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Hullabaloo


Friday, March 12, 2010

 
Failing From the Top Down

by digby


I will delve into this more over the week-end, but on the face of it, this looks like a bombshell that will hopefully change the slow motion train wreck that is Financial system reform:


The bankruptcy examiner’s report filed by Anton R. Valukas on the 2008 demise of Lehman Brothers discusses some accounting gimmicks that are eerily reminiscent of how Enron tried to prop up its balance sheet back in 2001 before it collapsed. Both companies appear to have played right along the edge of properly accounting for transactions designed to make them appear much stronger than they turned out to be, becoming steadily more aggressive as they teetered on the brink of ruin.

The examiner’s report discusses potential claims that the bankruptcy trustee can bring against Lehman’s former officers and outside advisers and does not mention potential government law enforcement action. Reading his report, however, gives strong indications that at a minimum the Securities and Exchange Commission is likely to pursue civil charges for securities fraud, and that criminal charges are certainly possible against Lehman’s former top executives.


Wow.

It's felicitous that Chris Hayes wrote this insightful essay just as this news came out:

In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society — whether it's General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media — has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment...

For more than 35 years, Gallup has polled Americans about levels of trust in their institutions — Congress, banks, Big Business, public schools, etc. In 2008 nearly every single institution was at an all-time low. Banks were trusted by just 32% of the populace, down from more than 50% in 2004. Newspapers were down to 24%, from slightly below 40% at the start of the decade. And Congress was the least trusted institution of all, with only 12% of Americans expressing confidence in it. The mistrust of élites extends to élites themselves. Every year, public-relations guru Richard Edelman conducts a "trust barometer" across 22 countries, in which he surveys only highly educated, high-earning, media-attentive people. In the U.S., these people show extremely low levels of trust in government and business alike. Particularly distrusted are the superman CEOs of yore. "Chief-executive trust has just been mired in the mid- to low 20s," says Edelman. "It started off with Enron and culminates in Citi."



Now Lehman. The failure of elites continues apace.

Read the whole thing, it's actually got a hopeful ending.

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