Will Madoff Sentence Deter Future Hustlers?

As the world watches cheap hustlers trying to pimp off the name, likeness, and legacy of Michael Jackson, it’s time to take a look at what happened to the world’s biggest hustler.

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He would be Bernard Madoff, and he’s been sentenced to 150 years in prison for running a multi billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Such was his betrayal of people like former baseball great Sandy Koufax, Larry King, John Malkovich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and literally hundreds of other just plain folks that he received not one letter of support prior to sentencing, not even from his family.

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What did Madoff’s victims have in common? They trusted him. Any hustler worth their salt will tell you trust is essential. In this case, they all wanted to make money, and lots of it. There were reports that Madoff promised some investors they’d make 35% on their money. That led one friend of mine to opine that he had no sympathy for the victims, none at all. “Who in their right mind would trust they’d get that kind of return? They were just plain greedy, straight up,” he sneered.

I don’t know if I’d go that far. However, it’s interesting to hear some of Madoff’s investors, people who lost their life savings so he could live large, take the government to task for not keeping a closer eye on what he was doing. Some of them, not all but some, don’t want the government involved in the financial markets in any way, shape, or form. Not, that is, unless they get burned by Bernie. Some victims said they didn’t even care about the money. They wanted a trial so the truth would come out.

While we don’t actually know the exact amount of money Madoff ripped off during the course of his lucrative hustle, we do know he’s been ordered to forfeit $171 billion dollars.

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His wife Ruth, who originally tried to protect $80 million dollars she said was hers alone, is now down to about $2.5 million. Worse yet for him, a growing number of prison experts think Bernie will do his time not in a country club style minimum security prison, but in a medium to high security facility.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times that as the world mourned Michael Jackson, the second most asked question of the weekend was “How much time ya think Madoff will get?” So now we know. Yet aside from any pity one might feel for those who lost their life savings, there’s a nagging feeling that the Madoff example won’t act as the strong deterrent US District Judge Denny Chin thought it might be.

Hustlers will always be among us, preying on some very basic human emotions. People will still get swindled, no matter how much time Bernie Madoff got.

Trust me on that one.

So, did Madoff get the right sentence, or was it too harsh? You tell me.

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Guns. Would You Pack Heat to Church?

I know the short answer to the above question for me. It’s no, not ever, no way. Yet in Louisville, Kentucky, an alleged man of the cloth, Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church, invited parishoners to bring guns to a special service this past weekend. It was billed as an “open carry celebration”, and it’s tough to figure out if this guy is simply publicity hungry or something much worse. How a God-fearing Christian can seriously advocate  such foolishness is beyond me.

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Ken Pagano has, of course, become a media sensation since word of his “bring your gun to church” celebration spread. To be fair, he didn’t allow loaded guns into New Bethel. It was, according to this theologian, a means to promote responsible gun ownership and firearms safety. Gee, I thought that’s what the NRA was supposed to be about. I guess I’m wrong on both counts. I also thought church was supposed to be about a lof of things other than packing heat to show you support the Second Amendment.

Pagano, for his part, has a ready explanation for this. “As a Christian, I believe, and as an American this country was founded on the deep-seated belief in God and firearms — without which we wouldn’t be here today.”

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This he said to (who else?) Fox News. At least 200 people agreed with him. That’s how many showed up to his “open carry celebration”. One would think the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller in a church might have given Pagano pause. Apparently not.

Now maybe New Bethel Church does some of the things I have come to believe are actions responsible Christians take. That would include feeding the hungry, looking after teen mothers, helping immigrants learn English, promoting racial and religious tolerance among all people, things like that. I know my church, imperfect though it may be, works at doing these things, and not just on Sunday. It just seems like promoting gun ownership would be pretty far down the list of priorities for most Christian institutions.

Like many other folks, Pagano cites a fear among his parishioners that President Obama will send the feds to their door, and confiscate their weapons. What shred of actual evidence they have of his intention to do that is between them and their Creator. So afraid are Pastor Pagano and his flock that he wants to see his “open carry celebration” become an annual national event.

Can I get a “God Forbid?” But seriously, would you every carry a weapon to your church, or mosque, or synagogue?

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Ever Think of your own Death?

The tragic death of music icon Michael Jackson at age 50 is for me the culmination of almost a week’s worth of contemplating life, and death.

It comes as I reflect on what one of my mentors told me once when  I off-handedly asked how he was doing. He replied, “You know, I used to go to lots of weddings. Now all I do is attend funerals. My friends are leaving me, one by one”. Michael Jackson is metaphor for people passing away before their time.

Like my mentor, my friends have been leaving me, one by one. In most cases, they are dying way too young. This was brought home to me by the picture below. It was taken almost 26 years ago. It’s a picture of a drum and bugle corps, the New York Skyliners.

skyliners_1983Look closely, and those of you who know me will see my smiling face. There are people in that picture that were some of my closest friends outside of family. After all, we marched together, laughed together, and yes, sometimes even fought with each other.

What struck me looking at that picture is that more than a dozen of those people are dead. Only one or two made it to age 60. Some died of heart attacks, including one who passed away two weeks ago. Several died of various forms of cancer. Suffice to say they fought their illness to the very end, with the dignity and strength that made our organization what it was. Another group died of complications from HIV-AIDS.

It’s in this context that Michael Jackson’s passing makes me so sad. He was, like so many of the Skyliners in that picture, younger than I am. Maybe it’s me, but I wonder how I made it this far, when so many others haven’t. What I’m about to write next is something I ordinarily wouldn’t share with people, because it’s so personal. It’s about a dream I had the other night.

In that dream, I was with a lot of the people that are in that Skyliners photo. We  were all laughing, joking, goofing just as we did in 1983. I was as happy as I could be, thinking those dozen or so people weren’t really dead, not gone from my life. I won’t bother with names, since few of you would know them if I did. But they were a colorful, integrated, wonderful bunch of people. I said to one of them, “Geez, it’s great you guys aren’t really dead”!

He turned to me and said, “No, man, we are dead. I guess you don’t realize, you’re dead too”. At that point I awoke with a start. I’d never dreamt of being dead before. I was lucky to have an understanding wife to help me try and make sense of it all. Yet in the days since the dream, others have passed away, including one young man of 42, who we would run into periodically at family gatherings. He died Tuesday, his heart stopped beating on a basketball court.

I could write here about the need for people to look after their health, about diet and exercise and the like. It would all be true. Then I look at that picture, look at myself smiling and seemingly care-free. I look at others, some laughing, some stoic, too many gone.

And then, I think of Michael Jackson. Do you?

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