washingtonpost.com
Bernie's Wife Bails

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 9:30 AM

Get this: Ruth Madoff feels "betrayed" by her husband's heinous crimes. Welcome to the club, lady.

Is there anyone out there who wouldn't hope that Bernie Madoff could somehow serve every one of the 150 years to which he was sentenced yesterday?

Michael Jackson continues to be the hot story, but Madoff remains the symbol of a crooked financial system that did real harm to so many innocent people. While we have no way of holding Lehman or Bear or AIG accountable for utterly reckless conduct, Madoff is a person who knowingly ripped off the friends, clients, organizations and charities that were foolish enough to trust him and not question the impressive returns year after year.

So here comes Mrs. Madoff, who's lived a mighty nice life on the ill-gotten gains, issuing a statement that "the man who committed his horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years."

Translation: Don't blame me. Also, don't charge me.

"Not a day goes by when I don't ache over the stories that I have heard and read," she says. But she waited months to express that concern. And she was not so overcome by concern that she could go before the cameras, where victims were being interviewed, and deliver the remarks herself. No, it came through a carefully worded statement.

I suspect Ruth has a new PR adviser.

A judge has already stripped her of $80 million in assets, including the $7 million Manhattan penthouse apartment, leaving her with $2.5 million. And she chooses now to say she's "embarrassed and ashamed" of the man who provided her with great wealth.

Did she have any inkling of what was going on? I'm not expecting Ruth Madoff to grant any interviews as she tries to draw a bit of public sympathy.

In case you missed this piece:

"She used to get foil highlights every six weeks -- her shade is Soft Baby Blonde, and she was religious about color -- but the last time she called her Manhattan salon, Pierre Michel on East 57th Street, she was told not to return. 'I understand,' she said, according to the salon's co-owner."

Or this one: As Ruth Madoff swept into Palm Beach last month with a quintet of girlfriends, her $7,500 Birkin bag dangling, her husband's 74-year-old sister, who was ruined by Bernie's scam, was watering plants and driving people to the airport just to make ends meet.

"Excoriated for an 'extraordinarily evil' and unprecedented fraud, Bernard Madoff was sentenced yesterday to 150 years in prison -- a term usually reserved for terrorists, traitors and mass murderers," the New York Post gloats.

You may recall that the Securities and Exchange Commission was warned about Madoff, took a cursory look and wound up doing squat. That forms the backdrop for this USA Today story:

"After hailing Bernard Madoff's 150-year prison sentence, some of his former investment clients intensified criticism of what they termed an equally tough adversary -- the government systems charged with stopping financial scam artists and reimbursing its victims.

"Rallying outside a Manhattan federal courthouse Monday, about 20 ex-clients who together lost millions to Madoff said they have been victimized by inadequate oversight before the fraud collapsed in December and questionable decisions and slowness in the ensuing repayment process."

But the NYT's Joe Nocera tells the victims to get over it:

"The S.E.C.'s negligence notwithstanding, shouldn't the Madoff victims have to bear at least some responsibility for their own gullibility? Mr. Madoff's supposed results -- those steady, positive returns quarter after blessed quarter -- is a classic example of the old saw, 'when something looks too good to be true, it probably is.' What's more, most of the people investing with Mr. Madoff thought they had gotten in on something really special; there was a certain smugness that came with thinking they had a special, secret deal not available to everyone else. Of course, it turned they were right -- they did have a special deal. It just wasn't what they expected.

"Outside the courthouse today, television reporters interviewed victims, all eager to tell their tales of woe. And their stories, in many cases, truly are heart-wrenching. Hopes and dreams have evaporated. Homes have been lost. Retirees are having to take minimum-wage jobs. Their anger at Mr. Madoff is understandable, to say the least. But to see them lash out at Irving Picard, the bankruptcy trustee, made me realize that too many of them still seem to think that someone should have to make them whole. The whole point about Ponzi schemes is that there is not enough money to make anybody whole -- they were robbed, pure and simple, and the government is not in the business of reimbursing for robberies."

Pleading for Patience

Obama hasn't done much for the gay community, so yesterday he offered warm words:

"Facing a political backlash from an important voting bloc," the L.A. Times reports, "President Obama met with leaders of the gay and lesbian community Monday, asking for patience and assuring them that in time he will usher in policy changes that protect them from discriminatory treatment.

" 'We've been in office six months now,' the president said. 'I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.'

"Obama is under mounting pressure to fulfill campaign promises to repeal laws barring gays from serving openly in the military and proclaiming marriage to be a union between a man and a woman. . . .

"But afterward, some guests echoed a point made by Obama: What matters is not supportive rhetoric, but concrete steps toward fuller equality."

He's Okay, You're Not

Meant to get to this intriguing piece by Politico's Eamon Javers last week:

"Let's be honest: Barack Obama is better than you are.

"He's a better father -- taking breaks from running the world to cheer on his daughters at soccer and basketball games.

"He's a better husband -- zipping his wife off for dinner in New York and Paris.

"He's got a better diet -- nibbling on vegetables from his homegrown garden to keep his love handles in check.

"And he's got a terrific jump shot.

"You? Not so much.

"Call it the politics of personal perfection. The Barack Obama brand is as much about being a personal example to the nation as it is about being a political figure. But the danger of that frothy mix of glamour and domesticity is that President Obama could become in the public mind something he never sought to be: the Martha Stewart of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

"And political veterans say the fine line between what's inspiring and what's annoying can be difficult to spot in advance."

I think it would become aggravating only if people are ticked off at him for other reasons.

The Economy, Stupid

He may not be so okay if the economy doesn't turn around, argues Carl Cannon in Politics Daily:

"Someday quite soon, like maybe tomorrow, this mess of an economy will belong to Barack Obama and his administration. He will own it, not his predecessor. This is as it must be -- we only have one president at a time -- and public-opinion polls suggest that millions of Americans feel that this is already the case, their numbers increasing with each new round of the deteriorating economic news that has greeted each of Obama's five-plus months in office.

"While that's not a long time to alter the course of the world's largest economy, it is long enough for Americans to start to wonder if Obama and the ruling Democrats in Congress have the answers -- or, even more ominously, whether their prescription has made things worse.

"On Inauguration Day 2009, the unemployment rate stood at 7.2 percent, while the declining Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 8281. An estimated 45.7 million Americans did not have health insurance, and 7.6 million American families were below the poverty line. The federal budget deficit for 2009 was projected to be a record $1.2 trillion.

"Today, the Dow is a tad higher, while the uninsured numbers have not appreciably changed. The federal deficit has soared, as have the unemployment figure, which stands at 9.4 percent, and rising. Obviously, the budget is the variable that a president has the most direct influence over, but it is those unemployment figures that are most disturbing. They drive every other national economic statistic in the wrong direction, inflict direct pain on American families, and signify the depth and duration of the nation's recession.

"Throughout almost all of George W. Bush's two terms in office, unemployment ranged between 4 percent and 6 percent."

That, of course, is before the banking system nearly collapsed.

Flip-Flop?

First the WP (and ProPublica) reported this:

"Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations."

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey likes the outcome -- "a rational processing of illegal combatants in wartime" -- but:

"Obama has essentially endorsed the detention policies of George Bush without the courtesy of apologizing for slandering him over the last two and a half years. Obama and his allies screeched endlessly about indefinite detentions, and not just in Gitmo, either. They specifically railed against the holding of terrorists without access to civil courts in military detention facilities around the world, specifically Bagram, but in general as well. Not even six months into his term of office, Obama realized that Bush had it right all along.

"Did he even have the grace to admit that? No. Instead, the White House took the cowardly method of a late-Friday leak to let people know that Obama had adopted the Bush policy all over again."

Going Rogue?

At the Daily Beast, Richard Wolffe says Daschle is off the reservation:

"He was supposed to be at the heart of the health-care debate, shuttling between his White House office, the halls of Congress, and his expansive Cabinet secretary's suite. Instead Tom Daschle, the former Democratic leader in the Senate and prominent advocate for health reform, is shaping the contentious debate through the advisory job that derailed his nomination as Obama's first pick for Health secretary. And it's a shape that the president doesn't currently accept . . .

"The reason he's not pleasing Obama right now: the reform blueprint he negotiated with two former GOP Senate leaders, Bob Dole and Howard Baker. It includes compromises that some Democrats, including several inside the White House, are still uncomfortable with.

"Daschle's big compromise was to weaken the so-called public option, making the federal government a fallback in case state governments fail to establish so-called insurance exchanges. Those exchanges are intended to allow patients to compare plans in a clear way, encouraging more competition between insurers to drive down costs.

"In return, Daschle felt that his Republican counterparts dropped their opposition to universal coverage, and especially mandates for companies and individuals--which would levy fees or taxes on those who don't offer coverage or take up insurance . . .

"White House insiders weren't necessarily expecting the South Dakota Democrat to carry their water. But after his nomination debacle, they weren't expecting major differences, either. Now there's a feeling that he's gotten out ahead of them."

The larger problem, says Nation Editor Katrina van den Heuvel, is reaching out to the GOP:

"The trick now is to ensure that 'centrist' Democrats (who, as Paul Krugman notes, 'are in fact way out in right field') pay more attention to the broad majority favoring a strong public option than to the wads of dough lavished on them by big Pharma and insurance lobbyists . . .

"It's time to part ways with obstructionist Republicans and pass a strong healthcare bill with a majority vote, which is possible if efforts cease to get a handful of Republicans to cross over. Redefining bipartisanship at a time when the GOP has become a male, pale and stale party committed to deficit demagoguery and fearmongering is the common sense and, I'd even argue, pragmatic course."

Given the way the debate is going, the Dems might have to push this through on a party-line vote. They got all of eight GOP votes in the House for cap and trade.

Family Affair

You may recall how, during the campaign, Rep. James Clyburn tilted away from Hillary and toward Obama in the South Carolina primary. Now the LAT reports:

"Last week, tucked inside a short announcement of White House nominations being sent to the Senate for confirmation was a little-noticed line: 'Mignon L. Clyburn, of South Carolina, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years.' Clyburn is the eldest daughter of James Clyburn and a member of South Carolina's Public Service Commission."

Where to Worship

Time says the Obamas have chosen a church -- the chapel at Camp David -- but Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody says that's not true. Time's Amy Sullivan stands by her story.

Novelist's Revenge

Alice Hoffman was less than pleased with Roberta Silman's Boston Globe review of her new novel. So, as Gawker reports, Hoffman went haywire on Twitter, writing: "Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books? And give the plot away."

And: "Now any idiot can be a critic."

And: "No wonder there is no book section anymore in the Globe -- they don't care about their readers, why should we care about them."

A trifle thin-skinned, perhaps?

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company