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6, 2000 April, 2000

Highlights—August 11, 2012

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Big company, small perks. but” Current Software Engineer in Seattle, WA. Pros: The company is very career-centric. This a pro because they will work very hard to make sure you fit into their ecosystem. They will move you around within the company until you find a spot that suits you. They also provide quite good health and retirement plans. There is immanent room for growth and promotion. It is possible to spend an entire life climbing the IBM corporate ladder (and some people obviously do). Additionally, IBM has one of the best learning/training programs I have ever come across. Top industry professionals develop what essentially amount to college-level courses. These courses (available on an enormous range of topics) are available to all employees (though some do require management approval). A self-motivated individual would undoubtedly find IBM to be one of the best places to learn and grow.

      Cons: The company is very career-centric. This a con because everybody is old. Because IBM is so good at retaining it's employees, departments seem to become very top-heavy (lots of senior employees but relatively few junior employees). This "oldness" is especially apparent within the software group where management seems to be clinging to old-school development practices. Do NOT expect a modern culture like at Google. As a dev we have zero perks. There is no free coffee. The walls are barren. There is no food in the building. The entire experience feels sterile and dated.

      Advice to Senior Management: Improve the experience for employees. Yes, the bottom line is important, but a productive employee is a happy employee. I would suggest spending more money on engaging talented employees. Bring the perks up to the level of other top software companies or don't be shocked when top talent leaves for a more stimulating, fun environment.

    • Dull” Current Senior Software Engineer in San Jose, CA. Pros: It's a job. They will probably continue to have projects. Cons: Low salary, no possibility of advancing into a full time position from a contracting one, budget cuts that mean everyone that could do better has already left. Advice to Senior Management: Stop counting the beans.
    • Work Ethics” Current Anonymous Employee. Pros: Best ever working environment in terms of facility, personality, cultures & world class professionalism. Cons: Stressful, challenging, difficulty in managing virtual team due too different time zone. Advice to Senior Management: NA
    • Not all its cracked up to be” Former AIX Administrator in Corona, CA. Pros: Steady work; good teamwork, a paycheck. Cons: No advancement opportunities, and no pay for shift differential, working 12 hours shifts. No training. Advice to Senior Management: Check in with your people, learn what it is they actually do before you roll out procedure changes which are destined to fail.
    • Sr. Software Engineer” Current Senior Software Engineer. Pros: Big Company, looks good on resume. Work from home. Cons: The writing is on the wall. Most of US staff will be gone. It's time to look for other opportunity. Always fixing the errors that the India offshore team has done, and they are supposed to be the experts. Advice to Senior Management: You have great staff here; IBM should be looking to keep developing them.
    • Good team, poor salary increases” Current Client Manager in Portsmouth, South East England, England (United Kingdom). Pros: Overall good management. Good products and largely good people to work with. Ability to move within the company to different roles. Cons: Very poor salary increases. Lots of red tape. Advice to Senior Management: There is no point in giving advice to management. The local management have no power and the high level management only care about share price.
    • it is going down the hill” Current SCRT Administrative in Bratislava (Slovakia). Pros: Not being watched, flexible working conditions, no education required. Cons: salary increase is decreasing, expecting too much but not giving accordingly, being promoted mostly depends on in who's ass you are in or how long have you been in the company. Most managers in Slovakia are weak and incompetent. Advice to Senior Management: Realise the skills of the employees - whether they are licking your ass or not - and push them to achieve more
    • "We're IBMers, we have no life, and no money!" is the running joke here.” Current Engineer in Singapore (Singapore). Pros: The attitude and capability of the majority are good. There are a couple of incompetent basket cases that you will learn to handle, but on the whole the people are great.

      The culture is easy going amongst the grunt worker bees, and also allows for flexible working hours (although that might depend on your manager and/or department). The medical benefits are great should you choose to spend a little more.

      The IBM brand also keeps attracting good people to join so you'll make good contacts if and when they leave.

      Cons: Poor salary is the top complaint at the site. Fresh graduates join despite the low pay in hope of a fat bonus (because IBM is a MNC!), only to realise the bonus is really, really, pathetic. Management and HR keeps doing "market surveys" to benchmark salaries, only to consistently adjust them to significantly below market. As a result, the mediocre and terrible stay and move around (even becoming managers), while the great people keep leaving. There are even those who endure the ridiculous salary for 1-2 years just so they can put the IBM name on their resume.

      The number of night conference calls are also frustrating. You are expected to take them to report status to your international counterparts. Some poor souls may take 4 night calls a week!

      There are also a number of incompetent people who get lead/manager roles in the company because of the high turnover. They are the most experienced people who stay behind, but they consistently drag the teams down. Management does nothing to resolve this, and consistently reports to the execs that "things are great!".

      Advice to Senior Management: Stop relying on the IBM brand to attract talent, that will never work to grow the site. Because that serves retain the lazy, mediocre, incompetent. Even those will leave once they've managed to sucker another company into paying them more by virtue of being able to hang on to their IBM job long enough. The good and great will constantly leave and you will never be able to grow into an important site.

      Put your money where your mouth is. If you say people are important, start paying them like they are important or you will just keep losing great people. Start listening, start taking action, stop talking. We're tired, can't take much more, and we will start leaving soon.

    • Joined via an acquisition. Still learning the ins and outs. Frustrating at times with all the rules.” Current Software Engineer in Littleton, MA . Pros: Working from home, 401K match, medical. Cons: Lots of rules and restrictions. Silo mentality for job roles and responsibilities. Can be frustrating for someone who is used to and enjoys wearing many hats in their job function. It takes forever to get a decisions made. Feels like 70's management style. Advice to Senior Management: The IBM way is not always the best way. Take a step back after acquiring a company and try to understand what made it successful. A little culture change can go a long way for a large company.
    • Sadly disappointed with the personal politics.” Current Business Development Executive in Armonk, NY. Pros: Benefits, patent opportunities, travel opportunities, training opportunities, the opportunity to work in one of the pioneers of the technology industry. Cons: Silo mentality, very hostile towards "outsiders" that come in later in their career, extremely political to the actual detriment of the shareholders. Advice to Senior Management: Take good corporate governance to heart. You have executives that put their personal gain before the company's. I have documentation to substantiate it.
    • Company removing US work force” Former IT Specialist in East Fishkill, NY. Pros: Still hiring employees from colleges. Cons: Company reduced employee salaries by 15% to make eligible for overtime, then reduced OT and followed up with large layoffs. Recently advised non exec employees that raises had been discontinued. Advice to Senior Management: Plan to remove US workforce should be reversed.
    • My experience was good while working with IBM” Current Senior Consultant in Charlotte, NC. Pros: The pay was good as well as the benefits. Cons: More concerned with the bottom line you were not respected as far as your personal needs difficult to move laterally within the company.
    • Good to work with IBM” Current Service Management-Problem Management in Noida (India). Pros: Good Trainings conducts which helps to gain more knowledge & enhances skills. Work from Home facility. Cons: Weight age is given to most of the internal higher level employees referral at the time of hiring instead of giving to any other deserving candidate. Advice to Senior Management: Hiring decision should not be partial.
    • Good Experience/mediocre pay/Top Heavy” Current Inside Sales in Dallas, TX. Pros: Good place to cut your teeth in IT, unlimited education if you seek it out, good place to network, good name for resume. Good benefits(vacation, health, work-life) for young to mid-career professionals Cons: Top mgmt and lower mgmt are off track w/ each other. Say they promote from within but have hired a lot of outside professionals. Once Inside Sales, hard to move to other organizations. Advice to Senior Management: Plan ahead for issues like head count and quota growth, don't get half-way into it and then change it up.
    • 30+ years at Big Blue” Current Semi-conductor Support. Pros: State of the art tooling. Great contacts. Good learning curve for new hires. Cons: Constant layoffs. No security. Lack of respect. No long term career path.
    • Outsourcing” Current Manager in San Jose, CA. Pros: Large company. Some units do well even in hard economic times Cons: Large company leading the way in globalization. Goal is to eliminate a huge number of U.S. jobs in the next few years. Advice to Senior Management: As IBM becomes more a service delivery company, you need to keep aware of how your policies affect employee moral and loyalty
    • Work-life balance is out of whack” Current Software Manager in Boston, MA. Pros: Brand name. Difficult & challenging assignments: great "boot camp" for future opportunities. Cons: Workload increases constantly. Most of my peers and coworkers are constantly putting in 60-70 hour weeks just to keep up as well as giving up vacation time. We feel like we are being ground to bits at this pace. What used to be a work-life balance benefit (work from home) has turned into you-are-on-call-20hrs/day. I get the pressures of the current economy, but this is not sustainable. Advice to Senior Management: Start asking us for our opinions again in meaningful ways. You need broad coverage from all demographics, not just the unmarried 20 somethings.
    • Flexible work-at-home job” Current Marketing Manager in New York, NY. Pros: Great job if you like to work from home. It's flexible as long as you do your work and get everything in on time. Nice benefits (health insurance, 401K, etc.) Cons: Pay increase is very minimal each year (if any). IBM is such a large company that it takes forever to get things done sometimes - it's a process on top of another process. Very frustrating.
  • Alliance for Retired Americans: Friday Alert. This week's articles include:
    • Coyle Slams ‘Morning Joe’ for Social Security Falsehoods
    • Social Security Birthday Events Are Just Around the Corner
    • “Premium Support Plans” Bring Greater Medicare Costs for Retirees
    • New Side-by-Side Comparison of Romney and Obama Now Available
    • Nearly Half of Americans Die without Money, Study Finds
    • Medicare Drug Costs Will Not Increase in 2013
    • Barbara Easterling Goes on the Road
  • Employee Benefit News: HSA: Superior savings compared to 401(k). By Bruce Shutan. Excerpt: Are health savings accounts simply better than 401(k) plans? While there’s no simple answer, a leading authority is quick to point out the unsung potential of HSAs as a long-term investment vehicle at a time when some critics have suggested the 401(k) plan model provides insufficient savings.

    “HSAs are the only investment savings vehicle in America that has triple-tax advantage; namely that the money contributed goes in on a tax-free basis, the earnings on that money are not taxed and the money that comes out of the account is not taxed,” explains Kimberly Sexton, vice president of Total Benefit Communications, LLC. In contrast, she notes, 401(k) distributions are taxed and Roth IRA contributions require an upfront tax.

  • 24/7 Wall Street: U.S. Companies Hiring the World’s Geniuses. The story of American business has been about shipping the country’s manufacturing jobs overseas. However, there is another part of the story. Every year, American companies hire thousands of highly skilled foreign workers.

    Since 1990, the U.S. Department of Labor has issued visas for these workers through the H-1B program. These visas permit 85,000 workers — 20,000 of whom are required to have graduated with an advanced degree from an American institution — to work in the United States for three years, with an optional renewal for another three years.

    While 24/7 Wall St. examined only public American companies, it is interesting to note that in a comprehensive list of the top 25 companies, including private and foreign companies requesting visas, 50% are foreign. And four of the top 10 companies on that list are Indian. An average of 70,000 employers filed applications in 2010 and 2011.

    India has by far the most recipients of H-1B visas, with 58% of all acceptances. China and Canada follow with 8.8% and 3.5%, respectively. Two thirds of the LCAs are for positions in science, technology, engineering and math, while only 5.4% of jobs in America are in these fields, based on 2010 data. ...

    4) IBM > H-1B requests: 1,468 > No. employees: 433,362 > Revenue: $106.9 billion > Headquarters: Armonk, N.Y. > Industry: Computing, consulting International Business Machines Corp. ranks fourth in H-1B visa applications, with 6,180. It is the second of two consulting firms among the top 10 public American companies requesting H-1B foreign workers. Between 2001 and 2011, the second largest American employer filed almost 19,000 requests for H-1B visas. Most of these jobs were for consultants and programmers. And while Big Blue is headquartered in New York, many of these jobs were spread throughout the United States. ...

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • AOL, who produced this H-1B Visa advocacy article is one of the firms that has forced thousands of experienced American citizen workers to train their H-1B Visa replacements as a condition of receiving their meager outplacement benefit. H-1Bs are hired because they are young and their immigration status is controlled by their employer. To obtain a clear understanding of what is really happening, please search by title for the PDF version of my 2012 report, "How Record Immigration Levels Robbed American High-Tech Workers of $10 Trillion." There have been over 37 million visa admissions in just five high-skilled work visa programs between FY 1975 and FY 2010. To see where this leads, please review the just-released CEPR report, "Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?," In summary, only 24.6% of the US workforce had a "good job" with an annual salary of at least $38,400/year and partially-employer provided health insurance benefits.
    • World's geniuses? Hardly. The most recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the H-1B visa discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at "Level I", officially defined by the U.S. Dept. of Labor as those who have a "basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment." This belies the industry lobbyists' claims that H-1Bs are hired because they are experts that can't be found among the U.S. workforce.
    • More industry spin. Top H-1b sponsors also happen to be offshore outsourcing firms, and of course most of those approved are considered entry level (level 1 out of 4). This program is about lowering labor costs, and is used at a time when American workers are unemployed. Don't believe the glut of H-1b industry propaganda you are reading. It's all spin, and it's all about lining the pockets of industry groups who have seen salaries stagnate over the past decade.
  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Re: Top 10 public American companies requesting the most H-1B visas" by "trexibmer". Full excerpt: Aren't L1 visas mainly for non-skilled (non-professional) workers? I bet IBM plays fast and loose with the visa distinctions. So if they hit their quota of H-1Bs they bring on L1's to do the same work.
  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Re: Top 10 public American companies requesting the most H-1B visas" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: L-1 visas are used by companies with offices in multiple countries to temporarily bring their foreign workers into the US (up to 3 years). So if an employee from IBM India is working in the US, they are probably here on an L-1 visa. An H-1B visa is used to hire a foreign worker who is not already an employee of the company.
  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: According to the Wikipedia article on L1 visas, "The L-1 visa has two subcategories: L-1A for executives and managers, and L-1B for workers with specialized knowledge." (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L-1_visa).

    IBM U.S. primarily uses L1 visas to bring in people hired (or contracted) by IBM India. And, I can attest that the people they bring in are not executives and they do not have "specialized knowledge." Some of them are managers...it's not at all unusual for GBS engagements to have IBM India PMs managing both on-shore L1 visa holders and offshore IBM India employees. The L1 visa holders are typical IT people...DBAs, Java programmers, system support people, business analysts, and so on. These are hardly "specialized skills."

    But, no one in the government enforces the laws surrounding H1B or L1 visas, so IBM abuses the system. I'm retired now, but before retiring most of my engagements were staffed 90% by IBM India with just a few IBM U.S. or IBM Canada employees thrown in.

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Re: Top 10 public American companies requesting the most H-1B visas" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Not quite true...IBM Global Services Reportedly Cited for Visa Fraud in India. Excerpt from the article: The report referred to growing attempts in India to use “Blanket L” visas as a means of getting around tightened restrictions under the H-1B visa program:
    According to Herman, the number of cases in which Indian and American companies with offices in India “appear to be attempting to circumvent H-1B visa restrictions by sending people from India to the US on Blanket L visas for work that doesn’t qualify under the Blanket L visa category—especially as related to the requirement on “specialized knowledge”—has been on the rise. They report similar abuses regarding business visas. Accordingly, the refusal rate for Blanket L visas issued to Indian nationals has spiked from 2-3% to 20% within the past two years, according to Herman. The refusal rate for business visas is also on the rise. The US embassy does not keep statistics on the number of turnarounds—people denied entry into the US at ports of entry due to visa discrepancies—but Herman said he believes it to be “significantly higher than before”. While the refusal rate doesn’t by definition indicate fraud, “it’s a concern because it appears that some companies are trying to find a way to circumvent the Blanket L guidelines”.
  • USA Today: Poll: Life's just good for most older Americans. By Haya El Nasser. Excerpts: Life is good for most of the nation's seniors, according to a recent poll of 2,250 older adults. Whether they move to "active adult" communities such as Sun City or grow old in the homes where they raised their children, they say they are pretty darn content. ...

    Why are seniors so upbeat when many other Americans are not in a very happy place?

    "People in retirement have dodged a bullet," says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution. "They've gotten to the promised land in time to avoid all the bad stuff."

    This generation of retirees, including the oldest Baby Boomers, who turn 66 this year, are more likely to enjoy the fruits of their life-long labors than future retirees, Frey says. They stopped working before employers pulled the plug on pension plans, before companies stopped matching contributions to 401(k)s and before Social Security and Medicare finances hit the crisis stage.

    As a result, today's retirees could be the last wave of happy seniors.

    "I think the era of broad prosperity for American seniors will end with the first wave of Baby Boomers, now entering their 60s," Frey says. "Times are tougher for their later Boomer brothers and sisters who entered the labor and housing markets in the late 1970s during tougher economic times." ...

    "The battering has been unequal across the ages," says Ken Dychtwald, gerontologist, author and CEO of Age Wave, a consulting company that specializes in issues about aging. "As it turns out, if you were in your 60s and early 70s, you weren't really affected. If you're benefiting from Medicare, you're covered. More than half of people over the age of 60 live in homes that have been paid off." ...

    "We live in a society where we're led to believe young people are happy, content, resilient, fun and cool, and once you reach 60, all of that evaporates and you become unhappy, sick," Dychtwald says. "That's simply wrong. It's a misperception, a misunderstanding and profound misrepresentation. … Turns out, young people these days are the most anxious, most depressed, and the 60-76 are the most resilient, most financially protected."

  • Wall Street Journal: Former Employee Sues Infosys. By Dhanya Ann Thoppil. Excerpts: Infosys Ltd. said Thursday a former employee has sued the outsourcing-services provider in the U.S. over alleged abuse of visa rules, deepening the Indian company's legal troubles in a market that accounts for most of its revenue.

    Satya Dev Tripuraneni, who worked as an accounts manager at the California office of Infosys, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Aug. 2.

    Mr. Tripuraneni alleges the company's management retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on the visa practices that Infosys followed, such as using short-term business-visit visas to circumvent the fewer and expensive work visas meant for high-skilled labor, according to a copy of the lawsuit. ...

    The latest lawsuit against Infosys comes at a time when India's outsourcing companies are under intense backlash for sending business offshore ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November. Job creation has emerged as a key issue in campaigning as the U.S. grapples with a stubbornly high rate of unemployment and slow economic growth.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site
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  • Job Cut Reports
    • Comment 08/07/12: @-IBMAustin-: The way it has worked in recent years is that a building that is occupied is carried on the division's books. An empty building is carried on Corporate's books. Therefore it is incumbent for a division to consolidate as much as possible to save carrying costs. The Somers HQ facility, of the four buildings there, one was closed a year ago, another is in the process of being closed. Research (Watson) is closing the Hawthorne facility and had the gall to ask for and get a tax break from the town and NY State for bringing 400 "new jobs" to the county. -Anon-
    • Comment 08/07/12: -The beatings will continue-: Are you still in IBM? If not, and were not at least 55 years old AND (not OR) had at least 15 years of IBM employment then sadly, yes, your FHA amounts to nada, zilch, zero, nothing. Many hundreds, thousands that have been RAed found this information out the hard way by not listening to the Alliance and working towards getting a contract with real retirement health benefits in writing. And, sadly, many more yet to be RAed will find out they have no FHA too since IBM never will make it clear and remind those what IBM's criteria is to qualify for the FHA to enlighten these poor naive folks. And the FHA can be pulled and rescinded, terminated at any time by IBM even for those that might have just started using their notional accounts. -FHA'ed-
    • Comment 08/08/12: Once again, contractors are being told that they need to take time off without pay so that the executives can earn their well-deserved bonuses for their hard work. As in the past, the furlough is for five days. However, the date for completion is mid-September instead of the end of the quarter. That signals to me that they'll be running the numbers and if they do not look good, they've left themselves two weeks to demand more furlough. They did the same thing last year in 4Q - what started out as 5 days went to 7 days by early Dec then increased to 8 days a week later. Contractors were also reminded that Labor Day which they do not get paid for does not count as one of their five days. -Knew It Was Coming-
    • Comment 08/09/12: UK Consultation period of 30 days started 1 Aug. 30 Days means less than 100 employees, however there are separate consultation processes happening across almost all BU. So it is much bigger than may be disclosed. Meanwhile bonuses still not being awarded - 25% skip rate salary sacrifice continues and pay freeze again. If IBM makes 2015 there will be nothing left of value to do business with. -UKI-
    • Comment 08/09/12: To Chopped: "Why would customers care as long as the services contracted for are provided?" I'm an ex-IBMer who worked for 10 years on a State of California contract and who is now working on the customer side of that contract. I can tell you that the customer is CLUELESS about IBM and its employment practices, and is under the impression that IBM is doing its best to milk the state for every possible penny. Even many of the IBM sub-contractors are not aware of the bad treatment of IBM employees. I think that you might find more outrage from customers if they knew what was going on and how it affects service levels. This is especially true in Public Sector contracts where the employees are unionized and are sensitive to worker's rights. The best thing to do is spread the word; the next best thing is to leave IBM and contribute to the brain drain that will assure that Big Blue wins the race to the bottom. -bzboy-
    • Comment 08/09/12: To PBC'ed Off - as a former manager at IBM, whether or not you sign your PBC is of no matter. 100% PBCs done on time is purely for the manager to do. An employee does not have to sign it for it to be completed. You disagree? Don't sign. Does not mean a thing. It still goes into the system, recorded, and completed. It's an act of civil disobedience if you don't, but frankly, no one ever looks or cares. -RAed Jan 09-
    • Comment 08/10/12: WHERE'S OUR MONEY RANDY? Received letter from Oxford about the refund three weeks ago. Silence from IBM! Health-insurance-refunds-may-stall-in-employers-hands.html It was the great health insurance giveback: $1.1 billion in premiums returned to policyholders under the Affordable Care Act. But while many people who buy their own insurance found a check in the mail last week, millions insured through employers are still wondering what is happening with the money. Workers were notified in form letters from insurers this month that "rebate" had been sent to their employer, who "must follow certain rules in distributing the rebate to you." But even when employees paid a significant share of the premium, many employers are still deciding how, when or even whether to share the cash. -Anon-
    • Comment 08/10/12: -BRICem- Customers are far more worried about keeping their own jobs and benefits. They couldn't care less about IBM employees' jobs. I HOPED that when IBMers lost pensions and benefits in 1999 it would serve as a wake up call that a union was needed. I ALSO hoped that as more things were taken away and more and more people were fired for the sake of profit, that one day IBMers themselves, would say enough and organize a union to demand collective bargaining to have a say in their own lives. I have been disappointed so far for 12 years and I do not see the abuse slowing down at all.

      IBM has been sued over failing to meet contract obligations and it has not changed their business practices one bit. If IBM's competition brings jobs back onshore for real and not just a token effort, and begins to SUCCESSFULLY market it as a reason to go with them, then IBM MAY choose to follow suit. More than likely IBM will have an ad campaign showing how they have the best and brightest from ALL OVER THE WORLD working on your problems and offshore even more jobs.

      No one else is going to save your job if you won't take action to save it. The only people I have ever seen stand up for workers in another company are UNION workers standing in solidarity with brother and sister union workers. -Exodus2007-

    • Comment 08/10/12: An article about how force ranking creates an ever lowering of employee performance and team work. http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/04/2243672/evaluating-employees-with-forced.html#storylink=misearch Many in IBM know the effects of this type of evaluation system. The only way to resolve it is to get a contract that clearly states how employees will be evaluated as to performance. -Anonymous retiree-
    • Comment 08/10/12: It is with Mixed emotions,..., okay, enough of the drama. I gave my two week notice today to IBM. I am not happy about it, but I feel an excitement about the new opportunity I have in two weeks. So, a bit nervous and anxious. My pay outside IBM is going to increase 20% above what I am making now (Yup, there is life outside the big blue company). I guess the "no raises" this year was the final push on my butt out the door. To all of you Alliance Members, I hope you get this Union off the ground. -Just-A-Number-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
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  • Reuters: U.S. scores dead last again in healthcare study. By Maggie Fox. Excerpts: Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to a report released on Wednesday.

    The United States ranked last when compared to six other countries -- Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Fund report found. ...

    In 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, more than double that of any other country in the survey.

    Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454. ...

    Britain, whose nationalized healthcare system was widely derided by opponents of U.S. healthcare reform, ranks first in quality while the Netherlands ranked first overall on all scores, the Commonwealth team found. ...

    Every other system covers all its citizens, the report noted and said the U.S. system, which leaves 46 million Americans or 15 percent of the population without health insurance, is the most unfair.

  • Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): The Dental Crisis in America. Excerpts: While many in the United States receive some of the best oral health care in the world, the reality is that millions of Americans are unable to get even the most basic dental services. In fact, more than 40 million people live in areas around the country that have a shortage of dental providers. An even larger number of Americans do not have dental insurance coverage and are unable to afford the care they need. While there is no easy fix for the dental crisis in America today, Sen. Bernie Sanders' Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2012, introduced in the Senate in June, would remove many of the barriers that prevent people from achieving good oral health.

    Erica Solway, a fellow in Sanders' office who has worked on dental legislation, recently saw firsthand the need for improved access to care when she traveled to Wise, Va., in rural Appalachia, where an organization called Remote Area Medical (RAM) offers a free health care clinic which provides medical, dental, and vision services. More than 26,000 people have received free care at the events held at the Wise County Fairgrounds over the past 13 years. Just last month, 2,500 patients from 19 states were treated by 1,400 volunteers.

    A majority of those attending the clinic had experienced long-term unemployment or disability and earned less than $10,000/year. While some patients were uninsured, many had health insurance through Medicaid. Dental and vision services, which are optional benefits to the states in their Medicaid programs, were in the greatest demand.

  • Brookings Institute: With Health Care Costs, the U.S. Is a Huge Outlier. By Gary Burtless. Excerpts: The U.S. has always been a high-spending country, but the difference with other countries has widened over time. International statistics on health outlays suggest the share of our GDP devoted to health was about 40 percent higher than the average for other rich countries in the 1970s. The differential increased substantially during the 1980s and early 1990s and then continued to widen, though more slowly, in later decades. By 2010 the U.S. health share was almost 7.2 percentage points of GDP (or 70 percent) higher than the health spending share in countries with comparable incomes. We can describe that estimate in a slightly different way: The United States spent about $7,500 per capita on health care compared to an average of $3,300 in other rich countries.

    If the nation obtained better-than-average health outcomes in exchange for its much-higher-than-average health spending, we would have little reason to complain. However, there is almost no evidence U.S. health outcomes are better than those in other rich countries. A variety of statistics on mortality and morbidity suggest outcomes may be worse in this country than they are elsewhere.

News and Opinion Concerning the "War on the Middle Class"
Minimize "It is a restatement of laissez-faire-let things take their natural course without government interference. If people manage to become prosperous, good. If they starve, or have no place to live, or no money to pay medical bills, they have only themselves to blame; it is not the responsibility of society. We mustn't make people dependent on government- it is bad for them, the argument goes. Better hunger than dependency, better sickness than dependency."

"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.

  • New York Times: Why Are Investors Fleeing Equities? Hint: It’s Not the Computers. By Andrew Ross Sorkin. Excerpts: Let me offer a more straightforward explanation of why investors have left the stock market: it has been a losing proposition. An entire generation of investors hasn’t made a buck.

    The cult of equity is dying,” Bill Gross, the founder of Pimco, wrote in his monthly letter last week.

    “Like a once bright green aspen turning to subtle shades of yellow then red in the Colorado fall, investors’ impressions of ‘stocks for the long run’ or any run have mellowed as well,” Mr. Gross wrote. His letter came after he had sent a Twitter post that read: “Boomers can’t take risk. Gen X and Y believe in Facebook but not its stock. Gen Z has no money.” ...

    Individuals are worried that it’s hard to make the right bet and worried that the market is rigged against them. Much of this is an outgrowth of woes of Wall Street’s own making, like insider trading cases or market manipulation scandals. Those situations are partly why individual investors don’t believe they stand a chance against the professionals.

    Consider this: Of 878 students at 18 high schools across 11 different states surveyed by the Financial Literacy Group, three-quarters of them said they agreed with this statement: “The stock market is rigged mostly to benefit greedy Wall Street bankers.”

  • Politico: Election 2012: The myth of the small donor. By Kenneth P. Vogel. Excerpts: Susan Daole last month gave $100 to President Barack Obama because she wanted to fight the flood of million-dollar checks supporting Mitt Romney.

    “I think my contribution in its own way has just as much worth as the millions that some of the wealthy donors contribute,” said the 63-year-old librarian from Lexington, Ky. “And I’m really hoping that even my little bit makes a difference to get him elected again.”

    Sorry, Susan. It would take 100,000 Susan Daoles — nearly all of the registered Democrats in Lexington — giving $100 apiece just to match the $10 million that billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife dropped into the super PAC boosting Romney on a single day in June.

    Make no mistake, there is no shortage of Susan Daoles this year: Roughly 2.5 million people have kicked in $200 or less to the various committees helping their candidate win the White House.

    But those 2.5 million people account for less than 18 percent of the total money haul.

    By contrast, 2,100 donors giving $50,000 or more have contributed about $200 million to the Obama and Romney campaign committees, victory funds and their supportive super PACs. That’s far more than the $148 million all those 2.5 million small donors contributed through the end of June, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by POLITICO and the Campaign Finance Institute.

    In other words: In an election purportedly being driven by the economic concerns of the middle class, the top 0.07 percent of donors are more valuable than the bottom 86 percent.

  • The New Yorker: The Truth About “Romney Hood”. By John Cassidy. Excerpt: During a campaign stop in Stamford, Connecticut, on Tuesday morning, President Obama said Mitt Romney’s tax plan amounts to another big tax cut for the rich financed by tax hikes for less-wealthy Americans: “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse,” he said. “It’s Romney Hood.” It’s a good line, but what’s the truth of it? In my last post, I remarked that the Obama campaign was intent on fanning fears that Romney was planning a covert tax hike on middle-class Americans. Following Obama’s remarks, the Romney campaign quickly fired back, saying, “There’s only one candidate in this race who’s going to raise taxes on the American people—and that’s Barack Obama.”

    The President wasn’t talking off the top of his head, though. In attacking Romney’s proposal to cut tax rates across the board and scale back some popular tax breaks, he and his campaign are citing a new study I also mentioned yesterday, from the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan Washington research institute. The study clearly says that Romney’s plan would leave wealthy Americans considerably better off. According to the three economists who authored the report, those lucky folks earning a million dollars a year would end up taking home an extra eighty-seven thousand dollars in income. By contrast, taxpayers earning under two hundred thousand dollars a year would be hit with a tax increase of five hundred dollars. And those figures are calculated on the assumption that a Romney administration would eliminate many of the tax loopholes enjoyed by the rich. If that didn’t happen, the report says, a Romney Administration would have to take even more money from ordinary Americans. ...

    Essentially, the report is an accounting exercise. It takes all of the economic pledges that Romney has made and examines what he would have to do in order to meet them. For those of you who have forgotten, here’s what the Mittster has promised: An indefinite extension of the 2001-2003 Bush tax cuts; a further twenty per cent cut in income-tax rates across the board; the elimination of all taxes on investment income for families earning less than two hundred thousand dollars a year; repeal of the alternative minimum tax (A.M.T.); elimination of the estate tax; a big reduction in the corporate-tax rate; and a repeal of the tax increases included in the 2010 health-reform bill.

  • National Journal: The Truth About Romney’s Tax Plan: It’s a Pipe Dream. By Jim Tankersley. Excerpts: Nothing is as simple as campaign commercials or candidate sound bites make it sound, especially not tax reform, and certainly not tax reform with very few details revealed. Just ask the economist Mitt Romney is holding up as a shield against attacks on his tax plan.

    Specifically, ask John W. Diamond if he thinks it is possible, politically, to pass the sort of Romneyesque tax plan that Diamond predicts would create an additional 7 million jobs over the next decade.

    “Absolutely not,” the Rice University economist replied, in an interview this week. Even under a Romney presidency, he added, “I don’t think there’s any chance.”

    Diamond also said he “can’t argue” with the basic conclusions reached by an independent group of economists who found – to much derision from the Romney camp but to the delight of President Obama and his campaign ad-makers – that Romney’s plan would necessarily cut taxes on the wealthy but raise them on lower-income Americans. ...

    The rub is in all those details that Romney refuses to release about which tax breaks he would scrap. There’s a reason he doesn’t want to talk about them: The choices are ugly. You have only a few big targets to finance a big income-tax cut. They include credits and deductions that are extremely popular with swing voters, such as the child tax credit and deductions for mortgage interest, health care benefits, and charitable contributions. The only way a big tax-overhaul will pass, Diamond said, is if a president takes hold of a bunch of those popular credits and tries to sell voters on why they should give them up.

  • Financial Times: Americans need to face the harsh truth and pay more tax. By Jared Bernstein. Excerpts: One of the guiding principles of contemporary tax policy in the US is the notion that Americans are terribly overtaxed. Both candidates are running on not raising taxes for the middle classes and Mitt Romney wants to not only make the George W. Bush tax cuts permanent, he wants to cut income tax rates another 20 per cent across the board.

    Yet, data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reveal that, when it comes to federal taxation, US households are less taxed now than 30 years ago, and that is not just a function of the recession. The CBO data began in 1979 when the typical, or median, household paid 19 per cent of their income in federal taxes. In 2009, that share had fallen to 11 per cent. ...

    For Republicans who have signed the Grover Norquist pledge to never raise taxes, the misleading mantra that we are overtaxed serves two purposes. First, the wealthiest households get the biggest income boost from any across-the-board cuts.

    Second, once the villainy of tax increases is widely accepted, the only way to achieve any deficit savings is through spending cuts. But this is very dangerous logic. The House Republican budget, for example, as authored by Paul Ryan, would gut virtually every government function outside of Social Security, healthcare and defence.

    Barack Obama, backed by Senate Democrats, is calling for the upper-income Bush tax cuts to expire. But contrary to popular belief, Mr Obama has already been an aggressive tax cutter. His cuts have helped considerably in reducing recessionary damage to family incomes, but there needs to be a more robust plan to return to fiscal health. ...

    The best thing to do, once the economic recovery is solidly under way, is to simply let the Bush tax cuts expire and return to the tax structure that prevailed under Bill Clinton. It cannot be plausibly argued, based on economic outcomes, that the rate structure in those years was counterproductive. Oh, and it also helped deliver a budget surplus.

  • Washington Post opinion: Romney’s tax plan makes no sense. By Robert J. Samuelson. Excerpt: There seems to be a Democratic mole inside Mitt Romney’s campaign. Could it be Romney himself? Well, of course not. But considering the campaign’s behavior, it might just as well be. President Obama and his allies have cast Romney as a wealthy fat cat who’s out of touch with everyday Americans and who would use his presidency to enrich the already rich. To counter this damning image, the last thing you’d expect Romney to do is embrace a tax plan favoring the super-rich.

    Which is exactly what he has done.

    After examining Romney’s proposal, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded that households with incomes exceeding $200,000 would receive tax cuts; meanwhile, taxes would rise for the other 95 percent of the population. Taxpayers making more than $1 million would receive an average cut of $87,000; those making less than $200,000 would pay an average of $500 more. Romney denies that he would raise taxes on the middle class but has provided no evidence that the Tax Policy Center’s analysis is wrong.

    What can he be thinking?

    It’s not just that the politics are poisonous. The economics don’t make sense, either. Many wealthy Americans already have lower-than-average tax rates, because their incomes derive heavily from capital gains (profits on the sale of stocks or other assets) and dividends. These are taxed at a preferential 15 percent rate. Remember the ruckus over Warren Buffett and his secretary? Although the wealthiest 5 percent still pay about 40 percent of federal taxes, it’s questionable whether further reducing their tax burden would bolster the economy. ...

    What’s curious is that, with a few courageous tweaks, Romney could have presented a more credible plan. In 1986, Ronald Reagan supported eliminating the preferential rate for capital gains, which then remained at 28 percent from 1987 to 1997. The economy did fine. Romney might have emulated Reagan by proposing a top tax rate of 30 percent and an end to the capital gains and dividend preferences.

  • CNN: Why won't Romney release more tax returns? By Edward D. Kleinbard and Peter C. Canellos. Excerpts: By announcing that he will release no further tax returns beyond his 2010 and 2011 returns, Mitt Romney appears to have exempted himself from the proud bipartisan tradition of presidential nominees displaying genuine financial candor with the electorate.

    What is more, his disclosure to date is in the wrong direction: It is the release of Romney's past returns, not his current ones, that matters.

    Since George Romney inaugurated the practice more than 40 years ago by releasing 12 years of tax returns in his bid for the Republican Party nomination, presidential nominees have been transparent with voters about their personal finances. For this reason, we have not suffered a significant tax scandal involving a nominee or sitting president since President Richard Nixon's abuse of the tax code.

    Either Romney has an unresolved father figure issue, or he has some special reason not to follow a tradition established by his father.

    Given Romney's financial sophistication, it has been assumed by some that there cannot be any tax skeletons in his closet. His reluctance to disclose past returns, however, undermines that assumption. We are left with the difficult task of plausibly reconstructing his financial record based on the one full return that he has released. The result is troubling.

  • Bloomberg/BusinessWeek: Exclusive Romney Interview: On Humility and Tax Returns. By Josh Tyrangiel. Excerpts: On his way to a fundraiser in Chicago on Aug. 7, Governor Romney talked with Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel about his father, what he learned at Bain, and why the controversy over his tax returns is a nonissue.

    Q: Let’s frame the issue around your tax returns in a slightly different way. If you’re an investor and you’re looking at a company, and that company says that its great strength is wise management and fiscal know-how, wouldn’t you want to see the previous, say, five years’ worth of its financials?

    Romney: I’m not a business. We have a process in this country, which was established by law, which provides for the transparency which candidates are required to meet. I have met with that requirement with full financial disclosure of all my investments, but in addition have provided and will provide a full two years of tax returns. This happens to be exactly the same as with John McCain when he ran for office four years ago. And the Obama team had no difficulty with that circumstance. The difference between then and now is that President Obama has a failed economic record and is trying to find any issue he can to deflect from the failure of his record. Thanks, guys. Goodbye.

  • Washington Post: Romney’s misleading history of tax returns issued by presidential contenders. By Glenn Kessler. Excerpts: In trying to fend off demands — from both Democrats and even some Republicans — that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney release more than two years of tax returns, his campaign has sought to claim that releasing two years of tax returns is normal. (Romney so far has released his 2010 return and an estimate for his 2011 return.) ...

    In fact, McCain is really the exception. John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, George W. Bush in 2000, Bob Dole in 1996, Bill Clinton in 1992 and Michael Dukakis in 1988 all released many years of tax returns when they ran for president against the incumbent, either at the time or because they had routinely released tax returns while in public office. (There was no incumbent in 2000.) Dole, in fact, released tax returns for a whopping 30 years.

    Of course, Romney’s father, George Romney, is famous for having released 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president in 1968, saying “one year could be a fluke.” As BuzzFeed showed, he paid an effective tax rate of 50 percent — those were days before the Reagan tax cuts. ...

    And what of Kerry’s wife? Romney must have missed the controversy, largely fanned by Republicans, about her tax returns, in which they darkly suggested that she was secretly funding her husband’s presidential campaign. (She inherited the Heinz fortune from her late husband, and it was worth at least $500 million.)

    A quick check of the clips shows that it was rather big issue, so much so that she eventually made public the first two pages of her 2003 return.

    That was not enough for Republicans, who wanted an even broader look. Amusingly, we see that the Wall Street Journal editorial page complained that, with an effective tax rate of 12.4 percent, “she is paying a lower average rate than nearly all middle-class taxpayers paid in 2001” — similar to the line that the Obama campaign has been using about Romney’s tax rate.

    Romney, in his Senate race against Ted Kennedy in 1994, demanded that Kennedy release his tax returns, and Kennedy refused. In his 2002 race for governor, Romney cited Kennedy’s refusal, quoting him as saying, “I value my privacy.” Romney added: “I think he was right and I was wrong.” He never released his tax returns in that campaign. ...

    The Pinocchio Test: McCain did release two years of tax returns, but the Romney campaign is being misleading with its suggestions that releasing two years of tax returns is some sort of standard for presidential contenders. Two years is actually the exception — only one challenger out of the last seven presidential nominees has released just two years of returns. Moreover, Romney is wrong to suggest that releasing the tax returns of Kerry’s wife “wasn’t an issue” in the 2004 campaign. It was a big issue, because Republicans made it one.

  • New York Times: Can People as Rich as Romney Escape Taxes? They Can. By James B. Stewart. Excerpt: On the face of it, Senator Harry Reid’s explosive but flimsily sourced claim that Mitt Romney paid no income tax seems preposterous. Mr. Romney has denied it, and without his returns no one can say for sure. But for someone who makes millions of dollars a year, would it even be possible?

    Evidently it is.

    It so happens that this summer the Internal Revenue Service released data from the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the highest adjusted gross income. This elite ultrarich group earned on average $202 million in 2009, the latest year available. And buried in the data is the startling disclosure that six of the 400 paid no federal income tax. ...

    And that data demonstrates that many of the ultrarich can and do reduce their tax liability to very low levels, even zero. Besides the six who paid no federal income tax, the I.R.S. reported that 27 paid from zero to 10 percent of their adjusted gross incomes and another 89 paid between 10 and 15 percent, which is close to the 13.9 percent rate that Mr. Romney disclosed that he paid in 2010. (At the other end of the spectrum, 82 paid 30 to 35 percent. None paid more than 35 percent.) So more than a quarter of the people earning an average of over $200 million in 2009 paid less than 15 percent of their adjusted gross income in taxes.

  • Washington Post: Tax reform is going to be really, really hard. By Ezra Klein . Excerpts: Last week, I wrote about the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s effort to run the numbers on Mitt Romney’s base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform plan. The numbers, as you may have guessed, didn’t add up. And that’s not just a problem for Romney. It’s a problem for anyone committed to the idea of tax reform.

    As polarized as Washington is over tax and budget issues, a base-broadening, rate-lowering tax-code overhaul has become the one policy every wonk in town can agree on. ...

    The trouble is that just as tax reform offers a slew of benefits and political possibilities that simply raising taxes doesn’t, it also presents a slew of technical and political difficulties that simply raising taxes doesn’t. The Tax Policy Center’s paper points to five of these.

    The first is that as you lower rates, the various deductions and loopholes you are looking to cut become worth less money. If you cut rates by 20 percent, you wipe out about 20 percent of the value of deductions. That makes it harder to pay for your tax plan, much less to raise new revenue with it.

    The second problem is that it can be politically difficult to cut tax breaks. If you listen to Democrats, you would think these benefits mainly accrued to corporate jet owners and oil companies. But if you are going to seriously lower rates — not to mention raise any revenue — you’re talking about cutting or eliminating the deduction for home-mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes and employer-provided health insurance. These are, by and large, regressive, but they are also widely used by the middle class, and exceedingly popular. And even when you are going after oil companies, those guys have really good lobbyists, and they are much more committed to retaining their tax breaks than the rest of the public is to eliminating them.

    The third problem is that it’s very hard to retain progressivity in the code while attempting this kind of reform. That’s what tripped up Romney: His promised cuts for the rich are simply larger than the tax preferences they currently receive. But a more reasonable plan that cut rates more modestly and also raised new revenue would probably find itself in similar trouble quite quickly. And when “tax reform” starts being accurately portrayed as a “middle-class tax hike,” it stops sounding so sweet to politicians.

  • Huffington Post: Attorney General to U.S.: Nothing to See On Wall Street, Folks, Just Move Along. By Richard Eskow. Excerpts: Yesterday the Justice Department announced that once again it's not going to pursue evidence of Wall Street crimes which has been sent its way. It has already failed to act on information sent to it by sources whose investigators are apparently more dogged than its own, including several other government agencies and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Now the bipartisan committee which was led by Senators Carl Levin and Tom Coburn can be added to the list of sources whose leads weren't pursued by Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff. ...

    The Justice Department's argument for inaction seems to come down to this: Bank cases are complicated. They're hard to win. We don't want to try. And it has repeatedly used an argument that's also been made by the president and Treasury Secretary as well, as they've tried to explain away the inactivity: that bad banking behavior isn't necessarily criminal behavior. That claim's been repeated many times, especially in the context of "ABACUS" and other Goldman Sachs misdeeds contained in the Coburn/Levin report.

  • Huffington Post: Goldman's Victory: Don't Blame Prosecutors. By Peter S. Goodman. Excerpts: Let us assume that the Justice Department vastly would have preferred to prosecute Goldman Sachs for its shady dealings in peddling toxic mortgages during the real estate boom, rather than put out the statement it issued late Thursday saying in essence, "Never mind, and enjoy the Hamptons."

    et us assume this, because the visuals of not prosecuting are bad for nearly everyone involved. The failure to prosecute enhances the public perception that ordinary people got screwed during the real estate bubble, while savvy Wall Street executives loaded money bags onto private jets and decamped to comfortable islands. ...

    The same logic explains more broadly why nearly all of the seamy characters who profited while bludgeoning taxpayers, working people, retirees and homeowners have gotten away scot-free: The prosecutors can't muster cases with a good enough chance at winning.

    All of which means there is something seriously amiss with the laws and regulations that allowed the financial crisis to build to such proportions. The fact that Goldman will walk away without incident -- unless you count the piddly settlement with the SEC -- has occasioned predictable hand-wringing about the supposed timidity of the government's cops on the beat. But the problem here is not the prosecutors: It is the rules under which they are working. It is the regulatory abdication that enabled a predatory mindset to capture American finance.

    The bad guys have gotten away with bad deeds because the bad deeds were mostly legal, or at least sufficiently ambiguous in the light of the law to embolden institutions wealthy enough to employ empires' worth of lawyers to try their luck. The game was rigged in their favor. It was, 'Heads we win, tails the taxpayer loses -- and if the cops show up to bust the game, we grab the cash and ride free long before they nab us, leaving behind a trail of indecipherable ledger books.'

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.

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