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CEOs No Smarter Than Average Bear, Bull


But they are more corrupt.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, is widely regarded as the father of cynicism. He walked the streets of Corinth in broad daylight carrying a lighted lantern, futilely searching for an honest man. Although he lived in a large wooden cask (the ancient Greek version of a cardboard box) and subsisted on onions as a protest against what he considered to be a wasteful and decadent society, dignitaries no less revered than Alexander the Great called upon him for wise counsel.

Too bad Diogenes died in 323 BC. I'd like to get him on the phone to explain how in the heck Timothy Geithner, a man who admitted to the US Congress, Senate, and the entire world that he couldn't figure out his own income taxes was appointed to oversee the IRS and administer hundreds of billions in bailout funds. I don't want to sound cynical, but that defies common sense.

But this is Washington, DC, whose political corruption coefficient is like Cook County, Illinois on steroids.

Diogenes liked dogs (there's a dog statue in his honor in Greece) because they don't lie. I vote for a Labrador to oversee the IRS - or Citigroup (C), for that matter. Could a canine truly do any more damage? According to a close friend of mine who lost $12 million to Bernie Madoff, there are over 80,000 people signed up to sue him for all he's got (left). A dog would have never put people in that position.

It doesn't make me any less cynical that former New York Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno, is under indictment for fraud while still in office - and that small-time financial advisor (by Madoff standards) Marcus Schrenker could fake his own death by parachuting out of the small plane he was piloting over Alabama. (The Feds caught up with him on a Florida beach when they couldn't find a body in the wreckage.)

You can't make this stuff up. John Thain is out as top dog at Merrill, because he wasn't as transparently honest as a Labrador would have been. Ken Lewis is on the ropes at Bank of America (BAC) for much the same reason. Where are the brilliant, brilliant minds that would justify their obscene executive compensation packages and $1.2 million private office refurbishments?

Two explanations float to the surface, and neither is pleasant. One: The archetypal obscenely overpaid CEO is no more intelligent and strategically astute than the average bear - and the whole executive compensation scheme is a sham and a scam. Two: These most senior executives truly are as brilliant as board members claim they are, and they use their superior cognitive abilities to engage in all manner of nefarious mischief and deceit.

My cynical conclusion, and one that I'm sure would make Diogenes proud, is that there is no honest man - only honest dogs. Political candidates who spend millions on ads portraying themselves as honest show their true colors once behind the Beltway. Don't expect Congress to institute capital punishment for squandering capital anytime soon, lest the politician and banker wind up hanging together.

All the political jockeying, policy-making, and corporate executive excuse-making in the media merely exposes the fact that the current financial debacle was caused by political power-brokering and profit-taking. Discredited Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is, in truth, a middle-of-the-pack politician.

Blagojevich didn't violate the ethical construct of political America by lying. That's expected. His big mistake was acting too much like one of Diogenes' dogs: Unabashedly lifting his leg and doing his political profiteering in public. His crime: Being stupid enough to get caught.
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