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Highlights—January 19, 2013

  • MSN Money: 10 outrageously lavish CEO perks. CEOs at Fortune 100 companies get nearly 5 times the money in extras -- including cars and drivers, jets and gyms -- that the typical US household earns in pay. By Michael Brush. Excerpts: The value of CEO perquisites -- goodies like personal use of the corporate jet, cars and drivers, gyms and extra retirement contributions -- jumped 8.6% in 2011, the most recent full year of data available, says a recent study by Equilar, an executive compensation data firm. (Visit the firm at equilar.com). CEOs at Fortune 100 companies got a median $248,638 worth of perks.

    In other words, in perks alone CEOs got almost five times the U.S. median household income, which shrunk 1.5% to $50,054 in 2011. (CEO pay was also up lot, rising 6.6% to $9.6 million at Standard & Poor's 500 ($INX) companies, says Equilar.) ...

    IBM's ex-CEO Samuel Palmisano. Total perks: $1.61 million. While Americans on average took a 1.5% pay cut last year, in his final year on the job in 2011 former IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano got a 52% boost in his perks package to $1.61 million. That ranked Palmisano fourth for total perks last year. Most of that was for $489,327 worth of personal use of the corporate jet, and a $1 million contribution to a pension plan.

    At least Palmisano's pay did not go up last year. But then, when you are making more than $31.7 million a year, as IBM reported Palmisano did in each of the past two years, maybe you don't need a raise.

    Besides all this pay and the perks, Palmisano got a $170 million golden parachute last year. This raises the question: Since Palmisano earned more than three times as much as the average CEO in the past two years, and got such a rich parachute, does he need all the perks too? "You have to ask how much the board compensation committee is really holding the line," says Eleanor Bloxham of the Corporate Governance Alliance, which advises boards on pay and governance issues.

    An IBM spokesman has said in media reports that the golden parachute reflects pay Palmisano has accumulated over the years, and that IBM stock has outperformed significantly on his watch. Since March 2002, when he took over, the stock has advanced 115% compared with 22.8% for the S&P 500. Company filings state that Palmisano uses the corporate jet for personal travel for security reasons.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • It's alight in short term” Current Software Engineer in Sydney (Australia) . Pros: - You'll find very nice & professional people there; - Lots of opportunities to work with people from around the world; - There is always a chance to move somewhere else within the company; - You can work at home. Cons: - HR is helpless; - Salary is pretty average; Don't expect to earn a lot of money there; - PBC; - You'll hear lot's of talks about IBM values but that's just talks—nobody in higher management or HR cares about them or you particularly; - Roadmap 2015; - Eternal expenses freeze. Advice to Senior Management: It won't change anything
    • Depressing,” Current Project Manager in Manchester, England (United Kingdom). Pros: You can't possibly find a worse employer when you move. Cons: This company cares about one thing. EPS. Exec bonuses are linked to this. Customers are low on the scale...they are only interested in your money. Advice to Senior Management: Why bother. They aren't interested.
    • Lots of opportunity, flexibility and good people, but upper management seems to always be after you.” Current Advisory Engineer in Hopewell Junction, NY. Pros: Growth opportunity. Work flexibility (location,hours) and freedom. Lower-to-mid management tends to be pretty good. Cons: Forced-curve ratings hinder development teams in a constant effort to shift engineering jobs overseas. Salary growth low to non-existent. Every new year comes with its new set of decrees worsening your working conditions. So while objectively there are some really good jobs to be had - the FEELING is that your company hates you. Advice to Senior Management: Think how to make your employees FEEL good about the company before all that's good about IBM disappears.
    • A learning experience” Current Senior IT Specialist in Arlington, VA. Pros: IBM brand name is well recognised in the industry. There are lots of diverse and exciting opportunities. I was able to move across the country with IBM. Great group of coworkers. Cons: Utilization targets for GBS throw work-life balance in a tizzy. IBM's raises and bonuses are ludicrous. Finding opportunities within IBM is dependent on strength of your network.
    • Fine if you survive the offshoring; if you are a US employee, don't expect to” Former Business Systems Analyst in Boulder, CO . Pros: Good benefits. Best for new hires fresh out of college these days; or workers in cheap foreign countries. Cons: No loyalty to anything but their stock price through at least 2015. 10+ years of dedication as a top performer netted little if any raises in last 7 years. Prepare for more cutbacks and offshoring. Friends who were 2 years short of retirement laid off and denied pension. Survivors left wondering when the axe will hit them. Advice to Senior Management: Top execs, your shameful treatment of loyal employees, offshoring their jobs to anywhere cheaper, all in the name of propping up the stock price is going to bite you. Customer satisfaction is plummeting as foreign workers quickly jump ship to the next best paying thing.
    • Used to be good” Former Senior Managing Consultant in New York, NY. Pros: Brand recognition. When i joined in the 90's i would have rated the company a 5 star; now 2 at best and probably a one. Cons: Treatment of employees, PBC process, lack of incentives. Advice to Senior Management: Must streamline the mgt layers
    • Great coworkers and a commitment to education” Former Finance Pre-Professional in Somers, NY . Pros: Great people to work with. All were very nice and pleasant, especially managers, who are also very understanding. I had my 21st birthday while I was working there and my manager said he'd be angry if I came into work the day after and that I should go out and enjoy myself. Highly recommend interning at IBM. It seemed that every single employee that I worked with had been there since the start of their careers and would never leave. Cons: Very boring routine, day in and day out. However, it helped me discover that accounting is not my thing. Advice to Senior Management: Keep educating and promoting from within!
    • The most miserable 4 years of my career” Former Risk Manager in Dallas, TX. Pros: It's a job, but little to no satisfaction involved. Cons: IBM bought my previous employer's company, during the following 4 years all took at least a 12% pay cut, or more. I ended up doing the same job that I did previously, my email load doubled to 100+ a day. Most of my time was spent navigating IBM bureaucracy, I just couldn't get things done without numerous conference calls and emails. Advice to Senior Management: Cut the bureaucracy, measure the right things.
    • Worst years of my career” Current Employee. Pros: Telecommuting is available. It's a paycheck. Cons: -Employee morale is very low; -Very small raises, none in recent years; -No training whatsoever; -Threat of layoffs, almost all jobs in my division have been offshored; -Constant changes in policy to cut every last penny—I'm sure soon we will have to buy our own laptops; -Everyone has a "not my problem" attitude, very adversarial environment; -Too much red tape and endless unnecessary conference calls; -Review process is completely broken and ratings are usually based on whether or not you are in your managers inner circle; -Top performers are either leaving or giving up and just collecting a paycheck waiting to be laid off; -Gloomy depressing atmosphere; -Finally, you will never get even a hint that anything you do is appreciated. Advice to Senior Management: No need, they could not care less.
    • Little pay for little work.” Current Financial Analyst in Rochester, MN. Pros: -Big company (could be good or bad); -Nice people. Cons: -Terrible training; -Nothing to do most of the time with exception of month-ends; -Have to work some weekends even when you have about 1 hour of work to do; -Brutal pay, but HEY you aren't doing **** anyway. Advice to Senior Management: -Learn how to train people; -Increase pay, but provide more work to individuals, many people could take the work of 2 or 3 others and have no problem (save IBM lots of money). I would gladly have twice the work for only 50% more pay.
    • Stagnant salaries, top-down approach to research, management without technical expertise” Current Research Staff Member in New York, NY. Pros: There are some top-quality researchers here, especially those left over from when this was a world-class research organization. Working with those people can be very rewarding. Cons: More recent hires are very much focused on areas related to current management buzzwords such as smarter-this or agile-that, and tend not to be very strong. A lot of the senior management believes it has the "vision" necessary to micro-manage the work of research staff. As a result, the people who can find other jobs bolt. What remains are the dregs. There is also huge pressure to bring in government contracts, whether or not the contracted work has technical value. Advice to Senior Management: Think a little bit about what you know, and what you don't.
    • Great colleagues, not so great compensation” Former Staff Software Engineer in Ottawa, ON (Canada). Pros: Interesting projects to work on. Great collaborative environment - knowledgeable people to work with. Good for your resume. Fine if you're starting right out of school - get in, stay 2 to 3 years and then get out. Cons: I started working for another corporation that was subsequently acquired by IBM. Following this, the pay increases stopped - not a single cost of living increase over 3 years! Work evaluation system is ridiculous - even if you're ranked at the top (i.e., PBC 1) you are not guaranteed a fair cost of living increase. Advice to Senior Management: Don't just reward your top executives. Treat all your employees fairly.
    • Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” Current Staff Hardware Engineer in Rochester, MN. Pros: I have nothing good to say at this point. Cons: 20% underpaid versus the market, pay freezes, bonuses are almost unheard of, all decisions are made based on the 2015 roadmap which means they are focused on reducing costs at all costs with no thought to the long-term ramifications. Advice to Senior Management: Wake up, morale in both hardware and software is absolutely nonexistent. You've taken pretty much everything possible away (secretaries, supply cabinets, Thanks awards, snow removal from the parking lots, pensions, bonuses). Everyone I talk to on a regular basis is actively looking for other employment.
    • job and employment review” Former Operations Support Analyst. Pros: was able to survive 30 yrs. and when I went there I knew I had been blessed to work for the best company in these United States. Cons: greedy upper management, no longer can they cling on to respect for the individual. nothing is good enough, and you can work 24 / 7 and sometimes need to to survive. pay bonuses on company performance are now a joke or don't exist and you can go years without a salary increase but you will get new and more job responsibilities. they continue to raise the bar and top mgmt. gets all the money and perks. Advice to Senior Management: reduce stress, listen to your people, go back to rewards and awards, and stop telling a person when you hit the MID range of your salary grade you're at 100% of pay.
    • IBM career provided the opportunity to work with some of the most talented individuals in the world” Former Various Sales and Sales Management Roles. Pros: -Access to most talented resources (sales, technical, etc) in the world. -Integrity of employees paramount. -Opportunity to work on some of the most complex problems that clients were facing. Cons: -Large, corporate culture sometimes prevented the front-line sales teams the ability to make the right decisions for their clients. -Became very process and metric driven towards the end of my career. -Have lost a great deal of intellectual capital over the years due to retirements, promotions out of business, individuals who started their own business. Advice to Senior Management: -Eliminate the metric-driven pipeline reviews and get back to face to face relationships with your clients.
    • Work-life integration challenges” Former Employee. Pros: Strong company strategy and a real chance to succeed in the market. Lots of tools and IP available. Flexible benefits. Good company culture. Global reach. Cons: Complex processes. Company is very good in squeezing the most out of its employees making work-life integration (I guess they gave up on the term "balance") a challenge. You need a strong sponsor to move up as the complex matrix structure provides potentially too many stakeholders to roles. Negotiate for the highest salary possible when you come in as good incremental increases and promotions will be difficult to come by. Many jobs being shipped overseas. Advice to Senior Management: Need more parity between outside hires who get the incumbent employees. Better career development and compensation needed.
    • Provides lot of opportunities, but management in India is not great, compensation is not good too” Current Systems Engineer in Bangalore (India). Pros: Work place freedom is the best thing. Work life balance is quite appreciable. Cons: Slow processes, poor HR and management. Advice to Senior Management: Please don't give too much power to a single manager, employees at lower level feel locked in their hands. HR department is not at all helpful.
    • Toxic Culture” Former Staff Software Engineer in Tucson, AZ. Pros: Pay was decent. Benefits were good. Cons: Not a growing organization so there is not a lot of potential to move up. A lot of older people who are not open to new ideas and are threatened by younger people. Not much teamwork. Everyone is out for themselves and vie to make each other look bad. Advice to Senior Management: Probably too late to turn things around.
  • Alliance for Retired Americans: Friday Alert. This week's articles include:
    • Debt Ceiling Endgame Becomes a Little Clearer
    • Many “Fix the Debt” Pundits Have a Self-Interest in the Budget Negotiations
    • The Evidence is in: Obamacare Keeps Medicare Costs Lower
    • Early 401(k) Withdrawals Could Mean Trouble down the Road for Millions
    • Wealthy CEOs Want to Raise the Social Security Age to 70
    • Tele-Press Call with Rep. Grijalva Includes Arizona Alliance President Doug Hart
  • Forbes: “The Three Surprises of 401 (k)s”. By Hedrick Smith. Excerpts: Most people assume they’re savvy about 401(k)s, but here are three surprises for Boomers counting on 401 (k)s as their future financial life jackets: (1) how it got started – accidentally; (2) how much they should regularly save to build a safe retirement nest egg; and (3) how big a bite mutual funds take out of their gains.

    The fact is that the 401(k) has not worked out well for millions of average Americans and one big reason is that Congress gave birth to the 401 (k), it was never intended to become a nationwide retirement system or to be used by average middle class Americans.

    t was designed for the top brass – tucked into the U.S. tax code in 1978 by a New York state congressman as a favor for Kodak and Xerox, which wanted a retirement fund tax shelter for the CEO and his circle. Years later, the Treasury Department ruled that rank-and-file employees should get the same tax shelter. Then the mutual fund industry, spotting a financial bonanza for itself, sold do-it-yourself 401 (k) retirement as “power to the people,” and millions of Americans took the bait, thinking they could beat the market. ...

    The hard truth is that building a proper nest-egg takes much more ambitious savings than virtually any 401(k) plan envisions. The best plans typically let rank-and-file employees sock away 6% of their pay and provide a 3% company match, for a total of 9%. But EBRI’s experts suggest the combined target should be about 15% and Dallas retirement consultant Brooks Hamilton said 18%. Most plans, says Hamilton “are half what they need to be.”

    One reason for bigger contributions is that you don’t actually reap the full benefits of your long-term gains. Mutual funds or financial managers take a big bite – much bigger than you think. Their fees for handling stock transactions, setting up funds, doing the paperwork and managing your account are listed in the fine print in investment brochures that most people don’t bother to read. ...

    The numbers change dramatically when you figure in the mutual fund bite. Subtract fund fees of 2% from the expected gain of 5% and that leaves the 401 (k) holder with an average annual gain of 3%. Just like long-term gains, the mutual fund bite also has a compounding effect. As Bogle figures it, the projected gain from $1 to $7.04 over 40 years gets cut way down by the mutual fund bite – down to $3.26.

    “Where did the nearly $4 difference go?” Bogle asks. “It went to the fund or to Wall Street in fees. So you the investor put up 100% of the capital. You take 100% of the risk. And you capture about 37% of the return. The fund or Wall Street puts up none of the capital, takes none of the risk and takes out 63% of the return.”

  • Washington Post: 401(k) breaches undermining retirement security for millions. By Michael A. Fletcher. Excerpts: A large and growing share of American workers are tapping their retirement savings accounts for non-retirement needs, raising broad questions about the effectiveness of one of the most important savings vehicles for old age.

    More than one in four American workers with 401(k) and other retirement savings accounts use them to pay current expenses, new data show. The withdrawals, cash-outs and loans drain nearly a quarter of the $293 billion that workers and employers deposit into the accounts each year, undermining already shaky retirement security for millions of Americans.

    With federal policymakers eyeing cuts to Social Security benefits and Medicare to rein in soaring federal deficits, and traditional pensions in a long decline, retirement savings experts say the drain from the accounts has dire implications for future retirees.

    “We’re going from bad to worse,” said Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security. “Already, fewer private-sector workers have access to stable pension plans. And the savings in individual retirement savings accounts like 401(k) plans — which already are severely underfunded — continue to leak out at a high rate.” ...

    In 1980, four out of five private-sector workers were covered by traditional pensions that paid them a fixed benefit based on their salary and length of service once they retired. Now, just one in five workers has a pension, leaving 401(k)s and similar retirement savings accounts as the primary vehicles for retirees to supplement their Social Security benefits. ...

    Experts warn that when workers draw on their retirement accounts to pay current bills, they put themselves at greater risk of descending into poverty upon retirement, which would leave them dependent on government programs such as subsidized housing or food stamps. Nearly 6 million senior citizens were living in or near poverty in 2010, according to a Senate committee, a number expected to increase sharply over the coming decade after a long period of decline.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site
  • Sign the petition at change.org: International Business Machines (IBM USA): IBM must REVERSE the decision changing the IBM match 401(k) contribution. Petition wording: IBM must REVERSE their recent decision to change the timing of the IBM match and automatic contribution for our 401(k) Plus Plan and Excess 401(k) Plus Plan.

    We, the petitioners want IBM to keep the automatic contribution at semi-monthly and NOT an annual contribution.

    IBM, by moving the automatic contribution from semi-monthly to an annual contribution effectively denies employees who are terminated in resource actions up to the cut off of December 15 of the given year, the matching contribution from IBM. Furthermore, the movement of the automatic contribution to the end of the year denies interest generated for the employees 401(K) account. Sign this petition to tell IBM to REVERSE this decision, immediately!

    And if you are an active IBM employee, please Join Alliance@IBM CWA Local 1701.

    Web site: http://www.allianceibm.org; Twitter ID: @Allianceibm; Facebook: Allianceibm CWA

  • Job Cut Reports
    • Comment 01/12/13: -Not lovin' it-: Even folks who get a PBC 2+ don't necessarily get a raise. I was a 2+ in 2009 and got a 0% "raise". (Honest. I'll even take a lie detector test to verify it someone could pay for it!). 2+ers might get like 0.5% more in GDP this year compared to a 2 in my honest opinion. I was RA'ed in 2009 with a 2+ and know of a PBC 1 that also got RAed in the 2009 "big purge" with me. No one except the middle top in IBM is safe. It has been this way for years now. Join the Alliance, even as an associate member. It's the only way to get anything done in and with IBM. -sby_willie-
    • Comment 01/12/13: PBC's- my deadbeat manager better think twice about only giving me a 2. Not going to sit back and take this abuse any longer. -johnny2times- Alliance Reply: Join the Alliance and organize your co-workers. Stop the abuse by gathering the strength of many to form a union and push back IBM's assault on your right to a voice in your workplace.
    • Comment 01/14/13: Just received my pay stub and noticed the calculation of the IBM match is no longer being provided. Have spent an hour on the phone with Payroll and Benefits trying to find out how I can see what this accrued value is so I can track it thru the year. No luck so far. -Drew-
    • Comment 01/15/13: -Drew-, -RMC-: Back in 1999 IBM withdrew the ESTIMATR pension calculation tool for those that were forced to the cash pension plan. They told me ESTIMATR now longer applies to me since I was cash pensioned. Now you find that the 401(k) match information doesn't apply (yet) to you since you have been 401(k) MINUSed. The tiger doesn't change it's stripes. But it does keep it's teeth in great shape. IBM will say you will find it all out on the 12/15/2013 paystub, if you are eligible or qualify. Doing something about is only possible with collective action. The Alliance is the only way to get IBM to divulge this information for you. -1999deja_vu-
    • Comment 01/15/13: I know exactly where my 401k match is - on my paycheck. Oh, that's right, I don't work for IBM anymore. You people have 2 choices to make it better. Leave IBM or join the Union. -Glad-I-Left-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • CNN/Money: The high cost of raising the Medicare age. By Tami Luhby. Excerpts: Raising the Medicare eligibility age would save money for the federal government ... but it would raise health care costs for nearly everyone else.

    If seniors were not allowed to enroll in Medicare until 67 starting next year, federal spending would drop by $5.7 billion in 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But Americans enrolled both in private health insurance plans and Medicare, as well as employers and states, would see expenses jump by $11.4 billion.

    "Raising the age doesn't address the larger concern of reducing health care spending overall," said Juliette Cubanski, associate director of Kaiser's Program on Medicare Policy. "It just shifts costs from the federal government to other payers in the system." ...

    One of the major concerns raised had been that many 65- and 66-year-olds would be left in the cold, without employer-based coverage or affordable individual insurance. That worry, however, has been blunted somewhat by the Affordable Care Act, which would provide insurance in government exchanges and subsidies for those of moderate income. Poor adults could be covered by an expanded Medicaid program, though not every state will opt to widen its program.

    About 435,000 of these youngest seniors would be at risk of becoming uninsured, out of the roughly 5.5 million in that age group, according to estimates by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning group.

    But many of those who remain covered will likely pay more than they would had they transitioned to Medicare. Two-thirds of adults would pay more out of pocket in premiums and cost-sharing, to the tune of $3.7 billion in 2014, according to Kaiser.

    There would also be a ripple effect. Employers will pay $4.5 billion more because they would have more of these older workers on their insurance rolls. And premiums in government exchanges would rise by $141 per person to accommodate the additional people in the pool. States would pay $700 million more to cover those eligible for Medicaid.

    Even Medicare recipients would see higher annual premiums -- $46 on average -- because raising the age would remove comparatively healthy participants.

    "It increases Medicare costs because it takes out the youngest patients and puts them into a group where they are the oldest and sickest," said Maura Calsyn, associate director of health policy for the Center for American Progress.

  • Associated Press, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Insurers may prove choosy with overhaul exchanges. By Tom Murphy. Excerpts: The leader of the nation's largest health insurer warned Thursday not to assume widespread participation from his company in part of health care overhaul's coverage expansion that unfolds later this year.

    UnitedHealth Group Inc. CEO Stephen Hemsley told analysts the insurer's involvement in online exchanges that are expected to help millions buy coverage will depend on whether it's financially viable for the company.

    "We will only participate in exchanges that we assess to be fair, commercially sustainable and provide a reasonable return on the capital they will require," he said.

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 editorial: An Incomplete Fix. Excerpts: Thanks to the fiscal cliff deal, the alternative minimum tax will not ensnare tens of millions of middle-class Americans for whom it was never intended. The deal raised the income thresholds before the A.M.T. kicks in and indexes them for inflation going forward. As a practical matter, this means that 28 million filers who would have had to pay the tax on their 2012 returns have been spared and are much less likely to have to pay the tax in the future.

    Yet the fixes are incomplete. The purpose of the A.M.T. is to ensure that wealthy taxpayers cannot make excessive use of deductions, shelters and other tax breaks. It was supposed to hit multimillionaires and billionaires whose tax shelters reduce their tax bills to a pittance relative to their incomes. In the absence of comprehensive reform, the A.M.T. will continue, for the most part, to allow the highest-end taxpayers to escape, while still afflicting many taxpayers below those lofty levels.

    In 2011, for instance, more than half of taxpayers in the $200,000 to $500,000 income range paid the A.M.T, compared with only one-third of taxpayers who made more than $1 million, according to the Tax Policy Center. The situation will be much the same for 2012 and beyond unless Congress acts to rectify it. ...

    Tax breaks for dividends and capital gains, however, are not counted as shelters subject to the A.M.T. As a result, the wealthiest Americans — who reap the lion’s share of such investment income while enjoying the low tax rates that go with them — are less likely than not-so-wealthy filers to fall into the A.M.T. Income-tax rates on capital gains and dividends top out at 20 percent, compared with a top rate of 39.6 percent on salary and wages. The saving to investors is roughly $90 billion a year. The upshot is that a professional couple with three children in New York City earning $250,000 is more likely to pay the A.M.T. than someone with no dependents in Florida who makes millions a year from a tax-favored stock portfolio.

    It wasn’t always that way. For many years after the inception of the A.M.T. in 1969, tax breaks for capital gains were included in the A.M.T. and, accordingly, most A.M.T. payers were filers who had large capital gains. But starting in the 1990s, Congress no longer required investors to report such tax breaks under the A.M.T. The omission was not an oversight. It was a deliberate policy to cut taxes for the rich that has endured to this day.

  • New York Times editorial: Misguided Social Security ‘Reform’. Excerpts: That is not to say that Social Security should be off the table. There are reforms that are eminently sensible, if only the political will could be found to enact them. But reducing the COLA is not a sound idea now and may never be.

    At issue is the way inflation is calculated. The administration’s offer in the fiscal cliff talks — and the approach long advocated by Republicans — calls for using a new measure of inflation, called the “chained” Consumer Price Index, to calculate the COLA.

    Unlike the gauge of inflation currently in use, the chained index captures the ability of consumers to adjust their spending across categories as relative prices change — for instance, spending less on fuel as gas prices go up and more on groceries as food prices go down. Such substitution causes the chained C.P.I. to rise more slowly than the current measure, which would result in a lower annual COLA and huge budget savings. The move to a chained C.P.I. would reduce benefits by some $135 billion over 10 years, and far more in later decades because of compounding. ...

    What is known is that elderly households tend to have lower incomes and lower expenditures than younger households, and that more of their purchases are for needs that cannot be met by switching to products and services in unrelated categories. That indicates that they do not have the same flexibility as younger households to respond to price changes while still maintaining their standards of living. And because of the way it is calculated, the chained C.P.I. would also result in delayed upward adjustments in the COLA in times of accelerating inflation. Such delays would translate into real benefit cuts, leaving retirees worse off.

    If, as the administration says, the aim is to set the COLA in the most accurate way possible, then the obvious approach is to have the Bureau of Labor Statistics develop a statistically rigorous index to track inflation as experienced by retirees. A more informal index from the bureau that looks at the effects of inflation on the elderly shows that the COLA is too low, not too high, in part because of medical costs. But the number of households sampled is too small to be sure.

  • New York Times: Explanations and Advice for Those Hit Hardest by New Tax Increases. By Paul Sullivan. Excerpts: While the affluent will pay more in taxes this year, that is probably not the case for the very wealthiest — those worth hundreds of millions or more. They may still be paying a lower tax rate than Warren Buffett’s secretary.

    Many millionaires are certainly paying at least 30 percent of their income in taxes, a goal President Obama set out in last year’s State of the Union address. But they’re more likely to be doctors, lawyers and people working in the financial services industry who get the bulk of their earnings in the form of paychecks.

    Partners in private equity firms and hedge fund managers, on the other hand, earn much of their money as a share of their funds’ earnings. And that income gets preferential tax treatment as so-called carried interest.

    A similar special tax treatment still holds true for Mr. Buffett as long as the bulk of his income comes from his investments and not a paycheck. The long-term capital gains rate for incomes over $400,000 is 23.8 percent, including the Medicare surcharge. That’s a far cry from the top marginal tax rate on income above that amount of 40.5 percent, which includes a 0.9 percent Medicare surcharge on earned income. ...

    Despite what both political parties say about the importance of small-business owners for creating jobs, the new tax rates will adversely effect everyone whose businesses are set up so their earnings flow through to their individual income tax returns.

    J. Leigh Griffith, a lawyer and partner at Waller, a national law firm based in Nashville, said many in this group would be paying taxes at a higher marginal rate than big corporations like I.B.M. and General Electric. He said about half of all companies today were structured as so-called pass-through entities.

  • The Smirking Chimp: The 3 Percent Cut to Social Security: aka the Chained CPI. By Dean Baker. Excerpts: According to inside Washington gossip, Congress and the president are going to do exactly what voters elected them to do; they are going to cut Social Security by 3 percent. You don't remember anyone running on that platform? Yeah, well, they probably forgot to mention it.

    Of course some people may have heard Vice President Joe Biden when he told an audience in Virginia that there would be no cuts to Social Security if President Obama got reelected. Biden said: "I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you." ...

    If we actually did have to reduce the deficit it's hard to see why Social Security would be at the top of the list. After all, the vast majority of seniors are not doing especially well right now. Our defined benefit pension system is disappearing and 401(k)s have not come close to filling the gap. Retirees and near retirees have lost a large portion of whatever wealth they had managed to accumulate when the collapse of the housing bubble destroyed much of their home equity.

    From a policy standpoint it would make far more sense to tax Wall Street speculation. Congress' Joint Tax Committee estimated that a 0.03 percent tax on each trade could raise almost $40 billion a year. Such a tax would also make the financial sector more efficient by eliminating a huge volume of wasteful trading. ...

    The benefit cutters argument is another nice piece of D.C. humor. The argument is that the current index overstates inflation. However, there is an experimental index produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows the current index actually understates inflation for seniors. ...

    The bottom line is that President Obama and many leading Democrats are prepared to give seniors a larger hit to their income than they gave to the over $250,000 crowd. And the whole reason it is necessary is that the Wall Street types who wrecked the economy say so. Is everybody happy?

  • Working America: Revealed: The Wall Street Journal Has No Idea What is Happening in America. Excerpts: The Wall Street Journal is one of the most influential sources of economic news in the United States. Even when they publish opinion pieces by Romney campaign advisors without disclosing it, and even when they demonize union workers, unemployment insurance, Head Start, fair taxation…the list goes on, but even when we don’t agree, it’s safe to say they are a respected and influential newspaper and website.

    But today we figured something out: it wasn’t that the WSJ was wrong in their coverage. They were reporting on a different country!

    We figured this out when the WSJ published a graphic explaining how going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” would people at different income levels:

    Notice anything strange? Yes, all of it. Every single number is laughably high, and applies only to the wealthiest tiny fraction of Americans. ...

    Now, fair is fair: the graphic does not say that these calculations apply to the average person in these demographic groups. But why would you make a graphic with such generic pictures and publish it on a widely distributed site when it only applies to such a tiny percent of the American population, perhaps less than one percent?

    Our theory: The Wall Street Journal has only seemed wrong and backward in their reporting about the American economy because they weren’t actually writing about the American economy. They were reporting on the financial comings and goings of a fictional country – let’s call it “Wall Street” – where they worship the free market, scoff at the rule of law, and react with anger when their infallibility of their main industry is questioned. Oh, and they also consider salaries many times higher than the average American annual income to be merely “average.” In this country, even single mothers make over $200,000 a year!

  • AlterNet: Matt Taibbi on Just How Screwed Americans Were By the Bailout. In a new article, Taibbi argues the government did not just bail out Wall Street, but also lied on the financial sector’s behalf. By Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.
  • AlterNet: A Program for Combating Poverty -- Stop the Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Expand Medicare to All. A comprehensive program to combat poverty in America is long overdue. By RoseAnn DeMoro. Excerpts: With poverty rates spinning perilously out of control in the U.S., it’s time to send an unmistakable message to Congress and the White House as they prepare to resume the ongoing obsession with the deficit: End the silence on poverty, don’t make poverty worse by make cuts to Social Security or Medicare, and address a principle cause of poverty with a permanent fix to our dysfunctional healthcare system.

    Consequences that are evident in a report last week by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine which found the U.S. ranked last in life expectancies among 17 affluent countries. All the others have some form of a national healthcare system. No gold medals for us in this international competition, except in how much we spend and waste on health care as a result of our profit-focused private system.

  • New York Times opinion: Extortionists Versus Con Men. By Paul Krugman. Excerpts: It’s looking increasingly as if House Republicans won’t crash the world economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, at least not right now. Score a big one for the White House (provisionally); its bet that it wouldn’t need a way to bypass the ceiling is looking like a winner (although it ain’t over until the tanned guy cries).

    It’s important, however, to be clear about what’s going on here, and in particular about the nature of the debate within the GOP. Some commentary depicts it as a debate between radicals and moderates; but it’s actually a debate between extortionists and con men.

    Here’s what I mean. Essentially the entire GOP is committed to radical policy goals that are also deeply unpopular. All but 10 House Republicans voted for the Ryan plan, which would privatize and defund Medicare, impose savage cuts on Medicaid, and cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations. There was effectively no dissent from the notion that we need to dismantle the welfare state in order to make room for low taxes at the top.

    But the public favors higher taxes on the affluent, and strongly supports all the major social insurance programs. So the divide within the GOP is about how to get past this awkward political reality.

    One faction basically wants to use the party’s power of obstruction: threaten to provoke a crisis over the debt ceiling — in fact, do this again and again — and thereby force Obama to implement the GOP agenda.

    The other faction wants to achieve the same goals by stealth. Pretend that what you’re really concerned about is debt and the fate of our children; cultivate the Very Serious People and the deficit scolds; impersonate a budget wonk; and smuggle the agenda in by dressing it in fiscal responsibility camouflage.

  • The Smirking Chimp: How Extreme Is the Business Roundtable? Check Out Its Attack on the Elderly. By Richard Eskow. Excerpts: Here's a thought experiment: What if a group of Social Security and Medicare recipients wanted to increase their benefits by, say, 1,000 percent, and proposed seizing rich people's assets -- houses, cars, boats, whatever -- to pay for it? And whenever anybody suggested that was extreme, they rolled their eyes and said "We're pragmatists." ...

    Now imagine the reverse: Rich CEOs have used every tax loophole in the book to add to their own wealth, have been bailed out directly or indirectly by the American taxpayer, and have rigged corporate governance so that they make far more than they're worth.

    Now, to make sure the milk and honey keeps flowing their way, they want to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits for the beleaguered American majority. Sounds crazy, right? Meet the CEOs of the Business Roundtable.

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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