Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Empathy for Alexandra Penney Is Limited

The front page of the Sunday Times News Review carries a tear jerking tale of a woman who "plunged from lady who lunched to bag lady" after she lost all her money in the Bernie Madoff scandal. She tells how her entire life savings disappeared overnight and she now can't afford anything - the implication being that she will have to live on the streets and struggle to find money for food. The reader is encouraged to be full of sympathy. Which I was. Until I read this bit...
Words keep clanging in my mind: now you have nothing. The cottage in West Palm Beach is already on the market, my little country house is being appraised, and I can’t even think what will happen to my apartment.

So, she has nothing, yet she owns three properties. My bleeding heart is starting to heal. Of course she feels sorry for herself. Who wouldn't? Who wouldn't feel cheated? Who wouldn't feel profoundly depressed, not to say humiliated? But Alexandre Penney is far from destitute. She owns properties with a joint value probably in excess of $2 million. The ones I feel sorry for are those whose entire savings were lost, mainly due to Madoff's crookedness but also partly due to the failure of the regulatory system which failed to identify his business practices as fundamentally illegal. At least Alexandra Penney can call on friends in high places...
I call my good friend Ed Victor, the literary agent, and say I need to write something, anything.

Not everyone can pick up the phone and ask a mate to organise for them to paid a fortune to write the lead story on the Sunday Times Review. The fee was probably somewhere north of £2,000. Oh well, that should keep the wolf from Ms Penney's door for a few more days.

I don't mean to sound cold hearted, but it sickens me to think that even in today's meritocratic society the media establishment does this sort of thing. It looks after its own even when the literary merit of pieces like this is questionable. A far better piece would have been 2,000 words from a media non-entity who really was on their uppers due to Madoff's crimes.

Alexandra Penney made her name, so I have googled, by writing a book called HOW TO MAKE LOVE TO A MAN. It made number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Her next four books did the same.

At least she has the chance to write another one and get a cracking great advance. Others don't have that option.


lilith said...

Perhaps she should have read this article in 2001

Anonymous said...

You mean 'bag' lady not 'bad' lady.

You really ought to pick up on the Times story about the recession starting earlier and being deeper than admitted.

Just how long can the governments denial of reality continue?

Jabba the Cat said...

Having met a fair number of the class of people that inhabit the Madoff fleecing circle, Jabba remembers clearly the dollar signs flashing in their eyes and superior smiles as they proudly discussed their "investments" and the one-up-manship prevailing over their friends and neighbours due to their superior choice in investment agent.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, and what a warm glow pervades Jabba's little feline heart as he visualises the smirks and superior looks wiped of these peoples faces.

Cath said...

People need a book to tell them how to make love to a man?!

Unsworth said...

As always 'poverty' is relative not absolute.

DespairingLiberal said...

I have often observed that erstwhile "conservatives" who ostensibly are in favour of privilege, unearned or earned wealth, a class society, etc, seem curiously to be just as envious of those who have it as others are.

Equally amusing is the accusation of such "conservatives" towards "socialists" that the latter are consumed by "the politics of envy".

The fact is that a true Tory would not only celebrate the unearned wealth and privilege of a pampered minority living off the backs of us working stiffs, but encourage it.

This tends to highlight that either (a) people such as Iain Dale are not really Conservatives at all but at heart are somewhat confused socialists or (b) they are trying to cadge some support from the gullible by pretending to side with the somewhat currently fed up toiling masses who are understandably a little miffed at their small savings sailing down the pan.

Now it's pretty obvious that it's (b) that is raising it's ugly head here and that what we see in this choice little snippet from Iain is an attempt to show he sides with the masses.

Well, ho hum, you are right, this particular Lady's bleatings about having lost all her cash are not very inspiring. But to you as a true Tory, they should induce the sympathy due to another of the same class who has been skillfully conned.

On an entirely different note, did anyone else read the actual article? There were moments that were unintentionally very funny, such as the spoiled trustfund brat pitifully asking the Madoff lawyers in the street (like they care!) what on earth she is going to live on now!

Iain Dale said...

DespairingLiberal, I have rarely read such drivel. So you reckon I am a socialist now?! Hilarious. If anyone is confused, it certainly isn't me!

Dick the Prick said...

You heartless bastards! She's had to sack her maid Yolanda and now she'll have to iron her own shirts (from Observer Henry Porter). Another heartless appartchik as he doesn't seem to realise the immense pain that this has caused both me and my family.

How can one stoop so low as to iron one's own (of 48 apparently!)shirts? Some dude did a speedy analysis 10 years back, said it was all bollox, reported it the the SEC and err....

Dick the Prick said...

PS - is the embargo about John Hutton resigning? He's not been well.

Anonymous said...

What I would like to know is the extent to which the Israeli lobby in the USA has been fleeced by Madoff.

Specifically, to what extent has AIPAC and its supporters been weakened?

I wish them penury.


DespairingLiberal said...

In what way exactly are you not confused Iain?

Clearly you "have no sympathy" for this wealthy woman's losses.

Yet surely as a Tory you should.

One can only infer from this that you do not in fact believe in the essentials of the capitalist system.

Or perhaps you simply believe that the system exists to exploit the stupid and therefore those who are both stupid and conned should not complain?

Which is it?

Anonymous said...

"Clearly you "have no sympathy" for this wealthy woman's losses.

Yet surely as a Tory you should."


You are woefully inadequate in the reasoning department. But clearly redolent in political bigotry.

The City have evolved into a load of barrow boys. This has principally happened under Browns Watch, where he was happy to tax the proceeds and not look too carefully into the source. Like all Brown paradigms it failed disastrously.

As a Conservative I delight in their discomfiture. The sadness is that many many ordinary people, not pampered get rich quick squillionaires will suffer in the fall out.

freddo41 said...

Iain, you sound like an embittered old commie.

It’s already becoming a credit crunch cliché. Someone writes a piece about the shock of losing their home, their job or their investments. And, where comments are allowed, a large and disheartening proportion will revel in the victim’s misfortune. (“No sympathy whatsoever! They had two Audis? Serves them right!”) The phrase, “Welcome to the real world,” features regularly.

So Miss Penney has made a good life for herself through sheer hard work, talent and enterprise. She’s a single, middle-aged lady
who tried to ensure a secure old age by investing her honestly-earned funds in property and the stock market. And now she’s lost a big slice of it.

She’s in shock. The only thing to do is – admirably, I believe - to work her way out of it. So she calls her agent and asks him to find her work. Which he does.

This apparently ‘sickens’ you.

Do you think that the members of your local plumbing establishment wouldn’t do the same thing when they’re down on their luck. A bicycle messenger who’d lost money would call his mates to try and hustle up some work.

What is ‘sickening’ about Miss P doing the same thing?

It must be because, by your estimate, she’ll make £2,000 + from the piece. As a journo yourself you know she won’t make that every week unless she’s lucky. That may be all she earns for a month.

In total she may not make as much as the plumber. So why are you so sickened? Because Miss P got her job through “friends in high places” and not by popping down the pub? Or, because before that, she got five books into the New York Times best-seller list? Doncha just hate people like that? “They deserve all they get!” sputters class warrior Dale.

Any of us could be affected by the crunch. At any time. It would be nice to think that compassion would be the default reaction of the rest of us, no matter how ‘privileged’ the victims appear. Holier-than-thou spitefulness is never a good look. Especially for a self-styled Tory.

Incidentally, when you write one of your national newspaper pieces do you insist on the best price or only what a much less privileged and experienced person would get for the same amount of effort?

What? You ask for the best price? Iain, you sicken me!

Iain Dale said...

Freddo, Clearly I did not express myself very well. Of course I have sympathy with anyone who loses out like this. What I don't have sympathy is when they make out they are at poverty's door. There's a pictire of her as a bag lady for goodness sake, yet she owns three properties. That was the point I was trying to make - very badly.

Lola said...

Not a cent for any of these people, not a cent.

There is so much good advice out there that they could have taken, but no, they allowed greed and snobbishness to rule whatever modicum of common sense they possessed. And now that they have lost all they will want 'compensation'. And I can tell you just who will pay that compensation, my equivalent peer group in the States. The honest and sensible businesses will be levied to pay back money to greedy fools.

Enough already.

DespairingLiberal said...

Freddo - your analysis is an accurate one and better phrased than mine. Note Iain's frantic back-peddling now.

So many of Dale's comments start off as superficially ill-considered rants which he then defends with little one-liners off the point. Whereas in reality they are typical Tory crowd-pleasers, zero intellectual content but lots of emotion. You have exposed him very well Freddo, good job.

I do actually feel a lot of sympathy for people who have lost at the hands of this crook. Even in a bonkers system like US capitalism, there need to be rules and trusted parties. But the truth is that it should have been apparent. The crucial lines in her article were about being very happy with 10-11% returns year in year out. The upper echelons of the investment system are not for the dim or half-informed, yet they have been marketed worldwide as the only alternative to state mixed economy. The latter having been declared dysfunctional.

Alas, it is now completely clear that the Chicago school were self-serving maniacs; that neo-liberalism is a busted flush; that state-mixed-economy banks and state pension funds and investments are better; that the madcap world of private funds benefits only the con artists who run them.

Where does all this leave the neocons and neoliberals who make up New Labour and Tory cabinets?

Er, nowhere.

Iain Dale said...

Pathetic stuff. Your name is very apt isn't it? I am not back pedalling at all.

I always know when someone is flailing around when they start calling me Dale, rather than Iain.

Iain Dale said...

Jimmy, various party spokesman have said on the record that the party had nothing to do with this article. Not that anything they could say would ever satisfy you, I'm sure!

GFS said...

Can't quite believe in Alexandra Penney's sob-story. Apparently her now-lost Madoff fund grew so satisfactorily through the effect of compound interest. Which works thru reinvestment of dividends. Ergo she lived on another source of income which, presumably, she still has. So why the need for a fire-sale of her properties?

DespairingLiberal said...

I note your failure to actually address the argument Iain "never responds fully to a debate even when obviously completely and effectively contradicted" Dale - so let's recap.

Your basic point appears to be that you are sickened by the complaints of rich people who have lost money in the fraud cases now being uncovered? Frauds that were allowed to grow unchecked by the lack of regulation that you have elsewhere critiqued.

What exactly is your moral position then?

I think we would be interested to know.

Chris K said...

Iain, good article...

Another example of how the 'reality' the media create can differ rather drastically from the reality most people would experience.

JenJen said...


No worries, your characterization of Ms. Penney's piece was spot on, and there is no need to apologize for getting it right from the beginning.

Now comes the news that Ms. Penney shaved 10 years off her age in the first "Bag Lady" piece; she claimed to be 59 when she is actually 69.

This would seem of little relevance, except in her second "Bag Lady" piece, she claims she will no longer be able to afford health insurance, which is, of course, a lie. She qualifies for Medicare, as do all senior citizens in the US. Without it, it would be a much crueler world.

Why Ms. Penney chose to fib about the details of her life escapes me; I do hope that if there is a third "Bag Lady" piece, she'll come clean on why she chose to deceive her own readers from the very beginning, in what we can only guess was an attempt to elicit more sympathy from them. What makes this even sadder is that she could have written a far more poignant and sympathetic piece from the perspective of being a senior citizen.

Unknown said...

Everyone who criticizes this woman just confirms that, in general, people are jealous of others who attain success and enjoy seing their downfall. Yóu work hard all your life and do well for yourself, yet the have nots keep complaining about how you live. Perhaps if some of these people understood how much work goes into bulding such a lifestyle, they would change their tune.
There's nothing worse than someone who is jealous of others because they lacked the talent, creativity, or intelligence to do the same.

MsDebraLMorrisonSpeaks said...

No one can know where Ms. Penney will go with her new education, and her new still-fresh wounds. I can only suspect that with her self-made know-how and creative can-do attitude, she will indeed resurrect herself. In so doing, she will show us all examples of how we can regain our footing and confidence as well. I further suspect that she will share some of her wealth with organizations that lend a hand-up to those less fortunate--those women in particular who lack the "back-up" assets that Ms. Penney fairly admits will buy her some valuable time.

Curiously, I can't stop thinking about her last name. Ms. Penney isn't Penniless literally. This self-made woman would never be penniless, due to her creativity, work ethic, sense of humor, and some luck. Yet you do remember that old, still true saying about luck meeting tons of preparation don't you? So, while a lot of her money is gone, no one can steal Ms. Penney's mind. (I'm not Jewish, and I know and respect that.)

Not that you asked for my advice, yet if you have not yet "made it" to the extent that Ms. Penney has, curb the urge and save the time it would take you to write jealous remarks, and reread the part where she outlines her working three jobs, etc.,. Only in America, right? Refocus any veiled contempt and busy yourself writing the last chapters of your own success. Yes, you are on the road, and you CAN finish big, but never by quitting.

We are all richer for Alexandra Penney (and anyone) telling her truth, and for a country which allows us to do so, and finally for an internet to give us both the instant and far-reaching platform in which to share.

Let's create and embody solutions. Let's continue to offer a shoulder to anyone who is suffering, much like the inscription on the pedestal of our proud lady, the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free". Let's not excoriate people who say they feel down-trodden, especially when they flat out exclaim they don't want our pity.

~ Debra L. Morrison
We can do it Women!