I’m a little disturbed by GE, which probably comes as no surprise.
My readers know I’ve had some ups and downs with General Electric. Fortunately, the majority of that animosity has been put to bed. My group owns two GE MRI’s, and I work with several other GE machines. If I ever get funding for a SPECT/CT scanner, I will give the Discovery 670 proper consideration. I still am no fan of Centricity PACS, but we’ll still let bygones be bygones.
So why am I troubled? Just in the past few days, President Obama announced that Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, will lead the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness:
“Jeff Immelt’s experience at G.E. and his understanding of the vital role the private sector plays in creating jobs and making America competitive makes him up to the challenge of leading this new council.”
And lest we forget, those nasty energy-wasting incandescent bulbs, which were sold mainly by GE, are to be phased out starting next year. The replacements, including mercury-containing compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL’s), are offered in wide variety, from…GE. Sorry, Kermit, it is quite easy to be Green, or at least sell Green, if the President pushes your products.
NBC, which is about to be spun off to Comcast but still under GE auspicies, has had a pretty big Green initiative with Green Week and Earth Week. And no one will doubt that MSNBC has been rather pro-Administration. We’ll see how they behave once they are under different management. Fortunately Keith Olbermann managed to leave MSNBC all by himself.
GE Healthcare has actively advocated on behalf of our customers and participated in the development of the final rule, and we look forward to working within the final guidelines to help ensure success for our customers…GE Healthcare’s Stimulus SimplicityTM program is designed to help hospitals and physician offices accelerate EMR adoption by taking advantage of zero percent financing with deferred payments from GE Capital along with a certification warranty for the EMR solutions from GE Healthcare. It addresses the current obstacles to EMR adoption of stimulus complexity, uncertainty around future standards and affordability.
General Electric’s announcement today that it will invest $6 billion in a worldwide “Healthymagination Initiative” raises familiar questions about the interplay of free enterprise and healthcare reform in the U.S. While some components of GE’s plan could help lower costs, raise quality, and increase access, as CEO Jeff Immelt contended in a press conference, the overall program seems designed to expand GE’s healthcare business and its profits. As Immelt put it candidly, “We don’t run a charity at GE. We’re in business to make money for our investors.”
But these piddly items are just the beginning. In 2009, Vanity Fair reported:
The issue at hand was this: Would Obama go against the signals he had put out earlier and dismantle the so-called Eastern European shield? By taking apart this defense system, he risked angering many of those who had voted for him, but he would please Putin. So what did Obama do? As the major news outlets reported at the time, he simply gave the go-ahead to have the shield dismantled. In exchange, according to Reuters, Putin agreed to meet with “several U.S. executives … from firms including General Electric, Morgan Stanley, as well as TPG.” [Italics mine.] G.E. is supposed to bring good things to life; in this case, it powered Obama’s growing pragmatism.
In a similar development that proved greatly to the benefit of G.E., the Obama team apparently reversed course on another deal. For many months it sent out strong signals that it would not support a nearly $1 billion U.S. allocation that would allow the survival of a costly defense initiative called the Joint Strike Fighters engine program. Military buffs know that G.E. is teamed with the U.K.’s Rolls Royce in the development of this jet-engine project; so it should not come as a shocker that Obama last month quietly included the plan in the 2010 Defense Authorization Bill, which he signed with no apparent hesitation.
Making the G.E.-friendly developments more suspicious is the fact that Immelt was appointed to Obama’s Economic Recovery Board earlier this year. Soon afterward, The Washington Post reported that G.E. had become “the biggest beneficiary” of the federal bailout program. And Immelt was caught boasting, in a November 17, 2009, Wall Street Journal report, that he expected to gather in roughly $192 million for his struggling company in government-funded projects.
Chief among these, it now seems, is the coming Afghanistan surge. Available documents show that G.E. has made out quite nicely from the wars of recent years, gaining a $3 billion contract to provide power to the rebuilding of Iraq and a $5.9 million deal to provide power to air bases in Afghanistan.
To be fair, GE no longer does business with Iran:
GE doesn’t do business in or with Iran. Due to the developing circumstances there, the concerns of our shareholders, and and our view of our corporate responsibilities, GE and its board decided in 2005 to stop doing business in Iran. There have been two exceptions to this: completing the work for existing contracts as quickly as possible and humanitarian activity, which is authorized by U.S. Government licenses. As of June 2008, we have completed all business in Iran. GE at all times acted in full compliance with U.S. and other laws. We have always required our businesses to follow U.S. sanctions and other applicable laws. In fact, our policies have been more restrictive than U.S. law.
Billy Hallowell of FrontPageMag.com, notes the ultimate irony in all this:
The U.S. government has always been . . . a viable GE partner, but the changing political landscape is paving the way for the company to receive transformational benefits and control. Immelt realizes this, which is likely one reason that Obama was the top recipient of GE contributions during the 2008 presidential campaign (after all, Immelt is a Republican and a former McCain supporter who has no other reason apart from profits to partner with Obama). With such extensive reach into sectors that impact the daily lives of Americans and with international policy at stake, it is in the public’s best interest that close attention be paid to the alliance between GE and the Obama administration.
In the end, Fox News sums up the problem, the reason I’m disturbed by Mr. Immelt’s recent appointment:
It is unclear how the administration plans to deal with the ethics challenges created by having a CEO whose income is determined by stock performance leading a panel designed to recommend government policies. G.E. (2009 revenue: $157 billion) is a huge government contractor and is always in the market for new subsidies and incentives.
Yes, I’m a Capitalist, and a GE stockholder, and I do applaud GE’s increased profits. But, still, I’m disturbed. Is it OK to unlevel the playing field via governmental intervention? Is it right for a larGE company to influence the government at the highest levels for its own gain? Perhaps. But I’m still a bit disturbed by the whole thing. Perhaps I just don’t have a healthy-enough imagination.