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6, 2000 April, 2000

Highlights—March 2, 2013

  • San Antonio Express-News: Workers suffer when firms change 401(k) rules. By David Hendricks. Excerpts: When companies started offering retirement savings programs called 401(k)s decades ago, it was a way for employers to begin wiggling out of more expensive pension programs. To employers, 401(k)s were a way to shift more responsibility to employees for their retirement nest eggs. ...

    Now, though, employers are finding ways to cut costs on their 401(k) plans at the expense of their workers while still maintaining the incentive for workers to stay at their jobs. During the recession, some companies actually cut the percentage of their matching contributions, say, to 25 percent from 50 percent. Some have since restored their percentage. Others have not.

    But a more subtle move was taken late last year by IBM, which announced it would make its matching contributions annually at year's end instead of placing the contributions in the employees' selected investment accounts with each paycheck.

    If a small company had made this change, few would have cared. But when IBM did so, it was news. Many companies will notice, and some will follow suit.

    IBM mainly will save money by making once-a-year contributions because employees who leave during the year will not receive the match that accrues during the year if they leave the company before the end of the year, Alfred explained. The amounts departing employees could lose could be in the thousands of dollars.

  • ZD-Net: IBM eyes China, South America, Africa and big data for 2015 growth. By Larry Dignan. Excerpt: IBM executives laid out the company's growth plans for its 2015 roadmap, which is projecting operating earnings of at least $20 a share. The upshot: IBM CEO Ginny Rometty projected that Big Blue will bring in $20 billion in analytics and big data revenue in 2015, up from a forecast of $16 billion.
  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "NetBenefits 401k fund screener?" by "teamb562". Full excerpt: Is anyone aware that the Fidelity fund screener on NetBenefits (once known as Investment Options Advisor) has been taken down permanently. I was advised by Fidelity today(long call) that it no longer part of the IBM plan. He was unsure exactly when this occurred. Whether it was done for cost, etc, no one knows. There is no replacement and the Fidelity rep could not advise me on how to select a fund other then closing my 401k and moving to a Fidelity IRA.

    The screener was really great. You could specify lots of criteria, including Morningstar rating. Is this s hint that IBM wants out of the 401k business. If anyone know of a way to screen the our 401k funds, please advise.

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Re: NetBenefits 401k fund screener?" by "ol_pops". Full excerpt: You can try this one. I don't believe that institutional funds are listed though. http://www.maxfunds.com/
  • Associated Press, courtesy of Yahoo! Finance: Poland emerging as major European outsourcing hub. Poland grows into major outsourcing hub, even attracting workers from ailing Western countries. By Vanessa Gera. Excerpts: Companies that have outsourced parts of their business operations to Poland include Shell, IBM, Google, HP, Motorola, Heineken, Procter & Gamble, UBS, Citibank, Credit Suisse and many others — altogether more than 50 companies from the Fortune 500 list. There are also some companies devoted solely to carrying out accounting, legal work and software development for other companies. One is Capgemini, which provides business and computer outsourcing for almost 100 corporations, including Coca-Cola and Volkswagen. It operates five centers in Poland.

    Some corporate leaders are clearly worried about a perception that the jobs being created in Poland represent the loss of higher-paying jobs back in home countries. Some refuse to say how many employees they have in Poland, while some companies that use the services produced in Poland ask that their contracts be kept secret.

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Re: Poland emerging as major European outsourcing hub" by "stevejm1935". Full excerpt: "I wonder how many of us will have to outsource our retirement and/or our medical care to a 3rd world locale? We may have to just leave the US as a playground for the rich." Those statements are absurd.
  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Re: Poland emerging as major European outsourcing hub" by "pvsutera". Full excerpt: To those who retired with a full-pension and medical coverage to age-65, my statement might indeed sound absurd. To the teammate who was R/A'd at 49 with 2 young children, with no medical coverage, and a retirement equal to a year's pay (lump-sum), it's not absurd at all.

    To the guy who got R/A'd with no-medical benefits and wants to stay on his current health plan, the $18,000 a year cost for COBRA coverage for a family of 4 would take my statement seriously. It's not at all absurd to him.

    If our whole world-view consists of "well I got mine, phew!", then we fail at life's main purpose, IMHO. But that's a subject for another blog!

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Professional Growth and Challenge” Current Architect in Boston, MA. Pros: Work at home with some travel. Opportunities to work with various companies in different industries. Always challenging. Always learning. Decent salary. Cons: Work groups are fragmented and finding qualified resources to do simple project work can sometimes be very challenging and frustrating. For employees at the professional technical level there are very few if any perks, rewards or recognition for doing outstanding work. Navigating thru the mass bureaucracies to get things done is at times overwhelming. Most technical professionals have very heavy work loads and work long hours. Advice to Senior Management: In the area of Strategic Outsourcing need to develop more efficient delivery models. Develop employee appreciation programs.
    • They drive you really hard in IBM” Former Advisory Sales in Singapore (Singapore). Pros: Work learning ground, little office politics but the layers can get pretty fat. It's a case of 80/20. In this case, 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. Cons: Poor work life balance. Low pay for people who stay around. Advice to Senior Management: None
    • many years. great people, complex processes” Current Vice President in New York, NY. Pros: great people, good policies for work and life integration. interesting projects and opportunities for gaining knowledge and skill. If you like travel, there are opportunities to see the world and to live abroad. Cons: steady decline in benefits. net medical costs have gone from 0 to over 10K/year for me. Under the new retirement expected retirement income (one of the reason I selected IBM over other offers 30 years ago) decreased by more than 50%. Advice to Senior Management: Invest in your employees and they will do their best for the company.
    • Not your father's company any more” Former Employee. Pros: Can move cross-functionally and cross business unit easily. Cons: No longer focused on the employee as the primary asset—only the market. Offshoring is key. Advice to Senior Management: The only thing left is to be a good manager; take the time to speak candidly with your staff and help them to exit gracefully
    • Sales” Former Employee. Pros: Innovative culture. Professional approach. Consultative approach is encouraged. Cons: Low pay with little chance of greatly increasing it with internal job moves. Advice to Senior Management: Pay your employees better!
    • IT end-to-end solution for all industries” Current - in Jakarta (Indonesia). Pros: *Magazines says IBM is the best leadership people developer, I agree. *Great place to gain experience and knowledge, from strategic consulting to infrastructure. Cons: *Salary budget is vary among divisions, "upper class" division has competitive salary compared to competitors but the "lower class" division has very low budget and the employees there including the high performance ones are easily hijacked by competitors when just offered standard / proper amount of compensation. *New employee with the same band is "treated" more than existing employees who started working from lower band. Could lead to employee disloyalty. Advice to Senior Management: Heavily need fixing on the compensation methodology; we already lost many good talents here.
    • Fallen Giant, Hoping to Rise Again” Current Employee. Pros: Good benefits, flexible hours, lots of chances for career advancement and changes. There are still pockets of sanity within the company and there are chances to build a career over time. Cons: Too much middle management, management by accountant. The company has added a lot of bloat over the past few years. There is an entire class of manager that accomplishes little more than blocking people trying to do actual work. Advice to Senior Management: Shed two to three layers of middle management. All they do is pat each other on the back. They add nothing of value to the company.
    • The place to go in Dubuque while you find a real job...” Former Service Request Coordinator in Dubuque, IA . Pros: They hire with little to no experience in many positions. Prior experience is not necessary. Always positions open. Cons: Most have not had a raise in years. A lot of behind the scenes job band and title manipulation with no communication to the employee. No logical path to promotions. No ergonomic concerns. Tools inhibit productivity. Computers and software are dated. Management are not here for the long term so no local loyalty. What morale? Management makes no attempt to remedy any issues—they have their own goals and it would not include employee retention. Advice to Senior Management: Have some compassion and empathy. Even a good management book would be better than no experience or education when managing. Stop the micromanaging that went out a long time ago in an office environment.
    • Satisfying 4 years” Former Employee. Pros: * The company provides great resources for self-learning. * Work life balance is great. * Great for people who need the stability that a giant multi-national company provides, and who know how to work their way up in such a company. * A well-run company with good culture, moral/ethical values. Cons: * Basic salary tends to be low compared to the market. * Growth opportunities are low. * Engineers are never made to feel as valuable as they should be in a technology company, but are mostly treated as resources. * Innovation is limited to certain research labs. Advice to Senior Management: Value the engineers, pay them competitively, truly foster innovation and creativity.
    • Great colleagues, well meaning, but selfish management” Former Software Sales in Atlanta, GA. Pros: Like being in any team contest, the colleagues that you work with daily on sales efforts, you come to admire and like being with, as you have a common goal: closing the sale, so you can make money and keep your job. Cons: Some would say the total lack of an effective strategy from senior management to handle the onslaught of new software acquisitions and integrate them into an effective sales plan. However, I would say that the layer of software sales management at a regional level is all about themselves, not about the field, all about how they can use you to make themselves look better. Advice to Senior Management: Let the new software acquisitions remain separate, on their own, without encumbrance of bloated IBM software sales management.
    • Not employer I use to know” Current Software Developer in Poughkeepsie, NY. Pros: Into many area's of technology. Great colleagues and in general, good managers. Cons: Compensation below industry average. IBM does not expand/innovate, just buy other companies. Always budget restrictions even though they go out and buy other companies. Advice to Senior Management: Give respect to the employees, like it was back in the 70's-80's
    • Intern Review” Former Offering Strategy and Design Intern in Littleton, MA. Pros: Compensation for an intern was competitive. Management that I dealt with was very helpful and supportive. Lots of respect for your work by allowing space for you to complete your work. Cons: There wasn't a whole lot of change. Week in week out, it was the same daily routine. There was no opportunity to be hired to a full time position from the one I was in.
    • About what you'd expect” Current STSM in Austin, TX. Pros: Work at home is really nice. Cons: No stability anymore, lots of layoffs.
    • Good company for new grads” Current Financial Analyst in Rochester, MN. Pros: Working as a financial analyst at the Rochester COE has it perks. First the work life balance is great, you work 40 or even 38 hours some weeks, as long as you get your work done. You also have the option to work from home and the atmosphere is very laid back and relaxed and this is reflected in the dress code. Plus the average age for FA's is 24/25 so it is a youthful bunch. Cons: Salary is pathetic, 40k flat with no room for negotiation. You get a 2k increase when converted to a reg. Also limited upward mobility, not he greatest place to build a career. Advice to Senior Management: Pay your employees better and provide real growth opportunities.
    • used to be great...too many cuts” Current Brand Sales Representative in Costa Mesa, CA. Pros: lots of talent around you; - lots of opportunity to go where you want to go. Cons: cutting benefits, increasing hours...all teams have become increasingly 'lean'. Advice to Senior Management: Stop thinking ONLY about the share price
    • Wonderful team, learned a lot from my fellow programmers” Current Employee. Pros: Excellent working conditions in the development studio, wonderful team, open people, flexible schedule, flat inside society. Good relationship with the HR. Cons: An entire team of programmers was fired at the time I got my job there. Gave me a sense of insecurity. Flash programmer salary quite low. Extremely low salaries in the QA department.
    • Dull” Former Test Engineer in Victoria, BC (Canada). Pros: Great people, lots of connections, and a nice office with a gym and shower facilities. Cons: Incredibly dull testing work. Manual, nothing interesting to do. Wasted hours on end. Bugs on the product weren't often fixed for years.
    • Corporate Help Desk” Former Corporate Help Desk in Toronto, ON (Canada). Pros: Great professional environment. Ability to learn how-to truly manage multiple time sensitive tasks. Cons: Monitored by the second. A real meat grinder. No flexibility in work structure. Advice to Senior Management: None.
    • Great place to work for fresh graduates or to get training” Former Employee in Quezon City, National Capital Region (Philippines). Pros: - trainings worth thousands of dollars outside are given to employees for free; - for those working in IBM delivery centers, there are a lot of opportunities for growth especially when there are new accounts; - medical benefits were pretty good when I was there. Cons: - HR Recruitment Team needs a lot of improvement; - they are hiring a lot of people who are not fit for the job who just end up resigning after a few months. At same time, these are creating urgent openings which recruiters would again fill up in a rush and therefore continuing the cycle; - very bureaucratic; - salary is not as high as other companies in the same field; - work is stressful and not proportional to the compensation you get, although this can be a pro since the experience you gain is actually very helpful once you decide to transfer somewhere else. Advice to Senior Management: IBM is all about the client's success—nothing wrong with that, but it's time to give importance to the people as well. It's hard to make people stay when competitors are offering twice the pay for a fraction of the work.
  • Alliance for Retired Americans: Friday Alert. This week's articles include:
    • Sequester Cuts Will Be Harmful to Seniors
    • What You Can Do Regarding Sequestration
    • Alliance Submits Testimony for House Ways and Means Hearing
    • Impress Your Friends, Learn what the Health Insurance Exchange is!
    • Small Business Owners Oppose Cuts to Social Security and Medicare
  • Naked Capitalism: Disposable Workers: Why Throwaway Employees are Bad Policy. By Yves Smith. Excerpts: One of the pet ideas of neoliberalism is to encourage “labor market flexibility” which is code for letting companies fire employees on a whim. The problem is that a quick to hire, quick to fire posture is not a terribly sound idea. It takes a lot of time and effort to hire and train people (yes, Virginia, even a skilled employee needs to learn the quirks of how his employer likes things done), so firing people casually means a loss of this investment. Export powerhouse Germany has not been competitively impaired by its restrictions on terminating employees. But while some businesses actually believe the HR trope that “employees are our most important asset”, most, to adopt an image from Robert Oak at the Economic Populist, treat them as disposables.

    McKinsey took note of this development in the early 2000s, when a study they commissioned from Yankelovich determined that new college graduates could expect to have 11 jobs by the age of 38. How can you plan any spending, much the less sensibly commit to buying a house or raising a family, with that much income uncertainty? Multiply that across most of the economy and no wonder this “expansion” is so sluggish.

  • CNN/Money: Workers over 50 are the new 'unemployables'. By Annalyn Kurtz. Excerpts: Unemployed workers in their fifties are increasingly finding themselves stuck in limbo. On one hand, they're too young to retire. They may also be too old to get re-hired. Call them the "new unemployables," say researchers at Boston College. ...

    "Once you leave the job market, trying to get back in it is a monster," said Mary Matthews, 57, who has teetered between bouts of unemployment and short temp jobs for the last five years. She applies for jobs every week, but most of the time, her applications hit a brick wall. ...

    Employers rarely get back to her, and when they do she's often told she is "overqualified" for the position. Sometimes she wonders: Is that just a euphemism for too old? ...

    Nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers age 55 and older say they have been actively searching for a job for more than one year, compared to just one-third of younger workers, a recent survey by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found. ...

    Proving discrimination is next to impossible, though, unless it's blatant. "It's very difficult to prove hiring discrimination, because unless somebody says, 'you're too old for this job,' you don't know why you weren't hired," said Michael Harper, a law professor at Boston University.

  • AlterNet: Everything You've Been Told About Personal Finance Is Dead Wrong -- Here's the Truth. Can't save enough? Worried about your retirement? The personal finance industry is ready to prey on you. By Lynn Stuart Parramore. Excerpts: According to Helaine Olen, the lion's share of financial advice served up by so-called experts is useless -- or worse. In her must-read new book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, she reveals that to think about money solely in a personal sense causes us to miss the problem. I caught up with Olen to discuss her take on what we're missing, and how to think better and smarter about our financial lives.

    Lynn Parramore: Why does America need a book on the personal finance industry? We're messed up about money, right? Don't we need help?

    Helaine Olen: We need help, but not the way we think. In a society where salaries have stagnated and fallen, net worth has plunged, even as the costs of things like healthcare, housing and education have gone up at rates well beyond that of inflation, it’s not surprising most of us have financial problems. But most of us still don’t see that we have a societal problem. Instead, we listen to people and organizations that insist our problem is an individual one. As a result, we gobble up books and television programs that offer us the promise of the magical tip that will allow us to fix all our financial woes. Of course, that’s not really possible. So … enter Pound Foolish. You can think of it as the anti-personal finance advice personal finance advice book.

    LP: What are the biggest factors that have contributed to our current retirement crisis?

    HO: There are so many factors contributing to the retirement crisis it is hard to succinctly list them all. But once upon a time, a majority of us at least had the possibility of receiving a pension when we retired. That’s no longer the case. We’re now expected to do this on our own. And, frankly, most of us aren’t capable of this task, and we have 30 years of evidence – that is, the lifespan of the 401(k) – to prove this fact. We do everything wrong we possibly can. We are unable to save enough money and we don’t invest it well. At the same time, we lack the crucial ability to see the future. We don’t really know when we will retire and why that will occur. We don’t know if our investments will pan out. We don’t know how the greater economic environment will either play out or interact with our lives.

    I was reporting on this stuff 15 years ago and I can tell you just about no one said anything like “oh, by the way, you’ll need more than $200,000 just for medical expenses in retirement.” It’s just unfair to expect people – who are not financial experts – to be able to pull this off. The fact is Social Security and other such schemes were created for a reason. There was no imagined past where people saved up for their old age. As the family farm gave way to urbanization and industrialization, old people had this distressing tendency to end up in workhouses – which were as Dickensian as they sound – if they couldn’t convince a relative to take them in. And many couldn’t. Yes, the rates of intergenerational living were higher than they are now, but it wasn’t all The Walton’s.

  • Reuters, courtesy of the New York Times: Boeing Engineering Union to Drop Pension Demand. Excerpts: Boeing's engineering union has decided to drop its demand that its labor contract include a pension for new workers, a move that could hasten a deal as the two sides resume bargaining on Wednesday.

    The decision comes after one bargaining unit last week narrowly accepted Boeing's contract offer without the pension for new hires. The other unit narrowly rejected the contract, sending them back to the bargaining table.

    "The pension is dead," said Tom McCarty, president of the executive board of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), in an interview with Reuters. "We're not going to try to breathe new life into it." ...

    In February, as the crisis with the 787 deepened, SPEEA offered to extend the current contract, which includes 5 percent annual raises, for four more years. Boeing agreed, but insisted on its proposal to eliminate the pension for employees hired or re-hired starting March 1.

    SPEEA members already have a 401(k) plan that pays a match up to 6 percent of their annual salary. Boeing's offer would enhance that plan, while cutting out the pension.

    The union said this change would reduce the value of a worker's compensation by about 40 percent over the span of a career. "It's a lot less than the existing pension and 401(k)," union executive director Ray Goforth said in an interview. ...

    Current employees would keep their pension, and it would grow by 10 percent over the four-year life of the contract, he said.

  • Fox Business: 401(k): Pass or Fail? By Kathryn Buschman Vasel. Excerpts: Despite only being 35 years old, it might be time to retire the 401(k).

    The 401(k) started out as a tax loop hole to supplement workers' savings and has grown to become Americans’ main retirement savings tool. But many baby boomers are finding their retirement in tatters and aren’t able to leave the workforce due to grossly inadequate savings.

    “These accounts were never meant to serve as the primary retirement savings tool,” says Robert Hiltonsmith, policy analyst Demos. “They were created as a vehicle for high earners to supplement their other retirement benefits. But through lobbying, shifts in the labor market and job trends they became the primary savings vehicle without a national conversation.” ...

    “We are finding 401(k)s are not an adequate way for people to save for retirement because most working families find they don’t have the resources to funnel money into these accounts, “ says Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement. “With wages remaining stagnate they’re having a hard time just making ends meet.” ...

    401(k) plans were originally knows as salary-reduction plans and were created as an executive perk for high-paid workers. “This idea was invented for a specific group, but was sold by consultants who helped package the idea for a broad set of companies. But it wasn’t supposed to become the main tool,” says Ghilarducci. ...

    Now, many boomers can’t afford to leave the work force, which is bad news for the Millennials just entering the labor market. “That’s the important thing about a retirement plan--it is designed to encourage people to leave the workforce when it’s time for them to leave, but now people are working longer, which disrupts the labor market by not opening up positions to be filled with the younger generations,” says Oakley. ...

    She also says Congress needs to take a closer look at tax breaks. “The tax break on 401(k)s are the largest write offs… 80% of the 401(k) deductions goes to the top 20% of earners, the people that don’t really need the help” she says. ...

    To improve the current 401(k) system, Hiltonsmith says the risk needs to be spread out better. “Right now the risk is totally on the back of savers -- businesses, employers, and managers don’t have any risk.” He says a state-level guaranteed retirement account would do the trick to provide lifetime income for people that shields from market risk.

  • Baseline: Technology Workers Got Big Raises in 2012. By Dennis McCafferty. Excerpt: Average salaries for technology professionals increased by 5 percent in 2012—the biggest jump in more than a decade, according to the "2013-2012 Salary Survey" from Dice . For the first time, highly experienced IT workers are topping the six-figure average salary mark. Companies are willing to increase compensation in IT because they realize that the recruitment/retention game is going to get much tougher in the immediate future. Such conclusions are well-grounded: Dice is also reporting that the vast majority of these employees are confident that they can easily find a good new job if they want one. "Employers are recognizing and adjusting to the reality of a tight market," says Scot Melland, chairman and president of Dice Holdings, which oversees a career site for tech and engineering employees "You're either paying to recruit or paying to retain, and these days—at least for technology teams—companies are doing both." Nearly 15,050 technology pros took part in the research.
  • US News & World Report: 5 Reasons to Choose a Traditional 401(k) Over a Roth. By David Ning. Excerpt: There are many wonderful reasons to invest in a post-tax retirement account such as a Roth IRA. But tax-deferred retirement savings vehicles such as traditional 401(k)s and IRAs that let you put money aside before Uncle Sam gets his share deserve a serious look too. Here are several advantages of saving in a pre-tax retirement account you should take into account before you decide that a Roth IRA is right for you...
  • Washington Post: Americans anxious about retirement. By Michael Fletcher. Excerpts: Even as the economy slowly improves, the vast majority of Americans remain deeply worried about their ability to achieve a secure retirement, according to a new survey. ...

    The poll, to be released by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) at a conference on Tuesday, found that 55 percent of Americans are “very concerned” that the current economic conditions are harming their retirement prospects. An additional 30 percent reported being “somewhat concerned” about their ability to retire. ...

    As aging Americans are increasingly burdened by debt, spiraling health-care costs and diminishing pension coverage, an increasing number of researchers argue that a long era of improved living standards for the elderly is now in jeopardy.

    The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee says the nation faces a $6.6 trillion retirement-savings deficit. Meanwhile, a retirement security index developed by Boston College’s Center on Retirement Research as well as economists at the New School have found that a majority of Americans are at risk of being financially worse off than their parents in retirement. ...

    The high anxiety Americans feel about retirement has them clamoring for the protections that used to be common for workers, the survey found. More than four in five Americans, for example, have favorable views of traditional pensions, which pay a guaranteed amount to retirees for life.

  • National Public Radio: Older Tech Workers Oppose Overhauling H-1B Visas. By Martin Kaste. Excerpts: Now, a look at one part of the immigration debate in Congress: a proposed increase in H1-B visas. Those are the visas that allow companies to hire skilled foreign workers. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports in today's "Business Bottom Line," offering more of those visas is controversial, especially among American tech workers of a certain age. ...

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages for computer programmers have stagnated. In fact, between 2001 and 2011, the mean hourly wage didn't even keep up with inflation. It's still less than $40. Microsoft says there have been some healthy increases recently, not reflected in the government numbers. But for critics of the system, it's apparent that the H1-B visas work as a kind of pressure-release valve on pay. Matloff also thinks the visas let companies avoid hiring older programmers.

    You can be an exact fit but if you're 35, you're probably not going to even get a phone call. And meanwhile, the company is going to tell the press that there's just not any qualified people. ...

    You hire the alien first, and then you manipulate the regulatory system to prove that you can't find an American.

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • After spending the last 12 years as an Enterprise Architect, leveraging over 30 years in IT, I have taken a lower paying job as a programmer - back to where I started. There is no shortage of tech labor. Companies like Microsoft and Google want to keep wages low and bring in workers that act as indentured servants. I have written my congress person several times to no avail. Foreign labor to benefit corporations at the expense of American workers is just wrong.
    • I have several friends, qualified by education, training and experience in the computer sciences, who are unemployed and have applied to companies which instead have hired foreign workers for these positions. That fact alone is evidence that the real motive is keeping wages and benefits down, not the lack of U.S. talent.
    • I think the smart American people understand too well the "full global context of modern economies" and realize that investing time and money (even if you're passionate about it) into a career in CS/Software is not worth the effort. What's the motto again? Think globally act locally. When your job is a click away to be outsourced, act accordingly.
    • American kids have seen their parents do the right things and have their jobs outsourced. They see what H1B visas are doing to technical workers. Why would an American student want to take up engineering or comp-sci, knowing that the government and corporations will be bringing in cheap labor or sending their jobs overseas?

      So the corporations devalue the profession, then whine about a mythical shortage of workers so they can continue devaluing the profession.

      Gotta better idea: Put some scholarship money out there, and offer jobs to Americans. Provide an incentive to go into STEM fields. American kids would love to rise to those professions, but not if companies are just going to crap on them for their efforts.

      Many of the people we are bringing in are fakers. Anyone can buy a PhD in Punjab for $300 USD.

    • Wage levels are the KEY data point, proving that companies are LYING when they claim a shortage of US-born engineers. The fact that wages have been stagnant (if not actually declining) disproves their argument for more H1-B visas.
    • Our "leased employees" from Wipro and Tata were quite unexceptional, but they'd work 70 hours per week for peanuts. If they didn't like it, back home they went.

      Many Americans were let go, some were hired back as contractors with less pay, no pension or benefits.

      For employers, this is all about wage depression.

      For the universities, it is about increasing enrollment and getting paid the foreign student rate. They can charge more if the government will staple a green card to their product.

      And once again, the American workers draws the short straw as planned.

    • The reality is that 35,000 of the new H-1b visas that were issued in 2012 were given to IT off-shoring companies.

      That means that our industries, including your business, were deprived of 35,000 chances to get a visa.

      Those visas were taken by companies, whose primary business model is to remove jobs from the United States, and relocate them overseas.

      H-1b is a lose-lose proposition, between engineers and local businesses.

      Engineers are expensive, hey so are doctors, lawyers, even certain public servants. (Rookie police officer pay in San Francisco is 90,000/year, plus great benefits, and a pensions plan).

      So what if you have to pay the real cost of an native engineer, competition means competition at all levels, not just the ones that you select to compete in.

    • I used to work for a company that claimed to "bring good things to life". Yeah, right...

      Where I worked, they were leasing Indian software folks from Indian "body shops". These leased employees were no better than their American counterparts, but they were much cheaper, and they worked outrageous hours. One of them told me that he was paid $20k/yr. (Of course I have no means to verify this.) He was putting in 70 hours a week!

      Of course, that was used to pressure American workers to "step up" our work hours. Salary became slavery. I was actually told that if I didn't want to work weekends, they'd find an Indian who would!

      During this time, many Americans were laid off, a fate that the H1B holders were immune from.

      The H1B system is rife with abuse and is a tool of wage depression. These employers are merely using the H1B to suppress wages and demand ungodly work hours.

      We do not need more foreign workers, we need to motivate Americans to go into technical fields, H1B visas give a clear message that an engineering or computer career may not be such a great choice.

    • This applies to far more than the Tech field and older workers. As a young scientist (~30 yo) looking for an entry position, it is very difficult to secure a job due to fierce competition for those positions. Every time I hear that there is shortages in the STEM fields, I wish they would specify in which subfields given that the last job I applied to had over 500 applicants, 350 of which were foreign. I agree that top foreign talent to an extent should be recruited, but saying that it is because there is no American workers is a fallacy.
    • Having briefly worked in technical management for an outsourcing company (company based in US, but most operations were in India), I can say that this company at least bent the rules every way they could. Used business visas to bring people over temporarily(up to 3 months) to do hands-on technical work (not allowed under a business visa), put them up in shared apartments, continued to pay them their Indian salary, but covered expenses. Hired mostly people straight out of school, then tried to pass them off as experienced. When they did bring someone over on a work visa, they paid poorly, justifying it to the employee that the company had paid their visa and travel expenses, and the low salary continued long after those expenses had been made up. It left a real bitter taste in my mouth.
    • I'm confused. In the same hour that a story was ran about the fear of Chinese hackers, we have a story how high tech companies are trying to attract Chinese engineers here to learn our technology on temporary visas. I don't really buy that there aren't enough U.S. citizens to fill those jobs (I do believe ageism, and corporate greed are more at work there), but I am curious why the mixed message.
    • Totally bogus argument by "Big Tech". There is no shortage of skilled hi-tech workers in the US, only too many cheap Indian sub-contractors brought into the US to "bust" the wage scale.

      This is another tactic to enhance the Annual Bonuses and Platinum Parachutes of C-level management (or mismanagement as the case maybe).

      Many of the so-called "open" jobs are offering an Income sufficient only for a recent grad living at Mom & Dad's or TATA-imported Indian workers living 4 or 5 to an apartment - with their passports and return airline tickets confiscated. Georgia all over again! (Indentured Servitude)

    • I say no to more H-1B visas. America is struggling with unemployment, and you claim that there are not enough workers? And what about all the new college graduates that cannot find jobs that I frequently hear about? The reason that we are short on skilled workers is because of the practices of these large companies. I myself am 34, and would love to go back to school for an advanced degree in Computer Science, but I know that when I graduate I will be "too old" to get a job in this area. More H-1B visas will force even more students with technical degrees into jobs with lower wages to stay competitive.
    • I think the H1-B visa program should require that no American citizens can be laid off from a company until ALL H1-B visa holders have been given the boot from it and any subsidiary operating companies. Companies will and do manipulate the job descriptions so they can keep the cheaper and more compliant foreign workers. I've seen it many times.

      I'm now 58, I've worked for a total of less than a year in the past 11. I haven't worked at all in nearly five years. No one will hire me now in spite of my 29 years of experience and my PhD. and I know this. So yes tech companies are begging for employees. They are just not begging for employees over 40, or employees with disabilities, or anyone else they might have the slightest reservation about because they can always get those H1-B people.

      This costs American society, and taxpayers money. Instead of paying hefty taxes on our big salaries we are getting public assistance of some form. Lets do ourselves a favor and not bring ANY H1-B visa people here until all our existing scientists and engineers are fully employed.

    • Similar observations at my former employer. White males over 40 had targets on their backs, H1B holders were immune. Once we need to hire a very specialized control engineer, and there was an American resume in house that exceeded every requirement. In addition, he was a friend of an employee. He did not even get an interview, but 6 recent grads did, none American.
    • Comment 03/02/13: "Maybe we're all wrong and there will be no big RA this year?" That should not give any IBMer any comfort whatsoever! RAs will continue: small ones, big one. RAs will continue till little USA employees remain. An RA comes like a thief. You don't know when though. If it is not an official RA it is a "Stealth" or "Sniper" layoff/firings that affect a single person to a few (like a department) happen regularly now. Trying to find a date trend with RAs would be too predictable; IBM management is not predictable. IBM can't make their Roadmap 2015 without RAs since IBM management DOES NOT KNOW AND CANNOT GROW REVENUE. You want to stop an RA? Join the Alliance. Join now. -Roadkill2013-
    • Comment 03/02/13: to -office-spaced- I agree with your post. IBM can pack up and leave a new GDF center as quick as they moved in too. If the city refuses to give them their huge tax breaks then they have no problem sending them to other locations with open desks. Whatever helps their bottom line. In Dubuque they signed a 5 year deal with an option for 5 more. They still have not signed the option for 5 more is what I have been hearing. The press printed "10 year deal" but that's not entirely true. Don't unpack as any seasoned IBMer will tell you.... IBM= I've Been Moved. -johnny2times-
    • Comment 03/02/13: Interesting. No comments yet on the GBS announcement that all employees must work a 44 hour week... -anonymous-
New on the Alliance@IBM Site
  • Job Cut Reports
    • Comment 02/24/13: To -Anonymous- re Yahoo bringing remote workers back to the office... there is no chance that will happen on a general basis with IBM. Note that this move by Yahoo affects "several hundred" employees. Do you have any idea how many mobility employees IBM has? It must be tens of thousands. IBM would never bring them all back to offices because of the cost. In many cities, there's little if any IBM office space. Having these employees be mobile saves IBM a ton of money in real estate and other costs--especially now that employees are no longer reimbursed for home internet or 2nd phone lines. Perhaps in a few cities where there's excess office space, e.g. RTP, mobile employees could be told to use the office. But in general, no. -FreeAtLast-
    • Comment 02/25/13: The latest I'm hearing from the few people left at IBM that I'm in contact with is that India is starting to complain to their management lines that they have very few people to 'bail them out' of jams. I guess they relied on US teams as part of their support process and now that IBM has constantly fired them and others (like myself) have left on their own, India has fewer and fewer people left to bail them out of jams. My suggestion to India is shut the hell up and start pulling your own weight. Welcome to life at the REAL IBM. -Glad-I-Left-
    • Comment 02/26/13: -- anony2013A -- If you get a 3 two years in a row they will fire you. You will not get any severance and you will not be eligible for transferring to another job in IBM. This is all based on percentages and targets they have for the number of 3s. The target can change from year to year. -fedup-
    • Comment 02/26/13: -drawn_n_quartered- The only advantage to making the Quarter Century (25 year) mark is you get to pick out a gift from yourself (e.g. a lovely grandfather clock) from a catalog. Other than that, there is no advantage to making 25 years. I made it (BTW) to 24 years and 9 months when I was laid off in February of 2009 (just 3 months shy of 25 years) and all I "missed" was being able to pick a "gift" from the Quarter Century catalog. Not a big deal by any stretch. The "big deal" was losing my job 5 years short of the 30 years that would have made a difference, because as someone on the old pension plan I would have gotten a "bump" in my pension at 30 years (which some call "full retirement").

      As to your "Is there any pattern of folks who are close or in the IBM Quarter Century Club (the "long term survivors club") getting RAed in higher numbers?" question. . . I expect there is. In my case, I was told by my manager that she was told by her manager (a Director) to let the two highest paid people on her team go. With that said, I was marked to go because with nearly 25 years I was at a band / level of pay that made me one of the "top 2" earners on the team. Although that type of "cut the highest paid" directive isn't necessarily "age discrimination" it certainly is "wage discrimination"--which in the end (in my view) leads to the same thing. -RAed in '09-

    • Comment 02/27/13: -FreeAtLast- "there is no chance that will happen on a general basis with IBM." Don't entirely bet on it. IBM has lots of office space underutilized. It costs IBM to have under vacant office space it owns and can't sell or lease, rent. IBM does still pay, even paltry property taxes it would like to not pay at all. Ever see or visit East Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Essex Junction VT? Even the "new" GDF in Columbia MO is not totally at occupancy or "built out"? IBM can tell any employee to report to an IBM office even if it is hundreds of miles from their home. I'm not talking about a job transfer either! You are an AT WILL employee. Without a union contract IBM can deploy, re-deploy, or un-deploy it's workforce however it desires. -office_spaced-
    • Comment 02/27/13: In regards to forcing remote employees back to an office - I agree, for most of the remote IBM employees, it won't happen. However, is IBM still spewing out "if your role is moved to a GDF, you must work on-site if you live within 50 miles, or lose your job"? -Glad-I-Left-
    • Comment 02/28/13: What a farse! Just listened to a news report of a high level IBM conference in San Jose. A news reporter interviewed an IBM exec about opening a research center in Africa. He said it was opportunity and a challenge for IBM. He did admit it would help revenue. Just another market for cheaper labor. Other overseas workers must be asking for higher wages..... -VA172-
    • Comment 02/28/13: Expected the annual layoffs - oops - resource action today. Heard that money was too tight for layoffs this round - but with the accrued savings from the 401K changes IBM management can afford to wait another quarter! -Anonymous-
    • Comment 03/01/13: I am very surprised that we did not see an RA at the very end of February or this morning (March 1) - I was sure that the company would want to get this done (including the 30 days notice) in the first quarter. Maybe we're all wrong and there will be no big RA this year? -fifteen years and counting-
    • Comment 03/01/13: To -Been There- when are the next RAs coming ? Easy- Nov 14th. The 30 days notice would put your last day in at Dec 14th just in time to be ineligible for any 401K match. -to -Been There-
    • Comment 03/02/13: Well, I gave my walking papers about 2 weeks ago. Just left IBM after 13 years. I did give short notice, about 1 week and then took my PC holidays to cover the last week of the month. I was talking to my manager about RA and said I was going to walk if there wasn't a package. She said there was nothing out there this quarter for our group. I figure, no severance, no 401k match, no pension and barely a variable pay payout - nothing else to really gain at this point.

      My mgr mailed me my last check, read this ST conversation, and, I quote " Rich, I didn't get your last check yet...believe it or not, there was a mix-up in the phillipines...they are processing 'exits' now...all fixed though and I should receive it any day now"...how is that for ironic..they even mess up my last paycheck! I did just get it on the 28th though...I will have to say, I had a great 1st line mgr my last few years..she is probably the only thing I will miss from that place :-) Very happy not to be there now!! -Rich-

News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
Minimize
  • The Nation: Why Workers Should Be Wary About Corporate 'Wellness'. By Steve Early. Excerpts: A growing number of US companies are now urging their employees to slim down, exercise more, reduce their cholesterol and blood pressure levels, or quit smoking—all socially desirable goals. But if these workers fail to cooperate with the new corporate “wellness” regime and adopt a healthier lifestyle (under the tutelage of their employer), the penalty, for many, will be higher out-of-pocket payments.

    Corporate America has long been shifting the burden of medical costs onto workers. Cost-sharing negotiated with unions or, more commonly, imposed unilaterally by non-union firms has raised labor’s share of health insurance premiums to an average of 18 percent for individual coverage and nearly 30 percent for families. Workers or their dependents also face escalating deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance, which can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to their annual healthcare spending.

    Now, under the banner of health promotion, management is also making some workers pay more for their insurance based on individual differences in their medical condition or lack of adherence to “wellness” standards. This new, more individualized form of cost-shifting threatens to stigmatize and penalize the chronic health conditions of millions of workers, expose some to job discrimination and undermine labor solidarity in the process. In addition, workplace privacy advocates are warning about the invasiveness of so-called “health risk assessments”—now commonly required in corporate wellness programs—because these surveys probe off-duty behavior related to sex, drugs and alcohol.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: Why workers should be wary about corporate 'wellness'" by "lastdino1". Full excerpt: Since IBM has always been self insured all of our medical data has been gathered through the years. When you hit Medicare age they lose that visibility somewhat but still have your supplemental plan data. If you have a separate drug plan then they can't see that but the government does.

    I remember all of those special plans of tracking your health and getting some token reduction. It was all a method to gather your data which at some future time will be used to maybe tailor your plan costs. There is a cost reason for everything.

    As the exchanges start to develop we'll see how the plan cost will increase to all and and slowly force business' to change the way the insure their employee's. My sources in Armonk tells me they are running comparison models on various plans in all of the states to see how they compare with the government mandated minimal plan. You will see some changes in this years plan offerings but major ones in 2014-2015. Plan ahead as it's coming.

  • New York Times: Panel on Health Care Work Force, Lacking a Budget, Is Left Waiting. By Robert Pear. Excerpts: One of the biggest threats to the success of President Obama’s health care law comes from shortages of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. But a 15-member commission created to investigate the problem has never met in two and a half years because it has no money from Congress or the administration.

    “It’s like ‘Waiting for Godot,’ ” said Dr. Richard D. Krugman, the dean of the University of Colorado Medical School and a member of the commission. “We are sitting on a park bench, waiting for Godot. We’ll see if he shows up.”

    With an aging population and 30 million people expected to gain coverage under Mr. Obama’s health care law, the demand for medical care is expected to increase. But Dr. Sheldon M. Retchin, the vice chairman of the panel, the National Health Care Workforce Commission, said, “We are prohibited from meeting and discussing these issues.” ...

    The commission was created by the 2010 health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Obama has requested $3 million for the panel in each of the last two years, and some Democrats, like Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on health, have supported the request.

    But Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to provide money for anything connected with the law, which they opposed. “Anything authorized in the Affordable Care Act has a tough road with the Republicans,” said Dr. Atul Grover, the chief lobbyist for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

  • HealthCare.gov: Holding Insurance Companies Accountable for High Premium Increases. By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Excerpts: The Affordable Care Act prohibits some of the worst insurance industry practices that have kept affordable health coverage out of reach for millions of Americans. It provides families and individuals with new protections against discriminatory rates due to pre-existing conditions, holds insurance companies accountable for how they spend your premium dollars, and prevents insurance companies from raising your insurance premium rates without accountability or transparency.

    For more than a decade before the Affordable Care Act health insurance premiums had risen rapidly, straining the pocketbooks of American families and businesses. Oftentimes, insurance companies were able to raise rates without explanation to consumers or public justification of their actions.

    Rate Review in Action. The Affordable Care Act brought an unprecedented level of scrutiny and transparency to health insurance rate increases by requiring insurance companies in every state to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10% or more. Insurance companies are required to provide easy to understand information to their customers about their reasons for significant rate increases, and any unreasonable rate increases are posted online.

    And it’s working. A new report released today shows that the health care law is helping to moderate premium hikes. Since this rule was implemented, the number of requests for insurance premium increases of 10% or more has dropped dramatically, from 75% to 14%. The average premium increase for all rates in 2012 was 30% below what it was in 2010. And available data suggest that this slowdown in rate increases has continued into 2013.

  • Slate: America’s Overpaid Doctors. Time’s long investigation of American health care prices missed one thing: We pay our doctors way too much. By Matthew Yglesias|. Excerpts: Steven Brill’s 24,000-word magnum opus in Time on health care billing practices in the United States is remarkably easy to summarize: American health care costs a lot because the prices Americans pay for health care services are very high. And hospitals charge those high prices for the same reason any other business would—because they can.

    It’s easy to see why a health care provider is almost uniquely well-positioned to bilk you. If you don’t get treatment, you or someone you love might die. It’s a high-pressure emotional situation that makes it extremely difficult to bargain, comparison shop, or just decide to cut back. Most of us, fortunately, get to outsource most of that bargaining to our insurance companies. Cold-blooded executives, not stressed-out patients, cut the deals that determine how much actually gets paid. This means that the real price of health care services is driven largely by the purchasing clout of the buyer. An uninsured individual gets totally screwed. A big insurance company can drive a harder bargain and get a better deal. But as Brill shows, the best deal of all goes to the biggest insurer around: the federal government, whose Medicare program for senior citizens is such a large purchaser that it and it alone can drive a truly hard bargain and squeeze provider profit margins to the bone.

    The policy upshot of this seems clear enough. Rather than cutting Medicare as is currently all the rage in deficit-hawk circles, we ought to be expanding it and enlarging the cheapest and most cost-effective part of the American health care system.

    But of course only left-wing crazies think that, so though Brill concedes that this is precisely the reason that more-statist foreign health care systems have much lower costs than ours, he rejects the idea out of hand. ...

    The last time the OECD looked at this (PDF), they found that, adjusted for local purchasing power, America has the highest-paid general practitioners in the world. And our specialists make more than specialists in every other country except the Netherlands. What’s even more striking, as the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff observed last week, these highly paid doctors don’t buy us more doctors’ visits. Canada has about 25 percent more doctors’ consultations per capita than we do, and the average rich country has 50 percent more. This doctor compensation gap is hardly the only issue in overpriced American health care—overpriced medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, prescription drugs, and administrative overhead are all problems—but it’s a huge deal.

  • HealthAffairs Blog: No Competition: The Price Of A Highly Concentrated Health Care Market. By Diane Archer. Excerpts: As health care costs swell, the private insurance system that covers most working Americans is in crisis. Americans are paying higher and higher premiums for increasingly threadbare coverage, and employers are getting out of the business of providing health care altogether. Rising costs cannot be attributed purely to improving technology or increasing operating costs for providers, because Medicare has controlled per capita spending more effectively than commercial insurers that provide employer-sponsored coverage.

    Rather, commercial insurers cannot contain costs because the pricing mechanism for medical services is broken. When it comes to health care, competition simply isn’t working.

    Prices in the private sector are out of control. On average, private insurers pay 25 percent more than Medicare for physician services and 30 percent more for hospital care. What’s more, both public and private sector payment rates for doctors in America are far and away the highest in the world, and research suggests that these high rates are among the principal reasons health care is so much more expensive in this country than elsewhere.

    These international gaps are much wider in the private sector. For instance, private payments for an office visit in the United States cost 70 percent more than those abroad, while public payments are 27 percent higher. ...

    Rather than being influenced by competition, health care prices are largely set by insurers and providers with monopoly power to maximize profits. Big hospital chains and provider groups dominate most local markets and extract extremely high rates from dominant insurers, which are motivated by fear of losing market share if they fail to attract these providers to their networks. Research indicates that hospitals can change their business practices and control their costs effectively when faced with competitive pressure, but health care markets have concentrated in the last few decades. Providers simply haven’t had to compete to offer high-value care. ...

    Congress has three options to rein in runaway prices: It can use Medicare-style techniques to set rates or rate ceilings in the commercial marketplace, including in the new health insurance exchanges, just as every other developed nation does. It can give people under 65 the choice of a public health insurance plan that works like Medicare, competes against the private health plans, and brings down costs. Or it can do both.

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.

  • AlterNet: New Study Shows Capital Gains Tax Cuts Biggest Contributor to Income Inequality. The affluent have been keeping more and more of their income while ordinary Americans have faced stagnant wages and disappearing benefits. By Mijin Cha. Excerpts: Capital gains were already the largest contributor to income inequality in 1991. But by 2006, the contribution of capital gains to income inequality almost doubled. Capital gains contributes so much to income inequality because of the large increase in their share of after-tax income. Continuously cutting the tax rate meant that more after-tax income came from capital gains and dividends.

    The rise in income inequality is due more to changes at the top of the income distribution than at the bottom. While income for all Americans grew 25 percent from 1996 to 2006, it grew 74 percent for the top 1 percent and 96 percent for the top 0.1 percent. A large part of this was again driven by continuous cuts to income and capital gains taxes.

    In short, the affluent have been keeping more and more of their income while ordinary Americans have faced stagnant wages and disappearing benefits.

  • Financial Times: Corporate tie binds US to a slow internet. By Edward Luce. Excerpts: If Dwight Eisenhower had General Motors and George W. Bush had Halliburton, Barack Obama arguably has Comcast. US presidents are often linked to one or two corporations that donate a lot of money to them and then benefit from their actions. Comcast, which is America’s largest cable television and internet provider and is a near monopoly in most of its largest cities, is no exception.

    The company’s meteoric rise in the past decade parallels the relative decline of internet service in the US. In the late 1990s the US had the fastest speeds and widest penetration of almost anywhere – unsurprisingly given that it invented the platform. Today the US comes 16th, according to the OECD, with an average of 27 megabits per second, compared with up to quadruple that in countries such as Japan and the Netherlands.

    The contrast on price is just as unflattering. The average US cost for 1 Mbps is $1.10 compared with $0.42 in the UK, $0.34 in France and $0.21 in South Korea. It is not only places such as Hong Kong that put the US into the shade. Countries such as Estonia, Portugal and Hungary offer a significantly better internet service. South Koreans joke that when they visit the US they are taking an internet vacation. Yet bringing the US up to speed appears to be low on Mr Obama’s list of priorities (it did not even get a mention in his State of the Union address last month). ...

    Countries such as Japan and France have embraced competition to push the rapid adoption of high-speed internet. The US is happy to tolerate duopoly (Comcast is one of two fixed-wire internet providers in 22 of America’s largest 25 cities). As a result, only 7 per cent of American homes are served by fibreoptic wire compared with more than half in South Korea and Japan. It is the difference between a steam train and a bullet train. Yet there is little outcry in Washington.

    There are few busier revolving doors than the one between Comcast and Capitol Hill. Of Comcast’s 121 lobbyists, 85 are former government employees, according to Open Secrets, which monitors money and politics. “Comcast employs the royalty of K Street [lobbyists],” says Sheila Krumholz, head of Open Secrets. In 2011, the year the FCC approved Comcast’s merger with NBCU, the company spent more than $14m on lobbying – the ninth-highest of any US company (it ranks 49th on the Fortune 100 list).

  • Financial Times: Austerity obstructs real economic reform. By Wolfgang Münchau. Excerpt: In Europe, the word “reform” is as misleading as it is ubiquitous. You heard it during the Italian election campaign, when politicians – such as Mario Monti, the country’s outgoing prime minister – were classified as pro-reform. Others, the rest of Italy’s political class, have been deemed anti-reform. It is as though reform has become an issue of religious dogma. You are either in or you are out.

    In or out of exactly what, one may ask? What, exactly, is reform? Growing up in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, I recall Willy Brandt, West Germany’s chancellor during some of those years, talking endlessly about reforms. For him, the word meant more workers’ rights and an increase in welfare payments. This has always been the meaning I first think of when I hear it.

    A decade later, in the UK under Margaret (now Lady) Thatcher, reform became synonymous with privatisation and deregulation, and a reduction in the rights of trade unions. This is closer to the meaning that it holds for most people today.

  • Financial Times: US cuts poised to hit long-term unemployed. By James Politi. Excerpts: The long-term jobless will be among the earliest to be hit by automatic spending cuts if they take effect as planned on March 1, reducing benefit cheques by as much as 9.4 per cent in a blow to consumer spending among low-income households.

    About 3.8m Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months receive emergency federal jobless benefits worth on average about $300 per week.

    Under budget sequestration – agreed as part of a 2011 budget deal to apply pressure for a long-term deficit reduction agreement – that assistance would be cut by a little less than $30 per week. Though some states, which administer the programme, may delay the reductions for a week or two for processing reasons, these cuts could do the most tangible early damage to the economy.

    “You’re pulling money out of the economy from people who spend,” says Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project in Washington. “These are people who have already dipped into their savings, they don’t have a lot of wiggle room to absorb this.” ...

    In the absence of such a fix – let alone a deal to replace sequestration with more targeted cuts, which has so far been elusive – US government agencies are scrambling to prepare for the worst. The Treasury department has warned that tax return processing at the Internal Revenue Service would be affected, as would its support for counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering investigations. Meanwhile, it would be forced to curtain small business-lending programmes to distressed communities, as well as support for state and local municipal bonds.

  • New York Times op-ed: A Costly and Unjust Perk for Financiers. By Lynn Forester de Rothschild. Excerpts: Of the many injustices that permeate America’s byzantine tax code, few are as outrageous as the tax rate on “carried interest” — the profits made by private equity and hedge fund managers, as well as venture capitalists and partners in real estate investment trusts. This huge tax benefit enriches an already privileged sliver of financiers and violates basic standards of fairness and common sense.

    President Obama recently suggested that he would ask Congress to close this loophole. Eliminating the carried-interest tax rate should be an easy sell. It should play to Republicans’ supposed hatred of government handouts and to Democrats’ commitment to social justice.

    But because of the financial lobby’s clout, the loophole most likely won’t be closed. If it isn’t, shame on both parties for giving us another reason to distrust our democracy and our capitalist system.

    While the tax legislation passed on Jan. 1 increased the top individual-income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent for couples making more than $450,000 and individuals making more than $400,000, it left carried-interest income taxed at just 20 percent. ...

    This special tax treatment for carried interest protects the general partners of private equity, venture capital, real estate, hedge funds and other investment vehicles organized as limited partnerships. (The investment-holding company I run does not receive carried-interest income.)

    Millions of general partners in investment funds receive carried-interest income when they earn profits for their clients. Since these partners do not have to risk any of their own capital, carried interest is really a taxpayer-subsidized fee for managing their clients’ money — often 20 percent of the profits generated in the fund, and sometimes significantly more than that.

    No other affluent Americans enjoy this benefit. A brain surgeon, stockbroker, corporate lawyer or actor will have to pay the new top marginal rate percent, while a general partner who manages other people’s money pays, on carried-interest income, only the 20 percent rate on long-term capital gains.

  • Washington Post: Sequestration stupidity. By Harold Meyerson. Excerpts: A Mediterranean diet, the New England Journal of Medicine reported Monday, can lengthen one’s lifespan. So inhabitants of southern Europe can look forward to long lives — of anxiety and privation.

    Already mired in a depression comparable to that of the 1930s, Spain, Greece and Portugal are going to see things grow worse this year, according to an annual economic forecast released by the European Commission on Friday. Unemployment rates in both Spain and Greece — where a quarter of the populations are unemployed and the share of jobless young people exceeds 50 percent — will rise to 27 percent.

    At least the leaders in power in 1930 had an excuse when the economy began to collapse. Then, there was genuine bewilderment among economists and governmental chieftains across the political spectrum about how to induce a recovery. From British Laborite Ramsay MacDonald to the German centrist Heinrich Bruning to American conservative Herbert Hoover, leaders cut spending to bring their budgets into balance.

    These austerity policies proved an unmitigated disaster. By reducing government spending while business and consumer spending were tanking, these heads of government constricted all economic activity. In turn, unemployment continued to soar. Frustrated with the inability of mainstream political parties to stop the collapse, voters in some nations turned to extremes — most notably, of course, in Germany.

    Unlike their predecessors, today’s leaders have models on how to revive depressed economies. The example of Franklin Roosevelt, whose public investments in jobs and defense turned the U.S. economy around, and the writings of John Maynard Keynes, who demonstrated that the solution to depression is boosting demand, are plain for all to see. Seeing isn’t believing, however, when ideology dims the eye. ...

    The United States isn’t immune to Europe’s madness. The sequester slated to begin taking effect Friday is a particularly mindless form of an already stupid policy, poised to inflict a kind of blindfolded austerity at a time when unemployment remains high. Republican opponents of government spending, not to mention tea party activists, like to think of themselves as true-blue Americans while disparaging the Democrats as Euro-socialists. But it’s the Republicans who are embracing Europe’s failed economics while Democrats attempt to adhere to the American success story of the New Deal. Republicans might want to bone up on American history; it contains all kinds of valuable lessons.

  • Washington Post opinion: A political DUI. By David Ignatius. Excerpts: Some of us can recall the helpless feeling of being in a vehicle driven by someone who is intoxicated. If you’re like me, you don’t want to cause a scene unless the driving is really erratic. But there comes a moment when you need to say: Stop the car. You’re going to hurt someone. Hand over the keys.

    We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the nation’s car off the road. I don’t know if the sequestration that’s set to begin Friday will produce a little crisis or a big one; the sad fact is that the Republicans don’t know, either, yet they’re still willing to put the country at risk to make a political point. ...

    Obama has chosen to be co-dependent, as psychologists describe those who foster the destructive behavior of others. He double-dared the reckless Republicans by proposing the sequester back in 2011. And rather than stepping up to leadership since being reelected, he has triple-dared the GOP hotheads with a partisan inaugural address and weeks of what the Republicans rightly have called a “road show” of blame-game politics. Doesn’t the president see that the GOP is addicted to this showdown at Thunder Road? This is all the power the GOP has these days, really — the ability to scare the heck out of everybody and run the car into the ditch.

    Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore; it’s an addiction.

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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