GE

The ameriMac

Presumably because of Apple’s rocky PR and financial results of late, Tim Cook gave two purportedly “Exclusive!” interviews, to NBC News and Businessweek. The big takeaway from both “Exclusives!” was the same, however: that Apple will move some production of the Mac back to the US next year.

You were instrumental in getting Apple out of the manufacturing business. What would it take to get Apple back to building things and, specifically, back to building things in the U.S.?
It’s not known well that the engine for the iPhone and iPad is made in the U.S., and many of these are also exported—the engine, the processor. The glass is made in Kentucky. And next year we are going to bring some production to the U.S. on the Mac. We’ve been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. It will happen in 2013. We’re really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it’s broader because we wanted to do something more substantial. So we’ll literally invest over $100 million. This doesn’t mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we’ll be working with people, and we’ll be investing our money.

Thus far, I have not seen any acknowledgment that this move comes just two months after Lenovo made a similar announcement, that it was going to bring production of formerly IBM products back to Tim Cook’s old stomping grounds in IBM’s former production hub of North Carolina.

And so, perhaps predictably, the analysis of the move has been rather shallow. NBC first focuses on the jobs crisis here, and only later quotes Cook’s comments about skills (which echoes Steve Jobs’ old explanation for why Apple produced in China).

Given that, why doesn’t Apple leave China entirely and manufacture everything in the U.S.? “It’s not so much about price, it’s about the skills,” Cook told Williams.

Echoing a theme stated by many other companies, Cook said he believes the U.S. education system is failing to produce enough people with the skills needed for modern manufacturing processes. He added, however, that he hopes the new Mac project will help spur others to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

“The consumer electronics world was really never here,” Cook said. “It’s a matter of starting it here.”

Businessweek also focuses on job creation (though Cook makes it clear that he doesn’t think Apple has to create manufacturing jobs, just jobs, which is consistent with his suggestion that someone else will be assembling the Mac in the US).

On that subject, it’s 2012. You’re a multinational. What are the obligations of an American company to be patriotic, and what do you think that means in a globalized era?
(Pause.) That’s a really good question. I do feel we have a responsibility to create jobs. I don’t think we have a responsibility to create a certain kind of job, but I think we do have a responsibility to create jobs.

Matt Yglesias purports to look for an explanation of Apple’s onshoring in this excellent Charles Fishman article on the trend. But with utterly typical cherry-picking from him, he finds the explanation in the 125 words that Fishman devotes to lower US wages rather than the remaining 5,375 words in the article, which describe how teamwork–teamwork including line workers–leads to innovation and higher quality.

Which is too bad, because Fishman’s article and Cook’s comments to Businessweek set up a pretty interesting dialogue about innovation.

Before I look at that, though, let me point to this other comment from Cook, which may provide a simpler explanation for the insourcing.

The PC space [market] is also large, but the market itself isn’t growing. However, our share of it is relatively low, so there’s a lot of headroom for us.

We know Lenovo is insourcing to better provide customized ThinkPads quickly. Here, Cook suggests he sees a way to pick up market share in the PC space. I would suggest it likely the Mac insourcing relates to this perceived market opportunity, and would further suggest that Apple’s reasons might mirror Lenovo’s own: to deliver better responsiveness to US-based customers, if not actual customization (though that would be news).

But that’s not what I find so interesting about the way the Fishman article and Cook interview dialogue.

Fishman’s article largely focuses on why GE has brought production back to its Appliance City in Louisville, KY. And while more docile unions and energy costs are two reasosn GE has made the move, the biggest benefit is that when entire teams–including line workers–focused on products, they could build better quality move innovative products more cheaply. Continue reading

Winter™ — Property of The Weather Channel®

(photo: Blizzard 2010 by *Low* via Flickr)

With a lot of self-justifying, back-patting hoopla today, The Weather Channel announced it’s decided unilaterally to assign names to winter storms.

During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.

Yes, fewer surprises. Just the one about winter’s natural disasters being branded by The Weather Channel.

There’s no indication that any federal government entity, including NOAA, has sanctioned this scheme let alone the names.

…until now, there has been no organized naming system for these storms before they impact population centers.

One of the reasons this may be true is that there is no national center, such as the National Hurricane Center, to coordinate and communicate information on a multi-state scale to cover such big events. The National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s Hydrologic Prediction Center (HPC) does issue discussions and snowfall forecasts on a national scale but it does not fill the same role as the NHC in naming storms. …

At this point The Weather Channel’s management breaks their arms with back-patting, lauding their efforts while calling it a bunch of euphemisms for team-playing:

…it would be a great benefit for a partner in the weather industry to take on the responsibility of developing a new concept.

This is where a world-class organization such as The Weather Channel will play a significant role. We have the meteorological ability, support and technology to provide the same level of reporting for winter storms that we have done for years with tropical weather systems. …

In the absence of any government inputs, the selected storm names for this season appear to be intellectual property of The Weather Channel.

Bet you didn’t think that natural disasters could be co-opted, branded, and marketed!  Continue reading

The 99% Demand that GE Pay Its Fair Share

I spent the morning in Detroit watching the Joe Louis fist–one of Detroit’s iconic symbols–be swallowed up by a crowd of people demanding that GE–which was holding its shareholders meeting in the Renaissance Center nearby–pay its fair share in taxes (to say nothing of keeping jobs in the US).

Seeing crowds of people, swarm that fist, pointed right towards where Jeff Immelt was speaking, was a pretty awesome way to spend the morning.

Inside the event, some of the 99% were making the same demand.  Then, Jeff “China China China” Immelt apparently rushed through his legal obligation to at least pretend that shareholders own GE (he finished one hour in exactly).

As we walked around Detroit’s Renaissance Center, a few people came to the balcony to look on.

I think the Powers that Be had originally thought it’d be smart to hide us out back. For some reason, they had us leave the hidden back area and move right up front.

The sign reads: To hell with greed. –God

I’ll update later if my video is any good and when Dave Johnson–who managed to stay through the whole whopping 60 minute (exactly) meeting posts his story.

 

If Bank of New York Mellon Has So Many Tax Shelters It Doesn’t Pay Taxes, How Is It NY’s “Main Street”?

Update: Kelly just stepped down, citing “differences in approach.”

A number of outlets have carried the report on the number of CEO’s getting paid more than their companies paid in taxes last year, but few have linked to the actual report, which means just the usual suspects, like GE’s Jeff Immelt, are getting the bulk of the focus.

Yet if you look at the appendices (pages 31-33–click the picture to the right to enlarge it), the report not only lists all the companies paying their CEOs more than they pay Uncle Sam, but provide details like the company’s political spending.

Among those listed in the report not getting much attention is Bank of New York Mellon’s CEO Robert Kelly, who got millions while his company got a $670 million tax refund.

Bank of New York Mellon CEO Robert Kelly took home $19.4 million in 2010. The bank, the same year, claimed a $670 million federal tax refund, despite $2.4 billion in U.S. pre-tax income.

Kelly’s compensation has skated above $10 million during each of the past three years of financial crisis. The CEO artfully managed to avoid the salary limits President Obama’s “pay czar” imposed on bailed-out banks by making sure Bank of New York Mellon repaid the taxpayer funds before those restrictions went into effect.27 The bank raised the money to pay back its $3 billion in TARP assistance by taking on uninsured debt, slashing dividends, and issuing new stock.28

The Bank of New York Mellon, with 10 subsidiaries in tax havens, did not pay a dime in federal taxes in 2010. However, the banking giant did devote $1.4 million to lobbying over the year. The bank’s lobbyists worked diligently to exempt currency trading from new transparency and oversight rules.29 In related news, officials from eight U.S. states are conducting inquiries or pursuing litigation against Bank of New York Mellon for ripping off state pension funds by overcharging for currency trades. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are also investigating the allegations.

Screwing pension funds on currency trades is not the only anti-social behavior the federal government gave BNYM a refund to engage in. They’re also the trustee on the controversial Bank of America settlement.

That’s relevant because of the terms the settlement’s chief defender, Kathryn Wylde, has used to defend it, particularly in the face of Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit to stop it.

The lawsuit angered Bank of New York Mellon, and as Mr. Schneiderman was leaving the memorial service last week for Hugh Carey, the former New York governor who died Aug. 7, an attendee said Mr. Schneiderman became embroiled in a contentious conversation with Kathryn S. Wylde, a member of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who represents the public. Ms. Wylde, who has criticized Mr. Schneiderman for bringing the lawsuit, is also chief executive of the Partnership for New York City.

[snip]

Characterizing her conversation with Mr. Schneiderman that day as “not unpleasant,” Ms. Wylde said in an interview on Thursday that she had told the attorney general “it is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible.”

Now, as I’ve already pointed out, it’s sort of odd for Wylde to defend Bank of America, a North Carolina corporation, in her role as NYC’s chief booster.

But if BNYM is paying nothing in the US–rather is getting tax refunds–on its $2.5 billion global profit, then presumably it’s a corporate resident of some other place, not New York, not the United States. So maybe, in addition to North Carolina, Wylde has added the Cayman Islands to the list of places whose corporations she defends as her own Main Street?

In any case, Wylde says Schneiderman shouldn’t sue to prevent BNYM’s scam settlement with BoA. Why is she protecting such a giant corporate deadbeat?

Jeff Immelt Claims Government Can’t Make Him Invest–Ignoring It Already Did

[youtube]Df_XSkDz418[/youtube]

Jeff “China China China” Immelt spoke at Dartmouth yesterday, ostensibly about energy. But as it happens, he had the opportunity (in question period) to pressure SuperCongress to “reform” taxes rather than raise them on people like Immelt (while later saying he didn’t think SuperCongress should also look at job creation). He claimed GE would embrace the elimination of loopholes, so long as the corporate tax rate was also lowered.

The largest U.S. conglomerate would accept the elimination of loopholes “in a heartbeat” if it was coupled with a lowering of the statutory 35 percent rate, Jeff Immelt told a group of students on Thursday.

Right. We’re to take Immelt’s word that GE will stop taking advantage of any means to evade taxes based on its own history of evading taxes.

Which, in combination with Immelt’s comments about investing are all the more interesting. Here’s how Reuters described it.

Immelt, who leads a panel advising the Obama administration on job creation, said he puts little stock in talk that the government could do more to encourage companies to invest and lower the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate.

“A lot has been said that business isn’t investing because of uncertainty. I think that’s rubbish,” the 55-year-old CEO said. “The government couldn’t do anything to make me invest and believe me the rest of the world isn’t that stable either. We’ve made our own choices that we’re going to keep investing regardless of what happens in Washington.”

But in an uncharacteristically animated moment, he blasted critics who contend that companies like GE that do much of their sales outside the United States are hurting the economy. He noted that GE sells 90 percent of its jet engines abroad but manufacturers all of them in U.S. factories.

“That’s not taking jobs out of the United States, that’s what we have to do,” Immelt said. “We’ve gotten this psychotic thing that anybody that does business outside the United States is a heathen, anti-American … I don’t understand why we’re rooting against companies that are out there competing because we’re creating good jobs here.” [my emphasis]

Now there’s actually more than this going on. First, in response to a question (around 42:10) about allegations that GE doesn’t pay taxes, Immelt shifted the answer to claim, incorrectly, that people were beating up on GE for exporting, rather than beating up on GE for not paying taxes. So rather than talking about tax evasion, he instead talked about how many jet engines GE exports from the US. And when, later (around 52:00), he was asked whether all the energy products GE sells in India and China were made in the US, he again focused on jet engines (energy products?) and gas turbines.

In other words, he avoided talking about taxes by pretending all GE does does export large manufactured goods. (More interesting, too, though probably worth another post, is his exhortation–around 50:00–that you shouldn’t watch TV or read the news, said in the context of the crash, “everybody had to wake up and realize you gotta change,” without admitting that GE’s financial games were a huge part of the crash.)

And yes, Immelt says that the government can’t do anything to make GE invest–though in context it appeared to say the government can’t make GE invest here (as opposed to other countries–he noted that investments in energy are primarily happening in Europe and China).

I find that claim, in particular, interesting given how GE is claiming credit for creating a greater proportion of jobs in the US. But the big headline item–a tech center in the Detroit area–happened precisely because of government intervention.

Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt has said GE will add more than 15,000 jobs in the three years through December. About 1,100 will be just outside Detroit in a center for information technology, a field emblematic of outsourcing. So far, GE has hired about 660 people in Michigan, a state that led the nation in jobless rates, making it a symbol of U.S. industrial decline.
[snip]
GE took advantage of incentives such as Michigan’s tax benefits and skilled workforce. Immelt said in announcing the Michigan site in 2009 that GE would invest $100 million, while state officials offered more than $60 million over 12 years in incentives.

“The change in approach is critical, and it comes right from the top,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “He’s addressed it both from the context of GE and in the importance of the U.S. having a vibrant, high-tech manufacturing base.”

So I guess the government can do something to make Jeff Immelt’s company invest in the US. But for some reason he didn’t want to talk about it.

In a recent op-ed, Alliance for American Manufacturing head Scott Paul offered a number of suggestions to rebuild manufacturing in the US. Among other worthy suggestions, he suggested what might be called the “Immelt Rule”–banishing CEOs from federal advisory boards (like Obama’s job’s council) if they’re outsourcing faster than they’re creating jobs here in the US.

Kick any CEO off of federal advisory boards or jobs councils who has: (1) not created net new American jobs over the past five years, or (2) is expanding the company’s foreign workforce at a faster rate than its domestic workforce. Replace them with CEOs who are committed to investing in America. Shame is a good motivator.

I guess Immelt would rather just talk about exporting jet engines and be done with it.

Real Reason For US Deficit: GE Greed-$14.2B Profit, $0 Tax

For all the caterwauling from the right and, stupifyingly, from the Obama Administration and Blue Dog left as well, here is the real reason the United States has the sizable deficit issues it does (well, in addition to the fact we will not tax even rich individuals appropriately either) – our biggest corporations pay no tax. Even when they make unholy amounts of profit. From a sobering article just up at the New York Times:

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.

That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

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 bespectacled, 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.

Read the whole article and weep for your and your children’s future. And then take a moment to consider that a competent political class, that was honest about their representation of their constituents and oath to office, would have moved the country away from this reverse Robin Hood dystopia instead of moving ever further down the black hole of elite and corporate greed, robber barons and neo-feudalism.

“Competitiveness” Is Peace

I spent much of the day yesterday pointing out how stupid it was for Obama to put outsourcer, China nut, and TBTF bankster Jeff Immelt in charge of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Meanwhile, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich have been focusing on Obama’s frame for the problem as “competitiveness.”

In his piece, Krugman calls the frame “hackneyed” (and Jeff Immelt’s op-ed on it “vacuous”). He then links to an older discussion on competitiveness of his, in which he explains,

The rhetoric of competitiveness turns out to provide a good way either to justify hard choices or to avoid them.

Reich makes largely the same point about how meaningless the term “competitiveness” has become.

Whenever you hear a business executive or politician use the term “American competitiveness,” watch your wallet. Few terms in public discourse have gone so directly from obscurity to meaninglessness without any intervening period of coherence.

Reich goes on to show how competitiveness might mean:

  • American exports (which, if that was your definition, would require lower American wages)
  • Balance of trade (which, if that was your definition, would lead to dollar devaluation and currency wars)
  • Profits of American-based companies, which, if that were your definition, Reich notes, we’d be doing great:

In case you haven’t noticed, the profits of American corporations are soaring. That’s largely because sales from their foreign-based operations are booming (especially in China, Brazil, and India). It’s also because they’ve cut their costs of production in the US (see the first item above). American-based companies have become global — making and selling all over the world — so their profitability has little or nothing to do with the number and quality of jobs here in the US. In fact, it may be inversely related.

  • The number and quality of American jobs

Reich argues that the only way to improve our “competitiveness” by that last measure–the number and quality of American jobs–is to make investments America is probably not willing to make.

The only sure way to improve the quality of jobs over the long term is to build the productivity of American workers and the US overall, which means major investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D. But it’s far from clear American corporations and their executives will pay the taxes needed to make these investments. Continue reading

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