Are symbolism and revenge part of justice?

madoff2Extraordinary evil. That’s how the judge described the actions of Bernard Madoff, before sentencing the convicted fraudster to 150 years behind bars.

There’s no doubt that Madoff has ruined countless lives with his litany of lies over decades. There have even been suicides attributed to the damage he caused.

But would you call it “extraordinary evil”? – words more often used to describe rapists, pedophiles and murderers, who often face lesser sentences. It’s a point raised by this blogger who says “Madoff is the biggest con artists to ever hit Wall Street, leaving financial victims everywhere. But worse than a child molester?”Some are pointing out that 150 years behind bars is clearly symbolic, which was also picked up by Nigel who responded to our blog post yesterday: “What a ridiculous sentence 150 years! Madoff doesn’t have 15 years left to live so obviously the sentence is designed to appease the howling mobs much like sacrificing a gladiator in days long gone”.

On the other hand, others say the lengthy sentence sends an important message.

But 150 years wasn’t enough for “Truckirwin” who responded to our blog post with “Put him out on the street with no clothes, without a cent. Let him freeze in the night while begging for scraps and rummaging through the garbage”.

Do you think the judge got it right? Will the sentence serve as a deterrant to other would-be fraudsters? Or is the sentence an appeasement for those calling for revenge? And, if so, is revenge a necessary part of doing justice?

18 Responses to “Are symbolism and revenge part of justice?”

  1. 1 RightPaddock
    June 30, 2009 at 10:41

    Yesterday in New York, Bernie Madoff (71) sat in the dock as he was sentenced to 150 years for defrauding a lot of rich people of billions of their dollars.

    Yesterday in Phnom Penh, Kaing Guek Eav (66) sat in the dock listening to Chum Mey (79) testifying of the torture he suffered in the S21detention centre in 1975.

    Kaing Guek Eav was the commandant of S21, where 17,000 men, women and children were tortured and killed – there are just 4 survivors alive today!

    If Bernie Madoff’s crime was one of extraordinary evil, then how are we to characterise the crimes of Kaing Guek Eav (Brother Duch)?

  2. 2 Nigel
    June 30, 2009 at 12:18

    There can be no justice if the system is driven by revenge, a wish to see victims get money, or a wish to support a political agenda especially a populist agenda at a time when an economomy ain’t going well. Turning a perp’ into a victim in not good sense.

  3. 3 Ann
    June 30, 2009 at 12:57

    It’s not the symbolism that concerns me, nor the idea that Madoff will spend the rest of his life in prison – perhaps he can use that time to familiarise himself with the suffering of his victims.

    But what DOES bother me is that there are countless thousands of people (politicians, bankers, hedge funds managers, so called regulators, rich greedy investors, indeed the entire free market system) who CREATED, ENCOURAGED and ENABLED fraud like this to happen in the first place! They should be proud of how well Madoff pulled it off for years!

    Madoff is not the personification of evil; certainly he is no more evil than all the rests of them. He just got caught.

    I’d like to see the others held accountable for their actions, including all the neoconservatives like Thatcher and all her American allies who began this process years ago.

    ps (preparing myself for the backlash that will inevitably come my way)

  4. 4 patti in cape coral
    June 30, 2009 at 12:58

    Mr. Madoff did a terrible thing, but I have been uneasy with the way his victims characterize him. To me, extraordinary evil involves violence, taking of lives, sadism of the worst kind, as RightPaddock states above.

    As far as the people who committed suicide over losing their money, what a pathetic waste. Killing yourself over losing money? Of all the dumb reasons to kill yourself, that has to be the worst (if there are any good reasons).

    I don’t understand why the victims can’t get some money back, wasn’t at least a portion of it insured? Can’t they sell off Madoff’s assets? After all, he isn’t going to need them anymore.

  5. 5 Denise in Chicago
    June 30, 2009 at 14:11

    Rather than use the word “revenge” I would say that “punishment” is part of justice, and that is as it should be. If one commits unlawful acts that harm someone else, then yes, they must be punished. Not sure if Madoff is evil, but his actions are.

  6. June 30, 2009 at 15:25

    Extraordinary evil is reserved, in my mind, for deeds against children, the elderly, and for vicious and heinous physical and mental torture. I really kind of like the thought of him on the streets penniless, cold, and dumpster diving to survive. It is true that he is the “token” bad guy and countless others just didn’t get caught. Which is the way it is in the world today. I question as Patti did, why some victims can’t get some money back. All I can think is the government is probably pocketing it. I am amazed that all of a “sudden” (ha ha) the government is totally in debt and still handing out millions to other countries; that California is about to go bankrupt, and that all these companies who got bailouts are going bankrupt, the interest is going up and people still can’t get loans to stop the foreclosures. OUR world leaders have bent us over again and again. The problem is to protest means to go against government weapons! That’s a loosing situation for the peoples. I like your readers and I like this blog. Thanks for turning me on to it.

  7. 7 Peter_scliu
    June 30, 2009 at 16:06

    Harsh penalties is about deterrence not vengeance.

  8. 8 globalcomedy
    June 30, 2009 at 16:16

    Can anyone honestly say that NO symbolism would be in this sentence?

    We all know that there was enormous pressure to make an example of Madoff. The judge is well-known for giving out the maximum sentence. What’s really important is if others will be prosecuted as well. Many of Obama’s economic advisors played a part in the global meltdown. Why not hold them responsible as well? Or, is that just too upsetting to deal with?

    June 30, 2009 at 17:36

    Money can not disappear and Maddof has no capacity to consume all that haul he ripped off alone. He cannot eat money for heavens sake and if he can that’s a that was a huge loot.
    Symbolism is used to cheat the now dejected victims; some of who have ended their lives through despair. 99% of cases wounding in courts end either with a fine paid to the government or a jail term where the convict serves the state while in prison. What if that convict had slapped someone? Do we then say that it was the government that was slapped and what reason has the offended individual to rejoice and claim that justice is done. To whom is it done?

    The laws we are using in all English speaking countries are derived from the English laws. But how did the English get them? They in turn inherited them from the Romans when they colonized Britain. They were designed to keep the imperial Rome rich by exploiting the colonized citizens whenever they made any nuisance against the state or against each other. In simple terms, it means that, in the invent of any offense against your neighbor, the state gets richer and thus you get deceived that justice has been done.

    Maddof is just an accomplice in this horrendous game of fleecing the citizen that has officially been condoned in this so called civilization. Ironically, the rest of the gang is out ready to waylay the gullible citizens who are ever lured through glossy publications. There is not justice.

  10. 10 viola
    June 30, 2009 at 18:31

    The world needs to come to grips with financial fraud. Most of the time, it is viewed as a “high-class” crime that is not on a par with low-class crimes like murder, rape, and pedophilia and is punished rather mildly.

    However, scapegoats are needed for the current financial mess that was actually caused by many factors and by many people who have no scruples or who are able to justify their crazy desires to succeed no matter what the costs to others. Madoff serves that function well, as he was caught. I’m sure other scoundrels are hoping that this high profile case will take the heat off them.

    Financial fraud not evil? Come on, of course it is. It isn’t necessary to compare it to other heinous crimes to come to that conclusion. Consider the children and the grandchildren of the people who were defrauded and how their inheritances evaporated in the heat of Madoff’s and others’ cynical disregard for any but their own interests. Those who identify with and root for suave con artists in movies and in real life should question their admiration for such people.

    • 11 RightPaddock
      July 1, 2009 at 13:57

      @viola, & others who insist that fraud is evil, please give me another word to characterise the crimes committed by and on behalf of Pol Pot, Mladich, Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc.

      The children and grandchildren of the defrauded have the opportunity to regain their families fortunes. Their forebears chose to give their money to Madoff; nobody, not even the SEC, forced them to do so.

      The children & grandchildren exterminated in death camps, or those never born (because their potential ancestors were exterminated) have been denied their right to even have a family.

      Some words such as evil, genocide and hero must be used sparingly (IMO “hero” should only be used to describe those who risk their lives so as to protect the lives of others).

  11. 12 Tom D Ford
    June 30, 2009 at 19:25

    When you consider the Anti-Regulation Free Market Conservative Republicans, you realize that Bernard Madoff is the perfect embodiment of that ideal!

    Madoff was so against Regulations that he just ignored them and operated by his own rules, he worked his own Free Market!

    Bernard Madoff is what the Conservative Republican Free Market Anti-Regulators look like if they are allowed to get their way.

    Bernard Madoff ruined the lives of many many people just like Conservative Republicans have ruined the lives of many people in our current Re-Depression. And Ronald Reagan did the same with his De-Regulation of the Savings and Loans.

    Bernard Madoff, Ronald Reagan, and Senator Lindsey Graham who pushed through the 1999 law against regulating Derivatives are all peas in a pod, they are Conservative Republican examples of what is wrong with the US, Free Market De-Regulator ideologues.

  12. 13 Jonnan
    July 1, 2009 at 02:49

    I’m not sure I agree with the concept of placing a price tag on human life.

    Nonetheless, it is a common court practice – there is a maximum civil penalty for a corporation that causes a disability, maims, or even kills someone. Whether I have agreed with it or not, the U.S. court system has established that the value of a life is financially measurable, indeed that to assess damages in excess of that amount for ‘merely’ killing someone qualifies as ‘cruel and unusual’.

    That being the case . . . no, I don’t mind that the conversion of human life to financial value should work the other way as well. When a man destroys this much in savings, the courts should recognize that he has done that much damage to human lives. There are thousand of people that would have been able to put their kids through college, retire early, start a business, et al, that will not be able to do that, just as thoroughly as if Bernie Madoff had shot the family breadwinner.

    I can empathize even with a man that has killed in order to feed his family. Even with a person who’s life is so painful that drugs seems a reasonable escape.

    But for a man of wealth, who either made no consideration of the lives he was destroying, or took that into consideration, and did it anyway, happy to benefit from the destruction he wrought?

    If you can find a way to distinguish that mindset from simple ‘evil’, by all means, I would be interested in hearing it.

  13. July 1, 2009 at 09:00

    Revenge cannot be served as justice. It is either you serve justice or you serve revenge.

  14. 15 RightPaddock
    July 1, 2009 at 13:10

    If you’re wondering where the money’s gone?

    After up-front fees it was returned to the punters in the form of “dividends”.

    A Ponzi scheme is one in which “dividends” are paid from the accumulated principal funds, rather from earnings. It requires an ever increasing flow of new money from more & more punters in order to keep the scheme going. One source of new investments is of course the “dividends” paid on prior “investments”. These schemes always offer unrealistic dividends (I think Madoff offered 30%pa) and unattainable consistency so as to attract new money.

    A Ponzi scheme is a bit like a casino, but most of us don’t expect to win and certainly not over the longer term when we play the tables; even professional gamblers only expect to earn single digit earnings over the longer term.

  15. 16 somany
    July 1, 2009 at 14:25

    Yeah sure extraordinarily evil.

    Most of his “victims” were victims of their own greed as much as victims of Madoff.

    They were all in it together.

  16. 17 Tom D Ford
    July 1, 2009 at 19:59

    @ Jonnan
    July 1, 2009 at 02:49

    Well written.

  17. 18 Dennis Junior
    July 7, 2009 at 16:31

    Yes, I think that the Judge in Madoff case got the punishment accurate and the corrective sentence…

    ~Dennis Junior~

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: