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Corporation Watch

Shining a Spotlight on Corporate Pathology


Welcome to the Corporation Watch blog, which offers analysis and commentary on articles from the mainstream and alternative media related to corporate power and influence, crimes and abuses, and culture and pathology around the world. CW also includes postings on the mythologies of orthodox economics, and the nexus between economic dogma, government policy, and corporate sociopathy.


Artful Dodgers


Even as corporations have amassed ever-greater profits, they have managed to cut their total contribution to U.S. federal revenue (which includes their share of employee payroll taxes) roughly in half, from 32 percent in the early 1950s to about 17 percent today:


Debunking the myth of corporate competence


Among the disservices performed by the media — and particularly the embedded reporters and editors who cover corporations — is perpetuating a myth that has become pervasive in the American (and to a large part, global) public consciousness: namely, that most corporations are efficiently managed by highly competent people making the best possible decisions on the basis of data, analysis, and professional experience.


But as is the case with most "facts" purveyed in the business media, this idea is based not so much on first-hand knowledge or observation, but rather through second-hand self-reporting from the CEOs and companies themselves, and is frequently disproven by later reports to the contrary that almost always appear long after the hagiographies have been inculcated.


Case in point: The announcement that faltering Internet pioneer Yahoo was replacing yet another CEO — this time for falsifying his academic credentials on his resume (which the company certified as true in an annual filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission) — which came just a few days after JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's admission that the company he runs had managed to lose at least $2 billion (which has since tripled to at least $6 billon) in an effort to "mitigate risk" in its investments (i.e., prevent it from losing money) using credit default swaps — the same volatile financial instruments that had been a key factor in the global economic collapse a few years earlier.


All of this all of this had a depressingly familiar ring to it, and echoed an article in the May 8 edition of Fortune magazine from James Bandler entitled "How Hewlett-Packard Lost Its Way", which offered yet another example of how even when the firmly embedded journalists of the business media finally bring themselves to report that the emperors of our economic aristocracy have no clothes, the myth of corporate competence and efficiency somehow always manages to resurrect itself and keep staggering on, like a hockey-masked killer in a horror movie.


Engineering consent

Corporations don't harm people, the people who work in them do


FCC 'shocked, shocked' that AT&T lied about merger with T-Mobile


A draft report released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Nov. 29 found that AT&T's proposed merger with German-owned cellphone carrier T-Mobile would not be in the public interest because it would substantially reduce competition among the four top mobile phone providers and raise prices for consumers.


This followed similar findings from the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as public opposition to the deal from senior members of Congress, and was not a surprise. The real “news” in the report was the FCC's finding that AT&T had publicly lied about the benefits of its proposed merger with T-Mobile — telling the public, media, and federal regulators that the deal was necessary to modernize its wireless phone network and would lower prices and create more jobs*, while its internal documents showed that its public claims were untrue.


The Artful Dodger: GE picks the public's pocket in a Dickensian economic system


A March 24 NY Times article headlined "GE’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether" described how General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, reported $14.2 billion in 2010 global profits, including $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States, yet not only paid absolutely zero U.S. taxes, but actually claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.


Reporter David Kocieniewski notes that "low taxes are nothing new for GE", and are the result of "an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks with innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits off-shore. GE’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm".


According to Kocieniewski, nearly a thousand GE employees spend at least half their time exploiting an already porous tax code that allows corporations to avoid paying taxes on income from certain kinds of financial operations abroad, and then use tax credits, write-offs, and depreciation from those activities to off-set taxes on domestic profits.


"But critics say the use of so many shelters amounts to corporate welfare", the article says, and that "the assertive tax avoidance of multinationals like GE not only shortchanges the Treasury, but also harms the economy by discouraging investment and hiring in the United States".


The personal is political: Bipolar court says Jekyll-and-Hyde corporations are persons — except when they're not


On March 1, 2011, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in the case known as Federal Communications Commission v AT&T, finding that corporations cannot assert personal privacy rights, at least insofar as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for government documents relating to corporate actions are concerned.


The case stems from a FOIA request by AT&T's competitors for documents the had FCC compiled during a 2004 investigation into claims that the recombinant communications behemoth had over-charged schools and libraries for their access to and use of the Internet.


Despite a series of legal findings against it in recent years, and unlike an actual human repeat offender, AT&T were as usual allowed to buy their way out of what amounted to a charge of defrauding the government — which any real human recidivist would likely have been convicted of and gone to jail for — by paying a mere $500,000 fine to settle the case without admitting any wrong-doing.


"Live" cartoon on the roots of the financial crisis


CUNY professor David Harvey gave a presentation in April 2010 to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (only in Britain could they name something that, right?) called "The Crises of Capitalism", which the RSA then had animated. The result is sort of a "live" cartoon in which Harvey's words are both literally and figuratively animated as he speaks:


How about a holiday from corporate extortion?


Fortune features a Feb. 16 article by Tory Newmyer about how large multi-national tech, pharmaceutical, and energy corporations such as Oracle, Cisco, Apple, Duke Energy, and Pfizer are lobbying vociferously for a one-year so-called "tax holiday" that would allow them to bring roughly $1 trillion in profits from their overseas operations back to the United States at a 5 percent tax rate instead of the "official" rate of 35 percent.


There are so many things wrong with this proposal — and the underlying issues — that it's hard to decide where to begin. But let's start by considering the mafia-like extortion by which these corporations are refusing to bring money back to the U.S., unless they pay only a token amount of tax on it (i.e., "Do what we say or you'll never see your money again"). Or the fact that President Obama's proposed budget contains a structural deficit estimated at roughly $1.5 trillion, and taxing that overseas corporate stash at 35 percent would instantly cut that deficit by $350 billion.



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