Wall Street may reflect American culture
by DONALD KAUL
Mar 29, 2009 | 397 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BERNIE (The Gonif) Madoff went up the river the other day, after copping a plea on 11 counts of theft, money laundering, perjury and failure to floss. They put the cuffs on him (too tight; they always put them on too tight) and led him off to the slammer. His lawyers requested bail but the judge said no dice.

“He has the incentive to flee,” the judge said. “He has the means to flee. And thus he presents the risk of flight. Bail is revoked.”

There are times when a judge’s pronouncement can sound like the voice of God. For his part, Madoff was contrite.

“I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done,” he said.

I BELIEVE it. If I had managed to ruin friends, family and fellow members of my faith, brought worthwhile charities to their knees and disgraced my family name for generations to come, I’d be sorry too. Real sorry. Particularly if I got caught. Madoff faces as much as 150 years in prison, which is a long time even if you’re a turtle. Personally I’d be satisfied if he were paroled after 30 years—making him 100 when he got out—provided he was forced to live on the street like a homeless person.

I am not a vengeful man.

Madoff was not the only swindler on Wall Street; he was merely the biggest shark in the tank. He admits to bilking his victims of some $50 billion but federal authorities say it’s more like $65 billion. He did it by pretending to invest the money given to him by trusting souls, giving them some back as interest, keeping the rest for himself.

And all the while, the regulators, charged with overseeing this kind of thing, snoozed.

Another financial lion, Allen Stanford, ripped off his clients to the tune of $8 billion, which would have been considered a goodly sum had Madoff not come along.

YOU COULD make a case that the victims of these crooks deserved what they got. They were promised a consistently high return on their money in good times and bad. When the market went up, they got their 14 percent; when it went down, same thing.

There’s really no way to do that without cheating. If there’s one ironclad rule of life, it is this: If something seems too good to be true, it generally is. And you can take out “generally” if you wanted. The victims were greedy. But I would not be too harsh on them, just as I would not on the (much) less wealthy folk that took out mortgages they later found they could not afford, or those who ran up unsupportable tabs on their multiple credit cards.

We live in a culture that virtually screams “Buy, Borrow, Spend” at us. We glorify wretched excess in our television shows and movies. We deify the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

The most recent figures available show that the average income of the 400 wealthiest Americans in 2006 was $263 million. That’s more than the New York Yankees payroll. And thanks to the tax cuts engineered by President George W. Bush and his gang, they paid the lowest tax rates in the 15 years they’ve been keeping track.

WE WERE taught to respect those people. We wanted to be like them. And when someone would suggest that maybe making them pay higher taxes was a good idea, they were scorned as purveyors of “class warfare.”

Right. And Poland attacked Nazi Germany.

Perhaps Madoff and his fate will put an end to this worshipping of the filthy rich. As one Wall Street man said of Madoff:

“This man has single-handedly put the nail in the coffin for millions of baby boomer investors with respect to their desire to invest in the stock market. Billions of dollars…have been pulled from equities, never to return.”

Single-handedly? Oh come on now, Mr. Wall Street Man; you’re too modest. He had help—lots and lots of help.

Don Kaul is a 2-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent who, by his own account, is right more than he’s wrong. dkaul1@earthlink.net

(Distributed by MinutemanMedia.org)
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