There are a few things everyone likes, a good story and money. This is a story (whether it is good or not I will leave for my readers to judge) about money. Actually, to be precise, even though it reads like a story, a moral fable that our grandparents used to tell us, it’s all true. It is about grown-ups who believe in the miracle of easy money (other people’s money) that grows on trees. It is about the way that many of them are involved in the business of telling stories to make money.
Risky investment has been a trend ever since capital found a way of making money appear as a totally abstract thing. The potential of cashing in on an investment is not exactly the same as gaining interest on an earnings, liquidating the sum and converting it into currency. High-risk investment is all about promises of turnover, about mathematical models that are vague or secret, but at the same time, simple enough to involve investors who simply want to gain double-digit percentages when the tide is high. As we discovered from the Madoff Ponzi Scheme, it also involves a social club in a pyramid structure. All pyramid structure groups are deceptive from the outset, be they for dietary product sales, holiday resort apartments or investment schemes. They depend on the involvement of “screwing the next guy” who happens to be an acquaintance, friend or even relative. Yes, that’s the way it is. If you want to be able to cash in your shares or liquidate, you have to have someone underneath you that will cover the currency flow. But, at that moment, the person moving one brick up the pyramid, is both a victim and a conman.
This is what Wikipedia has printed about the Pyramid Scheme in which it states that in all pyramid schemes, 88% of those involved will absolutely lose what they have spent, and we are not talking about merely not making money, but actual losses:
Pyramid schemes exploit greed and gullibility. A successful pyramid scheme combines a fake yet seemingly credible business with a simple-to-understand yet sophisticated-sounding money-making formula. The essential idea is that the mark, Mr. X, makes only one payment. To start earning, Mr. X has to recruit others like him who will also make one payment each. Mr. X gets paid out of receipts from those new recruits. They then go on to recruit others. As each new recruit makes a payment, Mr. X gets a cut. He is thus promised exponential benefits as the "business" expands.
Such "businesses" seldom involve sales of real products or services to which a money value might be easily attached. However, sometimes the "payment" itself may be a non-cash valuable. To enhance credibility, most such scams are well equipped with fake referrals, testimonials and information. Clearly, the flaw is that there is no end benefit. The money simply travels up the chain. Only the originator and a very few at the top rungs of the pyramid make significant amounts of money. The amounts dwindle steeply down the pyramid slopes. Of course, the worst off are at the bottom of the pyramid: those who subscribed to the plan, but were not able to recruit any followers themselves.
Gosh, all it would have taken for these persons to at least not lose what they considered to be “their investment” (I’ll get back to that in a moment) was to think for a moment about the reputation that a pyramid scheme has, just look it up on a computer in the first item that pops up, no sophisticated research, just a bit of healthy curiosity. Or, they could have picked up one of their childhood stories, Pinocchio for instance. We all remember how Pinocchio was not worldwise and how he was instinctive, insatiable and gullible, not able to think about tomorrow. Well, in a very important moment of the story, he does actually think of the future. It takes a bit of effort, but the Cat and the Fox, two conmen, smoothtalk and feed him. They tell him of the Field of Miracles, where he can bury his coins and in the morning, he will find a tree where money grows. It sounds great! In a children’s story, it even could happen. But in real life, no such thing has ever occurred. People who work hard have never seen windfalls that defy imagination, nor have businessmen, unless there is a trick involved. I wouldn’t want to be involved either in a pyramid scheme or to be taken for a ride by smooth-talking conmen. Seems that the people involved had no scruples about either of these elements. Why? Because there was no Cat and Fox involved. The smoothtalker who took fed them and conned them was “one of them”.
Lest we forget, Madoff worked his pyramid circuit in an exclusivist way. His recruits were people who trusted him because precisely because he was “one of them”. In fact, when they lost, they were stunned that he would cheat “his own kind”. They claimed as well, “There's really no more lowlife than that man,” as an elderly couple testified for the New York Daily News, lamenting that they would have to sell one of their two condos, drop membership in the golf club and (gasp) have their grandchildren buy them plane tickets if they wanted to get a visit from them. I bet YOU didn’t know that the investors were “wealthy” but “not super-rich”.
The average profile of the victim is a wealthy - but not super-rich - older man who invested perhaps $5 million to $10 million with Madoff.
Well, excuse me for not understanding that if you have “perhaps” 5 or 10 million to invest, you aren’t super-rich. I will try to remember that for future reference.
But back to our story: these people were generally folks who didn’t need to pay taxes on many of their “investments”. Charitable organisations in the USA are tax exempt. Isn’t it interesting that so many of those taken in this story of greed, ingenuity and exclusivism founded, operated or invested in organisations that on paper are “charities”? Let’s be precise again, charities that keep the cash flow in the Jewish community whether in the US, Europe or Israel. I would imagine some of them maybe did contribute to their community in a positive way, it would be too much to believe they all were supportive of settlement movements in Israel, although none of them seem to be against them in a public way. What we do find is that some of them are playing the emotional cord of the Holocaust memory.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Stephen Spielberg's charity, the Wunderkinder Foundation, had invested heavily with Madoff. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, founded by the famed Holocaust survivor and writer, was also hard hit by losses, the paper said, according to two people familiar with the organization's investments.
It is kind of difficult to find real information about what Wunderkinder actually did with its money. That certainly the role of compassion for the victims of the Holocaust played a part in it may be essential to understanding how it came to be a charity that isn’t very transparent and has a LOT of money to “invest” rather than to spend in relief work on the ground. Yet, it is doubtless that Wiesel, like Spielberg, used his own reputation as “vessel of Holocaust memory” to get people to donate (big donations, obviously, since they are tax exempt) to his own Foundation, misnamed “for Humanity”, irony of ironies.
And no, it’s not to say that there should not be compassion for the victims of the Holocaust. There should be, but it should not be another version of a Ponzi Scheme. What was used to get people to send their money? I believe people are generally good at heart, and if they can, they try to do the right thing, share what they have with others. This is why there are always “moral fables” around for them to adapt their behaviour and if they can’t become philanthropists, at least they can give a little bit to charity once in a while. This is why at Christmas (which is near Oscar nomination time) we get at least one, if not more, Holocaust films.
I haven’t seen (and won’t see) the latest one, but I have read reviews, watched trailers and realised that there’s nothing new on the horizon. We have youth, innocence, absolute evil, the power of dreams and the lack of prejudice of just “one good aryan” to bring the story of our recent past to us. Why there was the need for a new Holocaust film seems self-evident. It’s there to feed the “Jewish Charities” and keep the focus on the “need” for the Jewish State. It’s a political and economic scam, if we want to be blunt. Yet, it’s got to have some elements of a moral fable in there so that we feel impelled to withhold criticism, abstain from judgment and open up our wallets.
In a stunning book entitled Misogynies by Feminist Scholar Joan Smith (1992 Fawcett Columbine), the chapter “Holocaust Girls” reveals how the Hollywood industry and the literature that inspires the scripts capitalises on the Holocaust narrative (here Sophie’s Choice is analysed in depth) to portray the eros-thanatos equation that “uses tragic events as a vehicle for sexual fantasies which would otherwise be condemned as belonging on the unacceptable side of the boundary between literature and porn.” That the Styron novel it was based on is seen as “… a novel rooted in the ‘facts’ of Styron’s own life and that of a young woman he once knew, and this makes its force all the more breathtaking.”
Therefore, in Smith’s analysis, the use of delicate historical material provides a kind of safety zone where criticism is forbidden and the baser instincts of attaching the torture and death of women, children and weaker people to fantasies of erotism and white heroism is going to appeal in a lot of ways to the public. They will “enjoy the atrocity” and at the same time, feel good about their moral superiority. If they have some extra cash to spend, they will donate to a charity that uses a symbol of the Holocaust as its trademark, and last, but certainly not least, they will turn the other way to the tragedy of the Palestinian people, because it is implied that Jews are suffering in Israel, surrounded by enemies and defending themselves against the future, inevitable holocaust.
It’s so engaging.. they should make a film about it.