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DC MISC.        

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6-18-09 - A funereal scam and so forth

Sometime before Rabbi Allen Lew's funeral, I got a call from a guy who said he was Lew's son, Stephan, and that he had been at the La Guardia airport waiting for his flight that morning when he'd accidentally done something with his briefcase that I'm trying to remember like checked it in no - it was like he'd gotten through the security check and had to go back and it was on the airplane which went off without him and now he needed to get another ticket to get to his father's funeral and he'd get the money back when he got to San Francisco but that he needed $449.98 right now to get on the last flight that would get him there in time and could I wire the money via a Western Union Money gram to Corrine Burks in Phoenix Arizona and there was a control number and other info - send it from a Longs Drugs or Albertsons and he explained why I had to send it to her like cause that's the only way the airlines would accept it and I said why don't you put them on and he said that he couldn't pay there and that he was on a borrowed phone and had to hang up which he did and then he called me back and I asked him how he came to call me and he said that he'd tried to get hold of Norman Fischer who's very close to Lew and couldn't so he called Tassajara and they gave him my number and I asked how'd he get that number and he said he'd looked it up and I asked what number and he gave me one and I said to give me some time and I called Norman and left a message and then called Temple Beth Shalom and got Rabbi Hyman's emergency number off the message and left a message for him and he called right away and took the info down. We knew it was a scam but had to make sure. In a few minutes I got a call from Norman saying this wasn't the first call like this, that one had come to him, supposedly from Stephen Lew, while he was sitting next to Stephen Lew. The number the guy had given me for Tassajara which is very very hard to get was Norman's number. Also, it would have been quite unlikely that his briefcase was sent on, surely not on purpose.

I'm reminded of a time when I was running the page street kitchen and a guest student told me he'd just lost all the money in his savings account - $1300. He'd been walking down Market Street in SF and come upon some guys who were arguing, one of them holding a paper bag. They asked him if he'd hold their money while they argued and opened the bag up revealing what seemed to be a great deal of cash. They said it was $20,000. Then one of them said now wait a minute - we can't let you hold that money without giving us some good faith money in return. They actually got him to go to an ATM and withdraw his meager savings, give it to them and stand there with their bag as they argued around a corner. He followed in a moment and they weren't there. He looked in the bag and there was only cut up newspaper. He said he felt stupid. I did not disagree.

Lastly I think of a $33,000 unsecured debt I owed Washington Mutual. I had every intention of paying it off when I got the money but I wasn't thinking about it as I traveled around Asia. When I sold my house I'd paid all the secured debt and debt to friends and family but the credit card companies who'd been so eager would have to wait for future bonanzas.

Six months later I called my mother to say hi from Thailand and she said she'd gotten a call from Washington Mutual saying what I owed and that they were going to sue me the next day and since she couldn't get hold of me she made a deal with them to give them $20,000 to retire the debt which she thought was a good deal. I was not pleased and told her she'd just turned an unsecured debt into a worse than secured debt, one to my mother. Good lord. When I got home from that trip there was an offer to retire the debt for $16,500. They probably would have taken 10. Too late.

Five and a half years later I'm still making payments to her on it. I'm behind too. I wanted to charge WAMU with something but they hadn't asked her for anything other than how to get hold of me. She'd actually called them back.

In reflecting on unsecured credit card debt, I've noticed that people tend to divide up into two attitudinal categories: the bankers and the lawyers. The bankers say that a debt is a debt, that one's word has been given and one is as committed to WAMU or BOA or Citibank as to one's best friend or mother, that one should labor tirelessly and without break until all debts are paid. The lawyers say, "Fuck them. Those banks are just legalized muggers. They get people hooked on debt and jack up the interest to insane heights for little or no reason, they have not heart, they are the enemy of the people, etc. Niels, my mate Katrinka, and various other friends including those wracked with guilt about debt to mindless machines were/are in the former category.

The credit card companies got the Bush Congress to pass a bill making credit card debt almost impossible to get out of in bankruptcy or for any reason. Obama voted against it. Hilary for. Biden for - he's from Delaware, "the credit card company state."  Those for it argued that a bunch of deadbeats like me were ripping off the noble bankers when my understanding is that the reason most people who can't pay is because of illness in the family, death, divorce, personal tragedies. They didn't even let families of soldiers serving in Iraq off the hook. They actually made it where credit card debt would follow one into future lives.

I'd had a Citibank card for years and had a permanent 7% on a large debt I was paying off, was late with a payment for the second time and they raised the interest to 30%. A group of ministers petitioned the Bush Republican Congress not to practice usury which is specifically  forbidden in the Bible but were told in this case the barrier between church and state would be honored.

Now that I'm really poor and off credit cards for a number of years, these heinous laws, this ravenous system doesn't affect me much anymore. But I do think that people should restructure things so that we're not slaves to giant robots - corporations, especially banks, insurance, and drug companies, and the military, industrial, congressional complex as Eisenhower warned (that's how he originally worded it).

You might say that WAMU got theirs, that they went bankrupt - but that only hurts the little guys, the big ones tend to profit no matter what. I'd been so proud to be a bank robber, at least for a while, and mother had robbed me of that. I'm only a month or two behind in payments. Karma.

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