Bernie Madoff got 150 years in prison Monday, but it’s not what he deserved. Federal sentencing guidelines wouldn’t allow any more prison time for Madoff’s crime, and it’s against the law to simply turn someone over to those he has victimized.
Even so, there were cheers from some of Madoff’s former clients when a federal judge sentenced him to 150 years in the slammer for bilking thousands out of $50 billion over a 20-year period — slightly more than the 12 years his lawyer requested in a hopeless bid for leniency.
Certainly, Madoff is the poster example of criminal greed on Wall Street. That he wasn’t caught until last year has prompted calls for greater regulation. That’s understandable, but it’s impossible to devise a fool-proof regulatory system to trap rats like Bernard Madoff. Blind spots in the system should be fixed, but ultimately one of the biggest deterrents to another Madoff is Madoff: his punishment, his shame, his wrecked life. Swindlers and con men will always be around the money. Every now and then they get caught.
News that baseball players union chief Donald Fehr plans to retire by next March won’t be greeted by sorrow in the executive offices and board rooms of the individual major league clubs. Over a 30-plus-year career with the players association, the last 25 as its leader, Fehr chiseled a reputation as a humorless, tough negotiator totally devoted to the people signing his paycheck, the ballplayers. That focus translated into a rise in the average player’s salary from $289,000 in 1983 to $2.9 million last year, according to the Associated Press. The players will be hard-pressed to get someone as hard-edged working for them after Fehr leaves.
The flip side to Fehr were player strikes, one of which wrecked the 1994 season and resulted in cancellation of the World Series that year. Fehr also spearheaded general player opposition to drug testing until 2002, which helped enable a long-running steroids scandal that will trouble baseball for years to come. Understandably, player salaries and their privacy rights were Fehr’s primary concern, not the game’s fans. As such the reviews on Fehr’s contributions are likely to be mixed.
New polling suggests the shelf life of the Obama administration’s “Blame Bush” strategy might be nearly up. Over his first five months in office, President Barack Obama has found traction in blaming the Bush administration for the economy. But a Rasmussen Reports survey finds 39 percent of voters say current economic problems result from Obama’s policies, a 12-point jump from last month. While 54 percent say current conditions result from the recession Obama inherited from Bush, that’s down eight points from early June. According to Rasmussen, twice as many respondents (60 percent to 30 percent) trust their own economic judgment more than Obama’s. In February 49 percent trusted themselves while 39 trusted the president.
It’s said taxes are eternal. Maybe not all of them. In an about-face the Obama administration has decided to back repeal of a mostly-ignored 1989 tax on the personal use of company cell phones. Just last week the IRS put out feelers on ways the law might be enforced. Instead, what the agency got was heat from businesses and individuals. Now it’s backing off. Good move. The tax is hard for people to calculate given today’s varied cell phone usages and even harder to enforce. It’s a relic of a time when cell phones were a perk for upwardly mobile Americans. That era obviously has passed, and so should the tax.
The David Letterman-Sarah Palin kerfuffle over a coarse joke the late-night comic told about one of her daughters, apparently is at an end — Alaska’s governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee accepting the “Late Show” host’s apology.
Letterman’s mea culpa during Monday’s show was extraordinary in substance and tone. “The joke, really, in and of itself, can’t be defended,” Letterman said of his monologue crack about one of Palin’s daughters having sex with a New York Yankees player. He apologized to two of Palin’s daughters — he said the joke referred to 18-year-old Bristol but a number of people assumed it was aimed at 14-year-old Willow — and to the governor. “I’m really sorry about it, and I’ll try to do better in the future,” he said.
Good enough. At least for Gov. Palin, who accepted Letterman’s apology Tuesday “on behalf of all young women.” Not good enough for conservative talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who suggested Letterman was sorrier for the heat he was getting from viewers and advertisers than anything else.
Yet Palin obviously did the right thing. Letterman’s apology sounded and looked genuine. And he issued it during his show, which is pretty significant. Palin could have continued to play the injured party, but being gracious is far more becoming.
“I don’t know anything about cars.” Uh, not exactly what you want to hear from the guy who’s going to lead General Motors when it emerges from bankruptcy protection later this summer. Former AT&T chief Edward E. Whitacre Jr. admits he’s not a car guy, but the man known as “Big Ed” figures business is business, and he was pretty good at it over a 43-year career. The White House is confident Whitacre will do fine, noting that Ford’s current CEO, Alan Mulally, came from Boeing. Still, taxpayers jumpy over the public investment in GM — $20 billion already and another $30 billion to come — must hope Whitacre studies up a bit before he officially takes over. GM can’t afford any more missteps.
D-Day plus-65 years will be marked by ceremonies across the world today — none more physically and spiritually linked to the Allied landings on Normandy’s beaches than the one scheduled at the U.S. military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, where more than 9,000 white crosses and Stars of David overlook Omaha Beach.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other dignitaries. Obama’s grandfather and great uncle both made Normandy landings, though not on D-Day itself. They followed thousands of American soldiers, who with British, Canadian and Free French troops, began rolling back German forces that had held France throughout World War II.
Americans might be surprised at how grateful Normandy’s French remain, 65 years later. The political differences France and the U.S. have had the past six decades have not diminished their love and affection and memory of what the G.I.s did on D-Day. “When you are 4 or 5 years old, and your parents and your grandparents tell you about this, it sticks with you,” 42-year-old Benoit Noel told The Washington Post. “Everybody in Normandy remembers the landing. We know what the Americans did for us. We haven’t forgotten.”
Memories of war, the specific battles and instances of heroism, fade with the passing of the veterans who lived them. But the cemeteries remain — stone markers on lush green lawns, testifying to the great clash of armies and to the changing of history’s course, which is D-Day’s enduring significance.
The New York Times’ standing ovation for President Barack Obama’s speech to Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, praised Obama for departing from “eight years of arrogance and bullying that has turned even close friends against the United States,” an obvious shot at the Bush administration. Interesting. You’ve got to wonder how Israel feels after the pummeling — bullying? — it has taken from the Obama team the past several weeks over its settlements — which syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer argues is a phony issue. Of all the Middle East parties, the only one singled out by Obama for specific action was Israel: stop building the settlements. Not a specific word in Obama’s speech about Egypt’s closed political system or Saudi Arabia’s top-heavy monarchy. Just Israel, commanded by its democratic ally to cease and desist. Talk about turning your friends against you.
They unveiled President Ronald Reagan’s statute in the U.S. Capitol rotunda this week in a ceremony that also honored his widow, former first lady Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan, 87, was obviously moved when a curtain fell away to reveal the seven-foot-tall likeness of her beloved “Ronnie.” The Washington Post said she reached out and touched the statue’s knee. It was her second public appearance in Washington in connection with her husband, who died in 2004. Earlier she was present as President Barack Obama signed legislation creating the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission, which will plan activities to commemorate the 40th president’s 100th birthday in 2011. Back to the statue. The Post reports it bore the “trademark twinkle of a movie star who understood the power of humor in politics.” A Republican congressman’s assessment was simpler: Reagan’s statue is smiling — unlike so many in his party these days — reflecting the optimism that endeared him to Americans.
“GM Collapses Into Government’s Arm,” screamed a headline in The Wall Street Journal. “A Saga of Decline and Denial,” said another Journal headline. But the headline that really caught our attention was published in the New York Times a week before General Motors’ bankruptcy filing on Monday: “Auto Troubles Touch Many Concerns; Bankruptcy For G.M. Would Tax The Experts.” The story says GM’s troubles are bad for workers and execs, “but it will be putting a lot of lawyers to work.” The government bailout and subsequent bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler could be called the Lawyers Full Employment Act of 2009 - President Obama’s gift to the legal industry. Other booms from GM’s bust will benefit hotels and restaurants near the New York bankruptcy court handling the case. “For law firms,” the Times noted, “big bankruptcies can be very lucrative.” Taxpayers take note: We’re sending lawyers tubs of money to rescue another corporate giant.