Bernie Madoff sentencing: Yesterday's news, today!

Columbus Park, located across the street from Daniel J. Moynihan federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, is the perfect place for a protest: nicely shaded, with plenty of green space and easy access to snack carts and restaurants. It practically begs to be filled with angry citizens carrying placards and petitioning the government for theredress of grievances.

At 10 a.m., as sentencing commenced for Bernie Madoff, prisoner number 61727-054, the park was sparsely populated with hoops-shooting kids from Chinatown and members of the news media cooling their heels. The lone protester, Al Lavery, is something of a professional. A former carpenter and amateur photographer, he usually hawks his handpainted bull statues and self-published book on Wall Street. Today, he made an appearance at the Madoff sentencing, where he boomed: "This is a kangaroo court, a sham!"
Still, Al makes great copy, and reporters eagerly thronged around him, taking pictures of his cart and trying to goad him into making fun quotes. This is completely understandable: there was almost nothing to report on. Far from inspiring protest, the Madoff sentencing inspired an eloquent disinterest as the general public largely ignored the court drama. Later, when Miriam Siegman, one of Madoff's victims, left the court early, she was quickly buried under a dogpile of reporters, eager to find something -- anything -- worthy for their editors.

Siegman, who claims to have lost her life savings, expressed regret that Madoff's plea bargain negated the need for a trial. As she put it, if there had been a trial, "at least there would have been a chance for a change." As it stands, however, she seemed convinced that the system that enabled Madoff to commit his crimes is still intact.

When Madoff's sentence came down, there was a brief shuffle of interest as the news quickly traveled through the crowd. The general feeling seemed to be that 150 years was both excessive and oddly insufficient. While the image of Madoff's bones bleaching in a dusty cell for the next century and a half provides some small feeling of justice, the reality is that he will probably only serve 10 years of his time behind bars, after which he will end up in a small, lonely grave, presumably with a bargain-priced headstone. His crimes -- and his punishment -- are both outrageously outsized and sadly small.

Perhaps the most fitting judgment is that Madoff, the criminal mastermind who stole an estimated $65 billion from hundreds of investors, has become yesterday's news. The public's Madoff fatigue is palpable, and is perhaps best demonstrated by today's general disinterest in his sentencing. This tale, which transfixed the public a mere three months ago, has now been overtaken by car manufacturer bankruptcies and bailouts, ever-rising unemployment, and a new regulatory fever that seems to be tearing its way through the financial industry's corridors of power.

As for Bernie, he's old news: yesterday's headline, and today's birdcage liner. For a man who tried so hard to be the center of every room and the hero of every party, perhaps that's the biggest punishment of all.
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