Bernard Madoff, leadership and trust

Just back from a few days Inside the Beltway. And the more I go to DC these days the more I appreciate the work of The Washington Post. Let’s face it. There are only a few media outlets left in this country — Washington Post, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal — that can consistently provide the depth of coverage that allows you to gain at lease some perspective on the big, complex stories and issues. The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times used to be in that category. Not sure any more given the widespread staff cutbacks at those papers and the bankruptcy filling last week by the parent Tribune company.

Anyway, here’s my take on two stories covered extensively by the Post, NYT and WSJ over the weekend. Both involve trust and leadership.

First Bernard Madoff, the “Wall Street wiz,” as the Post described him who apparently duped investors out of some $50 billion. “All Just One Big Lie” — that’s the headline from one of several stories in The Washington Post. It’s hard for me to figure out how this Ponzi scheme could have gone on undetected for years. Didn’t we at one time have a Securities and Exchange Commission? And at least some laughable rules about disclosure, etc.?

But it’s even harder for me to figure out how someone could live such a big lie for so many years. It doesn’t look like Madoff was just a numbers cruncher. He was active in various communities. Set up his own foundation to fund hospitals and other civic ventures. Yada, yada, yada.

Ethics anyone? Apparently not. Here’s another case where the actions of a few (in this case, maybe just one) undercut the necessary trust that we must have in our banking and investment institutions — and in our government. The stock exchanges open in the United States in another 90 minutes or so? Do you know who is managing your money?

Then the second big story — the continuing effort to bail out (rescue?) the U.S. auto industry. Here again we get to trust and leadership. Congress waffled last week on providing the Detroit automakers the $15 billion or so they argue will keep them afloat — at least until the next administration shows up in January with some cash and without worrying about a political base who has a hard time swallowing the nationalization of the auto industry. The Republicans didn’t much care for the nationalization of the banking industry or Wall Street either. Remember? Ah. The good old days.

I don’t believe the Senate Republicans ever had any intention of approving an auto industry allowance for I’m sure a whole host of reason. But one is that few trust that the auto executives are telling the truth. (Saw a GM statement that it “might” to belly up the end of this month without a cash infusion. That’s not the “will” of a few weeks ago.) And there is no leadership on this issue — anywhere.

Out of all the stories I read about this over the weekend, here’s one paragraph that resonates. It’s about leadership — and maybe it says it all. It’s from The Washington Post article Saturday that examines the administration’s last-of-the-ninth-inning decision to try to use some of the $750 million money set aside for Wall Street to give to the automakers.

“I don’t think there’s any way, under these circumstances, the administration would be able to get the resources. Show me some leadership on the automobile question, show me some leadership on foreclosure mitigation issue, show me some leadership on consumer credit, and I think that door opens up,” Dodd [Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd] said.

Oh, my. If we just had a little leadership. And some trust.

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