Category Archives: Bernie Madoff

Uncle Bernie’s Commencement Speech

To The Graduates Of The Class Of 2011:

You are here today at a critical crossroads of your life. For most of your 21 or more years you’ve been taught to work hard, obey the rules, listen with respect to your elders and to trust that every effort you make will receive an ample and just reward.

You recognize that sound, don’t you? A few of your parents and teachers couldn’t keep their opinions to themselves…but let’s examine the reasons behind their laughter.

Yes, I am afraid that for most of your life you’ve been handed a script from “Leave It To Beaver” and that all those wonderful principles I enumerated earlier—work hard, obey the rules, etc.—won’t take you very far down the Road of Life in today’s America. In fact, if you insist on playing by the rules and trusting in the fairness of others you’ll very quickly get run over and flattened like so much road kill on that very same Road of Life.

All across America speakers like me are admonishing new graduates like you to live up to principles that are no longer relevant or practical. Hollywood Hero Principles no longer acknowledged in today’s business world. Principles which, like fragile Louisiana marshlands, cannot survive today’s overwhelming inflow of dark, viscous wealth-making ideas and ventures.

Go ahead, take a deep breath and smell the oil vapors. That’s America! That’s your future! It ain’t roses but it’s sure sweet!

Yes, other commencement speakers would tell you to work hard, play fair and be nice as you emerge from college to make your way in the world. I’m here to advise you to look both ways before crossing the street and to pick the other guy’s pocket before he picks yours.

Those other commencement speakers are frozen in time, spouting axioms and adages that long ago ran out of gas on the American Road of Life. Like scenes from an old black and white Hollywood movie they make us smile but they don’t prepare us for a world more reminiscent of “Jaws” than it is of “Flipper.”

“Be nice,” they say.

I say “Be nice when it helps, cruel when necessary, vicious when it counts.” People will tell you Bernie Madoff was a nice guy, but I never forgot to take all the money off the table before I went home.

“Don’t forget the Golden Rule” they say, most of them unable to keep a straight face while saying it.

“I also say “Don’t forget the Golden Rule”, only my Golden Rule is a little different from theirs. My Golden Rule says “Go for the gold and screw the rule!”

They would also tell you to, “Follow your bliss” in choosing a career.

Whereas I would advise you to follow the money.

So in short, members of the graduating class of 2011, I advise you to live richly as well as wisely, to always give to yourself first, to always take the largest slice of the pie, to choose financial gain over spiritual growth, and to steadily amass more and more physical possessions which, even though they rust and corrupt (as Jesus pointed out), they also clean up pretty easily these days.

So yes, graduates, feel free to live lives of unbridled hunger, unquenchable thirst and unfettered avarice, happily unburdened by a commencement speaker this morning who urges you on to seek out greater challenges while doggedly building strength of character.

For those of you who would like greater instruction on how to achieve your own wealth-based lifestyle filled with houses, boats and servants, see me at Webster Hall immediately after you receive your diplomas. Here in prison I’ve written a little advice book, only $35.95, on how to live the life you’ve always wanted when nobody’s watching.

The rest of you, I wish good luck and happy trails. I recommend you wear heavy boots.

This is a more fanciful version of a commencement speech that appeared a year ago on these pages. Again, I should credit a Ken Read-Brown sermon (in the form of a commencement speech) that served as inspiration for the original blog posting.

"The Game Is Rigged" (A Letter From Uncle Bernie)

January, 2011
FCI 336
Butner, NC

Dear Nephew:

How the mighty have fallen. And how far they have yet to fall…

For now I reap the bitterest harvest of all!

No worse punishment can be imagined than for a father to see his son die. But I who have never taken small steps where leaps would carry me forward, nor stolen small things when the world’s riches were laid bare and unprotected—no, I can now testify to one fate even more cruel for a father…to be the cause of an adored son’s untimely and self-inflicted death.

I only pray that my fragile and beloved son—the cousinly playmate of your youth—may now know the peace he could never find here on earth.

Please know that your expressions of sympathy have comforted me in my darkest hours, and I now turn to your inquiries in the hope that some meager measure of service to you might serve as balm to my troubled soul.

You ask me to recommend investment vehicles that will offer a reasonable return for a novice investor such as yourself. Should you look to one industry versus another, stocks versus bonds, domestic properties versus international, mutual funds versus securities…well, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it?

As I indicated in my last letter, wealth is finite, which means that all investors—you as well as the millionaire brokers of Goldman Sachs—are competing for the same spoils of war. And I purposely put you in battle with such behemoths, in my example, to show you exactly how little chance you have of taking anything but crumbs from the table in your efforts to pursue what has long been mislabeled the American Dream.

Put simply, my boy, the game is rigged. Once there was a stock market where a boy with pluck and wit like yourself could search out diamonds in the rough and make a fortune for himself. Yes, he could nurture his assets and grow his future, confident that the United States government would protect his holdings and maintain a level playing field.

Well, does that sound like today’s world of finance? Like hell it does! Unless of course you’re in elementary school listening to an impoverished third grade teacher explain the workings of our capitalist system. Out in the real world, the money boys (and it is mostly men) have taken control of things. Up until recently, your poor uncle was one of them—one of the ones whose shadow fell upon billions of dollars and thousands of innocent investors. And these selfsame money boys have made a science of separating money from the system and assets from innocents such as yourself.

We used to have a saying: steal an old lady’s pocketbook and you’ll go to jail, steal her pension and you’ll go to the Ritz.

How many ordinary individuals do you know who have made more than pocket money in the stock market in the last 20 years? While I can show you hundreds and hundreds of millionaires who have made millions and millions of dollars.

Dear boy, why would anyone in their right mind invest in an American company when it is practically guaranteed its CEO, board of directors and top echelon executives will suck all the cream off the top in the form of excessive salaries, incomprehensible bonuses and golden parachutes? Before any ordinary investor receives a single penny in corporate dividends, millions will have been siphoned off by the parasites who are now recognized as a normal part of the system’s operation.

And speaking of parasites, when there actually is money to be made on investments, it is made by PWM’s (People With Money) and PWM’s alone. Companies like Goldman Sachs structure IPO’s and other deals that are open only to their own PWM’s. And rather than police these deals, government regulators limit themselves to whistling as they walk by the graveyard, knowing that one day—if they’re well behaved little regulators—they may find gainful employment with these very same financial behemoths and perhaps become PWM’s themselves.

No, my boy, the only investment that makes any sense these days is real estate which, because of the limited nature of its inventory, will always offer a good return on your investment. Even if at times the PWM’s manipulation of the real estate market creates valleys and peaks and nearly destroys the American financial system.

But enough for now. I must end this letter and return to my singular life in confinement. How ironic to recall my earlier beliefs that punishment was something externally administered. A pain visited upon me by others. The truth is, no prison cell holds the terrors I now find welling up from my broken heart. And no amount of wealth and power could possibly fill the void that now lingers in the darkest reaches of my being.

I trust you will not forget to write and say a prayer for a tired old man, who sends his love and remains,


Uncle Bernie

P.S. And please, though I suspect you have already done so, remember to say a prayer for your unfortunate cousin, may he now rest in peace.

We’ll Always Have Paris

From the television:
“Tonight’s news begins with a Stone’s Throw exclusive. Intimate friends of hotel heiress Paris Hilton have confided that the talent-starved celebrity has agreed to marry Quaker Bob, longtime spokesperson and package icon for Quaker Oats cereal. The two met at a party at the Scientology Celebrity Center in Hollywood. Fans and celebrity watchers were taken by surprise since Ms. Hilton had vowed never to wed after her breakup with fiancé and Greek shipping magnate Paris Latsis…

“Yes, the two actually shared the same first name!

“Speaking of which, the irrepressible Ms. Hilton confided she broke off the engagement when she learned her fiancé expected her to change her name to his, which would have made her the second Paris Latsis on the celebrity register.

“’I come second to no one,’ she declared, sparking smirks and titters from members of the press corps who had obviously seen Ms. Hilton’s pirated sex tape…”

From the living room:
“Did you say something, dear?” I ask my wife Sylvia.

“I said they’re not going to ask about the ring. The guy gave Paris a 24 carat diamond engagement ring and they never asked if she gave it back.”

Looking at Sylvia with her spiky, imitation Brittany Spears hairdo, I think of how much I preferred her Jennifer Aniston look. “Remind me why you changed your hair?” I ask.

“You know how long it’s been since they cancelled Friends?” she replies curtly. “Besides, if it wasn’t good enough for Brad Pitt…”

From the television:
“Celebrity watchers will recall that Quaker Bob was once engaged to Madison Avenue kitchen phenom, Betty Crocker. There was never an official announcement from General Foods or the Quaker Oats Company but insiders say the engagement was nixed after Quaker Bob was seen holding hands in Las Vegas with fabled femme fatale, Elizabeth Taylor.

“Paris and Quaker Bob expect to marry next spring in Massachusetts, the only state that currently recognizes mixed marriages between celebrities and advertising icons.”

From the living room:
Sylvia’s mentioning Brad Pitt makes me think about his friend George Clooney who was in a movie I recently rented on Netflix about some guy who used to be on TV, Edward R. Murrow.

“Ever hear of someone named Edward R. Murrow?” I ask Sylvia.

“Sure,” she answers easily. “He was the host of Jeopardy before Alex Trebek.”

“You’re good,” I reply, smiling. “Real good.”

From the television:
“In other news, nobody could have been more surprised than Bernie Madoff, the Monster of Manhattan, when he received an unexpected visit from the ABC Extreme Makeover team. In an episode featuring Martha Stewart and her all-prison team of decorators, the former Wall Street Wizard’s prison cell was reportedly transformed from a basic green penal motif to something Ms. Stewart calls ‘Rainbow XCell.’

“As Ms. Stewart explained, ’I was particularly concerned with Bernie’s gray facial coloring, which could easily create a solemn, almost burdensome, mood in this otherwise airy eight by seven foot cell. So my team and I literally splashed color everywhere, festooning rainbow hues across lace-trimmed curtains, bedclothes, pillow cushions, even a knitted tea cozy handed down from Bernie’s maternal aunt. And then, for the final touch, we painted the cell’s solid steel bars in the full spectrum of rainbow colors—very sexy and polychromatic! By the end of the show, I think you’ll agree, we managed to bring a fruity and sensuous air of allure to an otherwise pedestrian cell unit. According to a very pleased Bernie, it’s almost as welcoming as his penthouse. But you can read all about it in my next issue of Prison Decorating Monthly.’”

From the living room:
“You know,” Sylvia says, pushing the mute button, “I’m starting to think the whole thing was a railroad job. A complete miscarriage of justice. Now that I’ve seen the real person on television a few times, I can tell Bernie Madoff is not as bad as everyone said. Probably just another victim of bad press and a lousy publicity agent. Like what’s his name, that governor from Illinois…?”

“You’re right,” I add, “and did you read in People Magazine about Bernie’s charity work, and him becoming a born-again Talmudist? Just shows you can’t believe everything you read in the papers.

“Could you turn up the sound, sweetheart.”

From the television:
“On a more serious note, U2 Rocker, Bono, back from a fact finding mission to Africa, met behind closed doors with Sting, Paul Simon, Donald Trump, Chelsea Clinton and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to begin developing a plan to halt the worldwide spread of AIDS. No word yet on the scope of the plan or whether it would roll out in conjunction with U2’s planned world tour next summer. When asked why Elizabeth Taylor, who heads her own private AIDS foundation, wasn’t invited to attend the conference, unnamed sources suggested her presence was vetoed by unforgiving friends of a still heartbroken Betty Crocker.

“For our final story, we turn to Stockholm, Sweden, where the winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes were just announced. We regret to report there wasn’t a single personality you would recognize among the prizewinners.”

From the living room:
“I’ll bet the Nobel Prize TV ratings really suck this year,” Sylvia says knowingly.

“You’re so right,” I agree. “If they were smart, they’d give at least one of those awards to someone famous.”

“Paris Hilton, maybe,” Sylvia suggests. “Or Brittany Spears, if she’s out of rehab.”

“You’re good,” I reply, smiling. “Real good.”

“We’ll Always Have Paris” is from my soon-to-be-published “How To Train A Rock”, a collection of short insights and fiction flights. Watch this blog for the publication announcement, probably next month.