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[Commentary] © 2003 Philip Hyde, The Timesizing Wire™, Box 622 Cambridge MA 02143 USA (617) 623-8080

Eroding Retirement, July-September/2003


9/25/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -

9/23/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
MAJOR MAJOR STORY ALERT -
  1. Retirement recedes, pointer summary (to D1), WSJ, D1.
    Many older workers plan to stop working only in their 70s, or in some cases their 80s, largely because of deep nest-egg losses. Job data begin to reflect the study's findings.
    Many older workers to delay retirement until after age 70, by Kelly Greene, WSJ, D2.
    [Hey, at least the Wall Street Journal is not here pretending that older workers are choosing to delay retirement till after 70! But it gets worse -]
    Many older workers are planning to push their final retirement dates into their 70s, or in some cases their 80s [our italics], according to a new...survey [of 2,001 workers aged 50-70]...to be released today...conducted for AARP [American Assoc. of Retired Persons], a DC advocacy group for people aged 50 and older.
    [There you have it. The backside of the American Dream, American retirement, has become the stark reality of dying on the job or dialing 800-KEVORKIAN.]
    The findings quantify a significant shift in older Americans' retirement goals ["goals"? B.S! - "pressures" more like!], resulting from the combination of The study looked at two groups...
    1. "preretirees," or workers who haven't retired [15% of sample];
    2. and "working retirees" [85%], which includes people who remained in the workforce after stepping down from a job [and] could include someone who immediately started a consulting business [ie: forced self-employment] or someone who returned to work later.
    45% of the combined groups said they expect to work into their 70s or beyond, with 27% expecting to quit sometime before age 80, and 18% planning to work after that.
    The numbers are even higher among preretirees, with 34% expecting to work into their 70s, and 23% expecting to keep at it into their 80s.
    [This proves that turning from workweek to worklife capping last century - blocking workweek capping at the 30-hour level in 1933 and dropping workweek cutting at the 40-hour level after 1940 - was unsustainable and a huge mistake - because it's at odds with a fundamental human (and all-species?) goal = to push back death. Also, it lays unsustainable and unrealistic open-ended costs on the workforce, a kind of blank-check parasitism, that should be converted to and merged with regular ongoing temporary disability as quickly as possible.]
    ..."This survey documents a new realism among working people," said John Rother, AARP's director of policy & strategy. "We're no longer getting people being able to retire at 50 based on unrealistic stock-market returns."
    [A changed reality, due to the gradual dismantling of the myriad centrifuge mechanisms on the national income that has happened since the end of World War II in 1945, or put another way, due to the increasing stinginess and unwillingness to share - of the upper income brackets. This is the real basis of the so-called business cycle, which is not an automatic cycle at all, because there's no automatic upturn, because there's no unforced switch back to generosity and sharing among the upper income brackets. In 1917-18 and 1941-45, it was WAR that pressured the upper brackets to ease their paranoid grip on their trillions of $$$,$$$,$$$,$$$,$$$, and it will be much vaster war that does it next time - UNLESS we switch to the intelligent alternative, Timesizing, which creates the same kind of marketforce-harnessing labor shortage as war, but does it by rationing/sharing worktime per person instead of killing and maiming vast segments of the workforce.]
    ..\.."We've never seen people say they want to work until they're 75 years old," said Jeff Love, AARP's research director.
    In the past, even people planning to work past traditional retirement age pictured themselves calling it quits by the time they turned 70. But now, people have "lost so much money in their 401Ks, it may be that they're making a projection based on how long it will take to replace those assets," Mr. Love said.
    ["Replace those assets" in your 70s and 80s? - who's he kidding?]
    ...The preretirees surveyed...anticipate barriers to the work they would like to spend their later years doing, the survey found. The top obstacle they expect to face is health problems (35%), which are "the dirty little secret" marring many older workers' goals [ie: needs], Mr. Love said. "Everyone [needs] to work longer, but what if they can't?"
    Other expected barriers, named by 33% of workers apiece, were the lack of money needed to start a business and physical demands of the work..\..
    The current research, conducted April 9 through June 5 [and] done by marketing-research company RoperASW, New York, has a 3% sampling error....
    The need for money was named as the primary motivation for older workers' decision to stay on the job, with 22% of people who haven't retired giving it as their top reason for staying of the job, along with 35% of people working in retirement.
    [And in terms of the recent additions to this whole number of delayed retirees, the remaining 78% and 65% are just putting a happy face on it all, figuring they can't do anything about it so they might as well make the best of it.]
    Federal job numbers are beginning to reflect the study's findings. As of Aug. 31, 4.8m people aged 45 and older were in the U.S. workforce, up 8% from 4.4m in March 2001, when the most recent [officially admitted] recession started, according to the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics].
    [So on the very same day that we get our first story about second family-wage-earners being driven out of the increasingly harsh, shrinking and competitive job market (see "2-income famlies decline - Economists blame the drop on rising unemployment," on our Downsizing page today, 9/23/2003 first uncounted), we get a current-bucking story of desperate elderly people being driven back in. And all because we aren't smart enough to regard the time dimension as a control variable that we can easily use to SHARE THE VANISHING WORK. The shorter-hours imperative tightens its vise on our stupid resistant heads and begins to shake them. We have vast assembly lines of vast miraculous technology today. Not only should we all be living in heaven, not only CAN we all be living in heaven, but we damn well MUST start living in the heaven of more free time and more market-response-to-labor-shortage income - or the mild hell that we're now living in will get worse, much worse.]
    Another key finding: Though the bulk of older workers plan to stay in their current professions, 27% expect to do something entirely different, with 16% planning to work for themselves or start their own business. Of those planning to work for hire, 6% are considering teaching.
    [So, a devastating change, but necessary for sustainability, and greatly eased by the levels of workweek we should be at today - probably somewhere between 15 and 25 hours a week considering we should have passed the 30-hour workweek in 1933 SEVENTY YEARS AGO - and eased also by simply folding end-of-life disability in with regular disability, since we can seldom be 100% sure that a given disability is the slip to the Big Sleep.]
    [Another easing idea, same WSJ section -]
    Putting toddlers in a nursing home - Daycare programs for young and old grow in popularity, but kids' germs are a worry, WSJ, D1.
    [Hey, as long as they could opt out when they were tired, most old people would LOVE having little kids around, and if they caught something and wafted more swiftly into eternity, who cares? It'd be worth it. Better swift wth happy memories of toddlers, than slow, forgotten and alone.]

  2. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. - Labor contract will provide cost savings of $1.15B, WSJ, A17.
    ...Goodyear said it can get $700m in cost avoidance. That includes trimming employee medical and pension costs....
    [So, pension and benefit erosion.]

9/17/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 9/16/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Push for broad pension change is losing steam in Congress - Employers won't see major relief to help ease burden of nest-egg [= traditional fixed-benefit] funds, WSJ, D5.
    [And why should they? Their fathers managed them quite well. But this Journal story seems partially contradicted by a Times story -]
    Senate panel expected to vote on bill to aid pension plans, by Mary Walsh, NYT, C1.
    The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote tomorrow on a bill that would offer relief [only] to severely troubled pension plans - including those at airlines - and would radically change the way companies calculate their pensions. ...But the bill contains one paragraph that would exempt...for 3 years..\..most companies [not just airlines] from the large special pension contributions that are required when a plan falls below a certain financial standard. ...[The] break...may have been included [to] mak[e] the bill's tougher provisions more palatable to business [or] to deflect criticism that the bill is a form of financial aid for a single industry [eg: airlines]....
    [Why worry about that now after sending billions in aid to airlines the last two years - and now we're sinking a billion a week into Iraq?!]

  2. Treasury to issue guides on [calculating] cash-balance payouts - According to pension law, employees must be given the full value of their pensions, which in some cases is higher than the account balance because of continued interest credit, WSJ, D5.
    [Isn't this exactly what the Treasury has recently been forbidden to do? See 9/10 #2 below.]
    [Followup -]
    Treasury may delay pension rules, 10/16/2003 WSJ, A6.

  3. Retirees fear losing drug benefits, pointer digest (to A1). NYT, C1.
    As Congress works on legislation to cover prescription drugs under Medicare, lawmakers have been deluged with complaints from retirees who fear losing benefits they already have from former employers.
    [main story]
    Retirees alarmed at threat of cuts in drug benefits - Issue for Medicare bill - Congress weighs giving tax credits to employers who uphold coverage levels, NYT, front page.
    [and related Journal article -]
    Behind Medicare's decisions, an invisible web of gatekeepers - Shot in the spine, Mr. Erringer suddenly lost coverage for some pain medicine, by Laurie McGinley, WSJ, front page.
    [because detailed decision-making has been farmed out to a patchwork of insurance companies, w]hose decisions can vary widely from region to region....
    [Another blow to once-strong American consumer markets and another nail in America's coffin. When and how did this happen?]
    The denials were based on a new "local medical review policy" - one of the most contentious features of the Medicare system....
    [WSJ.com today tells you how to appeal if Medicare denies coverage for your outpatient service or equipment.]

  4. Some pension plans ditch cautious strategies, by Silvia Ascarelli & David Reilly, WSJ, C13.
    [such as Siemens 14.8B-euro plan swinging between bonds and stocks, successfully, or the Dutch govt's 142B-euro Stichtung Pensionsfonds' intention to go into hedgefunds.]
    ...The 100 largest listed companies in the U.K. had a combined pension deficit of £55B ($88.07B) at midyear.
    ...In the U.S...GM, e.g., is short $19B to pay its U.S. pensions, while the automotive industry overall faces a pension gap of about $60B....

  5. Wisconsin: Abuse of elderly increases, by Jo Napolitano, NYT, A15.
    15%...probably because of better reporting and a growing population of old people.... 3,721 reports...in 2002, up from 3,223 in 2001....

9/10/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Medicare negotiators agreed, pointer blurb (to D9), WSJ, front page.
    ...to a two-year, $1.2B boost in Medicare payments for over 100 treatments given on an outpatient basis in hospitals. Biotech companies had lobbied for the change.
    [Main story's headline -]
    Medicare payments to be boosted - In boon to biotech industry, lawmakers agree to cover new outpatient drugs - The industry said the payment for its higih-tech products had been set too low, WSJ, D1.

  2. The House passed, pointer blurb (to A3 {& C1, see #3 below}), WSJ, front page.
    ...an amendment that could prevent the Treasury from issuing final regulations on cash-balance pension plans.
    [Main story's headline -]
    House acts to derail pension rules - Amendment may prevent cash-balance regulations proposed by the Treasury, WSJ, A3.
    [And the Times' version -]
    House blocks Treasury work on pensions, by Mary Walsh, NYT, C3.
    ...citing concerns that the rules might be used by companies intent on changing their pension plans in ways that would strip older workers of benefits. The House vote came after weeks of intensive lobbying on pensions that took a new turn yesterday with an unusual full-page advertisement in The New York Times warning that the House bill could help to "destroy America's pension system." The ad was placed by several business organizations....
    The court decision was hailed by older workers and their advocates, [but] IBM has said it would appeal.... In July, a federal court ruled that IBM had illegally discriminated against its older workers when it changed to a cash-balance pension plan in the 1990s. The decision surprised and disturbed many companies because the judge's reasoning seemed to suggest that virtually all cash-balance pension plans illegally discriminate, no matter how carefully companies design them.
    [Hmm, IBM used to be a good company for employees. Now it's another one, like Polaroid and HP, gone bad. How do CEOs and business schools expect to have a consumer base and markets left if they keep weakening the money centrifuges throughout the economy, so that more and more of the national income defaults upward into the top brackets where it's too tightly packed to be spent? If CEOs are the only ones in the economy who have financial security, their financial security won't be worth a damn.]
    "Clearly, the Treasury Dept. is intent on pushing these illegal regulations," said Rep. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who introduced the bill....
    [And here's that anti-bill ad -]
    Don't destroy America's pension system. Vote "no" on the Sanders amendment to HR 2989, full-page ad, 9/9/2003 NYT, C5.
    The Sanders amendment to the Treasury appropriations bill threatens to: outlaw vast numbers of pension plans in the country...[blah blah blah]
    [Never mind that countless companies have been looting and skimping their pension plans outrageously, same as the Federal Gov't that now irresponsibly counts the Social Security fund in with its regular budget to misleadingly diminish its debt, despite the separate escrow and earmarking, which now of course is weakened. The sponsors of this ad are listed as -]
    ERISA Industry Committee
    National Assoc. of Mfrs
    American Benefits Council
    The Business Roundtable
    Coalition to Preserve the Defined Benefit System [this is as honest as would be an oil companies' Coalition to Preserve the Ecology of Oilfields & Pipeline Easements]
    Advertisement paid for by ERISA Industry Committee.
    [Lord God, employees have almost no advocates any more. How in the world did Bernie Sanders get this bill to pass by 258 to 160?! He's a magician.]

  3. A small, small pension world, pointer blurb (to C1), WSJ, front page.
    This fall, key pension regulation and legislation are likely. How will the close ties between regulators and lobbyists affect the results?
    [Probably badly. Here's another pointer in a related story -]
    Ties that bind? [or blind?], pointer blurb (to C1), WSJ, A3.
    Many Americans' retirements could hinge partly on links between pension regulators and lobbyists - relationships social as well as professional....
    [Main story's headline -]
    Many ties link pension lobby to regulators, WSJ, C1.

9/9/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. [first the bad news -]
    To cut costs, Lucent changes benefits for retirees, Bloomberg via NYT, C4.
    ...The telephone equipment maker [is] changing the health benefits of retirees to save $75m a year..\.. Lucent Technologies [will] stop reimbursing mangement retirees and their dependents for the cost of some Medicare premiums in 2004. The company, based in Murray Hill NJ, will no longer pay for dental coverage of those retirees, according to a filing with the SEC....

  2. [then some good news, well, sort of, or maybe not -]
    Fewer people on Medicare are dropped by H.M.O.'s, by Robert Pear, NYT, A21.
    WASHINGTON...- The exodus of HMOs from Medicare, a trend that has alarmed elderly people and members of Congress since 1999, will slow to a trickle next year, the industry said [yester]day.
    [Why is that? Because there aren't any left in?]
    Karen Ignagni, president of the American Assoc. of Health Plans, the lobby for HMOs and other private plans, said they would drop [only!] 39,000 Medicare beneficiaries next year. By contrast, health plans dropped 2.4m beneficiaries from 1999 to 2003.
    [If we're talking 99-03 inclusive, that's 2.4m/5= avg. 480,000/yr or exclusive, 2.4m/4= avg. 600,000/yr. In any case, it's time to move back to Canada!]
    Some HMOs have pulled [completely] out of Medicare, while others have curtailed participation by withdrawing from specific counties.
    [Nasty!]
    ...40m people [are] enrolled in Medicare..\.. Abour 4.6m...or 11.5%...are in HMOs which have historically provided drug benefits and preventive care not available in the traditional fee-for-service program. The number of people in such private plans reached a peak of 6.3m, or 16%...in late 1999....
    [Another deterioration to date from the non-election of Bush.]

9/05/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/31/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/29/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Blue-state pols are emptying their own states, by Daniel Henninger, WSJ, A8.
    ...It is now economically irrational for a middle-class person to retire in New York City....
    [So they're retiring to FL, AZ, NV, NC....]

  2. World watch -...Asia/Pacific -...Briefly, WSJ, A6.
    The Singapore government, aiming to lower business costs and save jobs, cut employer contributions to employee pension funds to 13% of salaries from 16%. The reduction is part of an effort to 'reform' [our quotes] the state-run pension system and spur investment.
    [So who's going to pay the 3% difference now, employees? Here again, we see the self-defeating policy of trying to save jobs by favoring investors over employee-consumers. Investment is of no use if the production available for it to invest in has no matching consumption. Investors routinely ruin their own base economies by assuming "it's all about them."]

8/26/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/20/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/19/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/15/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. No side effects, by Jackie Calmes, WSJ, A4.
    Business coalition [Employers' Coalition on Medicare] seeks to calm fears that a new Medicare drug benefit would prompt employers to drop retirees' coverage.... A congressional analysis [says] that 1/3 of retirees would lose better benefits....

  2. Tyco International Ltd. - Labor Dept. subpoenas records on retirement plans, Dow Jones via WSJ, B7.
    [oh oh]

8/14/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/12/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Auto maker gives $3B to retiree healthcare fund, Dow Jones via WSJ, D5.
    ...At the end of last lyear, General Motors' pensions were underfunded by $19.2B, with an obligation of $80.1B. Paying retiree benefits particularly is a challenge for GM, because the company now has two retired employees for every worker.
    [but probably two robots for every retired employee. False problem.]

  2. Pressured by union, Delta cancels payment to special [executive] pension plan, by Evan Perez, WSJ, front page.
    Seeking to end a "divisive debate regarding executive compensation" at the financially struggling carrier...the nation's No.3 airline, behind \American and United,\ will stop funding a special bankruptcy-proof pension program for executives and will cut back some management bonuses....
    [Strange are the employer excesses when fixed-workweek economics, by responding to technology with downsizing, not timesizing, surpluses and disempowers employees, and leaves employers in the bullies' role, unchecked by anyone who can keep them even half human.]

8/10/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/8/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Pension plans: House-Senate differences cloud prospects for legislation, by Jackie Calmes, WSJ, A4.
    [May be just as well.]
    Senate Finance Committee's bill likely will provide a smaller safe harbor than a House bill, or none, for firms such as Merrill Lynch that still want to both advise workers and offer their own products for workers' 401k's. It also may expand plan-contribution limits less than a House bill would.
    The Senate Health panel weighs its own pension bill. Competing Finance and Health versions died last year, and a repeat is possible. Changes to cash-balance plans are unlikely in any of the bills, despite last week's federal-court ruling that some such plans are age-discriminatory.
    [Making any of the bills useless.]
    Lawmakers want courts and Treasury to sort through the issues.
    [Passing the buck again. A Congress of wimps and dummies. "Here, YOU do it."]

  2. Delta's special bankruptcy-proof pension program, pointer blurb (to column 5), WSJ, front page.
    ...which the carrier had set up to retain its top executives during the industry's worst financial crisis, hasn't kept some from leaving the company and taking their pensions with them. Already, 3 of the 35 employees in the retention plan have left.
    [Luxurious "retention plans" during corporate slumps are about the stupidest executive scams going.]

8/07/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Consultants' e-mails to IBM executives, pointer blurb (A3), WSJ, front page.
    ...show how some of the firm's pension changes would affect younger [yuk] versus older [worse than yuk] workers.

  2. Online today - Fiscally fit, pointer blurb (to wsj.com), WSJ, front page.
    Employers don't always make it easy for older workers to catch up if they're running behind on retirement savings. Terri Cullen explains what to do when the boss won't help.

  3. Foes of pension cuts attack Brazil's Congress, Reuters via NYT, A8.
    BRASILIA...- Dozens of protesters attacked Brazil's Congress today, hurling rocks and manhole covers through windows after lawmakers in the lower house passed deep cuts in the nation's huge public pensions system....

8/06/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. General Mills' pension plans fall short by $224m, Dow Jones/AP via NYT, C2.
    ...on May 25, compared with being overfinanced by $571m a year before....

  2. [pension erosion spreads from old-age to disability -]
    The Erisa trap: When employees can't win - Workers find limited rights to sue over insurance claims; Pension act 'turned on its head', by Christopher Oster, WSJ, C1.
    In 1997, when Donya Anderson decided to deduct $7.36 a month from her paycheck to pay for disability-income insurance, she thought it was worth it for peace of mind.
    Her decision seemed vindicated 3 years later, when, 3 months pregnant with her 4th child, she submitted a claim with the insurer, UnumProvident Corp. Citing complications with Ms. Anderson's previous pregnancies and a job at a carpet factory that required lifting 50-pound bales of fabric and pushing 1,000-pound carts, her obstetrician had told her she should stop working.
    But Unum[non]Provident denied the claim, leaving Ms. Anderson...no choice but to quit her job in Andalusia, Ala., factory and apply for government assistance. Then, when she tried to sue in state court, the insurer successfully argued the case should be heard in federal court - and she wasn't eligible to seek punitive damages. A UnumProvident spokesman said the company couldn't discuss the case in detail "because we do not have a signed authorization from Ms. Anderson to discuss the claim and it's our policy to protect the privacy of our policyholders."
    The unravelling of Ms. Anderson's safety net highlights a new frustration among hundreds of thousands of workers across the country who have used chunks of their paychecks to buy insurance policies, as Ms. Anderson did, through an employer.
    The catch has come in the form of a 30-year-old law that long has hamstrung employees' ability to sue over disputes involving their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage. Known as the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, or Erisa, the law was passed in the early 1970s to protect individuals' pension rights. The law exempted employer-sponsored pension plans from state law and the Supreme Court later ruled that punitive damages couldn't be awarded in Erisa cases. Over the years, courts have ruled that insurance policies considered employee benefits also are subject to Erisa's state-law pre-emption. Long a bone of contention with plaintiffs' lawyer, the law has withstood multiple court challenges.
    In a development with far-reaching implications for workers, Erisa's grasp now extends far beyond pensions and health insurance....

8/05/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 8/02-04/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. 8/04 Landmark rulings, pointer blurb (to A3), NYT, front page.
    ...last week against IBM and Xerox, two companies that sought to profit by revising employees' pension plans, have unsettled hundreds of firms that have adopted similar programs. The court decisions are likely to force Congress and the Treasury to decide how to regulate so-called cash-balance pension plans.

  2. 8/02 Xerox to pay $300m in pension dispute, Bloomberg via NYT, B4.
    ...Xerox was sued by retirees in 2000 over the methods it used to determine payments to 25,000 [former] employees....

  3. 8/04 Nursing-home care, news blurb, WSJ, front page.
    ...costs an average of $57,000 a year, a GE Financial-sponsored survey found. That doesn't include drug or therapy costs.

8/01/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/30/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. BP earnings rise as energy firm tackles pensions, by Michael Wang, WSJ, A2.
    LONDON - BP PLC said its Q2 earnings jumped 69% on higher oil and natural-gas prices, but the big energy company said it would spend up to $2B to prop up its pension funds....
    [One of the few that isn't just going to whine and fingerpoint, while top executives strip it bare. Natural-gas prices up, eh? Wonder why that could be....]
    Williams Cos. to settle charges of [natural-gas price] index manipulation, Bloomberg via NYT, C3.

  2. Social security benefits, news blurb, WSJ, front page.
    ...would have to be cut by nearly one-third by 2039 if changes aren't made to bolster solvency, a GAO report says.

7/29/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/28/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/26/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/25/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/19/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Changes to pension bill spur a political dispute, pointer digest (to A1), NYT, B1.
    More than a dozen Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee - infuriated by last-minute changes to a pension bill - left a hearing and holed up in an adjacent library, prompting the committee's Republican chairman, Bill Thomas, to summon the police.
    [Both in Texas and now in Washington, it seems the Republicans would just as soon throw the opposition in jail as they transform our society more and more into fundamentalist Iraq.]
    At issue was a bill that would make changes to federal pension laws, including increasing the amount workers can contribute to their retirement accounts.
    [Doesn't sound that inflammatory. Here's the indicated article -]
    Sound, fury, pension rules: Nasty party clash in House - A substituted bill about pensions leads Democrats to vote with their feet, by Sheryl Stolberg, NYT, front page & A9.
    ...Republicans had written a substitute bill in the middle of the night, prompting Democrats, some of whom support the measure [presumably the original daytime bill], to complain that they had been denied a fair chance to review the changes. The walkout was the latest evidence of the bitter partisanship that prevails in the House [or of the mounting arrogance of the GOP], where increasingly Democrats accuse Republicans of using procedural maneuvers to rig votes and limit debate....
    But it was not entirely without precedent. As recently as 1988 [that's not recent, that's 15 years ago!], the Capitol Police - acting on the orders of Sen. Robert Byrd [D-WV] then the majority leader, arrested Sen. Bob Packwood [R, Ore.] and carried him feet-first into the Senate chamber, bringing a dramatic climax to a middle-of-the-night filibuster.
    [Inadequate background information for fair comparison. And again, kind of a stretch back in time to find a reversal of party roles. The invocation Homeland Security and police to search for bolted Texas Democrats was much more recent -]
    To some, the events seemed eerily reminiscent of the recent walkout by Democratic legislators in Texas, who fled to Oklahoma to thwart a vote on redistricting....
    While the Democrats were in absentia, [Republicans] voted to approve the pension measure and send it to the full House....
    [One-party "democracy" spreads in America. We are becoming our former enemies, the USSR.]

  2. The committee approved, pointer digest (to A9), NYT, B1.
    ...legislation that would allow companies to use a more favorable pension calculation that will save them from having to make tens of billions of dollars in pension contributions over the next three years, according to actuarial studies.
    [Sounds more inflammatory. The indicated article is -]
    House panel acts on pension calculations, by Mary Walsh, NYT, A9.

7/18/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Will Congress let accounting fiction obscure pension reality?, by Floyd Norris, NYT. C1.
    What should be done when an important sector of the American economy has severe problems?... Look for an accounting gimmick to obscure the reality..\..avoid admitting the problems and hope that time will make everything better [aka "heal all wounds"]. That is how the government dealt with the early days of the savings and loan crisis two decades ago. It made the situation much worse.... Which brings us to the corporate pension system.
    Much of corporate America is looking for a way to make its pension deficits appear smaller than they really are, and the politicians [are] tempted to comply. The [companies'] argument...is that if something is not done to make pensions look better, then many companies will terminate their plans. So if you want them to [tell] the truth about the health of pension plans, you are working against the interests of workers who want to collect those pensions.
    [Orwellian 'New Speak' spirals on.]
    The reverse is true. Applying reality now would make it harder to avoid putting cash into pension plans that need it. And while those payments might be painful, they would leave the plans more likely to meet their obligations and avoid a crisis....

  2. Lawmakers dilute Brazilian pension changes, Dow Jones via WSJ, A7.
    BRASILIA - A Brazilian congressional committee, after wrangling with state governors and in the face of a partial strike by federal workers, watered down [but not much!] the government's proposal to overhaul [alias "reform"] the country's deficit-ridden pension system....

7/17/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Nursing homes improve quality, but not enough, by Sarah Lueck, WSJ, D2.
    [And there are a lot fewer nursing homes too.]
    ...A new report \by\ the General Accounting Office [GAO], Congress's investigative arm, found that serious deficiencies or harm to residents occurred at one in five [20%] of the nation's nursing homes over an 18-month period that ended in January 2002. While the situation has improved since an earlier survey turned up 29% of nursing homes with serious deficiencies, the problem "remains unacceptably high," the GAO wrote in a report to be released today...based on state surveys.
    Another problem: Poor investigation of complaints and a large number of inexperienced surveyors in some states lead to understatement of quality problems, the GAO found....

  2. The politics of pension promises, by David Wessel, WSJ, A2.
    Even by Washington standards, the standing-room-only hearing on pensions, held in a cavernous, but stately room in the Rayburn House Office Building this week, seemed remarkably detached from reality.... The occasion was the Bush Treasury's attempt to slow a business- and union-backed bill that changes the way employers calculate pension obligations, an arcane issue on which tens of billions of dollars ride. The easy-to-understand, underlying issue is this: American employers have made big pension promises to workers, and too many companies don't set aside enough money to keep those promises....
    In the metaphor du jour, very low interest rates, the decline in stock prices and a rising number of retirees produce "a perfect storm" for pension funds. In all, corporate-pension plan promises amount to $1.5 trillion, but their assets are worth $300 billion less than that [ie: 1.5-0.3= $1.2T]....

7/16/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/15/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/12-14/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. 7/14 Medicare drug benefit is a mixed bag for the elderly - Many potential beneficiaries say proposed coverage is too skimpy; Others find provisions confusing - Employers will face many choices, including trimming or cutting out prescription programs for retirees, by Lueck & Murray & Hawkins, WSJ, B1.
    [This is apparently part of a series called "Retooling Medicare." If the Journal was honest, it would call it, "Gutting Medicare."]

  2. [and another one of the technology-ignoring "oh what'll we ever do now all those baby boomers are retiring?!" articles -]
    7/13 Boomer exit to leave gap in work force - Retirements may strain companies, by Alan Earls, Boston Globe, G1.
    [Actually, demographic bulges like this are another big argument for flexible worksharing via fluctuating adjustment of the workweek.]

7/11/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/10/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/09/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. The House voted, pointer blurb (to B12), WSJ, front page.
    ...to ensure federal retirees, including lawmakers, keep their more-generous coverage after passage of Medicare drug legislation....
    [while everyone else gets cuts.]

  2. Brazil federal workers strike over pension plan, Dow Jones via WSJ, A12.
    ...Public workers fear big cuts to retirement benefits \from\ 'reforms' [our quotes]....
    [Same B.S. everywhere.]

7/08/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Retirement-plan investing, pointer blurb (to C1), WSJ, front page.
    ...represented 85% of all net buying of mutual funds last year, keeping fund flows in positive territory.
    [So again, we see liquidity-driven buoyancy, all but 15% self-referencing. So how long can self-referencing, liquidity-driven investing alone keep funds in positive territory?]

  2. New retirement age needed to head off fiscal train wreck, by Alan Murray, WSJ, B4.
    ...I have a soft spot for Howard Dean because he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would "entertain taking the retirement age to 68" for full Social Security and Medicare benefits....

  3. White House seeks revised pension rules - Plan changes the way values are calculated - More company disclosure is proposed for retirement plans, by Mary Walsh, NYT, C1.
    The Bush administration is preparing this week to introduce...pension legislation that could reduce corporate pension liabilities by billions of dollars over the next two years....
    [Greaaat. That would leave billions of dollars for CEOs to scoop up and compact in the top brackets, and further stifle consumer spending and deepen recession.]

7/05/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times - 7/01/2003   eroding retirement, as documented in the Wall Street Journal & NY Times -
  1. Most workers are in dark on health of their pensions - US Airways killed a plan that pilots had no inkling was in financial danger, by Ellen Schultz & Theo Francis, WSJ, front page.

  2. G.M. profit gets lift from pension deal, by Mary Walsh, NYT, C1.
    ...selling $13.1B of bonds to raise cash for its needy pension fund...but it turns out that a company can actually book millions of dollars of profit on such a deal, thanks to the peculiar rules that govern pension accounting....


For earlier retirement stories, click on the desired date -

  • May-June, 2003.
  • April, 2003.
  • March, 2003.
  • Jan-Feb, 2003.
  • Oct-Dec, 2002.
  • July-Sept, 2002.
  • June, 2002 & previous.
    For more details, see our laypersons' guide Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at bookstores in Harvard and Porter Squares, Cambridge, Mass.

    Questions, comments, feedback? Phone 617-623-8080 (Boston) or email us.


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