"I have left a legacy of shame"
June 29, 2009 4:28 PM   Subscribe

“One of the traditional notions of punishment is that an offender should be punished in proportion to his blameworthiness. Here, the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil.”

The 71-year-old man behind the biggest Wall Street fraud in history is sentenced to a maximum of 150 years in prison.

The Justice Department has posted the sentencing transcript (.pdf)
Victim Sheryl Weinstein: He walks among us. He dresses like us. He drives and eats and drinks and speaks. Under the facade there is truly a beast.

Madoff: I apologize to my victims. I will turn and face you. I am sorry. I know that doesn’t help you.
The victim impact statements (.pdf). After the sentencing, Ruth Madoff broke her silence.
posted by up in the old hotel (158 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
So incredibly unmoved by Ruth Madoff's statement.
posted by lullaby at 4:31 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


In the end, to say that I feel devastated for the many whom my husband has destroyed is truly inadequate. Nothing I can say seems sufficient regarding the daily suffering that all those innocent people are enduring because of my husband. But if it matters to them at all, please know that not a day goes by when I don’t ache over the stories that I have heard and read.

So I assume you'll be donating to victims' funds all of those millions of dollars that suddenly and magically became yours when the investigation started, right?
posted by Pastabagel at 4:31 PM on June 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


where will Madoff go?
With the help of prison consultants, white-collar crooks like Bernard Madoff aren't treated like your average criminal.
http://www.newsweek.com/id/204491/page/1
posted by robbyrobs at 4:33 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


With good behavior, he can be back on the streets by 2137.
posted by Flunkie at 4:34 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pastabagel: "So I assume you'll be donating to victims' funds all of those millions of dollars that suddenly and magically became yours when the investigation started, right?"

Note the "nothing I can say..." part. She's certainly not offering to do anything.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:35 PM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I read where one of his victims said: "He stole from the rich, he stole from the poor." Umm, no he didn't. Certainly not everyone he stole from was rich but this asswipe douchebag certainly didn't steal from any poor people.
posted by vito90 at 4:36 PM on June 29, 2009


She's been ordered to give back all her assets apparently. Whether she would have of her own accord is moot at this point.
posted by GuyZero at 4:36 PM on June 29, 2009


You know...before I get hammered on that...I guess he did steal from lots of non-profits so I'm sure his actions impacted alot of poor people...I retract my statement.
posted by vito90 at 4:37 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


And, scene.

/music swells and then fades, lights dim, curtains lower
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:37 PM on June 29, 2009


Ruth Madoff forfeits asset claims, left with $2.5 million

$2.5M may seem like a pretty large sum, true, but she'll likely have to live off that for the rest of her life. Not sure if she has particularly great job prospects at this point.
posted by GuyZero at 4:38 PM on June 29, 2009


Any news on his kids? I don't buy the whole "My sons caught me just as everything was falling apart". I'd like to see them and their millions investigated as well
posted by slapshot57 at 4:40 PM on June 29, 2009


Prison consultants?
Truly, capitalism, you are a marvel.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


$2.5M may seem like a pretty large sum, true, but she'll likely have to live off that for the rest of her life. Not sure if she has particularly great job prospects at this point.

Perhaps she could invest some of it.
posted by lullaby at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2009 [48 favorites]


You know...before I get hammered on that...I guess he did steal from lots of non-profits

He also helped bring down the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis.
posted by scody at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


$2.5M may seem like a pretty large sum, true, but she'll likely have to live off that for the rest of her life.
That's a reasonably safe bet for a hundred grand a year indefinitely. Far more if she takes into account the fact that she's something like seventy years old. Cry me a river.
posted by Flunkie at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2009 [22 favorites]




I'm rather shocked that, in the emailed victim impact statements from the victim impact statements link above, the victims' email addresses were not blacked out. The last thing these people need is to land up getting more junk mail.
posted by Quiplash at 4:43 PM on June 29, 2009


but she'll likely have to live off that for the rest of her life

$2.5M x 2% = $50,000/yr in interest.
posted by @troy at 4:43 PM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


If you want to take me off the market, I will totally live for the rest of my life off of 2.5mil. Hell, I'm probably 30-40 years younger than her too. I'll have to scrimp and save and make do somehow. On only 2.5 million.
posted by graventy at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2009 [19 favorites]


I can't wait til she has a garage sale. I'd happily stand in line if I knew the profits were going to pay off some of the victims.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:46 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


He walks among us. He dresses like us. He drives and eats and drinks and speaks. Under the facade there is truly a beast.

You know, I get that a lot of people in the world won't ever end up committing fraud at the level that Madoff did, and maybe there are even many who would *never* do it.

But I don't buy the fact that it takes an unusual beast of a human being to do it... I'd guess the normal recipe of some rationalization, lavish rewards, and just enough distance from the reality of the eventual effects ought to do the trick. If one happens to be a psychopath I suppose that probably makes things a lot easier, but the seeds of that kind of behavior are inside the vast majority of the human race. So the above narrative makes me pretty uneasy. Partly because I'm not sure why it should matter if Madoff is some kind of monster -- he'll still be punished under the same laws, right? And partly because if we have a system that believes our problems are just a few monsters here and there and we can solve them by a good occasional and highly visible book-throwing, I have my doubts we're going to get anywhere.
posted by weston at 4:49 PM on June 29, 2009 [42 favorites]


Certainly not everyone he stole from was rich but this asswipe douchebag certainly didn't steal from any poor people.

Madoffs Ponzi Scheme Affects Nonprofits
Madoff Impact on Jewish Charities is catastrophic
posted by lalochezia at 4:49 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jesus! He'll be 221 when he gets out!
posted by milkwood at 4:52 PM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


weston is on point, I think.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:53 PM on June 29, 2009


That's a reasonably safe bet for a hundred grand a year indefinitely. Far more if she takes into account the fact that she's something like seventy years old. Cry me a river.

Indeed. Moreover, book rights, movie rights and paid appearances alone would be enough to live on. Watch for this woman to show up on Oprah to sell something within 6 months, I guarantee it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:57 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, he is.
posted by Captain Rayford Steele, Tribulation Force at 5:02 PM on June 29, 2009


$2.5M x 2% = $50,000/yr in interest.

Accounts of that size tend to make more than 2%. Just sayin'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:04 PM on June 29, 2009


Bernie Madoff has great hair for a convicted criminal.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:09 PM on June 29, 2009


Jeffry Picower made billions from Madoff. He also has a history of being scum. One hopes that he's the next to have all assets forfeited and be imprisoned.

It's a shame that the Wall Street crooks from UBS, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Goldman-Sachs, etcetera aren't being tossed in prison for 150 year terms, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:11 PM on June 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


The effects of his Ponzi scheme range far and wide. When the story was breaking, it never even occurred to me that it would have even the slightest potential to affect ME, but indirectly it did. My significant other works part-time for a Jewish organization that decries anti-Semetism around the world and generally does good things to promote equality for all (gays, blacks, Jews of course, any minority really). Well, apparently they got a lot of their funding from wealthy Jews who were adversely affected by Madoff and who are not wealthy enough to be as charitable as they were in the past, thus forcing closed several branches, and the layoffs of some people. My significant other kept her job (part-time = cheap, that's probably why) and the local branch is still open, but there was sudden stress in the house about whether my SO would lose that job or not, which she then slathered me with, stressing me out too.

Per capita, Jews are the most generous chunk of the population, giving freely to good causes of all kinds. (I wish I could say that about my German-Irish ancestry, but we're just good at making cars and drinking whiskey.) So when a bunch of rich Jews are suddenly wiped out, the trickle-down effect of that loss on charities is considerable. A lot of poor people are suddenly having a harder time in life because of that, whether they lost directly or not.
posted by jamstigator at 5:12 PM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Here's to separating fools who separate fools from their money from their money.
posted by The White Hat at 5:13 PM on June 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I'm sure plenty of people could get by for the rest their life on just 2.5 mil. People a third of her age could get by for the rest of their life on that.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:17 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


But she has nice glasses
posted by Flood at 4:48 PM on June 29


You can't let that go can you?
posted by P.o.B. at 5:19 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


All the class rage, geez. She's innocent until proven guilty in court. And that money won't last long once the torrent of civil suits starts.
posted by GuyZero at 5:20 PM on June 29, 2009


Blazecock: maybe, but you really shouldn't be drawing down any more than 2% off of a pool if you want it to sustain you indefinitely. Otherwise the draws in times of consecutive down years can really make a dent in your principal.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:21 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


...oh right, but regardless, burn the witch! BUURN!
posted by leotrotsky at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2009


The Little Woman badmouths her hubby. Sure. She had worked at the firm, knew him and his stuff inside out, and now will in fact be investigated so in advance she is on the side of the angels against the Demon. What we learn is that "women betrayed" are supposed to forgive and stand by their man.
posted by Postroad at 5:23 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read where one of his victims said: "He stole from the rich, he stole from the poor." Umm, no he didn't. Certainly not everyone he stole from was rich but this asswipe douchebag certainly didn't steal from any poor people.

He stole from charities that supported the poor.
posted by grobstein at 5:24 PM on June 29, 2009




150 years was excessive. The goal of the justice system is (should be?) to exact justice, not vengeance or retributive punishment. I think this was a case where mob mentality overtook the sentencing proceeding.

Bernie Madoff should go away for a long time. But his sentence should be commensurate with the nature of his crime. 25 years, even 50 years, in prison would have kept him locked up for life, and would have been a comparatively stiff sentence for the nature of the crimes committed. Ebbers (Worldcom) got 25 years, as did Skilling (Enron). Sentencing someone to 6 times that length is purely symbolic, and in my opinion, degrades the system's promise of unbiased justice.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 5:25 PM on June 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


A beast? Compared to what people do to each other all the time this is fairly mild. Apparently some of these people don't care too much when bad things happen to others, or they're not aware of it.
posted by delmoi at 5:27 PM on June 29, 2009


So... does this close the door on the Maddoff scam? Is the government still trying to discover who worked with him, who else was "in on it?"
posted by Auden at 5:27 PM on June 29, 2009


I'm sick of hearing of the victims who lost their whole livelihood from this. Whether you're investing in a scam or investing in Wall Street, don't invest more than you can afford to lose.
posted by banished at 5:28 PM on June 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


Sentencing someone to 6 times that length is purely symbolic, and in my opinion, degrades the system's promise of unbiased justice.

However, this large sentence does distract us from the criminals who ran Wall Street the last few years, which is useful.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:31 PM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


[ I'm sick of hearing of the victims who lost their whole livelihood from this. Whether you're investing in a scam or investing in Wall Street, don't invest more than you can afford to lose.]

seriously, and if you're promised returns that are too good to be true, chances are they are.
posted by mattsweaters at 5:33 PM on June 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


What about those at the regulatory board that turned a blind eye despite numerous written warnings, when do they get their day of reckoning? There was a good post on MeFi about this when the story broke, but I can't seem to find it.
posted by Vindaloo at 5:35 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


don't invest more than you can afford to lose.

Although I couldn't argue with that, I still can't come up with a number or percentage in my head where I say "yeah, someone could scam me for that and I'd be fine with it."
posted by P.o.B. at 5:37 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


degrades the system's promise of unbiased justice.

a poor man gets 3 years for grand theft auto - lets say that's on a $20,000 car - you do the math and realize that 150 years doesn't come close to the amount of time madoff should be behind bars.

it's nice to see someone with a white collar actually being held accountable for a change. if a guy in the projects had managed to bilk people for even a million he'd never again see the light of day.
posted by nadawi at 5:38 PM on June 29, 2009


A beast? Compared to what people do to each other all the time this is fairly mild.

OK, sure, being defrauded out of your life savings isn't as bad as being shot in the spine and paralyzed. I'll keep that in mind next time somebody's on trial who shot thousands of people in the spine.
posted by escabeche at 5:41 PM on June 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Whether you're investing in a scam or investing in Wall Street, don't invest more than you can afford to lose.

So I should put my retirement savings under the mattress, then? For a while there, Madoff was a name like Vanguard or Charles Schwab. I agree that diversification is important, but Madoff was supposedly running a diversified portfolio for the people and institutions that invested with him.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:41 PM on June 29, 2009


I'm sick of hearing of the victims who lost their whole livelihood from this. Whether you're investing in a scam or investing in Wall Street, don't invest more than you can afford to lose.

Hello, and how much have you invested in your local currency as cash?
posted by magic curl at 5:42 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


“One of the traditional notions of punishment is that an offender should be punished in proportion to his blameworthiness."

I was going to post this in the OTHER madoff thread, but cortex deleted it (while taking a break from painting the house maybe? dude just wants to paint his house!)

So, the idea is this: I get his prison mailing address, and I mail him a letter (from a type-writer, while listening to some light jazz) every day. This letter contains all the minute and boring bits of my life, from what I eat to how many times I get back-stabbed in team fortress 2 (of course, I would explain everything) And at the end of every letter, I would be like "life is so boring....on the outside!" The idea is that I remind him, daily, that I don't need to run the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of the universe to have a good time.

He's in prison, right? What else is he going to do? He'll read it every day and he will be so Insanely Jealous.....

Actually, that's a terrible idea, (but i spent so much time on it, deleting it would be wasteful, and cortex probably has this thread deleted oh well)
posted by hellojed at 5:46 PM on June 29, 2009 [16 favorites]


Pop quiz for those taken in by Madoff et al: If it had happened to others, would you have given a rat's ass? This is a conspiracy - within Madoff Investments, the feeder funds, and among the people who blindly invested with someone because of his similar ethnicity, would have been branded as gullble fools instead of aggrieved victims.

The total lack of care and due diligence that nonprofit boards took and the free pass they have gotten on the back of Bernard L. Madoff is astonishing, and the criminality of the feeder funds had better be an enforcement priority of the highest order.

Oh yeah, the SEC is in charge. Never mind.

Relying on Cuomo and Blumenthal to prosecute isn't all bad, considering.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:51 PM on June 29, 2009


but cortex deleted it (while taking a break from painting the house maybe?

I have a cronjob set up that just deletes threads automatically when it detects that you're drafting a comment. House stuff is going much more efficiently now.

posted by cortex at 5:53 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmmmm, in a classic Ponzi scheme, if I am not mistaken, the money coming in from new "investors" goes to pay off the people at the top of the pyramid, keeping them in the illusion that the whole scam is real.

So my question is, who are those people and were they also complete suckers or were they part of a conspiracy? And where the hell did all the money go? Surely Madoff must have some huge bank accounts in Switzerland -- if he actually wasn't investing the money then he either spent it or stashed it, no?
posted by Rumple at 5:55 PM on June 29, 2009


He'll be 221 when he gets out!
And then as of that moment he'll be on double secret probation.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2009


This is a conspiracy - within Madoff Investments, the feeder funds, and among the people who blindly invested with someone because of his similar ethnicity,

Um. What?
posted by brain_drain at 5:58 PM on June 29, 2009


Wow. I'm always surprised when they actually sentence a white-collar criminal. You just don't see that every day.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:59 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


No one has explained how he earned his chairmanship of NASDAQ, and what he did there. I would like to know. I feel like his guilty plea has removed a ton of useful information from the public record, and is protecting other guilty parties.
posted by lslelel at 6:03 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hope that people will get tagged with clawback rulings. And if you are a cash business, Rumpole's right about late money paying for early money. Those who needed cash and were big fish made out very, very well. For most, the gains were on paper and people were loath to redeem so much for Madoff to have been exposed. before the markets melted down, at which point the music stopped.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:04 PM on June 29, 2009


150 years was excessive

Depending on who you listen to, Mr. Madoff stole/lost varying sums of money. For the sake of argument, let's assume the BBC is correct, and it's $65 billion.

Roughly 2.3 years per billion stolen/lost.

I hereby swear, right here & now, that I will go to prison for 3 years if you give me one billion dollars -- I'll serve the extra time gladly. If you cannot find a prison which is willing to take me, I am prepared to commit any offense which will garner me a three-year sentence. I will commit that offense in front of cameras.

All you have to do is put a billion dollars in escrow. C'mon, let's do it. It'll be fun.
posted by aramaic at 6:08 PM on June 29, 2009 [26 favorites]


Victim Sheryl Weinstein: He walks among us. He dresses like us. He drives and eats and drinks and speaks. Under the facade there is truly a beast.

Because being robbed at gunpoint by a rabid meth addict (what, meth addicts can't get rabies?) would be more suitable? Oh right, there's that trust issue.

From the second page of robbyrobs link:
The severity of Madoff's sentence changes his options. A lighter sentence might have allowed Madoff's team to negotiate his placement from medium security to low, based mostly on his age and notoriety, says Ellis; a 150-year sentence means he will now have to lobby to go from high security to medium. Medium security facilities look similar to low-security institutions, but the inmates are much more likely to be inside for violent crimes. If Madoff gets medium security, says Webster, "He will be assaulted, there's no doubt about that." It's that much of a certainty? "God, yes. Oh, God, yes."
And now you know: sentencing and security level are related. Except the article goes on to state that low-security facilities are possible. Damn you, lazy editors, damn you! Either he's going to be beaten, or he'll be in a low security facility, which is it?
posted by filthy light thief at 6:10 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Quiplash, re: inclusion of email addresses.

And it's not like these people have a track record of being gullible and would possibly fall for an email that started:
I need your urgent reply

My names are Mr. Rene Faye, a Banker and accountant with Bank Atlantique Cote D'Ivoire. I am contacting you in regards to a business transfer of a large sum of money from a dormant account. Though I know that a transaction of this magnitude will make any one apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that all will be well at the end of the day.

I am the personal accounts manager to Engr Lake Williams,who used to work with an oil servicing company here in Cote D'Ivoire.My client, his wife, and their three children were involved in the ill fated Kenya Airways crash in the coasts of Abidjan in January 2000 in which all passengers on board died.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:10 PM on June 29, 2009


150 years? Give me a break. You molest a child repeatedly, 150 years is fine. Jackass deserves to be punished, but this is silly.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:10 PM on June 29, 2009


150 years? Give me a break. You molest a child repeatedly, 150 years is fine. Jackass deserves to be punished, but this is silly.

HEY
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:28 PM on June 29, 2009


Well, if protecting the security of children is your thing, there are probably hundreds or thousands of children starving now because of Madoff, because of food pantries and other charities that have closed due to a lack of donations from people who got Ponzied. (Is that a word? It should be. I hereby declare it a word, if that's possible.)
posted by jamstigator at 6:29 PM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


So molesting a child is worth 150 years, but stealing thousands of man-years of labor from the people who created the wealth is just meh. Nice to know the kids have someone looking after them until they grow up at least.
posted by localroger at 6:31 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The man stole billions of dollars, much of it from charities. How is 150 years too much?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:34 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


With the help of prison consultants, white-collar crooks like Bernard Madoff aren't treated like your average criminal. (The linked Newsweek article)

Whoa, that read was really...something. All anicriminals are equal. But some criminals are more equal than others.

Also, good to see white-collar crime not get a mere slap on the wrist (but 150 years?). So now that the gnat's been swatted, perhaps the blind Lady Justices of the world could focus on the elephants in the room. AIG, Citigroup, Lehman, et al. must have scores of people who could pwn Madoff's lame-ass 65 billion-dollar highscore.
posted by Glee at 6:42 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


To people calling this excessive: you realize that he stole well over half of what Dr. Evil was asking for in Austin Powers, right?

You realize that he was actually very close to being a living version of an over-the-top caricature of the comic book archetype of the supervillain, which in and of itself is an over-the-top caricature of every evil trait that generations of writers could think of, right?

Out of the 192 countries on earth, that's more than the GDP of 128 of them. Stealing 65 billion is like stealing Luxembourg.
posted by Damn That Television at 6:43 PM on June 29, 2009 [17 favorites]


AIG, Citigroup, Lehman, et al. must have scores of people who could pwn Madoff's lame-ass 65 billion-dollar highscore.

That's the crucial point, isn't it? Is Madoff just going to be the symbolic public shaming to make the masses feel better? Or is this the start of a more thorough investigation?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:43 PM on June 29, 2009


I have spoken to an investment advisor for the rich and richer, who looked into Madoff at one point. The upshot was that it was probably not initially intended as a Ponzi scheme (which is irrelevant, but interesting), and that it was cleverly enough done that no unsophisticated investor -- and many rich people are unsophisticated investors. This is why they hire people to manage their money for them -- should have been expected to figure out they were being scammed.

Other investment firms, which fed into Madoff's fund, should have known, but mostly if you weren't in the business, you probably couldn't have figured it out.

Also, the return wasn't as much insanely high as it was insanely consistent.

Once you're 71, I don't see why 150 years is worse than 50, except that maybe it sets the bar higher for the next white collar fraud.
posted by jeather at 6:48 PM on June 29, 2009


I'm all for justice, but I wish there was a way to spend the money we'll be spending to incarcerate Madoff for 150 years on funding some of the many services cut as a result of all those charities and foundations going bankrupt. Where is their bailout?
posted by lunit at 6:55 PM on June 29, 2009


Stealing 65 billion is like stealing Luxembourg.

Actually the money taken was $12B.

Still equivalent to over 5,000 lifetimes' worth of work at the median household income.

'course, a lot of this money was previously taken from J6P before it got to Madoff, but two wrongs don't make a right ;)
posted by @troy at 7:08 PM on June 29, 2009


Did you ever wonder why he has that smug shit-eating grin on his face? Because he knows he's lived a life of unimaginable luxury for fifty years and intends to hang himself in his cell before a week of the 150 year sentence has elapsed.
posted by digsrus at 7:10 PM on June 29, 2009


but stealing thousands of man-years of labor from the people who created the wealth is just meh

echoing my above, no labor was stolen by Madoff. Rather: rents, wages, and interest. How much of each I'll leave as an exercise to the reader.
posted by @troy at 7:11 PM on June 29, 2009


I couldn't get through the victim impact statements - too heartbreaking for this sunny warm day.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:11 PM on June 29, 2009


“I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain. I understand that ... I live in a tormented state now, knowing of all the pain and suffering that I have created.”

The fuck you do and the fuck you are. Bernie, and all other white-collar scumbags, just skip the fake apology, would you? You're not sorry you did it; you're sorry you got caught.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:15 PM on June 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


My issue with Madoff is not the individuals that he stole from, though that is bad enough.

As several of you have commented, his crimes have nearly WIPED OUT numerous Jewish charities.
posted by WhySharksMatter at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2009


150 years? Give me a break.

Me, I'd like to see financial crimes punished dramatically more severely than they are on the basis of their nearly unique power to nearly completely ruin masses of lives all at once.

One way to do this would be to look at judgments, settlements, regulations, and the like and make a reasonable guess as to what the law already says the value of a human life is. Then run it backwards. Or base it on average lifetime earnings. Whatever. The point being, steal or defraud an amount equal in legal value to 500 lives? Do the time for 500 murders. Because to steal that much, you probably financially ruined a few thousand people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:33 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's easy for criminals to act contrite when they get caught. When he was bilking everyone left and right, there was absolutely no remorse at all.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:50 PM on June 29, 2009


150 years was excessive. The goal of the justice system is (should be?) to exact justice, not vengeance or retributive punishment. I think this was a case where mob mentality overtook the sentencing proceeding.

Did you read the judge's part of the sentencing transcript? He addresses that point specifically and explains why he believes the sentence is just and is not mob mentality. Perhaps you did read the transcript and disagree with the judge, but if that's the case, it would be more illuminating if you would explain why you disagree with the judge's reasoning rather than merely asserting the opposite. ("An argument isn't just contradiction!")

Sentencing someone to 6 times that length is purely symbolic,

Yes, Judge Chin says exactly that in his sentencing.

and in my opinion, degrades the system's promise of unbiased justice.

Why? Judge Chin listed three reasons he felt a largely symbolic sentence was appropriate.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:55 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but I seem to be the only one on the planet who thinks this sentence is excessive.

OK, so there was some naiveté by investors, but it was avarice, greed and a something-for-nothing mentality that fueled Madoff's rise: "Just make our investments return as much as possible- no questions asked"

So lots of people got burned by this, playing the game, and so when it went tits up, howls of indignation, injustice, and cries for retribution. I'd be pissed off too if I lost a bundle of cash.

Stealing is stealing. It's not murder, genocide, or child rape. He's undoubtably a shifty piece of work, but what good (apart from vengeance) is locking him up indefinitely at taxpayers expense going to achieve?
posted by marvin at 7:59 PM on June 29, 2009


Stealing is stealing. It's not murder, genocide, or child rape. He's undoubtably a shifty piece of work, but what good (apart from vengeance) is locking him up indefinitely at taxpayers expense going to achieve?

Dude didn't shoplift a carton of smokes from Rite-Aid. He stole billions, much of it from charities. The symbolism of locking him up for the rest of his life is partially to set a legal precedent for anyone pulling this crap. Not to mention, you know, all the lives he's ruined, either directly or through the charities he's collapsed.

Having said that, as I said in another thread, I'd rather he be sentenced to 150 years community service. Full time. In one of the charities he robbed from.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:04 PM on June 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


And he has to wear a sandwich board reading "HI I'M BERNIE MADOFF AND I STOLE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:05 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If your lawbreaking sets a new world record, don't be surprised if you win the maximum penalty. That's what it's there for, presumably.
posted by ryanrs at 8:15 PM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Just make our investments return as much as possible- no questions asked"

It wasn't "no questions asked." Madoff prepared detailed statements for his "investors" which were completely fabricated, showing that the investments were made in securities which weren't made at all.

I have a modest brokerage account with one of the major discount brokers. What Madoff did is as if my brokerage came to me and said, "remember six years ago when you 'deposited' $X in your account and 'bought' N shares of STCK? And you know how we've been sending you a statement every month for six years saying that you had N shares of STCK in your account? Well, we just made that up. We never bought STCK for you. We took your money and spent it on a vacation in Bermuda."

The "investors" were getting regular statements showing what Madoff claimed was their holdings. That is not "no questions asked." For those interested in a more detailed account of Madoff's scheme, Frontline did an excellent episode on it which you can watch online.

Yes, such consistently high returns ought to have been cause for suspicion, but that does not justify, nor even lessen by one iota, the severity of Madoff's crime. For those of you arguing that his investors were greedy SOBs who ought to have been suspicious of the returns Madoff was reporting, I say: It is not less of a crime to defraud a gullible person than it is to defraud a skeptical one. It's much like if I leave my front door unlocked and open and a thief walks right in and takes my TV. I might be stupid for leaving the door open, but that does not make it any less theft than it would be otherwise.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:25 PM on June 29, 2009 [16 favorites]


He's not being hanged for running a Ponzi scheme. He's being hanged so Ponzi schemes aren't run. Justice is always symbolic in this sense.

In an age where it seems relatively easy to steal tens of billions of dollars (Madoff couldn't have had more than a handful of people in on the scheme, and doesn't strike me as terribly bright, either), I think the stiff sentence is entirely appropriate--a very harsh penalty to balance a very plump and seductive temptation. It may be a system built on greed, but capitalism has to have at least a few rules.
posted by Camofrog at 8:28 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bernie Ebbers is going to die in prison. Why is someone bitching about how a judge was lenient with him? Jeff Skilling, meanwhile, was the president of Enron, but all the same was among several execs to be indicted. Madoff ran the show by comparison, maybe not totally but for all intents and purposes it was his thing. Skilling also had someone above him, the late Kenneth Lay.
posted by raysmj at 8:31 PM on June 29, 2009


uh, he sure as hell did steal from the working poor. Look at all the pension funds he stole from. The average Bricklayer's pension is $ 600. Could you live on that?
posted by bananafish at 8:51 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So molesting a child is worth 150 years

Actually, you can buy your way out of it for 25 million, and when you die people will go apeshit declaring their love for you and calling anyone who thinks you're a creep a "hater."
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:00 PM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


All the class rage, geez.

Perhaps it's class rage. But I think people's reaction to your statement was more a matter of their sense of justice and injustice, and to say "only $2.5 million" (for a senior citizen with grown kids) is pretty damn tone deaf for 99.999% of people on the planet.

You're probably right about the civil suits, but she'll almost certainly get another mil or more for a book deal. Wait, do I smell reality TV series??
posted by zardoz at 9:01 PM on June 29, 2009


delmoi: "A beast? Compared to what people do to each other all the time this is fairly mild. Apparently some of these people don't care too much when bad things happen to others, or they're not aware of it."

Truth
posted by Gravitus at 9:04 PM on June 29, 2009


I, too, do not care about things I am not aware of.
posted by ryanrs at 9:16 PM on June 29, 2009


My goodness. It appears that I am wrong to blame Wall Street. Sally Kern says that it's all the fault of sinners like me.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 PM on June 29, 2009



150 years was excessive....Bernie Madoff should go away for a long time. But his sentence should be commensurate with the nature of his crime. 25 years, even 50 years, in prison would have kept him locked up for life.



I am not a lawyer but it is my understanding that you could go free in the US after having served 1/3 of the time. Hence 25 years could have boiled down to 8-9 years and he could survive this.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:25 PM on June 29, 2009


150 years was excessive

I imagine it's 150 years minus time served.
posted by mazola at 9:33 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


According to NPR, for a federal sentence you have to serve at least 85% of the time.
posted by GuyZero at 9:33 PM on June 29, 2009


From the defence statement:

There is no way that we cannot be insensitive to the victims' suffering.

What?
posted by mazola at 9:41 PM on June 29, 2009


The rule about "too good to be true" goes double for charities which have a fiduciary responsibility to be prudent with their investments. Small charities which invested relatively small amounts might have some excuse for being naive, larger charities with more investments less so.

Trusting someone merely because they are a member of your own religion is a bad idea. Even if you are a religious charity. Even if your religion has a proud tradition of philanthropy.

Money was of course stolen, but much was paid out over the years. The high rate of return allowed the charities a greater income over that period increasing the amount of good they did then. They have been hurt badly now, but when you total up the net harm you shouldn't fail to credit the earlier extra benefit.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:50 PM on June 29, 2009


HabeasCorpus: Bernie Madoff should go away for a long time. But his sentence should be commensurate with the nature of his crime. 25 years, even 50 years, in prison would have kept him locked up for life, and would have been a comparatively stiff sentence for the nature of the crimes committed. Ebbers (Worldcom) got 25 years, as did Skilling (Enron). Sentencing someone to 6 times that length is purely symbolic, and in my opinion, degrades the system's promise of unbiased justice.

It's commensurate with the maximum of the sentences under the charges for which he was convicted. That isn't excessive; it's just saying he was quite guilty of all charges.

If you have a problem with sentences being handed out which the person sentenced can't possibly serve within their natural lives, then you don't really have a problem with this verdict. You have a problem with the entire criminal justice system, which does this routinely. Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced to 957 years in prison; this happens all the time.

I don't think financial crimes are really very different as far as the sentencing procedures go.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 PM on June 29, 2009


Building on what GuyZero said, NPR also reported that Federal sentencing guidelines for fraud have a ceiling of $400 million. Madoff exceeded that some 162 times over.

So, the U.S. government figured, at one point, if a fraudster were particularly cunning, you'd run off with 400,000,000 dollars. A judge would therefore be correct in considering a 150 year sentence for that crafty defendant. If the USSC had the foresight to consider punishment for a Madoffian scheme, it might be sentencing Madoff to 24,300 years if the increase in time served were linear.
posted by boo_radley at 10:07 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Couldn't be happier to hear it. Sic Semper White Collar Criminals.

As to the fairness, you have it backwards. This asshole didn't get treated too harshly, those other assholes got off far, far too lightly.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:40 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't say I think much of "symbolic" sentencing. It's largely nonsense to think that the class of white collar criminal that can afford to lobby for less stringent laws to accommodate their shady dealings will be very much impressed by the sentencing of the most brazen and excessive of them, someone who simply wasn't clever enough to run his scheme in such a way that he couldn't be prosecuted. Were he a more intelligent man, Mr. Madoff would be getting paid taxpayer money to play an "advisory" role in cleaning up the mess he created.

A just sentencing would deprive Mr. Madoff of everything he owns and sentence him to a few years in prison, after which he would be made to reenter society with absolutely nothing. He should be barred from the world of finance and be forced, at his advanced age, to seek ordinary work. His salary should be garnished so he would be left with only a pittance every time he is paid, and a condition of his probation would be that he must declare and surrender all income he receives--including gifts--under threat of further incarceration, until his debt is repaid (which might well be never). If he is to be an example, I would prefer him to be an example of what it is like to be poor.

Prison is for people who must be isolated for the safety of society; it should not exist as a scarecrow to discourage crime that better laws would prevent. If barred from the world of finance, Mr. Madoff is a threat to no one, and might even repay some meager part of his debt to society.
posted by millions at 11:25 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I should have been clearer. Devilsadvocate, I did read the sentencing statement, and I do specifically reject his notion of symbolic sentencing. As I mentioned, I don't think a justice system should act towards retribution; yet this is specifically something the judge says that symbolism will bring to the sentence.

Koieselitz; I don't have a problem handing out a sentence longer than someone's life, and I realize 150 years is within the maximum sentencing range allowable. Judges have immense leeway in their sentencing abilities insofar as they can decide whether sentences run concurrently or consecutively. I think this is usually beneficial, but in this case overextended.

A lot of people misinterpret my statement: "The punishment should be commensurate with the nature of the crime." This is not the same as "the punishment should be commensurate with the crime." A lot of people are arguing for scaleable sentencing based on the size of the theft. I disagree with this. I don't think a crime should be punished in proportion to the monetary damage it caused. It should be punished according to the level of depravity which the crime rises to.

I am not aware of federal statute, but I am aware that in New York State, Grand Larceny in the First Degree consists of a theft of over 1 million dollars. Anything larger than that is still a GL1. You steal 1 million or 100 million, it's the same charge. Same sentencing guidelines.

A theft is a theft is a theft; it might be the theft of an immense amount of money, but there is already a criminal category for this (in new york state, a grand larceny in the 1st degree, not 2nd or 3rd or a petty larceny), and the punishment should be meted out within this category. If Bernie Madoff was Carmen Sandiego's henchman, and made off with the US's GDP for the year, it should still be a GL1, and should still be punished as such.

It may be a terrible theft, and a massive one, but it's still only thievery. The man did not commit a willing act of violence, of rape, or of murder. But he was sentenced as if he did.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:34 PM on June 29, 2009


He stole and worse - he betrayed the trust people had in him. Why did we ever stop public whippings and putting bad guys in the stocks? No, the other kind of stocks.
posted by Cranberry at 11:46 PM on June 29, 2009


Won't someone think of the billionaires?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:49 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


For 20 years, he woke up every morning and decided to commit fraud. Looked at that way, he was guilty of >7,000 plus acts of fraud. Furthermore, he had thousands of victims.

So you may say he was not violent, etc., and this may be true (though some are dead as a result, via suicide) but the sheer scale and duration of his crimes really does rise to a level of unusual depravity equal to, if different from, rape, murder and so on.
posted by Rumple at 11:49 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually Rumple, I see your point there.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:53 PM on June 29, 2009


Guys as mentioned in another thread, I've been peripherally involved with this sordid affair, helping some folks here in London prepare victims impact statements. I was doing this just to help people out, as some folks can't even purchase food let alone pay a Solicitor.

On the surface 150 years certainly sounds excessive - I firmly believe that depriving someone of their liberty is a worse sentence than death - but I challenge anyone to sit across a table and just listen to some of the stories, the tales of woe these victims recount.

And the stories I've heard reflect just immediate, tangible needs. Rent. Food. Medicine.

But there is more.

While many victims don't speak of the shame of being scammed, you can see it in their eyes. You can hear it In the awkward pauses at the end of incomplete sentences, how they hesitate to state the obvious.

It's not just the money, they should have known better and they did. But they got scammed anyway.

Being scammed is a deeply scarring experience, as something basal in human nature, something we all want to offer to others - trust - has been betrayed. This can be far, far more damaging than any violent act.

So while I think 150 years is a suitable sentence there is something else going on. Keep in mind Madoff pled guilty and in doing so never had to take the witness stand, didn't intentionally or unintentionally provide any further information.

Someone had to help him with this. Everyone knows he didn't act alone - he was reportedly only in his office a couple of days each week - but Bernie didn't give anyone up. So 150 years for a 71 year old man is nothing more than The Feds playing hardball. "Nothing to say Mr Madoff? Ok, wise guy, here's how we roll". It simple.

On this basis, and as folks have conjectured upthread, he's probably gonna end up in a Maximum Security prison, maybe a Medium but in any case The Feds are stacking the deck so Bernie will wanna cut a deal. It will be interesting to see if he breaks or suicides first. It will be very surprising if he's tough enough to do the time, to sit in a cell until he dies. He's been pampered most of his life.

And Ruth gets to keep $2.5 million?

Personally I don't think that's right, she knows far more than she's let on to date, but she more than likely already has the funds sheltered offshore in an Asset Protective Trust rendering her immune from litigation.

Folks can sue her to the end of her days, and that trust will stand. They won't get a penny.

To say this is a big mess is an understatement. I think the lawsuits will last a decade, at least.
posted by Mutant at 12:21 AM on June 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


For 20 years, he woke up every morning and decided to commit fraud. Looked at that way, he was guilty of >7,000 plus acts of fraud. Furthermore, he had thousands of victims.


Yes, either that or he thought that what he was doing was perfectly okay. And what I mean by that is that he'd come to some sort of quasi-spiritual illumination that told him that all the material elements in this world were of equivalent value and therefore the numbers were just constructions based on hype and brand-name and a whole industry predicated on the belief that money could be fashioned out of thin air, because the free market was a perfect and all wise God of sorts that had never let down a true believer and it was the foundation of all that was good and perfect and American and freedom filled and the greatest manifestation of human evolution.

That is what we've heard now since the age of Reagan, when Wall Street and the financial institutions were somehow infused with a near-mystical reverence. More than heard actually, inundated and brainwashed is more like it. The question doesn't seem to me so much why would someone do what Madoff did, but rather how could someone that close to the ground zero of that, with Madoff's CV and connections and multi-billion dollar brand name NOT go down the road he went.

In other words, Madoff, himself is not so important or special. What is important, is the conditions that would give rise to someone like Bernie Madoff, and if you look at it like that, you almost feel sorry for the bastard. He did everything he was supposed to and believed, I mean really believed that the market was so complex and massive and perfect in it's construction that he would never ever get caught, as for that to happen, something akin to a complete system breakdown would need to take place, and the powers that controlled the whole thing wouldn't ever in a million years late that happen. I guess what he didn't factor in is that, like all man-made systems, the market was susceptible to being polluted with weakness and vulnerability. Meaning, it could be gamed and made corrupt. But, but, but...that's exactly what he was doing I hear you say. Yes, but maybe he was a pioneer who didn't realize others, too had come to schemes that created "valuation" (numbers on a spreadsheet) from shit, and maybe he thought himself as the champion of those retirement funds. Using his "enlightenment" and faith in the infallibility of the market to inject value into people's pensions.

Either that or he just thought that by the time others caught on he'd already be in his 70s, with billions stashed away somewhere that could never be traced back to him (but could be accessed by his family), and at that point who gave a flying f**k anyway. Prison, especially a white-collar prison, isn't too different from an old folks home anyway...

At any rate, anyone with an interest in the psychology of criminals would kill to be able to get inside his head. It must be an ethical amusement park of astonishing chills and thrills and complexity.
posted by Skygazer at 2:04 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Perhaps she could invest some of it.

Oof. Favourited for awesomeness.
posted by bwg at 3:18 AM on June 30, 2009


HabeasCorpus: I don't think a crime should be punished in proportion to the monetary damage it caused. It should be punished according to the level of depravity which the crime rises to…It may be a terrible theft, and a massive one, but it's still only thievery. The man did not commit a willing act of violence, of rape, or of murder. But he was sentenced as if he did.

I think you're missing the point—

Hundreds, if not thousands, of charities and non-profit organizations now have had their entire retirement systems ransacked and destroyed. That makes it much, much harder for them to keep employing people. When charities and non-profits start shutting down and going under, there's a direct effect on the communities involved: people are left without food, without medicine, without shelter. Yes, Madoff's theft is large enough that people will probably die as a result. Even Madoff himself understands this, I think; anyone in finance should.

You're right that theft is not generally on the same moral level as rape or murder. But, as in all matters of morality and justice, there are extreme cases: if, for example, someone stole a nuclear weapon, say, or removed one of the key blocks of the Hoover Dam, the lives and health of millions would be at stake. This is in effect no different. A million dollars, a hundred million or even a couple hundred million is one thing, but sixty-five billion dollars is more than the gross domestic product of most of the nations in the world. Recessions have been predicated on less drastic circumstances than the loss of sixty-five billion dollars.

We can't begin to contemplate yet what effects this will have on the market at large. I certainly can't—I don't know enough about economics to do so. But my feeling is that it will mean lost jobs, lost income, lost money for loans, lost medical care, lost opportunity in general—and that lowers the quality of life and even the possibility of life for millions of people. This is indeed a particularly depraved act, especially because Bernard Madoff, as an economist, knew very well that such actions could and would affect the lives of millions of people in a negative way.
posted by koeselitz at 3:29 AM on June 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


millions: Prison is for people who must be isolated for the safety of society; it should not exist as a scarecrow to discourage crime that better laws would prevent. If barred from the world of finance, Mr. Madoff is a threat to no one, and might even repay some meager part of his debt to society.

Prison is also for punishing the criminal so that he or she can clear their conscience and realign their relationship with society as a whole. This benefit in the lives of those who break laws is in fact the most important aspect of punishment.

Bernard Madoff did something horrifying. In order to come to terms with that fact and cope with it, he needs to be punished. Otherwise, there's really no way for him to attain any kind of happiness or contentment. As frightening as prison may seem to him now, life on the outside, with all the attendant psychological pain that he'd have to experience daily, would be worse.
posted by koeselitz at 3:34 AM on June 30, 2009


Yes, Madoff's theft is large enough that people will probably die as a result.

Uhh... Koeselitz?

Don't look now, but...
posted by orville sash at 4:23 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Clearly, Americans view such corporate crime as something akin to blasphemy, which makes sense because they also regard the free market as something close to a religion and Wall St as Mecca. Hence, the big trials and symbolically-large punishments.

These sorts of trials are also remarkable for their fucking rarity.

Anyway, don't feel sorry for Bernie. He must have enough stashed away to hire several expeditionary forces to bust him out. Or maybe Ken Lay can give him pointers on faking a heart-attack.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:07 AM on June 30, 2009


An truly JUST sentence would be as many years of hard labor, paid at minimum wage rates, as it would take to repay what he stole. If that would add up to half a million years of hard labor, welp, that's some harsh math, but that's life when you steal on a ginormous scale. You steal, you pay it back, the hard way. So really, I think he got off easy. NO hard labor. He doesn't have to work off what he stole. And he's probably got an air-conditioned cell, with books to read and a TV to watch. Boo-freaking-hoo.
posted by jamstigator at 6:04 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hundreds, if not thousands, of charities and non-profit organizations now have had their entire retirement systems ransacked and destroyed. That makes it much, much harder for them to keep employing people. When charities and non-profits start shutting down and going under, there's a direct effect on the communities involved: people are left without food, without medicine, without shelter.

I agree that defrauding charities makes Madoff's crimes worse. And not to detract from his crimes, but: isn't it a huge failing of a modern, wealthy, democratic, and developed nation-state that so many thousands of people are completely dependent on charity?

Tycoons of finance and industry have created a system where they can leverage enormous wealth and control to severely impact thousands of people's lives: move entire industries for better tax brakes in other countries, lobby government for all kinds of changes in law, regulations, and on and on. They can, and do, doom whole communities if the numbers tell them to. And determine their own salaries and bonuses for doing it.

If they're caught doing something blatantly criminal (Enron, Worldcom, Madoff, etc.), some of them are justly punished. But when their greed and/or incompetence have the same -- or even worse -- consequences for the people/communities involved: increased profits and happy stockholders. (Hopefully, some charities are able to pick up a few of the pieces.)

With great power comes great responsibility. But people obviously can't handle such great power, which is why we have enormous safety systems, variations on the separation of power built into our various models of governance. For some reason, we haven't seemed to have considered capitalists suffer the same flaws as people serving the public. (Or we probably would've done a whole lot more to control and limit the free market's power.)
posted by Glee at 7:08 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some old folks in Germany avenge losses and kidnap financial advisor.
posted by nickyskye at 7:26 AM on June 30, 2009


Weston said, "But I don't buy the fact that it takes an unusual beast of a human being to do it..."

You don't understand. He killed my spirit and shattered my dreams.
posted by krilli at 8:09 AM on June 30, 2009




For those expressing the opinion that Madoff's sentence was too harsh, I wonder if the complaint is that 150 years is always too harsh for this kind of crime? If what Madoff did doesn't warrant the maximum penalty, what would be a crime worthy of the maximum penalty? The maximum penalty has been on the books for years and granted no one committing this kind of crime has ever received it before, but then no one has ever stolen this much before.
posted by nushustu at 8:45 AM on June 30, 2009


The data which would interest me are these: the judge's 401K balance on Dec 2007 and the same number in June 2009. I would bet that his decision was not impersonal, blind justice with scales.
posted by bukvich at 9:05 AM on June 30, 2009


I would wager that the judge's 401K balances in 2007 and now are both exactly zero.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:16 AM on June 30, 2009



Personally I don't think that's right, she knows far more than she's let on to date, but she more than likely already has the funds sheltered offshore in an Asset Protective Trust rendering her immune from litigation.

Folks can sue her to the end of her days, and that trust will stand. They won't get a penny.


A statement based on laymen knowledge of offshore trusts...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:24 AM on June 30, 2009


The data which would interest me are these: the judge's 401K balance on Dec 2007 and the same number in June 2009. I would bet that his decision was not impersonal, blind justice with scales.

Who should make the decision, then? Is anyone sufficiently unbiased for you? If the judge is in a bad mood because his toast was burned that morning, does that mean he can't objectively pass sentence since that might affect his judgment?

Not to mention that Madoff's scam was not the cause of the current economic situation. Or at least neither the full cause nor the initial cause. It's been widely noted that his scheme unraveled only because of the economic collapse, which caused large numbers of Madoff's "investors" to try to withdraw large amounts of funds in a short time frame, which Madoff was unable to cover; in the absence of the pre-existing collapse, Madoff's scam might not have been uncovered within his lifetime. My 401(k) has lost value over the past 1.5 years, but I don't blame Madoff for that.

Because it seems the only other option would be to have one fixed sentence for each crime, with no room at all for discretion on the part of judges, which would mean they have no room to give a lesser sentences in cases where there were mitigating circumstances. Judge Chin found no mitigating circumstances whatsoever in Madoff's case, and thus gave the maximum sentence. Do you disagree with the judge that there were no mitigating circumstances which should have been cause for leniency? If so, what were they? Madoff turned himself in only because it was clear his scheme was about to come crashing down and he would be caught anyway. Even after he turned himself in, he was uncooperative with investigators. Madoff offered no character witnesses at all during the sentencing phase. (It was noted that for "white-collar" crimes, there will usually be some friends or family of the criminal who would step forward and say, yes, he did a bad thing, but he has done other good things, contributing to his community, making charitable donations, etc. Not one person would step up to put in a good word for Madoff.)

OTOH, if it is simply your belief that 150 years is too harsh for any crime of this sort (well, to be precise, ten crimes, since Madoff was convicted on ten counts), even in the absence of any mitigating factors, then your disagreement is with the law itself, not with the judge's application of it, and your blame should lie with the legislators who passed the law, not the judge who applied it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:49 AM on June 30, 2009


I do not think the penalty was too harsh. That judge was almost surely not impartial however. In Kindleberger's "Mania Panics and Crashes" he reports that the last man hanged publically in England was a fraudulent banker in the frenzy of a financial panic.

We don't have capital punishment for stealing anymore. If we crucified Bernie Madoff on the National Mall we could all get a righteous rage on. This is light weight.
posted by bukvich at 9:57 AM on June 30, 2009




Yeah, you know what we should do??? We should carve Madoff up like a side of beef and sell his organs off to the highest bidders to pay off his victims!!!

And then we should castrate his kids! And then chop them up for organs too!!!

And then everyone whose last name is Madoff should get punched in the face!!!
posted by GuyZero at 10:11 AM on June 30, 2009


I do not think the penalty was too harsh. That judge was almost surely not impartial however.

So you are certain, for no specific reason, that the judge was clearly driven by his unstated-but-irrefutable bias to hand down what you think is an appropriate sentence? Where are you going with this?
posted by cortex at 10:22 AM on June 30, 2009


Where are you going with this?

I don't mean anything big by it; just think it's worth considering. In the sense of "why do we have what sentence?" For punishment, for deterrence, for vengeance, &c.

And nobody else seems to have considered it. It's my little contribution!
posted by bukvich at 10:28 AM on June 30, 2009


I wonder whether any white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Wall Street scammers will ever get a sentence as long as Madoff. Makes me wonder whether the "gentlemen's agreement" is still in effect.
posted by jonp72 at 10:30 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bilking the idle and well-connected rich gets you a longer sentence than murder.

Way to go America.
posted by hamida2242 at 10:37 AM on June 30, 2009


In the sense of "why do we have what sentence?"

Yes, but you've asserted both that (a) there is bias and that (b) you don't think the resulting sentence was inappropriate.

So what sentence would we have gotten if there was no bias? What would have motivated the difference? Would the judge, were he not biased in whatever non-specific way you are asserting he is biased, have given an inappropriately lenient sentence?

And nobody else seems to have considered it.

So far, nobody's advanced an argument that makes it worth considering. What, exactly, is the story with this particular judge that suggests that, while an entire nation is watching, he'd fiddle with sentencing for personal reasons? What reasons are those? Etc.
posted by cortex at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2009


I do not think the penalty was too harsh. That judge was almost surely not impartial however.

Well, first, my apologies then for reading your statement as a criticism of the penalty itself. And I agree with the general implication which (if I understand you correctly) you're making, that a just sentence arrived at accidentally by unjust means does not serve the cause of justice.

But I still disagree with your assertion that Judge Chin was not impartial. What evidence do you present that he was, other than your own imagination? Nothing in his sentencing statement comes across as partial to me. If you want to play "try to read the judge's mind and imagine that he might conceivably have been unduly influenced by factors unrelated to the crimes themselves," then who could ever be impartial—not just in this case, but in any case? Can anyone ever be impartially sentenced, by that standard?

In Kindleberger's "Mania Panics and Crashes" he reports that the last man hanged publically in England was a fraudulent banker in the frenzy of a financial panic.

First, I wasn't able to find any statement to that effect in the book using Amazon's "Search inside" function (I searched on "hanged," "hanging," "executed," "execution" and "capital punishment.")

Second, it's plain untrue, as noted in this Wikipedia article ("1868, 26 May: Michael Barrett was executed at Newgate Prison for the Fenian bombing at Clerkenwell, the last public hanging in Britain.") and substantiated by this page. [And yes, Newgate prison is in England.]

Third, even if it were true, if the law at the time had allowed capital punishment for fraud, how can you be certain the judge's application of it was not in accordance with Parliament's intent? (In which case the blame for the injustice would lie primarily with Parliament, not the judge.)

Fourth, the law at that time didn't allow capital punishment for fraud: "In 1861, several acts of Parliament (24 & 25 Vict; c. 94 to c. 100) further reduced the number of civilian capital crimes to five: murder, treason, espionage, arson in royal dockyards, and piracy with violence; there were other offences under military law."

Fifth, even if you were to find a solitary instance of an unjust hanging in the 19th century for fraud, how could you draw any valid conclusions from that regarding the judge's impartiality in imposing a non-capital sentence over a hundred years later?

On preview: In the sense of "why do we have what sentence?" For punishment, for deterrence, for vengeance, &c. And nobody else seems to have considered it.

Perhaps no one in this thread has explicitly considered it, but Judge Chin explicitly addressed exactly that in his statement.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:43 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, I wasn't able to find any statement to that effect in the book using Amazon's "Search inside" function

I will try and remember to look it up tonight when I get home. It's underlined in my copy and it should take me less than a minute to find. It's possible Kindleberger did not have his facts straight, but the gist of my post is not too far off.

Maybe the guy was the last person publically executed for stealing?

I know one person who had his retirement fund stashed almost solely in a growth stock fund who lost 75% over the same time frame us regular fools lost a third. That fellow is in real pain right now. All I intended to convey is

1. I don't believe the judge was impartial
2. I would be curious to see the exact $ value the judge lost

Curious. Just curious. I don't have my prize pit bull in this argument. This isn't like a Cowboys Giants game or anything.
posted by bukvich at 11:11 AM on June 30, 2009


I will try and remember to look it up tonight when I get home. It's underlined in my copy and it should take me less than a minute to find. It's possible Kindleberger did not have his facts straight, but the gist of my post is not too far off.

Maybe the guy was the last person publically executed for stealing?


Well, even if that's true, so what? As I said before, I don't see that a solitary execution for fraud over a hundred years ago has any bearing on the impartiality of a judge imposing a non-capital sentence for fraud today.

I know one person who had his retirement fund stashed almost solely in a growth stock fund who lost 75% over the same time frame us regular fools lost a third. That fellow is in real pain right now. All I intended to convey is

1. I don't believe the judge was impartial
2. I would be curious to see the exact $ value the judge lost


And what conclusion would you draw from that? If you found that the judge lost no more, percentagewise, than "us regular fools," would that give you cause to believe the judge was impartial? Or if the judge did lose 75% in a growth stock, given that Madoff was not the cause of the collapse, even the collapse of growth stocks, would you think it impossible (or even unlikely) for him to recognize that his loss was not Madoff's fault and still make an impartial sentence?

I'm still curious how your belief that Judge Chin was biased in sentencing applies more generally. If a male judge has recently been dumped by his girlfriend or wife, do you believe he could sentence a man convicted of beating a woman impartially? I believe that the vast majority of judges would not allow their emotions toward their significant other to inappropriately transfer to a victim or a criminal in sentencing, and I likewise believe that most judges would not allow their emotions towards their personal losses (whether 30% or 75%), which were not caused by Madoff, to inappropriately transfer to Madoff in sentencing him. I am curious (just curious) to learn whether your beliefs differ, and what (if any) is your more general belief from which this specific belief proceeds.

I don't have my prize pit bull in this argument. This isn't like a Cowboys Giants game or anything.

Oh, I quite agree on that point. It's a discussion which I am finding interesting, and I hope you are as well.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:29 AM on June 30, 2009


For those of you who think this isn't harsh enough, another hypothetical question: What if Madoff had stolen not 65 billion, but 650 billion? What about if he had stolen 6.5 trillion? What if he had literally stolen every single penny on earth, rendering the literally impossibly complex global financial system entirely worthless?

And make no mistake -- this isn't like "ALL CAPITALISTS/BUSINESSES STEAL." (An argument that, under other circumstances, with which I pretty much agree.) This is no different than a guy sneaking into a massive safe filled with 65 billion dollars, and taking it all. In fact, it's worse, because that crime would be a single error. This was a crime, as was mentioned upthread, where he, every day of his life, chose again and again and again to continue to steal unfathomable amounts of money.

His crimes have already caused death. The number of lives lost and lives ruined -- not just indirectly or secondarily, but very much as a linear, undeniable result -- will be staggering in the end. He, by himself or by his small network of like-minded goons, has done SO much more harm to American and the global society than some guy who gets drunk, gets in a fight at a bar, and ends up killing someone. (Not that bar-fight murderers should go free, either, but they do 15-25 years pretty consistently.)

Human life DOES have a value in our society, as I learned from an old George Carlin routine: insurance companies, businesses that make products and weigh the cost of lawsuits vs. the cost of making the product safer, the government when considering "acceptable losses" and countless other examples spring to mind. So even if you deny the suicides and broken homes and shuttered charities that have resulted and will continue to happen because of this, why shouldn't Madoff still be treated as a murderer?
posted by Damn That Television at 11:31 AM on June 30, 2009


This is no different than a guy sneaking into a massive safe filled with 65 billion dollars, and taking it all.

Considering that all his personal assets have been repossessed, it's more akin to simply burning a huge pile of money since it seems to be mostly gone.

At any rate, what's your point? Jail is as bad as it gets. That's all there is. Unless you won't be satisfied until he's lashed to a rock where an eagle tears his liver out every day regrowing overnight for eternity.

why shouldn't Madoff still be treated as a murderer?

Most murders don't get a sentence as harsh as the one he got though I suppose he'll get a cushy low-security prison as opposed to being in solitary in an unlit box somewhere. But what do you expect?
posted by GuyZero at 11:44 AM on June 30, 2009


If a male judge has recently been dumped by his girlfriend or wife, do you believe he could sentence a man convicted of beating a woman impartially?

In the neighborhood I grew up it was well known that if you got a DWI and a certain judge, whose son was killed in a traffic accident caused by a drunken driver, was the judge on your case, you were going to jail regardless of any possible extenuating circumstance (low %, first offense, whatever).
posted by bukvich at 12:04 PM on June 30, 2009


God damn those activist judges picking up the poor billionaire Ponzi artist.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:08 PM on June 30, 2009


Guyzero,

Oh no, I agree that jail is as bad as it gets. I'm simply saying that he got what he deserved. I'd like to see the eagle/liver punishment, but bleeding hearts call it "unusual."

And my murder comparison was simply to make an argument that he did, in my eyes, do something on par with murder -- murder several, several times over.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:41 PM on June 30, 2009


In the neighborhood I grew up it was well known that if you got a DWI and a certain judge, whose son was killed in a traffic accident caused by a drunken driver, was the judge on your case, you were going to jail regardless of any possible extenuating circumstance (low %, first offense, whatever).

I am not denying that biased judges exist. I am disputing that Judge Chin, in sentencing this case, was biased. And you still leave me wondering what your general principle is. Do you believe that every judge would be biased in Judge Chin's place? Most? Some? A few? Given that you agree the sentence itself is appropriate, is there any judge who could have given the same sentence, but in a way you would consider unbiased? Do you believe that it is ever possible for a judge to deliver an impartial sentence, or do you believe that all sentences are inherently biased?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:14 PM on June 30, 2009


Frankly, I think the judges who don't jail drunk drivers are the ones that are biased: "Oh, everyone does it. And besides, no one got hurt." This time. And damn near everyone who drink-drives one does it again, and again, and again. The consequence of jail time would go a long way to ending that pattern, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:53 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: Prison is also for punishing the criminal so that he or she can clear their conscience and realign their relationship with society as a whole. This benefit in the lives of those who break laws is in fact the most important aspect of punishment.

I tend to agree. I believe Mr. Madoff should be incarcerated for these reasons, just not for a duration of 150 years, as if this exaggerated sentence offered society some reasonable measure of protection against future swindles of this scale.

It stands that in prison he can address his conscience and relationship with society in much less time, and that the prolonged incarceration of someone of his age offers no benefit nor protection to society. I can think of no more fitting punishment, nothing more suitable for realigning his relationship to society and healing this man's conscience, than to place him back into society where he would work to pay back his enormous debt to society while living in poverty until the end of his days.
posted by millions at 1:56 PM on June 30, 2009


If he were placed back into society he would be dead within a year. This sentence is probably kinder.
posted by kathrineg at 1:58 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Determining the appropriate punishment for his crimes is the most interesting aspect of this case. The judge does not make a clear distinction between retribution and deterrence. Retribution, delivering the sentence deserved, is at the heart of punishment. Symbolism is irrelevant in retribution, and the judge does not make a case for it. His reason, "The symbolism is important because the message must be sent that in a society governed by the rule of law ... he will be punished according to his moral culpability" is little different than his reason for deterrence "... the symbolism is important here because the strongest possible message must be sent to those who would engage in similar conduct ... they will be caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law" (p.48). There are small differences in phrasing and emphasis but the message is the same, society will protect its values and hold its violators accountable.

I very much agree that punishment is, in a way, done for the benefit of the convicted. The focus on the convicted goes right to the heart of the values of the West, namely our respect for the individual. C.S. Lewis wrote a good essay on the Humanitarian Thoery of Punishment, and as he points out, when the focus is solely on deterrence, then actual guilt or innocence is a moot point. This is a significant criticism that holds in all contexts where people shape their response solely to the question of "What message is being sent here?". From the essay:

"If the justification of exemplary punishment is not to be based on dessert but solely on its efficacy as a deterrent, it is not absolutely necessary that the man we punish should even have committed the crime. The deterrent effect demands that the public should draw the moral, ‘If we do such an act we shall suffer like that man.’ The punishment of a man actually guilty whom the public think innocent will not have the desired effect; the punishment of a man actually innocent will, provided the public think him guilty."

If the focus on symbolism and concern over the message communicated is taken too far, our concept of justice suffers. I don't deny the importance of deterrence. The saying "you train others on how to treat you" holds for societies as well as individuals. In addition, whatever restorative capabilities punishment may have, are likely entangled with understanding the necessity for society to have some sort of feedback system monitoring its members' behavior. But I mention the limitations of symbolic justice because of the frequency with which the argument is advanced. Deterrence is a secondary consideration.

Is Madoff's sentence excessive? I think a case can be made both ways. One of the letters to the judge said that his sentence should be determined "in the context of those who have committed similar crimes". That's hard to argue with, and given the scale of his crime in terms of property and the devestation it has caused in his victims' lives, the maximum sentence is appropriate. On the other hand, as one of his victims commented after sentencing, he still has his life and he is going to look forward. Many victims don't get left in that kind of condition. The victim impact statements strongly attest to how tragic sudden poverty in old age is. Still 150 years for theft in comparison to the sentences and crimes of numerous criminals who will be walking out of prison one day seems a little unbalanced.

But if deterrence is a secondary consideration, there may be no better opportunity to take into consideration than a case like this one.

And on a related note, I despise the fraudster / con man. There is a difference between the two but they share in manipulating the trust of their victims. David Mamet and Ricky Jay among others, show the entertainment value these stories possess, but I can't help feeling that there is a vicarious thrill present. Even in newspaper stories and comments on them, there is a relish in seeing someone duped and an eagerness to claim that they don't feel sorry for the victim. I suspect this has to do with an unwillingness to face our own vulnerability, our own uncertainty of our surroundings and a belief that one doesn't have psychological needs and weaknesses open to manipulation. Perhaps some are impervious, but labeling victims as 'suckers', or 'deserving what they got' and heightening the shame is an assistance to the huckster. There's certainly discretion involved, but trusting means taking a chance, and without trust little happens.
posted by BigSky at 3:32 PM on June 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Madoff's sentence is not nearly long enough. There are a couple dozen more creeps to be incarcerated, and it would be good to see them getting thirty-year terms for their ripoffs of hundreds of millions of dollars. By all rights, he should have received a term of tens of thousands of years, so that the other creeps receive a term proportional to that.

Instead, what we're going to see are creeps who've stolen a hundred million dollars get away with a prison term of a whole four months.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:42 PM on June 30, 2009


I very much agree that punishment is, in a way, done for the benefit of the convicted.

I thought at first this was a typo, but the follow-up about Lewis suggests otherwise. In what way does punishment benefit the convicted? I see how the trial benefits him, since he 'gets his day in court' and his deeds are held up to the light to be seen by his peers and judged, but I don't get how the punishment is to his benefit. Retribution or the prevention of future acts (both the convict's and those who fear his fate) seem like worthy goals, beneficial to society and worthy of hypothetical consent from the convict even if he'd prefer to be personally exempted. But to say that the punishment itself is to the convict's benefit strikes me as very, very strange. Surely he'd prefer not to be punished?

If the punishment itself is supposed to be rehabilitative, then how could a life sentence or the death sentence ever be justified? Moreover, isn't correction a fundamentally different kind of thing than punishment, insofar as one makes you better off, and one makes you worse off, and ought to do so? (I'm thinking of the Gorgias here.) Making someone better by teaching them a lesson or improving their soul hardly seems like an appropriate response to depravity.... Who even believes that that's what punishment does, except maybe Kant?

Anyway, maybe I'm just responding to a typo, in which case, I apologize for making a mountain out of a missed click.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:25 PM on June 30, 2009


@anotherpanacea

The C.S. Lewis essay does not concern itself with how punishment is of benefit to the criminal, only that a society which focuses on rehabilitation and deterrence will become more callous in its treatment of the individual and more dismissive of his rights. As for the benefits of punishment to the soul, Simone Weil says it far better than I ever could:

"By committing a crime, a man places himself, of his own accord, outside the chain of eternal obligations which bind every human being to every other one. Punishment alone can weld him back again; fully so, if accompanied by consent on his part; otherwise only partially so. Just as the only way of showing respect for somebody suffering from hunger is to give him something to eat, so the only way of showing respect for somebody who has placed himself outside the law is to reinstate him inside the law by subjecting him to the punishment ordained by law. The need for punishment is not satisfied where, as is generally the case, the penal code is merely a method of exercising pressure through fear."

The word correction implies that the bettering of the criminal is the intent and perhaps even the responsibility of the authority. And so, punishment or retribution with their associations to revenge, are better word choices. I won't go so far as to call them fundamentally different. In so far as is pragmatic, the possibility of correction should shape punishment. But to go back to the Weil quote, the part done with the consent of the criminal in welding him back is by far the greater. And if criminal justice was to focus too strongly on correction / rehabilitation it is likely to fall prey to the excesses listed in the Lewis essay, namely the convicted being subject to coercion ending only when some authority deems them healed.

I doubt very many people at all see punishment as beneficial to the criminal, but it is not completely unknown. 'Crime and Punishment' leads to this view. In the movie 'Dead Man Walking', the condemned refuses to admit his own guilt in a rape and murder until a few moments before he is led to his death. If you're religious, then for obvious reasons, that moment has all the importance in the world. But a belief in the possibility of eternal salvation isn't necessary. The criminal's acknowledgement of the act and the personal weaknesses that led to that act is necessary for him to have real contact with the world around him. Perhaps you've seen the movie? If so, I think you would agree that the character is less delusional about who he is in his walk to his execution than he was earlier that day. And without shedding that delusion there isn't much possibility of self-acceptance, intimacy or growth. Doubtless to some that is a ridiculous concern given the context. If that's the case, I don't know that anything more can be said to persuade; it comes down to what one values. By the way, that sentence was in response, or rather agreement, to koeselitz's post. I do disagree that his psychological pain would have been worse outside of prison. No, he probably would have been more comfortable; but that's not the same as better off.
posted by BigSky at 9:55 PM on June 30, 2009


Yeah, I went back through my files: Weil, Kant, Henri Bergson, Dostoevsky... the 'punishment as improvement' meme is definitely linked to the Platonic/Christian notion of a soul that can be improved or corrected in preparation for the afterlife, going all the way back to Plato's mythologizing moments. As such, it strikes me that it's fair to say that 'punishment as benefit' is a theocratic argument and ought to be rejected.

None of these are publicly justifiable reasons for punishment: it is impossible to root a pluralist society's theory of criminal justice in such beliefs because they have too much metaphysical baggage.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:32 AM on July 1, 2009


OK I looked up what I was saying yesterday. It turns out it was a little embellished. It's on p 70 of Kindleberger's book (1996 Wiley ed.). Also the guy is on wikipedia where the first sentence says:

"Henry Fauntleroy, (October 12, 1784 – 30 November 1824), was an English banker and forger, the last to be hanged for forgery in the United Kingdom."

It only took one second to find it as a kind mefite e-mailed me what page to look at when I got home.

Thank you DevilsAdvocate for keeping me honest.
posted by bukvich at 4:04 PM on July 1, 2009


Cop jailed for life + 250 years and he didn't steal a ten-thousandth of what Maddoff did.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:04 PM on July 1, 2009


I don't get it. why "150 years" like some comic book sentence? it's ridiculous.
how about "life"?
posted by mr.marx at 4:28 PM on July 1, 2009


"I sentence you to a lifetime of HORROR on MONSTER ISLAND."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:32 PM on July 1, 2009


I don't get it. why "150 years" like some comic book sentence? it's ridiculous.
how about "life"?


Judge Chin addressed that in his sentence. None of the individual counts Madoff was convicted of was eligible for a life sentence, so he couldn't be sentenced to life. Madoff was convicted of 10 counts; the maximum sentence on any single count was 20 years. The total of the maximum sentences on all 10 counts was 150 years.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:14 PM on July 1, 2009


anotherpanacea: …the 'punishment as improvement' meme is definitely linked to the Platonic/Christian notion of a soul that can be improved or corrected in preparation for the afterlife, going all the way back to Plato's mythologizing moments. As such, it strikes me that it's fair to say that 'punishment as benefit' is a theocratic argument and ought to be rejected…None of these are publicly justifiable reasons for punishment: it is impossible to root a pluralist society's theory of criminal justice in such beliefs because they have too much metaphysical baggage.

This is a statement that makes no sense to me whatsoever. What the hell is ‘metaphysical baggage’? Do you just mean you haven't read about it, and it seems complex? It doesn't necessarily have to be some complicated, abstract and arbitrary system in a book.

More importantly: how can you justify this reading of Plato? (And why would you think of him as a theocrat?) I wrote my bachelor's thesis on his Phaedo, from which it's clear, I think, that Socrates argues that the soul is immortal in nothing but the barest sense—that is, that the form of soul lasts on, so the tiny part of us that is what takes part in that form ‘lives on;’ that means, according to Socrates' own arguments, that no self and no person and not even any consciousness or contemplation or thinking survives death; really, it can hardly be said that this is an argument for the immortality of the soul. Which is certainly why Socrates has to cover his face and re-compose his look of utter terror so that his friends aren't traumatized at the end of the dialogue when he's dying. The arguments for the immortality of the soul have meanings, but they certainly aren't literal.

In any case, proper readings of Plato are neither here nor there. Here's my own argument, generally based on Plato but, as his writings were, written as I think of it rather than with lots of fancy made-up words like ‘metaphysical,’ that this notion of beneficial punishment actually carries some weight.

We have a desire, a drive, to be moral, or (to use another word) to be just. This is an abiding and lasting desire; it crops up at moments when we least expect it, as evinced by the fact that the people I've met who have been to most ‘anti-moralistic’ have, without thinking about it, invariably talked about right and wrong constantly and gotten very upset when people did something ‘wrong.’

But I think Kant is a little out there on why we have this desire. It's clearly not something we're born with; children have an interestingly unique and direct experience with the universe, but that's partially because they haven't really developed moral and social senses, and we know that there are cases in which growing children in difficult circumstances (like, say, abusive parents) will often end up ‘sociopaths,’ people who are indifferent to the harm or help they cause to others, and who therefore lack a moral sense.

In other words, I believe that the moral sense is something we develop as we're growing up and learning to experience human relationships directly. It is the duty we feel we owe for the benefits we receive from this relationship. Part of dignity, the easygoing confidence which underlies any comfort we feel in human interactions, is the knowledge that we are moral equals with the people we're connected to in society; when we feel as though that relationship is inequal, as though we are our companions' moral inferiors because we owe them a moral debt, we lose some of our dignity, and our interconnectedness with other human beings suffers.

I believe that our interconnectedness with other human beings is hard to overestimate; it's not some immanent, ghostly, spiritual thing so much as it's really the deepest source of pleasure and happiness we can have. When that relationship is disturbed in some small way, it can be righted in a similarly small way: we pay a fine for having cut someone off in traffic, we spend a night in jail for fighting in public, et cetera. The act of accepting punishment is a necessary emblem and statement: 'I have done wrong, and this is my way of setting the balance right.' When we do more and more terrible things, our dignity, or ability to interact happily and freely with other humans without being wracked with shame and guilt, dissipates even more. This guilt we feel is very real, and it is ‘socialised’ but only in the sense that we learn it as we're maturing; I don't believe there's ever been a culture that didn't produce humans with these characteristics.

So I believe that Bernie Madoff, even if he can't admit it to himself, is now and has for a long time been severely out of balance with all the human beings around him; and I don't doubt that this has caused him depression and anxiety for years. And, again, whether he himself knows it or not, the only thing that will help him salvage some of his dignity is the experience of accepting punishment from society.

A thief, a murderer, a con-man, or a rapist; each of these people has done something which undermines his or her ability to interact with other human beings and thus to be truly happy. The only way to begin to recover from that kind of blow is to face up to the crime and accept punishment.

Even the death penalty is justifiable as beneficial; there are certainly circumstances, very dire ones, in which human beings have utterly destroyed their ability to ever be happy in life again, such is the power and important of human interaction.
posted by koeselitz at 1:30 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


how can you justify this reading of Plato? (And why would you think of him as a theocrat?)

Plato supplies many different and contradictory views of the soul and the afterlife. You'll notice that Plato's Socrates always tells a mythic account of the afterlife when the logical flow of the conversation has broken down, when his interlocutor has shown himself to be unable to keep track of his own contradictions. At that point, I read Plato as depicting Socrates retreating to 'just so' mythic tales out of exasperation and in the hopes that he'll escape this conversation without running afoul of the law. The fact that the Phaedo has a deflationary account of the afterlife doesn't make it any more believable: Plato's Socrates couches his noble lies to his audience. What makes you think that Plato really meant it in the Phaedo rather than in one of the other dialogs?

What the hell is ‘metaphysical baggage’?

Well, I was referencing John Rawls' public reason doctrine, in which we ought to strive for publicly justifiable laws if we want to coerce our fellow citizens. We should have, or not have, the death penalty for reasons that are not contingent upon the fact that the majority of citizens are folksy Christians who believe in the afterlife where they think that the souls they dispatch can be relieved of the pain of hell if the suffer enough for their crimes here on earth. That's crazy talk and doesn't deserve to be the basis of just laws.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:55 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


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