Daily Archive: November 20, 2013

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On This Day In History November 20

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 20 is the 324th day of the year (325th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 41 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1945, Twenty-four high-ranking Nazis go on trial in Nuremberg, Germany, for atrocities committed during World War II.

The Nuremberg Trials were conducted by an international tribunal made up of representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. It was the first trial of its kind in history, and the defendants faced charges ranging from crimes against peace, to crimes of war, to crimes against humanity. Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, the British member, presided over the proceedings, which lasted 10 months and consisted of 216 court sessions.

Origin

British War Cabinet documents, released on 2 January 2006, have shown that as early as December 1944, the Cabinet had discussed their policy for the punishment of the leading Nazis if captured. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had then advocated a policy of summary execution in some circumstances, with the use of an Act of Attainder to circumvent legal obstacles, being dissuaded from this only by talks with US leaders later in the war. In late 1943, during the Tripartite Dinner Meeting at the Tehran Conference, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, proposed executing 50,000-100,000 German staff officers. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, joked that perhaps 49,000 would do. Churchill denounced the idea of “the cold blooded execution of soldiers who fought for their country.” However, he also stated that war criminals must pay for their crimes and that in accordance with the Moscow Document which he himself had written, they should be tried at the places where the crimes were committed. Churchill was vigorously opposed to executions “for political purposes.” According to the minutes of a Roosevelt-Stalin meeting during the Yalta Conference, on February 4, 1945, at the Livadia Palace, President Roosevelt “said that he had been very much struck by the extent of German destruction in the Crimea and therefore he was more bloodthirsty in regard to the Germans than he had been a year ago, and he hoped that Marshal Stalin would again propose a toast to the execution of 50,000 officers of the German Army.

US Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., suggested a plan for the total denazification of Germany; this was known as the Morgenthau Plan. The plan advocated the forced de-industrialisation of Germany. Roosevelt initially supported this plan, and managed to convince Churchill to support it in a less drastic form. Later, details were leaked to the public, generating widespread protest. Roosevelt, aware of strong public disapproval, abandoned the plan, but did not adopt an alternate position on the matter. The demise of the Morgenthau Plan created the need for an alternative method of dealing with the Nazi leadership. The plan for the “Trial of European War Criminals” was drafted by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and the War Department. Following Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, the new president, Harry S. Truman, gave strong approval for a judicial process. After a series of negotiations between Britain, the US, Soviet Union and France, details of the trial were worked out. The trials were set to commence on 20 November 1945, in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg.

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Income Inequality: “Is a Very Serious Problem”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee to replace Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen took congress to task its roll in the growth income inequality and the threat it is to the economy.

Yellen reminded lawmakers of their sheer terribleness during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday about her nomination to replace Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve when his term ends in January. Republican senators moaned and groaned, as usual, about the Fed’s extreme easy-money policies. Yellen reminded everybody that Congress has forced the Fed to act by constantly imposing harsh austerity measures on an economy still recovering from a financial crisis and deep recession. [..]

This belt-tightening has probably cost the economy nearly 2.5 million jobs, according to a recent study by the Center For American Progress, a liberal think tank — one huge reason this has been the slowest job-market recovery since World War II. Economists on the right and left agree austerity has hurt economic growth, employment and consumer spending, with executives from Walmart and Cisco among the most recent capitalists to complain about it.

The sluggish recovery is also making income inequality worse, Yellen pointed out, depriving poor and middle-class Americans of more and better job opportunities.

This is a very serious problem, it’s not a new problem, it’s a problem that really goes back to the 1980s, in which we have seen a huge rise in income inequality… For many, many years the middle and those below the middle [have been] actually losing absolutely. And frankly a disproportionate share of the gains, it’s not that we haven’t had pretty strong productivity growth for much of this time in the country, but a disproportionate share of those gains have gone to the top ten percent and even the top one percent. So this is an extremely difficult and to my mind very worrisome problem. [..]

Fiscal policy has been working at cross purposes to monetary policy. I certainly recognize the importance of the objective of putting the US debt, deficit and debt, on a sustainable path… But some of the near-term reductions in spending that we have seen have certainly detracted from the momentum of the economy and from demand, making it harder for the fed to get the economy moving, making our task more difficult.

In many states, the recovery is making the income gap worse

By Niraj Chokshi, The Washington Post

For years, the wealthiest 1 percent have amassed income more quickly than the rest. From 1979 through 2007, for example, the top 1 percent of households saw income grow by 275 percent, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office study. Compare that to the bottom fifth of households, which saw income gains of only 18 percent over that time. Recent Nobel Prize winner for economics Robert Shiller, who is known for creating a closely tracked home-price index, last month called income inequality “the most important problem that we are facing now today.” And just last week, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, called income inequality “an extremely difficult and to my mind very worrisome problem.”

Though rare, the recovery was strong and reduced inequality in some states, such as North Dakota, where an oil boom has provided a sustained economic boost. There, the number of households in the lowest half of income brackets shrank, while more joined the highest income brackets, a trend that suggests broad upward mobility. But in most states-and nationally-the data show the income gap worsening. In Michigan, for example, more than 65,000 households fell out of the middle-income brackets. That loss was counterbalanced by the addition of some 38,000 households, but only at the lowest and highest income levels.

That was true in many states: The number of middle-income households shrank while the number of low- and upper-income households grew. In many states, more upper-income households were added than lower-income ones-a positive economic sign not entirely unexpected during a recovery from such a severe downturn-but the middle class still shrank.

One of the “fixes” to close the income gap, create more and better jobs, and solve the Social Security fund problem is to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. As Robert Reich explained in his recent column, if Walmart, the largest employer in America, were to “boost its wages, other employers of low-wage workers would have to follow suit in order to attract the employees they need”. He used Ford magnate, Henry Ford as an example of how that worked and made Ford a fortune.

Walmart is so huge that a wage boost at Walmart would ripple through the entire economy, putting more money in the pockets of low-wage workers. This would help boost the entire economy – including Walmart’s own sales. (This is also an argument for a substantial hike in the minimum wage.)

Now, states like New York and New Jersey and cities like Sea Tac, Washington are recognizing the need for a higher minimum wage to attract workers and business as it helps to improve the economy. There is overwhelming broad public support, with 58% of self identifying Republicans in favor. It’s time for Congress to wake up, end the sequester and austerity measures and raise the minimum wage.

Retirement in Crisis

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Increasingly over the last few months the sensible people of congress have gotten on board with the idea that Social Security should be expanded. With the failure of many 401k’s and inadequate pension funds, many seniors and future retirees are more reliant on Social Security for a substantial part of their retirement plans. Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have proposed that instead of switching to a “chained” consumer price index that cuts retiree benefits, the nation should adopt CPI-E, which measures the actual cost of living for the elderly and would raise benefits to meet actual needs.

The latest to voice support for this idea is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who took to the Senate floor to criticize the Washington Post‘s editorial that said  called expanding Social Security “wrongheaded” and suggested the nation should instead be more concerned about the higher percentage of children living in poverty. Sen. Warren called this the “uglier side” of the debate on Social Security.

Floor Speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren (pdf)

The Retirement Crisis

November 18, 2013

As Prepared for Delivery

(Mr./Madame) President, I rise today to talk about the retirement crisis in this country – a crisis that has received far too little attention, and far too little response, from Washington.

I spent most of my career studying the economic pressures on middle class families – families who worked hard, who played by the rules, but who still found themselves hanging on by their fingernails. Starting in the 1970s, even as workers became more productive, their wages flattened out, while core expenses, things like housing and health care and sending a kid to college, just kept going up.

Working families didn’t ask for a bailout. They rolled up their sleeves and sent both parents into the workforce. But that meant higher childcare costs, a second car, and higher taxes. So they tightened their belts more, cutting spending wherever they could. Adjusted for inflation, families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases. When that still wasn’t enough to cover rising costs, they took on debt credit card debt, college debt, debt just to pay for the necessities. As families became increase singly desperate, unscrupulous financial institutions were all too happy to chain them to financial products that got them into even more trouble — products where fine print and legalese covered up the true costs of credit. These trends are not new, and there have been warning signs for years about what is happening to our middle class. One major consequence of these increasing pressures on working people – a consequence that receives far too little attention – is that the dream of a secure retirement is slowly slipping away.

A generation ago, middle – class families were able to put away enough money during their working years to make it through their later years with dignity. On average, they saved about 11% of their take home pay while working. Many paid off their homes, got rid  of all their debts, and retired with strong pensions from their employers. And where pensions, savings, and investments fell short,

they could rely on Social Security to make up the difference. That was the story a generation ago, but since that time, the retirement landscape has shifted dramatically against our families. Among working families on the verge of retirement, about a third have no retirement savings of any kind, and another third have total savings that are less than their annual income. Many seniors have seen their housing wealth shrink as well. According to AARP, in 2012, one out of every seven older homeowners was paying down a mortgage that was higher than the value of their house.

While President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have expressed their support for cuts to Social Security as part of a budget agreement to trim the deficit, which Social Security does not contribute to, most Democrats wisely have said ruled that out in the current debate talks. We need to make sure that any cuts to the Social Security benefits of our most vulnerable citizens is taken off the table permanently.

 

A Green Alternative

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Bill Moyers and Company: Fighting the Good Fight

Have you ever dreamed of quitting your day job to work on something you really believed in? That’s exactly what this week’s guests, Jill Stein and Margaret Flowers, did when they left their careers behind as medical doctors.

Both saw that holding political office largely depended on how much money you have, which in turn enabled injustices to be fashioned into law and public policy. Outraged and angry, they decided to stand up and take action.

“When people ask me ‘what kind of medicine are you practicing?’ I usually say, ‘I’m practicing political medicine because it’s the mother of all illnesses,'” Stein tells Bill. Flowers adds: “Once you start speaking truth to power and standing up for the right things, it’s very empowering.”

Stein and Flowers serve as the president and secretary of health, respectively, for the Green Shadow Cabinet, an organization offering alternative policies to the “dysfunctional government in Washington, DC.”



Transcript can be read here