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Highlights—September 29, 2012

  • Fortune/CNN/Money: IBM's Ginni Rometty looks ahead. By Jessi Hempel. Excerpts: Ginni Rometty's first customer conference as CEO of IBM was an unusual affair, especially by Big Blue's buttoned-up standards. The June confab took place in an airy loft in Manhattan's hip Chelsea neighborhood. When the tiny elevator arrived to whisk a group of us to the meeting space, the doors opened and there was Rometty, flanked by a couple of visibly nervous assistants. "Really good to see you!" she said, clasping my hand warmly as her handlers checked their watches. The presentation was about to begin and Rometty still wasn't wearing her microphone. "Isn't this neat?" she asked. ...

    She also needs to live up to almost ridiculously high expectations: IBM has said it will add $20 billion more in revenue growth in the next three years. To put that in perspective, that's a business roughly the size of Nike, No. 136 on the Fortune 500. ...

    Rometty was at Palmisano's side for much of his decade-long tenure, and became a serious candidate to succeed him about four years ago. And she was personally involved in setting the high bar that she must now clear. She and other senior leaders helped him develop the five-year plan -- dubbed "2015 Roadmap" -- that has IBM targeting more than $125 billion in revenue that year. ...

    Rometty had always been a top performer, but she caught the eye of executives at headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., in 2002 when she managed the integration of IBM's $3.5 billion purchase of PricewaterhouseCoopers' IT consulting business. As general manager for IBM's global services division -- the unit that had been at the heart of Gerstner's now legendary resuscitation of the company -- Rometty pushed early for the acquisition and helped negotiate the deal. Overnight IBM became the world's largest consulting business. And then Rometty had to figure out how to integrate 30,000 PwC consultants into her group of 150,000 IBMers.

    It was a mishmash of cultures that could have gone horribly wrong, but Rometty managed the integration with a particular sensitivity to its impact on employees. IBM was buying talent, after all. The acquisition wouldn't be successful unless Rometty persuaded the consultants, particularly the 1,000 or so incoming PwC partners, to stick around. She began planning for how the two cultures would fit together even before the dealmakers set financial terms. It was particularly challenging to navigate differing compensation packages. To bring salaries in line with IBM peers', some of PwC's top executive partners had to take as much as a 40% cut in cash compensation -- and forgo perks like club memberships. To make up for the cash reductions, Rometty negotiated stock options that motivated the new employees to stay for at least four years. Ultimately, top performers could earn a higher payout. ...

    IBM is constantly restructuring its workforce, and the coming changes are sure to test Rometty's leadership style. As IBM becomes more global, it will continue to bolster its ranks internationally, leaving the U.S. (an estimated 105,000 employees today) with a smaller number of workers -- mostly researchers, executives who focus on sales and marketing, and talent coming from startup acquisitions. For many current employees -- some of whom already feel taxed by the long hours and penny-pinching that IBM demands -- the process will be wrenching: They'll need to either reinvent themselves, or more likely, move on. And unlike when she was running global services, Rometty won't be able to leave them all a voicemail.

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • That's the problem with IBM - bureaucracy. This has buried the Global Service Business that she was in charge of. We were told for every customer we lose it takes 5 new ones to make up for. Well, the techs didn't lose the customer in the first place and Rometty's home style budget approach work to a certain point. The upper management get to keep their jobs. You can't keep cutting hours when your bureaucracy is too expensive. The company wants the techs that are there. Once the discontinue contract(s) with IBM the techs are asked to stay and IBM is gone. I know what Sam was thinking about commoditize, but Ginni's hammer busted the nail.
    • Glad Ginni is bringing in some "fresh air" but some of her first acts as CEO's were to keep the company jets for the Chiefs while laying off a number of the Indians (yours truly included in the latter bunch) and I am disappointed that she did not take a tough backbone stand on the whole Augusta golf issue. Watch as she continues to shift US based jobs to lower cost labor markets while continuing to press for maintaining off-shore profits tax breaks from the US Gov. That is not very patriotic and in the long run exceptionally detrimental to the US economy.
    • "...she took control of the 19th-largest company in the world by revenue (2011 sales surpassed $107 billion) and, at presstime, the fifth largest by valuation, with a market cap of $235 billion. Her influence on the world of technology and her company's impact on the financial markets earn her the No. 1 spot in Fortune's annual ranking of the Most Powerful Women in Business. She inherits a company with an enviable growth record for its enormous size. Over the past decade, the company has increased profits by an average 16% every year, returning 12% annually to shareholders..."

      All the while over the past 6+ years IBM has been making continued profits and off-shoring jobs, or as they call it "job redistribution". With these profits over the years the execs have continued to receive "compensation packages" while the rank and file have endured decreases in pay, job level reductions and little to no increase in performance pay and this year they announced there would be no increases except for a select few. These policies only help to increase company profits but do little to nothing to help the US workforce.

    • Well the article is all glowing. That's for sure. But as others have pointed out, this company has returned earnings by reducing expenses (they have not so far grown revenue by that much). And these expenses are US based employees that were and are being eliminated (outsourced) and the support structure that enabled them. Counter to that, it gave its executives record bonuses, again from the expense savings. So all in all this company is becoming a non-US company heavily weighted at the top. It will be interesting to see how this turns out. A marvelous company the envy of all or a smoldering wreck of what it used to be. I don't know the answer but will be watching. I hope the company continues to be recognizable as a US company and successful simultaneously.
  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Terrible company for career advancements” Current Consultant in Washington, DC. Pros: They have a pretty good benefits package. Cons: No real room for career growth. They will pay new hires more than an employee who has worked there for a few years. Senior leadership only cares about making their numbers each quarter. You have to pay out of pocket for happy hours. Advice to Senior Management: Give back to your employees instead of being so greedy.
    • Not a place for growth for younger employees” Current Senior Consultant in Austin, TX. Pros: They have a strong work from home culture. As a global company there is a lot of opportunity to work employees from other countries. Cons: In the group I am in there is zero budget for training, I haven't had training for over seven years. The company is very top heavy with more managers than "doers". The utilization rate is outrageously high; if you take your vacation you have to make it up with overtime otherwise you can not meet your utilization target. Advice to Senior Management: Show some appreciation for top rated employees. I am a "1" performer and don't feel any effort to retain employees like me has been made. If anything I feel like the higher my level has been the more I have felt the push to actually leave IBM.
    • Lots of opportunities, but not the best place to work” Current IT Consultant in Sacramento, CA. Pros: Lots of assignments, no dearth of opportunities. Many international assignments (even to exotic places) if you want more global experience. Does almost any technology that you can think of. Cons: No HR (managers make all the decisions), which is not very efficient if the manager is not capable. Average salary, and fewer perks. Slow career growth. Brutal hire and fire policies. Advice to Senior Management: The crux of IBM is the manager. IBM needs to give more importance while hiring manager.
    • Lots of resources, difficult to navigate” Former Employee in Toronto, ON (Canada). Pros: IBM offers a wide array of resources available to employees. This includes project diversity, tuition reimbursement, etc. Cons: IBM is difficult to navigate given its size and complex organization structure. Performance is often not sufficiently rewarded as the company tends to normalize salary within each level. Advice to Senior Management: Sr management needs to plan beyond the immediate quarter and invest properly in employee. There seems to be a significant talent drain in the last couple of years.
    • Good place to work but difficult to get an international assignment” Current Employee in Wrocław (Poland). Pros: - not bad salary; - good atmosphere. Cons: - delivery centre a kind of second class IBM; - no money for anything. Advice to Senior Management: generally managers need experience and more standing for their team
    • IBM Experience” Former Employee in Gold Coast (Australia). Pros: The people you got to work with were amazing. They were always helpful and we had fun. Cons: Management didn't care at all. Instead of doing their job one of the managers would only organize her wedding and nothing else. Have no idea how she even got the position as she was clearly not qualified. Advice to Senior Management: Hire a competent management team.
    • “Great, but rapid growth in the Philippines needs better leadership development”. Former Manager in Quezon City, National Capital Region (Philippines). Pros: For people in my function, we enjoy good work-life balance and flexibility. In general, leaders (especially home-grown) are open to feedback and suggestions. Many career opportunities due to the size of the company. Company culture is great and values are emphasized. Cons: Rapid growth is causing the company to get external hires for senior positions. Some are not being trained properly in terms of the culture and bring bad habits from their other companies. Promotions from within need to be emphasized. Advice to Senior Management: Cultivate current employees and try as much as possible to keep senior positions for those who match the culture of the company.
    • Too much focus on cost reduction”. Former Employee. Pros: Not much for me. I hear severance was decent but i couldn't hold out that long. Cons: Big companies aren't for me but the company i was with was acquired. I hung around too long as the company focused on cost reduction instead of product development and profit. Advice to Senior Management: Good luck with those layoffs.
    • Work with great people at an iconic company - an ideal place to start a corporate career”. Current Employee in London, England (United Kingdom). Pros: The people. Clear career progression. Fairly good work/life balance. Wide range of projects and clients. Amazing global depth and breadth of the work we do. Cons: Expected to travel away from home and work wherever your client is. Low pay compared to other big consultancy firms. Business is very tight with money - don't expect many funded social activities. Very focused on billable hours - that is what matters most. Advice to Senior Management: Focus a little less on quarterly earnings and a bit more on looking after your people and making them feel valued.
    • Enterprise Data Management Senior Consultant – new Deloitte – Denver, CO. “Great Place to Work If you Can Find a Hiring Opportunity”. Former Project Manager in Hopewell Junction, NY. Pros: Competitive salary. EXCELLENT Benefits. Vast knowledge base & learning resources. Great place to build your skill base. Global teams. Cons: VERY high stress. Executive management that is only interested in their next position. Managers that often have little actual management experience. Limited respect for the individual employee. Very high attrition through layoffs within the US workforce. Advice to Senior Management: Stop laying off subject matter experts & US workforce. You are losing many years worth of intellectual capital, dedication, loyalty and respect every time IBM lets someone with 20+ years of experience go. Replacing the US employee with a foreign workforce helps lower man hour costs, but is costing IBM productivity and dedication due to the lower skilled, less experienced Asian, Mexican, European, Chinese, and Slavic workers they are replacing long time US workers with. Stop focusing on the stock price and profit margin and focus on revitalizing workforce in America!
  • Alliance for Retired Americans: Friday Alert. This week's articles include:
    • Past Statements by Paul Ryan Shed More Light on his Policies Regarding Seniors
    • Early and Absentee Voting is Under Way in 30 States
    • Affordable Care Act Saves Seniors $4.5 Billion on Prescription Drugs
    • Romney: Uninsured can get Health Care in the Emergency Room
    • Alliance Leaders: Institute for Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly Honors Easterling
    • NFL Referees’ Strike is Settled
  • The Daily Courier (Canada): Ford offering $50,000 and new car voucher to encourage early retirements. By Ross Marowitts. Excerpts: rmed with a new collective agreement ratified over the weekend, Ford is offering a $50,000 incentive to about 1,000 employees eligible for early retirement in order to recall hundreds of laid-off workers. "We will be offering certain retirement-eligible employees an incentive to retire from the workforce to allow our employees on layoff opportunities to return to work," spokeswoman Lauren More said in an email.

    The incentive available in the fourth quarter will also provide a voucher for a new car along with the standard pension program.

  • USA Today: Women face host of obstacles to retirement. By Christine Dugas. Excerpts: When Jeanne Majors, 63, took an early retirement in December 2005, she assumed that she would pick up a part-time job and be in good financial shape. She didn't know that her future would quickly fall apart.

    Majors, who is single and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., learned the hard way about the retirement obstacles that most women face today. When the economy slid into the recession, she lost her part-time job and could not find another.

    "They wanted somebody young," Majors says. "Or if I was a man, somebody would have hired me at my age. I'm not sorry that I retired, but things didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. Everything went bust." ...

    "Many older women are frightened," says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "They just never thought that they could be in their 50s or early 60s and not have a job. They have seen their savings, their home value and their retirement all decline because they've had to use it to live. And they don't know how to rebuild it." Women face a host of obstacles that are tarnishing their golden years. Among them...

New on the Alliance@IBM Site
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  • Job Cut Reports
    • Comment 09/24/12: just a heads up. There is an ALL Manager day long Meeting Today in Fishkill. Looks like yet another round of layoffs are very near in the future. -Fishkool-
    • Comment 09/24/12: UK local IBM ITD Deskside Support getting outsourced /Tuped -Jim-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
Minimize
  • Health Affairs Blog: What Do Polls Really Tell Us About The Public’s View Of The Affordable Care Act? By Michael Saks. Excerpts: Since its passage, the public has been told repeatedly how it feels about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), namely, that most of us disapprove of the ACA and detest its “mandate” that we be insured. A closer look at the national opinion data reveals that on those and related issues, public opinion actually favors the ACA.

    Let’s begin with the basic finding that has been repeated so often: public disapproval of the ACA outweighs approval by a gap averaging around 5 to 10 points. But very few polls ask why people disapprove. The answers to that question change the picture dramatically.

    One study that did ask “why” found that quite a bit of the disapproval comes from people who want health care reform expanded. When asked what they want done with the ACA, only 38 percent of survey respondents want it replaced with a Republican alternative or simply repealed; 25 percent want it kept as is, and 28 percent want more than the ACA provides. These latter 28 percent doubtless are the remnants of the 46-65 percent of the public who wanted health care reform to include a “public option,” or the 35 percent who want a single-payer system. Put simply, most Americans (53 percent versus 38 percent) want either the ACA or something with a greater role for government.

    Many who disapprove of the ACA say they disapprove because it “creates too much government involvement in the health care system” (54 percent). Yet the public supports Medicare by 95 percent to 3 percent, Social Security by 95 percent to 4 percent, and Medicaid by 92 percent to 6 percent. How can a public that so overwhelmingly supports those far more government-involved programs complain that the ACA “creates too much government involvement”? The incoherence is not difficult to explain. Large numbers of respondents have told pollsters that they are “confused about” (48 percent) or “don’t have a good understanding of” the ACA. Their lack of understanding is confirmed by the findings that more than a third think the ACA contains provisions that it does not contain (e.g., death panels) and barely half can identify provisions that are in it. ...

    Some surveys dig further and ask respondents about specific provisions of the ACA. At this point, negativity disappears almost entirely:

    All of those provisions find favor not only with majorities of Democrats and Independents (who also support additional provisions), but also with a majority of Republicans. So, although we do not like the label on the package, we apparently love what is in it.

  • Center on Budget & Policy Priorities: Uninsured Rate Fell or Held Steady in Almost Every State Last Year, New Census Data Show. By Matt Broaddus and Edwin Park. Excerpt: The share of residents without health coverage fell in 20 states last year, Census data released yesterday show, while rising in just one. This improvement largely reflect increased private coverage among young adults — helped by a health reform provision allowing them to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 — and greater enrollment in public programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • New York Times: The High Cost of Out-of-Pocket Expenses. By Judith Graham. Excerpts: It comes as a shock: how much people have to spend on medical care for a frail older relative in the last several years of life.

    A common assumption is that Medicare will pay for almost everything. But that’s mistaken.

    As a new study by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan documents, out-of-pocket costs for older adults at the close of life often place a significant financial burden on individuals and families. ...

    Key findings are eye-opening:

    • On average, people with Medicare coverage paid $38,688 for medical care in the last five years of life.
    • There was enormous variation, with 25 percent of participants spending an average $101,791 out-of-pocket for medical services and 25 percent spending an average $5,163 during this period.
    • One-quarter of older adults incurred out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceeded the total value of their assets during this five-year period. Forty-three percent of older adults incurred expenses that exceeded their assets, excluding the value of their homes.
    • People with Alzheimer’s disease spent more than those with any other type of illness — an average $66,155 during the last five years of life, compared with average spending of $32,129 for cancer, $37,996 for cardiovascular disease and $38,517 for diabetes.
    • Long-term care expenses (nursing home, assisted living), which aren’t covered by Medicare, much to many families’ deep surprise, were the No. 1 category of out-of-pocket spending, followed by home health care.

    What’s behind these costs? Although it is a fairly comprehensive program, Medicare doesn’t cover everything. Besides long-term care, traditional Medicare also does not pay for companions or homemakers who help older people get dressed, eat, bathe and cook; dental services; hearing aids and eyeglasses.

  • Washington Post: Romney: Uninsured have emergency rooms. By Rachel Weiner. Excerpt: In his interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pointed to emergency rooms as a form of health care for people without insurance.

    “Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” Romney told interviewer Scott Pelley. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and — and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

    When Pelley pointed out that the ER is the most expensive form of health-care, Romney argued that he was talking about a variety of options that vary by state.

    “Some provide that care through clinics, some provide that care through emergency rooms,” he said. In Massachusetts, Romney said, they had come up with a different solution — but he wouldn’t push universal care on other states.

  • Employee Benefit Adviser: Workers flounder with health care decision. Excerpts: Open enrollment deadlines are just around the corner, and a new survey suggests the choices aren’t getting any easier for many workers.

    According to a report from Aetna, Americans rank choosing health care benefits as the second most difficult life decision, behind only saving for retirement. Aetna’s survey shows those who stress over health benefits decisions cite confusing and complicated information (88%), conflicted data (84%) and difficulty knowing which plan is right for them (83%). ...

    The survey further finds that more than 40% of respondents have skipped a prescription dose, halted their medication or delayed a needed medical procedure. What’s worse, those in fair or poor health (76%) or with chronic conditions (57%) are the most likely to engage in those dangerous behaviors.

  • Washington Post: Report: Double-digit premium hikes seen in 7 of 10 top Medicare prescription drug plans. Excerpt: Millions of seniors enrolled in some of the most popular Medicare prescription drug plans face double-digit premium hikes next year if they don’t shop for a better deal, says a private firm that analyzes the highly competitive market. Seven of the top 10 prescription plans are raising their premiums by 11 percent to 23 percent, according to a report this week by Avalere Health.
  • Washington Post: Health plans are likely to increase premiums and raise charges for dependents. By Michelle Andrews. Excerpt: The health insurance open enrollment season is heading into full swing, and many employees will be reviewing their plan options over the next few months. Premiums will rise, although perhaps not as much as last year, and dependent coverage may be noticeably more expensive than in the past. Comparing plans may be easier, though, thanks to summaries that group health plans and insurers now must provide. As workers ponder decisions, here’s what they can expect...
  • Kaiser Health News: Higher Prices By Hospitals, Other Providers, Drove 2011 Spending Increases, Study Finds. By Julie Appleby. Excerpt: Spending on medical care for Americans with job-based insurance rose 4.6 percent last year, driven mainly by higher prices charged by hospitals and other medical providers, a report out today says. The growth came despite a sluggish economy which some economists thought would translate into more modest spending growth. Still, last year’s per enrollee increase ranks below the 5.8 percent increase in 2009, according to the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonpartisan research group funded by insurers.
  • New York Times: The Annual Health Benefits Gamble. By Ann Carrns. Excerpts: It’s soon to be open enrollment season for many workplace health plans, when employees choose their coverage for the coming year. And while this may be an annual ritual, many workers, according to a recent survey, have trouble determining which plan is right for them

    Choosing annual benefits is often a gamble, even if, like my family, you’re fortunate enough to be in good health and have pretty good insurance options. None of us has a serious chronic condition, and we use few prescription medications. So last year, after weighing our choices, we opted to keep our monthly premiums low by going with what we considered to be a substantial ($5,000 plus) family deductible. Everyone was reasonably healthy, we reasoned. Our children are well out of the phase when they catch every bug going around school, and we had enough emergency savings in case something pricey cropped up.

    Essentially, we considered the odds and wagered that the coming year would be like the last year. And we pretty much lost that bet.

    Illness happens, even to generally healthy people. For various reasons, our family ended up having unusually frequent visits to the doctor (not to mention the dentist, but that’s another issue). So we quickly exhausted the upfront health “credit” that our plan provides, to cover costs before the deductible must be met. We probably won’t top our deductible, but we’re still (ouch) a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket. Our overall bill at the end of the year would probably be lower if we had gone with a higher premium and a lower deductible.

    So it’s no surprise to me that a survey from the health insurer Aetna found that consumers think health care benefits decisions are confusing, second only to retirement savings in complexity.

  • The Atlantic: Understanding U.S. Health Insurance Access: It's Like an Airplane. By AdrisLatee. Excerpts: The old axis of access ­in U.S. health care -- insured or uninsured -- is being replaced by the kind of gradations and complexity in determining who-gets-what-when-for-what-price for which the airline industry has become famous. Recent data and reactions to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act reinforce the trend. ...

    As airline passengers have learned, having a ticket isn't the same as having a confirmed seat. In 2011, nearly one-third of physicians said they wouldn't accept new Medicaid patients because of payment issues; a smaller number of doctors have said the same thing about Medicare patients. Even with some private plans, you may be on permanent standby because the doctor of your choice does not accept your health plan. ...

    Of course, when money is no object, there are those who rate the equivalent of a private jet. That group would include individuals paying a reported $6,000 to $27,000 a month for "boutique" services like Guardian 24/7 (whose one-page public website simply says, "By Invitation Only"), World Clinic and PinnacleCare Private Health Advisory. The latter promises "medical research...at your fingertips," your complete health records instantly available online and "access to outstanding medical and emergency support anytime, anywhere."

    What's more interesting is what happens behind the curtain separating first class from other travelers on a commercial flight. Seated up front are the senior corporate managers who get "executive" physicals at places like the Mayo Clinic plus reimbursement checks for their out-of-pocket costs. One CEO with a total compensation package of about $9 million received another $23,000 to pay his medical bills, USA Today reported. These executive perks will be stopped by the health law in 2014 if loopholes can't be found.

  • National Center for Policy Analysis: Big Firms Overhaul Health Coverage. Excerpts: Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. are planning a radical change in the way they provide health benefits to their workers, giving employees a fixed sum of money and allowing them to choose their medical coverage and insurer from an online marketplace, says the Wall Street Journal. ...

    The approach will be closely watched by firms around the United States. If it eventually takes hold widely, it might parallel the transition from company-provided pensions to 401(k) retirement savings plans controlled by workers and funded partly by employer contributions. For employees, the concern will be that they could end up more directly exposed to the upward march of health costs.

  • Washington Post: Americans are forgetting what Obamacare does. By Sarah Kliff. Excerpt: The Associated Press released a poll on Wednesday that probes what Americans think the health-care law will — and won’t — change. The big takeaway seems to be this: Fewer Americans know how Obamacare works than did two years ago.
  • Wall Street Journal, courtesy of Physicians for a National Health Program: Big Firms Overhaul Health Coverage. By Anna Wilde Mathews. Excerpts: Two big employers are planning a radical change in the way they provide health benefits to their workers, giving employees a fixed sum of money and allowing them to choose their medical coverage and insurer from an online marketplace.

    Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. say the change isn't designed to make workers pay a higher share of health-coverage costs. Instead they say it is supposed to put more control over health benefits in the hands of employees.

    The approach will be closely watched by firms around the U.S. If it eventually takes hold widely, it might parallel the transition from company-provided pensions to 401(k) retirement-savings plans controlled by workers and funded partly by employer contributions. For employees, the concern will be that they could end up more directly exposed to the upward march of health costs. ...

    "Within the next two or three years, it's going to be mainstream," said Ken Goulet, executive vice president at WellPoint Inc. The insurer will roll out a product next year called Anthem Health Marketplace that lets employers offer a variety of its plans to workers, paired with a fixed contribution. Mr. Goulet said it is close to signing up more than 30 midsize and large employers for early next year, including one with more than 50,000 workers.

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 Opinion: Sympathy For The Doofus. By Paul Krugman. Excerpt: Mitt Romney is catching a lot of flack from his own side now, which seems premature; although the odds are now against him, this is by no means over. But let me say that even if he does spend election night weeping in his car elevator, his critics from the right are being unfair. Yes, he’s a pretty bad candidate — but the core problem is with his party, not with him.

    What, after all, does Romney have to run on? True, he hasn’t offered specifics on his economic policies — but that’s because he can’t. The party base demands tax cuts, but also demands that he pose as a deficit hawk; he can’t do both in any coherent fashion without savaging Medicare and Social Security, yet he’s actually trying to run on the claim that Obama is the threat to Medicare. On fiscal matters, doubletalk and obfuscation are his only options.

  • Politico: Sheldon Adelson: Inside the mind of the mega-donor. By Mike Allen. Excerpts: At the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson got high-fives from strangers; entertained Karl Rove, Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki in his well-stocked luxury box; ate dinner with House Speaker John Boehner; and had a private meeting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

    Last week, Adelson got a front-row seat — and a shout-out from Mitt Romney — at a $1 million campaign fundraiser at a Vegas casino. Paul Ryan held a private meeting with Adelson four days after being named Romney’s running mate.

    Worth just over $21 billion and now in the cross hairs of the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Adelson has made history: He is the first person to spend $70 million to sway a presidential election, and he plans to spend more — perhaps as much as $100 million — by Election Day. An estimated $20 million to $30 million of the giving went to groups that do not disclose their donors and had not been reported before. ...

    “He’s the man of the hour,” said a Republican official who has visited him in Vegas many times. “Everyone’s trying to get in to see him – every candidate, every PAC director, every campaign committee, every super PAC guy. When you’re giving out money the way he is, everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

    So why does he do it? For the first time, Adelson talked in detail about his top five reasons:

    • Self-defense: Adelson said a second Obama term would bring government “vilification of people that were against him.” He thinks he would be at the top of that list and contends that he already has been targeted for his political activity.

      Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. is being scrutinized by federal investigators looking into possible money-laundering in Vegas, and possible violation of bribery laws by the company’s ventures in China, including four casinos in the gambling mecca of Macau. (Amazingly, 90 percent of the corporation’s revenue is now from Asia, including properties in Macau and Singapore.)

      The country’s leading megadonor is irritated by the leaks. “When I see what’s happening to me and this company, about accusations that are unfounded, that kind of behavior … has to stop,” he said. ...

    • Friends in high places: If Romney were elected, Adelson would have a powerful ally on the two issues he cares most about: the security and prosperity of Israel, and opposition to unions, including the so-called card-check proposal that would make it easier for workers to organize. Adelson runs the only nonunion casino on the Strip – a status he says he has retained by lavishing workers with benefits, including subsidized child care.
  • Talking Points Memo: Paul Ryan Disowns Remarks To Ayn Rand Group Decrying ‘Collectivist’ Social Security. By Benjy Sarlin. Excerpts: Further distancing himself from Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan says he no longer would describe programs like Social Security as “collectivist” as he did in a speech before the Randian Atlas Society in 2005. ...

    In his address to the Atlas Society, audio of which recently was posted online, Ryan called for privatizing Social Security in terms familiar to Rand’s followers, saying it was part of a broader “fight of individualism versus collectivism.” “Social Security right now is a collectivist system,” he said. “It’s a welfare transfer system.” ...

    “Autopilot will bring more government, more collectivism, more centralized government, if we do not succeed in switching these programs and reforming these programs from what some people call a defined benefit system, to a defined contribution system,” he said. “From switching these programs — and this is where I’m talking about health care, as well — from a third party or socialist based system to an individually owned, individually pre-funded, individually directed system.”

  • Huffington Post: Lawsuit: Incompetent SEC Struggles To Rein In High-Speed Trading Fraud. By Mark Gongloff. Excerpts: Having the Securities and Exchange Commission police high-speed trading is like pitting Barney Fife against Michael Corleone: The odds are not in its favor. ...

    But the agency is clearly outgunned when it comes to dealing with high-frequency trading, many experts agree. And a new lawsuit goes so far as to accuse the SEC of covering up high-speed fraud so nobody will know just how incompetent it really is, Courthouse News reports. ...

    A new Chicago Fed study last week detailed how flash-trading robots have triumphed over financial markets, making up the majority of global trades in stocks and stock futures and huge chunks of the global foreign-exchange and bond markets.

  • Financial Times: SEC must put a stop to casino markets. By Leon Cooperman, Sal Arnuk and Joseph Saluzzi. Excerpts: A little less than 2,000 years ago, the Great Fire of Rome wiped out nearly three-quarters of the city. It was widely rumoured that Emperor Nero fiddled while his city burnt. A similar story may go down in history with our equity markets. Regulators have done little while recent events have wreaked havoc on what had been the best source of capital formation and creation in the world. ...

    On August 1, Knight Capital’s rogue algorithm tore through the market for almost 45 minutes. Another episode – similar to the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the Flash Crash of May 2010, the BATS IPO and the Facebook IPO – that has devastated investor confidence and trust. How many more events do our regulators need to see before they recognise there is a problem? ...

    The result is the fragmented equity market that we have today. Instead of a few non-profit, centralised exchanges with deep liquidity, our market structure is based on 13 for-profit exchanges, approximately 40 dark markets and a few dozen of these automated market makers. With all of their computer trading systems interacting at lightning speed, if anything gets out of whack, it’s like a room full of mousetraps loaded with ping pong balls going off. Clearly, the SEC’s market structure experiment has failed. Unless something changes, confidence-shaking events will only increase in frequency. ...

    There’s no more time for talk. Retail and institutional investors have already withdrawn more than $300bn from domestic equity mutual funds since the flash crash. The market needs to move from its current short-term casino environment and return to its true purpose – capital raising and allocation.

  • The Economist: The capital of takers The splendour of empire. Excerpts: Speaking of making versus taking, the Washington, DC metro area now contains seven of America's ten richest counties. Matt Yglesias of Slate comments:
    The simple explanation is that we've gone corrupt and decadent, and as the vitality of the American empire declines its capital grows more splendid. The more sophisticated explanation, offered by David Leonhardt in August, is that the DC area is affluent for the same reason the other affluent parts of America are affluent—a very high share of the population has college degrees. But that in some ways only pushes the question back a further step. All these college graduates didn't end up in DC by coincidence. Rather, the national economy has transformed in such a way as to encourage large numbers of educated people to move here in search of work or because you accepted a job offer. ...

    What, then, are we to make of the fact that the Washington area's rising affluence has resulted from an influx of highly-educated workers? If you refuse to assume that lobbying, lawyering, and contract-seeking generally create rather than consume wealth, it would appear that many of America's best-trained workers are increasingly drawn into enterprises that, on the whole, take more than they make. Which augurs ill for America's future.

    This implies, moreover, that there is a non-silly "maker/taker" distinction, but that Mitt Romney has it all wrong. It's well and good to worry about welfare dependency, but it's rather more important to highlight the economic drag of dependency inherent in America's increasingly corporatist political economy. Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner nails it:

    Romney was correct that a portion of America backs President Obama because they "are dependent upon government" and "believe that they are entitled." We even know these dependents' names: Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, General Electric boss Jeff Immelt, Pfizer lobbying chief Sally Sussman, Solyndra investor George Kaiser and millionaire lobbyist Tony Podesta, to list a few.

    In the last few years of bailouts, stimulus, Obamacare and government expansion in general, we have seen median income fall and corporate profits soar. Industries are consolidating as the big get bigger while the little guys shut down.

    When government controls more money, those with the best lobbyists pocket most of it. The five largest banks hold a share of U.S. assets 30 percent larger today than in 2006. Also, as Obama has expanded export subsidies, 75 percent of the Export-Import Bank's loan-guarantee dollars in the past three years have subsidized Boeing sales.

    Romney, however, wasn't talking about corporate welfare queens. He was talking about the 47 percent of the population that pays no federal income tax.

  • Fiscal Times: Romney's Misleading Attack on Social Insurance. By Mark Thoma. Excerpts: Republicans have made it very clear that if they take power in November, they intend to cut government social insurance programs. In their view, these programs sap the incentive to work and create a nation of moochers who live off of the taxes paid by productive members of society. Mitt Romney’s comment about the 47 percent who have supposedly become "dependent on government" reflects this line of thought. However, Republicans have unwittingly provided a strong argument against cutting social insurance with their “maker-taker” rhetoric.

    One argument for social insurance is based upon the benefit of sharing the risks we all face in a capitalist society. Capitalism is better than any other economic system at promoting economic growth and providing us with the goods and services that we need – it certainly dominates socialism. But capitalism is also subject to turbulent fluctuations.

    There are boom times and recessions, and sometimes the recessions are deep, prolonged downturns that impose large costs on workers who have done nothing at all to deserve such a fate. They do their jobs diligently day after day to support their families, then suddenly find themselves without a job and without a secure future when their place of employment fails because of a recession, structural change, or bad decisions by owners and managers. The purpose of social insurance is to spread these costs widely across the population instead of having them concentrated on the families of the unlucky duckies who lose their jobs or experience other misfortunes they had no hand in creating.

    Social Insurance can provide other benefits as well. How many people are stuck at a job they hate because they can’t afford to lose health insurance benefits? How many more people would take a chance at opening a small business – the backbone of job creation – if they knew they could still have health insurance and a secure retirement, and if they knew there was a safety net to catch them if they failed? Social insurance helps people open new businesses or take new jobs, and this provides a better match of workers with firms and encourages new innovation. ...

    The taker-maker foundation for social insurance begins with the insistence of those at the top that “I made that.” They may have gotten their ideas from the research department, put engineers and architects in charge of designing and executing the plan, left much of the training of workers to our educational system, used public infrastructure for water, electricity, and the delivery of raw materials, and relied upon police and fire protection to secure the investment. But when the product is completed and it’s a highly profitable success, we’ll be told “I made that.” The success is mine alone. ...

    I’d prefer a society where we recognize that we are all in this together, good and bad, but if the “makers” are going to claim they are responsible for all the success in the economy – they whine loudly at any suggestion that profits should be shared with the working class to, say, offset rising inequality or support social insurance programs – then failure is theirs alone too. They must accept that it is their responsibility to offset the costs they impose when their individual or collective decisions create problems for working class households.

  • WorkForce: The 47 Percent: Romney's Misguided View of the 'Employment Deal'. Excerpts: What does this have to do with the employment deal? Most of the 47 percent of people who pay no income tax are people who nonetheless pay payroll taxes. In other words, they are workers, who contribute their share to Social Security and Medicare. Employees at lower wage rates who may qualify for earned income credits or child tax credits.

    In effect, Romney reveals contempt for these folks. For people that often are the ones delivering the company's customer experience as clerks or servers or working as support staff.

    Implied is a view of a company where employees are costs to be minimized rather than assets to be valued and developed. It is a management mindset that reigned in the 1980s and 1990s. The corporate raider ethos, eager to lay off employees in the pursuit of quick profits. In fact, there's evidence Romney embraced or practiced this philosophy as head of Bain Capital.

    An employment deal that offers employees little in the way of security and treats them as necessary evils may have led to higher bottom lines for a while. It also may have served as a correction to the overly paternalistic compact around work in the 1950s, 60s and 70s: the one that saw companies give nearly guaranteed employment for life in exchange for employee loyalty.

    But companies can no longer be dismissive about their employees. Research shows that layoffs generally are not a strategy for success, that companies that are better to workers and to their stakeholders overall outperform peers in the stock market. Consumers increasingly want to do business with kind companies. And this just in: 75 percent of Americans would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed.

    Romney may not realize it, but reciprocity and interdependence are on the rise. What's needed now is an employment deal that blends the performance mindset of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s with the protective attitude toward workers found in the post-WWII period. Companies that have struck such a balance include Ultimate Software, The Container Store, FedEx and Google.

  • New York Times opinion: We Are the 96 Percent. By Suznne Mettler and John Sides. Excerpts: When Mitt Romney told the guests at a fund-raiser in Florida in May that America is divided between people who pay no income taxes and depend on government and pretty much everyone else, he missed the deeper truth. It is not just that most of the 47 percent Mr. Romney talked about do pay payroll taxes and that many of them have paid income taxes in the past. The reality he glossed over is that nearly all Americans have used government social policies at some point in their lives. The beneficiaries include the rich and the poor, Democrats and Republicans. Almost everyone is both a maker and a taker.

    We have unique data from a 2008 national survey by the Cornell Survey Research Institute that asked Americans whether they had ever taken advantage of any of 21 social policies provided by the federal government, from student loans to Medicare. These policies do not include government activity that benefits everyone — national defense, the interstate highway system, food safety regulations — but only tangible benefits that accrue to specific households. ...

    What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans — 96 percent — have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent. ...

    The use of government social policies cuts across partisan divides. Some policies were used more often by members of one party or the other. Republicans were more likely to have used the G.I. Bill and Social Security retirement and survivors’ benefits, while more Democrats had taken advantage of Medicaid and unemployment insurance. Overall, 82 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans acknowledged receipt of at least one direct social benefit. More Republicans (92 percent) than Democrats (86 percent) had taken advantage of submerged policies. Once we take both types of policies into account, the seeming distinction between makers and takers vanishes: 97 percent of Republicans and 98 percent of Democrats report that they have used at least one government social policy. ...

    Throughout our lives, almost all of us help sustain government social policies through our tax dollars and, at some point, almost all of us directly benefit from these policies. Because ideology influences how we view our own and others’ use of government, Mr. Romney’s remarks may resonate with those who think of themselves as “producers” rather than “moochers” — to use Ayn Rand’s distinction. But this distinction fails to capture the way Americans really experience government. Instead of dividing us, our experiences as both makers and takers ought to bind us in a community of shared sacrifice and mutual support.

  • Washington Post opinion: Elizabeth Warren, the People’s Champion. By Katrina vanden Heuvel. Excerpt: She called herself the “warm-up act” for Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention, but Elizabeth Warren electrified the crowd by delivering the fierce heat of the truth straight from the heart:
    “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs — the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs — still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors and acting like we should thank them. Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do.”
  • New York Times op-ed: Disdain for Workers. By Paul Krugman. Excerpts: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.

    For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.

    Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.

    Lest you think that this was just a personal slip, consider Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. What did he have to say about American workers? Actually, nothing: the words “worker” or “workers” never passed his lips. This was in strong contrast to President Obama’s convention speech a week later, which put a lot of emphasis on workers — especially, of course, but not only, workers who benefited from the auto bailout.

    And when Mr. Romney waxed rhapsodic about the opportunities America offered to immigrants, he declared that they came in pursuit of “freedom to build a business.” What about those who came here not to found businesses, but simply to make an honest living? Not worth mentioning.

    Needless to say, the G.O.P.’s disdain for workers goes deeper than rhetoric. It’s deeply embedded in the party’s policy priorities. Mr. Romney’s remarks spoke to a widespread belief on the right that taxes on working Americans are, if anything, too low. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal famously described low-income workers whose wages fall below the income-tax threshold as “lucky duckies.”

    What really needs cutting, the right believes, are taxes on corporate profits, capital gains, dividends, and very high salaries — that is, taxes that fall on investors and executives, not ordinary workers. This despite the fact that people who derive their income from investments, not wages — people like, say, Willard Mitt Romney — already pay remarkably little in taxes. ...

    In the eyes of those who share this vision, the wealthy deserve special treatment, and not just in the form of low taxes. They must also receive respect, indeed deference, at all times. That’s why even the slightest hint from the president that the rich might not be all that — that, say, some bankers may have behaved badly, or that even “job creators” depend on government-built infrastructure — elicits frantic cries that Mr. Obama is a socialist.

  • AlterNet: Romnesia: The Ability of the Very Rich to Forget the Context in Which They Made Their Money. A potent myth is being used to justify economic capture by a parasitic class. By George Monbiot. Excerpts: We could call it Romnesia: the ability of the very rich to forget the context in which they made their money. To forget their education, inheritance, family networks, contacts and introductions. To forget the workers whose labour enriched them. To forget the infrastructure and security, the educated workforce, the contracts, subsidies and bail-outs the government provided. ...

    Scarcely a Republican speech fails to reprise the Richard Hunter narrative, and almost all these rags-to-riches tales turn out to be bunkum. “Everything that Ann and I have,” Mitt Romney claims, “we earned the old-fashioned way”. Old-fashioned like Blackbeard perhaps. Two searing exposures in Rolling Stone magazine document the leveraged buyouts which destroyed viable companies, value and jobs, and the costly federal bail-out which saved Romney’s political skin.

    Romney personifies economic parasitism. The financial sector has become a job-destroying, home-breaking, life-crushing machine, which impoverishes other people to enrich itself. The tighter its grip on politics, the more its representatives must tell the opposite story: of life-affirming enterprise, innovation and investment, of brave entrepreneurs making their fortunes out of nothing but grit and wit.

    There is an obvious flip-side to this story. “Anyone can make it – I did without help” translates as “I refuse to pay taxes to help other people, as they can help themselves”. Whether or not they inherited an iron ore mine from daddy. ...

    As for social mobility, of the rich countries listed by the OECD, the three in which men’s earnings are most likely to resemble their father’s are, in this order, the UK, Italy and the US. If you are born poor or born rich in these nations, you are likely to stay that way. It is no coincidence that these three countries all promote themselves as lands of unparalleled opportunity.

    Equal opportunity, self-creation, heroic individualism: these are the myths that predatory capitalism requires for its political survival. Romnesia permits the ultra-rich both to deny the role of other people in the creation of their own wealth and to deny help to those less fortunate than themselves. A century ago, entrepreneurs sought to pass themselves off as parasites: they adopted the style and manner of the titled, rentier class. Today the parasites claim to be entrepreneurs.

  • Washington Post opinion: Redistributing wealth upward. By Harold Meyerson. Excerpts: Which is the more redistributionist of our two parties? In recent decades, as Republicans have devoted themselves with laser-like intensity to redistributing America’s wealth and income upward, the evidence suggests the answer is the GOP.

    The most obvious way that Republicans have robbed from the middle to give to the rich has been the changes they wrought in the tax code — reducing income taxes for the wealthy in the Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts, and cutting the tax rate on capital gains to less than half the rate on the top income of upper-middle-class employees. ...

    Part of the intellectual sleight-of-hand that Republicans employ in discussions of redistribution is to reserve that term solely for government intervention in the market that redistributes income downward. But markets redistribute wealth continuously. In recent decades, markets have redistributed wealth from manufacturing to finance, from Main Street to Wall Street, from workers to shareholders. Rules made by “pro-market” governments (including those of “pro-market” Democrats) have enabled these epochal shifts. Free trade with China helped hollow out manufacturing; the failure to regulate finance enabled Wall Street to swell; the opposition to labor’s efforts to reestablish an even playing field during organizing campaigns has all but eliminated collective bargaining in the private sector. ...

    The problem is not just that everyone but the wealthy is claiming a smaller share of the nation’s income; the absolute amount of income they’re getting is declining as well. Median household income has dropped to the levels of the mid-1990s, according to Pew analysis of census data, while the income of the 400 wealthiest Americans rose by a tidy $200 billion last year, according to data released this month by Forbes magazine.

    If that’s not redistribution, I don’t know what is.

  • National Journal: A Dream Deferred. If Americans’ faith in upward mobility falters, expect class resentments to grow. By Ronald Brownstein. Excerpts: Throughout the nearly nine decades since, the attitudes the Lynds tracked in Muncie have remained remarkably intact. Pollsters and sociologists have found less antagonism toward the affluent in the U.S. than in most other industrialized nations, precisely because Americans are more likely to believe that anyone with enough skill and determination can reach the top. In that way, faith in the opportunity for upward mobility has defused discontent about income inequality, even as inequality has grown. “Because differences in income in the U.S. are believed to be related to skill and effort, and because social mobility is assumed to be high,” Isabel Sawhill, codirector of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently, “inequality seems to be more acceptable than in Europe.”

    And yet the gap between those enduring beliefs and our more ambivalent modern realities is widening. The operative definition of the American Dream has long been: In every generation, children will live better than their parents did. Millions of Americans, no matter where they start on the income ladder, still clear that bar. But to a greater extent than our self-image allows, success in America is now a matter of choosing the right parents. As Sawhill and two colleagues have calculated, nearly two-thirds of children born to parents in the bottom fifth of income remain stuck in the lowest two-fifths as adults; by contrast, more than three-fifths of children born into families in the top fifth wind up in the top two-fifths.

  • Huffington Post: Romney's Goal for the Companies Bain Acquired: "Harvest Them at Significant Profit". By Robert Reich. Excerpts: Here's a video of Romney in his early years at Bain, explaining his purpose in acquiring companies was to "harvest them at significant profit." No one should be surprised. After all, Bain Capital wasn't in the business of creating jobs. It was in the business of creating profits. ...

    For years, higher corporate profits have come at the expense of fewer jobs and lower wages. Business leaders and financiers have been "harvesting" like mad, leaving most Americans behind in the dirt.

    Romney's main selling point to voters is his so-called "business experience." Yet America can't afford this sort of "business experience" in the White House. To the contrary, we need someone who doesn't see the economy as profits to be harvested, but as people who need more and better jobs.

  • Mother Jones: New Romney Video: In 1985, He Said Bain Would "Harvest" Companies for Profits. This clip shows the young CEO focusing on businesses as targets for his investors, not as job creators or community stakeholders. By David Corn. Excerpts: Campaigning for the presidency, Mitt Romney has pointed to his stint as the founder and manager of Bain Capital, a private equity firm, as proof he can rev up the US economy and create jobs at a faster clip than President Barack Obama. Last year, while stumping in Florida, Romney declared, "You'd have a president who has spent his life in business—small business, big business—and who knows something about how jobs are created and how we compete around the world." His campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, has said that Romney's Bain days afford him more expertise than Obama to "focus on job creation and turn around our nation's faltering economy." Romney has even claimed that during his tenure at Bain, "we were able to help create over 100,000 jobs." In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Romney smacked Obama for having "almost no experience working in a business" and tied that to the sluggish recovery.

    But at Bain, Romney's top priority wasn't to boost employment. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, creating jobs "wasn't the aim of Bain or other private-equity firms, which measure success by returns produced for investors." And, the newspaper reported, Romney's 100,000-jobs claim is tough to evaluate.

    Mother Jones has obtained a video from 1985 in which Romney, describing Bain's formation, showed how he viewed the firm's mission. He explained that its goal was to identify potential and hidden value in companies, buy significant stakes in these businesses, and then "harvest them at a significant profit" within five to eight years.

  • Washington Post opinion: It’s the filibuster, stupid. By Matt Miller. Excerpts: Here’s my plea to Jim Lehrer: At the first presidential debate in Denver next Wednesday, ask the candidates if they are in favor of restoring majority rule in this country. In other words, ask them if they would urge the Senate to scrap the filibuster — and if not, how do they expect to get anything done? It’s an ideal debate question for five reasons. ...

    Finally — and forgive me for raising my voice here — if we don’t scrap the filibuster, we simply can’t govern this country and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

    Mr. Lehrer can’t strike this desperate tone, of course, but surely I can in pleading with him to give the filibuster the centrality it deserves. How many Americans know that we don’t actually have majority rule today in this country? How many schoolchildren are taught that a rule of the Senate lets 41 senators representing as little as 11 percent of the population stop anything from happening?

    Once upon a time, the filibuster didn’t matter this much. In 1939, the year Mr. Smith went to Washington in Frank Capra’s iconic film, the filibuster wasn’t used even once. It was easy to cast it as a way for a noble statesman to make a rare stand on a matter of conscience (though the filibuster’s less savory but more frequent mid-20th century use was for killing civil rights bills). In the old days, moreover, a filibustering senator actually had to hold the floor to make his point.

    That was then. In recent years, the Republican minority in the Senate has used the filibuster more than 300 times. The mere threat of a filibuster shuts down or waters down legislation (from health care to bank reform) every day. It’s no exaggeration to say you can’t get anything done in the Senate nowadays without 60 votes — save for the few things you can shoehorn into special budget “reconciliation” bills that require only a simple majority. And today, the minority can bottle things up quietly without explaining themselves in public, as Jimmy Stewart did.

  • AlterNet: Bill Moyers Exposes the Stranglehold the Corporate & Right-Wing Alliance Has on Our Democracy. A special report from the legendary veteran journalist on the American Legislative Exchange Council. Excerpt: This week, Moyers & Company reports on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of — ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge. Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, the episode explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.” In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it. “All of us here are very familiar with ALEC and the influence that ALEC has with many of the [legislative] members,” says Arizona State Senator Steve Farley. “Corporations have the right to present their arguments, but they don’t have the right to do it secretly.” Watch the broadcast on Friday on your local PBS station.
  • Washington Post: Inside the head of an overpaid CEO. By Jeffrey Pfeffer. Excerpt: High CEO pay is like a zombie that will not die. And it’s hard to understand why, considering most leadership advice and organizational theory would stop excessive pay packages dead in their tracks. They put too much emphasis on one person’s contribution, distort decisions, encourage excessive risk-taking, and damage morale at a time when the rest of the company is being forced to cut back.

    Study after study also shows that high differentiation in pay between the CEO and lower-level staffers hurts organizational performance. And there is no shortage of outrage over CEOs who get rich whether their companies do well or not.

  • Smirking Chimp: ALEC: The Scheme to Remake America, One State House at a Time. By Bill Moyers. Excerpts: This week, we report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most Americans have never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a "nonpartisan public-private partnership". But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.

    In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers -- each accomplished without the public ever knowing who's behind it.

    We explore ALEC's self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as "a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests."

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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