How the 1% live

I’m currently yanking the chain of an advance fee fraud scammer, much the same way I did over here. This one appears to be operating out of China. I’ll be posting a full report at the end of the game, but in the meantime, Mr. “Zhang Yong” has asked me to do some research for him so he can have a base of operations in the USA after all those “millions” have been transferred into my bank.


Just in case you’re wondering, these chests of money don’t exist.


See? This excellent certificate of deposit shows that I, personally, deposited lots of dollars into a Hong Kong bank.

Anyway, here’s the official request:

I am in receipt of your mail and the words in the contents made me happy that I finally got the right person for my proposal. As you have stated in your email that all monetary assets pertaining to this venture are confidently secure and that you are going to search for a business that will profit both of us. I will so much appreciate if you could start searching for a very nice four bed house with a very big garden located in a quiet environment conducive for learning.

So I did a little research on the net and found this lovely property – a real one – for sale by Sotheby’s:


Only $28,950,000. Wow; a real steal. In addition, if you look closely at the page, you should be able to buy the same property in the Fringe Alternate Universe for about $11,000,000 less:


But seriously, assuming that the “Other Listing” is just an “oops” (I sent the agency a note letting them know that they might want to contact their webmaster, so the page probably won’t look like this for long), I allowed the monthly payment calculator to tell me how much this charming 4-bedroom property would be:


Assuming a $6 million down payment, your monthly charge would only be $157,708.

Cushlamochree. Who the hqiz has this kind of money? And this is only one of countless homes like this all over the place, in cities like New York and Boston and Los Angeles and San Francisco… and they’re selling.

Along with (cxhchhhxxttt paTOO!) Bank of America, we’re part owners of a 6-bedroom home in Central Utah. That monthly payment would just about buy our place every single month… for 30 years. I have a hard time getting my head around that kind of money… and it’s not lost on me that there are people in the world for whom $30,000,000 for a home would be considered petty cash. We just re-watched “Inception,” and I remember chuckling at this little exchange:

Cobb: For this to work, we’d have to buy off the pilots…
Arthur: And we’d have to buy off the flight attendants…
Saito: I bought the airline.
[Everybody turns and stares at him. Saito just shrugs]
Saito: It seemed neater.

Yes, it’s Hollywood – but let’s not kid ourselves – there are people like that out there.


It’s not a very nice world we live in when it comes to social equality; and, all things are relative. A large percentage of the world’s population would look at me and think I live like a potentate.

Our species deserves better, but how to overcome the massive inequality in wealth allocation without resorting to forced redistribution is a puzzlement.

“You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”
Dr. Adrian Rogers, 1931

Those who would simply take from the rich and give to the poor ignore this at their peril, but the dangers of social leveling are only part of the problem.  When I studied Economics in college – the only class I ever got a “C” in – one of the few concepts that really stuck was that at its base, money represents stored labor. This concept has been pretty much thrown in the trash; in our country, the Fed keeps creating new fiat dollars, and these are promptly snapped up by corporations and individuals who trade in the most complex, esoteric and incomprehensible instruments imaginable, not one of which has anything to do with work. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and as the recent bubbles (dotcom, housing, etc.) have shown, all of that wealth can vanish in a heartbeat.

More important than fixing the financial structure of our society would be fixing what goes on in the hearts of men; this article is a good spotlight on the depths of immorality to which humanity will sink when it comes to the gathering of money and power. One of my favorite quotes from entertainment comes from “Star Trek: First Contact”, when Picard explains to Lily,

“The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

Please, make it so.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

This is not a world that works for everyone.

According to an article by by David Cay Johnston posted at, the average adjusted gross income for 90% of American wage earners grew only $59.00 from 1966 to 2011, while the top 1% of the top 1% saw income growth equaling $18.4 million dollars. Put that in a graph, and it looks like this:

Income Gain

Screw whole bunches of that.

From the article:

“In 2011 entry into the top 10 percent, where all the gains took place, required an adjusted gross income of at least $110,651. The top 1 percent started at $366,623.

The top 1 percent enjoyed 81 percent of all the increased income since 2009. Just over half of the gains went to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, and 39 percent of the gains went to the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent.

Ponder that last fact for a moment — the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent, those making at least $7.97 million in 2011, enjoyed 39 percent of all the income gains in America. In a nation of 158.4 million households, just 15,837 of them received 39 cents out of every dollar of increased income.

That extreme concentration, however, is far from the most jaw-dropping figure that can be distilled from the new Saez-Piketty analysis. That requires a long-term comparison of those at or near the top with the bottom 90 percent.

In 2011 the average AGI of the vast majority fell to $30,437 per taxpayer, its lowest level since 1966 when measured in 2011 dollars. The vast majority averaged a mere $59 more in 2011 than in 1966. For the top 10 percent, by the same measures, average income rose by $116,071 to $254,864, an increase of 84 percent over 1966.

Plot those numbers on a chart, with one inch for $59, and the top 10 percent’s line would extend more than 163 feet.

Now compare the vast majority’s $59 with the top 1 percent, and that line extends for 884 feet. The top 1 percent of the top 1 percent, whose 2011 average income of $23.7 million was $18.4 million more per taxpayer than in 1966, would require a line nearly five miles long.”

These numbers show without equivocation that the rich truly are getting richer at mind-boggling speed, while the rest of us are getting poorer by the year. It almost makes me want to support forced redistribution of wealth, but even these disgusting statistics can’t quite get me there. But somehow the playing field needs to be leveled, because inequalities of this nature in the land of the free and the home of the brave will not long endure without some sort of massive social upheaval down the road.

I’m not an economist, so I don’t have the answers. I can only hope that there are people out there who still believe in a world that works for everyone, with no one left out, and who have the skills and insight to make a difference. For all of us.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Raping the public… legally

About a decade ago, my identity was stolen. An insurance card I had given to a family member was lost in the state of Florida, and some drone got his hands on it. All of a sudden I was being contacted by debt-collection companies for things like trips to a hospital in an ambulance, 9 months worth of rent, cell phone accounts with T-Mobile, and a host of others.

It took me about 4 years to get my credit reports cleaned up, and countless hours of time on the telephone, writing letters, and filing police reports. Through it all was dealing with the collection companies, and it was brutal. These people are relentless bullies, and they care about only one thing… collecting. Explaining to them that I did not owe said debts was fruitless. Explaining that I had been the victim of identity theft was wasting breath. Even after multiple explanations, I had agents offer to discharge the debt if I was willing to pay 50¢ on the dollar. Nothing I said made a difference. They kept calling until I informed them, by law, that they were no longer allowed to do so. [1]

Now comes word of a new scam being perpetrated on the public by a company called Corrective Solutions, and others like them. This article in LA Weekly outlines how DA’s offices have partnered with some very ugly, very mean people to terrorize consumers into paying stiff fees for bounced checks, all in the name of “diversion” – meaning keeping cases out of the court system – but really for only one purpose – increasing the flow of revenue into the DA’s coffers.

An extract from the article outlines the sad tale of Carole Hirth:

In fact, it was banker scheming that landed Carole Hirth in trouble last year. More than a dozen major banks have paid multimillion-dollar fines for reordering purchases and delaying deposits solely in order to generate overdraft fees. In Hirth’s case, PNC was holding her direct deposits until it withdrew her outgoing charges — effectively overdrafting her account so it could charge extra fees.

She knew none of this at the time she wrote a $393.86 check to Dominick’s, a Chicago grocery story. The 59-year-old was in the hospital being treated for Crohn’s disease when the check bounced. For some reason, the store never tried to redeposit it, which most merchants do. If it had, Hirth says, the check would have cleared. Instead, the Safeway-owned chain sent her a letter.

“I had been back from the hospital for just four days when I checked the mail and thought, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” she says.

Hirth went straight to Dominick’s, wrote a new check and paid a $35 bounce fee. She considered the problem fixed.

But four months later, she received a letter from the Cook County state’s attorney. It said that she’d been accused of deceptive practices and that she faced up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The only way to avoid this fate was to pay $649.86, which included penalties and a diversion course.

“I already paid them,” Hirth says. “I contacted [the grocery store’s] ethics department and said this was just wrong. I spend enough money there. I told them they should work with me. I told them to look up my Safeway card. I’ve been shopping with them for the past 30 years!”

Safeway said there was nothing it could do. She’d have to contact the state attorney’s office.

Hirth called the toll-free number on the letter but got nowhere.

They accused me of committing a fraudulent act. They said that if I don’t pay everything and take their class, I could be arrested and end up in jail. He was very, very mean,” she says. “I told him that I didn’t understand how that could happen. I said I’d already handled it, it should be cleared up, but he just went on and on and on.”

Hirth wrote another letter to Safeway, begging the grocer to contact the prosecutor’s office on her behalf. The letters and phone calls kept coming.

It wasn’t until she got in touch with Arons that she discovered she wasn’t being threatened by Cook County. It was Corrective Solutions, which has contracts with 21 counties in Illinois.

Notice three major instances of douchebaggery in this one single story:

  1. Bank malfeasance (reordering deposits and withdrawals to create deliberate overdrafts and charge fees)
  2. Corporate insouciance (once a charge has been submitted to collections, nobody gives a rat’s south-40 – there appears to be no one inside a massive corporation who cares or who can deal with human situations)
  3. Consumer intimidation by Corrective Solutions using the name of Cook County to perpetrate their scheme, but fully with Cook County’s blessing.

The Napa Valley Register filed an article in October of 2012 describing a class-action suit against Corrective Solutions and another company, and outlining practices similar to what happened in Hirth’s case above, but the news is not good – most consumers won’t even benefit from  any possible settlement, and the companies will likely continue to operate in one form or another. Indeed, Corrective Solutions is a rebirth of American Corrective Counseling Services, which lost a class-action suit against it, filed for bankruptcy, paid nothing, and began operating a few months later under a new name, free and clear, as reported in the LA times article.

The fight against this kind of corporate and governmental misbehavior continues. The war will be long and hard, and there will be bodies left on the battlefield, many belonging to innocent victims who made honest mistakes and found themselves caught up in a web of greed. The good news is that many legal advocates are aware of what is happening, and will continue to fight until this sort of program is outlawed by statute.

In the meantime, the more people who know what’s happening, the more ammunition they have to fight back. Read the linked articles. Be careful with your finances, and don’t roll over for the bullies.

This has been an Old Wolf public service announcement.

[1] A recent example: A family member has set up payment arrangements with a collection company in Idaho, in order to pay off a medical bill. The payments have been kept current for the last 18 months. Despite that, this letter is sent out monthly:


No mention of current account status, no “thank you for your payment,” just the constant threat of legal action. I’ve written the office to complain about this lack of courtesy and ethics, and no one has ever bothered to respond.

Tight times, 5 years later

Posted this over at Livejournal on 11/22/2008, but things haven’t changed, so it’s worth a rerun.

Lor’ lumme, times is tough all over. People are actually starting to seriously use the “D” word for the first time since WWII. Today’s “Overboard” was funny, but also caused a cord in my heart to be plucked, because in some ways it’s not funny at all.

I remember reading this book to my kids when they were little, and it made me cry. Today, more folks than I care to count are really struggling, and I even feel the cold breath of economic terror from behind the door on occasion.

I’m hoping and praying that whoever is able to pull the economic strings in our country over the next four years can keep us from total meltdown, because folks, we’re only a couple of degrees away from an economic China Syndrome.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Let’s help the Mint out a bit, shall we?

According to this article at Newser, “Penny Costs 2 Cents to Make, Mint Stumped on Fix”.

They’ve been trying to create new pennies out of all sorts of materials, but can’t seem to come up with a cheaper alternative.

From a numismatic standpoint, I would “die” to have one of these patterns:


Martha Washington Penny Pattern, with “In God We Trust” and ‘Liberty” scrambled

But that aside, I have the perfect solution for the mint, if they’d just take my advice:

Stop making pennies. Eliminate them altogether.

There. You’re welcome.

Oh, and you say a nickel costs 11¢ to make, but a penny costs 2¢? Well, once you’ve gotten rid of the penny, that leaves all that existing manufacturing equipment available for making the new, smaller 5¢ piece… for only 2¢. Yes, vending machine owners all across the country will have to adjust, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Times change.

The Old Wolf’s two penn’orth.


Government Douchebaggery: Get Informed

From the October 2012 issue of the AARP Bulletin, this outrage:

Carol and Paul Kurland of Leavittown, PA, both in their late 80’s, added their daughter’s name to their bank accounts to allow her access to funds if they faced a sudden health crisis. “Given our advanced age, we thought it was a good idea,” Carol Kurland says. “But we fell into a trap.” Sadly, their daughter Amy, 56, died last October. Two months later, the Kurlands got hit with a tax bill for several thousand dollars. They were amazed to discover that, under Pennsylvania law, a third of the money in their accounts was considered to be Amy’s. They had “inherited” it and now owed 4.5% as tax. “Our daughter had none of her own money in the accounts,” says Kurland, “and in fact, had never even visited that bank. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue says it regularly hears from unhappy people in similar situations. Banks in the state are not required to inform customers who add names to accounts that they’ll owe taxes if the new person dies first.

Six other states – Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, and New Jersey – also tax inheritances. Four of them – Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey – exempt parents of decedents, according to Jonathan Griffin at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

After the Kurlands’ tax bill arived, bank officials suggested that granting their daughter a power of attorney could have averted the liability.

“Why didn’t they tell us this before?” asks Carol Kurland. “You lose your daughter, and then you have to go through this. It’s been a bear.”


  1. If you live in Pennsylvania or the above-mentioned states, be aware of the potential for government thuggery if you add a person to a bank account and that individual passes away before you do.
  2. Ask all the questions you can think of any time you deal with a bank. They have no vested interest in serving you – they only care about churning your worthless assets into valuable fees and commissions. Better yet, move your funds to a credit union, which at this point in time are still a better bet for consumers.
  3. Write your legislators and demand that banks be required to divulge all information pertaining to tax law that touches their sphere of influence. You may also want to tell them that laws like this are the pinnacle of stupidity, and that you’re ready to vote your opinion.

The Old Wolf has spoken.