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GE Boston Deal

The Globe Still Needs to Apologize for Cheerleading the GE Boston Deal

"Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave ... ." Effects by Jason Pramas on a selection from a photo of GE's Boston headquarters by Chris Faraone. Copyright 2022 Chris Faraone and Jason Pramas.
“Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave … .” Effects by Jason Pramas on a selection from a photo of GE’s Boston headquarters by Chris Faraone. Copyright 2022 Chris Faraone and Jason Pramas.

As the one-time corporate behemoth slinks away from the chaos it created in the Bay State (yet again)

While my DigBoston and BINJ colleagues and I do occasionally skewer the Boston Globe, we don’t make a habit of it. Because, as I’ve written before, we recognize that the venerable newspaper is at the center of the regional news ecology in the northeastern United States. And we, like every other news outlet from Hartford to Bangor, rely on Globe reporting to decide what we should cover and how we should cover it. In the case of my crew, we’re looking for issues that the Globe missed … or issues that we think the Globe covered poorly.

By the same token, sometimes we don’t cover something because we think the Globe did a great job. Most recently, in my case, I was going to write on Rep. Mike Connolly’s (D-Cambridge) spot-on drive to get the legislature to put a $6,500 cap on money the state is shortly planning to give to rich people under Gov. Charlie Baker’s unfortunate Chapter 62F tax rebate scheme. But the Globe then published such a fine editorial in support of Connolly’s move—later sadly (and weakly) rebuffed by House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy)—that I thought “You know what? That piece is so good and will reach such a large audience that I don’t need to say another word on the subject for the moment.”

However, earlier this week, the Globe’s Jon Chesto wrote a disappointing coda to its coverage of the GE Boston deal between January 2016 and now. Disappointing to me at least. Because neither Chesto nor his bosses could find it in themselves to evince even the barest hint of contrition for the unusually egregious violations of journalist ethics that I believe the Globe committed by openly cheerleading for the backroom political deal concocted by Baker, former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Mass legislative leaders, and the Boston Planning & Development Agency (among others) to attract the once-vast multinational corporation to move its headquarters to Boston’s Seaport District … by promising to give GE up to $270 million in city and state funds in cash, land deals, customized public works, and tax breaks. Acting, in effect, not only as an arm of GE’s PR department, but also of the PR staffs of the outgoing governor and the former Boston mayor, former speaker of the House, former Senate president, and the BPDA.

When I wrapped up my 15th column on the by-then-failed deal in 2019, I explained why the Globe needed to apologize for the dereliction of its duty to defend the public interest in its coverage of same over the interests of the rich and powerful. To afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, as the old but still serviceable saw goes.

Now, as GE announces that it’s pulling most of the mere 200 top-level staff that it ultimately based here out of the Hub—having never built its promised gleaming 12-story tower or its (much derided) helipad and certainly never having never brought its local workforce up to 800 people—I am writing this 16th column to simply note that, apparently, the best Globe staff and editors can do is to rewrite the history of the GE Boston deal to absolve themselves of all blame for their role in shamelessly propagandizing for it. 

Ignoring the damage GE did to the people of Connecticut by abruptly moving its world headquarters out of that state to punish it for levying a temporary tax on major corporations to cover desperately needed spending on public goods like mass transit—and the tremendous harm GE had already done to tens of thousands of working families in several Massachusetts communities (notably Pittsfield, Fitchburg, and Lynn) by shutting down (or severely cutting the workforce of, in the case of GE’s Lynn Works) massive factories here over the last few decades. All while completely downplaying the devastating environmental costs (somewhat mitigated by EPA-brokered settlements) that GE stranded with those same communities (particularly in Western Massachusetts along the Housatonic River) as it left. Which earlier generations of Globe reporters and editors had done excellent work on, I hasten to add.

Obviously, I have no power to force the Boston Globe to apologize for what I adjudge to be its journalistic malfeasance—or even to embarrass it into defending itself from my critique. I am a mere gnat to the Globe’s elephant, after all.

But we happen to have a lot of Boston University journalism student interns working with us at DigBoston this and every semester. And Globe Editor Brian McGrory is taking over as BU’s journalism department chair soon. And the Globe’s GE Boston deal coverage happened under his watch … and was therefore led by him. And I think that it’s unseemly for him to be purporting to set a high bar for journalistic ethics as my interns’ top professor, yet remain unwilling to admit the failings of the publication he has worked at since 1989 and led since 2012. The same goes for other editors (particularly Shirley Leung) and staffers that participated in the long series of grave ethical violations in question. Whether they ever teach journalism students or not.

I must then encourage the “Globies” in question to think seriously about their journalistic legacies. And remember that whenever people look up “GE Boston deal” going forward, they’re always going to see the many columns I have written for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and syndicated to DigBoston on the subject. Even if BINJ and Dig are long gone and they’re only reading them on And those researchers and scholars—and future journalists—are going to know that the Boston Globe didn’t just cover that terrible deal. It was, in some significant sense, part of it.

Given that, I think an apology from the responsible parties is simply the right thing to do. Especially at a time when the profession of journalism is already under relentless political and economic assault by powerful corporate forces that are definitely looking to eliminate the fourth estate. Why help them hasten the demise of the independent press by rolling over and becoming just another bunch of PR flacks?

Apparent Horizon—an award-winning political column—is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, editor of the Somerville Wire, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.


18.36 AH TOP (1)

September 6, 2016


Are you a student? New to Boston? Want to fight for social justice, but not sure where to plug in? Well, this will hardly be a comprehensive list, but here are some local activist organizations and campaigns that are worthy of your consideration. I’m only including groups that I’ve written about (and that I agree with in broad strokes) for the sake of brevity. But, rest assured, there are activist organizations for people of every political disposition hereabouts.

A few tips are in order for people new to grassroots political activism. Seek organizations that are open and welcoming, have a democratic internal process, play well with other groups, and treat students as equals regardless of age or experience. Avoid organizations that look at students as free labor, seem focused on hitting people up for money, don’t work with other groups, and have a very undemocratic internal process run by a small ruling clique. Also avoid outright cults masquerading as political activist groups. They exist. You’ll know you’ve run into one when you meet people whose entire lives seem to be directly controlled by their organization and who will not stop trying to recruit you even after you say “no.” In general, listen to your gut instinct when checking out an activist organization, and you’ll be fine.

Here’s the list.

Black Lives Matter

One of the most important and vibrant American political movements today. Leading the biggest fight against entrenched structural racism in decades. In the wake of an ongoing series of police shootings of Black people around the country. Different local nodes of the activist network have varying membership requirements. But if you can’t be a core member, BLM periodically calls for allies to join them in the streets. That will be your cue to step up. Just remember to check your privilege. Chapters in Boston and Cambridge.

350 Mass for a Better Future

If you’re down to stop global warming, this group has got you covered. It’s organized on the state, national, and international levels and doesn’t shy away from civil disobedience or legislative action. Its current big campaign is the Clean Money for Climate Pledge, asking “candidates running for state, federal and municipal office in Massachusetts [to] commit not to accept campaign contributions from executives, in-house lobbyists and others employed by the top ten climate-disrupting corporations.” Including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell.

Save Our Public Schools

Do you believe education is a right—not a privilege—in a democracy? Do you think that charter schools are a total scam designed to siphon public money into a variety of private pockets, and destroy public schools in the process? Well there’s an active fight against Question 2, an upcoming state ballot measure backed by very well-funded supporters determined to expand the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth. It’s called Save Our Public Schools (a.k.a. the “No on 2” campaign) and it’s spearheaded, as ever, by teachers unions—in this case, the Mass Teachers Association.

Make GE Pay

Since the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced their plans to dump at least $270 million on General Electric—one of the largest and nastiest multinational corporations in the world—in exchange for moving its world headquarters to the Hub, there’s been been a good deal of discontent brewing in communities around the state. Largely in opposition to local and state government handing huge wads of public cash to a tremendously wealthy company with plenty of skeletons in local closets—in a period of savage budget cuts to critical social programs. The Make GE Pay coalition formed last spring to try to stop the deal, and is looking to get in gear this fall after some early public actions.

encuentro 5

Can’t decide which campaign excites you the most? Why choose? This movement building space right off the Park Street T stop has a mission to get social justice activists “better networked, better resourced, and better organized.” Home to several important nonprofits, and a regular meeting place for dozens of activist groups, if you can’t find a campaign that interests you here then you may wish to reconsider your aspiration to be politically active.

That’s enough to get you started. Have fun. Fight the power. And be careful out there.

Full Disclosure: 350 Mass is a member of my organization’s Community Advisory Board, and encuentro 5 was launched by colleagues at my former nonprofit, Mass Global Action.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

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June 28, 2016


If you think that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston lavishing $270 million in tax breaks and direct aid on General Electric in exchange for moving their world headquarters to the Hubis unconscionable, you should realize that the deal is only a more extreme example of the existing government gravy train for corporations hereabouts. In fact, to focus on but one of several programs that give public money away to businesses for dubious reasons, the state government is already able to dole out a total of $30 million in Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) tax credits each year to all approved corporate applicants.

But that’s apparently not enough for Charlie Baker. The governor sponsored an economic development bill in January (H.4413, formerly H.3983) that will allow the EDIP cap to be boosted to $50 million a year whenever another big GE-style deal is in the offing. And with the House expected to vote on it this week and the Senate next week, the proposed legislation is well on its way to passage.

The tax credits in question are approved by the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council (EACC)—a14-member board consisting of seven gubernatorial appointees (representing six regions of the Commonwealth and one institution of higher education) and seven high-level state government officials (one of those seats being currently vacant). The EACC meets quarterly to approve EDIP credits, and local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) credits proposed by qualified municipalities.

Interestingly, as reported in the Boston Business Journal, General Electric did not go for EDIP tax credits to help finance its new world headquarters in Boston. “It’s not necessarily that GE did not want EDIP credits or that the state felt infrastructure grants alone were the most attractive package, according to [Mass Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay] Ash. It’s that the state’s options for GE under the current incarnation of EDIP were limited.”

Baker’s economic development bill would make things significantly less limited for companies like GE —or, as the press buzz would have it, for the “next General Electric.” Because the already undemocratic EDIP process, overseen as it is by unelected staffers and appointees on the EACC, would be made even more undemocratic in the case of what the bill calls an “extraordinary economic development opportunity.” In a manner that CEOs on the make will find most advantageous.

And what exactly is an extraordinary economic development opportunity? It’s the situation that arises when a giant corporation like GE wants extraordinary amounts of state money to site facilities in the Commonwealth. To paraphrase the bill, if the secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance agree that a corporation is going to build or rehabilitate a significant facility in Massachusetts, or relocate a business to Mass from a facility outside the Commonwealth—and either create at least 400 new jobs, or create at least 200 new jobs in a “gateway municipality” (state government speak for an economically depressed city) or in an adjacent city or town that is accessible by public transportation to residents of a gateway municipality—then it can be declared an extraordinary economic development opportunity and become eligible for much bigger EDIP tax credits than have been allowed heretofore. So large that the EEAC will be allowed to extend the total amount of EDIP credits it’s allowed to hand out in a single year from $30 million to as much as $50 million.

To clarify, let’s say that there are 29 companies each getting $1 million in EDIP tax credits in a particular year. Then a big company like GE comes along, and also qualifies for $1 million—which means that the EEAC has given out the $30 million in tax credits it’s allowed to disburse annually. Under H.4413, the big company can then be declared an extraordinary economic development opportunity and qualify for up to another $20 million. Reaching the special new cap of $50 million in EDIP credits for that year.

Two points to consider here:

  • First, the above bill language is clearly aimed at enticing large companies like GE to move major facilities here from another state. And perhaps GE is planning to go back to the public trough and apply for the newly expanded EDIP tax credits if the bill passes. One might even surmise that this language was written just for GE.
  • Second, such a move cannot be stopped by normal means. According to the bill, the “decision by the secretaries to designate or not to designate a proposed project as an extraordinary economic development opportunity shall be a decision that is within the sole discretion of each of the secretaries, and may include such conditions as the secretaries shall in their discretion impose.  Such decisions shall be final and shall not be subject to administrative appeal or judicial review under chapter 30A or give rise to any other cause of action or legal or equitable claim or remedy.”

Thus vast sums can be given away to big business by the Baker administration and its successors to favored corporations with no easy possibility of reversal.

Shocked? Outraged? Good. There’s still time to stop H.4413. Make GE Pay, the grassroots coalition that’s working to stop the GE Boston deal, has announced that they are working with Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D – Acton) and other legislators to remove—or at least improve—the EDIP cap section of the bill. Contact coalition coordinator Eli Gerzon ( for details. And follow Make GE Pay on Twitter (@makeGEpay) and on their Facebook page ( to keep up with all the latest.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



Since the list of current Economic Assistance Coordinating Council members is not on the Economic Development Incentive Program website, EDIP staff was kind enough to provide a copy upon request:

CY 2016 EACC Board Members

Director of the Office of Business Development (or Designee) – Co-Chair
Ms. Carolyn Kirk (Ex Officio)

Director of Department of Housing and Community Development (Designee) – Co-Chair
Mr. Louis A. Martin (designee) (Ex Officio)

Director of Career Services (or Designee)
Mr. Ken Messina (designee) (Ex Officio)

Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development (or Designee)
VACANT (designee) (Ex Officio)

Representative of MOBD designated by the Director of Office of Business Development
Mr. Nam Pham (Ex Officio)

Representative of MOBD designated by the Director of Office of Business Development
Ms. Annamarie Kersten (Ex Officio)

Director, Commonwealth Corp. (or Designee)
Ms. Rebekah Lashman (designee) (Ex Officio)

Ms. Kathleen Anderson (Governor)

Mr. Paul F. Matthews (Governor)

Mr. Drake Behrakis (Governor)

Ms. Jennifer Menard (Governor)

Mr. David Keator (Governor)

Mr. Joseph J. Bevilacqua (Governor)

Representative of Higher Educational Institute
Dr. Michael D. Goodman Ph.D. (Governor)


 Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas.

Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas.

June 21, 2016


Problems with GE Fort Point arrangement show need for democratic economic development planning

A new wrinkle surfaced earlier this month in the plan to use a big chunk of the $270 million in public aid and tax breaks being shoveled at General Electric to buy two of the three buildings that are slated to make up its new headquarters in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood.

In part 5 of this ongoing series of columns on the GE Boston deal, I mentioned that said scheme called for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to purchase the two former Necco company buildings from Procter & Gamble—along with part of the big parking lot outside its Gillette plant—and lease the buildings back to General Electric. Soon after, it emerged that while GE would pay up to an estimated $100 million to refurbish the buildings and build a new third structure on the site, it would not be paying rent. At all. For the entire 20 years of the lease. And that the terms of the agreement struck with the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts only put the vast multinational on the hook for “annual operating expenses, property taxes not abated or subject to a PILOT [Payment In Lieu of Taxes] agreement, and interior renovations costs.”

John Barros, Boston’s chief of economic development, subsequently insisted that despite the agreement making no mention of rent payments for the former Necco buildings, by gum there would be some kind of payments! Yet there has been no further news on what those payments might look like. Or if the company will, in fact, ever be asked to make any payments in exchange for using the buildings at all.

Key to the plan was BRA ownership of the buildings—because that allowed GE, a corporate behemoth infamous for making huge profits and paying very little in taxes, to use the part of the promised $120 million in state grants that wasn’t used by the BRA to purchase the buildings to rehab them and make other site improvements. Since the state money in question cannot be used on private property.

Now it turns out that the BRA won’t be involved in the deal at all. Instead, according to the Boston Business Journal (BBJ), the state’s economic development arm MassDevelopment will own the Necco buildings and the $120 million in state funds “would be used in [its] acquisition of the Necco buildings as well as to improve utilities at the site, create a public park and improve the existing Harborwalk.”

As regards the lack of rent, a rather uncritical April 1 BBJ piece, “Of course GE won’t pay rent in Boston, so stop bellyaching,” noted that “the revitalized site could generate roughly $1.75 million in annual gross tax revenues to the city.” An estimated $35 million over 20 years. The next day, the Boston Globe quoted a higher estimate using “City Hall” figures indicating that a “comparably sized office property in that part of the city” would pay $48 million in taxes over 20 years—which a later piece interpreted as the city pocketing $23 million over its $25 million in tax abatements to GE.

But when WGBH’s Jim Braude had interviewed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh a few days prior, hizzoner agreed there had been no discussion of GE paying taxes to the city to that point. After first putting it as an evasive double negative, “There’s been no discussion of not paying taxes.”

All that said, it comes down to this: The City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are giving millions of public dollars to a mind-blowingly wealthy conglomerate that doesn’t need it. To engineer the public purchase of two out of three headquarters buildings on which it will likely not pay much, if any, rent. Nor will GE likely pay significant taxes on the parts of the complex it is to own outright—if its past record as one of the biggest tax scofflaws in history is any guide.

The terms of the essentially secret deal that led to this situation—brokered by high public officials and GE leadership with no public oversight whatsoever—are already being violated. The place of the BRA in the complicated and highly questionable real estate transaction at the heart of the accord has now been taken by MassDevelopment. Once again with no opportunity for public comment or oversight.

Things just happen. Politicians and CEOs cut backroom deals. Much of the press lays down on the job. And the public gets shafted.

But what if the public didn’t have to bow down to private interests? What if we didn’t have to get shafted on deals like this? Imagine a Boston and a Massachusetts in which the public good—rather than short term gain for a few privileged actors—was the guiding political economic motivation.

Let’s say that the same city and state money being lavished on General Electric was put into something that many people have said was important—like strengthening and expanding the arts sector in Fort Point in ways that go much further than anything proposed in the city’s new arts plan. A sector that, after all, was largely responsible for making what the BRA likes to call the “Seaport District” attractive to big developers and corporate interests to begin with.

In that alternate Boston, the city and state would pull out of the GE deal. The state would buy the Necco buildings directly from P&G. Perhaps it would pick up the adjacent 253 Summer Street building as well. And it could even buy some of the available P&G parking lot and build desperately needed public housing—following the mixed-use zoning ideas for the area in the 2006 BRA “100 Acres Plan” a good deal more closely than that agency is at the moment. City and state money would refurbish the space as a creative industries incubator with an emphasis on new businesses run as worker-owned co-operatives. The focus of the project would be twofold. Create good arts jobs, and help Fort Point remain a major arts hub. That would be a much better use of public money than dumping it on GE. Especially because the entire development process would be transparent and subject to democratic oversight.

A robust popular movement will be required to make this kind of vision a reality. And such movements rarely appear on cue. But it sure would be nice if one did this time around.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


#makeGEpay Budget Amendment Filed in MA Senate; Advocates Encourage Public Support [an Apparent Horizon breaking news report]


May 25, 2016


The #makeGEpay advocacy network — including Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston and dozens of other local community organizations — just announced that Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) has filed a “Community Benefits for Corporate Tax Breaks” amendment to the Massachusetts Senate’s budget proposal. If included in the final state budget, it would mandate that any part of state government that gives $25 million or more to a corporation “for the explicit purpose of economic development or job creation, shall provide at least 5 per cent of that total expenditure for the purpose of providing affordable housing in communities in the regional planning area where that corporation is located.”

The amendment was filed in response to what critics call giveaways to major corporations like General Electric — which was recently promised over $145 million in state grants and incentives with no public oversight (and over $125 million more from the City of Boston). It’s co-sponsored by Senators Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) and Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). Full text is available here.

Advocates are encouraging Mass residents to call your state senator and ask them to “support amendment 836 cosponsored by Senator Eldridge.”

To find out who your rep is and what their number is use this website:

They also recommend that people tweet support of amendment 836 using the #makeGEpay and #SenBudget hashtags.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


GE Housatonic graphic

May 11, 2016


General Electric tries to cheap out on cleaning up its PCB apocalypse on the Housatonic River

In 1929, Swann Chemical Company began commercially producing polychlorinated biphenyls for industrial use as an electrical insulator and as a coolant. PCBs were immediately a huge success, and Monsanto bought Swann six years later. From 1932 to 1977, the big General Electric plant in Pittsfield, Mass used large quantities of the chemical in manufacturing electrical transformers and other products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 600,000 pounds of PCBs was dumped into the adjacent Housatonic River and the surrounding soil over that time. In 1979, the EPA banned PCBs as a definite animal carcinogen and a probable human carcinogen. One which can take hundreds of years to naturally degrade to nontoxic levels.

As GE finished winding down its Pittsfield operation over the next couple of decades—ultimately eliminating 13,000 mostly unionized jobs, and driving a spike through the economic heart of the Berkshires—state agencies and the EPA initiated a number of regulatory actions culminating in a 1997 proposal by the EPA to add the Housatonic site to the Superfund National Priorities List. After long negotiations, the company managed to stop the site from being tarred with the Superfund designation and in 1999 agreed to what the EPA called a “Consent Decree” to cleanup PCBs in the Housatonic from the former site of GE’s Pittsfield plant to a couple of miles downriver in a first phase that has since been completed. And then to cleanup what was termed “Rest of River” in a second phase.

Having spent $100 million on the first phase (as part of the initial Consent Decree settlement), GE is now fighting to be able to cheap out on cleaning up the rest of the river. Mainly by trying to save the estimated $250 million cost of shipping PCB-contaminated river sediment and surrounding soil by rail to a huge toxic waste storage facility in Texas, as demanded by the EPA’s current “Rest of River” plan, via an alternative proposal for three new dumps in Western Mass. Two of which are right near the Housatonic. Yet are somehow expected to store a chemical infamous for its ability to leech out of dumps, spread miles underground—possibly right back to the river it was dredged from—and also evaporate and travel long distances in the air. GE appealed the EPA’s plan last October. A move that could land the whole affair in the US Court of Appeals in Boston, and drag a process that will take at least 13 years to complete out even longer.

Local communities are understandably furious, and river advocates have started holding protests at the proposed GE dump sites. It should be understood that the effects of PCBs on the environment are dire. And that so-called Rest of River cleanup is meant to fix some (but nowhere near all) of the damage done up to 140 miles downstream through Western Mass and Connecticut into Long Island Sound. PCBs—found in the Housatonic at levels far above the EPA safety threshold—not only raise cancer risks in humans and animals alike, but also cause direct immune, reproductive, endocrine, and neurological effects. With children being the most vulnerable human population.

But even the planned EPA approach to Rest of River cleanup on the Housatonic—which activists think is woefully insufficient—is still too expensive for GE’s taste at an estimated $613 million. The corporation won’t rest until it knocks at least $250 million off the top. And damn the environmental consequences.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether—given the buzz coming from Western Mass—there might be a connection between the Housatonic situation and the $270 million in public funds, services, and tax breaks that Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have agreed to lavish on GE to induce them to move their headquarters to the Hub. But one has to wonder—in light of the recent investigation by the International Business Times showing that GE employees and the employees of GE’s lobbying firms donated nearly $1 million to the NY Congressional delegation over last three election cycles—why so many Empire State pols just happened to stand down from the fight to stop EPA approval of GE’s halting its dredging of PCBs in the Hudson River Valley last year? And if a scheme like that could happen one state over, why couldn’t it happen here?


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


BINJ_GE Press Conference_040416_DSC_2449_©2016 Derek Kouyoumjian

Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

April 8, 2016


General Electric brass, pols celebrate government giveaway while public opposition grows

While General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh cavorted with assorted political and business glitterati on the 33rd floor of the 60 State Street tower this week—celebrating the seeming fruition of the deal they cut last fall with zero public oversight— about 75 activists representing 36 community organizations picketed outside in the driving snow to criticize the $270 million-plus in state and city tax breaks, direct aid and services being lavished on the $117 billion multinational in exchange for moving its headquarters to Boston. 

According to one of the organizers, Eli Gerzon of Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston, the reason for the rally was simple, “This GE deal is a clear example of supporting abusive corporations instead of human beings … The idea that it will help everyday people is just the same old trickle-down economic logic that has failed us over and over. We’re not falling for that again. We need our budget and public funds to support human beings: public transportation, local good paying green jobs, schools, and housing. We don’t want to invest in a company that pollutes rivers in Massachusetts, dodges taxes, and builds warplanes used against Palestinians and other people of color around the world.”

Meanwhile, GE leadership thought it was appropriate to show a video at their event lauding the city’s “bold innovative thinkers” by calling out Malcolm X, Phillis Wheatley, Susan B. Anthony, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman. Famous radical agitators and intellectuals who probably would have all joined the protesters had they been alive.

In the March 25 installment of this Missing Manual, I predicted that the inevitable GE charm offensive aimed at attempting to placate increasingly perturbed locals would begin by spreading some money around town. And said that nonprofit organizations should refuse to take funds from a criminal corporation that ruined the lives of tens of thousands of poor families by selling them subprime mortgages, helped cause the 2008 financial collapse by selling toxic derivatives based on said mortgages, got bailed out by the feds (who changed the rules just for them), stole untold millions in a years long municipal bond scam, and avoided paying billions in taxes by—among other tricks— offshoring their profits (just like those nice Russian gentlemen we’ve been hearing about in the Panama Papers scandal). A position I stand by.

True to form, this week’s festivities began with the announcement of GE’s plan to donate $50 million to Boston schools, community health centers, and job training programs. But not all at once. Over five years. So, roughly $10 million a year. Looking under the hood of the official press release announcing the minor allotment from the company’s huge and growing PR budget—$393 million in 2014 according to AdAge, over $50 million on digital media alone in 2015 according to Kantar Media—the funds will likely benefit GE more than anyone else.

Here are a few illustrative quotes followed by my commentary:

Boston Public Schools (BPS): GE will reach 100 percent of Boston Public Schools high school students each year through our career labs, computer science courses, and high school design experience to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by committing $25 million. The donation will provide students the opportunity to explore college and career possibilities, and to understand the skills necessary for future employment. GE will also create “GE Brilliant Career Labs” with both physical and virtual locations to allow students a unique hands-on experience with advanced manufacturing technology and software to assist them through career planning and internships. GE will also assist 100 percent of STEM high school teachers, to better prepare students for college and their future careers.

All roads here lead to GE polishing its tarnished image. The company’s goal being to look like it supports public education while donating less to BPS over the next five years than the $32 million the city is cutting from its budget next fiscal year alone. And at the end of the day, they’re not actually promising BPS students training that will lead to jobs at GE. Just the opportunity “to understand the skills necessary for future employment.” Which means what exactly? Understanding that you’ll either need to be a manufacturing robot in some zero regulation foreign Export Processing Zone, or a white, wealthy, Ivy League-trained manager in the Boston HQ to have a job with GE in the future? Sad.

Boston Community Health Centers (CHC): GE will commit an additional $15 million to developing, and expanding the skills of health care providers at critical Community Health Centers in underserved communities. This will include training in the use of technology, leadership skills, and increased access to specialty care, in order to deliver better treatment for common, complex medical conditions like cardiovascular disease and addiction. The Developing Health Boston program will initially support 22 Boston area CHCs and will provide skills training to more than 75 percent of CHC leaders, health care providers, and staff. As well, GE Foundation partners will help to develop next generation health care workers.

“Next generation health care workers?” More robots. Maybe they’ll revolt like in The Matrix or something. Regardless, it’s frankly insulting to talk about “expanding the skills of health care providers at critical Community Health Centers in underserved communities.” In Boston. Which has some of the best medical training programs in the world. What’s needed is for GE and corporations like it to pay the taxes they owe; so that Community Health Centers—and the US health system in general—no longer have to struggle for needed funds to provide top flight medical care to everyone. Preferably through a new national health program that expands Medicare to cover the entire US population.

Building the Diversity Pipeline: GE has also pledged $10 million to increase the capabilities and outcomes for our diverse students. GE will leverage its employees and leaders to provide training, access to manufacturing labs at GE Garages, and externships for underserved populations outside of the Boston Metro area, including Lynn and Fall River.

Result? GE will fail to provide jobs for “diverse students” from the cities and towns they screw over by not paying taxes.

And what of all those new jobs GE recently claimed would materialize in Boston because of their presence here?

According to an economic impact study conducted by Oxford Analytic, GE’s move adds 4,000 new jobs in the Boston area, between temporary construction jobs and permanent GE employees and vendors ….

This explains why the construction unions predictably haven’t uttered a peep of criticism of the deal—nor have any unions except the ones that used to have lots of members at the plants that GE shut down over the last few decades. As GE Lynn union leader Pete Capano presciently stated after the announcement of the GE Boston deal in January, “There will be more … donations to charity, that allows them to lay us off without looking bad.”  Many of the “4,000 new jobs” will be short-term (and presumably unionized) construction jobs building the new HQ. Which could be seen as a fat paycheck for Marty Walsh’s supporters in the Boston Building Trades Council. The rest will be some new jobs at any GE facility in the “Boston area” (i.e., Massachusetts), and some “vendors”—a category which can include any number of low-wage jobs like delivery people. Not very impressive.

After the press release, the dog-and-pony show began in earnest.

Just before the big soiree, Immelt told the Boston Herald, “Let’s say we’re here for another 40 or 50 years in Boston. Whatever we got in incentives, no one remembers. This is really about the vibe. It’s really about being part of a vibrant community, us adding to the community. So if you don’t feel that when you come, it’s bad to bet on that happening at some point down in the future.”

Ah yes, “the vibe.” GE isn’t coming to Boston because of “incentives” like potentially not having to pay rent on the buildings the Boston Redevelopment Authority is buying on its behalf. Perish the thought. It’s “really all about being part of a vibrant community.” And about the public forgetting such “incentives.” And not guaranteeing that GE HQ will stay in Boston for any specific length of time.

The 60 State Street event featured much more of the same kind of airy rhetoric. But Immelt felt it necessary to nod to the protestors, as recounted in CommonWealth magazine. Perhaps because he found himself on the defensive regarding the public giveaways in nearly every interview he’s given lately.

“ … I empathize with the people that are outside, particularly today. They have to be dedicated.”

The protesters, as the early voice of rising public discontent with the GE Boston deal, were having none of it—issuing a clear warning to the politicians who brokered it over the heads of area working families. Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, who emceed the street rally, said, “Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker needs to understand they need to support people not rich white guys and corporations.”

True that.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



Image by Kent Buckley 

March 25, 2016


General Electric’s Boston charm offensive presents dilemma for Boston nonprofits, others

General Electric is back on top of the Boston news cycle again. CEO Jeffrey Immelt made the rounds of pressers in person this week, starting with the announcement of a new 2.5 acre GE headquarters site—to be purchased from Procter & Gamble and carved out of their 44 acre Gillette campus. Right on the Fort Point Channel across from South Station and the main Boston post office. After refurbishing two former NECCO buildings on the site and erecting a new third building in the current parking lot, the company expects to spend $80-100 million on the complex.

However, the plot of the GE Boston Deal has thickened once again. It turns out that part of the promised $145 million in tax breaks and direct aid to the company from Boston and Massachusetts will only be possible because the Boston Redevelopment Authority plans to purchase the NECCO buildings and lease them back to GE. Neat trick for a much-hated neighborhood-destroying planning agency that only just got a six-year lease on life from the Boston City Council on Tuesday. Over the protests of the three councilors with any spine on the issue: Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley and Josh Zakim. No word yet about why Boston needs to spend an additional $100 million to repair the Old Northern Avenue Bridge at GE’s behest now that the multinational will be sited right near two perfectly functional bridges further up the channel. Or why the state has to throw in another $25 million to make the area around the new headquarters plot more pretty. But Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker will no doubt be able to explain that to us in the near future. Or perhaps not.

On Thursday, Immelt gave a speech to the Boston College Chief Executives Club at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Which raised more questions than it answered. Some of his more noteworthy offerings follow:

  • “This move for GE is all about the next 40 years. What do we want the company to look like, how do we want the company to be challenged?” [Reuters] So does that mean that GE’s HQ will be staying in Boston for at least 40 years? Probably best not to hold your breath on that one.
  • “And we think by the time it’s all said and done there should be, you know, let’s say 4,000 jobs around the ecosystem in Boston.” [WCVB video] OK, so we know that 800 jobs that will be sited in the new headquarters will be almost entirely white collar and many jobs will simply be transplanted from GE’s current headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. So what are the other 3,200 jobs that will be conjured into existence by the company’s presence? To the extent that any new jobs are being created at all, since Immelt is careful not to provide any specifics or make any explicit promises. But let’s think: cleaners, counter staff, delivery people, baristas, clowns, and office temps generally make lousy money and get no benefits. Bartenders, servers, dealers, muscle, and high-class sex workers do rather better financially. But again no benefits. And what with their proposed helipad, many of the GE execs probably aren’t going to stick around at night anyway. So it’s not clear that there are going to be many decent jobs created in this apocryphal “ecosystem” Immelt keeps mentioning. After all, this is a corporation that has destroyed tens of thousands of good working class jobs in Massachusetts in the last few decades. But fingers crossed, one supposes.
  • “More recently we’ve worked on community health and even more recently we’ve focused on employability. We like to do things where it’s more than money. You’ll have hundreds of GE people that are mentoring in schools …” [BBJ] Yeeeeeah … General Electric absolutely does not like to do things where it’s “more than money.” They like to make money. And more money. And screw anyone that stands in their way. Lovely attitude to instill in school kids, right? Ask Connecticut how everything worked out down there to get a good idea of Boston’s future with this deal.

Still, this brings up an interesting discussion. Even before the impressive walkout of Boston Public School students a couple of weeks back, GE must have been perfectly well aware that Massholes across the political spectrum are furious about the millions in free public money being shoveled into their coffers. And they’re also well aware that Boston, where they are just setting up shop, is a city that rose up to smash the deal for the Boston 2024 Olympics—a very similar boondoggle—last year.

So we can be sure that Immelt and his crew are going to start spreading money around to local community nonprofits. Especially social justice organizations that are likely to spearhead the fightback against the GE Boston Deal.

Seems like they haven’t been doing much philanthropic giving in the Boston area in recent years either. Other than money to universities like MIT that are going to produce researchers and upper management for them. Looking at the 2013-2014 annual report of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, GE is listed as giving in the $500,000 – $749,999 category in a region that covers eastern Mass and southern New Hampshire. Yet GE didn’t make the Boston Business Journal list of corporations that donated more than $100,000 to Boston charities for either 2013 or 2014. Meaning Boston wasn’t a place they were trying to buy friends until it lately became necessary.

Given that GE will certainly increase its local donations, that presents a moral dilemma to Boston area nonprofits: Will they take this tainted money? Will they accept funds from a multinational corporation that is quite literally part of the reason that we have such an unequal society with so much poverty and immiseration? Money that many organizations must certainly need badly in these difficult times, but that will merely be a fraction of the PR line for a known corporate criminal with a $117 billion operating budget this year. Are they willing to sell themselves so cheaply?

Moreover, are Boston-area residents willing to continue to work with nonprofits that would be willing to take money from GE?

One way to find out is to shine the light of public attention on the matter and see what transpires. So if you hear about a Boston area nonprofit that knowingly took money from GE—directly, or through a front group—drop me a line at If your info checks out, I’ll add the organization to a public list. Let’s call it a Naughty List. And then we’ll see how much its community continues to support it. By the same token, if you know about an area nonprofit that did not take money GE offered them, definitely contact me and I’ll put it on a Nice List.

Now that I think about it, I can add politicians to the Naughty List and the Nice List, too. And business leaders. And academics. And journalists. I tell you, it’ll be like Christmas in July. Just not for the collaborators.

Welcome to Boston, GE.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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February 29, 2016


In May 2012, three former GE executives were imprisoned after being convicted on multiple charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the United States. Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm had all worked for GE Capital—the financial division that operated as a semi-legal “shadow bank,” and that accounted for about half of its parent corporation’s profits until the global financial collapse it helped precipitate began in 2007. Between 1999 and 2006, the trio conspired to skim millions from municipal bond investment contracts. With the full approval of their bosses.

According to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, the scam worked as follows for the company that Marty Walsh, Charlie Baker and cheerleaders like the Boston Globe have welcomed to Boston with open arms: Municipal governments commonly partner with big banks to sell bonds to pay for significant capital costs—like building schools. The banks invite investors to buy the municipal bonds and deposit the resulting funds in tax-exempt accounts from which all necessary project expenses can be paid. However, since all the bond money does not get spent at once, municipal governments typically hire brokers to find major financial institutions to invest it for them through a public auction process. In general, it is legally required that brokers get bids from at least three financial institutions—and the one that offers the highest annual rate of return wins the contract to invest the spare cash from a given bond fund.

But for GE Capital—and a host of other major financial institutions—the process was rigged from top to bottom. In the case of GE’s Carollo et al, the defendants conspired with executives at the brokerage CDR and financial institutions like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley to divvy up investment contracts for municipal bond funds. CDR would drum up business with local politicians around the country—often bribing them with various kinds of campaign donations and gifts. The pols would then reward CDR with contracts to invest unspent funds from municipal bond issues, while CDR would work with the GE Capital—in concert with the other major financial institutions—to illegally decide which corporation would win which auction for such investment contracts in advance. The “winner” of each auction would collude with the other bidding financial services companies on the bid rate to ensure that the “winning” bid was as low as possible. The agreed upon rate was usually lower than a fair market rate by just a few tenths of a percent. But that was enough to make a killing.

For example, if a fair bid in an auction might have been that GE Capital would invest a municipal government’s unused bond funds at a 5.04 percent annual rate of return, CDR would coach the company to only offer 5 percent. The other bidders would purposely offer lower rates, losing in exchange for winning future rigged auctions. GE would then pocket the .04 percent windfall. A municipal bond fund that might have $200,000,000 to invest in its first year would return around $80,000 extra to GE in that fashion. Which doesn’t sound like much. But such bond funds would be invested by GE Capital for years until they were spent down fulfilling their original purpose to build schools and the like. And GE Capital and CDR colluded on huge numbers of such illegal arrangements, pouring vast sums into GE’s coffers. While depriving municipal governments of that same money. GE Capital then kicked back some of its take to CDR as “fees.”

Given the complexity and ubiquity of this practice, no one knows exactly how much was stolen. But since fines paid by large corporations to governments at various levels for such crimes tend to be vanishingly small, it’s possible to get an idea of the scale of the crime. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), GE paid a $70 million coordinated settlement in 2011 to the SEC, Department of Justice, Internal Revenue Service, and a coalition of 25 state attorneys general. The SEC alleged that “from August 1999 to October 2004, [GE Capital] illegally generated millions of dollars by fraudulently manipulating at least 328 municipal bond reinvestment transactions in 44 states and Puerto Rico.”

GE committed yet another massive crime against the public interest. And got away with it. In November 2013, Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm were freed on appeal. The reason? The government had taken too long—ten years—to build its case against the former GE executives.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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Image by Kent Buckley

February 15, 2016


Returning to our ongoing look at General Electric’s recent and inconvenient history of violating the public trust, in part 2 of this “missing manual” the corporation got out of the subprime housing loan market just in time to avoid destruction in late 2007. But it could not escape from the consequences of an economy based on selling toxic home loans to poor people who were defaulting in vast numbers by 2008.

That year, everything began to unravel for GE—as it did for all other large interlocked financial services companies that derived a substantial percentage of their profits from predatory loans in the same period.

According to Fortune magazine, after reporting an unprecedented first quarter loss of $700 million, GE’s stock price began spiraling downwards in April 2008. Failing to sell off its light bulb, appliance, and private-label credit card businesses over the summer due to the worsening economic climate stopped the corporation from making typical course corrections to get back on its feet.

In September 2008, GE’s stock price crashed after Lehman Brothers—a financial services titan—collapsed on the heels of Bear Stearns’ disintegration that March. The company became starved for operating funds. But the private credit markets were frozen in terror.

On September 30, GE made two desperate moves. At 7:30 am it sold $3 billion in preferred stock to billionaire investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. on very bad terms. At 1:44 pm, GE announced its deal with Buffet and said it would sell $12 billion of common stock the next day at prices far lower than it had paid to buy back $15 billion of its own stock over the preceding year. Meaning it was selling the stock at a huge loss in exchange for ready cash.

The next day, the coup de grace: Word spread throughout the markets that GE would be unable to cover billions in regular payouts to holders of its commercial paper. Basically a kind of I.O.U., commercial paper is a kind of short-term promissory note that big corporations like GE are able to issue on an ongoing basis to raise money to cover things like daily expenses. There is no collateral behind commercial paper. Only the good name—and, ideally, top-flight credit rating—of the company issuing it. In normal times, it’s a far cheaper way to borrow money than a line of credit with a commercial bank. But 2008 was not a normal time. At one point that year, GE had over $100 billion dollars out in commercial paper as it tried to stay afloat.

Executives clearly knew their company was doomed unless the government bailed it out. Already on September 30, a GE spokesperson “e-mailed the media with a message that Congress must act ‘urgently’ on the pending financial bailout package.” But the company didn’t wait for congressional action. Since it was not a traditional bank, GE did not qualify for a significant direct cash infusion under the infamousTroubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). So it spent the next few weeks brokering a backroom deal with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

According to the New York Times, on November 12, 2008 the FDIC announced that it would back GE’s commercial paper for up to $139 billion under the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program (TLGP). A program that the federal government changed overnight to allow GE to qualify—just as TARP was changed to benefit Goldman Sachs et al—according to Pro Publica and the Washington Post. GE had “joined major banks collectively saving billions of dollars by raising money for their operations at lower interest rates.” The company was able to sell $74 billion in government-backed commercial paper and longer-term notes by Spring 2009.

And how did GE survive the period between its early October 2008 financial collapse—when it was still short on funds despite the precipitous sale of $15 billion of its stock—and its November 2008 bailout by the TLGP program? In 2010, Pro Publica reported that Federal Reserve Board documents released that year showed that GE had effectively borrowed $16 billion more dollars at that time by selling commercial paper through the Fed’s Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF).

So General Electric was saved by two government programs that provided it with upwards of $90 billion dollars of cheap credit. According to the corporation’s own September 30, 2009 10-Q filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, GE paid only $2.3 billion in fees for its participation in the TLGP and CPFF programs. Meaning that GE got unbelievably good loan terms—the equivalent of a flat 2.56 percent interest rate. Less than the rates that Americans pay on most any other loans. Including the housing loans that wrecked the economy in 2007-2008. And the student loans that could very well lead to another financial catastrophe before this decade is out.

That is how GE got to survive the recession it helped create. By gaining access to a massive pool of public funds totally unavailable to its tens of thousands of subprime housing loan victims. The same company under the same leadership that Massachusetts officials are paying $270 million to bring to Boston. Excelsior!

Coming soon in part 4: GE’s municipal bond scandal and other amusements.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.