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Highlights—March 22, 2008

  • Trading Markets: Bank files 11 billion yen suit against IBM Japan. Excerpt: Suruga Bank on Thursday filed a lawsuit against IBM Japan Ltd. demanding 11.1 billion yen in compensation for IBM's alleged failure to fulfill a contract to develop the bank's central computer system. According to the suit, filed with the Tokyo District Court on Thursday, Suruga Bank contracted IBM Japan to develop a new central computer system in September 2004.
  • Pensions & Investments: IBM raises the bar with new 401(k) plan. By Mark Bruno. Excerpts: Like scores of other big corporations saddled with unpredictable defined benefit pension burdens, IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., elected a few years ago to freeze its traditional pension plans to get more control over its retirement expenses. Like other companies moving away from defined benefit pensions, it elected to make improvements to its 401(k) plan. But that's where the similarities end between IBM and almost every other company that has recently embraced the 401(k) as its primary retirement offering. ...

    “The world of retirement has changed, and we live in a defined contribution world now,” said Karen Salinaro, IBM's vice president of benefits and compensation and one of the architects of what the company calls its “401(k) Plus” plan. “Since our 401(k) was going to be our only retirement plan going forward, we felt we needed to do anything and everything to make it as attractive as possible to our working population.” ...

    While IBM's contributions are hefty, the company expects to realize big long-term savings compared with the cost of maintaining its traditional pension plans. IBM estimates all the changes to its various plans will allow it to reduce worldwide retirement expenses by a total of $2.5 billion to $3 billion by 2010 — substantial savings, even for a company that generated $10.4 billion in income last year off almost $100 billion in revenue. Not to mention the reduction in hassle: IBM's switch to a cash-balance pension plan in the late '90s led to a lawsuit alleging the plan discriminated against older workers, a charge that a federal appellate court rejected in 2006.

    Editor's note: IBM employees and retirees should feel proud that we're doing our part to save the corporation $2.5 to $3 billion in retirement expenses! Let's hope that Lou, Sam, and Randy can use the funds to buy one of these yachts! We wouldn't want "our boys" to have "smaller toys" than other barons of business!

  • CNN/Money: IBM lobbied on data, patent issues. Excerpt: IBM Corp. spent $7.8 million in 2007 to lobby on numerous issues, including data privacy and security, identity theft and patent and immigration reforms. The Armonk, N.Y.-based company spent $3.9 million in the second half of 2007 to lobby the federal government, according to a disclosure form posted online Feb. 13 by the Senate's public records office. It also lobbied on electronic personal health records, international tax treaties, defense spending, math and science educational standards, energy issues and other matters.
  • CCH® Internet Research Network™: Survey Finds That 55% Of Employers Believe That Employees Favor Higher Salary Over Good Retirement Plan. Excerpts: The vast majority of employers (97%) believe that their employees value health insurance as an important benefit, with 401(k) plans as the next most valued benefit by their employees (82%). Disability insurance, life insurance, and a company-funded defined benefit plan were next in order of employee importance, according to employers (79%, 77%, and 66%, respectively); with long term care coverage noted as the least likely to be perceived as important by employees (39% of employers). ...

    In 2007, more than half of the employers (55%) thought that potential employees would be interested in a higher-than-expected salary coupled with poor retirement benefits, as opposed to excellent retirement benefits coupled with only meeting the potential employee’s minimum salary requirements.

  • Plan Sponsor: Pre-retirees Plan to Work Longer to Prepare for Retirement Costs. Excerpts: In a press release, MFS said pre-retirees and retirees alike view unexpected health care expenses (70% and 60%, respectively) and inflation (64% and 50%, respectively) in general as top concerns regarding retirement savings. In line with these concerns, according to the release, pre-retirees expect to work on average a full decade longer than those already in retirement, with nearly half expecting to work early in retirement and one in three working throughout retirement to bolster their savings.

    According to the survey, existing retirees retired at an average age of 58, with 40% relying on their pension as the primary source of income. Pre-retirees reported expecting to work on average a full ten years (age 68) later than current retirees, with roughly the same number relying on pensions (23%) as on workplace retirement plans (25%). While approximately one-quarter (24%) of today's retirees continue to work or worked early in retirement, nearly half (47%) of pre-retirees expect to continue to work in the early phase of retirement. Of those surveyed, 32% of pre-retirees plan to work throughout their entire retirement as well.

  • ComputerWorld: Five reasons why the H-1B visa cap will increase. By Patrick Thibodeau. Excerpts: Two bills were introduced this week to raise the H-1B visa cap. They follow Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates' visit to Washington and his push for a H-1B cap increase. The opposition faces a daunting task in challenging the push to increase the H-1B visa.

    H-1B proponents in Congress acted quickly to take advantage of the attention Gates brought to the issue. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced legislation Friday that would retroactively increase the 2008 visa cap to 195,000, as well as set that level for the fiscal year, 2009, that begins Oct. 1. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arz.) introduced legislation the same week to increase the cap to 130,000 a year. The current cap is set at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for holders of advance degrees.

    Here are five reason why opponents face a very difficult, if not impossible task, in stopping a visa cap hike:

  • eWeek: User List Renews Calls for H-1B Reform. By Deb Perelman. Excerpts: The annual list of H-1B visas continues to be dominated not by large U.S. tech companies, but by Indian outsourcing firms and U.S.-headquartered service providers that do the majority of their work in India. These are the findings of new data released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on March 10. Six of the top 10 users of temporary work visas in 2007 were Indian firms, with Bangalore-headquartered Infosys Technologies and Wipro topping the list with 4,559 and 2,567 approved visa petitions, respectively. It's those companies' third year in a row in the two top spots.

    Two companies with U.S. headquarters but that mostly operate in India—Cognizant Technology Systems and UST Global—were also in the top 10.

    Microsoft, with 959 H-1B visa approvals, and Intel, with 369, were the only two widely known U.S. tech companies in the top 10. Though neither company made an appearance on the 2006 top 10 H-1B visa roster—when seven of the top 10 H-1B visa users were Indian service providers—Microsoft has a long history of high use of temporary worker visas. In 2000, Microsoft was the sixth highest user of H-1B visas. ...

    Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has long been a critic of the temporary worker visa program, asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on March 9 what progress had been made in the reform of the H-1B program, pointing to the heavy use of H-1B visas by non-U.S. companies. "Despite continued fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, I have yet to see one thing from the administration to address the problem," said Grassley in a statement.

    "Everyday we're learning more and more, but it appears that most H-1B visas are going to foreign-based companies. U.S. businesses that need highly skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick." Grassley, along with Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., has long been a critic of the H-1B visa program, demanding that federal agencies defend their high H-1B use and proposing a bill that would give U.S. workers first dibs on jobs slated for H-1B visa holders.

  • Associated Press, courtesy of Washington Post: Delta to Offer Widespread Buyouts. Excerpts: Faced with a weak economy, dimmer hopes of a merger with Northwest Airlines and record fuel prices that are eating up profits, Delta Air Lines said Tuesday that it would offer voluntary severance payouts to roughly 30,000 employees -- more than half of its workforce -- and cut U.S. capacity by an extra 5 percent. ...

    One part of the program is for employees who are already eligible for retirement or for those whose ages and years of service add up to at least 60, with 10 or more years of service. The other part of the program is an offer for front-line employees -- such as flight attendants and gate and ticket agents -- with 10 or more years of service and for administrative and management employees with one or more years of service.

  • New York Times editorial: Through Bush-Colored Glasses. Excerpts: President Bush admitted on Friday that times are tough. So much for the straight talk. Mr. Bush went on to paint a false picture of the economy. He dismissed virtually every proposal Congress is working on to alleviate the mortgage crisis, sticking to his administration’s inadequate ideas. And despite the rush of serious problems — frozen credit markets, millions of impending mortgage defaults, solvency issues at banks, a plunging dollar — he said that a major source of uncertainty today is whether his tax cuts, scheduled to expire in 2010, would be extended. ...

    Mr. Bush boasted about 52 consecutive months of job growth during his presidency. What matters is the magnitude of growth, not ticks on a calendar. The economic expansion under Mr. Bush — which it is safe to assume is now over — produced job growth of 4.2 percent. That is the worst performance over a business cycle since the government started keeping track in 1945. ...

    Finally, Mr. Bush’s focus on the size of the federal budget deficit ignores that annual government borrowing comes on top of existing debt. Publicly held federal debt will be up by a stunning 76 percent by the end of his presidency. Paying back the money means less to spend on everything else for a very long time.

  • New York Times: The B Word. By Paul Krugman. Excerpts: Last week, Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, and John Lipsky, a top official at the International Monetary Fund, both suggested that public funds might be needed to rescue the U.S. financial system. Mr. Lipsky insisted that he wasn’t talking about a bailout. But he was. ...

    So here’s the question we really should be asking: When the feds do bail out the financial system, what will they do to ensure that they aren’t also bailing out the people who got us into this mess? ...

    As Bear goes, so will go the rest of the financial system. And if history is any guide, the coming taxpayer-financed bailout will end up costing a lot of money.

    The U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s ended up costing taxpayers 3.2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of $450 billion today. Some estimates put the fiscal cost of Japan’s post-bubble cleanup at more than 20 percent of G.D.P. — the equivalent of $3 trillion for the United States. If these numbers shock you, they should. But the big bailout is coming. The only question is how well it will be managed.

  • Wall Street Journal: The Buck Stops Where? Excerpt: The Fed's main achievement so far has been to stir a global lack of confidence in the greenback. By every available indicator, investors are fleeing the dollar for other currencies and such traditional safe havens as gold and commodities. Oil has surged to $110 a barrel, up from under $70 as recently as September. Gold is above $1,000 an ounce, up from $700 in September, and food prices are soaring across the board. The euro has hit record heights against the buck, and for the first time the dollar has fallen below the level of the Swiss franc.
  • New York Times: Bush Backs Fed’s Actions, but Critics Quickly Find Fault. By Steven Lee Myers. Excerpts: President Bush on Monday welcomed the Federal Reserve’s sweeping intervention in the nation’s financial markets as his administration faced accusations that it had supported the bailout of a prestigious investment bank while doing little to address the hardships of Americans facing foreclosures on their homes. ...

    Mr. Bush’s handling of the economy has vaulted to the top of the political agenda, where the White House would clearly it rather not be. He stood accused on one hand of violating his own ideological opposition to government intervention and on the other of not doing enough to protect the nation’s economy from the disarray in the markets.

    “Now that the president has shown his willingness to bail out Wall Street at taxpayer expense, I hope he will drop his opposition to proposals designed to help ordinary homeowners,” Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, said in a statement.

  • Washington Post: The Street on Welfare. By E.J. Dionne Jr.. Excerpts: Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy.

    The Wall Street titans have turned into a bunch of welfare clients. They are desperate to be bailed out by government from their own incompetence, and from the deregulatory regime for which they lobbied so hard. They have lost "confidence" in each other, you see, because none of these oh-so-wise captains of the universe have any idea what kinds of devalued securities sit in one another's portfolios.

    So they have stopped investing. The biggest, most respected investment firms threaten to come crashing down. You can't have that. It's just fine to make it harder for the average Joe to file for bankruptcy, as did that wretched bankruptcy bill passed by Congress in 2005 at the request of the credit card industry. But the big guys are "too big to fail," because they could bring us all down with them.

    Enter the federal government, the institution to which the wealthy are not supposed to pay capital gains or inheritance taxes. Good God, you don't expect these people to trade in their BMWs for Saturns, do you? ...

    We had already learned the hard way -- in the crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed -- that capitalism is quite capable of running off the rails. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was a response to the failure of the geniuses of finance (and their defenders in the economics profession) to realize what was happening or to fix it in time. As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted of the era leading up to the Depression, "The threat to men of great dignity, privilege and pretense is not from the radicals they revile; it is from accepting their own myth. Exposure to reality remains the nemesis of the great -- a little understood thing." ...

    In 1996, back when he was a Republican senator from Maine, William Cohen told me: "We have been saying for so long that government is the enemy. Government is the enemy until you need a friend." So now the bailouts begin, and Wall Street usefully might feel a bit of gratitude, perhaps by being willing to have the wealthy foot some of the bill or to acknowledge that while its denizens were getting rich, a lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance. I'm waiting.

  • New York Times: Socialized Compensation. Excerpts: How can one feel sorry for James Cayne? The potential losses of the chairman and former chief executive of Bear Stearns must rank up there with the biggest in modern history. The value of his stake in Bear Stearns collapsed from about $1 billion a year ago to as little as $14 million at the price JPMorgan Chase offered for the teetering bank on Sunday.

    Still, Mr. Cayne was paid some $40 million in cash between 2004 and 2006, the last year on record, as well as stocks and options. In the past few years, he has sold shares worth millions more. There should be financial accountability for the man who led Bear Stearns as it gorged on dubious subprime securities to boost its profits and share price, helping to set up one of the biggest financial collapses since the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s. Some might argue that he should have lost it all.

    But that’s not how it works. The ongoing bailout of the financial system by the Federal Reserve underscores the extent to which financial barons socialize the costs of private bets gone bad. Not a week goes by that the Fed doesn’t inaugurate a new way to provide liquidity — meaning money — to the financial system. Bear Stearns isn’t enormous. It doesn’t take deposits from the public. Yet the Fed believed that letting it implode could unleash a domino effect among other banks, and the Fed provided a $30 billion guarantee for JPMorgan to snap it up.

    Compared to the cold shoulder given to struggling homeowners, the cash and attention lavished by the government on the nation’s financial titans provides telling insight into the priorities of the Bush administration. It’s not simply a matter of fairness, though. The Fed is probably right to be doing all it can think of to avoid worse damage than the economy is already suffering. But if the objective is to encourage prudent banking and keep Wall Street’s wizards from periodically driving financial markets over the cliff, it is imperative to devise a remuneration system for bankers that puts more of their skin in the game. ...

    Bankers operate under a system that provides stellar rewards when the investment strategies do well yet puts a floor on their losses when they go bad. They might have to forgo a bonus if investments turn sour. They might even be fired. Their equity might become worthless — or not, if the Fed feels it must step in. But as a rule, they won’t have to return the money they made in the good days when they were making all the crazy bets that eventually took their banks down.

  • Associated Press: Avoid Overcorrecting Economy, Bush Warns. By Terence Hunt. President Bush on Saturday said the government must guard against going too far in trying to fix the troubled economy, cautioning that "one of the worst things you can do is overcorrect." Democrats said Bush was relying on inaction to solve the problem. ...

    "The president continues to convince himself that inaction is the cure-all for the economic problems hurting hardworking Americans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a written statement. "But Democrats know that wait-and-see is not a responsible strategy for an economy that is teetering on the brink of recession."

    "Wages and home values are down," Reid said, "but prices for everything from health care to tuition to energy are up. Just this week, oil and gas prices reached record highs while the value of the dollar reached historic lows. I hope the president, who has been slow to acknowledge this problem, joins us in recognizing how urgently we need a solution."

    Bush said he opposed several measures pending on Capitol Hill to deal with the housing crisis. They included proposals to allocate $400 billion to purchase foreclosed-upon and now-abandoned homes, to change the bankruptcy code to allow judges to adjust mortgage rates and to artificially prop up home prices.

  • New York Times: Partying Like It’s 1929. By Paul Krugman. Excerpts: If Ben Bernanke manages to save the financial system from collapse, he will — rightly — be praised for his heroic efforts. But what we should be asking is: How did we get here? Why does the financial system need salvation? Why do mild-mannered economists have to become superheroes?

    The answer, at a fundamental level, is that we’re paying the price for willful amnesia. We chose to forget what happened in the 1930s — and having refused to learn from history, we’re repeating it.

  • Senator Bernie Sanders: Scary Times. Excerpts: “In my state of Vermont and all over the country, people are nervous about the economy. You look at $4 plus for home heating oil, the high price of gasoline at the pump, the cost of health care soaring, more and more people losing their health insurance and now you’re seeing what some people suggest might be an international financial meltdown. These are scary times. What the people want is the government to respond to protect their jobs and to protect their standard of living,” Senator Bernie Sanders said on CNBC’s Kudlow & Company.

    Sanders also commented on the mixed message from the White House, where President Bush welcomed the Federal Reserve’s intervention in the nation’s financial markets but faced accusations that it is bailing out Wall Street while doing little to address the hardships of Americans facing foreclosures on their homes. “Mr. Bush is saying, no, we should not be involved in trying to salvage homes for working families. We can’t help them with lower interest rates. Oh yeah, but I guess it is okay, after telling us a few days ago that we should not overreact, it’s okay to put millions of dollars into bailing out large investment houses. There’s a bit of an inconsistency there that has people scratching their head,” Sanders said.

  • The Huffington Post: An Empire of Debt -- Collapsing Under Its Own Weight. By Hale "Bonddad" Stewart. Excerpts: Over at the Washington Note, Steve Clemons linked to a 2003 article titled "The Debtors Empire." What I find incredible about this article written almost four and a half years ago is how prescient its observations are today.
    Isn't it just a little twisted that the United States, the world's richest country, is on track to borrow more than $500 billion from abroad this year? Isn't it even stranger that this borrowing includes sizable chunks from countries such as India and China, many of whose 2.3 billion people live on less than a dollar or two a day? ...

    But whatever the reasons, and they are admittedly complex, isn't it still a bit nutty that the world's richest country has become by far the world's biggest borrower, with a net debt to the rest of the world (assets minus liabilities) of more than $2 trillion? The Romans would be jealous: They went to a lot of trouble to extract taxes from their empire; the world just gives money to the United States.

  • Jim Hightower: Grassroots Economic Policy. Excerpts: Economists have this to say to those of you who see your family’s economic fortunes on the decline: “Don’t be so glum, chum!” In a recent poll, only 19 percent of Americans said that our country is headed in the right direction, and a majority is pessimistic about the nation’s economy. This seems to baffle such high-powered thinkers as Alan Binder, a former member of the Federal Reserve board and consultant to some top Washington pols. Guru Binder has declared that “people are more sour about the economy than the data would seem to warrant.”

    Could someone buy this guy a clue? The problem with data, Mr. Binder, is that we can’t eat it, gas up our cars with it, or put it in the bank. Yes, the numbers might convince highly-paid eggheads like you that America has been booming. However, the incomes of the workaday majority of Americans have not even kept up with inflation. It’s not anxiety that’s fueling people’s glumness – it’s reality.

    Binder should chauffeur out to just about any working class neighborhood in America, where he’d get an earful of reality. For example, Shari Joos, a 45-year-old mother of four living in Southeast, Ohio, would love to give the economist some data.

    As she told the New York Times, she and her husband were pulling down $30,000 a year – until he got laid off from his factory job. Ms. Joos now works from 9:30 am to 1 pm at a school cafeteria, then drives to a Wal-Mart to put in a 2-10 pm shift at the deli counter. Her husband did find another job – driving a forklift for Wal-Mart. It pays less than he was making, plus it’s an hour’s drive from home, so the gas cost eats up his paycheck.

News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • Boston Herald: Health insure bosses make bigtime bucks. Nonprofits defend execs’ pay. By By Casey Ross. Excerpts: Bay State health insurance bosses are raking in multimillion-dollar pay packages - and politically wired powerbrokers get tens of thousands as part-time directors - even as the state and its taxpayers struggle to pay skyrocketing health care costs, a Herald review shows.

    Blue Cross Blue Shield, by far the state’s largest insurer, paid nine million-dollar pay packages - including base salary, bonus, retirement and health care benefits, parking allowances and other perks - to its top executives in 2007. The nonprofit firm’s CEO, Cleve Killingsworth, was paid $3.6 million, including a bonus of $1.8 million, according to compensation records filed with the state Division of Insurance.

  • US News & World Report: The GAO Finds Fault With Medicare Advantage. By Michelle Andrews. Excerpts: A new report finds that there may not be much advantage after all in Medicare Advantage plans over traditional Medicare, at least for certain seniors. The managed-care plans offered by private insurers are touted for offering extra benefits—vision, hearing, and dental coverage, for example—despite having lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs. What's not to like? Some 9 million seniors, about a fifth of all Medicare beneficiaries, have signed up. But last week the Government Accountability Office announced that seniors in some plans might actually pay more for certain services.

    Unfortunately, the seniors likely to be hardest hit are the sick. According to the report, 19 percent of seniors in Medicare Advantage plans were projected to face higher out-of-pocket costs for home health services than under traditional Medicare in 2007, while 16 percent faced higher costs for inpatient hospitalization services. Nine percent were projected to pay more for care in a skilled nursing facility.

    The report also found that 52 percent of Medicare Advantage plans didn't have an annual out-of-pocket maximum to cap beneficiaries' spending. And the out-of-pocket maximum, if it did exist, often didn't apply to many products and services, such as certain cancer and other drugs covered under traditional Medicare Part B (40 percent of beneficiaries were in plans with this exclusion), outpatient substance abuse counseling (24 percent of beneficiaries), and treatment by physician specialists (23 percent).

    The program is a political football. Though it was originally envisioned as a potential way to save the Medicare program money, the government pays on average 13 percent more to care for a Medicare Advantage enrollee than it would if that person were in traditional Medicare. This report only fans the flames of critics who maintain that the government is getting little bang for its buck. "Overpayments fatten company profits, even as many seniors face higher costs in MA plans than they would in traditional Medicare," said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, in a press statement following the report's release.

  • Houston Chronicle: Insurers, doctors at odds over `concierge' care. Insurer to drop 4 physicians charging retainers for more personalized care. By Lynn Cook. Excerpt: Doctors who charge an annual fee to patients in exchange for customized care including house calls are drawing the ire of some health insurance companies. United Healthcare confirmed it is dropping four local doctors from its network in April because the company disapproves of their so-called "concierge medicine" model. Cigna is also condemning the practice, in which physicians charge an annual retainer of $1,500 to $1,800 for patients who then receive more personal care.
  • Physicians for a National Health Program: The Next Failure of Health Care Reform. By Vincent Navarro. Excerpts: A major problem—if not the major problem—for many people living in the U.S. is the difficulty of accessing and paying for medical care when they are sick. For this reason, candidates in the presidential primaries of 2008—the Democrats more often than the Republicans—have been recounting stories about the health-related tragedies they have encountered in meetings with ordinary people around the country (an exercise conducted in the U.S. every four years, at presidential election time). These stories tell of the enormous difficulties and suffering faced by many people in their attempts to get the medical care they need. I have been around long enough—I was senior health advisor to Jesse Jackson in the Democratic primaries of 1984 and 1988—to know how frequently Democratic candidates, over the years, have referred to such cases. The only things that change are the names and faces in these human tragedies. Otherwise, the stories, year after year, are almost the same. ...

    Most people believe that because they have health insurance, they will never face the problem of being unable to pay their medical bills. They eventually find out the truth—that their insurance is dramatically insufficient. Even for families with the best health benefits coverage available, the benefits are much less comprehensive than those provided as entitlements in Canada and in most E.U. countries. And paying medical bills in the U.S. is a serious difficulty for many people. In fact, inability to pay medical bills is the primary cause of family bankruptcy, and most of these families have insurance. Furthermore, 20% of families spend more than 10% of their disposable income on insurance and medical bills (the percentage is even higher for those with individual insurance: 53%). In 2006, one of every four Americans lived in families that had problems in paying medical bills. And most of them had health insurance. ...

    The inhumanity of this situation is made evident by the fact that nearly 40% of people in the U.S. who are dying because of terminal illness are worrying about paying for care—how their families are going to pay the medical bills, now and after they die. No other developed country comes close to these levels of insensitivity and inhumanity.

  • New York Times: Estimates of Iraq War Cost Were Not Close to Ballpark. By David M. Herszenhorn. Excerpts: At the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order and install a new government. Five years in, the Pentagon tags the cost of the Iraq war at roughly $600 billion and counting. Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and critic of the war, pegs the long-term cost at more than $4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts say that $1 trillion to $2 trillion is more realistic, depending on troop levels and on how long the American occupation continues. ...

    On the campaign trail, the Democratic candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, often say that money for the war would be better spent at home, as Mrs. Clinton did Tuesday when she pegged the war costs at “well over $1 trillion.” “That is enough,” she continued, “to provide health care for all 47 million uninsured Americans and quality pre-kindergarten for every American child, solve the housing crisis once and for all, make college affordable for every American student and provide tax relief to tens of millions of middle-class families.”

  • IndyBay Media, courtesy of Physicians for a National Health Program: Universal health care or universal nightmare? By Claudia Chaufan. Excerpt: When compared to health care systems of other wealthy economies, the American one comes out as the most expensive, the most unfair, and the worst in relevant health indices (http://www.who.int/whr/2000/en/index.html). While in other countries most health care costs are financed by individuals contributing to a system that guarantees everybody some amount of medical care, in the United States most individuals purchase a commodity in a market, a liability insurance policy (White 1995). This article explains key differences between the two systems, each based on two types of insurance, and the implications of choosing either type for achieving universal coverage.
  • Justice Talking radio show: Is There a Right to Health Care? Overview: With health care at the top of the domestic policy agenda and the presidential candidates stumping on the issue all across the nation, Justice Talking takes a look at how health care is being handled, from Massachusetts to California. Why has a program that was meant to provide medical care to people in Third-World countries found an increasing need to set up emergency clinics in the United States? We'll also ask whether health care should be seen as a right in this country.
New on the Alliance@IBM Site:
  • Alert: Be aware that IBM is blocking e-mail from the endicottalliance address to IBM internal e-mail and filtering from employee to employee with the term Alliance@IBM
  • Plan Now! Make your voice heard at the IBM Stockholder meeting April 29th in Charlotte, North Carolina. Details to follow...
  • From the Job Cuts Status & Comments page
    • Comment 3/18/08: Heads up at IBM East Fishkill NY.. Management is getting its head count reduction one by one. Some people have been fired without prior notice for lacks instance of record retention keeping and / or failure following a business procedure or utilizing proper time management. -Set up ...-
  • General Visitor's Comment page:
    • Comment 3/16/08: Catbird, Indeed, as other person noted one of IBM's tricks is to reassign you to a crappy (100 % travel job and tell you that if you don't take that you are in effect resigning." You may not get the package, but do not believe for a minute that you must "voluntarily resign". Take the new job ... don't show up. show up late, tell them you can't be on site some weeks , make it work for you -- water off a duck's back.... Let IBM get tired of YOU and FIRE you if they do not like your performance. Maybe you won't get a package, maybe you won't get unemployment ... but you sure won't get it if you "voluntarily resign" and ... perhaps you will get a bridge, a few more months of credit toward your pension, a few extra bucks in your 401K, and best of all the chance to annoy and frustrate a bunch of egotistical executives and managers that so very much deserve it! -Catbird-Reply-
    • Comment 3/16/08: Ms. Krueger I just read your response to this. I also know that IBM has changed...I've seen the change happen rapidly since my retirement in 1991. It is very sad for me and some other retirees I still am in contact with. IBM during my 30 years was more of a family. We personally cared for each other even across managerial lines. This feeling of comradeship even occurred across client and IBMer lines. Today (twice in recent months) I'm still meeting ex customers and IBMers on the street with exciting and happy greetings...from 27+ years ago. We remember how it was...A something we have that many workers today can't even get their mind around. An absolutely great feeling of belonging to something. A special group, club, fraternity?

      In 1991 I was eligible for early retirement. I had great doubts as to whether this was a good decision or not. As I look back over the changes in IBM that have occurred I now know that retiring when I did was one of the best decisions I have ever made. (next to marrying my wife and having children.) Staying in the changing IBM would have destroyed me as a person. At least now I have the good fortune to be able to reminisce the years I worked for IBM and relive the good feelings of those times. IBM was a most unique company that really cared about those that worked IN IBM. And in return IBM received strong loyalty and extra efforts from most all of it's employees.

      If I were in the job market today I doubt I would work for IBM. The management (all levels.) seems only centered upon what's in it for them. This attitude started to emerge in the early 1990's. I suppose, from what little I do read about IBM, management has perfected this attitude. The new IBM management must have learned from our politicians and leaders in Washington. I know my letter may not be written very well and somewhat disjointed but I felt a very urgent need to vent right now. It would be best for me just to accept the retirement check and what little is offered for benefits and not think about the "NEW IBM". Vernon B. IBMer New York and Puerto Rico.

  • Pension Comments page
  • Raise and Salary Comments
    • Comment 3/16/08: A lot of us are making more money now as we're paid for the OT we've historically worked and may even work more because of the compensation. Nevertheless, by the end of the year IBM will cut OT to a minimum to make their numbers - have no fear. Either that or they'll increase the RA's to 'justify' all the OT (since you're working 20 hours a week over, let's just build that assumption into our sizings.) My recommendation is to stand pat and make as much money as possible doing what you've been doing. Around July start banging the job sites and push hard to find a better gig - the market's tight right now and a lot of pissed off IBM'ers are clogging the pipes. Just my $.02 worth, but then: if I'm so smart, how come I work for IBM? -IBM Tool-
    • Comment 3/17/08: Salary = 95k+; Band Level = 8; Years Service = 8; Hours/Week = 55+; Message = at the moment I feel like a lot of others here, Why the heck would I want to go back to my Exempt job +15% and do the same work I am doing right now and not get paid OT, so far my largest OT check has been over $1200 for one week. And I should go back and take my 15% and work the same thing for nothing, not likely and yes I am fully aware that the OT will stop and I am all for that also, cut my OT, tell me I no longer can work every weekend....please tell me! Tell me I will no longer get paid to be on call and while you're at it, tell me I'm no longer on call....please tell me. So what is there to go back to, cut my pay 15%, cut my hours 15% and please let me have my life with my family back again. -Just Another IBMer-
    • Comment 3/17/08: Location = Atlanta; Message = Even though the 15% cut to salary was done this year, each department was budgeted at 100% of salary plan. So, all of our old salaries are in the budget - this allows for the 5 hours of OT per week theory to make up for the cut. Some organizations may require more OT than others which then becomes a management problem to either miss the budget or apportion the OT correctly (one person gets more, one gets less). The problem is anything over 45 hrs per week and then there is next year.... -Really Bummed-
  • PBC Comments
    • Comment 3/15/08: This Yr PBC = 2; This Yr Bonus = 3000; Message = Eh - not really that great considering my B7 $110k base pay. -Anon- -
    • Comment 3/17/08: Prior Yr PBC = 2; This Yr PBC = 2; This Yr Bonus = 3%; Prior Yr Bonus = 3%; Message = More of the same; record earnings - yet same bonus. I guess we'll see the record earnings reflected in our raises .. or not. -Biggie Smalls-
    • Comment 3/20/08: Prior Yr PBC = 2+; This Yr PBC = 1; This Yr Bonus = 5%; Prior Yr Bonus = 10%; Message = I know a few "1" performers from different dept who also got around 8-10%. -UA-
  • International Comments
Vault Message Board Posts:

Vault's IBM Business Consulting Services message board is a popular hangout for IBM BCS employees, including many employees acquired from PwC.

  • "Need Help and Advice" by "PwC_Int". Full excerpt: I have an offer from IBM as a Senior Mgmt Consultant SAP SCM and I'm confused I have a few questions. 1) How is the working environment?; 2) When does one get promoted from Sr Cons to Mgr to Sr Mgr? IBM v/s Deloitte? 3) What is the Career Path and how can one grow? 4) Are there other who have left deloitte and how do they feel? Thanks for your time!
  • "I looked but didn't leap" by "SAP Curious". Excerpts: Like you I had an offer to hop over to that SAP Practice from Deloitte. I had rubbed shoulders with IBM consultants on a job down in Texas and did an informal interview and then several real ones. But after checking out what I heard in the interviews with the opinions of my co-workers I backed out quickly.

    The work environment, we're talking 2000 and 2001, was awful. The SCM practice hired a ton of good people away from their customers and other consultancies and then fired most of them by the end of 2001. Poor people were told to look on some Lotus Notes job board of upcoming contracts and apply for every possible opening whether the deal was signed or not. Basically they all got shot because they didn't have contacts around IBM to catch on somewhere else.

    From what I understand today, there is no such thing as a career path in reality. There's no intake class experience similar to St. Charles, Ill. You go from the bench into anything they can fool a customer into paying for you. Once hired all IBM does is stuff you into any paying gig they've signed regardless of the shape of the hole and your body. There is no coherent progression of jobs, education and training to get a newbie anything like a track towards a goal. You're basically a whore being pimped out to where-ever and when they can't place you for a month or so, you're likely to get laid off so some big wig can get his quarterly bonus.

    From what I've seen since I balked at jumping, the place has gone steadily downhill - noncompetitive actual pay (not promises from their recruiting mill) and their approach to providing professional, real business value to the paying customers is non-existent. Stay where you are or angle towards another gig depending on your preferences.

Modern-Day Robber Baron Corner:

noneToday's highly compensated executives face many difficulties, including figuring out how they can possibly spend all of the rich rewards they've earned on the backs of ordinary workers. Take a look at the insider trading of many of our IBM executives—spending the cash from all that stock "acquired at $0 per share" must be a real challenge! Or, imagine the difficulty IBM CEO Sam Palmisano will face spending his $10,000 to $20,000 a day pension when he retires!

As a way of helping out our beleaguered, modern-day robber barons this site will periodically feature "spending opportunities" that the "upper crust" of our society may want to take advantage of!

  • New York Times: Measuring Wealth by the Foot. By Patricia Kranz. Excerpts: In a shipyard in Germany, Blohm & Voss workers are building a mammoth yacht called the Eclipse. Like many things in the secretive world of superyachts, its exact length is hard to pin down. So is the name of its owner, and the cost of building it.But according to the Web site of The Yacht Report, one of several publications that track yachting with the same intensity that gossip magazines cover Hollywood hunks, the Eclipse is 531.5 feet long.

    That’s six and a half feet longer than the Dubai, an 11,600-ton behemoth that now holds the record as the world’s largest yacht. Its owner is the ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. The extra length on the Eclipse isn’t an accident. Supersized yachts are the latest examples of one-upmanship among billionaires, many of whom already own a private jet, a Rolls-Royce or two, and multiple mansions.

    Despite fear of an economic recession and unrelenting job pressures among those who remain yachtless, there’s still a lot of money floating around the world. And as the superrich get richer, the size of yachts grows bigger and bigger, too. ...

    According to ShowBoats International, a luxury yacht magazine, 916 yachts measuring 80 feet or longer — the traditional definition of a superyacht — were on order or under construction as of last Sept. 1, four times the number in 1997. The biggest gains were among the biggest yachts: 47 yachts were 200 to 249 feet long, up 68 percent from a year earlier, while 23 were 250 feet or longer, an increase of 28 percent.

    “When I started in the early 1970s, a 60-foot boat was considered pretty large,” Mr. Sharp said. “A 150-foot boat was queen of the show in Monaco in 1982. In 2008, you wouldn’t be able to find that boat in the marina.” ...

    The arms race in yachts echoes the competition among business titans in the last century to build the world’s tallest skyscraper. In his book “Mine’s Bigger,” David A. Kaplan describes the battle between Mr. Perkins and Jim Clark, the co-founder of three Silicon Valley companies, including Netscape, as they competed to build the world’s biggest sailing megayacht.

If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

This site is designed to allow IBM Employees to communicate and share methods of protecting their rights through the establishment of an IBM Employees Labor Union. Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act states it is a violation for Employers to spy on union gatherings, or pretend to spy. For the purpose of the National Labor Relations Act, notice is given that this site and all of its content, messages, communications, or other content is considered to be a union gathering.