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Longwood Gardens. March, 2012. Photo credit: joanneleon
Pay mind to your own life, your own health, and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death.

 Frederick Buechner


Debtors seethe, sue over collectors' tactics

Harassing phone calls, threats of arrest, vulgar language, calls to employers, lawsuits against people who don't even owe money - all are hallmarks of the Wild West tactics consumers are confronting amid the troubled economy.

But there is a twist. A surging number of Californians - including Guzman and Schwarm - are turning the tables on collection agencies as the state experiences an explosion in lawsuits filed against debt collectors.

Economists, Liquidity Mongers and the Banker Assault on Financial Reform
Yves here. I’m posting a Real News interview with Gerry Epstein on the same theme, that of the dubious arguments and methods bankers are putting forward to stymie reforms, at the end of this post. If you have time, I’d suggest watching that as well as reading this post, since they don’t overlap much. Otherwise, pick your preferred medium!

This has been a bad stretch for advocates of financial reform – and therefore for the economy as a whole. One after the other, new financial regulations contained in the Dodd-Frank law are being gutted or delayed by regulators and Congress, while the bankers – escorted by a phalanx of paid economists, lawyers and lobbyists – are squealing “wee, wee, wee” all the way home.

[ ... ]

Bankers and their lobbyists and economists help grease the skids not just with money – but with terms of “econ-speak” such as “cost-benefit analysis”, and most commonly, “liquidity”. Used and manipulated by the wrong hands, such boring and innocuous sounding concepts can turn dangerous, even fatal in the banker battle against safer financial regulation.

The list of delays, loopholes and obstacles is too long to fully recount, but here are a few of the most important.

Confidence fairy does not thrive in this environment.
George Washington: Lack of Trust – Caused by Institutional Corruption – Is Killing the Economy
People Are Losing Trust In All Institutions
The signs are everywhere: Americans have lost trust in our institutions.

The Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index published yesterday shows that only 22% of Americans trust the nation’s financial system.

SmartMoney notes today that more and more Americans are keeping valuables at home because they have lost trust in banks.

PBS brings back modern ‘Sherlock’ for a second season
WASHINGTON — Coming back beginning Sunday to a PBS station near you is a new season of the BBC’s “Sherlock” on “Masterpiece Mystery!”

The popular modern reinterpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” mystery stories drew 4.6 million views per episode for season one on PBS.

Prized ball lost in Japan tsunami found in Alaska

A man found the ball while beachcombing on an Alaskan island, and his wife, who is Japanese, talked with its owner, 16-year-old Misaki Murakami, by phone over the weekend. They plan to send the ball back to him soon.

Murakami, from the town of Rikuzentakata, is surprised and thankful the football, or soccer ball, has been found more than 5,000 kilometres away.

The Awesome Politics of "the Avengers"
The latest superhero flick foregrounds clean energy and other progressive politics.

Joss Whedon, writer and director of this weekend’s blockbuster film The Avengers, has slyly inserted politics into the film, the latest in the Marvel comics superhero franchise, stacked it with some of Hollywood’s most progressive stars (including anti-fracking advocate Mark Ruffalo and activist/liberal Scarlett Johansson) and kept what’s probably going to be one of the year’s biggest film on topics consistent with progressive politics—without being heavy-handed about it.

UN official calls for US return of native land

The trip, Mr Anaya's first tour of Native American lands, was to determine how the United States is faring on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[ ... ]

The Black Hills are public land but are considered sacred by the Sioux tribes. The area, as well as other lands, were set aside for the tribes in an 1868 treaty.

Nine years later, Congress passed a law taking the land.

François Hollande wins French presidential election
Nicolas Sarkozy concedes defeat to Socialist party candidate, who has become first leftwing president in almost 20 years

François Hollande has won power in France, turning the tide on a rightwards and xenophobic lurch in European politics and vowing to transform Europe's handling of the economic crisis by fighting back against German-led austerity measures.

[ ... ]

Nicolas Sarkozy, defeated after one term in office, became the 11th European leader to lose power since the economic crisis in 2008.

[ ... ]

The defeat of the most unpopular French president ever to run for re-election was not simply the result of the global financial crisis or eurozone debt turmoil. It was also down to the intense public dislike of the man viewed by many as the "president of the rich" who had swept to victory in 2007 with a huge mandate to change France. The majority of French people felt he had failed to deliver on his promises, and he was criticised for his ostentatious display of wealth, favouring the rich and leaving behind over 2.8 million unemployed. Political analysts said anti-Sarkozy sentiment had become a cultural phenomenon in France.

Harper’s brand hits ‘new low’ amid robo-call, F-35 scandals: poll

The numerous clouds looming over the Conservative government have caused many Canadians who thought highly of Prime Minister Stephen Harper two months ago to question his competence, his trustworthiness and his vision for Canada, a new poll suggests.

[ ... ]

The dramatic decline in Mr. Harper’s personal cachet occurred as his Conservatives were being accused of suppressing the opposition vote during the last election and hiding billions of dollars in the planned purchase of a fleet of fighter jets. It was also a period when Industry Minister Christian Paradis was found to have broken parliamentary ethics rules.

Violent protests erupt in Russia on eve of Putin's return as president
Moscow riot police beat protesters and arrest dozens, including opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Udaltsov

Russian riot police beat protesters with batons and hauled away dozens on Sunday after skirmishes broke out at a demonstration in Moscow against Vladimir Putin on the eve of his return to the presidency.

Opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Udaltsov were among those detained at the rally, at which police tried to push back protesters who advanced towards them holding metal crowd barriers.

Israeli PM calls for early general elections
Binyamin Netanyahu says he would seek poll in September, a year ahead of schedule, to ensure "political stability".

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has indicated that he would seek a new general election in September, a year ahead of schedule.

[ ... ]

Polls show that the premier could hardly have picked a better time to seek re-election, with surveys showing he easily outstrips his rivals for the office of prime minister.

A poll published in the Haaretz daily on Thursday showed Netanyahu has more support than his next three rivals put together, with 48 per cent of Israelis backing his re-election.

Bahrain human rights activist arrested as crackdown escalates
Nabeel Rajab detained on his return from Beirut, and authorities are also holding a leader of the pro-democracy protests

A prominent human rights activist and critic of Bahrain's ruling family has been arrested, the country's interior ministry said on Sunday, as authorities escalated a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Greek austerity moves leave nation's economic safety net in tatters
The Greek branch of Doctors of the World, a French-founded relief group renowned for aiding war victims and impoverished immigrants, now has a clinic in Perama, where 80 or more people line up three days a week. To cope with demand, the group plans to operate the clinic seven days a week.

Panagiotis Alexius has been coming in for free medicines and a dosage of oxygen since the clinic opened in February 2010. For 40 years he worked in the nearby shipyards, or abroad, spraying a toxic mix of chemicals and sand on ship hulls. Disabled by a rare lung disease in 2002, he received disability payments. But he's now fallen through Greece's safety net: He is officially assessed as 67 percent disabled, but the threshold for government support has been raised to 80 percent.

Because of an unpaid tax bill from 10 years ago, Alexius is barred from receiving government-paid health services.

Drone strike in Pakistan kills up to nine

An American drone has fired a volley of missiles into a house close to the Afghan border, killing up to nine suspected militants, according to Pakistani officials.

Up to eight missiles were fired at a house in the Dra Nishtar area of North Waziristan early on Saturday, Pakistani intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity.

[ ... ]

The strike is the second American drone operation in Pakistan in a week [ ... ] The Pakistani parliament has called for an end to the drone strikes [ ... ] But America is unwilling to stop completely [ ... ] Civilians have also been killed in the drone attacks but the United States doesn't publicly investigate or apologise for these mistakes.

What If the Biggest Risk ISN’T Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Giving Speeches?

I have no idea how the silent treatment on the part of the defendants will affect the legitimacy of the 9/11 military commission. I would think victims’ families might grow impatient with our justice system, with potentially troublesome consequences, while the many international observers might view the whole thing as a bigger clusterfuck than the Slobodan Milošević trial. Repeated efforts to censor the defendants’ lawyers from mentioning the torture we know Jose Rodriguez’ torturers inflicted may focus more attention on that torture.

There was a time when pundits were talking about what a great display of American institutions and rule of law a trial would be for KSM and the other 9/11 plotters. That may still happen. Or, it may be that the silent treatment will serve to focus attention on America’s shame and fear instead of our well-established and laudable civilian judicial system–what was once our pride.

[ ... ]

The government could have meted justice to KSM by now, had it shown minimal courage of conviction and belief in our institutions. Instead, the world may well see America’s embarrassing embrace of ad hoc justice instead of the institutions that once made us great. And that may be far more damning than anything KSM might have to say.

Out of touch about Afghanistan

President Obama had every right to celebrate the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death with U.S. troops in Kabul. No one can doubt the magnitude of that achievement — under his command.

But everything else about Obama’s Afghan trip had a surreal feel, including his speech to the American public. After 11 years of war, the president had to slip in and out of the country under cover of darkness. Even more disturbing was how little resemblance the speech had to the facts on the ground.

[ ... ]

Moreover, as pointed out by Steve Coll, an expert on Afghanistan and president of the New America Foundation, “The Afghan army and police services require a state to be loyal to — national leadership that they believe in.” They haven’t found it in President Hamid Karzai, or in the corrupt government he leads. Nor is there a clear candidate for 2014 presidential elections who looks likely to unify the country’s ethnic and tribal factions.

Thus, it is very unclear who will be America’s enduring strategic partner in Kabul. What Afghans fear most is that the U.S. troop drawdown will usher in another civil war.

A Letter to America
by Margaret Atwood

But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug-hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well.

I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been -- taking the long view -- an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.

You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.

Surveillance State democracy
As the FBI seeks full access to all forms of Internet communication, it is not voters who need to be convinced

CNET‘s excellent technology reporter, Declan McCullagh, reports on ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to force the Internet industry to provide the U.S. Government with “backdoor” access to all forms of Internet communication:

The FBI is asking Internet companies not to oppose a controversial proposal that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in backdoors for government surveillance. . . . That included a scheduled trip this month to the West Coast — which was subsequently postponed — to meet with Internet companies’ CEOs and top lawyers. . . .

The FBI general counsel’s office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.

“If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding,” an industry representative who has reviewed the FBI’s draft legislation told CNET.

[ ... ]

In response to that controversy, the Obama administration actually condemned the Saudi and UAE ban, calling it “a dangerous precedent” and a threat to “democracy, human rights and freedom of information.” Yet six weeks later, the very same Obama administration embraced exactly the same rationale — that it is intolerable for any human interaction to take place beyond the prying eyes and ears of the government — when it proposed its mandatory “backdoor access” for all forms of Internet communication.

A history of the world, BRIC by BRIC
The bloc will account for almost 40 per cent of global GDP by 2050, signalling a change in world order.

Before 9/11, the Bush administration had been focused on China as its future global enemy number one. Then 9/11 redirected it to what the Pentagon called "the arc of instability", the oil heartlands of the planet extending from the Middle East through Central Asia. Given Washington's distraction, Beijing calculated that it might enjoy a window of roughly two decades in which the pressure would be largely off. In those years, it could focus on a breakneck version of internal development, while the US was squandering mountains of money on its nonsensical "Global War on Terror".

Twelve years later, that window is being slammed shut as the US declares itself back in the hegemony business in Asia. Doubts that this was the new US path were dispelled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's November 2011 manifesto in Foreign Policy magazine, none too subtly labelled "America's Pacific Century". (And she was talking about this century, not the past one.)

Blog Posts of Interest

This is a new section in the What's Happenin' diaries that will be updated throughout the day to promote selected blog posts of interest on DailyKos and other blogs.
The Bully Pulpit: An Administration Failure Zone at DailyKos by joe shikspack

From a Former Objectivist: Austerity Will Kill Us All. at DailyKos by dov12348

Guantánamo Clusterfok a.k.a "Military Commissions Redux" at DailyKos by Jesselyn Radack

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