By Helen Davis Chaitman
This book is a must-read for Americans who mourn what America used to be. We are scandalized by politicians who pay for sex. Yet we tolerate the fact that our politicians sell their votes to the highest bidders. The contributors to this book understand the seriousness of this state of affairs.
These are honest Americans, of all walks of life, who worked hard, saved their money, and expected to retire in peace. Some were rich; some were poor. Some were young; some were old. These are people who only came together because America is broken.
It is easy to blame Madoff. But the Madoffs of the world are to be expected. That is why taxpayer dollars were used to fund the SEC. That is why taxpayer dollars were used to fund Congress which, in 1970 (before America was broken), enacted the Securities Investor Protection Act ("SIPA"), which created SIPC to establish a fund to insure victims of a broker's dishonesty.
We all know the story:
The SEC personnel accepted taxpayer-paid salaries and, instead of policing the securities industry, they sat at their computers watching pornographic movies until they put in enough time to earn themselves high-paying jobs on Wall Street.
FINRA, which was supposed to regulate the securities industry, became the protectors and perpetuators of corporate corruption.
SIPC, which was supposed to insure investors decided, instead, to provide free SIPC insurance to its members (a mere $150/year/firm) and to persecute investors whose funds were stolen by dishonest brokers.
Irving Picard, the SIPC trustee, who has a fiduciary duty to the investors, decided to sell his soul to SIPC for $1.4 million/week.
In sum, Madoff's victims were swindled by the system and the government. But the wonderful thing about this book is that its 29 contributors are not bitter. You cannot help but love these people when you read their stories. To take just a few:
“SM” grew up in a 1,200 square foot house surrounded by tomato fields. She went barefoot and never worried about clothes matching. She invested her total life savings -- $20,000 – in Madoff in 1992. It wasn’t a huge amount of money in 2008 but it was enough to keep her comfortable in her old age. She has lost her financial security but she is still kind, loving and so much more.
Mary Thomajan was looking forward to retirement in Santa Fe, focusing on funding a Center for Community and Courageous Change. She lost everything. But she learned that "none of the stuff was me-not my money, nor my home, nor my clothes, my jaguar, my sassy red hair, my identity." The truth she came to recognize is that "we don't own anything...We are just tenants here, little columns of energy." But she has learned from a wise teacher in India who answered the question: “What does a man have when he has lost everything?” The answer was “Freedom.”
You will love and admire Sarah Fisk. When she learned that friends of hers had lost money in Madoff, she felt sympathetic but superior – as if they must have done something wrong to have been so victimized. Then she learned that the fund in which she had put her life savings had invested all the money in Madoff. And she learned that the reaction of the press of finding fault with the victims is a totally human, but unfortunate reaction of people who would rather blame the victims than accept their own vulnerability.
You will weep with admiration for Emma De Vita, a woman born at the time of the Great Depression, from a working class background, who has turned her tragedy into political activism.
What all of these people have in common is that they have determined to try to fix America. For this we should all be very grateful because we need an awful lot of fixing.