Bernard Madoff is, by his own admission, a despicable human being. Here’s the opening paragraph of his statement on sentencing:
Your Honor, for many years up until my arrest on December 11, 2008, I operated a Ponzi scheme through the investment advisory side of my business, Bernard L. Madoff Securities LLC, which was located here in Manhattan, New York at 885 Third Avenue. I am actually grateful for this first opportunity to publicly speak about my crimes, for which I am so deeply sorry and ashamed. As I engaged in my fraud, I knew what I was doing was wrong, indeed criminal. When I began the Ponzi scheme I believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients from the scheme. However, this proved difficult, and ultimately impossible, and as the years went by I realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come. I am painfully aware that I have deeply hurt many, many people, including the members of my family, my closest friends, business associates and the thousands of clients who gave me their money. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done. I am here today to accept responsibility for my crimes by pleading guilty and, with this plea allocution, explain the means by which I carried out and concealed my fraud.
You can read the whole confession at the AP site, here.
Well, I’m glad he’s finally decided to be transparent. Yes, it’s far too little, too late. But it’s better than we ever got from Ken Lay…or for that matter, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the other war criminals who brought us knowingly into war on false pretenses. They don’t seem to believe in admitting even mistakes, let alone frauds. And let’ face it–the cost of our fraudulent entry into Iraq has been far worse than the $65 billion that Madoff scammed. Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes put the cost at a jaw-dropping three trillion–that’s 46 Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes, and that doesn’t even count the human cost of the dead and the wounded and the broken families and those raised to commit terror to avenge the injustice they’ve experienced at the hands of the US.
When Bush was asked in 2004 what his biggest mistake had been since 9/11, he was unable to come up with an answer. Does that mean Iraq was a fully deliberate decision? And since that time, the litany of mistakes–or, Heaven help us, deliberately wrecking things–includes Katrina, wiretapping, attrition of civil liberties, blatant cronyism, and trashing the economy. Still no apology, not even an admission of being wrong.
So on that level, Madoff’s sudden case of candor is refreshing, if somewhat disingenuous. But I draw the line at “I knew what I was doing was wrong, indeed criminal. When I began the Ponzi scheme I believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients from the scheme. However, this proved difficult, and ultimately impossible.”
Hello! Where’s the personal responsibility here? It continued, because Mr. Madoff knowingly allowed it to continue. At any point, he could have stopped the juggernaut, admitted guilt, repaid the stolen money, and maybe served five or ten years in prison. In what way was he unable to stop? I don’t buy the argument that he was helpless in the matter, any more than I buy the argument that a wife-beater can’t seek help and stop committing violence. Help is available from lots of places, but it all starts with number one: take responsibility for your behavior.