Who pays?

If you’re on the east coast of the U.S., you probably have heard some, or a lot, of news about this man, Bernard Madoff, who at one time held the chairmanship of NASDAQ, and was a hedge fund investor, and investor of many many millions of dollars belonging to mostly very well-off people. I don’t know how much it’s been in the news elsewhere, but he recently confessed, after at least 20 years of investing, that the whole thing has been a giant Ponzi scheme in which money of newer investors was used to pay earlier investors – all to the tune of as much as 50 billion – yes, that’s billion, with a B – 50 billion dollars lost to investors. They apparently just blindly trusted him, instead of using what would normally be due diligence.

You may think, wow, that’s really awful, but, what does it have to do with me, or anyone I might know, or anyone who might be like me?

Here’s what it has to do: Several of the investors supported a lot of good philanthropies with their many many millions. Some of those organizations have now had to abruptly shut their doors, because foundations funded by those wealthy people have lost all their money (the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation in Salem, MA, is one; the JEHT Foundation is another. There are another at least two in Rhode Island whose names I don’t know, as well.

The people who worked for those foundations, people who cared deeply for their work and the causes those organizations supported, have lost their jobs, many with little or no notice. Right here in the holiday season. Probably with, again, little or no severance or separation pay. These people are not wealthy. They’re probably just like you and me, middle class, with obligations, families, needs, wants, mortgages, rent, food to buy, children to provide for. And these folks? These are the people who are paying.

And the people who benefited from the work those organizations did? They pay as well. And all will continue to pay as those very very well-off people draw back what’s left of their millions and stop funding other worthy causes. All because of the greed and arrogance of one man. One man.

Why do I feel strongly about this? It makes me angry and sad, all at once. In part because the JEHT Foundation I mentioned earlier, was a strong supporter of my employer, Physicians for Human Rights, particularly our Campaign Against Torture work. We are very lucky to have had very well-managed finances, and for now, all our jobs are safe, but there’s going to have to be a lot of scrambling around to replace that money and continue CAT’s work toward accountability for the last eight years of the failure of human rights in the area of torture.

My heart and thoughts go out to all those who are paying and continue to pay, for the actions of this man who doesn’t care at all what he’s done.

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