The fighter jet setting new records for consuming dollar$

The helmet is only $400K

The F-35 Lightning II jet was slated to become the future of stealth aircraft for the US military and its allies. But since its start in 2001, the project has faced a relentless stream of technical glitches, from software issues to reports that the plane’s engine cannot withstand the high-tech threat of Canadian birds.

There’s also the ever-looming issue of cost. By the time it’s completed, the government’s spending on the F-35 project is set to exceed $1 trillion, more than any other military project in history. Helmets for the jet alone reportedly cost $400,000…

The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, was meant to appease critics worried about cost by appealing to three military branches at once. The aircraft meets the requirements of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, each of which have traditionally made their own planes. The problem is, making one plane that can handle each branch’s needs has proved more than difficult.

A number of US allies who have put orders in for the planes have cut down the number they will eventually receive in recent years, citing too much variation in cost projections. One of eight partners, Canada, is still debating whether or not to pull out of the program all together.

“The reality is that there is no such thing as absolute stealth,” said Gen. Norton A Schwarts, former US Air Force Chief of Staff. So far, that reality hasn’t stopped the US from trying to manufacture the most costly and ambitious plane in military history.

Depending on the flavor, these critters will go for $200-$300 million each. Congress and the Pentagon now believe the sucker must be built because – you guessed it – we’ve already invested too much in the project. So much for science projects where decisions are made by politicians.

Federal oversight of medical devices needs reform — what are the odds?

In response to recent infections and deaths from tainted medical scopes, U.S. lawmakers are wrestling with how to keep other dangerous devices from harming patients.

Members of Congress, federal officials, and health-policy experts agree that the FDA’s surveillance system for devices is inadequate and relies too heavily on manufacturers to report problems with their own products.

But fixing the federal warning system to enable more timely identification of risky scopes, implants, and surgical tools means overcoming significant challenges in Congress, from partisan divisions to the need for more government funding. Even then, it could take years for a new system to be up and running.

Patient advocates are skeptical of the FDA’s commitment to reform. Federal auditors have criticized the agency’s oversight of devices since the 1990s.

The latest push for changes came from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who issued a report Jan. 13 exposing failures by the FDA, device makers and hospitals that contributed to the nationwide spread of antibiotic-resistant infections from a gastrointestinal scope. Senate investigators cited 19 superbug outbreaks in the U.S. that had sickened nearly 200 patients from 2012 to 2015…

The Senate report faulted the FDA for taking 17 months to investigate before issuing its own warning in February 2015. In the meantime, seven more hospitals suffered outbreaks and 68 patients developed dangerous infections…

Part of that proposal, putting bar codes on every instrument for the first time, is already being phased in over the next few years. But experts say those unique identifiers will be of little use unless Congress requires hospitals and doctors to include them on insurance claim forms…

Representatives of the device industry said they welcome the debate, but they too emphasize that regulators have plenty of authority already. Device makers wield considerable influence with Congress, contributing to lawmakers of both parties.

After safety problems with certain drugs a decade ago, Congress helped create the Sentinel program to better track medications. The program analyzes claims data on more than 170 million Americans from several large health insurers, dozens of hospitals and disease registries.

Robert Califf, MD, the FDA’s deputy commissioner and the president’s nominee to lead the agency, said during his confirmation hearing that regulators need a Sentinel-like system for devices, too.

An FDA spokeswoman said the agency is blah, blah, blah.

Yup, we need a program to combat the inefficiencies and political cowardice of the FDA. Trouble is, we have to rely upon the even greater inefficiencies and political cowardice of Congress to challenge and change the FDA.

Sounds like one more good reason to vote in some useful Congress-critters.

California drought means nothing to crop production for export

alfalfa for export
Click to enlarge — Alfalfa packed for export

In eastern Riverside County, almost to the Arizona border, is the Palo Verde Valley, where scorching summers, mild winters and access to Colorado River water have made it an agricultural hot spot, especially for alfalfa.

Some of the hay crop grown in the valley is used for domestic cattle and the rest is sold to other countries where land or water shortages preclude industrial-scale growing operations. The same is true in the Coachella Valley, the high desert of San Bernardino County and other Inland growing areas.

This month, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian dairy company Almarai paid almost $32 million for 1,790 acres of prime farm land along the Colorado River in Blythe.

Almarai’s Fondomonte California LLC is growing feed for its cattle in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, the company bought almost 10,000 acres of farmland in Vicksburg, Ariz., for $47.5 million.

The Saudi government has ordered conservation of scarce water resources and is phasing out the growing of crops and green fodder for livestock over the next three years.

Almarai’s Blythe purchase comes in the midst of California’s drought, which has prompted statewide rationing for residents and businesses. The shortages have led some to wonder whether it’s wise for farms like Almarai to grow alfalfa and other thirsty crops for export.

One vocal critic is UC Riverside economist Christopher Thornberg, who says the practice is akin to exporting water.

“They have already destroyed their water tables, now they’re destroying ours,” he said.

Same as it ever was. It’s OK to ignore the fact that a whole state is affected by drought – if you’re a good ol’ boy making a buck selling to foreigners. The PR boys keep up their rant that California growers are the vegetable garden for America. Regardless of how much of a crop is really grown for export.

Now, the foreigners [gasp] who are smart enough to cut out the middleman have started moving in to buy land and water rights. Gonna call Ghostbusters?

Or is it time to face reality and make sensible decisions about water use and allocation?