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The Return Of Debtor's Prisons: Thousands Of Americans Jailed For Not Paying Their Bills

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Federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833. It's a practice people associate more with the age of Dickens than modern-day America. But as more Americans struggle to pay their bills in the wake of the recession, collection agencies are using harsher methods to get their money, ushering in the return of debtor's prisons.

NPR reports that it's becoming increasingly common for people to serve jail time as a result of their debt. Because of "sloppy, incomplete or even false documentation," many borrowers facing jail time don't even know they're being sued by creditors:
Take, for example, what happened to Robin Sanders in Illinois. She was driving home when an officer pulled her over for having a loud muffler. But instead of sending her off with a warning, the officer arrested Sanders, and she was taken right to jail.

"That's when I found out [that] I had a warrant for failure to appear in Macoupin County. And I didn't know what it was about." Sanders owed $730 on a medical bill. She says she didn't even know a collection agency had filed a lawsuit against her. [...]

A company will often sell off its debt to a collection agency, generally called a creditor. That creditor files a lawsuit against the debtor requiring a court appearance. A notice to appear in court is supposed to be given to the debtor. If they fail to show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest.

Cell Phone

Taliban ringtones become social camouflage for some in Afghanistan

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© Flickr
Afghan Road Maintenance Team members practices small unit tactics during a three-day combat skills class taught by International Security Assistance Force Special Operations Forces at Forward Operating Base Kutschbach, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2010.
A new cottage industry has sprung up in Afghanistan: ringtones.

But it's not just any ringtones. According to a report this week by The Wall Street Journal, merchants are loading some of the favorite songs of the Taliban onto phones, which are being used as a form of social camouflage at checkpoints.

For just a couple dollars, many merchants in the more populated areas will connect mobile phones to a computer and add graphics and music that make the user seem to be a Taliban sympathizer, that way when the phone is checked for any forbidden media, the holder won't be abused by Taliban soldiers.

The prevalence of checkpoints has reportedly led many to begin taking additional precautions, and cleansing mobile devices of all apparent Western influence is only the latest.

Alarm Clock

US: More Louisiana families turning to food stamps

food stamps
© Flickr User Clementine Gallot
College graduates. Two-parent households. Elderly residents with growing medical bills. The working poor.

The face of Louisianians on food stamps has changed and broadened with the worsened economy in a state mired in poverty and repeatedly hit by disasters.

For hundreds of thousands in Louisiana this year, the cost of holiday meals will be at least partly covered by food stamps, which now come in the form of a benefits card that can be swiped. Nearly one in five Louisiana residents depends on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to buy groceries, among the highest percentages in a nation where food stamp rolls continue to rise.

"We're seeing people with college degrees who've had to take minimum-wage jobs. We're also seeing college graduates who have recently graduated but can't find a job," said Viki Dickerson, who oversees all state social services programs, including food stamps, in the Monroe area of northeast Louisiana. "And then the third thing we're seeing is people whose unemployment benefits have run out and they've not found a job."

Alarm Clock

US: More middle-class Iowans hitting food banks

The Iowa caucuses are just 12 days away. Jobs and the economy have dominated the campaign there -- even though the state's unemployment rate is nearly three percentage points below the national average. More Iowans, who've never done it before are seeking help these days.

It is no surprise that the urban poor line up at the downtown Des Moines food bank. But as CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports, the surprise is in at the upscale suburb of Urbandale -- where the need is skyrocketing. The number of families coming here is up 80 percent over last year.


To food bank director Elisabeth Ballstadt, it means more and more in Iowa's middle class are falling into the underclass.

Question

War's end asks why we didn't do more to stop it

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© Signs of the Times
Dec. 15 marked the most recent official end of the Iraq war. Remember, when President George W. Bush made a similar declaration May 1, 2003, in a premature "mission accomplished" celebration on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq marks nine years of a war that never should have happened. It was a pre-emptive, morally unjust war.

No national clergy called it just. U.S. Catholic bishops expressed "grave doubt." Both Pope John Paul II and our current Pope Benedict XV said, "This war did not meet a just war criteria."

Yet America pressed on. The day Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared the war ended, 4,487 American troops had died, and 32,226 more were wounded in action. The death toll of Iraqi civilians was in the hundreds of thousands (our government never counted).

Few of us have been able to speak the simple truth: This war was wrong.

We all can prayerfully respond, mea culpa, the Latin phrase from the penitential rite of the Mass -- "through my fault." We did not do enough to stop this war. If we do not confront our history honestly, we are doomed to repeat it.

Family

Behold the Rise of the Male Grocery Shopper

Grocery Shopping
© Minyanville
Man up, y'all!

In many ways, the biggest consumer trend that has emerged this past decade is the emergence of men as a desirable demographic for marketers. Witness the rise of the metrosexual, who probably carries a man bag, goes for manscaping once in a while, and enjoys a mancation every so often.

Now, it seems the latest thing that the new 21st century man is doing more so than ever is grocery shopping.

Yes, though supermarkets like Whole Foods, Costco and Safeway are traditionally more strongly associated with and marketed towards women, the LA Times reports that men are taking over grocery duties in larger numbers than ever before, thanks to the recessionary times, which have seen more men get laid off than women (a mancession?).

One study conducted by consumer research firm GfK MRI and ESPN revealed that in 2011, 31% of men in America were the chief household grocery shoppers, more than double the 14% from 1985.

In a separate Yahoo survey of 1,000 fathers, the figure is even higher, with 51% reporting to be their household's primary grocery shoppers.

Dollar

UK prepares emergency measures for euro collapse to prevent an influx of people and money

Treasury
© Alamy
The Treasury has drawn up contingency plans to prevent investors shifting huge sums of cash from the Eurozone to Britain
- Value of the Pound could surge if euro fails
- Britain's borders could be temporarily sealed against economic refugees
- Many experts believe the 17-member currency cannot survive the coming year
- Rich individuals from Greece and Portugal are already moving money into UK
- Italian bond auctions ease fears about eurozone debt crisis and help FTSE 100 to make cautious gains


Ministers are considering draconian plans to prevent a flood of money and people heading to Britain from Europe if the ailing single currency collapses.

Experts fear that the collapse of the euro would lead to the widespread movement of both people and money - with potentially damaging consequences for Britain if left unchecked.

The Treasury has drawn up contingency plans to prevent investors shifting huge sums of cash from the Eurozone to Britain - amid fears it could lead to a surge in the value of the Pound.

Comment: Using an opportunity to install tighter controls on the movement of money and people.


Attention

'Record Ivory Seizures' In 2011

Illegal Tusk
© Corbis
More than twenty (20) tons of Elephant tusks, captured from poachers, are burned in Kenya to keep the ivory off the international market and to discourage the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks.

The past 12 months have seen a record number of large ivory seizures across the world, a leading wildlife watchdog said Thursday, saying it had been a "horrible year for elephants."

TRAFFIC, which runs the ETIS database of illegal ivory trades, said there had been at least 13 large-scale seizures in 2011, totalling at least 23 tonnes of ivory -- representing about 2,500 elephants.

This compares to just six large seizures in 2010, weighing a total of just under 10 tonnes, and confirms a sharp rise in the trade evident since 2007.

"In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS, this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures -- 2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants," said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC's elephant expert.

The watchdog warned that once the details of hundreds of smaller ivory seizures were collated, "2011 could well prove to be the worst year ever for elephants" since the ETIS database was set up in 1989.

Most illegal shipments of African elephant ivory end up in either China, where it is ground up and used in traditional medicine, or in Thailand, the watchdog said, with Malaysia the most frequent transit country.

Compass

Fire on Russian nuclear submarine; reactor shut down

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© Unknown
Moscow - Russia shut down a nuclear reactor on board a nuclear submarine docked at an Arctic shipyard after a fire broke out on deck Thursday, Russia's Interfax news agency quoted the country's defense ministry as saying.

All the weapons had been removed from the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine, which launched a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea as recently as July, before repair work started, a navy spokesman said according to Interfax.

Russia's emergencies ministry said that radiation levels were normal and that the fire caused no radiation leak or injuries.

"Radiation levels are normal," a spokeswoman for the emergencies ministry in the Murmansk region, where the shipyard is located, said by telephone. "No one was injured."

"Firefighters are trying to put out the fire," she added.

House

North Carolina, US: Homelessness Among Families Up 21% in Charlotte City

Boy at shelter
© Davie Hinshaw- dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
05/09/11 A young boy plays a game on his bunk in a family dorm at the Center of Hope Monday afternoon. The Salvation Army's attempt to turn its temporary women's shelter into a full time place for 50 women is facing a cash crunch. Money may run out by end of month.
Charlotte sees a double-digit increase for the second year, with more foreseen.

For the second year in a row, Charlotte saw a double-digit jump in homeless families - 21 percent - and experts predict a continued rise in 2012. While the numbers are down from last year's 36 percent increase, it still makes for a nearly 60 percent increase in homeless families since 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

That report, issued this month, used state and local data supplied by 29 cities across the United States, and found an overall 16 percent increase in homeless families. (Charleston, S.C., had the highest increase among the 29 cities, at 150 percent.) "Charlotte is a prosperous community, so whether it's a couple of hundred homeless families living on the street or just one, that should be unacceptable," said Carson Dean of the community's Homeless Services Network and executive director of the Men's Shelter of Charlotte.

Among the observations made about Charlotte in the survey is that the city had a 10 percent shortage of beds for the homeless. However, that shortage appears to be just for women since the men's shelter has a "no turn-away policy" at this time.

Deronda Metz of the Center of Hope shelter for women and children said she definitely has had "a few days" this year when she turned homeless women away due to a lack of space. The center has 224 beds, but is currently helping 400 people a night, including some bused to community churches for the night.