Slammer Time

Now that we've all gotten a bit more wise to the ways of corporate misbehavior, it should come as no surprise that the arrests of the Adelphia executives — the three little pigs, as the Feds dubbed — didn't constitute a lucky break for the media.

The Adelphia boys knew they were going to get popped, so their lawyer called the Feds and said, "Where do you want them to show up?" The Feds said, "No way. We're coming to get them."

So all of a sudden you have postal inspectors headed into an office building... and miraculously... a ton of cameras are already there.

Are the newsies just smart, and know where to show up... or were they notified? "Big arrest. Be at such-and-such a corner. Don't miss it."


The Feds wanted to show the world they were going to bust somebody big. They did, and it worked. The market spiked.

Since we're all Pavlovian in this life, what happens next? More of the same. Now on the front page of The Wall Street Journal comes the news that the WorldCom guys are teed up for the slammer. Since it worked so well the last time, the Feds are planning to indict the company itself. (By the way, this is a stock trading for pennies, or dimes.)

What good will indicting the company do? Plenty of good if you can get pictures of the logo in cuffs being led away to post bail. Otherwise, it's just more symbolism.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against all this. I'm all for it. But I hope the markets and the public realize that there's also a ways to go before everything is right. These people have to disgorge their funds... like they ate too much, which they probably did. Then the Feds have to figure out if the 401k victims and the employee victims can be made whole.

The answer? Probably not. When $l.6 trillion in market capitalization disappears, it's not that it's in someone's Swiss bank account. It disappears. Poof.

After all, it was just a price, not real money. When the price falls, the chance to turn it into real money disappears.

So arresting people is good, but straightening out the stupid CEO tricks is better. For instance, they shouldn't be paid in stock options unless the money shows up in the annual report. If the CEO's $300 million bonus is counted against earnings, he and the board might think twice or three times.

Jail's good. Better behavior is better.

That's My Word.

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