Privacy (or lack of!) and the Internet

I've always been amazed at what information you can get online about people; it's unnerving! I was just told a little secret...at least it was to me. Go to google.com and type in "phonebook:your name and state" - it would look like this: phonebook:john smith wyoming - important - don't put a space after the : but do put a space between your first and last name and the state.

Did you find yourself? Maybe not just your phone number but also your home address? And a google map button if your address was shown?

If you did, you can click at the bottom of the page to remove your information - but as they point out it won't get rid of your information in a variety of other places where it can be found, just in Google.

The information you need to get rid of information on you that is floating around the internet is in a great little e-book. I bought it ($27) and they say they'll be sending updates and videos as well to show how to do it. For me it is money well-spent. If you want the e-book here's a link: Privacy e-Book


President Obama's Taxes on the "Wealthy"

Is it just me or is there is something wrong with calling people "wealthy" who make $200,000 a year when in the United States there are about 400 billionaires (and a single billion is 1,000 times a million - and not many of those people have a single billion, but many billions) and over 9 million millionaires! I found quotes that put the richest 1% of households in the United States owning between 34-38% of all of the wealth in the country.

Consider that Warren Buffet pays about 15% in tax but his secretary (who only makes about $60,000 a year) is in the 35% tax bracket. He issued a challenge to members of "The Forbes 400" billionaires saying he would donate $1 million to charity if the collective group of richest Americans would admit they pay less taxes, as a percentage of income, than their secretaries. That's very nice, but I would have liked to have had him voluntarily pay the same percentage in taxes as his secretary and challenged the other wealthiest Americans to do the same.

Meanwhile it looks like it's time for a divorce for a bunch of Americans...as a married couple your taxes will go up if your income is over $250,000 a year, but if your spouse turns into your "significant other" you can each make up to $200,000 a year before your taxes will go up. That's a combined income of $400,000 without an additional tax hit.

I came upon this old interview from 2003 that I found interesting...here is a portion of it and I've given the link if you'd like to read the entire thing.

The Multinational Monitor

May 2003 - VOLUME 24 - NUMBER 5

The Wealth Divide
The Growing Gap in the United States
Between the Rich and the Rest

An Interview with Edward Wolff

Edward Wolff is a professor of economics at New York University. He is the author of Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and What Can Be Done About It, as well as many other books and articles on economic and tax policy. He is managing editor of the Review of Income and Wealth.


"If you think about taxes that reflect a family's ability to pay, a family's ability to pay is a reflection of their income, but also of their wealth holdings. A wealth tax would not only produce more tax revenue, which we desperately need, but it would be a fairer tax, and also help to reduce the level of inequality in this country."

MM: Do you favor a wealth tax?
I’ve proposed a separate tax on wealth, which actually exists in a dozen European countries. This has helped to lessen inequality in European countries. It is also, I think, a fairer tax. If you think about taxes that reflect a family’s ability to pay, a family’s ability to pay is a reflection of their income, but also of their wealth holdings. A broader kind of tax of this nature, would not only produce more tax revenue, which we desperately need, but it would be a fairer tax, and also help to reduce the level of inequality in this country.

MM: In broad outlines, how would you structure such a tax?
I would model it after the Swiss system, which I think is a pretty fair system. It would be a progressive tax. In the United States, the first $250,000 of wealth would be exempt from the tax. That would exclude 80 percent of all families. The tax would increase at increments, starting out at .2 percent from about $250,000 to $500,000. The marginal rate would go up to .4 percent from $500,000 to $1 million, and then to .6 percent from a $1 million to $5 million, and then to .8 thereafter.

It would not be a very severe tax. In fact, the loading charges on most mutual funds are typically of the order of 1 or 2 percent. It would not be an onerous tax, but it could raise about $60 billion annually. Eighty percent of families would pay nothing, and 95 percent of families would pay less than $1,000. It would really only affect very rich families.

"The Power of One" - Staying Focussed

I read this and thought it was very to-the-point and addresses a lot of what I take issue with in the way government officials act. You can't do everything and make everyone happy, especially in a crisis. Politicking and pork in an Economic Stimulus Bill for this economic crisis is unacceptable to me.

This is actually the end of the article, but if you'd like to read the full story go to: http://www.sovereignsociety.com

Their articles can be "edgy" but always give me food for thought.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - Vol. 11, No. 52 -

An Open, Candid, and
Non-Partisan Response to the President

Second: Clean up Your Message and Acknowledge the "Power of One"
...Fix the Economy first, and THEN we'll Cure Cancer

This point is ancillary to the first, but it's just as crucial in terms of maintaining the kind of market confidence we'll need to get the economy growing sometime in the next few years;

What's your angle? What's the "shot"...what's your line?

Is it fixing the economy? Then talk about fixing the economy. Don't give us an hour of the same promises we've been spoon-fed by years of politicians. Alternative Energy? Gas is less than two bucks a gallon right now...people would much rather hear about how you're going to keep them working. Reforming Healthcare? Aren't we in the middle of the biggest crisis since - and perhaps even greater than - the Great Depression? Improving Education?

Mr. Obama; you're done campaigning. You've already got the Office, and words won't fix the economy.

Moreover, last night's speech seemed to reflect the compromised and...shall we say "porky" nature of the recovery bills so far passed by a Democratic Congress. US$700 Billion to fix the banks? Yeah, let's throw another US$180 Billion in useless favors on there (like wooden arrow shafts and mining gear) so we can get the votes. Biggest spending bill in American History? Let's throw in a Maglev from Disneyland to keep Harry Reid happy.

But your speech last night - and the aforementioned recovery bills - seem to be rife with "You scratch my back..." politicking. This kind of "governing" (we use the term loosely here) won't convince the people or the markets that the water's safe to start swimming again. It will make them feel like their health and welfare hang on whether or not we've done enough "favors" for the politicians, bureaucrats and sponsors standing between them and the government actions necessary for a swift recovery.

As such, and combined with your flawed perspective on banks and lending, we do not believe that your actions since taking office are likely to enhance America's prospects for a smooth and swift recovery.


A Friend's Experience with a Loan Mod Gone Bad

I was in San Diego this past weekend for a seminar. We have a little (under 1,000 sq.ft) home there with a beautiful view of the San Diego bay and it's "get-away" time when we go there. We don't cook, we go out to eat and we don't even make coffee in the morning, we go down to our favorite little place and catch up with the owners over breakfast.

This is a place where the 2nd time you go in they remember you and ask if you want whatever you had the first time. And since I'm a creature of habit they have my coffee and bagel ready by time I get to the cash register even if there's a line in front of me!

So we were talking the last time I was there about loan modifications and they were in the process of getting one...but they said it had been 3 months and nothing had happened. When they called the bank they said someone contacted them 3 months ago and said they were working on behalf of our friends, but they never contacted the bank again.

Now they paid $3,000 up-front for this help. NEVER do that! Anyway I got an update and now they were getting nasty letters from the bank. I called the Ed, the guy I know who I refer people to for loan modifications (unfortunately we hadn't seen our friends since before the holdiays) and asked him if he'd check on what was going on for them.

His e-mail to me started with "they are in so much trouble!" Seems it was a real estate agent who took their money and said they'd handle the loan mod for them, then they did nothing. So our friends haven't made a payment since October and now the bank just notified them they are starting foreclosure.

He and his firm have great contacts, but even so this is going to be a squeeker as to whether he can stop the foreclosure.

Now Ed also went to law school, so he told them they should file a complaint with the Real Estate board and consider small claims court to get their money back. The point in all of this is that there are a lot of people taking advantage of people who are in trouble with their mortgages and they are easy "prey." Please, if you need information on home loan modifications go to the website I created with lots of information and referrals to two reputable companies (and I recommend you compare at least two companies whenever you buy anything!) and Ed's firm is one of them.

And just as I found out with my friends at the coffee shop, you never know when someone you know might be in need of good, reliable, honest information on home loan modifications, so please pass along the website at www.loanmodifications4help.homestead.com to people you know. They may not need it, but might know someone who does. There are way too many unethical companies out there taking advantage of people.