Republicans are trying to tar President Obama with gas prices that are creeping up on $4 a gallon and are shooting for an all-time high. The strategy is working. Obama’s approval rating on handling gas prices has plunged. In San Francisco, gas is already $4.50. Yet across the Bay are five oil refineries that together are the largest exporters of petroleum products in the nation.
Optimism has always been the hallmark of California—especially when it comes to tax-revenue projections. Now the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office laments that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget is another extravaganza of optimism, particularly the projections of how much moolah can be extracted from wealthy residents. Which the Governor expects to skyrocket, magically.
There never was that “giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot had warned about during his quixotic presidential campaign in 1992—the sound that manufacturing jobs would make as they head south to Mexico. Turns out, he was wrong. The jobs went south silently. However, yesterday in San Francisco, there was that sound. From money going east. Lots of it. From fundraisers.
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.
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.
With IPO hype blowing like a maxed-out hairdryer into my face, I Googled … Friendster—the shining star of social networking that everyone had drooled over. Turns out, in 2009, Friendster was bought for a pittance by MOL Global, a Malaysian company. In 2011, it discontinued social networking activities and rebranded itself as a gaming site. But there is one valuable asset it still has: user information.
There still are some economic numbers that aren’t seasonally adjusted or manipulated with fancy statistical footwork by governmental, quasi-governmental, or non-governmental number mongers. And they give us the true picture of the worldwide economy: beer, wine, mood, and San Francisco real estate—with more predictive power than is allowed by law.
On January 9, I posted “The Systemic Nature of Medicare Fraud” —“the kind of Medicare fraud that makes your skin crawl.” On January 10, I received an email from the Chief of Staff at Alvarado Hospital. He strongly objected to this sentence: “Its Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego already appears to be under investigation.” And it kicked off a learning process.
It’s the kind of Medicare fraud that makes your skin crawl. And it’s part of a vast scheme. After investigative reporters detailed the case, the FBI finally got serious. But no insurance company would have fallen prey to it. Only Medicare cannot defend itself. It doesn’t even know when it’s happening because, inexplicably, it doesn’t analyze the bills. And so an industry has sprung up.
For medium distances, high-speed rail is faster than flying. It’s hassle-free and comfortable. And it benefits the economy. But not the way California is doing it. The hullabaloo about funding the skyrocketing costs of linking LA and the Bay Area ignores a huge economic problem: once again, taxpayers are asked to create jobs overseas. Contenders: Germany, Japan, France, and China.