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6, 2000 April, 2000

Highlights—April 2, 2011

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: ABOUT PENSION PLANS" by "fhawontcutit". Full excerpt: A recent DEF 14A SEC filing: http://sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/51143/000110465911012713/a11-2531_1def14a.htm\ #a2010PensionBenefitsNarrative_054809. The link should take you to page 54 where the section on pension benefits begins. If you scroll down to page 56, there is a section, "Annual Pension Benefits."

    "The annual pension benefit that was earned as of December 31, 2007, and that is payable as a single life annuity beginning at normal retirement age for each of the named executive officers, is as follows:" There is a table "Annual Pension Benefit at Normal Retirement Age:"

    Name: Sam Palmisano
    Qualified Plan: $93,043
    Non qualified Plan: $3,113,737
    Total Benefit: $3,206,780
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: ABOUT PENSION PLANS" by Vic Bitleris. Full excerpt: Yes, I read this in the Proxy booklet, but can someone explain what the Non qualified Plan is? I did not understand what that meant. I am guessing the Qualified Plan is akin to the regular employees' 1st choicers Pension Plan, but maybe I am misunderstanding that as well. The book is written in a lot of legalese so for an ordinary worker bee like me, it doesn't make a lot of sense other than about 60 pages devoted to telling everybody that the executive compensation is very good for Shareholders. Thanks and regards, Vic Bitleris.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: ABOUT PENSION PLANS" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: A qualified pension plan is one that meets a list of IRS requirements and is entitled to certain tax benefits. Qualified pension plans are also protected by the PBGC.

    One example is that for 2010, only compensation up to $245,000 per employee is covered. That means if an employee earns more than that, they do not get a larger pension as a result.

    Because executives would never settle for the modest pensions the rest of us get, companies set up non-qualified plans that pay out a second pension to the executives that go above the IRS limits.

    The non-qualified plans are not protected the way a qualified pension plan is. If the company goes bankrupt, the people lose their non-qualified pensions.

    In IBM's case, if I recall correctly, there is no pension fund behind the non-qualified plan. IBM simply takes money from it's income stream each year and hands it over to the retired executives.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: ABOUT PENSION PLANS" by "willbefree25". Full excerpt: Don't forget about his free lifetime retiree medical. Additional compensation at its finest. Not much any of the IBMers who will have a much reduced pension and only Medicare when their FHA runs out can do about this, is there? WE have a health care problem.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree Information Exchange message board: "Re: Retirement is great" by "gfretwell2000". Full excerpt: If your retirement is not great you are not doing it right. I am not rich and I don't get to do as many things as I did when I was working but I am not working. That is great in itself. Retired people should be looking around at all the things you can do that are free or very reasonably priced. The only people I see who are really in trouble are those who retired, owing money.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree Information Exchange message board: "Re: Retirement is great" by Kathi Cooper. Full excerpt: Here are the things I didn't do right for retirement:
    • IBM cut my promised pension by about 60%. I didn't take on two jobs to make up for it.
    • IBM cut me off of the standard retiree medical and put me on the FHA, at a premium cost of about 800 a month, one person, before deductible. I couldn't find a job with medical benefits that could offset that because full time jobs for anyone over 60 sucks.
    • I did plan for the stock market crash, but my neighbors didn't. I moved all I could into cash like securities about 2 weeks before the crash and rode it out. My neighbors don't live there anymore. Their house is vacant. The company they worked for went belly-up after the crash and they were out of work too long unable to get a real job so they tried to sell their house to move into a cheap apartment but the house was on the market for 2 years, and the city sold their taxes to someone else and sued for back payment of taxes, so they walked.
    • I own 4 houses and a duplex. A month doesn't go by that repairs of some sort are needed. Insurance and property taxes go up 10% each year to compensate for the loss of tax revenue because my neighbor isn't paying taxes because he flew the coup. Oh, and the business he used to work for isn't either.
    • Utilities go up about 10% a year. Gas is up, way up.

    Well, you get the picture.

    I don't owe money to anyone except for one small mortgage on one of my houses plus a cheap car payment. The equity loan was to pay for my mother's funeral, and some other incidentals. (those durn unexpected expenses!) As you can see, it's all my fault. (not)

  • New York Times: G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether. By David Kocieniewski. Excerpts: General Electric, the nation's largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010. The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

    Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. ...

    Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.'s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world's best tax law firm. Indeed, the company's slogan "Imagination at Work" fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress. ...

    Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation's tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.

    Yet many companies say the current level is so high it hobbles them in competing with foreign rivals. Even as the government faces a mounting budget deficit, the talk in Washington is about lower rates. President Obama has said he is considering an overhaul of the corporate tax system, with an eye to lowering the top rate, ending some tax subsidies and loopholes and generating the same amount of revenue. He has designated G.E.'s chief executive, Jeffrey R. Immelt, as his liaison to the business community and as the chairman of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and it is expected to discuss corporate taxes. ...

    A review of company filings and Congressional records shows that one of the most striking advantages of General Electric is its ability to lobby for, win and take advantage of tax breaks. ...

    The assortment of tax breaks G.E. has won in Washington has provided a significant short-term gain for the company's executives and shareholders. While the financial crisis led G.E. to post a loss in the United States in 2009, regulatory filings show that in the last five years, G.E. has accumulated $26 billion in American profits, and received a net tax benefit from the I.R.S. of $4.1 billion.

    But critics say the use of so many shelters amounts to corporate welfare, allowing G.E. not just to avoid taxes on profitable overseas lending but also to amass tax credits and write-offs that can be used to reduce taxes on billions of dollars of profit from domestic manufacturing. They say that the assertive tax avoidance of multinationals like G.E. not only shortchanges the Treasury, but also harms the economy by discouraging investment and hiring in the United States. ...

    Transforming the most creative strategies of the tax team into law is another extensive operation. G.E. spends heavily on lobbying: more than $200 million over the last decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Records filed with election officials show a significant portion of that money was devoted to tax legislation. G.E. has even turned setbacks into successes with Congressional help. After the World Trade Organization forced the United States to halt $5 billion a year in export subsidies to G.E. and other manufacturers, the company's lawyers and lobbyists became deeply involved in rewriting a portion of the corporate tax code, according to news reports after the 2002 decision and a Congressional staff member. ...

    By the time the measure — the American Jobs Creation Act — was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004, it contained more than $13 billion a year in tax breaks for corporations, many very beneficial to G.E. One provision allowed companies to defer taxes on overseas profits from leasing planes to airlines. It was so generous — and so tailored to G.E. and a handful of other companies — that staff members on the House Ways and Means Committee publicly complained that G.E. would reap "an overwhelming percentage" of the estimated $100 million in annual tax savings. According to its 2007 regulatory filing, the company saved more than $1 billion in American taxes because of that law in the three years after it was enacted. ...

    While G.E.'s declining tax rates have bolstered profits and helped the company continue paying dividends to shareholders during the economic downturn, some tax experts question what taxpayers are getting in return. Since 2002, the company has eliminated a fifth of its work force in the United States while increasing overseas employment. In that time, G.E.'s accumulated offshore profits have risen to $92 billion from $15 billion.

    "That G.E. can almost set its own tax rate shows how very much we need reform," said Representative Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas, who has proposed closing many corporate tax shelters. "Our tax system should encourage job creation and investment in America and end these tax incentives for exporting jobs and dodging responsibility for the cost of securing our country."

  • AlterNet: Jon Stewart on GE's Tax-Free Status: 'That is a Corporate Tax Rate of -60 Percent'. Excerpt: Jon Stewart is pretty consistently funny -- at the very least he lands one jab a show -- but as this video proves, he's best when he's pissed... and when he's on, he's on.

    Last night he took on the absurd concept that GE, the world's largest corporation, did not pay US taxes last year. Meanwhile, the GOP continues its attempts to club unions on the gourd. 'At the same time that public workers are living their Champale wishes and Spam-viar dreams,' Stewart says, 'we're making it harder and harder for good, honest corporate citizens to create jobs here.' He then breaks down the absurdity of GE's corporate tax rate -- 'negative sixty percent' -- versus the fact that it's taking all its jobs overseas. Don't want to spoil it for you, but watch through to the end... he gets a real zinger in there.

  • CBS Interactive Business Network: GE's Soaring Profits Won't Stop It From Slashing Employee Benefits. By Alain Sherter. Excerpts: Last week we learned about General Electric's (GE) aversion to paying taxes even as its profits came roaring back. Today comes word about the company's plan to ask unionized employees to accept major cuts in health and retirement benefits, according to liberal blog ThinkProgress:
    Among the major concessions GE has signaled that it will ask of union workers is the elimination of a defined [benefit] pension for new employees, a move the company has already implemented for its non-union salaried employees. Likewise, GE is signaling to the union that it will ask for the elimination of current health insurance plans in favor of lower quality health saving accounts, a move the company has already implemented for non-union salaried employees as well. ...

    What union workers want is for the company — and all corporations — to invest more of their resurgent profits in employees. That's good not only for labor, Crosby emphasized, but also for employees not protected by collective bargaining and for the country as a whole. He added:

    GE jobs are good jobs, and we appreciate that. The promise of a GE job is that you could send your kids to school. We're proud of the things we make, and we're proud to work for GE. We just want to make a living doing it.
    What we need in the U.S. are jobs that you can raise your family on and give you hope that your kids will do better than you. That's not unreasonable.

    No, it's not. Certainly the dream seems to be alive and well for GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt, who received a $4 million cash bonus for 2010 as part of his $21.4 million annual compensation package. And if it is, then all of us — union and non-union, blue collar and white, Democrat and Republican — are in trouble.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • IBM Senior Systems Analyst in Hopewell Junction, NY: (Current Employee) "Consulting at IBM for over 5 years; your future lies in skills-transferability - "Can I do this job somewhere else"?" Pros: vacation time and benefits for FTE's - Pay is decent for about 30% of the consultants; others are grossly underpaid for "temp" work. Worse for FTE's who have suffered a 15% + loss and no raises in the past few years...This was suppose to be the Positively spun section, hmmm, sorry!

      Cons: Lack of stability, expensive benefits; your job could be eliminated or RA'd to a consultant here or in another country.

      Advice to Senior Management: Allow me to preface these comments by saying, I am a consultant; I'd be on welfare if I was an employee. As one of America's billion dollar, global companies; you should work with government to bring jobs back to the USA and help cross-train; this would help foster the building of a better, stronger, more confident American workforce. Stock price won't matter if no one wants to do business with you. Moreover, how does management (at any company) rationalize getting paid millions when employee pay keeps going down (e.g. Resource a seasoned FTE and hire a consultant or hire another FTE; but, put them in a pay-grade much lower than the counter-part that was in that job for 29 years and missed out on his pension.) Brilliant...vicious, but brilliant -> Scum!

    • IBM SAP Consultant in Chicago, IL: (Current Employee) "Good work life balance but people are treated like resource and not individuals." Pros: Work life balance is very good, you can plan your work yourself, good employee benefits, good networking and good information sharing on technology. Cons: It's a big organisation, nothing called as HR or career progression plan for the employees, Personal touch is missing and you are lost in crowd. Advice to Senior Management: Start valuing your people and build in good human capital.
    • IBM IT Specialist in Philadelphia, PA: (Current Employee) "Downhill." Pros: Flexibility in work-life balance. Telecommuting culture. New parent time off (for both moms and dads.) Projects are generally stable and longer-running. Cons: Very limited resources for supplies, education. No interest from management on your professional development or support. Employees are numbers - good ratings (2/2+) do not mean you are safe from layoffs. Advice to Senior Management: Trying to run the company by pure numbers is demolishing morale, especially in the AS division. Cutting the most experienced employees in favor of lower-cost replacements is impacting to the ability of teams to actually serve the clients. In some cases the project team is simply disbanded since the resources are no longer available, even though they are happy with the current team!
    • IBM Anonymous in Bangalore (India): (Current Employee) "Some good, some bad" Pros: If you are a manager or executive, then there is lot of scope for career advancement. If you are a fresher, then there is lot of scope for learning new things. Cons: If you are neither a fresher nor manager, then life is tough. Long work hours, very little credit or visibility for your work, meagre increments/bonuses, difficult to maintain good work - life balance. Advice to Senior Management: Skip levels and talk directly to people on the ground. Do not rely on first line managers or leads; they will take credit for good stuff and mislead management about team morale. "Empower the grassroots", that is my advice to senior management
    • IBM Anonymous: (Current Employee) "Burning out their employees." Pros: Brand recognition, leading edge technology, decent compensation. Cons: Benefits not competitive, Work-Life balance HORRIBLE, Way too may requirements put on employees for paperwork resulting in 60 hour weeks.
    • IBM Senior Managing Consultant in New York, NY: (Current Employee) "Great place to gain experience but poor treatment of employees." Pros: exposure to many new and innovative approaches, software and global opportunities; fantastic if you are a hot sales person; employee benefits are very strong. Cons: not employee friendly - strong bottom line focus; do not provide face to face training or hard to get funding for external training; very virtual atmosphere - over the last 5 years, I've seen my manager 5 times in person; unless you are on a project with people in your division, you never get to meet them personally. Advice to Senior Management: realize your employees are your most valuable asset. there should be more incentives for sales staff and managers to do what's best for the greater IBM than their unit's focus.
    • IBM Anonymous: (Current Employee) "IBM has been a mixed bag." Pros: The flexibility and focus on work like balance is one of the strongest cases for IBM. They also have a wide range of opportunities. Cons: The pay has been poor and their generally poor treatment of contractors detracts from the company. The poor internal communication, tools, and coordination was shocking. Advice to Senior Management: The internal communication and coordination within the company needs to improve. IBM has the resources and skills, but they are poorly utilized.
    • IBM Systems Engineer in Chantilly, VA: (Current Employee) "OK To work for, but not make a career of." Pros: I can work from home one day a week. Cons: They use an intense system to purchase equipment and everyday stuff called "Bond" and it sucks. Can not get what you want when you need it. I run A server room and its near impossible to get freaking some simple network cables and tools to do my job. I have to sometimes buy my own stuff and bring it into work to use it. Also I have 6 Managers for the many projects I work on. Advice to Senior Management: Take the middle man out of the projects and put trust into your employees and let us do our job.
    • IBM Client Executive in Bethesda, MD: (Current Employee) "IBM disrespects its employees!" Pros: The company gives you flexibility to spend the time where you need to. Very little micro management. Cons: IBM nickels and dimes its employees, driving up the EPS off the backs of its employees. Everything is offshored today. The company talks a lot about innovation, but I don't feel like that innovation is available to my federal customers. Advice to Senior Management: Lead!
    • IBM Executive IT Architect: (Current Employee) "Been good to me but I'm starting to question how good the future is going to be." Pros: Work with smart people. Work on projects that matter. High performance culture. Good to own the stock. Pretty good at recognizing and rewarding the top people. Cons: Relentless cost cutting. Relentless globalization. Training and development of people frequently subject to budget cuts. What training is mostly distance learning or self-paced online. Almost no classroom training anymore. Financial focus on quarterly numbers. Advice to Senior Management: You can't keep underinvesting in training and development of people.
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  • General Visitor Comments: Due to a lack of membership growth the comment sections will be closed until we see sufficient growth in full membership, associate membership or donations. Many of you that visit our site have not yet joined, but seem to value its existence. The only comment section that will remain open will be Job Cuts Reports. If you have information that you want the Alliance to know about please send to ibmunionalliance@gmail.com. Information of importance will be put on the front page of this web site. To join go here: Join The Alliance! or here: Join The Alliance!
  • Job Cut Reports
    • Comment 3/27/11: Last year when I was RAed this site and others were inspiring; I want to return that. ("Thanks!" to all who post here.) IBM colleagues and other friends were instrumental in my job search. Within 6 weeks of leaving I had 5 different real opportunities that led to 2 different offers. I didn't take either of those offers though because I accepted an offer from a different lead I generated from my own efforts. Ex-IBMers: You're bright and talented and under appreciated. Embrace the opportunity to change employers; you deserve it as much as I did! -BigBlueBlows-
    • Comment 3/29/11: I lead a shop with 2500 servers and about 16K end points. In 2008, when I was let go, the server mix was about 72% IBM, 10% Dell, 10% HP, 5% White Box and 5% Apple. I had 89% availability of those servers over at year then.

      Today, the availability of the servers is 95% and the mix of production servers is 18% IBM, 48% HP, 34% Dell and no Apple or white box.

      When the 5th IBM rep I've had came by, crossed her pretty legs and started talking about IBM's new services, I cut her off immediately. My terms don't change over time:

      1. 30% of service personnel must be band 9+ and have over 40 years of age.
      2. Customer support for technology of production equipment must be local and call centers US based.
      3. Applications and the business control the decision, not fancy technology or briefings.
      4. Before I buy I must talk to a customer that actually has 1-3 in a production environment.

      New services for configuration? So why do I have to pay extra for that? Why can't the products self-configure and self-heal like you promised decades ago but never delivered?

      She came back with the line that "our services are more cost effective and better than anyone else's". To which I responded: "Bravo, then you won't mind me adding a clause to the new services contract that says that any failure due to a configuration problem you'll be glad to fix free and pay for production time lost of the server by a factor of 2X."

      Silence....another few IBM servers going down the tubes. Mind you, the competition isn't any better or cheaper, but they are more honest than IBM. -Ex-IBMer now CIO-

    • Comment 3/29/11: -Loop Hole- I do know when an employee leaves it is up to the manager to flag whether they can be rehired or not. When I voluntarily retired I made sure that I received a signed copy of the document. I suspect that it is voluntary for the manager to provide this information. In most cases dealing with RA's I would think the employee is marked not rehire-able and not shown the document. -Anonymous-
    • Comment 3/29/11: To -Ex-IBMer now CIO- I worked at a customer based technology call center in Dallas,TX and was RA'ed in 2010. Our center was sent to India. I wish all customers would demand that customer based technology for production equipment call centers were only located in the US. My team trained the Indians and Sam sent our jobs off shore because it would be less expensive. Who cares about the US customer that cannot even understand what the individual in India is saying.. There needs to be a union in IBM. -ANA-
    • Comment 3/30/11: to loophole and anon: when a employee retires or is ra'd it is the manager who determines if that person could return to IBM as a reg or contractor or a supplemental. they make this call based on how the person left and their attitude . very few ra'd people get to come back unless they volunteered as opposed to being ra'd on a 3 pbc. if you are on good terms with your mgr then he/she can recommend that you be OK'd for return to site. by the way if you ever want to visit a site security also has the ability to see if you should be allowed back in the buildings. nobody wants a rouge employee returning and hurting people or sabotaging systems. -wasa1stlinenowra'd-
    • Comment 3/31/11: I was part of the Feb RA. Last day at IBM was March 28. I returned my laptop on the same day. I am now receiving emails from my former IBM manager asking for my passwords (boot up, windows password, etc.). I replied back with both. I just received another email for the lotus notes password. Is this standard for all IBM RA's to give their passwords? Should I give the password? (I am always concerned when someone asks for passwords) -anonymous-
    • Comment 3/31/11: I didn't have to give my Lotus Notes PW to my manager when RAed. Only PC & Windows PW's and root password for any Unix OS. Unless you have IBM Confidential e-mails relating to business dealings I don't think you have to volunteer your Lotus Notes PW. Besides a Lotus Notes Administrator can always access your e-mail's or any Notes DB's you created. Ask why you have to give out your Lotus Notes PW and who you have to tell or give it to. IBM could use anything you supply them to harm your RA. Don't willingly give them the chance. -anonymous-
    • Comment 3/31/11: Comment 3/30/11: I was part of the Feb RA. Last day at IBM was March 28. I returned my laptop on the same day. I am now receiving emails from my former IBM manager asking for my passwords (boot up, windows password, etc.). I replied back with both. I just received another email for the lotus notes password. In response to this question: Is this standard for all IBM RA's to give their passwords? Should I give the password? (I am always concerned when someone asks for passwords) -anonymous- This is a violation of IBM's security and privacy policies. In any departure at IBM it is a security requirement that all laptops be re-imaged. IBM has lotus domino servers to obtain any information that be pertaining to the business of the company however your workspace should have been reallocated and reimaged. -workfoibm-
    • Comment 3/31/11: -Anonymous in EFK- We tend to be our own worst enemy. In the C. E. ranks, we automatically just divvied up someone's workload if they quit, retired or were fired because we were conditioned to protect our customer base at all costs. Management used this against us and just kept cutting whenever they wanted to make better. numbers. It was an easy way for a branch manager to look good on paper. Looks like it has spread like a cancer. Bet its taught in Business Management courses now. The job protection steps I would see in Union shops seemed ridiculous to me. Things like the guy who ran the tape drives couldn't load paper in the printers and the printer operator couldn't load tapes but now you see what happens when a company can force you to do someone else's job even temporarily. They make it permanent, fire one of you and work the other one double hard. It seems less and less ridiculous every day. -Exodus2007-
    • Comment 4/01/11: Just informed on Project X. This is being implemented in Southbury, CT Tax department. Effecting SUT and PPT. RA in two phases. Phase 1 - July 2011, Phase 2 - April 2012. We are being outsourced to Argentina. -Southbury Tax-
    • Comment 4/01/11: IBM is outsourcing DB2 to India again. Left the dev team last month. I was based in the Markham lab. The outsource was 3rd line's idea. 15 by 15 anyone??? -goneForGood-
    • Comment 4/04/11: -Southbury Tax- I'm sorry to hear about this. When one sees about half of Southbury already closed (all of Bldg. A, over half of bldg C or did they close all of C finally?) up and the only thing keeping Southbury open is the data canter it was just a matter of time this would happen when most folks either just ignored the fliers and newsletters or threw them out that I was distributing for years in the Southbury cafeteria, snack machine, and common public areas. It's sad that unless other IBMers take up the fight in Southbury it is not far fetched to think IBM will start closing the B Bldg. and moving the data center especially if they don't get a sweetheart tax reduced deal from the town of Southbury and State of CT. Then the Stone family and the rest of Southbury can stare at a set of empty former IBM buildings. It has happened in other areas in the USA and it can happen sadly in Southbury too. -sby_willie-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • The Nation: Vermont's Struggle for Single-Payer Healthcare. By Steve Early. Excerpts: After years of political frustration, Earl Mongeon had to see it to believe it. Often, when he finishes his twelve-hour night shift at IBM in Essex Junction, Mongeon heads home for breakfast and a few hours of brush clearing on his sixty-acre lot in Westford. In mid-January, the 55-year-old microprocessor assembler and workers' rights advocate hopped into his car and drove in the opposite direction, to Montpelier. There, at the state Capitol, Mongeon and other supporters of single-payer healthcare gathered to hear Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, Congressman Peter Welch and new Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin explain that last year's national healthcare bill—a costly mix of subsidies to private medical plans, some insurance market reforms, Medicaid expansion and a mandate that people buy coverage if they don't already have it—isn't good enough for the Green Mountain State. The top state and federal officeholders pledged to work together for something better. "We firmly believe we can be the state that passes the first single-payer system in the country," Shumlin declared. ...

    The perfect storm for fundamental reform seems to have arrived in America's second-smallest state, but the wind is blowing rightward elsewhere in the country, with the new Republican majority in the House voting to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which they brand "Obamacare." Red-state attorneys general and their GOP governors are challenging the constitutionality of PPACA by focusing on its controversial individual mandate. Healthcare reformers in Vermont aren't happy with President Obama's scheme either. That's why they're trying to create a social insurance system that would sever the connection between coverage and employment and make access to medical care a "human right" for the state's more than 625,000 citizens. Marketplace competition and profiteering—given a renewed lease on life nationally by PPACA—would be phased out locally as soon as possible. If single-payer works in Vermont, its backers envision the state becoming the Saskatchewan of America, just as Canada's thinly populated but left-led prairie province paved the way for Medicare-for-all north of our border fifty years ago. ...

    Single-payer also faces resistance from big business, inside and outside the state. (A taste of that was provided six years ago by antiunion IBM, which held in-plant meetings for 6,000 workers to warn them that a single-payer bill, then pending before the legislature, would require $1 billion in new taxes and force businesses to leave.) A former state legislator from Putney, Governor Shumlin is also part owner of a family business that made him a multi-millionaire. In the face of blunt opposition from his fellow employers, he has pitched single-payer as a way to make Vermont more "business friendly" by curbing healthcare costs, which have doubled in the past decade. Many of the entrepreneurs affiliated with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility do seem to favor decoupling health insurance from employment, although not necessarily via a single-payer system. The more mainstream and politically influential Associated Industries of Vermont displays little enthusiasm for moving to a publicly funded plan financed by payroll taxes.

  • Talking Points Media (TPM): The Real Death Panel: If 'Obamacare' Repealed, Some Patients Can't Go Back. By Brian Beutler. Excerpts: If the health care reform law were to disappear tomorrow, Dallas Wiens would be in trouble. Earlier this week, in a 15-hour procedure, Boston surgeons grafted a donor's face onto Wiens' skull. Weins is a 25-year-old boom lift operator from Texas who came into contact with a live electrical wire, costing him his lips, nose, and eyes and leaving him severely disfigured.

    The Department of Defense covered the cost of the surgery through a grant to Brigham and Women's Hospital, where the surgery was performed -- an investment the military hopes will pay off in new surgical techniques that will benefit wounded soldiers. But all the Pentagon's largesse would have been for naught without the new health care law.

    At 25, Wiens was too old to be a beneficiary on his parent's health insurance policy, until the health care reform law raised the maximum age to 26. Without that coverage, Weins wouldn't have been able to afford the expensive immunosuppressant drugs that he must take for the rest of his life to prevent his body from rejecting his new face. Patients have to demonstrate that they will be able to afford the anti-rejection drugs to qualify for a transplant.

    If the health care reform law were to be wiped off the books before Wiens turns 26, he'd have to figure out, quickly, how to get those drugs by other means. Wiens almost certainly won't run into trouble. According to the Associated Press he'll turn 26 in a few weeks, and transfer off his father's insurance on to Medicare, which covers seniors 65 and older, people with disabilities, and those suffering from a handful of specific life-threatening illnesses.

    But if the Republican Party's crusade against the health care reform law is successful -- if they somehow manage to repeal it, or if the Supreme Court voids it entirely -- other transplant patients will find themselves in a similarly perilous situation: with a new organ but unable to afford the critical life-saving drugs that make transplants viable.

  • CBS News: Counterfeit pills flood U.S.: How to spot fakes. Posted by David W Freeman. Excerpts: Currency and designer handbags aren't the only things being counterfeited these days. The U.S. is being deluged with counterfeit prescription drugs, and that's putting Americans' health at risk. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported Sunday on CBS 60 Minutes, fake versions of antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, pain-killers, antianxiety medications, and other common medicines - can be hard to tell from the real things. But they're often made under unsanitary conditions and may contain only a fraction of the active ingredient they're supposed to - if they contain any at all.

    The drugs are often sold via rogue websites that offer the drugs at steep discounts from the usual prices. Thirty-six million Americans are believed to have bought their medicines from these sites, including some sites that pretend to be based in Canada, where legitimate prescription drugs sometimes are available for lower prices than in the U.S.

  • Huffington Post: Reframing the Debate to Make Insurers Look Poor. By Wendell Potter, former insurance company executive; author. Excerpts: In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau delivered the troubling but hardly shocking news that almost 51 million Americans -- nearly one out of every six of us -- had fallen into the ranks of the uninsured. If you think that news would also be troubling for health insurance companies, think again. While the country was struggling to emerge from a recession, and more and more of us were struggling with no medical coverage, the big for-profit insurance companies were rolling in dough.

    In fact, 2010 will go down in the history books as one of the most profitable ever for the five biggest for-profit health insurers.

    Over the past few weeks, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, CIGNA and Humana reported fourth quarter 2010 earnings, and all but Humana exceeded Wall Street's profit expectations, most by wide margins. The combined earnings of just those five companies were more than $11.7 billion last year, which was 17 percent more than they made in 2009. Since the end of 2008, their earnings have increased a Wall Street-pleasing 51 percent. Just imagine how much more they would have been able to reward their shareholders if the economy had been running on all cylinders. ...

    So how did they manage to make that much money? By refusing to sell insurance to many people who need it most, by denying coverage for many procedures doctors ordered for their patients, and by achieving one of their most important strategic goals: shifting more of the cost of care, even if we're insured, from them to us.

    Insurers embarked on a strategy several years ago of moving their policyholders out of plans with comparatively modest co-payments and into high-deductible plans, which require people to pay thousands of dollars for care out of their own pockets before their insurance coverage kicks in.

    Insurers have been on a mission for several years to "migrate" people into these plans, which they euphemistically call "consumer-driven" or "consumer-directed." This forced migration really picked up steam last year. According to America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry's lobbying group, the number of people enrolled in high-deductible plans rose 25 percent from 2009 to 2010. Millions of other Americans are now in plans with skimpier benefits. As a result, insurers last year were able to avoid paying many claims they would have paid in the past.

    To deflect attention away from the insurers' profits and to talk us into believing exactly the opposite of what is really happening, the industry's cheerleaders and apologists are using a PR trick known as "reframing." (Companies frequently call on their allies and trade associations to do the reframing when their own spokespeople don't have the credibility to pull it off.)

    One of insurance industry's most reliable allies, Sally C. Pipes of the conservative think tank Pacific Research Institute, attempted in a February 24 column in Forbes magazine to suggest that insurers spend so much of their revenues paying claims they're just barely staying afloat. Forcing insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue on their policyholders' medical care, as the health care reform law requires, would surely push them into the red and eventually out of business.

    Under the headline, "ObamaCare Is Starting to Bleed Insurers Dry," Pipes told us that the health insurance sector is among the least profitable in America--"with a mere 2.2 percent profit margin." ...

    Well, considering that Americans spent more than $2.5 trillion on health care last year--about 17 percent of GDP and more per person than any other country except East Timor--shareholders are making out pretty darn good with that penny. Wall Street is so happy with the health insurance sector, in fact, that the stock prices for every one of the big five are now trading at or near their 52-week highs. The average stock price for the companies has increased 20 percent since this time last year. That is a very handsome return on investment in my book.

    All of this "reframing" by AHIP and the industry's allies is not an innocuous example of how numbers can be sliced and diced to mislead the public. It is being done for the sole purpose of convincing us that insurers are blameless when it comes to the high cost of health care and the rising number of people without coverage, or adequate coverage, in the United States. ...

    In a relentless quest for profits, insurers dump sick policyholders from their rolls, refuse to sell coverage to millions of people with pre-existing conditions, force us to pay more for care out of our pockets, strip benefits out of our plans, and routinely deny coverage for treatments that doctors order for their patients. The consequences of these practices -- all of which "ObamaCare" tries to do something about -- are by no means benign. An estimated 45,000 Americans die every year because they don't have insurance.

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

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

  • New York Times op-ed: Losing Our Way. By Bob Herbert. Excerpts: Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

    The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely. ...

    There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

    Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn't be, and didn't used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

    The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation's wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent. ...

    A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: "G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether." Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year. As The Times's David Kocieniewski reported, "Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore."

    G.E. is the nation's largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

    Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

  • The Nation, courtesy of AlterNet: 2/3rds of US Corporations Pay Zero Federal Taxes: US Uncut Movement Builds to Make Them Pay Up. By Allison Kilkenny. Excerpts: "I'm tired of people calling for shared sacrifice and it's all coming from the workers and nothing's coming from the top," says protester Dave Sonenberg. "I'm sick of companies like Bank of America not paying their taxes."

    Bank of America hasn't paid a nickel in federal income taxes for the past two years, and in fact raked in an additional $1 billion in tax "benefits." The bank is enjoying these profits after accepting $45 billion from taxpayers, which the company then got to count as a deduction when they paid back the money.

    In 2010, Bank of America handed out $2.2 million in campaign contributions to Congressional representatives and PACs (36 percent went to Democrats, 64 percent to Republicans). By throwing around that much cash, huge companies like BoA have a big say when it comes to crafting legislation that permits them to escape paying taxes, according to US Uncut organizer J.A. Myerson.

    "The reason it's not illegal is because they have bought and paid for the people who make the laws. The laws are made to accommodate this sort of nefariousness," he says, adding that the process is wrong, and ordinarily that would mean approaching Congress to ask them to fix it, but there's no point in attempting that when the system is so heavily rigged in favor of the rich and well connected. "So what US Uncut is doing right now is not Capitol Hill lobbying because that doesn't seem like it's a fruitful avenue. It's trying to directly undermine the ability of Bank of America to earn record windfall profits by depleting the public trust that they are an upstanding member of society."

  • AlterNet: The Real Story of Our Economy: Why Our Standard of Living Has Stalled Out. For more than a quarter century after WWII the fruits of America's productivity were shared with average working people, year in and year out. Not anymore. By Les Leopold. Excerpts: Do public sector workers earn more than private sector workers? Who cares? This boneheaded question has us fighting over the crumbs. (And the answer is no -- all credible studies show that when you account for educational levels, the total compensation packages are about the same.)

    The real question is: Why have most workers seen their standard of living stall over the last generation?

    The answer is both obvious and appalling. More and more of our nation's wealth is going to the few, while the many have seen their real wages actually decline. It's a disgrace.

    It wasn't always so. For more than a quarter century after WWII the fruits of America's productivity were shared with average working people, year in and year out. But what exactly was being shared? ...

    From 1947 to 1975, our output per worker hour grew by more than 75 percent. At the very same time, the real wages of the average worker rose by nearly the same amount. The rise of productivity and the rise in real wages turned our working people into the largest, most vibrant middle class in the history of the world. This dramatic upward movement in material conditions gave America its supreme bragging rights in the Cold War. No one could deny that democratic capitalism delivered the goods to working people, not just to elites.

    Until it didn't.

    This upwardly mobile economy changed during the 1970s, and it wasn't an accident. That's when our nation's leaders embarked on a series of policies that were supposed to break down stagflation and rebuild our economic miracle. We now call it neo-liberalism. That's when we decided to unleash innovation through deregulation, especially financial deregulation. That's when we lowered taxes on the wealthy. That's when we pushed forward globalization. That's when we stopped raising the minimum wage. That's when we undercut the labor movement. All this was supposed to make the economy boom and reignite the post-WWII economic miracle. ...

    I like Ike. These statistics turned me into an Eisenhower communist. I realized that our great, conservative general and president stood for policies that would never have let our nation's productivity cookie jar get robbed. Under Ike, those earning $3 million or more (in today's dollars) faced marginal tax rates of over 90 percent. (Yes, there were loopholes that bought the effective rates down to 70 percent. But, what's the effective rate on the rich today? About 16 percent.) And Ike ended the Korean War. And he named and took on the military-industrial complex, which today would probably get you impeached. ...

    Watching politicians pit public and private employees against each other is the cruelest joke of this entire crash. First of all, there would be no state and local budget gaps were it not for the fact that the Wall Street crash destroyed more than 8 million jobs in a matter of months. In any rational world, the Wall Street gamblers would be paying reparations for the damage they've caused, rather setting record profits based on our bailouts. ...

    Second, the richest hedge fund honchos are the glorious beneficiaries of a tax loophole that allows them to pay a maximum federal rate of 15 percent instead of 35 percent. Closing that loophole on just the 25 richest hedge fund managers produces twice the revenue as does Obama's wage freeze on two million federal employees. ...

    So join me in waving Chairman Ike's little red book. Close the hedge fund loophole and jack up the top income tax rates – way up to where they belong. Raise the minimum wage and index it permanently to inflation. Invest in infrastructure and education to put our people back to work. And stop wasting our resources on war and weapons that no one needs, or on wasteful arguments about how many teachers and cops to fire. Ike was a staunch capitalist and usually believed in the invisible hand of the market. But he wouldn't be letting it give us the finger.

  • TruthOut: The New American Dream. By William Rivers Pitt. Excerpts: If you are wealthy, you are living in the Golden Age of your American Dream, and it's a damned fine time to be alive. The two major political parties are working hammer and tong to bless you and keep you. The laws are being re-written - often by fiat, and in defiance of court orders - to strengthen the walls separating you and your wealth from the motley masses. Your stock portfolio, mostly made by and for oil and war, continues to swell. Your banks and Wall Street shops destroyed the economy for everyone except you, and not only did they get away with it, they were handed a vast dollop of taxpayer cash as a bonus prize.

    The little people probably crack you up when you bother to think about them. Their version of the American Dream is a ragged blanket too short to cover them, but they still buy into it, and that's the secret of your strength in the end. So many of them walk into the voting booths and solemnly vote against their own best interests, and for yours, because the American Dream makes them think they, too, will be rich someday. They won't - you've made sure of that - but so long as they keep believing it, your money will continue to roll in.

    The Citizens United Supreme Court decision swept away the last tattered shreds of the façade of fairness in politics and electioneering, and now you own the whole store. You can use your vast financial resources to lie on a national level now, lie with your bare face hanging out, because it works. You're not the bad guy in America. Teachers, cops, firefighters, union members and public-sector employees are the bad guys, the reason for all our economic woes. NPR and Planned Parenthood are the bad guys. You did that, and when governors like Scott Walker rampage through worker's rights on your dime, you chuckle into your sleeve and enjoy your interest rate. ...

    The United States of America has undergone a powerful transformation over the course of a single generation, and you are right up there in the catbird seat, watching it all unfold. For you, the New American Dream is "I got mine, kiss my ass, work and die (if you can find work, sucker), and pay me." For everyone else, the New American Dream is about simple survival, about running as fast as they can while going inexorably backwards.

    Maybe you can even see the cancer eating away at the country that has treated you so royally, but you don't really care. You are safe and comfortable behind your gilded walls.

  • New York Times editorial: They've Got to Fix Their Priorities. Excerpts: The banks may have weathered the financial crisis, but the rest of the country hasn't. Taxpayers are still on the hook for federally guaranteed bank debt. Homeowners' equity continues to erode. Small businesses still have trouble getting loans, and savers are still getting hammered by near zero interest rates. Joblessness remains high. State budgets are ravaged.

    So whom have Washington policy makers singled out for help? Bank shareholders, including bank executives who are invariably big holders of stock in their banks.

    The Federal Reserve recently gave the all-clear for several banks to increase dividends and expand share buybacks, among them JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. That's good news, at least in the short run for bank investors, but it is a dubious development for everyone else.

    The dividend-boosting banks that were too big to fail before the crisis are even bigger now, while reforms to rein them in are under political attack even before they have been implemented. Sheer size and inadequate regulation — the combination that led to the crisis — argue for banks to use their earnings to build bigger capital cushions, not to pay dividends and repurchase shares. ...

    When it comes to redress and reward, bank shareholders should be at the back of the line, behind taxpayers who stand behind too-big-to-fail banks and behind homeowners who are bearing the brunt of a housing debacle for which banks bear considerable responsibility. For the Fed to allow new dividends and bigger buybacks before these issues are settled is a display of the same type of "banks first" favoritism that got us into this mess to start.

  • Jim Hightower: Bank Robbers on the Loose. Full excerpt: The popular perception is that bank robbers wear ski masks when doing their jobs, but a lot of modern-day bank robbers are wearing Armani suits and Gucci loafers.

    The New York Times recently ran a story on such hold-up men, including showing mug shots of five who've been making big hauls. The photos looked as though they were taken at a police lineup, except for one significant difference: all five of these robbers had big smiles on their faces. That's because they are the chief executives of some of America's biggest banks, and they've just pulled off a major job that'll put more sacks of riches in their private stashes.

    These inside men were involved in the bank crash of 2008-2009 that resulted in: (1) them engineering multibillion-dollar bailouts of their failed financial empires by us taxpayers; (2) them being allowed to skate free of any punishment, keeping their prestigious positions rather than being fired or going to jail; (3) them returning almost immediately to the same old speculative banking capers that caused the crash, rather than being compelled to invest our bailout funds in job-creating businesses; and (4) them continuing to make off with fat salaries and bonuses.

    Now, the Federal Reserve is allowing these heisters to raise the value of their banks' stock dividends. Since the CEOs happen to be among the biggest stockholders, the dividend hike will be a windfall for them. For example, Jamie Dimon, the boss banker of JPMorgan Chase, was a major backroom plotter in the bailout scheme, and his bank took $25 billion from us. Far from being punished, last year he hauled off $18.4 million in personal pay. And now he's set to grab another $6 million from the dividend heist.

    Shouldn't these guys at least have to wear ski masks when they go to work? Maybe they can get a nice one from Gucci.

  • Jim Hightower: Sacrificing Teachers and Fire Fighters to Wall Street Greed. Full excerpt: America owes a debt of gratitude to such insightful Republican governors as Walker of Wisconsin, Kasich of Ohio, Snyder of Michigan, and Christie of New Jersey.

    Were it not for them, many Americans – myself included – would still be thinking that today's state budget messes are mainly the product of a national economic crash caused by the reckless greed of Wall Street banksters and rich speculators, as well as the abject failure by political leaders to tax their super-wealthy campaign contributors in order to meet the growing needs in education and other essentials. Luckily, the GOP guvs have set the record straight by explaining that the budget woes are the fault of teachers who have health coverage and firefighters who get pensions.

    You see, it's these greedy public employees, pulling down $30,000 to $50,000 a year, who're sapping the economy and draining government treasuries – NOT billionaire casino dealers in Wall Street hedge funds who pay far lower tax rates than a firefighter and contribute far less to our nation than a teacher. It has literally incredible been to hear these learned governors lecture us that fixing state budgets is simple: deregulate corporate power, cut taxes on the superrich (again), fire tens of thousands of middle-class public employees, eliminate state programs even as the need for them rises, and – just to boost the morale of teachers, firefighters, and others – take away their democratic right to bargain collectively for workplace fairness.

    Unfortunately for the governors, the public still doesn't get it. By overwhelming margins, the people oppose these gubernatorial assaults on workers, worker rights, and America's middle-class dream. The governors can flim and flam, deceive and deflect, but they should remember that two and things not long for this world, are dogs that chase cars and politicians who lie to the people.

  • Wall Street Journal MarketWatch commentary: Tax the Super Rich now or face a revolution: A 'Super-Rich Delusion' is leading us to ruin. By Paul B. Farrell. Excerpts: Yes, tax the Super Rich. Tax them now. Before the other 99% rise up, trigger a new American Revolution, a meltdown and the Great Depression 2.

    Revolutions build over long periods — to critical mass, a flash point. Then they ignite suddenly, unpredictably. Like Egypt, started on a young Google executive's Facebook page. Then it goes viral, raging uncontrollably. Can't be stopped. Here in America the set-up is our nation's pervasive "Super-Rich Delusion."

    We know the Super Rich don't care. Not about you. Nor the American public. They can't see. Can't hear. Stay trapped in their Forbes-400 bubble. An echo chamber that isolates them. They see the public as faceless workers, customers, taxpayers. See GOP power on the ascent. Reaganomics is back. Unions on the run. Clueless masses are easily manipulated.

    Even Obama is secretly working with the GOP, will never touch his Super Rich donors. Yes, the Super-Rich Delusion is that powerful, infecting all America. ...

    Super Rich replaying "Great Gatsby" age, won't learn till it's too late. Our top 1% honestly believe they're immune, protected from the unintended consequences of beating down average Americans for three decades with the free-market, trickle-down Reaganomics doctrines that made them Super Rich.

    They honestly believe those same doctrines will protect them in the next depression. Why? Because they have megabucks stashed away. Provisions for the long haul. Live in gated compounds with mercenaries guarding them.

    They believe they'll continue living just fine in a depression. But you won't. Nor will your retirement. Neither will the rest of America. And still the Super Rich don't care, "except in the abstract, because they aren't directly affected."

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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