Schenectady, New York, was — and is — a GE town, rising and falling at the whim of its largest employer like some Depression-era cartoon of fat-cat captitalist evil. For many years, what was good for GE was good for Schenectady — until it relocated most of the manufacturing jobs to to the Sun Belt and overseas. For decades, the town has been devastated economically by layoffs, and environmentally by the PCB’s GE dumped in the Hudson River and other horrors occurring at the GE-run Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.
General Electric has one of the most checkered pasts of any American corporation its size, and has taken every opportunity to avoid paying its fair share of taxes going back at least to 1894, when it received a favorable ruling from an upstate judge that GE — a $50 million company even before the turn of the century — didn’t have to pay taxes to New York City. The federal government sued GE for antitrust violations 13 times between 1940 and 1948 — and that was before “Chainsaw Jack” Welch took over.
One of the most breathtaking moves General Electric made to further cripple Schenectady was its lawsuit against the Schenectady school district to recover money it claimed it had overpaid in taxes — money that was just a drop in the bucket compared to GE’s profits, but which represented a huge chunk of school funding in the district. I would love to link to some detail about that story, but — ironically — a Google search with “Schenectady GE taxes” only brings up stories about today’s photo op.
Is Obama starting to believe he can completely control every message? Is he beginning to be influenced by the anti-populist arrogance of his corporate buddies? Or is he just losing his sense for how the setting can skew the optics? Announcing job creation in Schenectady, NY, the smoking crater of GE bad citizenship? Wow. If the Ramones were still a going concern, maybe a song about today’s announcement would be on the way.