How Bloomberg exposed Apple's multi-billion dollar money swap

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As he speed dials Sean Hannity from the Oval Office for pro bono counsel, President Donald Trump may also confront a Washington reality: The greatest outrages are what's legal.

You know, like not paying your taxes for about two decades. Or, as we now learn through a nice bit of reporting, how Apple has avoided taxes with a meticulous fervor that should make most wage slobs, if not Trump, downright envious. (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg does great work in this area. It won its first Pulitzer Prize last year for reporter Zachary Mider's work on how companies avoid taxes via gambits such as claiming a new addresses overseas, even if their executives basically lived in the U.S.

"Over the years, Apple Inc. has become the poster child for U.S. multinationals accused of sheltering overseas profits to avoid the IRS," underscores reporter Andrea Wong. "What’s gone largely unnoticed is that it’s been paid more than half a billion dollars by the U.S. government to do just that."

Huh?

"Taking advantage of an exemption tucked into America’s Byzantine tax code, Apple stashed much of its foreign earnings — tax-free — right here in the U.S., in part by purchasing government bonds, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter."

Got that? "In return, the Treasury Department paid Apple at least $600 million and possibly much more over the past five years in the form of interest, a Bloomberg review of its regulatory filings shows."

It details how "the untold story of Apple and its taxes wends its way from Cork, Ireland, to New York and then Reno, Nevada." That sort of sounds like the flight path of a self-promotional Trump expedition to tout his resorts and golf courses.

No, it's the talk of how Apple has done what many other corporation have done: exploiting "the same exemption, which lets them avoid or delay repatriation taxes by buying Treasuries with their overseas cash. (The top 10 alone hold over $100 billion of the bonds.)"

And, would you believe, they display a smidgen of hypocrisy along the way?! Yes, this gambit let them "turn billions of dollars in potential tax liabilities into millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies — all while they publicly bemoan the sky-high taxes that make it impossible for them to bring the money home."

As Dana Carvey's Church Lady on "Saturday Night Live" used to put it, "Isn't that special?"

In this this latest primer on disquieting but clearly legal strategies, it quotes a tax expert at the University of Michigan Law School as portraying the government perspective as this:

"It’s as if you are paying someone to borrow a bike that’s actually yours to begin with. The whole thing is full of uneasy compromises in order to dance around the reality that most of the money isn’t actually offshore — it’s really here.”

The growing Snapchat goliath

"Turner is deepening its partnership with Snapchat, including collaborating on ad sales, as Snapchat continues to expand its relationships with TV creators.

As part of the deal, Turner will create original shows based on programming from TBS, Adult Swim, truTV, Great Big Story and Super Delux to live on Snapchat's Discover platform. It will also extend its live coverage of sports on Snapchat." (Ad Age)

BuzzFeed kicks butt on psychiatric chain

"Lock them in. Bill their insurer. Kick them out. How scores of employees and patients say America’s largest psychiatric chain turns patients into profits." (BuzzFeed)

This zeroes in on Universal Health Services, which has more than 200 psychiatric facilities, admitted about 450,000 patients last year and generated $7.5 billion in revenues from its psychiatric facilities and medical hospitals, with profit margins of around 30 percent, writes Rosalind Adams.

"A yearlong BuzzFeed News investigation — based on interviews with 175 current and former UHS staff, including 18 executives who ran UHS hospitals; more than 120 additional interviews with patients, government investigators, and other experts; and a cache of internal documents — raises grave questions about the extent to which those profits were achieved at the expense of patients."

Reality check

The next time a journalist feels under siege due to some tweets, a lack of access at City Hall or long hours on Capitol Hill, watch this BBC TV story on reporters risking their lives every day in Aleppo. Two cameramen who've brought us iconic and shocking images discuss the difficult decisions they may have to make while doing their jobs. (BBC)

Daily Kos' Supreme Court Hail Mary

President Obama's nomination of self-evidently qualified, sane, centrist Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is dead as a door nail. But Daily Kos still is behind a petition with this notion:

At noon on Jan. 3, the terms of 34 Senators technically expire, and the Senate still for a very brief period consists of just 66 sitting senators — "at least until Vice President Joe Biden, in his capacity as Senate president, begins swearing in the senators-elect."

So at the moment the Senate is comprised of 34 Democrats, 30 Republicans and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Biden should jam through the nomination right then and there, even without the confirmation hearing the Democrats themselves have insisted on having. (Daily Kos)

Geoffrey Stone, an eminent University of Chicago law professor, says, "I honestly don't know if this is in any way realistic," but I signed the petition."

You use Slack?

"Slack announced a strategic partnership with Google Cloud, which will bring a number of new features, including deeper integrations with Google services, to its collaboration platform for teams. Among the additions are new bots for notifications, as well as support for Google’s recently launched Team Drives, document previews, permissioning and more." (TechCrunch)

If you're not knee-deep in the tech weeds, this reflects the reality that "Slack is facing new competition from Microsoft and Facebook, who have each launched their own rival products in recent weeks. Microsoft Teams is basically a Microsoft Slack clone, but has the added advantage of being able to tie into Microsoft’s suite of services, including Skype and Office 365."

Amid the media self-flagellation

I'd totally forgotten.

"Trump could win it all — a new survey shows a sizable number of Democrats ready to defect from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump."

I wrote that for U.S. News & World Report on Jan. 8, or more than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses. (U.S. News) It was based on work by a Mercury Analytics of Washington, D.C., which is actually run by a Democrat, Ron Howard.

Among other things, he showed respondents the first Trump TV ad, using a so-called dial test to assess their moment-moment responses. There were 916 self-professed "likely voters. Howard found "the primary messages of Trump's ad resonated more than Democratic elites would hope."

The story got quickly picked up by the Drudge Report, which inspired lots of pageviews very quickly for the magazine. I'd totally forgotten.

AT&T, Time Warner on The Hill

"AT&T and Time Warner were called before Congress to defend their upcoming $85 billion merger and they played all of the antitrust bingo words in the book. We heard a lot about 'investment, 'competition,' and 'innovation' in the two-hour session — but no reasons to believe that this merger is a necessary path to producing any of those things." (The Verge)

Trump, Twitter and the bully pulpit

Will Trump's use of Twitter revolutionize use of the presidential bully pulpit during a time when all conventional wisdom has it that the pulpit is receding amid media and cultural fragmentation? University of Chicago economist Eric Posner says yes, while Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer demurs.(U.S. News & World Report)

The morning babble

"Fox & Friends," which touted itself this morning as "the world's no. 1 cable morning news show, thanks to you," declared that "leftists upset over military nominations" to the cabinet.

CNN's "New Day" went with 'climate change denier Scott Pruitt to lead EPA' and underscored the near certain legislative scenario: The guy will get beat up by Democrats, then win. "99 percent of the scientific community" says that global warming is impacted by man ("I don't think there's any debate"), said co-host Chris Cuomo. He even sparred a bit with co-host Alisyn Camerota, who said even some scientists clash over the pace of change.

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" was on the same topic and Joe Scarborough underscored a belief that for some that the EPA has been "out of control." But he argued that Trump has to underscore "that there is such a thing as climate change" and imperils his support in swing states such as Wisconsin." But Mark Halperin (attired as if he on the way to an early morning pilates class) doesn't quite buy it; arguing that lots of regulations will get cut, a GOP-led Congress will be happy and that Trump will get out of the historic Paris climate agreement.

ProPublica heads to Chicago

The impressive nonprofit will open an Illinois operation with about 10 people as it "seeks to further address the business crisis of the press. The collapse of regional and local newspapers, and the drastic cutback of reporting staffs, has left accountability journalism at the state and local levels shrinking and underfunded, weakening democratic governance at a critical moment." (Poynter)

They've got that right, even if it's the level below The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times — the mid-sized and smaller-markets, dominated by chains that long ago ripped the life out of many papers — where the real disasters are playing out.

Regardless, an obvious gap: Regular coverage of declining, under-budgeted government agencies and the entire public education system. Too often, a lack of routine coverage prompts a once every-few-years series/contest entry with a "look what we found!" air.

It's like shooting fish in a barrel precisely because of the lack of regular coverage. And here's a freebie idea: Cover the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors in Chicago full-time. Most editors (forget reporters) couldn't even name the heads of the biggest foundations in town.

Here's one for Jim VandeHei to check out

"Since launching a Tumblr account in 2011 to aggregate his collection of pictures he found on the internet, Elliot Tebele has turned the popular FuckJerry account into a full-blown franchise, with 40 million followers across multiple social channels, a clothing line, a card game, a late-night TV show pilot with MTV and a small social media shop called Jerry Media." (Adweek)

"In addition to the FuckJerry Instagram account, which has 10.5 million followers, Tebele and his team also own a handful of other accounts including @pizza, @sneakers, @beigecardigan and @kanyedoingthings."

Oh, wondering about the economics? "FuckJerry is armed with data for its pitch to advertisers. On average, posts receive 6 to 7 million impressions at a cost per 1,000 impressions, or CPM, of $5. That means marketers can expect to pay at least $30,000 for a piece of sponsored content. Rates for other Instagram stars fluctuate significantly."

You won't find it in The New York Times

"Creamery, meat farm looks to double water buffalo herd" (Bangor Daily News)

And who the hell cares about Beyonce and Kanye West? "Two Mainers nominated for Grammys."

Give up? They're Drew Taggart, who went to high school in Freeport (home of L.L Bean!) and is with the pop duo, The Chainsmokers, and Bob Ludwig of Portland, going after his, count 'em, 12th (!) Grammy with a music engineering nomination.

Viel Glück, Anne!

Anne Hull, a great Washington Post reporter (and person) who was the Susan Lucci of journalism with a slew of Pulitzer finalist slots before winning in 2008, is moving to Berlin with her German journalist-partner, who's taking a big job there. (Poynter) If ProPublica could clone her, its success in Chicago, and elsewhere, would be guaranteed.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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