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Microsoft

Submission + - Office Space II: Bill Lumbergh Takes Microsoft

theodp writes: 'Mmm, yeah, I'm going to have to go ahead and ask you to pay $6,120 to come in to work on Sunday.' In a move that would do Bill Lumbergh (YouTube homage) proud, Microsoft has been pulling in about $25 million a year through its unusual practice of charging its vendors for occupying office space on its campus while working on Microsoft projects, according to the real estate firm that manages the program. And that's before a planned July 1st rate increase that Microsoft informed vendors of earlier this week, which will boost the 'chargeback' rate for its 'shadow workforce' from $450 per month ($5,400 per year) for every workstation to $510 per month (or $6,120 per year). So, is there a discount if you're moved downstairs into Storage B?
Microsoft

Submission + - Microsoft Hikes 'Seating Fee' for Coders to $6,120/yr

theodp writes: Earlier this year, Microsoft paid to have Regal Cinemas show a 'documentary' starring Bill Gates that aimed to make a programming career more attractive. The viral video from the Microsoft-tied Code.org video, CNN reported, 'emphasizes the perks and casual vibe of working at a deep-pocketed tech company, where employees get free food, work barefoot and skateboard around the office.' Lost on the cutting room floor, apparently, were less-attractive workplace practices, like when Microsoft demands $6,120-a-year from vendors for each programmer that works onsite at its facilities. Commercial real estate services firm CBRE, which was seeking a Project Coordinator and Project Manager to support Microsoft's North America Vendor Chargeback (VCB) program, boasts on its website that the 'vendor seating chargeback program' was raking in $25M even before the new fee hike, which takes effect in July.
Microsoft

Submission + - Microsoft Tackles US Techie Shortage by Cutting Pay 1

theodp writes: In September, Microsoft claimed it couldn't fill some 6,000 domestic jobs due to a shortage of qualified Americans and a lack of available visas. In February, it paid to promote a Code. org 'documentary' that highlighted the nation's programmer shortage. And in March, Microsoft joined other tech firms to press the President and Congress to address the lack of 'qualified, highly-skilled tech professionals, domestic and foreign.' So, techies must really have Microsoft over a barrel when it comes to pay, right? Wrong. This is Microsoft economics, kids, where a shortage of in-demand programmers can lead to a lower equilibrium price, not higher. GeekWire reports that a Microsoft manager informed hundreds of vendors Tuesday that the company is increasing its 'chargeback' fees — the amount it requires these firms to pay Microsoft for vendor workers based inside Microsoft's Seattle area facilities. The rate is going up from $450/month ($5,400/yr) for every workstation to $510/month ($6,120/yr) starting on July 1. GeekWire adds that these cost increases can ultimately impact work compensation for workers as some vendor companies effectively pass along the costs rather than take a further hit to their own profit margins.
Software

Submission + - The Billionaire 'Cat Lady' of Silicon Valley

theodp writes: In a weeklong series called TODAY Takes Action, NBC and The Today Show tackled what they called 'four important social issues' — fatherhood involvement, emergency preparedness, shelter pet adoption and hunger prevention. Partnering with NBC for anchor Natalie Morales' PSA on Pet Adoption was Maddie's Fund, the animal welfare foundation PeopleSoft and Workday founder Dave Duffield funded to the tune of $290+ million to fulfill a promise made to his beloved (deceased) miniature schnauzer Maddie. Duffield, whose PeopleSoft was sold to Oracle for $10.3 billion, told Forbes he hopes the success of recently-IPOed Workday will allow him to 'really smash this problem [saving shelter dogs and cats] to bits.' Towards that end, Maddie's Center is scheduled to open in 2014, with room for 375 cats and 125 dogs according to plans filed with the City of Pleasanton. Hey, had she pursued The Startup Life, the Simpsons' Eleanor Abernathy might have been able to make good on that 'cats in everyone's pants' pledge!
Google

Submission + - Tech Firms Keep Piles of 'Foreign Cash' in US

theodp writes: 'There's a funny thing about the estimated $1.7 trillion that American companies say they have indefinitely invested overseas,' reports the WSJ's Kate Linebaugh (reg. or the old Google trick). 'A lot of it is actually sitting right here at home.' And if tech companies like Google and Microsoft want to keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, Linebaugh explains, this money is still overseas in the eyes of the IRS and isn't taxed as long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company. Helping corporations avoid the need to tap their foreign-held cash are low interest rates at home, which have allowed U.S. companies to borrow cheaply. Oracle, for instance, raised $5 billion last year, paying an interest rate roughly two-thirds of a percentage point above the low post-crash Treasury yield, about 2.5% at the time (by contrast, grad students and parents pay 6.8%-7.9% for Federal student loans). Were the funds it manages to keep in the hands of its foreign subsidiaries brought home and subjected to U.S. income tax, Oracle estimated it could owe Uncle Sam about $6.3 billion.
Microsoft

Submission + - You Need a Touchscreen for Windows 8

theodp writes: Over at CNN, David Goldman opines that you need a touchscreen for Windows 8. 'The ability to touch, tap, swipe and pinch on Windows 8 computers is what makes the new operating system come to life,' Goldman writes. 'You can still use Windows 8 without a touchscreen, but that's kind of like tossing aside the remote, getting up, and repeatedly pushing buttons to change the channel on your TV.' Just 5% of Win 8 laptops sold through Dec. 15 had touchscreens. At $500 or so, the Asus VivoBook with its 11.6" screen is the cheapest touchscreen Win 8 laptop, which helps explain why many are settling for budget u-can't-touch-this Win 8 laptops until prices fall, which is expected to occur in mid-2013.
Facebook

Submission + - Facebook Paid 0.3% Taxes on $1.34 Billion Profits 2

theodp writes: Facebook is unlikely to make many new (non-investor) friends with reports that it paid Irish taxes of about $4.64 million on its entire non-US profits of $1.344 billion for 2011. 'Facebook operates a second subsidiary that is incorporated in Ireland but controlled in the Cayman Islands,' Kenneth Thomas explains. 'This subsidiary owns Facebook Ireland, but the setup allows the two companies to be considered as one for U.S. tax purposes, but separate for Irish tax purposes. The Caymans-operated subsidiary owns the rights to use Facebook's intellectual property outside the U.S., for which Facebook Ireland pays hefty royalties to use. This lets Facebook Ireland transfer the profits from low-tax Ireland to no-tax Cayman Islands.' In 2008, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg cited 'local world-class talent' as the motivation behind Facebook's choice of tax-haven Dublin for its international HQ. Similar tax moves by Google, Microsoft, and others who have sought the luck-of-the-Double-Irish present quite a dilemma for tax revenue-seeking governments. Invoking Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous common sense definition of ethics ('Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do') is unlikely to sway corporations whose top execs send the message that tax avoidance is the right thing to do and something to be proud of.
Education

Submission + - Are App Vendors Guilty of "Reverse Redlining"?

theodp writes: Apple iOS parents, reports GeekWire, can pick up the Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas in app form for their kids this holiday season for 99 cents. The interactive storybook app is also available for Xmas gift-giving by Windows 8 parents, but they'll pay $4.99 for a version that lacks the features available in the $0.99 iOS version. Which raises some interesting questions: 1. As concerns are being raised over a new Digital Content Divide, is it cool to have owners of the cheapest computers pay 5x the price charged to the most elite consumers, especially for an inferior port of an existing app from the same vendor? 2. Why exactly does a port of an existing app have to be sold at a price which so vastly exceeds that of the original — is it mostly due to economies of scale, difficulties of cross-system app development, or pricing shenanigans?
Google

Submission + - Google Chairman: Tax Avoidance is Capitalism 1

theodp writes: The Telegraph reports that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has lashed out at critics of Google's complex tax avoidance tactics in the wake of news that the search giant channeled revenues through Bermuda to avoid $2 billion of global income tax levies last year. 'We pay lots of taxes,' said Schmidt. 'We pay them in the legally prescribed ways. I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate. It’s called capitalism. We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.' Schmidt's stance seems to present a dilemma for tax revenue-seeking governments. Invoking Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous common sense definition of ethics ('Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do') is unlikely to sway a company whose Chairman sends the message that tax avoidance is the right thing to do and something to be proud of. And a Code of Conduct which requires Googlers to follow 'the letter and spirit' of doing no evil is equally unlikely to discourage tax avoidance if the Chairman suggests the practice embodies the letter and spirit of capitalism. So, to paraphrase The Sound of Music, 'How Do You Solve a Tax Problem Like Google'? Might reminding the company of another famous capitalism quote from Enron CEO Jeffery Skilling ('My job as a businessman is to be a profit center and to maximize return to the shareholders.') help spark a compromise?
The Almighty Buck

Submission + - Chinese Firm Wins Bid for US-Backed Battery Maker

theodp writes: On September 13, 2010, President Obama called A123 Systems from the Oval Office to congratulate them on opening the nation’s first manufacturing facility to mass-produce electric vehicle batteries, which the White House noted was made possible by a $249 million Recovery Act grant the company received the prior August. 'When folks lift up their hoods on the cars of the future,' the President said, 'I want them to see engines and batteries that are stamped: Made in America. And that's what you guys are helping to make happen.' But on Saturday, the assets of A123 Systems were auctioned off to the Wanxiang Group, a large Chinese auto parts maker. Wanxiang agreed to pay $256 million for A123's automotive and commercial operations, including its three factories in the United States. Forbes reports that A123's stock, which closed at 7 cents a share on Friday, is now worthless.
Education

Submission + - Khan Academy: The Future of Taxpayer Reeducation? 1

theodp writes: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has launched a website and gone social on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to educate taxpayers on why they must make good on pension promises to state workers. And, in addition to Squeezy the Pension Python, Gov. Quinn is enlisting the help of Khan Academy, the tax-exempt, future-of-education organization funded by tax-free millions from Google, Bill Gates, and others, to help convince taxpayers that a state-pension-promise is a promise. In the Khan Academy video commissioned by the Governor, Illinois Pension Obligations, Sal Khan concedes that the annual annuity payouts for IL state employee retirees do look 'pretty reasonable' — e.g., $43,591 for the average teacher, $117,558 for a judge — but goes on to argue that 'in all fairness, this was promised to these people,' who he speculates 'probably took lower compensation while they were working,' 'probably stayed in the jobs longer,' and 'probably sacrificed other things' to get these 'great benefits.' 'We’re delighted to have his [Khan's] help in enlightening Illinois citizens about how the pension problem came to be,' said the Governor. Of course, not everything can be explained in one video — perhaps other contributing factors like 'pension spiking', lobbyists' maneuvers, sweetheart deals, creative job reclassification, golden parachutes, bruising investment losses, and other wacky pension games will be taught in Illinois Pension Obligations II!
Education

Submission + - Governor Taps Khan Academy to Reeducate Taxpayers

theodp writes: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has launched a website and gone social on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to educate taxpayers on why they must make good on pension promises to state workers. And, in addition to Squeezy the Pension Python, Gov. Quinn is enlisting the help of Khan Aademy, the tax-exempt organization funded by tax-free millions from Google, Bill Gates, and others, to help convince taxpayers that a state-pension-promise-is-a-promise. In a new Khan Academy video, Illinois Pension Obligations, Sal Khan concedes that the annual annuity payouts for IL state employee retirees do look 'pretty reasonable' — e.g., $43,591 for the average teacher, $117,558 for a judge — but goes on to argue that 'in all fairness, this was promised to these people,' who he speculates 'probably took lower compensation while they were working,' 'probably stayed in the jobs longer,' and 'probably sacrificed other things' to get these 'great benefits.' But, as the press reports, tain't always so, like the Illinois school superintendent who, thanks to 'pension spiking', pocketed $1+ million in pension pay since his 'retirement' at age 57 five years ago, while also drawing a regular paycheck as superintendent of schools in California to supplement his $261,681-a-year Illinois pension. Or the two union lobbyists who substitute taught for one day to qualify for hefty pensions — over 100K, in one case. Or the employees of private organizations, including the Special Olympics, who will collect pensions through the State Universities Retirement System (six figures, in one case) because Ill. State Univ. labels them university employees. Or the Univ. of Ill. VP for business and finance, who will draw $312,000 in pension money in 2012 (to supplement a salary of $240k a year from the Univ. of Ill. Foundation), thanks to a move that got his payout computed using a more lucrative formula intended for lower-paid police officers and firefighters, putting an extra $365,000 in his pocket over the past decade. Or the pension obligations for the $620,000-a-year Univ. of Ill. President and his $195,000-a-year assistant, who were pushed from office after only two years on the job. Now these — and other tales like them — would make for a great Khan Academy Illinois Pension Obligations II video, Governor!
Businesses

Submission + - Will You Shop Local Like the President, or Online?

theodp writes: President Obama and his daughters headed to an indie bookstore last Saturday to promote shopping local. The White House did not disclose which books were bought, but author Lauren Oliver tweeted her delight after a White House photo showed her books Delirium and Pandemonium were among the 15 children's books purchased by the Obama family for Christmas gift-giving. While it made for a nice Small Business Saturday photo op, do you suppose the President paid much more for the books at the small indie bookshop than he might have at Amazon.com, where the hardcopy edition of Pandemonium is $10.15 (44% off the $17.99 list price) and the hardcopy edition of Delirium can be had for $10.47 (42% off the $17.99 list price)? Kindle Editions of the books are also available for $7.99. And with both titles eligible for free Amazon Prime shipping, the President could've saved on gasoline and Secret Service costs, too! So, will you be following the President's lead and shop local this holiday season, or is the siren song of online shopping convenience and savings too hard to resist?
Google

Submission + - In Dublin, U.S. Execs Give Thanks for Tax Breaks

theodp writes: On the First Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered at Plymouth to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. On this Thanksgiving, CNBC reports, U.S. business chiefs and the Irish Minister of Finance gathered for a KPMG-sponsored Thanksgiving Day meal at the Four Seasons in Dublin to give thanks for low taxes, a cool climate and the financial crisis — three factors that have helped produce a bumper year in their favorite corner of Europe. The American Chamber of Commerce ('The voice of US companies in Ireland') event comes a week after the Chair of a UK parliamentary committee accused Google of being 'immoral' for exploiting Ireland's favorable tax rates, which reportedly reduced its effective UK tax rate to a mere 0.4% on £2.5bn. 'We pay all the tax you require us to pay.' said Google’s head of northern European operations, adding that the company’s tax arrangements are not a matter of “personal choice” but of a responsibility to shareholders to keep costs down. Na-na-na-NA-na!
Google

Submission + - Google: It'd Be Irresponsible Not To Be 'Immoral' 1

theodp writes: Over at the Guardian, Margaret Hodge and Jeff Jarvis debate the rights and wrongs of the revelation that Google, Starbucks and Amazon pay so little tax in the UK. Hodge is the Chair of a UK parliamentary committee that grilled the three American corporations about creative tax maneuvers that resulted in Amazon paying an effective UK tax rate of 2.5% on 2011 earnings of £309bn, Google paying 0.4% on £2.5bn, and Starbucks paying zilch on UK earnings of £365m. In testimony last week, a Google VP explained, 'We pay all the tax you require us to pay,' adding that the company's tax arrangements are not a matter of 'personal choice' but of a responsibility to shareholders to keep costs down. Hodge replied, 'We're not accusing you of being illegal, we're accusing you of being immoral.'

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