Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Humiliation and Personal Integrity

Bernie Madoff's wife says that she and her husband attempted suicide.

This is one of the stories that shows up among the "top stories" on Google News tonight.  Really?  The "shocking" confession that the man caught in the biggest Ponzi scheme ever tried to kill himself--3 years ago--is top news?

Let's examine this, ignoring the fact that, in other news (which does NOT show up in the top 6 stories in US news), peaceful protesters are being arrested for "unlawful assembly."

Bernie Madoff founds an investment securities firm in 1960 from money he earned doing, among other things, installing sprinkler systems.  The business does well, and even contributes to the technology to the creation of NASDAQ.  But, Bernie couldn't leave well enough alone.  He invents a way to make more money by being paid by third parties to be influenced on how he places stock orders for his clients.  In other words, he gets to make money not only from his clients on trades, but also by being told (without his clients' input or knowledge) HOW he makes those trades.  So far, questionable, but legal.  That's still not enough, though.  In 1991, he starts with some creative accounting, failing to even make any actual investments for his clients.  In the meanwhile, his kids are brought into the business.  Whether they knew it or not, they are also involved in defrauding investors.  Everything supposedly comes to a head when Bernie confesses to his son, Mark, that the whole thing is a sham.  It becomes clear that investors in Bernie's Ponzi scheme are billions of dollars short.  In the fallout, Bernie is arrested, his sons are found to owe millions of dollars, his sons, brother, and niece are caught up in litigation, and Mark ends his life.    

His wife says, three years after the supposed attempt at suicide:“I don’t know whose idea it was, but we were both so saddened by everything that had happened. It was unthinkable to me: hate mail, phone calls, lawyers.”

Wait, what?

Now, I could understand his wife suddenly being caught up in something she didn't expect.  All the success and was an illusion.  One moment you're bathing in green, and the next you find you didn't have anything and people are harassing you and you didn't do anything.  (Presuming she didn't know what was going on.)  I can feel for her to some degree.

But Bernie?  He was sad that he got hate mail and phone calls and had to deal with lawyers.  So, he wanted to kill himself.

At what point does a person decide, after swindling people (many members of his own family) out of BILLIONS of dollars, that he's a big enough douche to commit suicide?  He wasn't a big enough douche for simply diverting peoples' money into his bank account?  He wasn't a big enough douche for entangling his children, brother, and niece?  He wasn't a big enough douche when he confessed to his son, and laying the burden of his guilt upon his own child to either turn him in or not, probably ultimately leading to his son's suicide?

No.  His life was only fit to be terminated when he became sad for being caught.

He didn't succeed, though.  And, depending on your view, that's probably good.

Still...that Bernie tried to kill himself 3 years ago is top news?  I'd say it's a slow news day.  But I know better.