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GM retirees' dilemma: Pension of buyout

The former General Motors white-collar employees have been given a choice between a lump sum payout of their retirement account or a guaranteed monthly annuity check for the rest of their lives.

According to recent published accounts, there is much agonizing over which lever to pull. Anxiety caused by analysis-paralysis is being replayed across all of big-company America as the baby boomer bubble moves into retirement. Corporations see this as a way to rid themselves of the loose cannons on their decks -- their underfunded pension plans.

Financial corruption reaches high-water mark

On a motorcycle trip to Puerto Vallarta years ago, we had to have some additional paperwork to get on the overnight ferry from La Paz to Mazatlán. The banks were closed and we tried to argue that we could get the same paperwork when we docked in Mazatlan. Finally, one of my companions did something stupid. He gave the customs official a document that we did have, but with a $50 bill attached. The official handed it back saying, "You're in the wrong country for that." And this was Mexico.

Some health insurance policies can make you sick with worry

The sign on the cement truck's barrel that says "Find a need and fill it" reminds me of a new business arising out of the dysfunctional health insurance/medical services industry. It's the art of determining what bills are correct and knowing when better deals can be negotiated.

Working the system, avoiding overcharges and learning how to shop for the most cost-effective services is something the average layman is simply not equipped to do -- especially when they're sick. Therefore, a cottage industry of consultants or patient advocates is starting to form to meet that need.

Defying the odds and Social Security benefits

For a blast out of the past, I suggest attending your 50th high school reunion as soon as the opportunity arises. My 50th back in Springfield, Vt., last week was a Norman Rockwell scene that included an alumni day parade through a one-stoplight, brick-building town -- a parade complete with marching bands, class floats and a trailer with chairs for my classmates who couldn't have walked two miles. Later, at a dinner party in the evening, we were squinting at each other's name tags and reminiscing.

Private equity industry facing tough times

"Schadenfreude" describes the feeling of smug satisfaction someone might gain upon hearing about the bad luck of someone else. It is not a good character trait.

Nevertheless, I found myself like Peter Seller's "Dr. Strangelove" having to yank my hand back down after reading that the private equity industry was in trouble these days. My initial burst of satisfaction was tempered by what the troubles of these grossly overpaid people could mean for the rest of us.

Future Trends 2012

When 85-year-old Yogi Berra opines, “the future ain’t what it used to be,” it should be a reminder of how impossible it is to predict coming events with any accuracy. The best we can hope for is an educated guess. One of the best forward indicators, actually, is the bulls/bears+bulls index. Historically, when money managers as a group are more than 50 percent bullish, the market usually tanks soon after and vice versa. At least investment professionals are good for something, even if it’s not for what they would want us to think they know. That index is still bearish.

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