It should have been an exciting event for Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy: a tête-à-tête with German Chancellor Merkel. Afterwards, he’d stand next to her, illuminated by her glory. He’d brag about implementing structural reforms, cleaning up banks, and moving Spain forward. She’d endorse him with her benevolent smile. Instead, it was a slugfest about corruption.
Congress excels at enriching corporate welfare programs—in this case, Medicare. Ironically, it happened while Congress is struggling to rein in Medicare’s gargantuan deficits with belt-tightening measures that would hit people who paid into the system throughout their working years. This time, the prime beneficiary was Big Pharma, particularly one company….
On Friday, the mayor of Futaba, a ghost town of once upon a time 7,000 souls near Fukushima No. 1, told his staff that evacuees might not be able to return for 30 years. Or never, for the older generation. He spoke in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, where the town’s government has settled. It was the first estimate of a timeframe. But it all depends on successful decontamination. And that has turned into a vicious corruption scandal.
Transparency International just published the results of its National Survey on Corruption in Greece, which tried to sort out the kind of bribery and petty corruption that households had to deal with in their daily lives. The results were sobering, as they tend to be with corruption surveys—but in an unexpected way: for those asking for bribes, an outright depression has commenced.
Inflation pervades every aspect of our lives, from skyrocketing gasoline to rents to well, corruption. But inflation in the cost of under-the-table payments is notoriously difficult to measure, and so it’s not included in any of the indices. But in Germany, which is historically paranoid, and rightfully so, about inflation, after two wipe-outs in one generation, there’s progress: inflation in the cost of corruption can now be estimated.
Japanese pension funds face a tricky situation. On one side is an investment environment of near-zero yields, declining real estate values, and a stock market that is down 75% from its peak in 1989. On the other side is a ballooning retirement-age population who enjoys the longest life expectancy in the world. So the one thing they don’t need is pension fund assets evaporating from an asset management firm.
Two central bank governors in Europe have gotten into hot water recently: Philipp Hildebrand, as chairman of the Swiss National Bank; and Ewald Nowotny, governor of the Austrian National Bank and member of the ECB’s governing council. Hildebrand resigned after he tried to brush off an insider-trading scandal that is still making headlines; Nowotny is clinging to his jobs though he is tangled up in a bribery, kickback, and money-laundering scandal. But finally a major politician called for his resignation.
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.
Congress is the ideal American institution: it spends far more than it takes in and borrows the difference. We love that. To heck with the future. It means free money, services, wars, and other goodies. At least some of us get to profit from it. And then we blow it or invest it, and we lose it or make money on it. It all adds up to that glorious GDP. It’s the American dream. And yet….
The ink wasn’t dry yet on the European bailout fund when it paid $1.3 billion to bail out Proton Bank in Greece. Turns out, Proton had siphoned off $1 billion in a scheme of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and offshore front companies. Galling: the Bank of Greece knew of the criminal activity before the bailout. And then a bomb exploded….