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    Highlights—January 1, 2005
  • Wall Street Journal: Employer Actions Drive Health Costs For Retirees Higher, by Ellen Schultz. Excerpts: Last fall, Michael Foster, a retired vice president for Rohm & Hass Co., got a letter telling him that the monthly premium for his health coverage in 2005 was rising to $1,069 a month from $823. "Retiree health-care costs continue to rise," the company explained. But not all Rohm retirees are feeling the same pinch: those from a different unit of the Philadelphia-based specialty-chemicals company will pay just $77 a month for the same coverage. And some pay nothing. While employers routinely blame rising health-care costs when they increase the amount retirees pay for coverage, retirees may face the price hikes simply because employers change the structure of the plans. Companies may separate retirees into their own pool, charge one group of retirees higher premiums or charge one group higher premiums to, in effect, subsidize another. ...

    The reason: the company had established ceilings, or maximum amounts, it would pay for each retiree's health coverage; the retiree pays everything above the companies' capped amount. Rohm capped coverage for some groups of retirees at $16,666 a year for a couple under age 65, while the cap for the electronics division retirees is $2,700 a year per couple. (Retirees in both groups have coverage of $4,000 per couple once the retiree reaches age 65). More than half of large companies that offer retiree health care, including Aon Corp., General Electric Co., Halliburton Inc. and International Business Machines Corp., have capped what they will spend on their retirees' health benefits.

    In general, retiree health-care costs can rise when employers segregate them into their own group, apart from active employees. In the past, employers included all health-plan participants -- active employees and retirees -- in the same "risk pool." This practice spread health-care costs among a wide pool of people. When retirees are segregated into their own pool, the per-capita costs rise, because an older, sicker population may need more medical care. Employers protect themselves from spiraling costs by adopting ceilings on what they will pay for the retirees. ... Some Xerox retirees have asked the company to merge the risk pools for active and retired participants. There is little reason for a company to do so, however. When a company segregates retirees into their own risk pool, or establishes a limit on what it will pay for their benefits, it can actually profit when medical costs rise. ...

    Rising costs often prompts retirees to drop coverage, starting with the healthiest, who can obtain less expensive coverage elsewhere. In fact, the enrollment booklet distributed to Rohm & Hass retirees encourages them to explore this possibility: "...you may find it advantageous to explore health care options that are available on the open market," and it goes on to provide links to government programs, AARP, and a Web-based insurance broker. Meanwhile, retirees who can't drop the coverage (perhaps because they have pre-existing conditions that make them uninsurable) remain in the health plan, driving up costs. When retirees drop out, employers save money, and also book a gain, because they can reduce the liability recorded for retirees, having assumed they would continue to receive coverage until they die. "When 100% of the increases is flowing through to the retiree, there's no incentive to get the costs down," complains Mr. Foster. If link is broken, view Adobe Acrobat version [PDF--49 KB].

  • New York Times: I.B.M. Division Headed to China Has Made No Profit in 3 1/2 Years. Excerpts: I.B.M. said yesterday that the personal computer business it was selling to the Lenovo Group of China had not made a profit for three and a half years. I.B.M.'s personal computing division had a loss of $139 million in the six months ended June 30. It had losses of $258 million in 2003, $171 million in 2002 and $397 million in 2001, I.B.M. said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. During that period, the PC division had sales of $34.1 billion. ... Dell Inc., the world's biggest maker of PC's, has said it is the only large company that is consistently profitable in the computer business. I.B.M. is the third-largest PC maker, behind the Hewlett-Packard Company.

  • (Denver) Rocky Mountain News: Part four, Broken promises: Courting disaster. Companies - or taxpayers - will foot the bill. Excerpt: The plight of the PBGC, and America's pensions as a whole, has exposed a system of funding that suggests pension plans are healthy when they are not. "The bottom line is that we wouldn't be here today if the funding rules worked properly," PBGC Executive Director Bradley Belt told Congress in October. (Editor's note: Links and excerpts to the other articles in this Rocky Mountain News series, including IBM-specific articles, are available in the December 25 version of these highlights).

  • "keep_ur_promises" compares IBM's "old" and "new" retirement plans. Full excerpt: Old retirement plan: You filed some paperwork. You selected a retirement gift. You possibly had a retirement luncheon. You received medical benefits for life. You received a "retiree" id badge that gave a set of IBM privileges for the rest of your life. You were invited to retiree functions IBM organized for retirees throughout the year. You were considered by others as well as considered yourself an IBMer for the rest of your life...and took special pride in it. New plan: You quit. All vestiges of your ever having worked for IBM are pretty much erased.

  • Detroit Free Press: Boomer Bust: Retiring workers face health cost quagmire. Excerpts: As 76 million baby boomers surge toward the twilight years of their lives, they would do well to remember one thing: This is not your parents' retirement. Like the aging bodies they inhabit, the health system boomers will rely on with increasing urgency is crumbling. ... Broken promises Even as the national safety net frays, the private system of health coverage provided by the nation's employers is unraveling. Companies that once promised their retirees they would provide for them until death did they part -- often encouraging them to retire early in the process -- are rethinking their commitments. They are cutting benefits, asking retirees to pay more and, in increasing numbers, discontinuing retiree health care benefits altogether. ... "I tell baby boomers this: You may think the biggest problem is saving enough money and the future of Social Security, but the biggest challenge you face is health care. And how we deal with the cost, quality and effectiveness of the health care system is going to have more to do with your quality of life for the rest of your life than any other factor."

  • Associated Press:Ousted Fannie Mae Chief Executive Slated to Receive Monthly Pension of $114,000 for Life. Excerpt: According to the filing Monday, Howard will be paid $84,000 in salary through Jan. 31 and receive a monthly pension of $36,071 for the rest of his life. He has more than 480,000 shares in stock options, ranging in value from about $27 to about $81 a share, and deferred compensation of $4 million. The restatement of possibly $9 billion of past profits could force the company to take a variety of actions to deal with what OFHEO said last week was a "significantly undercapitalized" balance sheet, meaning the regulators believe the company lacks the money to cover potential losses.

  • New York Times, courtesy of Free Republic: Needing Cash, Veterans Sign Over Pensions, by Diana B. Henriques. Excerpts: Kevin D. Jones, a retired Army veteran, was desperate for money. He wanted to get his wife out of the Philippines quickly after her home had been destroyed in a bombing. But she was being delayed as she waited for immigration papers to come through that would allow her to join him in North Carolina. His military contacts, cultivated during a 25-year career that included duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, helped speed the paperwork. And a Florida financial services company that he had found through an advertisement in The Army Times helped him raise the money to fly to Manila, resettle his in-laws and return home with his wife. He was too frantic, he said, to consider the cost of that money. But it was steep. In exchange for $19,980 after fees and insurance, Mr. Jones signed over his $1,000-a-month military pension for the next five years, a total of $60,000. That is the equivalent of paying interest at a rate of 56 percent a year. ... None of these practices are a surprise to either the Pentagon or to Congress. In September 2002, the Senate passed a bill that would have penalized companies offering military pension advances, but the effort stalled in the House. Veterans' groups have warned members about these deals. And in May 2003, the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit group in Boston that has worked on consumer protection issues for more than 35 years, condemned the cash advances as illegally disguised loans that do not comply with federal truth-in-lending laws.

  • Watson-Wyatt: Cash Balance Litigation Trend Continues. Excerpts: The wave of litigation against cash balance plans continues. A new lawsuit against the Bank of America’s (BoA) cash balance plan alleges age discrimination and makes a variety of other claims based on the plan’s unique design and features. And an appellate court has ruled that, in Cigna’s conversion to a cash balance plan, Cigna violated ERISA’s anti-cutback rule by adopting a plan amendment near the end of the plan year that became effective as of the beginning of the plan year.

  • Washington Post: Absurd Report On Drug Prices Clouds the Issue. Excerpt: If President Bush wants to know why his economic policy team has been so ineffective, he might take a look at the report his administration released last week on the controversy over legalizing the import of "cheap" prescription drugs from Canada. The study was prepared by the government's top public health officials. But anyone even vaguely familiar with the subject will recognize it as an embarrassing piece of policy work whose primary aim is to deny Democrats a popular political issue while rewarding political friends in the pharmaceutical industry. ... What's so disappointing about the study is that a much better approach was suggested a year ago by a member of the study group, Mark McClellan, the physician and economist who now heads Medicare and Medicaid. In a series of speeches, McClellan explained that Canada and other rich nations had used the bargaining power of their national health systems to force drug companies to shift the costs of drug research disproportionately onto U.S. consumers. The clear implication was that if other countries didn't start paying higher prices for drugs under patent, consistent with their national income, the U.S. government would have to step in and make it happen. That was, and is, the right place to begin this discussion. Too bad nobody in Congress or the Bush administration was listening.

  • Associated Press, courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat: Bush's Tax Overhaul May Be Incremental. Excerpts: Eliminating the AMT, which covered 3 million mostly wealthy taxpayers in 2004 but will raise the taxes of 23 million taxpayers by 2008, would cost the government an estimated $600 billion over 10 years. To pay for that and the more generous savings accounts, the "least radical" proposal would eliminate the itemized deduction for state and local income taxes, while imposing a tax on Social Security benefits and employer-provided health care benefits. (Emphasis added by editor of these highlights). Members of Congress are vowing to fight any effort to eliminate state and local income tax deductions, a proposal that would nick high-income Democratic-leaning states such as California and New York more than it would Republican-leaning states carried by Bush in the last election.

  • Looking for a post-IBM career? Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Unemployed and gray? Truly, Uncle Sam wants you, by Reva Rasmussen. Excerpts: They are desperate. How else can I explain the fact that I am 54 years old and the military is trying to recruit me? The Naval Reserve found my résumé on monster.com where I posted it in August 2001. Of course, my age is not on my résumé, but a smart person can look at my dates of employment and figure out this is a pretty old nurse, well into middle age and all of its concerns about osteoporosis, bifocals and memory loss. With enthusiasm the e-mail from the Navy declares, "One of the greatest benefits of joining our force is that you won't have to sacrifice your personal life to serve. Your training sessions will almost always be with the Naval Reserve unit located closest to your home." Yes, and pigs can fly and the stop-loss orders are working so well, they won't need to pull up any more reserves and send them to Iraq. Well, they do say, "almost always ... closest to your home." They do give themselves wiggle room. But these days the military has no credibility. The call-up of the reserves to active duty and the stop-loss policy of not allowing troops to leave the military once they've fulfilled their duty has destroyed the military's credibility. Which may be why they've had to go to monster.com for recruitment. Which is impressive in a pathetic sort of way. Despite the dearth of resources, such as the lack of armor for vehicles in Iraq, the military remains resourceful.

  • New York Times: Drugstores Fret as Insurers Demand Pills by Mail. Excerpts: Employer health plans across the country are forcing millions of consumers to change their drug-buying habits. And one side effect could be the decline of the neighborhood drugstore. Instead of picking up their medicines at a local pharmacy, growing numbers of consumers will be required - starting this month when new health plans take effect - to buy dozens of widely used drugs, like insulin for diabetes or Lipitor to lower cholesterol, by mail order. Employers and the companies that manage prescription drug insurance coverage favor mail-order pharmacies because they can get lucrative rebates and deep discounts from drug makers when they buy in volume. Those savings, which are said to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year, can then be shared with employers and health plans. Distributing drugs by mail order also gives the drug-insurance managers - known as pharmacy-benefit managers - more control over which drugs are used, because they can ask doctors to change prescriptions before the drugs are delivered. ...

    Lawrence Marsh, a health care securities analyst at Lehman Brothers, estimated that Medco, Caremark and Express get 7 percent to 8 percent of their annual revenues, about $500 million total, as their share of rebates from drug makers, mainly through mail sales. The pharmacy benefit managers say that they inform the health plans about the rebates they receive from the drug makers, but Sean Brandle, a health benefits expert with the Segal company, a benefits and compensation consulting firm, said that not all of this money was passed along and the pharmacy managers' actual costs were hard to determine. The benefit managers, he said, "would never disclose their actual purchase cost of a drug at mail order."

Vault Message Board Posts
Vault's IBM Business Consulting Services message board is a popular hangout for IBM BCS employees, including many employees acquired from PwC. Some of this week's posts follow.
  • "Questions from a 9 year employee" by "IBbluer_everyday". Excerpt: I started working at IBM nine years ago (I came on board with ISSC as a professional hire). After a few months, an old-timer asked me my opinion of IBM. He was curious to know what the company looked like from the outside coming in because all he had ever known was IBM. He had been hired fresh out of college and was one of those guys who used to "bleed blue". I told him that IBM seemed to be the best company I had ever worked for. He was pretty amazed at my answer, because to him, the IBM he knew had changed so much he was having a hard time dealing with it. Now I understand what he was talking about... This company is hardly recognizable as the same one I hired on with nine years ago. I found this board last night and have been impressed by the knowledge level of some of the posters that appear to be senior level folks and would like to ask them a few questions. I have been around long enough to know that what is said and what is done at IBM are two entirely different things. It has become the most duplicitous company I have ever worked for.

  • In "Some Possible Answers" "ancientblueconsultant" answers "IBbluer_everyday" questions. Full excerpt:
    • Q: With regard to the "new" PBC system, are there still quotas for the number of 3's that have to be assigned? (I received a 3 rating last year for the first time. After a lengthy discussion with my 1st line, he finally admitted that he had to do it and that I did not earn it.)
      A: There are "skews" or percentages that must be met at least at the 2nd line PDM/manager level, most probably the first line. That is one of the reasons for the PDM model, to have so many reports so that statistics can be applied.
    • Q: I am a band 8 and almost 50 years old. Realistically, is it just a matter of time before I get whacked?
      A: Yes. You can test this by informally applying to other jobs, and testing the waters on jobs you know you could get. You'll see that some will say you're too technical, some will say you're not, but the ability for non-management movement across jobs after 50 is almost nil.
    • Q: I was recently told that to become a band 9, I have to get "certified" (I have to get certified to do what I already know how to do). Are there any plans on the horizon that will require band 8's to be certified?
      A: Certification is a barrier to promotion and also a layoff tool. No plans on 8's getting certified, but there are already in places PBC's for a deadline for an 8 to be certified and promoted to a 9. Once certified, the re-certification process in some professions is even more discriminatory and a tool to get rid of people.
    • Q: What is really driving this "culture change" lip service that I keep hearing about? What is the real agenda there?
      A: The real agenda is money and surviving for the next quarter. People are resources, no assets. As the market commoditizes, so does IBM. The company is on a track to keep margins, and human beings are just resources, not assets. The finance people run the show here. No one cares about the future, only the next quarter.
    • Q: Is there any future for senior technical employees in this company? In other words, is there any management left that recognizes and values technical competency?
      A: IBM will survive as long as people are blinded by the brand image. Management does not see a value to technical competency in a commoditizing environment. The strategy is to think as technologies as disposable, along with the people that go with them. Buy and quickly build if you see a market, sell or layoff when you see it decline. If you saw management (not leadership - there is none) that valued technical competency you'd see lots of movement of promising technical types across different technologies, products and services to "round them off". There is none of that, particularly as you reach age 45+. This corporation believes it up to the market, with the resource (you) to build the skills OUTSIDE of IBM and with no expense.
    • Q: I have heard that there is increasing pressure to staff our projects with band 6 and band 7 resources from IBM India. Is there a percentage quota for how many of those resources they would like to be low cost overseas labor?
      A: Yes, driven by financials.
    • Q: Are there plans to staff band 8 positions from overseas?
      A: Already being done in areas like ITS and product development, but it is dependent on salary demands from Brazil, Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the job of the engagement manager to make the profit margin, no matter how and who suffers.

  • In "Color Commentary" "Dose of reality" addresses "IBbluer_everyday" questions. Full excerpt: Since ABC addressed your specific questions head-on, let me try to address what seems to be the real "at-large" issue embedded in your specific questions - that of job security and your path to retirement.

    The questions that are asked and answered every year about you is how much are you bringing in and how much do you cost. You are then racked and stacked against other resources that have similar profiles. Other background information on your "indirect" costs, like pension, etc. and forecasting on what the relative demand for your skill set are factored in to complete the picture. If you don't meet certain thresholds, based on overall division economic targets, your competition, and most insidiously what we could theoretically replace you with by bringing in external job applicants, you are tapped for termination - either soft or hard.

    All of the trappings of PBC, grading, utilization targets, evaluations, quotas, rounding down, 2+ etc. are all just tools to be used to manipulate the end game. What it does is set up a game of musical chairs with a ratio of players to chairs of about 1.25 to 1, with perhaps some probation seats to make the odds a bit more "favorable", giving some staff a chance to redeem themselves, ultimately for the benefit of IBM. The intent is to get staff so totally absorbed in staying in the game, that you become oblivious to the fact that winning just means staying even. The key is to wipe out any notion you may have of actually getting ahead and progressing your career for your own benefit, with opportunities that one would expect in a normal employment market and a well-managed company.

    As to how to thrive in this situation, the best way is to find employment elsewhere. As a band 8 with your experience level, presumed deep technical skills, and 9 years of salary compression, you could do very well in another company, assuming that your technical skill set is still in demand. You may have more vested interest in staying, based on your pension profile, and perhaps some personal contacts and overall comfort level. Only you can decide if this is enough to allow yourself to continue to be cheated, assuming that you do have realizable external market value.

    Should that not be the case, and you decide to stay, then you really need to build up some cushion against the lay-off brigade. There are a few angles to play on this. First, you will have to resign yourself to becoming a utilization maven. Worklife balance will no doubt suffer, but it is a necessary price to pay to play. Second, you have to have the same forward looking view of your skill set that your management has. If the technology and tools that you work in are mature and becoming a commodity or obsolete, you need to find a new niche that is growing. If you allow yourself to be placed in a "last man out" role, you are doomed for the scrap heap. Then when you do have to look externally, you will be competing in a glutted market. Third, if you can find a long-term client with which you can become virtually indispensable, you can create some insulation for yourself. Lastly, you can ingratiate yourself to some managers that have some clout and can help protect you and re-tool you if you start to become marginalized. Frankly, I find this last lever to be the most distasteful, being a true rugged individualist, and pathologically apolitical. If you are more pragmatic about this, and less idealistic, it might be a logical play for you.

    The fact that you got your first "3" rating after 9 years does not bode well for you. If your performance was not truly sub-par compared to previous years, I would definitely be concerned about job security. I would be interested in hearing your perspective on what has changed in the last 9 years to the environment here? Good Luck!

  • In "Here's what I know", Linda Guyer addresses "IBbluer_everyday" questions. Full excerpt: I am not in BCS but being in my position (president of Alliance@IBM) I hear what happens to a LOT of employees across the different divisions in IBM. Also I cannot answer all your questions but will attempt to offer some information and advice, meant sincerely, but of course what you decide to do is up to you.

    At band 8, if I were you, I would darn well start to "manage and lead". If you are purely technical, you are at much greater risk for having your job offshored. You don't have to put a lot of time into leading and managing. Just volunteer to coordinate something; offer to help youngins learn or produce more; think of and suggest some productivity improvement, like a new tool; whatever you do, make absolutely sure it is visible to your management and other managers (just send a note out about it and copy them, saying you can help them too). This will help your manager when the time comes to rank all band 8's.

    I have heard but cannot prove that at the corporate level there are quota's for offshoring jobs; but I have also heard that for many reasons those quota's aren't being met. So it is impossible to say with any certainty whether this would affect you or not.

    As far as your age - there is indeed age discrimination in IBM but it is *very* difficult to prove. The Alliance has talked to several lawyers about this and it is incredibly difficult to fight. There are hundreds of complaints filed with the EEOC but I have seen no results from them. There is also a lawsuit currently underway about recent layoffs of those over 40; to find out more contact me offline, mrs_adm@Yahoo.com

    Other advice I would give you is to fight any "3" rating because that is the start of the kiss of death. Go over your manager's head if necessary. Prove all your accomplishments in writing. Ask for an informal appraisal on a monthly basis and ask for SPECIFIC directions to get you back to a "2".

    I'd love to see someone else here comment on your question about the phony "culture change" stuff. Being as cynical as I am, I think it is all hype to quiet the masses and make them think they are being listened to. Good luck. Linda Guyer; President, Alliance@IBM/CWA Local 1701; http://www.allianceibm.org.

  • In "Changes I have seen", "IBbluer_everyday" (the person that started this "Questions from a 9 year employee" comments on the changes he's seen in IBM from his first tour of duty with the company. Full excerpt: “Dose of reality” asked about the changes I have seen: When I came on board with IBM, “Respect for the Individual” was still being practiced. One situation in particular comes to mind. There was a young programmer who had been hired out of College. She worked hard and had a great attitude, but she just could not program very well. To my surprise, instead of dumping this person, the attitude of management was that they were going to find a way to help that employee succeed. I had never seen this type of culture before. Quite frankly, it amazed and impressed me. A company that supports their employees that much can truly inspire loyalty. As someone who had been around a while and seen how companies operate, it was hard to believe that they really walked the talk.

    There was also recognition that good technical people were necessary because they provided value to the company and to the customer. Not B.S. technical pretenders, but folks who really knew how to get things done. Today, I see no indication that those types of skills are valued.

    I’m sure there are people on this board who remember the 360 Peer review process. After they did away with it , I had a discussion with some friends who expressed relief about not having to take the time to provide input on so many of their peers. I mentioned to them that I was wondering why they really did away with it. I speculated that if you had five people saying someone did excellent work, it would be very difficult to assign a poor rating to that person. But now the door was open for management to assign whatever rating they wanted to assign. Admittedly, the 360 review was a giant love fest in some cases, but in comparison to what we have now, it doesn’t look so bad.

    Probably the most damaging change I have seen is the rating quota system. In my first years, I felt like the rating I received was actually based on my merit. My management was allowed to assign the performance rating I had earned. However, for at least the past few years the rating quota system has been in place.

    Here is an example of how the quota system appears to work: Assume that I’m a first line manager with 10 direct reports. Let’s also assume that five of those employees do excellent work, two are just a shade below excellent, two are solid performers, and the last one is a poor performer. I then receive my PBC allotment from upper management. One 1, six 2’s, and three 3’s (I am assuming that it works somewhat like this. Those who are knowledgeable about this process, please comment). I am now put into the unenviable position of having to assign performance ratings to people that they do not deserve. While it may be true at a macro level that a certain percentage of employees will be poor performers, assignment of rating quotas at a micro level is guaranteed to result in unjustified performance appraisals. One conclusion that can be drawn is that management wants to foster “competitiveness” amongst employees, because an employee is not rated on their relative merit, they are rated against how they performed in relation to their peers. Another conclusion that can be drawn is that IBM wants to force a certain amount of attrition. They are saying that someone has to fail, we can’t all succeed and do a good job. This constitutes a very different philosophy than the IBM I knew in my first few years.

    Here are a few other things: Mandatory overtime (the amount constantly increases, yet they give lip service to “Work life balance”). Ever decreasing and ever more expensive benefits. Involuntary conversion of employees to Cash balance pensions. “Stealth” layoffs. But the icing on the cake is that while they are destroying employee morale and loyalty, upper management is spewing B.S. like “Values are in our DNA” . While that may have been true in the vestiges of the Watson legacy, it certainly isn’t true now.

  • In "IBM has no per diems per se" "ancientblueconsultant" answers another Vault member's question about IBM's travel policies. Full excerpt: IBM has no per diems as such in most engagement expenses. What they have is a set of daily expense guidelines for specific cities or Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA's) provided by AMEX. These are used by all employees at all levels in all divisions. These guidelines are independent of Band. Their adherence and interpretation, however, are definitely in the hands of the travel auditors and the party paying the expense. The guidelines exclude hotel and car rental and in theory, you are supposed to pay your own lunch during the business week since you'd be doing that already. This is a typical cheap bean counter view prevalent at the pig. Strangely there's no rise in the guidelines for those travelling or working in the weekend, so in the eyes of some expense auditors it doesn't exist.

    The guidelines are usually updated once a year or two, or when there's significant uproar about that guideline not meeting typical expenses. They are usually about 25% less than the GSA non-executive level per diems. Guidelines can be exceeded if you have the OK of the expense payer or there is a valid reason. Principals and Bus Dev Execs usually can exceed them because they aren't in any one location long enough for the guideline to kick in. You can always spot an experienced pig BDE or other travelling sales type by their insistence on having business meals be lunch, because then there is no question they can use up a full guideline total without being audited.

    BTW, always file expenses quickly. Auditors have been trained to sometimes "find" errors that they later admit they were wrong when the pig needs expenses held up at month and quarter ends to make their revenue targets. The other sneaky one is expenses reported paid but not reflected on your AMEX bill. That scam's been going on for years.

  • "Flexibility?" by "ocplanna". Full excerpt: I am a new MBA that recently received an offer from the Strategy & Change group. My wife & I would like to start a family soon, (2 years or so) and I'm a little concerned about the travel. I've heard that it's fairly easy to transfer to internal consulting if I need to be closer to home later on down the road. How much truth is in this? I know nothing can be guaranteed, but is it likely that I could do this if I wanted to? I really appreciate any input.

  • In "Bad Move" "feelinblue" replies to "ocplanna". Full excerpt: Ocplanna, Anyone who joins BCS should expect 100% travel forever. If you happen to get a local project, it's a coincidence and temporary. This said, it doesn't make sense to start a travel based job if you know you'll be unhappy in it in the medium term. Also, there's nothing more annoying to a Project Manager than a "newbie" who isn't prepared to make the sacrifices a consulting job requires. You MIGHT be able to transfer to an internal position, but these are no-growth, dead-end jobs (even worse than regular consulting because you're not generating revenue). If you already know that you don't want to travel, you should look for a "real job" in "industry" and get to know your wife before you start your family. In BCS, you'll be away all the time doing "pay your dues" assignments and both you and your wife will be miserable.

  • In "Nooooooooo, no,no,no,no" "deep_eye" replies to "ocplanna". Full excerpt: 1) You will not be transferring later on into internal consulting. This is a crack-addled line dreamt up by some of the HR wonks to induce people to join the pig. 2) You will be posted to wherever the client/project is located - Beirut, Dar es Salam, Pago-Pago, Moose Falls, Idaho, WHEREVER. You have NO SAY in this (keep repeating this phrase until it sinks in). 3) Your personal plans, dreams, inspirations, goals and objectives are of absolutely NO consequence to IBM. Whether it is convenient or not, reasonable or not, fair or not, you will be assigned to wherever your skill set matches (or sometimes, does not), the client expectations and demands. Oh and by the way, that Friday work from your local office/home BS?? Not if the client says no, sparky (and they frequently do). So I hope you like red-eye flights home on Friday. 4) If you are serious about starting a family, I would look to a more family-centric organization, not IBM.

  • "Interesting Scenario" by "pork". Full excerpt: Here is an interesting scenario I have found while working at IBM. You pay expenses out of your pocket. The expenses are charged to the client. The client reimburses IBM. You submit your expense form to IBM. The expenses get kicked back for various reasons and not approved. At this time the client has paid IBM for expenses they have not incurred (the individual consultant has). IBM will never refund the money to the client. I can only imagine how much money IBM makes on this scam per year. And who takes the hit? Not the client but the individual consultant. Just another slimy way IBM does business.

  • "Happens All the Time" by "Dose of reality". Full excerpt: Even at the rate of .1% of total expenses, you are looking at 7 figures in forced contributions. What is even more insidious is the kickbacks we get from our "preferred" vendors and administrative travel services. We charge clients full value and keep the kickbacks for ourselves. In case you are wondering why in so many cases you can get better deals outside the system, that's the reason. We are happy to pay premium prices, since the higher rates are passed on and we take a pro rata cut of the inflated prices. That's one of the ways that the finance Nazi's earn their keep.

Coverage on Social Security "Reform"
  • Wall Street Journal: Memo on Social Security. This is the full text of the memo from Peter Wehner, President Bush's director of strategic initiatives, on the White House's plans for Social Security reform. Excerpts: I wanted to provide to you our latest thinking (not for attribution) on Social Security reform. I don't need to tell you that this will be one of the most important conservative undertakings of modern times. If we succeed in reforming Social Security, it will rank as one of the most significant conservative governing achievements ever. The scope and scale of this endeavor are hard to overestimate. Let me tell you first what our plans are in terms of sequencing and political strategy. We will focus on Social Security immediately in this new year. Our strategy will probably include speeches early this month to establish an important premise: the current system is heading for an iceberg. The notion that younger workers will receive anything like the benefits they have been promised is fiction, unless significant reforms are undertaken. We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course. That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the pre-condition to authentic reform.

    You may know that there is a small number of conservatives who prefer to push only for investment accounts and make no effort to adjust benefits -- therefore making no effort to address this fundamental structural problem. In my judgment, that's a bad idea. We simply cannot solve the Social Security problem with Personal Retirement Accounts alone. ... The debate about Social Security is going to be a monumental clash of ideas -- and it's important for the conservative movement that we win both the battle of ideas and the legislation that will give those ideas life. The Democrat Party leadership, the AARP, and many others will go after Social Security reform hammer and tongs. See today's silly New York Times editorial (its only one for the day) as one example. But Democrats and liberals are in a precarious position; they are attempting to block reform to a system that almost every serious-minded person concedes needs it. They are in a position of arguing against modernizing a system created almost four generations ago. Increasingly the Democrat Party is the party of obstruction and opposition. It is the Party of the Past.

  • The Social Security Network (A Century Foundation Project): Twelve Reasons Why Privatizing Social Security is a Bad Idea. Addressing Social Security’s potential long-term financing challenges by taking the dramatic step of diverting its payroll taxes to create new personal accounts will have drastic consequences for federal finances, future retirees, and those who rely on the system the most. Learn more about twelve major reasons why less costly and less painful reforms should be considered instead.

  • National Public Radio's All Things Considered: A Defense of Private Social Security Accounts. NPR's Robert Siegel talks with the Brookings Institution's Bill Frenzell, an advocate of the president's plan to privatize Social Security. Frenzel is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota and also sat on the president's commission to strengthen Social Security.

  • St. Petersburg Times: Save Social Security from White House, by Bob Graham. Excerpts: The strength of the current Social Security program is that it gives workers a guaranteed, inflation-protected retirement income for as long as they live. No one gets rich from Social Security - the average monthly benefit per Floridian is $900. But for many Americans, it serves as their principal protection from poverty. This is particularly true for the nearly 7-million Americans who receive benefits much earlier than retirement as a result of becoming disabled. ...

    The president's proposal raises three concerns. First, it increases the uncertainty that workers face as they plan for their retirement. Most Americans now retire to a chair that has three legs: an employer-provided pension, personal savings and Social Security. The potential for higher retirement income that proponents of privatization herald comes with significantly greater risk. This is in addition to the increased risk that workers bear when employers shift from traditional pension plans to defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s. Under defined contribution plans, employers commit only to contribute a set amount into a worker's retirement account. Typically, a substantial amount of the worker's personal savings are committed to matching or supplementing the employer's contribution. Whether these funds accumulate to an amount that will provide an adequate income in retirement is up to the worker's investment acumen. Now the president believes that workers should shoulder this risk as part of Social Security as well. Those who elect for individual accounts will have all three of the legs dependent on their skill and luck and the market's swings. This violates a fundamental rule of investment: diversify, diversify, diversify. ...

    In his 1998 State of the Union address, President Clinton proposed saving Social Security first. There was wisdom in that statement. This led to budget surpluses, a booming economy and the opportunity to pay off America's public debt. President Bush rejected that opportunity - he opted for tax cuts for the rich first. We now need to defeat ideas that would kill Social Security as we have known it, especially when it is sold under the banner of salvation.

  • The Cato Institute: They Think You're Stupid. Excerpt: Once younger people are given the choice to build such private accounts under Social Security, an extremely competitive market for professional advice will spring up to meet the demand because millions of employees, rather than a few bosses, will be newly empowered. But if Altman and Lauricella are still offering their arrogantly ignorant investment advice, you'll be safer sticking with a do-it-yourself approach.

  • Washington Post: The 'Other America' May Be Coming Back. Excerpts: Once upon a time, in a land that stretched from one great sea to another, half the elderly were poor. When their work life was done, they retreated into their rented room or their trailer, or their room at their children's home, or even the county poorhouse. Their rulers looked at their plight and concluded that, "at least one-half of the aged -- approximately eight million people -- cannot afford today decent housing, proper nutrition, adequate medical care . . . or necessary recreation." And the name of this nation, and the unimaginably distant time when half the elderly lived this way? The United States of America in the year 1960. ... Above all, what changed the lives of America's senior citizens were the significant increases in Social Security benefits enacted in the 1960s and '70s, and the indexing of those benefits to average wage growth. But since the Bush administration is reportedly soon to propose ending that indexing, and replacing it with a different formula that would greatly reduce benefits, it's worth taking a moment to look back at senior poverty as it existed in the year of John F. Kennedy's election as president.

    Today, however, the United States is governed by a president who is affronted by the very idea of a successful government program. According to a story in yesterday's Post, President Bush wants to change the Social Security indexing formula in a way that will reduce monthly payments by 32.5 percent by 2052 and 45.9 percent by 2075. Today a retiree receives a Social Security check that equals 42 percent of the average worker's wage; if Bush's plan is enacted, that check will shrink to just 20 percent of that wage. Having tossed America's future seniors 100 feet overboard, the administration then proposes to toss them a 50-foot rope: They can invest a portion of their incomes in the stock market. Problem is, as a retirement system, the stock market offers nothing close to the security that Social Security offers. The lower a worker's income, moreover, the less he has to invest and the smaller his return will be. Social Security, by contrast, deliberately distributes its benefits to provide extra income to those recipients whose earnings were low.

    Worse yet, the shift from Social Security to the stock market parallels a shift in employer-provided retirement plans. In 1980, 39 percent of American workers had defined-benefit pension plans; today just 21 percent do, as employers have shunted their employees into 401(k) investment plans. If Bush gets his way, both the government's retirement plan and employers' will be supplanted by plans based on stock performance. If Bush gets his way, his chief domestic achievement will be to have turned "secure retirement" into an oxymoron. And to have taken some sizable number of our seniors and plunged them back into an almost forgotten Other America.

  • Washington Post: A Big Push On Social Security. Private Accounts Are Bush Priority. Excerpts: President Bush's political allies are raising millions of dollars for an election-style campaign to promote private Social Security accounts, as Democrats and Republicans prepare for what they predict will be the most expensive and extensive public policy debate since the 1993 fight over the Clinton administration's failed health care plan. With Bush planning to unveil the details of his Social Security plan this month, several GOP groups close to the White House are asking the same donors who helped reelect Bush to fund an extensive campaign to convince Americans -- and skeptical lawmakers -- that Social Security is in crisis and that private accounts are the only cure. ... But their contributions are likely to be dwarfed by those from corporate trade associations, spearheaded by the National Association of Manufacturers. Other likely contributors include the financial services and securities industries and other Fortune 500 companies, GOP officials say. White House officials, led by Karl Rove and Charles P. Blahous III, the president's policy point man on Social Security, are helping to shape the public relations campaign, said the officials, who talked about private discussions with the White House on the condition of anonymity. ...

    Although the business groups are divided over how big the accounts should be and whether they should be accompanied by benefit cuts, the organizations all plan to swing behind the Bush plan, according to people involved in the effort. Moore, for instance, is putting together an ad promoting private accounts that could be ready by the State of the Union speech. Corporations will do much of their work through a group called the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, which operates out of the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters here and was once headed by Blahous. Derrick A. Max, executive director of the alliance, said the group will probably run its own ads and help fund other efforts. "The beginning stage will be focusing on the crisis, the need to act and the cost of delay," Max said.

Now on the Alliance@IBM Site:
  • Union Members Aid Tsunami Victims
  • UWUA Supports Soldiers, Families
  • Union Activists: Protect Social Security—Not Tax Cuts for the Rich
  • Labor Board's Detractors See a Bias Against Workers. Excerpts: The Republican-dominated board has made it more difficult for temporary workers to unionize and for unions to obtain financial information from companies during contract talks. It has ruled that graduate students working as teaching assistants do not have the right to unionize at private universities, and it has given companies greater flexibility to use a powerful antiunion weapon - locking out workers - in labor disputes. And in a decision that will affect 87 percent of American workers, the board has denied nonunion employees the right to have a co-worker present when managers call them in for investigative or disciplinary meetings. The party-line decisions have been applauded by the Republican Party's business base, which sees them as bringing balance after rulings that favored labor during the Clinton administration. But some academic experts on labor relations say the recent rulings are so hostile to unions and to collective bargaining that they run counter to the goals of the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law that gave Americans the right to form unions. ... Several recent board decisions, Mr. Johnson pointed out, have reversed Clinton-era rulings that overturned precedents set by Republican boards. In a case involving I.B.M., the board voted 3 to 2 to overturn a Clinton board ruling that gave nonunion workers the right to have a colleague accompany them to investigative or disciplinary meetings with supervisors. The Clinton-era ruling was a reversal of a 1980's decision.


"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." — Franklin D. Roosevelt
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