Wolf Richter

The White House & the Most Disparaged Profession, Again

Even the Soviets with their iron-fisted approach couldn’t come up with a reliable five-year plan. In the US, one-year forecasts are accurate only by accident. And ten-year forecasts, whether by the White House or Congress, are the ugly sisters of BS—hilarious gimmickry during the dreariness of politics. So President Obama unveiled his budget for fiscal 2013 through 2022.

Stewing At Ikebukuru Station

Tokyo, April 1996. Takano-sensei is mysteriously pleased with my progress or has changed strategy and is using false positive reinforcement to motivate me to work harder. Either way, it emboldens me, and I’m in high spirits when I enter an Internet café and ask in Japanese if they have AOL.

Greece at the Point of no Return

“The European Union is suffering under Germany,” said Georgios Karatzaferis, president of the right-wing LAOS party. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of trying to “impose her will on Southern Europeans.” He called the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Luxembourg “satellite states” of Germany. And then, with a few words, he pushed Greece a step closer to bankruptcy.

Bait And Switch: California High-Speed Rail to Nowhere

High-speed rail works if it links big urban areas and has lots of riders. The most successful is the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen: 150 million passengers per year. Even Amtrak’s slower route between New York City and Washington DC is profitable, though the rest of Amtrak is not. In theory, California’s High-Speed Rail Project falls into that category. In Reality, it has turned into a scandal before construction has even started.

Merkel’s Desperate And Risky Gamble

After the German-French council of ministers in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a joint TV interview at the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the French president. Merkel berated François Hollande, Sarkozy’s top challenger in the upcoming presidential election. Then Sarkozy lashed out against him. Never before had a German chancellor campaigned so hard for a French president.

The Endgame: Japan Inc. Seeks Salvation Overseas

Japanese companies spent $70 billion on acquisitions overseas in 2011—a record. Armed with a ferociously strong yen, they’re going overseas to escape the pressures at home where electricity rationing has become part of corporate life, along with a stagnant economy and a dwindling working-age population. But they’re doing it just when Japan can least afford it.

Burnt-Rice Tea

Tokyo, April 1996. Cacophonous cawing of crows weaves itself disconcertingly into my dreams until it wakes me up altogether. It’s 5:45 a.m. Even the dual building walls of the love hotel fail to deaden the racket, and when you’re half asleep, it’s almost scary. But in front of my eyes is a tuft of black hair. She sleeps without sound, without movement, her arms contorted underneath her. I inhale her chemistry as if it were a controlled substance.

Now Even Greek Politicians Are Taking Cover

Greeks yanked €65 billion out of their bank accounts since 2009, the Finance Minister told parliament. “Of that, €16 billion was legally taken abroad,” he said. The rest? Stashed under mattresses or hauled to Switzerland via the land route. A whopping 20% of GDP! Capital flight of massive proportions. They see a forced conversion of their euros to drachmas. And politicians are planning for the “afterwards.”

Broke California: Give Us The Facebook Manna Now

California is broke again. The “balanced” budget last summer turned into a pile of overoptimistic assumptions. Out-of-money date is March 8. $3.3 billion must be dug up, pronto. Last fall, California had to borrow $21 billion to make it to April. Now all eyes are on Facebook. Its IPO will singlehandedly solve all budget problems forever—just like Google’s IPO had done.

A Forbidden Act

Tokyo, April 1996. Mr. Song has already left. Mr. Kim is watching a garish talk show on TV. The kitchen sink is full of dirty bowls, utensils, pots, and pans. Vapors of grease and kimchi hang in the air.
“I’m going to walk to school,” I tell Mr. Kim.
“Walk?”

Now he has what he has been looking for: incontrovertible proof that I’m crazy.