Paul Greenberg

There they stood, all three of them, being sworn in before the Senate Agriculture Committee. They were being questioned about the whereabouts of some $175 million that had gone missing as MF Global was going belly-up on their watch.

It could have been a group picture of MF Global's executive board -- its former CEO (chief executive officer), its former COO (chief operating officer) and former CFO (chief financial officer). Each had a card in front of him bearing his name as all three raised their right hands and took the oath:

Hon. Corzine

Mr. Abelow

Mr. Steenkamp

The last two rated only a Mr., while Jon Corzine, a former U.S. senator, was identified as Honorable. (Members of Congress may leave office, but not their titles behind.) These three corporate execs were being called to answer some questions under oath, mainly about who decided to shift money in customers' supposedly safely segregrated accounts at MF Global to parts unknown.

To use an inexact but all too relevant metaphor, it was as if your friendly neighborhood bank, confronted by the prospect of going broke, had decided to break open the customers' safety-deposit boxes, mix the money with its own assets in one big pile, and let the creditors scramble through it for theirs.

The photo of these three could have been labeled See No Money, Hear No Money, Speak No Money. Not a one had any idea where the dough had gone. To translate their testimony from executalk into the familiar vernacular used in so many official hearings, not to mention the "Godfather" movies: "Money? We don't know nuttin' about no money."

The same theme has run through past congressional investigations into everything from the low aspects of high finance to the mob's influence on labor unions. How little some things have changed since John L. McClellan's time.

In the wake of MF Global's crash, Jon Corzine did his best to sound innocent. The former senator, former governor, former CEO of Goldman Sachs (the really powerful position), but still Honorable told the committee: "I never gave any instruction to anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds."

If the Hon. Corzine wasn't perjuring himself in this testimony, then it amounted to a confession of executive incompetence on an Obama-sized scale, though compared to MF Global, the Solyndra scandal was tiny potatoes. Maybe this ought to be called the Case of the Executive Who Didn't Execute. The curious public is expected to believe he was just hanging around MF Global when all this transpired outside its high-rise offices.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.