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April 13, 2011 9:48 AM   Subscribe

The Yes Men pull one over on the AP, by convincing them that GE was going to donate their 3.2 billion dollar tax credit in response to public anger over the fact that they pay no taxes.
posted by Jon_Evil (66 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw a couple of Japan-related AP folks I follow on Twitter sheepishly posting mea culpas about this. Hilarious.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 AM on April 13, 2011


Turns out, it's not true -- and the whole embarrassment could have been avoided with a phone call.

Yep.
posted by birdherder at 9:53 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looks like GE took a small hit this morning. Coincidence?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:54 AM on April 13, 2011


Turns out, it's not true -- and the whole embarrassment could have been avoided with a phone call.by thinking a little bit.
posted by DU at 9:56 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


My first clue that this wasn't true was that in involved a company acting decently.
posted by dirtylittlecity at 10:01 AM on April 13, 2011 [37 favorites]


Also turns out it's not true that GE doesn't pay taxes.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:04 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


April 15 is quickly approaching. Here's how to pull a GE with your personal taxes, and stick it to the man.
posted by schmod at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


From the rawstory linked in the post:

"The fake release added that GE's move should serve as an "example" for other U.S. corporations.

It also [said] that GE would "conduct a nation-wide survey" to determine how the $3.2 billion should be spent. They specifically singled out recent budget cuts issued by Congress, with the release suggesting Americans should discuss which of the budget cuts they'd like to see reversed."


Beautiful.
posted by Dragonness at 10:10 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like it. Kind of too bad that they didn't get it picked up by more sources than the AP, though; then the story might be more about GE and less about the AP's lack of fact-checking.

As a tactic for embarrassing corporations it's pretty interesting; rather than call attention to their lack of anything approaching altruism, instead put out a false press release in which "they" claim to be doing something nice ("BigCorp saves kittens, offers college scholarships to orphans!"), then let the company have to issue the correction -- and in doing so reveal their actual nature ("Kitten foie gras remains on menu in BigCorp cafeteria; orphans too busy toiling in mines to attend classes").

Of course, there's a certain amount of risk that the original story might get more traction than the retraction does, in which case you've just helped burnish BigCorp's image at no cost to them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:11 AM on April 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


> As a tactic for embarrassing corporations it's pretty interesting; rather than call attention to their lack of anything approaching altruism, instead put out a false press release in which "they" claim to be doing something nice

They were more successful when they impersonated Dow.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also turns out it's not true that GE doesn't pay taxes.

Except it's actually somewhat ambiguous/inconclusive in terms of the details, looks like GE is responding to the original NYT story by claiming not to have finished filing yet, and once again we don't really know how much they are paying; from your link: Will GE ultimately pay U.S. income taxes for 2010? After much to-ing and fro-ing — the company says it hasn’t completed its 2010 tax return — GE now says that it will. The company says they will, which of course they would say for PR reasons, but we don't know how much, and the possibility that they will pay a really low or negligible amount is still there.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:18 AM on April 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yeah, that article is particularly mealy-mouthed.
posted by jtron at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's The Yes Men's statement. They in turn credit US Uncut.

It's a travesty that AP would simply publish a press release without doing any actual reporting. No wonder newspapers are dying. (For that matter, this MeFi post could have benefitted from a few minutes' research.)
posted by Nelson at 10:26 AM on April 13, 2011


Here's how to pull a GE with your personal taxes, and stick it to the man.

And by stick it to the man, you mean, ah, dodge your responsibilities?
posted by bicyclefish at 10:27 AM on April 13, 2011 [15 favorites]


Perhaps GE might re-distribute some of its profits/savings to John Boehner's District.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:34 AM on April 13, 2011


I'm with bicyclefish on this. No one LIKES to pay taxes, but all those services we want (like Planned Parenthood! Yay!) have to be paid for somehow.

The goal here is to make the tax system fairer so that the poorest don't end up paying more than they can afford, and the richest pick up some of the slack, not for all of us to avoid paying taxes.

That, not the fact that "they got away with it and I didn't" is what makes me irritated with the GE situation.

This company makes huge profits by selling to American consumers, takes advantage of American business practices, and, I feel (and I don't think I am alone) should pay something back to the community for all those benefits.

Unfortunately, GE (and others like them) take advantage of their clout as a prominent American business by threatening to take their business overseas if they are taxed at a rate anywhere near what the average taxpayer pays. They claim that paying taxes at that rate would keep them from being competitive in the market, and politicians get all heated up about capitalism and a "free market" and let them get away with this bullshit.

I know corporations aren't people. But they are made up of people, and what makes all this especially untenable is that the workers at the bottom levels of GE, the people who are in fact making that company profitable by producing, are paying their share (probably more than what their share should be) of taxes. It's the guys at the highest levels, the VPs and the executives, that end up getting the benefits--they get bonuses when those profit reports come out, they get stock options, etc.

Shareholders may love it when GE 'sticks it to the man', but it's the average man who really gets stuck.
posted by misha at 10:46 AM on April 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


"If your mother tells you that she loves you, check it out."
posted by Jahaza at 10:53 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's how to pull a GE with your personal taxes, and stick it to the man kids.

FTFY.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on April 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


And by stick it to the man, you mean, ah, dodge your responsibilities?

Actually, not really. The linked article relies primarily on a self-employed person taking both sides of the employer and employee tax breaks on retirement accounts and health care, and assumes a good bit of dual purpose use of the business expense write offs. That's perfectly legal and not dodging anything, any more than what GE is doing. Considerably more ethical in fact, as that person would only be taking advantage of preexisting breaks in the tax code, rather than say lobbying for new ones created specifically on their behalf like a multibillion dollar corporation like GE would do.

Further, GE is able to play all kinds of tax games by changing the location of its corporate offices or its subsidiaries to funnel revenue though tax haven countries. An individual can't really do that very easily.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:04 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw the original AP wire story and my first thought (made explicit as I shared it on FB) was 'this has to be a hoax.'

Chutzpah, thy name is 'Yes.'
posted by lodurr at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


April 15 is quickly approaching. Here's how to pull a GE with your personal taxes, and stick it to the man.

That article is pretty misleading. For example they deduct over one third of the income by using tax deferred retirement accounts, and claim that it means they don't have to pay taxes on that money. In fact, they will have to pay taxes on it when they withdraw from the fund in retirement (and if they withdraw early, they pay taxes and a 10% penalty).
posted by burnmp3s at 11:17 AM on April 13, 2011


April 15 is quickly approaching.

Actually, April 18th is quickly approaching, this year.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:25 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not as quickly as the 15th, though.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:27 AM on April 13, 2011


I think they're both approaching at the same rate.
posted by electroboy at 11:31 AM on April 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


But April 18th is CLEARLY the more important one.

Because it is my birthday.
posted by misha at 11:33 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


...at the same rate.

let me guess: sixty seconds per minute?
posted by lodurr at 11:33 AM on April 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


happy birthday. you have my condolences.
posted by lodurr at 11:34 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tonight at 11 on NBC: The Yes Men group have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, executions to follow. And now a word from our sponsor.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:34 AM on April 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Excellent. That'll teach 'em!

Wait...

No.

(corporation shirks their sizable tax obligation. only recourse available is to prank 'em by planting fake positive press. FEEL THE POWER.)
posted by MeatLightning at 11:40 AM on April 13, 2011


corporations make money. if people make money are to pay taxes, why not entities that also make money? Threaten to take their biz elsewhere? they make products in Mexico etc now and get cheap labor at the cost of American workers. Let them take it overseas and then be taxed as imports.
posted by Postroad at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2011


The saddest part about this whole story is how the AP will just regurgitate any old press release with zero reporting. It is more and more like a machine with no human frame of reference. Makes you wonder about every single story out there. Is it original reporting or is it just PR?
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:43 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with bicyclefish on this. No one LIKES to pay taxes,

Speak for yourself. I like paying taxes; they buy me roads and fire departments and schools and post offices, and all sorts of other things I like. I would also be willing to pay more taxes to buy more of these things, but the option doesn't seem to be available to me.

Aside from the mass of libertarians who will sneer "well then write the government a bigger check!" in apparent willful misunderstanding of how taxation works.
posted by Mayor West at 11:44 AM on April 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Makes you wonder about every single story out there. Is it original reporting or is it just PR?

If it's on your local TV news, and it's not of direct local import with live cameras, it's probably PR.
posted by jtron at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can I join the Yes Men? is there an application I can hand in of some kind? I think I've found my calling.
posted by hellojed at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd love to prank some GE executives! I wanna prank them for hours.. in my basement.
posted by orme at 12:42 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a travesty that AP would simply publish a press release without doing any actual reporting.

I sympathize with your outrage, but I guess that AP is not alone in not always doing a "due diligence" effort. That is probably because fact checking is expensive (certainly more than superficial checks or no checl at all) and possibily not seen as worth the effort, in term of returns.

How to overturn this business model, I haven't really figured out yet, nor if the business model is the main problem or an accessory.
posted by elpapacito at 12:47 PM on April 13, 2011


This business model is the main problem. I promise. Maximize profits no matter what. This means companies make the investment of writers so newsrooms don't have to. They get the guarantee of getting their message out the way they want it, and newspapers don't have to pay as many people.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:52 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to prank some GE executives! I wanna prank them for hours.. in my basement.

Since the Internet became the world's primary prank vector, the total amount of pranking occuring in basements worldwide has skyrocketed, to the point where leading prank experts believe that upwards of 25% of all pranks are both perpetrated and received in basements, dens, garden apartments, and other subterranean trickery venues.
posted by Copronymus at 12:54 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


People should know better than to expect decency or contrition from the Sheinhardt Wig Company.
posted by [citation needed] at 1:16 PM on April 13, 2011


Mayor West: You can, actually, pay more if you want to. You can donate directly to the treasury, but your contribution goes towards paying off the national debt before anything else.
posted by inedible at 1:33 PM on April 13, 2011


Mayor West, the MA state income tax form actually does have an option to pay your state taxes at a 5.85% tax rate instead of the standard 5.3% (see line 21 on form 1).
posted by phoenixy at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2011


(oops, it's actually line 22 on form 1, not line 21)
posted by phoenixy at 1:48 PM on April 13, 2011


I would like there to be a 'conscientious objector' option for the U.S. income tax. I'm sure working out the details would be a nightmare, and I could see how it might not work at all - but I would LOVE to have the option to check a little box saying that my taxes would not fund military operations.
posted by aniola at 1:55 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Taxes are the fees you pay for using the United States' legal currency. The more dollars you use, the more you should be paying in tax for the privilege of using them.
posted by mikelieman at 2:00 PM on April 13, 2011


This is great. The Yes Men have been working hard to get The Yes Lab up and running over the past year or so and have been relatively quiet while there focus has been largely on that. The Yes Lab helps groups devise strategies of their own for causes they care about that use a lot of the tools that The Yes Men have implemented in their own projects. For anyone upthread who asked about joining The Yes Men, you are already halfway there. Here's a link to help you get the rest of the way:

How to get started
posted by stagewhisper at 2:05 PM on April 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


there=their
posted by stagewhisper at 2:06 PM on April 13, 2011


Taxes are the fees you pay for using the United States' legal currency. The more dollars you use, the more you should be paying in tax for the privilege of using them.

No, that doesn't make sense. You want people to use the currency as much as possible. Or would you tax Ecuadoreans?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:17 PM on April 13, 2011


they make products in Mexico etc now and get cheap labor at the cost of American workers. Let them take it overseas and then be taxed as imports.

Cheap labor is the greatest thing for the American consumer. The only losers are some American workers that can't find jobs doing other things. We shouldn't blame corporations for uncompetitive American workers. And we certainly shouldn't penalize corporations for mere outsourcing. (Now, if they are outsourcing to dodge, say carbon taxes, that should be penalized.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:21 PM on April 13, 2011


That's a huge load of horseshit. We absolutely should penalize corporations for outsourcing. It's a despicable practice that takes money out of our economy. The fact that HUGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE are out of work or underemployed right now is a direct result of outsourcing.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:35 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually would like to see us penalize corporations for outsourcing for a different reason altogether: we are screwing up the environment by taking our business to countries with fewer environmental restrictions and polluting them.
posted by misha at 2:56 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cheap labor is the greatest thing for the American consumer.

I would be pretty surprised if anyone could indicate that prices for consumer goods drop as the labor to manufacture those goods is outsourced. As it is, I'm pretty sure all the savings go straight to increasing profit margins.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:06 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cheap labor is the greatest thing for the American consumer.

I would be pretty surprised if anyone could indicate that prices for consumer goods drop as the labor to manufacture those goods is outsourced. As it is, I'm pretty sure all the savings go straight to increasing profit margins.


When there's competition that won't be the case. California wine is a good example of something that could not possibly be that cheap without cheap (illegal) labour. I bet we also see big savings in labour-intensive produce too (berries, etc.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:10 PM on April 13, 2011


We absolutely should penalize corporations for outsourcing. It's a despicable practice that takes money out of our economy. The fact that HUGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE are out of work or underemployed right now is a direct result of outsourcing.

No, it takes money from American consumers and gives it uncompetitive American businessmen that are looking for a handout. Are you familiar with the arguments against protectionism?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:18 PM on April 13, 2011


No, that doesn't make sense. You want people to use the currency as much as possible.

I don't care if people find it convenient and use it or not. If they do, we got overhead we have to meet to keep the streetlights lit, potholes filled, and hungry kids fed. Those are the terms. You can use the dollars, but we, The People expect some benefit for providing them. Rather than hold everyone accountable to do something good with their fortunate profits like maintaining this or that highway, we'll just tack on a percentage to keep the bookkeeping straightforward and the burden fairly spread.
posted by mikelieman at 3:36 PM on April 13, 2011


No, that doesn't make sense. You want people to use the currency as much as possible.

I don't care if people find it convenient and use it or not. If they do, we got overhead we have to meet to keep the streetlights lit, potholes filled, and hungry kids fed. Those are the terms. You can use the dollars, but we, The People expect some benefit for providing them. Rather than hold everyone accountable to do something good with their fortunate profits like maintaining this or that highway, we'll just tack on a percentage to keep the bookkeeping straightforward and the burden fairly spread.


Sure, but your "currency usage tax" would cost more money than it would generate. The US currency (and thus US labour) is artificially propped up by demand on its currency when it is used as a reserve currency or as a national currency. So, already, America benefits. If the US imposed some currency usage tax (assuming it could actually do that) why wouldn't these dollarized countries switch to a different currency?

One of the goals of taxation has to be that it leads to economic prosperity, and a currency usage tax does not do that, whether your roads need fixing or not.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:46 PM on April 13, 2011


Esprit de l'escalier, I'm glad you believe in capitalism, because we live in a capitalist world. For those of us who don't believe, it's starting to look really grim.
posted by Jon_Evil at 4:53 PM on April 13, 2011


As to the AP just running the story, I'm not positive, but the writers/editors may have already started their strike.
posted by dejah420 at 4:55 PM on April 13, 2011


electroboy: "I think they're both approaching at the same rate."

Yeah? Then how come the 15th gets here first? Hmmmmmmmm?????
posted by Splunge at 5:06 PM on April 13, 2011


Jon_Evil: I think we agree that capitalism doesn't always produce fair outcomes. Regardless, capitalism is a fact of our existence. So, I'm very interested in how to make capitalism more fair.

From my point of view, most people who advocate protectionism are just shortsighted. They think that they're protecting their neighbours when they buy domestic, but in fact, they're just making themselves poorer. It's just stupid.

Similarly without outsourcing: any politician giving a speech on outsourcing usually says something like "we don't want to reward companies for outsourcing." They almost never talk about penalizing them— in my opinion, that would be economically stupid.

Also, we should be careful with the phrase "takes money out of the economy." Outsourcing does not do that: the money that's spent abroad is American dollars and those dollars have to be spent at American businesses. American money cannot leave the economy.

Regardless of your politics, you want to advocate things that make sense. So, it's important to first understand how things work.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:48 PM on April 13, 2011


Dammit! You win this round, Splunge.
posted by electroboy at 5:54 AM on April 14, 2011


Andrew Boyd of US Uncut on Democracy Now.
posted by homunculus at 9:57 AM on April 14, 2011


Also, we should be careful with the phrase "takes money out of the economy." Outsourcing does not do that: the money that's spent abroad is American dollars and those dollars have to be spent at American businesses. American money cannot leave the economy.

uhh what? I guess when people travel and exchange their dollars for euros or what have you, they are still spending American dollars? Also, why are there a bunch of currency exchanges? You can't see it, but my head is shaking. I'll just end with this:

Regardless of your politics, you want to advocate things that make sense. So, it's important to first understand how things work.
posted by Shit Parade at 12:10 PM on April 14, 2011


Also, we should be careful with the phrase "takes money out of the economy." Outsourcing does not do that: the money that's spent abroad is American dollars and those dollars have to be spent at American businesses. American money cannot leave the economy.

uhh what? I guess when people travel and exchange their dollars for euros or what have you, they are still spending American dollars? Also, why are there a bunch of currency exchanges? You can't see it, but my head is shaking. I'll just end with this:


When you exchange your dollars for euros, someone else has your dollars.

(I understand that when you go to the currency exchange booth, you see your dollars disappear into the drawer and euros appear— but rest assured that your dollars still exist.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:43 PM on April 14, 2011


Sort of unrelated, but we were having a drink at the airport bar before leaving on an Irish rugby tour a few years ago, when the girlfriend of one of our players stormed into the bar

Her: I JUST LOST TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS!
Me: Oh holy shit, what happened? Did you lose your purse?
Her: No, I went to the money exchange place and I gave them 500 dollars and they only gave me back 300 of these (holds up 3 crisp, new, 100 euro notes)
Me: um...
posted by electroboy at 1:07 PM on April 14, 2011


When there's competition that won't be the case. California wine is a good example of something that could not possibly be that cheap without cheap (illegal) labour. I bet we also see big savings in labour-intensive produce too (berries, etc.)

And what's the cost to society of having illegal immigrant families who can't pay taxes (because that would mean minimum wage) who use first world services and education but earn third world wages?

Straight Capitalism doesn't work because it can't see past it's own nose, or past the next quarterly report. When your grandkids ask why there is no clean water, tell them it's alright, because Goldman Sachs had a stellar earnings report for a solid decade.
posted by notion at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2011


notion, that's why Adam Smith envisioned a critical role for "the crown" in forcing capitalists to deal with the longer term and bigger picture issues.

Of course, Smith is regarded as rather quaint these days, so I suppose I should stop bringing him up....
posted by lodurr at 5:54 AM on April 15, 2011


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