Center and indicating, in their words, a desire to find “more employment opportunities or a better quality of life.”

On the other side of the ledger, California legislators are now considering AB 154—legislation that will allow nurses, midwives, and physicians’ assistants to perform the only act of freedom many Californians passionately embrace—the freedom to extinguish nascent human life.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Obamacare Bureaucrat Gets Things Backwards

Folks who work for the government have a talent for getting things backwards. Such is the case with Robert Ross, a board member of the new state agency responsible for implementing the three-year-old federal healthcare law—aka Obamacare.

It seems that this agency, Covered California, needs 20,000 temporary workers to enroll millions of residents in the state’s health insurance exchange. Plans currently call for workers to receive $58 for each application completed.

One might think Americans would rush to put themselves into this historically wonderful program—without assistance from paid recruiters. But such retrograde thoughts only occur to folks who find it disturbing that the government uses ad campaigns to recruit food stamp recipients.

Mr. Ross’ backwards mentality, however, doesn’t involve the sign-up program itself. It rather concerns the fact that these temporary workers will have access to highly sensitive consumer materials—Social Security numbers, birth dates, income and tax information.

Right-thinking persons would want to make darn sure that anyone with access to such data would be fingerprinted and undergo a thorough background check. Mr. Ross, however, works in the government. His primary concern is for the burden a careful background check might impose on the cohort of workers he envisions collecting this fraud-inviting personal and financial information.

Ross prefaces his true agenda with a comment about “bureaucratic mountains that slow us down.” That’s rich, coming from a board member of a new state bureaucracy.

The real problem Ross has with extensive background checks is revealed in this remark: “There are people who have turned their lives around and who are trusted by the most difficult-to-reach populations. Not having their talent and expertise could be a problem.”

Translation: Many of the workers Ross would like to employ have criminal records that would disqualify them from being hired. He thinks it’s more important to employ individuals with dubious backgrounds to get as many people as possible into this program than it is to safeguard Californians from fraud.

For most Americans this Batman-goofy rehabilitation mentality went out with the skyrocketing crime rates it spawned in the seventies. Ross, however, works for the government and shares the same perspective as the non-profit official who insisted that “background checks would create barriers for a lot of communities of color… We need a massive amount of people to help with outreach.”

By the way, “community groups” (think ACORN) and non-profits like the one represented by the quote above (Greenlining Institute), will be charged with hiring sign-up workers.

It isn’t trivial that the latter government-minded officer spoke of human beings as “amounts”—i.e. as volumes, not as fraud-susceptible “individuals.”