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Bank Failures: Does Sorry Go a Long Way?

The perpetrators of the US financial crisis — the bailed out fat cats on Wall Street or greedy bankers — have managed to stay pretty anonymous during this entire saga. Bernard Madoff has become a poster boy for the era, but he represents crime not incompetence. And criminal or not, I can't remember any individual offering profound apologies to the American public on whom they now rely.

In the United Kingdom the tale of failed banks has characters, and apologetic ones at that. Yesterday the former heads of the UK's biggest failed banks came before Parliament to confess their sins. Their direct and simple remorse contrasts the attitudes of some bailed-out American corporations, who still defend ongoing extravagance as business decisions.

The former head of HBSO, which is now 40 percent owned by the government, said: "The bonus system has proved to be wrong. Substantial cash bonuses do not reward the right kind of behavior." The former CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland said he "could not be more sorry" for his bank's over-leverage and ultimate failure.

When the public offers its support to these institutions, can a heartfelt sorry lessen the pain? Perhaps an acknowledgment of mistakes will prevent history from repeating itself.

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