Sweet deals and crazy scams you won’t believe

Today, I’m paying homage to some of the sweet deals and crazy scams that you won’t believe actually were pulled off. When I first heard these, I was taken aback, and so will you, when you read about…

The Bear Clan: Landlords of the Hopi

There are fifty clans in the Hopi tribe, and each clan has a chunk of land that they traditionally farm. The land is inherited through the mother’s line, and men move in with their wives when they marry. It’s a pretty stable system that has endured for centuries. Even so, every once in a while there would be a dispute over land. You know the drill, two clans arguing over where the property line is. Fortunately, the Hopi have a way to resolve these arguments. Just go to the Bear Clan, and they will settle the issue.

Why? Well because all Hopi land is owned by the Bear Clan. Everyone else just rents.

It must be hard to bear these landlords... hahaha, get it? Yeah, I guess that was lame.

I know, right? Fifty Hopi clans but only one owns all the land? How did they get that privilege? How did the other 49 agree to this system? Sadly, this is a story that has been lost to history. Nobody is sure why the Bear Clan have this special place in Hopi society. Maybe at one point a charismatic figure convinced everyone to let him arbitrate all land disputes, and his descendants continued in that role. Or maybe the Bear Clan kicked the other clans’ butts and handed it to them on a platter. Or maybe the Bear Clan were the first clan, and all the other clans either spun off from it or were an unrelated group that moved in and were assimilated into Hopi society. One Hopi legend falls into that last pattern, saying the Bear Clan arrived in the traditional Hopi lands first, followed by the other clans. It even goes so far as to explain where clans got their names.

Coin collecting scam on cable TV

This one personally bugs me. It must work, or else they wouldn’t keep making these ads.

Can you spot what is wrong with that video? Here’s a hint: he starts out by talking about this super-rare, .9999 pure gold coin that is extremely valuable. Then he goes on to tell you how you can get yours for $19.95. Wait… how can they give you this kind of discount?

The devil’s in the details. Watch that again, and pay careful attention to his words. He is NOT selling that super-rare coin; he is selling a “proof” that is “based on” the super-rare gold coin. He says “reserve your own copy”. He is selling a cheap knock-off coin.

Oh, sure, it is “clad” in pure gold. Anyone with access to a high school lab materials catalog can “clad” things in pure gold.

Then he says the price could only be guaranteed for seven days. He then mentions a “strict limit of five proofs per caller”, implying rarity. Except I recall seeing that commercial run for more than a year on some of the less-popular cable channels I sometimes watch. They didn’t raise the price in that time, and if it ran so long it must really not be all that rare.

To top it all off, you get a Certificate of Authenticity. Heaven forbid that you might get a fake knock-off.

Fighting wars for oil and diamonds. Only in a good way.

Such an unassuming name.

Financing a military is really expensive. There’s weapons, vehicles, ammunition, uniforms, combat gear, helmets and bulletproof vests, food and other logistical supplies, insurance policies, and of course your soldiers’ salaries. When you are a national government, you can pay for all of this with tax dollars and bonds. It gets harder when you are a for-profit corporation with stockholders to deal with.

Oh, yes. Militaries run by corporations and made up of mercenaries are not just the work of some screenwriter for a science fiction dystopian movie. They actually exist. They also actually have to be paid under contract.

This becomes a problem when you are a poor, broke, third world African country with a weak military being ransacked by thuggish rebels who prey on innocent civilians. This was the very problem facing Angola and Sierra Leone. In each case, the rebels were not what you would call freedom fighters; they were nasty brutes whose atrocities made global headlines. Many in Sierra Leone lost limbs because of the rebels. As much as they wanted to, the governments of these countries couldn’t protect their own people without outside help.

Enter Executive Outcomes, a company founded by a group of South African soldiers who found themselves out of work when apartheid ended.

"I'm not convinced you have the skill set we're looking for at this company."

These ex-soldiers were looking for work. Angola and Sierra Leone needed help. The only problem was payment. Executive Outcomes came up with an ingenious solution: “We’ll fight for you… if you give us royalties from your country’s mining rights for the next 25 years.”

Angola has lots of oil just offshore, and Sierra Leone is famous (or infamous) for its diamonds. Executive Outcomes signed contracts with these countries where they took a cut of that money in return for fighting the rebels and training the local army. Once the ink was dry, the mercenaries set to work and were profoundly successful. Using advanced weaponry, psychological warfare, and the kind of precision special-ops stuff they had all been trained in, they took the rebels down and restored peace and order. The people loved them for saving their countries.

But then the international community saw this and completely freaked out. I guess the UN was squeamish that mercenaries could be that powerful. After all, they work for the highest bidder, right? Right, wrong, or indifferent, the world’s major powers decided that they didn’t like the precedent this was setting and sent in UN peacekeepers to the area. The governments of Angola and Sierra Leone were pressured to cancel their contract with Executive Outcomes. Sorry, guys, no mining rights for you.

Oh, and after the mercenaries left and the peacekeepers took over, the civil war just started right back up again. So, I guess everyone got hosed.

But I know what will make it all better.


They solve everything.

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