Recall: Bright economy, dark places

We're all grown up now that the Milken Institute named San Antonio "Best Performing City." We were among five in Texas that made the 2011 Top 10 list. Military base realignment, Eagle Ford shale production, and a robust health care sector were significant factors in San Antonio's recovery from the Great Recession — and our rise in the esteem of the market-focused nonprofit think tank. Local boosters couldn't ask for better press. However, a closer look at some of our hot career options won't exactly inspire those who fret over civil liberties, global warming, or health care reform.

The health care industry employs the most San Antonio workers at places like UTHSC, Kinetic Concepts, WellMed Medical Management, InCube Laboratories, dozens of hospitals, and many lesser-known firms that handle bill collections and such. Lawsuits against big companies showed that our health care industry can game patients with corporate America's best and brightest. WellMed, a sacrosanct SA-based jobs creator, was among the companies that allegedly conspired to defraud Medicare and Medicaid by forcing chronically ill patients into hospice care, according to a whistleblower lawsuit unsealed last month. When patients needed a doctor, WellMed and other HMO companies pushed the sickly individuals into Vitas hospice death beds prematurely, local plaintiffs allege. And across town the IPC The Hospitalist Company was embroiled in malpractice lawsuits following patient deaths linked to overworked "hospitalist" doctors.

The military industrial complex is another big employer in San Antonio. While sad sacks in Flint, Mich., were hitching rides to NYC to Occupy Wall Street, San Antonians found gainful employment in construction, health care, and engineering thanks to the military base realignment. BRAC brought high-paying jobs to Fort Sam, Lackland AFB, and Randolph AFB. The bases house personnel who make spending decisions for worldwide military activities. Naturally, San Antonio is also home to many merchants of mayhem, er, defense contractors. For this set war, served hot or cold, is good business. Unsurprisingly, 2011 saw no shortage of contracting fraud cases, too.

As a leader in cyber security, San Antonio is home to many good tech jobs. It's the type of work where there's no room for gray areas. High school nerds, think twice before tweeting critically about Big Brother. You're either with the government or against it when it comes to issues like WikiLeaks, the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The 24th Air Force at Lackland AFB banned airmen from reading The New York Times online after the paper published the WikiLeaks document dump. According to Wired, SA-based airmen and relatives face espionage charges if they access WikiLeaks on home computers. Could alleged Wikileaker Bradley Manning's pre-trial Gitmo treatment be a warning to personnel who might put secrets in jeopardy?

If high-stakes cyber security's not your bag, there's always energy security. In June, Mayor Julián Castro and CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby held an over-the-top press conference to announce SA's plans to lead the "new energy economy" with solar farms and smart grids. Will it be enough to put a dent in the international market forces driving SA's carbon-based economy? Refiner Valero, owner of SA's favorite corner store, lobbied for a 20 percent stake in the Keystone XL pipeline and spent millions opposing California's clean air laws. Foreign investors pumped billions more into producing oil and gas from the Eagle Ford. A Japanese firm invested $680 million in South Texas' shale play to secure natural gas for "thermal" power plants as most of Japan's nukes are not operating in the wake of the March 11 radiation disaster at Fukushima. The Eagle Ford is the real deal with significant trickle-down: Local workers benefit from well-paid, blue-collar jobs. But, as the Current forecast at the start of the year, the economic activity is putting serious pressure on water resources — and tectonic stability. And when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions at least one report this year suggested natural gas is not nearly as clean as we thought it was. Whatever. It's a job. You can wrestle with the moral issues of SA employment after you've taken the kids out for those Retro 11 Concord sneakers.