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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Many Faces of Greed

There's a story in this morning's NY Times about Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities who developed a 'Ponzi scheme' which left his clients - many of them prestigious Charities - virtually penniless.

The Times reporter, along with other journalists, waited outside the NYC Courthouse where Madoff was expected to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of fraud. There was blood on the water. The news sharks could smell it as easily as the now scammed investors had once smelled the opportunity to make even more money.

Greed, apparently, has a particular odor, no matter what form it takes.

Here's the line that caught my attention: "By 7 a.m., a bustling line was indeed crowding Worth Street outside the courthouse, but it consisted mostly of bleary-eyed journalists hoping to identify, from a telltale cashmere scarf or well-preserved camel hair coat, a Madoff investor who might talk."

I suspect the journalist was oblivious to the irony in her own writing. There she was, at the crack of dawn, waiting amidst 'telltale cashmere scarfs or well-preserved camel hair coats' to catch a juicy story which would ensure that her paper would sell papers and she would earn her salary.

Newspapers that we buy, in part, because of our seemingly insatiable appetites to read stories with this kind of angle. I mean, it's the NY Times. The prestigious 'Old Gray Lady'. Not the NY Daily Post or the Inquirer or The Star. Apparently, the smell of blood on the water is particularly irresistible - no matter your education or class status.

It's a little like the pot calling the kettle beige, as it were, isn't it?

I'm sorry, but, with the exception of the Charities, I'm having a very hard time feeling sympathy for many of the investors who lost money in Madoff's Ponzi Scheme.

I'm told by those who know that there were long waiting lists of people trying to become members of the Country Club where Madoff was a member, just for the hope of perhaps running into him on the golf course or sipping wine at the Club House, to get in good with him and maybe, just maybe, get him to take them as his client.

Now, I don't have to tell you how much money you need to have to support a lifestyle that includes membership in an exclusive Country Club. Most of the readers in this neighborhood will never see the kind of money that involves that membership fee, much less the lifestyle that is part of the package deal.

And yet, the "Cashmere Scarf Set" saw an opportunity to make more, and worked hard just to get the chance to have at it.

No wonder many of them didn't show up at the sentencing hearing. Yeah, maybe they had had enough. And maybe, just maybe, they were embarrassed to show their faces.

Maybe, finally, it was too difficult to see the reflection of their own greed in the face of Bernard L. Madoff.

Madoff pleaded guilty to all the federal charges filed against him -- 11 felony counts, including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury, a list that could yield a prison sentence of 150 years. Madoff is 70 years old.

After the plea, Judge Denny Chin revoked the disgraced financier's bail, and Mr. Madoff was handcuffed and led off to jail.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches: “Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed”

Bernie may have a layover in prison before he enters the gates of hell, but I have a feeling he'll be so busy shaking hands with so many of his friends that he won't even notice he's burning.


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

FranIAm said...

Hell has three gates indeed. What a great commentary you have given us here Elizabeth.

Lately I have had a lot of conversations with my 12 yo stepdaughter about limits and so much of this was the desire for a life without material limits. Prudence got lost and with it dignity.

Lost in Texas said...

I wonder if those "people who know" also told you about Myron baradon, 91, who last his life savings to this scam, or Ben Lomond 90, who has just ngome back to work at as a sacker at a grocery store because of Madoff, of or the towm of Fairfield CT., or Ira Roths mom, 86, who was living off her investments, or hi sons whe were in college because of their fathers investments, or the novelist Alexandra Perry, who lost everything, or the MILLIONS OF PEOPLE, including myself and my parents 79 and 75, who lost money because the IRAs, 401s and Mutual funds they were invested in were in some way tied to Bernard Madoff. Your comments show a staggering bias against people who "invest" as if we are somehow worth less that the working stiffs. I am an attorney who manages the company that my father started. He was born in the dust bowl right after his father died. My brother is a doctor, who works 80 hours a week and doesn't get paid halfr the time by deadbeats who think " he is rich he can afford it" My family is comfartably upper middle class, I i don't think we should apologize to you ro anybody for buying a cashmere scarf or investing the hard earned fruits of our education and labor to make our lives and the lives of our children better. Since "comment moderation" is enabled, I doubt if this will be published, but let me ask you ad question there, Do you have any investments? Any nice clothes. Don' you have second home on the sea shore? Goodness, sounds sounds like the pot calling the kettle beige.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My apologies to you, Lost. My perspective is one of the wealthy folks on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan who have been paraded before us on local TV stations: mostly aged, botoxed-to-the-max dowagers in their Vintage Calvin Kleins or Caroline Herrara's sitting in front of an original oil painting. That's the image of the Madoff 'victim' we've been fed here in the NE. Again, my apologies to you - my staggering bias against greedy people was obviously showing.